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What I learned from 21 games on permadeath


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#1 makuto   Members   -  Reputation: 828

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 12:18 PM

So, after years of not touching my PS2, I plugged it up and begin playing all of my games with the rule that if I failed or died on the hardest mode I would quit the game. I did leave out some games that didn't fit well with the formula, such as the Final Fantasy games or racing games. Anything largely story-based wouldn't work very well. I did this to see if I would learn more about games and failure.

 

Any ways, here's the summary of all of the games:

 

  1. Ace Combat Zero: Died on first mission by two missiles (right when it said mission completed)
  2. Sly 2: Detected on the first world during the follow Dimitri mission
  3. Need for Speed Most Wanted: Lost the first full race (with the Ronnie guy, he looks really silly) after he used their rubberbanding to rocket past me
  4. The Matrix Path of Neo: Died 40 mins. in during a samurai training program
  5. Smuggler's Run: Failed on a racing mission in the first world when I missed a single gate
  6. Ratchet & Clank Up Your Arsenal: Killed by Captain Quark (first boss) right after successfully doing the gauntlet first try
  7. SOCOM US Navy SEALS Combined Assault: Died on first mission just before completion when one of the last troops shot me a few times (hardest difficulty). I was being a little bone-headed...
  8. Twisted Metal Head On: Killed by a very weak cop car on the first level (this *was* on hard though...)
  9. Secret Service: Glitched up on the first shooting part (it never ended & enemies stopped coming). It killed me instantly when I tried to go away from the shooting spot...
  10. Stuntman Ignition: I fell off my bike on the third mission and built up a ton of strikes after that
  11. Star Wars Battlefront II: (Now, usually you go through many units during a battle, so I could go without losing a planet battle, but it's much hardcore if it's individual troops) Killed by a dang imperial battle droid (the silver one) after not killing a single enemy (the aiming was really annoying). This was on elite difficulty.
  12. Shadow the Hedgehog: Accidentally jumped off the edge when boost attacking a monster on the second level
  13. Lord of the Rings, Two Towers: Killed by a Nazgul Rider on the second mission
  14. Enter the Matrix: Mowed down by two cops on the mail level (hard)
  15. Syphon Filter Dark Mirror: (hard) On the first mission I accidentally ran off a walkway due to the slow deceleration of the character
  16. Spiderman 2: Killed by a petty thief after killing the Rhino guy used up all my health
  17. Ghost Recon 2: Killed by a terrorist ten minutes in to the first mission, partly because this game has a terrible control scheme
  18. Sly 3: Killed by drowning in the ice cold waters of Venice (before the first real mission). Evidently raccoons cannot swim
  19. Burnout Revenge: (Quit if failure or car explodes/crashes, crash event doesn't count) Failed on a crash event when I only made it into oncoming
  20. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3: (Quit if crash) (actually, quit if no achievement) I crashed (landed sideways on a half pipe) then failed to get any achievements on the foundry level
  21. Kings Field, The Ancient City: Died by bats when trying to run through them (they are quite strong in large groups)

So, what I learned:

  • A lot of games do not work well playing permadeath. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 was probably the worst out of these. The more you care about the story the less you care about dying/failing. Permadeathing is best suited for games where the player has a little time to prepare. If you all-of-the-sudden die from a spike trap or something you feel cheated, but if you make a large plan that ends up in death then you feel it was completely your fault, not the game cheating you. When I died in SOCOM (7) I didn't feel cheated because I knew I was stupid to just stand in the doorway rather than employing more complex tactics.
  • It takes time to adjust to controls and look sensitivities. Make sure to let the player adjust before you throw them into your game.
  • I think games that allow you to fail and adjust if you do rather than making you retry are superior in some ways. For example, some racing games let you lose races and keep progressing. This doesn't make it less valuable to win because us humans are naturally programmed to try to win. Something like Sly 2 or 3 could be significantly more interesting if failure resulted in different storylines. What I mean by this is that if you got detected by a guard and the guard escaped, the boss would be alerted strengthen their guard. They could even counter-attack. This would add significant development time but would result in a much more engrossing world. 
  • Failure is very important to games. A large amount of learning results from trial and error. It would be preferable if those failure learning cycles could be sped up a little by not making the player restart the entire level. For example, in Braid if the player dies they can just rewind and start a few seconds before they died. This doesn't hurt the game at all because the game isn't about death. In most games death is necessary, but failure doesn't necessarily have to be death.

