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Deyja

Permadeath in a MMORPG

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How would you handle it? The cost of death is directly related to the amount of time the player invests in their character. The idea is to make 'losing' as painless as possible, because players don't like to lose. It's generally done in two ways. In a game like WoW, death doesn't really mean anything. You just respawn, your character is intact. An FPS handles it from the other direction. Players don't invest any time in their character, so they don't lose anything when they die. I intend to mitigate perma-death by using a skill system instead of a level system, making it quick and easy to gain skills, allowing 'children' to inherit a characters possessions, and putting a hard limit on a character's lifespan so that they have to die eventually no matter what.

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It seems like something that would require a lot of play testing and tweaking to get just right.

One thing you want to keep in mind is that, with this fast turnover system, you are likely removing one of the most important draws in the mmo genre: "The attachment" players have to their character.

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I remember a period in about mid 2006 when every second thread was a discussion of permadeath in MMORPGs [smile]. I can't remember whether any conclusions were reached on design issues; I think the authors were glossing over any negatives people brought up.

The biggest problem I see is that either you remove the attachment the player has to their character or the players will be suffering a major setback upon death. Both have issues.

In the former (remove attachment to the character), you're now bending the genre towards MMO Counterstrike. Death is still fairly meaningless, but so is their "life" within the game. The usual skill progression that informally defines the RPG genre will either need to be nerfed or completely warped.

In the later (big losses upon death), player death becomes a major setback that could act as a psychological quitting point for the games. You'll also have bigger issues with griefers when they can cause much more pain.

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There's a reason that landing on the go to jail spot in monopoly is only a temporary inconvenience, and you don't really have to get up and go lock yourself in a closet. ;)

I would never play such a game. That puts me off right there. I'm not going to bother building up something that can be so easily lost. I play games to have fun, not to be inconvenienced.

Permadeath works good in some genres. I loved it in America's Army. But the rounds were only a couple of minutes long, and I had nothing to lose.

In an RPG, I'm looking to build up a strong character over time. I'm not interested in playing as my offspring, or even having any offspring. For the same reason that I'm not looking to read books about the son of Batman.

Also, I like video game tropes, and don't want a simulation of real life. I just want to relax and have fun.

Just my 2 cents.

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These conversations always make me think back to the early days and my first MMO (MUD), the Island of Kesmai. It will always be my favorite online experience, but it was never, ever easy.

In the early game, permadeath was possible. If you decided to fight one of the dragons, or Thisson (still makes me shudder: stun, stun, stun, RUN), they could potentially eat you in one bite. And that was it. Reroll.

Talk about a truly epic battle you don't want to lose...

Most deaths, however, instead resulted in the (semi) permanent loss of a constitution point, which meant less hit points. Only a rare drake potion could raise that stat again, and even then, only back to 17. Fighter-types who wanted to keep max hps had to avoid death completely.

Things are easier these days. The path has diverged, frustration has been thrown out the window, and there's no going back. There will always be a small, hardcore group of players who like perma-death type RPGs, but by and large, that time has gone.

I think your best bet is to simply have a harsh death penalty. The player should be able to work his or her way back from any penalty, so nothing has to be permanent. For the hardcore gamers, all they need is a sliver of hope and some time.

That's my two cents. :)

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I think a solution might be to make death a 'you lose, but heres a new opportunity' situation.

Here's a simple example of the concept :

The player has 3 attributes, dex,str and int. He also has a Bonus.

As the player gains in experience, he boosts his Bonus, and his effective dex,str and int are the attribute values + Bonus.

As he dies, his son gets his fathers dex,str and int, and has the opportunity to add the Bonus to one of his attributes, and the bonus is reset to 0.

Of course, the way i described it is not so interesting, but I'd try to find an interesting way to make death appear like an opportunity rather than only a punition, while also making sure that dieing is not something you want to do on purpose (unless you have quests where the goal is to be sacrificed to a god for added bonuses to your son?)

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EVE online does this decently well. All your belonging are expendable, so time investment is in 1) your character's skills, and 2) money for equipment.
You can lose ships all the time, and few new players this can be stressful, as it takes a long time to get started and have enough money to fall back on when you lose your first ship. And, if you do PvP (the main point of the game imho) then you can lose your character. Death sends you back to your clone's location, and cauzes to you lose skillpoints down to the amount your clone was rated for capped at a loss of 25% of your most trained skill (could be months of game time training). So death isn't 100% perminate, but it does hold some major consequences if you aren't careful about your planning.

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RamboPowPow is on the right track. That's the sort of thing I'm looking for.

