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Design Discussion: Perma Death


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#1 Hobbo33   Members   -  Reputation: 100

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Posted 14 April 2011 - 10:28 AM

Permanent death has been a feature overlooked in games for many years and only really seen in the highest difficulty of a game to challenge veteran players. I have started this topic for people to have a professional discussion about the implementation of perma death in games and when it works, and when it doesn’t work. Please keep this discussion civil and on topic.



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#2 SimonForsman   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 7030

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Posted 14 April 2011 - 10:44 AM

Permanent death has been a feature overlooked in games for many years and only really seen in the highest difficulty of a game to challenge veteran players. I have started this topic for people to have a professional discussion about the implementation of perma death in games and when it works, and when it doesn’t work. Please keep this discussion civil and on topic.



The main reason its "overlooked" is that its not suitable for long story driven games, players don't want to lose all their progress in a game that takes 40+ hours to complete.

It works far better in shorter games that are designed to be played over and over again, death has to be the most common way for a game to end in order for it to work well.
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#3 wanderingbort   Members   -  Reputation: 136

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Posted 14 April 2011 - 10:58 AM

Which version of "perma death" are you referring to?

Diablo-Harcore/Starwars Galaxies Original Jedi :
In its best and most pure forms it is the perfect example of over idealistic design. It creates tension and a sense of accomplishment in gamers and this can be quite compelling. But it only takes one bad apple to ruin the entire crop. In each game, a character represented a large amount of player commitment and time. In each game, most players eventually became too scared of exploits and griefers to actually have fun anymore. The penalty for a "bad day" far exceeds the benefit of playing with that added tension for most gamers.

This is why I see it as a very hardcore-only mechanic, very few gamers can weather a loss of that much effort and still say "Meh, it was just a game". Worse yet, if they can scrutinize any part of the loss and determine that it was a failing of the game or its development team, then you have created a PR problem for yourself.

Counter-strike 1-life-per-round :
While its a milder form of "perma death" it is a permanent death that spans the whole gameplay unit (one round). It creates tension and a sense of accomplishment as well; I've never heard so much cheering for a teammate who takes on overwhelming odds and wins. It still penalizes foolish and risky behavior, but the penalty is more fitting of the "crime".

This less hardcore version I find very useful. The main difference, in my mind, is how stiff the penalty is for death.

TL;DR = When perma-death penalties far outweigh the benefits of tension and accomplishment it should be considered "hardcore" or "inaccessible".

#4 Khaiy   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1737

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Posted 14 April 2011 - 12:23 PM

I had a thread about this issue a little while ago, and the biggest point that came up is that in a single player game, perma-death is meaningless because the player can simply reload and resurrect any dead character, albeit in a meta-way related to the game itself. In a multiplayer game, it is simply an incredible deterrent to players, because all of their effort can vanish irrevocably. Players in general won't invest their time and energy into games where all of that effort can be rendered meaningless at any time, forcing them to either re-do everything they've already done or stop playing altogether.

#5 Casey Hardman   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2563

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Posted 14 April 2011 - 01:18 PM

Yeah, in my opinion, I agree with Khaiy. The inconveniences and irritating disabilities to Guild Wars for PC is what ticked me off and made me not like the game as much. I liked the skill system, but they limited you in so many ways and gave you so many annoying, frustrating limitations that your creative, uniquely skilled and geared character now has to do what every other character is doing, or things you simply don't like doing.

You don't want to lose your precious character in an RPG that you spent 20 hours on. And if the player doesn't want something, it's generally a good idea to keep it out, or else you won't have a playerbase.

#6 Iron Chef Carnage   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1840

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Posted 15 April 2011 - 12:10 AM

There are many threads on this topic in the GDnet library. Some are productive, others less so, and the replies here so far seem to have encapsulated the crux of the matter. Wanderingbort put it well, with this:

When perma-death penalties far outweigh the benefits of tension and accomplishment it should be considered "hardcore" or "inaccessible".

