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On ‘actual death’

November 20, 2011

The base question at hand in this topic is:

Should there be a penalty for ‘death’?  How severe should this penalty be?  What should impact the penalty making it more / less severe?

There is a certain amount of snobbery associated with advocating ‘actual death’ games.  Players of Diablo II provide a great example of this with the idea of playing ‘hardcore’ to incur actual death, as defined by complete loss of character and possibly all your gear if nobody is in the same game with you to recover your body.  Calling it ‘hardcore’ immediately frames it in a different light than those who are ‘softcore’.  Which is problematic.

Phantasia4 has an even more ‘hardcore’ version of actual death.  When you die you go away.  You leave a corpse, which is a shell of your former self with very little of actual value on it compared to what you started with.  Death in P4 is absolute with the exception of characters who have made it to the third phase of the game, they are given three ‘extra lives’ which allow them to escape death.  But once they actually die by using them up, they are dead, gone, starting from level 1 again.

I bring up the idea of ‘actual death’ because it results in a different type of gameplay and a different investment in certain aspects of the game.  Diablo II hardcore characters invest in more health and value different statistics in gear.  Phantasia 4 characters spend large amounts of time preparing for certain steps in the game to ensure they wont be squashed  as soon as they find their first monster.

This is different than games such as WoW, where the only loss is a bit of money (via increased repair costs, which can be avoided by being naked) and time.  WoWs death system encourages you to try things without significant fear of failure, but also allows certain types of content to be cheated past via corpse-running.

And even other games have more systems for handling death, EVE Online punishes death with a lost ship (which costs in game money to buy) where some of the equipment on it can be recovered under the right conditions, and ejects you into a ‘pod’, which can then also be destroyed. If it is you lose a special class of items that provide significant benefits , and can set you back in skill development if you aren’t up to date on your ‘clone’.  Losing a ship is a pain, it’s lost money.  Getting ‘podded’ is worse if you have invested in implants or if you’ve been lazy.

Of these it is interesting to note that you are expected to invest certain amounts of time in each game that is roughly reflected in their take on death.  WoW characters take very very extended amounts of time to get to the upper levels and each item you get can take extended time to gather, so allowing them to break and disappear or removing the character entirely would be an extremely frustrating thing.  Diablo II characters can take a large investment to level, but you have the choice of being hardcore.  Phantasia characters can go from the bottom to the top in a week if you work at it, so them dying isn’t a huge time investment lost.  Eve characters themselves take years to develop, but making money to buy a ship can be a few afternoons of play , so it’s to be avoided, but not the end of the world.  Etc etc etc.

Essentially, punishing players for failure harshly only is acceptable if that failure can be recovered from quickly, either through game design (P4 is easy to level in) or minute penalty (WoW, gold and time).

What is then interesting is the question of just how bad can it get?  In WoW the worst case scenario is you get yourself into an area that you can’t handle the monsters, die repeatedly, and eventually find a safe place to respawn (Transition from ghost to player) to hearth (teleport) from to a safe location, worst case result is a lot of repairing of gear.  In P4 the worse case is any death.  In Diablo the worst case is any death without a friendly player nearby to recover items from your corpse under hardcore rules, in non-hardcore dying in an area with a lot of monsters available to resquish you as you attempt to get your body.  In Eve the worst case is death in an expensive ship, and getting podded without an up to date clone or with expensive implants.

Note that of these only P4 has absolutely no significant recourse.  I contend that this is truly the ‘actual death’ where WoW is the opposite end of the spectrum with ‘meaningless death’.

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From → Diablo II, Eve, Phantasia, WoW

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