One of the issues is that people so often look at perma-death in light of current games. Obviously, perma-death in a game like WoW is going to suck. I'm looking for ways that a game could be designed from the ground up with perma-death. Ways to make it just another game mechanic, and not the player 'losing'.

One of the problems I'm considering is griefers. I attack them with an in-game NPC police system. I don't rely on AI to make them work, either. They are simply omniscient. Pulling off a murder without getting caught should take a certain amount of planning. And once it's not just a casual stabbing in the town square, it's not griefing anymore - it's just another bit of gameplay.
Sure, a griefer could just go stab people in the town square. But then they either have to defeat the NPC police or elude them indefinitely. Unless, of course, another player gets them first.

I know I won't get that player-character attachment. But I should be able to get player-dynasty attachment. As for the children characters; they don't just magically appear when you die. You have to actively 'acquire' them, and you can train them before your parent character dies, so you can have a skilled character 'ready to go' when you die.

This also gives players an option of shifting gears without starting from scratch. They can train the child character in a different set of skills than the parent, and go off on a new tangent when they inevitably must switch.

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I hate grind, and so naturally also MMORPGs, but I like that you're at least trying to mix it up. Heres a few ideas that struck me while reading the thread: Instead of children, players can either form their own, or join, small communities (tribes, clans, dynasties, what have you). Many of the bodies in the clan are NPCs that can be ordered around by the player members, and can accompany them in battle (thus building their stats in the areas you desire). When you die, you choose one of the NPC bodies to take over. They will most likely be significantly less awesome than the body you just lost, but they will be trained in the areas that are important to you. And your attachment is to the clan as a whole instead of yourself.

Or take it an entirely different direction: The player not only trains their body, but their soul as well. When their body dies their soul must search for a new one. But in order to acquire a body, they must first evict the resident soul through some form of spiritual battle (it should go without saying that only NPC bodies can be acquired this way, to avoid pissing off players). The idea being that they can return to a state similar but less impressive than their previous one, and retain their character's identity (even if only psychologically).

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A system like this is being implemented in the up and coming Dragon Ball online game in which your character is eventually replaced by your child who inherits your skills/techniques and is able to learn new styles of combat, this permeates onwards as the child's child becomes playable and so on.

the entire system has a key marriage system in which you would marry another character (I'm not too sure if it would be another player character since I have really researched to far into the subject)and have kids and a family an eventually having a character who has learned all the skills and styles available to him/her via inheritance and gaining experience in new skill sets.

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Its no MMORPG, but I really like the way Diablo 2 incorperated this. They gave you the option of making a "Hardcore" character that would be permadeath-able. It was nice, sure you have your main character that just, beats everything up hack adn slash without paranoia, but you'd also be able to have that character that you just try and get as high level as possible before it bit the dust.

Sure it was still frustrating if it died, but the idea was that it wasent ever going to be your only character (i think you even had to at least go through the game once to unlock hardcore made).

I enjoyed playing hardcore, and for the last of my days with D2, its almost soley what I played, but the option of not having to deal with permadeath was very, very nice.

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Here's a thought to deal with the attachment aspect.

Keep good records of a player's "family line", complete with a nice family tree, and plaques or something showing off their accomplishments.

The idea being, that people will become attached to the line instead of the individual characters.

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The EvE model is my favorite. It draws a clear distinction between the player's avatar (character) and the game piece (ship), and while long-term progress is reflected in the permanent element (character skills), the actual in-game capabilities and assets (ship and fitting) are annihilated upon death. This preserves the sense of identity in a way that a string of alts could never do, while ensuring that death is a serious event.

I've often envisioned a hybrid between that and Clonk Planet, where individual characters can be recruited, trained, equipped and either used in a semi-autonomous RTS-type way or directly inhabited and controlled by the player. Particularly in the Knights expansion for Clonk Planet, it's a lot of fun to build a functioning city, with resources being harvested and little guys smithing and fletching and cooking in there, and then grab one, load him up with the best gear around and go out on an adventure with him.

I'd like to see an MMO where you control a village or settlement, and can dispatch a champion (or small party) from it, geared up with the best stuff your infrastructure and trade can provide them with, and armed with their own personal experience. That way, permadeath would just be the end of that character's story, and you'd only lose their special talents and the hardware they had on their person at the time. Meanwhile, your town would keep making more gear and supplying more adventures. It would be like having all your alts on at once.

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What is the design goal of perma-death? I've never seen one argued successfully. The one commonly argued (games are meaningless without risk) is (imo) completely without merit.

1. You're already risking your valuable time towards some goal. Fail the goal, and you've spent the time/game-money/ammunition/non-permanent death penalty. To me, this is worse than fair since 'failure' at a task in an mmo often isn't based on any choice the player made, but some moron teammate, server lag, lack of sufficient level/skills/abilities, a griefer interrupting you/occupying the target/goal...

