[MUD-Dev] Permadeath or Not?

John Buehler johnbue at msn.com
Sat Dec 9 02:11:56 CET 2000

Ben Chambers writes:

>    I was reading through some articles I found on line, and this is
>    the > idea for death I picked up.  Each player belongs to a
>    religion.  As they > do quests for that religion their FP (faith
>    points, or something > whatever you want to call them) go up.
>    When the player dies, he goes to > the underworld.  Once there,
>    he goes to his religions area, and is > assigned a service to his
>    deity which he must perform.  The difficulty > is based upon FP.
>    After completing it, a lost comes up listing a number > of random
>    cities in which his religion has temples.  He chooses one and >
>    goes there.  His stats are at 50%, but 1% regenerates every
>    minute, more > if resting.  The number of cities in the random
>    list is also determined > by faith.  This provides a) motivation
>    for quests b) way to get over > death c) way to punish death and
>    d) a way of having infinite lives "fit > in"...

Regardless of how the immortality of player characters is worked into
the game, that's always what it boils down to.  If your character is
killed, it either comes back intact, comes back deficient or doesn't
come back.  In the first two, the character is immortal, in the third,
it is not.  In the Gemstone mechanism that some here have mentioned,
you manage your immortality.  So you have the headache of managing the
favors and such so that your character does not actually die (go away,
vanish, whatever).  To me, this is like having to go off and make sure
that you have a light source or have infravision in EverQuest.  If you
don't do it, the game is a royal pain and can produce eyestrain (to
me, anyway), so you HAVE to manage the lightsource problem.  Night is
half of the time available to play.  Similarly, in Gemstone, you HAVE
to manage your ability to be resurrected.

Then we get to the problem of bringing a character back in some
deficient way: the 'meaningful penalty' that is touted as the value of
this approach.  If I have just accumulated some accomplishment, I
probably did it for a reason.  The accomplishment could be faction,
money, items, skills, or even a geographic location in the world.
When the player has that accomplishment taken from them, the decision
is either to go after that accomplishment again or to abandon it.
Players are notorious for never abandoning a goal, and they'll go
after that accomplishment.  In a game like EverQuest or Asheron's
Call, the answer is to briefly powergame to get that accomplishment
back.  The player has already experienced the gain and all the fun of
having done it once, so the second time around it's not that much fun.
As a result, the players singlemindedly burn through the game to get
back to where they were.

Note that systems that work with the generational approach of killing
off one character and having their 'son' or 'daughter' inherit
elements of the original character boil down to the same 'deficient'
return of the same character.  The player loses a chunk of their
accomplishments and are faced with getting them back again.

Death in current graphical games consists of being flung away from
where you die.  This is a practical concession to getting a character
out of harm's way, but it means that the geographic accomplishment of
the character is taken from the player, in addition to whatever else
the game decides to 'meaningfully penalize' the player with.  As a
result, the first thing that the player is inspired or required to do
is to run back to where their corpse was in order to get their
character back to the condition it was in.  'Corpse Recovery' is a
ubiquitous part of the gamer's vocabulary.

This is why I suggest game ejection due to death.  From a marketing
standpoint, this would seem to be suicide.  No more addictive
powergaming pursuit of the character's original standing and the
desire to get ahead of that point.  Instead, the player is forced to
face the fact that the character is unavailable to them for some
period of time and that they need to go off and do something else.
Maybe another character, maybe some other pursuit entirely away from
the game (and the computer).  But for the rest of the day, they can't
get to the character that died.  Want a deterrent that'll keep players
away from lethal pursuits?  Don't let them play their favorite
character for a day or two.  The time-tested 'Time Out' approach.

Another aspect of the ejection mechanism is that there are no
reprieves, no exceptions.  Death in EverQuest has become a managed
commodity at higher levels.  You travel with a high level cleric in
your group and death is little more than waiting for the group to
finish up what they're killing and to click 'Yes' when you're asked to
be resurrected.  It's an inconvenience.  I've gotten so used to it
that I cringe when running secondary characters that actually have to
run back to loot the corpses that inevitably find their way to the
ground.  It's an annoyance.

Perhaps obviously, in a game world using the ejection mechanism, death
cannot be as frequent an outcome of combat as is found in many current
games.  It's a system that I'd like to try.  I think it would force
game designers to make their games interesting to play - as opposed to
relying on addictive elements of design - in order to retain players.


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