Let's look at three types of game world, and how permadeath works in each:

Instanced game world: In an instanced world, one that is created and destroyed with the main character's life, permadeath is a "game over" scenario. I don't agree with SimonForsman that death has to be the most common game resolution, but it's going to be likely for players who don't ever choose to end the game. After all, if you never give up, the end-game will always be death. If you script a bunch of non-death endings, like victory over the antagonist, peaceful retirement or lifelong imprisonment (a form of time-compressed death, I suppose), you can offer a number of non-lethal, yet involuntary end-games to your player. All but one of these will likely be termed "bad endings" by the community, though, and they'll treat it like a death, reloading an old save or lamenting the wasteful loss of their effort. Permadeath that ends the game and destroys the game world can only work if there's some kind of score system, a way to rank progress in subsequent plays through and compete against your personal best, like in a roguelike.

Persistent world (single player): I like permadeath here, because the "high score" list is codified into the world you inhabit, and you can keep striving for a goal through multiple lifetimes. In Dwarf Fortress, you can have an adventurer that goes to war with an evil empire, amasses a band of warriors, leads raids against their outposts and is eventually shot in the neck by some lucky fortress guard, dying in a pool of blood. When you fire up the character creator and make a new dude, you can keep following that same path, because all the people he killed are still dead, and all the towns he sacked are still in shambles. You can recruit another band, perhaps even finding some survivors from the old team, their skills, scars and equipment still present, and resume your mission. That's awesome, and even though you have to retrain your skills and re-obtain your gear, you can talk to the barmaid at a local tavern and hear stories about your past self, and you know that your previous efforts weren't wasted.

Persistent world (multiplayer): Here it gets a little muddy because identity and the passage of time get weird. If we ride together and battle outlaws and ninjas and robots, then I log out for a few days and take my family to Disney World, I don't want to come back to my guy, step out of my tent and find that my whole posse is comprised of new faces, generations past the guys I fought with in the past. Even if you're still on my Ventrilo as the same player, the new characters would be jarring and awkward, since you might have a whole new suite of skills and attributes, making me feel out of touch with the team's dynamic. I think a good game designer can overcome these obstacles, and the idea has been discussed here on GDnet more than once, but it's no small matter, and the mechanics for handling permadeath in a multiplayer environment where characters come and go while players persist will have to be central to the design of the game.

#7 altras   Members   -  Reputation: 114

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Posted 15 April 2011 - 01:47 AM

There will be a free MMOG released with perma-death by paradox games.

You can check for more info here:
http://www.paradoxplaza.com/press/2011/2/salem-free-to-play-mmorpg-game-officially-announced

#8 Fox89   Members   -  Reputation: 145

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Posted 15 April 2011 - 01:22 PM

In principle I love the idea of perma-death in the game, but in reality even permanent is only temporary! Take a game where if you die you have to start the entire game from the beginning. What does the permanent death actually bring to the game? A sense of tension perhaps, but in most cases I don't think the trade off will be worth the frustration. After all, when that player dies they're either going to be so angry they stop playing altogether or they're just going to play it again from the beginning. So even though you have halted their progress, all it has accomplished is they reload and try again.

Where I feel this is slightly different is when permanent-death is the entire point of the game. The Chain World mod for Minecraft puts this idea at it's core, as does something like One Chance which can be found on Newgrounds. Permanent death works best as a mechanic when it is forced upon the player, and it actually stops them playing the game any more once they've died. This is more successful in hammering home the importance of choice and the consequences of that choice, and in the case of Chain World challenges the players to make the most of their time. When a player invests a large amount of time and effort into something, only to permanently lose their progress, that does nothing to enhance the enjoyment in itself. So I think that permanent death needs to either be:

a) the point of the experience in order to do something philosophical and thought provoking or
b) in a persistent world where the player can leave behind some kind of legacy. If I got the Chain World USB and built a statue, even when I died and passed the stick along to somebody else that statue would remain there until somebody decided to destroy it.