 

 

[FIXED] EDIT: Sorry, but it appears that the lists and bullets aren't working. They show up in the editor window though...


Edited by makuto, 24 December 2012 - 02:10 PM.

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#2 JTippetts   Moderators   -  Reputation: 8160

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 12:40 PM

None of those games are designed with perma-death in mind. That's a pretty big distinction. Try playing a game where perma-death is part of the design, and I think you might have a different experience. You think you feel cheated by dying from a spike trap, I think that if you haven't ascended in Nethack without save-scumming (and haven't gone through the endless dead characters that ascension requires) then you haven't known gaming's most glorious summit. It's all just a matter of opinion.

 

If you are going to feature perma-death, you have to make sure that the game isn't boring on a second (or third, or fourth, etc...) playthrough. Today's linear, story-heavy RPGs, adventure games and on-rails cover shooters are quite the opposite of what makes a good perma-death game.

 

And that's okay. Perma-death really isn't for everyone, or for every game. The expectations of most players are different from what they were once upon a time. But trying to say that games that don't feature perma-death are superior to games that do, based upon a huge death session with a bunch of games not designed for perma-death, really doesn't prove anything.



#3 Servant of the Lord   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 17261

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 12:57 PM

Yeah, lists broke a few days ago after the latest site update.

Upvoted your post because this thread could really lead to interesting design discussions.

 

I agree with with JTippets though, and when you say "A lot of games do not work well playing permadeath.", I think it's better stated, "A lot of games not designed for permadeath do not work well playing permadeath.", which really means that you can't slap a major design decision over a game at the last minute when the rest of the game's design doesn't take it into account. All of the game's different design decisions must play well with each other.

 

But your other observations are useful. What other things have you observed about permadeath while playing?


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#4 Acharis   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3178

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 02:06 PM

playing all of my games with the rule that if I failed or died on the hardest mode I would quit the game.

This won't work. These games were designed to be load/save not permadeath. They were not balanced for permadeath, do not have proper resources system, are not short enough, do not have enough randomness.

 

Try games designed for permadeath (mostly roguelikes). The feeling is completely different.

 

 

So I'm basicly repeating what others already said :)


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#5 makuto   Members   -  Reputation: 828

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 02:09 PM

None of those games are designed with perma-death in mind. That's a pretty big distinction. Try playing a game where perma-death is part of the design, and I think you might have a different experience. You think you feel cheated by dying from a spike trap, I think that if you haven't ascended in Nethack without save-scumming (and haven't gone through the endless dead characters that ascension requires) then you haven't known gaming's most glorious summit. It's all just a matter of opinion.

That is very true. I suppose I should have explained that.

 

I've played the old T.o.m.e. a lot (similar to Angband) and have to admit that it wouldn't be the same without perma death. Nothing is more rewarding than spending all those hours to make an amazing character, and nothing is worse than when you die as your character making a stupid mistake. There's pleasure in finding those more powerful items and equipping them to prevent your inevitable doom.

 

What other things have you observed about permadeath while playing?

I've found I usually step a little softer while I'm playing and use all of my resources. In SOCOM (7), you have a fireteam of 3 people that follow your every command. When I played without perma death I would usually do all the grunt work while they followed me around. With perma death I actually send them to positions I think may be dangerous rather than running gung-ho into the battlefield myself. When you're more worried about dying or failing you tend to plan ahead more and play significantly more cautiously. Perma-deathing just requires more focus (on some games).

 

If you are going to feature perma-death, you have to make sure that the game isn't boring on a second (or third, or fourth, etc...) playthrough.

That is also true. That's probably why most roguelikes and games like Spelunky use something like procedural generation to change the experience every time. You never know what combination you will get, which is really exciting. If you had to play through a game like Halo on perma death you would quickly become bored of the first level (seeing that game was in no way designed for permadeath).

 

But trying to say that games that don't feature perma-death are superior to games that do, based upon a huge death session with a bunch of games not designed for perma-death, really doesn't prove anything.

I'm sorry if I mislead you, but that wasn't at all what I was trying to prove. I was just experimenting with failure and death in games, not finding if permadeath is superior to typical game death/failure. If you've read my other post, no game is superior except by quality, so I shouldn't make such a distinction any ways.


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#6 eppopparelle   Members   -  Reputation: 163

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 05:33 PM

I've been lurking in the forums looking for a thread similar to yours. Upvoted for the valuable information.