2. Only 1/3 of the people in your game (at best) are Achievers. The rest don't much care about risk vs goal. They just want to explore or kill or socialize.

3. It's recreation. The point of your game should be to entertain people. Even if people don't die, they spend their lifetimes in fear of death. They don't go to attack the dragon, they futz about grinding up, running away... not doing new, interesting, entertaining things.


But to answer the original question: I won't play. I barely play MMOs at all anymore, and those are exceptional (puzzle pirates: not so MMOish; guild wars: a mmo I can play single player [now if only the henchmen were smart enough to do the missions or the level cap wasn't so restrictive]). PvP or heavy death penalties are deal-breakers in my book.

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Quote:
Original post by Iron Chef CarnageI'd like to see an MMO where you control a village or settlement, and can dispatch a champion (or small party) from it, geared up with the best stuff your infrastructure and trade can provide them with, and armed with their own personal experience. That way, permadeath would just be the end of that character's story, and you'd only lose their special talents and the hardware they had on their person at the time. Meanwhile, your town would keep making more gear and supplying more adventures. It would be like having all your alts on at once.


that sounds like the latter stages of spore where you control your entire races civilisation and send out a ship to either explore or destroy other places.

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Original post by Iron Chef Carnage
I'd like to see an MMO where you control a village or settlement, and can dispatch a champion (or small party) from it, geared up with the best stuff your infrastructure and trade can provide them with, and armed with their own personal experience. That way, permadeath would just be the end of that character's story, and you'd only lose their special talents and the hardware they had on their person at the time. Meanwhile, your town would keep making more gear and supplying more adventures. It would be like having all your alts on at once.


I think it sounds more closely related to Dwarf Fortress, although its not an MMO.

There are other ways to form attachment than through persistence of stats. In IVAN for example i can expect my character to die in 10-15 minutes before i have to make a new one. While nothing is retained in game upon death, I still improve by learning from my mistakes (note to self don't touch bear-trap). How long i live then is a clear indication of my skill and improvement as a player (hence, attachment), and rather than striving for character level 60, or the ultra-high score, i struggle to see just how long i can survive in an increasingly hostile environment.

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How about making permadeath optional?

If a player gets tired of his character and wants to start a new one, he could have the opportunity to retire his main char or sacrifice him/her for the good of the guild or faction.

A retired character might live the remainder of his life in a house or be made an NPC, for example a guild hall guard.
Depending on the general power of the character (level, equip, wealth, etc.) he could also sacrifice himself to grant a significant bonus to his guild or faction, for example summoning the faction's avatar for 3 days to wreak havoc against enemy factions. Alternativly, the PC could get a limited amount of time in which he is superdwarvenly tough, before he bites the dust.
A death like that would be much more meaningful than just starting all over with an alt.

I think the trick is to make a permadeath meaningful and memorable. It shouldn't be a console command like "/permadeath" but rather an extensive ritual or questline in which the player is really forced to think about whether he really wants this.

After permadeath, the next character could get an XP (or whatever) bonus up to the power level the previous character had, to accelerate content he's already seen.
An overarching player profile (with stats, archivements, etc.) could preserve the player's attachment to the game and his "account".


A forced 'hardcore' more (like D2) would certainly piss most players off. There are just too many factors, that take the fun out of it (griefers, lag, real-life distractions, etc.).

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But that just incorporates permadeath into the grind. You've got to grow and "cash in" a certain number of toons to max out your performance. It just devalues characters, without alleviating the grind. The idea, in my mind, is to have individuals be worth less, and thus eliminate the idea of the ubertoon. If your next character gets a boost from this one's demise, then you just wind up with powerlevelled characters wearing +87 armor made from the bones of their ancestors.

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Im sorry but I just don't see any sense in the arguments for coming back to life makes death pointless therefore character will die permanently but have some convoluted way to create a new character that inherits the old characters skills and items.

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Original post by Flameingskull
the entire system has a key marriage system in which you would marry another character (I'm not too sure if it would be another player character since I have really researched to far into the subject)and have kids and a family an eventually having a character who has learned all the skills and styles available to him/her via inheritance and gaining experience in new skill sets.


Not sure how well it works in that game but sims online shows combining social aspects with in game rewards plus power gamers is creepy to say the least.

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Although not in an MMO context, I've been thinking about permadeath and aging a lot recently. I think it's a very dangerous design element and you have to have a VERY strong reason to add it.

To me, the most compelling reason is to provide a challenge for expert players who already know the game and/or to provide an epic scope as time marches on. I think the former needs to be optional if you want a large player base, and the latter is meaningless without a changeable world (something I don't think many MMOs can support due to new players and balancing).