#9 In.Vain   Members   -  Reputation: 108

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Posted 15 April 2011 - 03:22 PM

I really enjoyed playing Diablo II HC characters, even if they died late into the game. I also attempted to get a character all the way through Demon's Souls without dying - but the poor guy was one-shot-killed by the 3rd(?) to last boss (Who would've thought that Garl Vinland can riposte? Ouch!), at which point I stopped playing that character and proceeded with another one.
The threat of permanent death simply creates a very strong suspense that normal death penalties just don't provide and some players enjoy taking a more strategic approach to games rather than try-and-error.

Permanent death is a feature that should be implemented more often, but only as an option.

#10 Fox89   Members   -  Reputation: 145

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Posted 15 April 2011 - 03:59 PM

Permanent death is a feature that should be implemented more often, but only as an option.


It is an option! Simply don't play any more :D Or do what you did and start a new character. If somebody wants that suspense of only having one chance at a game, there isn't really a need to build that into the game as they can just stop playing if they fail. Kind of like people who speed run or try to complete Final Fantasy VII with default equipment, things like this. To be honest I wish it were this kind of thing that 'achievements' logged. These days every game you get on PS3/360/Steam has achievements; they have to it's part of the compliance to the publisher. But they're rubbish things like "collect 500 stamps".

That's not really an achievement, that's just dull. I remember being disgusted at the cell shaded Prince of Persia when I got an achievement for pressing the 'Start Button'. I mean come on. Why can't we have achivements like "play the entire game with one hand tied behind your back" or "use nothing but a sniper rifle for the entire game" or, just to get as back on topic, 'complete the entire game without using a checkpoint'.

#11 gamenut77   Members   -  Reputation: 100

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Posted 17 April 2011 - 10:01 AM

To design a permadeath game that was more than a "quick game", something more of a prolonged adventure, the dev team and testers would have to go to great means to ensure that there were no cheap kills in the game. Where at no time the player could get hit by some unseen off-camera enemy; that any boss encounters were structured well enough that the players have a chance to defeat it in one go-around.

Not to say that the game should be made easier, but designed in a way that should the player die they felt it was justified... but then again how ofter do players take dying lightly in a game, let alone the intensified loss a permadeath would bring. It is deifinetly a nitch type of gamer that would embrace such a challenge. Personally, I know I've stopped playing games whose checkpoints were too far a part. I find the older I get the less time and temperment I have for replaying mass sections of games, let alone an entire game.

Back to point tho, perhaps if the player was given an epic death and some form of story closure so that there would be at least some reward in dying. Dying at different points in the game could result in various outcomes to be told; ie. not killing this particular boss lead to the enslavement of an entire people, or having opened the sacred vault but not securing its precious prize lead to another adventurer claiming it and using its power to cause a rift in time and space ending reality as we know it... Just a thought.

#12 smart_idiot   Members   -  Reputation: 1298

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Posted 17 April 2011 - 10:41 AM

Perma-death is fine if:
  • You can't die due to the whims of the RNG. There should be a clear reason for your death that can be learned from and avoided in the future.
  • Your dead characters can leave their mark on the world. You can find your deceased players in Nethack, Oregon Trail you can find their tombstones, in Dwarf Fortress you can explore and read the engravings in your fallen fortresses. It's also a sense of accomplishment, as finding these things means you've surpassed your old character.
  • There's no PvP combat. Humans are no good dirty cheaters and must never be trusted.

Chess is played by three people. Two people play the game; the third provides moral support for the pawns. The object of the game is to kill your opponent by flinging captured pieces at his head. Since the only piece that can be killed is a pawn, the two armies agree to meet in a pawn-infested area (or even a pawn shop) and kill as many pawns as possible in the crossfire. If the game goes on for an hour, one player may legally attempt to gouge out the other player's eyes with his King.

#13 Storyyeller   Members   -  Reputation: 215

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Posted 17 April 2011 - 11:44 AM

I had a thread about this issue a little while ago, and the biggest point that came up is that in a single player game, perma-death is meaningless because the player can simply reload and resurrect any dead character, albeit in a meta-way related to the game itself. In a multiplayer game, it is simply an incredible deterrent to players, because all of their effort can vanish irrevocably. Players in general won't invest their time and energy into games where all of that effort can be rendered meaningless at any time, forcing them to either re-do everything they've already done or stop playing altogether.