#7 greggles   Members   -  Reputation: 347

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Posted 24 December 2012 - 09:09 PM

First of all: great post! I like that you brought up such an interesting topic and it got me thinking a bit more about permadeath as another tool in a game designer's arsenal. Some things that I considered and thought I would share:

  1. As was mentioned, permadeath forces the player to concentrate and rely more on strategy. This makes it harder for a player to sprint into the action with a shotgun or try a crazy move just to see if it succeeds. It adds the thrill of thinking through your actions and being correct, but reduces the possibility of the thrill of "I can't believe that worked!" 
  2. It makes the player more protective of his character, which can lead to a stronger emotional attachment.
  3. If a player is going to perform an action, he must be confident it will succeed. I think this is where THPS3 utterly fails as a permadeath game, since it is built on repetitive skill honing (eg. keep practicing until you are able to perform the required steps to reach the secret tape).
  4. It can be used to help produce a strong sense of accomplishment ("I can't believe I've made it this far!"), which continually pays off in thrill and feeling of achievement.
  5. If the game requires repetition, it may be good to help the gamer have an enjoyable fresh start by producing a new gameplay experience (through procedural levels, changing gameplay, or some other way). Note that cut scenes can become dull because of reduced suspense and surprise. The other option is to build levels in a way that it is exciting to play through again, maybe the earlier parts become easier after repetition. Replay ability becomes paramount.
  6. Permadeath isn't necessarily all-or-nothing. Consider games like Super Mario Bros. (first example that popped in my head, though many games fit this description). When considered from the big picture you wouldn't consider it a permadeath game, but inside individual levels it is; hit the lava and you must start back at the beginning. If you wanted to make it more permadeath-esque it could be that each world must be replayed if you die in any level. Take it to the extreme and you must always restart from level 1-1. So death can be considered a bit of a continuum from restart from your last save to restart from the beginning.


#8 makuto   Members   -  Reputation: 828

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Posted 25 December 2012 - 10:27 PM

Ooh! I just watched this video

 

It got me thinking more about this topic and how permadeath might be detrimental to the player. According to that video, it's best to have very quick attempt->feedback cycles to maximize learning and enjoyment. If you think about it, permadeath makes that cycle quite a bit slower, especially if the levels are procedural so you will only encounter the challenge once in a while.

 

Of course, he was talking about entry-level game players. Most games designed around permadeath are intended for the more hardcore people (I would by no means consider Nethack approachable for any of my casual gamer family), but is this really how they should be?


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#9 Defend   Members   -  Reputation: 208

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Posted 26 December 2012 - 11:30 AM

Just going against the trend here, I'll refer to Phantasy Star Online. After maxing a character or two, myself and a fair few others got into self-imposed permadeath playing and I have to say it was by far the most compelling play that game provided. It was like crack for all of us. More to the point, the game's economy was actually more suited to this type of play, as if they had distributed items and rewards based on the idea that players would be playing one adventure, not a repeat cycle of them. And not just distribution; many cheap special weapons that had always been rubbish from the start, that had always come across as useless filler in the game, suddenly found themselves filling previously pointless roles so well that it really looked like this was how the game was deliberately designed. Except, it apparently wasn't. PSO has never had a permadeath mode. 

 

So in one aspect the actual play was quite simply better (in our opinions) due to the added tension, and in another aspect the economy was much, much more rewarding due to the increased difficulty of access to the good loot and the increased room in gameplay for the lower special weapons.

 

I don't know what can be learnt from that. The gameplay factor was only successful because of the online component. Playing alone would have become too frustrating to carry a full game. On that note, Realm of the Mad God (check on Steam, it's free) is an online MMO-shootey-RPG that uses permadeath and only permadeath. The economy factor of PSO was definitely improved by permadeath play however.

 

The pseudo-update, PSO ver.2, changed a particular mechanic in combat and that unfortunately made permadeath no longer viable.


Edited by Defend, 26 December 2012 - 11:34 AM.


#10 makuto   Members   -  Reputation: 828

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Posted 26 December 2012 - 12:32 PM

That sounds like fun! It's too bad the update ruined it.

 

 

Just going against the trend here, I'll refer to Phantasy Star Online. After maxing a character or two, myself and a fair few others got into self-imposed permadeath playing and I have to say it was by far the most compelling play that game provided. It was like crack for all of us.