They can't reload without hacking the game. And if they're already doing that, they may as well just give themselves infinite health or something.
I trust exceptions about as far as I can throw them.

#14 Khaiy   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1737

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Posted 17 April 2011 - 01:41 PM


I had a thread about this issue a little while ago, and the biggest point that came up is that in a single player game, perma-death is meaningless because the player can simply reload and resurrect any dead character, albeit in a meta-way related to the game itself. In a multiplayer game, it is simply an incredible deterrent to players, because all of their effort can vanish irrevocably. Players in general won't invest their time and energy into games where all of that effort can be rendered meaningless at any time, forcing them to either re-do everything they've already done or stop playing altogether.


They can't reload without hacking the game. And if they're already doing that, they may as well just give themselves infinite health or something.


What? I've bolded a couple of parts of my original quote. Reloading only applies to single player games. If you're talking about multiplayer, there are other issues at work with perma-death.

#15 arski   Members   -  Reputation: 100

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Posted 17 April 2011 - 07:55 PM

Ask yourself how the player feels about perma-death.

Every player is making a subconscious cost-benefit analysis that guides his choices. "Do I wanna go risk my ass, or am I having enough fun now?"

Is the prospect of perma-death too painful? It depends on how much the player has to lose.

You can artificially manipulate the player's thought process by making perma-death less expensive or more expensive in terms of loss.

This involves out-of-game loss too. If the player has to spend 30 minutes of drudgery to register a new account, for example, he will be more likely to say no, compared to a quick 1 minute restart.

#16 Ashaman73   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 11961

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Posted 19 April 2011 - 12:22 AM

Taking a look at Dwarf Fortress (fortress mode) an interesting idea come to mind: perma-death by installments. In fortress mode you control a community of dwarves to build a fortress. Once all dwarves has been killed or your fortress has been destroyed the game is in fact over.

The interesting part about this is, that you have often the chance to change the outcome of a major blow to your community/fortress, sometimes only few dwarves survive such a situation, but the gamer was able to save the fortress. To recover from a near "death" situation is often more rewarding than a straight walk to the goal.

To go back to a single character games such a chance would be a permanent injury like loosing a hand. Permadeath is still a option, but a healthy character would most probably get a major injury first.

Being killed by a guard just before encountering the evil overlord is frustrating, killing the evil overlord without dying is good, killing the overlord with your left hand and a broken sword after a fatal battle with his guard is amazing.

Ashaman

 

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#17 Iron Chef Carnage   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1840

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Posted 19 April 2011 - 12:42 AM

That would challenge a lot of the standard conventions of gaming, though. After all, if my awesome swordsman actually gets into a room with the evil overlord, odds are he'll be no match for me in a hand-to-hand fight. After all, he's some kind of highly educated politician, running an evil empire and having his food delivered to his study when he gets hungry, while my guy has been hacking through hordes of undead robot ninjas for the last twelve years.

I had a DF game where I got ganked by a guard, but had enough juice left in me to kill a couple non-combat NPCs, including a priestess, before I actually died. In a more conventional game, you'd expect the guards to be cannon fodder, but a 1v1 with the priestess would be a "boss fight", so she'd be flying around and launching fireballs and cackling maniacally. In fact, she was just a rich gobling wearing a nice robe, and when my sword hit her neck, her head popped off and she died. The challenge was getting through all the iron-clad soldiers between the frontier and her temple. Killing her was the functional equivalent of opening a treasure chest or unlocking a door, as far as combat situations go.

Would players accept this? It's a little weird, and having the enemies sometimes be less than awesome can have a weird effect on players. I remember one time, I was fighting a small ambush, and after I'd neutralized all the threats, I had one living bandit, with some debilitating injuries. I grabbed that dude and systematically broke all his joints, to level up my wrestling skill. Half grind, half catharsis, all awkward.

#18 JBourrie   Members   -  Reputation: 1204

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Posted 29 April 2011 - 11:09 AM

The DS visual novel 999: Nine Persons, Nine Hours, Nine Doors has a really great way of dealing with death: there are six endings, and most of them involve most (or all) characters being killed. It's permadeath after 5-8 hours of gameplay... normally the sort of thing that would turn people off from ever playing again.

However, in 999 each "death" is a learning experience: I gain clues and insight into the ever-deepening story. I discover that certain people are trustworthy, while others can't be trusted. I learn that things aren't quite what I thought they were. And I take that knowledge into the next playthrough to make different choices and reach a different ending.

It's a very impressive design that turns permadeath into an important replay mechanic.

Demon's Souls builds a similar mechanic into an action game. Death becomes a learning experience, not just a time-sink. While it's not permadeath, the need to "earn your life back" in Demon's Souls is an interesting middle ground between permanent death and having "lives".

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#19 Heaven   Members   -  Reputation: 600

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 05:59 AM

I think some of the typical perceived drawbacks to permadeath could be minimized. Consider...

In a multiplayer permadeath environment you could allow resurrections. Healer classes (or NPCs) would be able to bring a dead player back to life as long as their corpse was available within a certain timeframe. Perhaps the longer the player was dead the greater the effect on the character when revived. After a sufficiently long time had passed perhaps the corpse would be unrevivable. Maybe there are spells that prevent revivification. Items that eat the player's "soul" could also prevent it. The player could be allowed to have multiple characters so when one "dies" he logs into his other character, goes to the location his other character died at, and retrieves the corpse to bring back to town and then pays and/or casts a spell to revive it.

I also like the idea of maiming. That sounds evil. Heh. Anyway, say you're out farming bears and you're overwhelmed. Instead of dying when your health reaches 0 perhaps you're only unconscious. The game determines that the bear in this case doesn't eat you after you pass out. You awaken a short time later but as a result of your injuries you are now lame and move at a 25% slower pace, or attack 25% slower or at a permanent disadvantage.

As you can see I'm using the term permanent loosely. Permanent? Yes. Reversible? Yes, in most cases. Some of the possible options you can come up with to keep permadeath from being so permanent involve relying on socializing, so that's another plus. Do you want to make sure you always try and group with a player who has a Healer? Absolutely. I imagine this would greatly enhance the value of healers and possibly even tank type characters (those who can take a beating). I could also imagine a world where every player has at least one Healer alt. Heh.

Having a variety of sensible options to remedy permadeath takes the sting out of many situations where a player would find themselves not wanting to play again having died after heavily investing into a character. My motto is: more options = more gameplay. Imagine your main dies, you log on your alt to go retrieve the corpse but then on the way it dies too. Heh. Now what? Ask for help by logging in with a new character? Does the "help" steal your corpse instead of giving it to your new character? Does the game allow new characters to be listed as descendants/relatives of the deceased so they can perhaps inherit some of the dead characters assets (i.e., those in the bank) so that NPCs can be hired to physically go and retrieve corpses? Guards, perhaps and/or Healer NPCs? If you were killed by a group of evil NPCs (e.g., bandits) is your corpse still where you died or did they perhaps take it to their hideout? Can you round up the help (player or otherwise) you may need to then go and find their "lair" and retrieve your corpse?

Just some ideas!

Take care.

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#20 Mariken   Members   -  Reputation: 100

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 12:19 PM

In my opinion it's not only about the pro's and cons of perma death, but also about the target audience (or player base). Some type of games, like Diablo do really lend themselves to permadeath options, because the audience tends to like it.
My guess is leaving permadeath out of Diablo III, for example, will cause players to complain.

In these games it's just another challenge thrown at hardcore gamers to keep them satisfied, they 'll be the first ones to buy your new games.
However it should always be an option, you don't want to scare away the rest of the crowd, unless you are aiming at those hardcore types only when creating a game.

What are the rules your target audience is accustomed to? This question could be a base at which can be decided to offer such options like permadeath. This is just one of many factors, influencing a game. Therefore permadeath shouldn't be shunned immediately as an option, in the game.




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