 

That's another thing about permadeath. Sometimes it can be really fun to talk to your friends about.

 

It's pretty interesting that playing on permadeath had such an effect on the economy. That's similar to most roguelikes, where you buy anything that'll give you even the slightest boost.


Edited by makuto, 26 December 2012 - 12:35 PM.

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#11 Servant of the Lord   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 17261

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Posted 26 December 2012 - 03:11 PM

Ooh! I just watched this video

 

Thank you for posting that, he brings up some interesting thoughts.


Edited by Servant of the Lord, 26 December 2012 - 03:11 PM.

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#12 kseh   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1856

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Posted 26 December 2012 - 08:40 PM

This thread makes me think that maybe it should be hard to be a Navy Seal, or Spiderman, or whatever larger than life character you take on. The tasks that such characters would take on are pretty extraordinary. Typically I look at hard level of difficulties as just being a few arbitrary adjustments to damage calculation formulas. It might be cool to know that one mode represents reality a little more closely.



#13 makuto   Members   -  Reputation: 828

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Posted 26 December 2012 - 10:11 PM

This thread makes me think that maybe it should be hard to be a Navy Seal, or Spiderman, or whatever larger than life character you take on. The tasks that such characters would take on are pretty extraordinary.

Agreed, it ought to be hard to be a hero, but the game still has to naturally progress in difficulty in the "flow channel" (or does it?). 

 

That also makes me think, if you have a procedural permadeath (or similar) game, technically you could make the difficulty progression constant across deaths. Maybe in a zombie apocalypse game you would start out in a low population town with only a few zombies spawnable at all. The player then dies, and some difficulty->performance metric is taken. When they start their new life, they might be in a city with even more zombies than the town had, depending on how well they did in the town. That would keep every new life unique and keep them in the flow channel.   This also poses some problems with development time as well as makes death a little less permadeath-y.

 

Typically I look at hard level of difficulties as just being a few arbitrary adjustments to damage calculation formulas. It might be cool to know that one mode represents reality a little more closely.

Do you mean having a "Relaxed" mode and a "Realistic" mode? I suppose as long as you made both equally exciting to play that would work (if that's even what you mean).


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#14 Servant of the Lord   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 17261

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Posted 26 December 2012 - 10:50 PM

This thread makes me think that maybe it should be hard to be a Navy Seal, or Spiderman, or whatever larger than life character you take on. The tasks that such characters would take on are pretty extraordinary. Typically I look at hard level of difficulties as just being a few arbitrary adjustments to damage calculation formulas. It might be cool to know that one mode represents reality a little more closely.

 

I saw this video this morning, and am impressed by things like that (not the shot, but the amount of time they invested just to line up the shot). Role-playing of realistic military situations.

 

I wouldn't invest that kind of time, but I think there might be a decent niche market for games that cater to gamers without huge amounts of time to spend, but wanting semi-realistic simulations. One game that I enjoyed very much that would almost fit in such a category was a Halflife 2 mod called 'Insurgency' (now defunct). Not a 'realism' sim, but not a run-and-gun FPS either.


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#15 Defend   Members   -  Reputation: 208

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Posted 27 December 2012 - 03:34 AM

If you haven't played it, Eve Online is another good demonstration of tough punishment heavily shaping the game, with pretty much the expected results. It's not permadeath, but permaloss, and the emotion it drums up is just as heavy I would say. Honestly a loss of a good ship in Eve hurt more than the loss of a good permadeath RAcast in PSO, but Eve isn't bittersweet. Just bitter. It is incredibly punishing when something goes wrong in PvE, to the point that you basically don't want to risk something going wrong. While the same system makes PvP super un-rewarding to get into for quite some time. 

 

As expected, this all means that there is much more meaning to everything. Much more harsh than most games, but the game is in its 10th year now and is only more popular than it has ever been, and I'm pretty certain that would have been a completely different story if losses were softer on the player. Again it shows that maybe permadeath is better suited to games where there's an online community within which the player can be proud. As JTippetts said, solo permadeath play means needing to find a way to make all the replaying not suck.

 

So on that note, forever run games work. Jetpack Joyride, Agent Dash, or Ski Safari (which I love) are examples. So maybe this means that if you want to design a good permadeath game, you're limited to either arcadey blasts or online communities.

 

I can't think of both happening in one game. How cool would that be... to watch the playerbase of something like Ski Safari fizzle out, live, as you progress further and further.



#16 makuto   Members   -  Reputation: 828

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Posted 27 December 2012 - 09:29 AM

I wouldn't invest that kind of time, but I think there might be a decent niche market for games that cater to gamers without huge amounts of time to spend, but wanting semi-realistic simulations.

Definitely. It seems that some people's primary turn-ons are the realism of the game, even if it's brutally difficult. I've never really played one, but flight simulators tend to be massively realistic and not very nice to new players, but people still like to play them.

 

If you haven't played it, Eve Online is another good demonstration of tough punishment heavily shaping the game, with pretty much the expected results. It's not permadeath, but permaloss, and the emotion it drums up is just as heavy I would say. Honestly a loss of a good ship in Eve hurt more than the loss of a good permadeath RAcast in PSO, but Eve isn't bittersweet. Just bitter. It is incredibly punishing when something goes wrong in PvE, to the point that you basically don't want to risk something going wrong. While the same system makes PvP super un-rewarding to get into for quite some time.

When games like Eve Online have that kind of punishment, everything has much more value. When you do complete a challenge that you might not have been completely prepared for and it was a close match, nothing is better than that feeling. Taking risks than having them come out fruitfully is a very satisfying feeling. All that tension is released and you are rewarded with in game items and a blast of happy drugs from the brain. 

 

I can't think of both happening in one game. How cool would that be... to watch the playerbase of something like Ski Safari fizzle out, live, as you progress further and further.

That would be a pretty sweet effect. Then once you get further than the 99% you're all alone, feeling like a total boss.


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#17 Blind Radish   Members   -  Reputation: 355

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Posted 27 December 2012 - 01:08 PM

Fascinating how such a simple experiment can yield such interesting results.  Thanks!  +1!



#18 makuto   Members   -  Reputation: 828

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Posted 27 December 2012 - 10:27 PM

I was thinking about having even more permanent deaths than normal permadeath, such that the game itself would be deleted and the player would effectively be banned for life from the game. If it was a physical copy they would have to return it to the store. I usually label it "PERMAdeath" when it is really permanent.

 

The only problems with PERMAdeath would be that it might seriously turn off the player from experimenting with the game. This could be especially disastrous with a game involving frequent risking of life. It would likely get in the way of learning the game system and potentially turn the player off for future releases/sequels. It could succeed in small scale mini/casual games where the game itself doesn't mean nearly as much.

 

Basically, PERMAdeath would be even more difficult to succeed with than normal permadeath.

 

Also, a version of permadeath multiplayer could exist if the player was kicked from the server as soon as they died. This could result in more detachment from the server because they fear that they will never see it again if they perish (which could be a hefty price indeed). That sort of system might also result in players dying on a server to make the future players on that server's lives a little easier (ie by constructing more defences against the undead but dying from them eventually).


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#19 dakota.potts   Members   -  Reputation: 455

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Posted 29 December 2012 - 11:42 PM

I have something to add.

I grew up on the Pokemon generation of games. You catch pokemon, raise them, and battle them. I've played these since I was 5 and most of them I've restarted 3 or 4 times. Then my friends introduced to me something called the "Nuzlocke Challenge". When you fight with Pokemon, if they lose their health, they faint and must be taken to a health center to be revived, meaning they can't be used in battle.

In the Nuzlocke challenge, when a Pokemon faints, it is considered dead and you must release it or put it away until the game has been finished. You can also only catch the first pokemon you find in each area, which means rare pokemon are incredibly rare and you may end up with multiple of the same species that you don't want. In addition, there are certain moves (Flash to light up a cave, Cut to cut down trees blocking paths, Surf to swim across water) that take up one of a Pokemon's four move slots. You must carefully balance these moves with the other battle moves as you must have pokemon that can do these functions and you must be ready to have a plan if one of your pokemon with Cut dies and you have to get across an area that needs it.

It also means that when you meet one of the few "legendary" pokemon in the game, which can take 15-20 restarts to catch, you either have to risk missing it forever or using the one Master Ball in the game (if you've found it) that will catch anything.

This was a very fun challenge for me since I had pretty much mastered the game at that point. However, I did get disheartened with it after I lost 3 of my strongest party of 6 at one time

#20 Blind Radish   Members   -  Reputation: 355

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Posted 30 December 2012 - 02:16 AM

On a completely unrelated note to the conversations going on here... really completely totally not related in any way...

Everyone here should try THIS GAME.






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