Although I'm really intrigued with the whole dynasty / lineage thing, I think it raises so many more problems and immersion breaking inconsistencies than it solves. For one, it often relies on progeny surviving long enough to even have progeny!

Consider:

I'm a 20 something adventurer and I get killed. I'm a noob to the game, so I'm poor, and my daughter inherits my curmmy armor and weapons. You said it's quick to skill up so I'm somewhere near what her father was. So I sally forth and get killed again. Did I have the time to pop out a kid before? You can sort of handwave and say I left the kid at home and now he's grown. Am I pretty much at the same level again?

If so, some 60 years has passed, assuming 20 years per generation unless magic is at play? What if I get killed 10 times in a row? Has 200 years passed?

It gets even more complicated than that. My character turning into an NPC is cool in theory, but I think that's about it. If I killed the dragon, I better be able to retire as more than the town guard. But if I'm more than the town guard, what am I? Shopkeeper? Mayor? In each case, as progeny I have a natural right to expect that my still living elders should do something for me.

In a single player game it might be interesting to populate the world with NPCs and gain all the advantages of nepotism, but in an MMO I'd think the world would fill up fast and initial players would get all the advantages while my noob family would be homeless bums (especially if you have long lived races like Elves!)

Also, are these families static? What happens if I play an evil character then play a good one? Does father oppose son?

There's also a (semi-creepy) aspect of freewill as well because I don't think you'll be able to break the connection between playing and identifying with one character, then playing another. I may be the only one bugged by this, but you train your child then take them over like a possessing ghoul because they're just a soulless, empty shell? They had no desires, had no life before you trained them and then wandered off to die?

And what about attachment to appearances? Some people work hard to get their character to look a specific way. In a permadeath system, they'd want the magical equivalent to cloning, which defeats the purpose of families.

I know it's easy to nay-say and you were looking for ideas from the ground up, but I think unless you start thinking not about an MMORPG but more about a Sims/family simulator set in a fantasy realm (maybe a bit like The Guild) you're going to have problems trying to shoehorn this into the frame of an RPG.

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I don't think 'rpg' is the right label for it. It's got a lot of Sim elements, and is really somewhere between Sim City and a MUD. The world is almost entirely player-created. The main focuses of the game is on going out and building things. Eventually I want a lot of politics to develop; and the sort of cut-throat politics the setting fosters only works if an assassination actually means they are dead.

Quote:
There's also a (semi-creepy) aspect of freewill as well because I don't think you'll be able to break the connection between playing and identifying with one character, then playing another. I may be the only one bugged by this, but you train your child then take them over like a possessing ghoul because they're just a soulless, empty shell? They had no desires, had no life before you trained them and then wandered off to die?
I hadn't thought about it that way before, but I'm very wary of simulating too much. I want to keep it simple, and get away with enough of that 'hand waving' as I can. For example, the age of your character is partly determined by how many skills you know. So you can learn some skills and age several years in one game-day (Which is about 3 hours.) WTF? These sorts of things only break emersion if they are inconsistent. As long as it always works that way, it's just part of the world you're emersed in. So I'm quite likely to leave the children as 'empty shells' unless it actually does turn out to be a problem.

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You can dodge some of the obvious issues by abandoning the family ties. If you make the basic player unit a "tribe" or "village" or "guild" instead of a family, then you can conjure up a quick "apprentice" or "protege" or "recruit" without the timeline and social hurdles of actually producing an heir.

No matter what, you're going to be faced with unique challenges, and you'll have a hard time getting mass appeal, since most Sims players reload when their characters die, and don't let the generations come and go as the wheel of life and death turns.

I've given it a little more thought, and here's how I'd do it: (Brace for wall of text)

I'd take a page from the WoW book (In WoW, there's a long levelling grind to get your guy to the level cap, and after that you're in "end game", where you grind standings with NPC factions, wealth, and equipment instead of XP. Two distinct phases of gameplay.) and break the game into two.

The first phase will be the sim portion. You can build up your armory, your academy and your treasury so that the characters you're able to create will get all the advantages that wealth and technology can provide. So you'll be setting up trade deals, or dispatching people to hunt down materials, or training your non-questing members to manufacture useful stuff. Different types of upgrades will lead to different types of character creation options. The guild hall that produces the most cunning and dextrous thieves is unlikely to also graduate the noblest and most forthright Templars, and so you'll want the Swashbuckler's Wharf on the other side of town form the Shaolin Monastary, but nothing stops you from having both eventually.

Phase 2 is based on individual questing characters' lives and adventures. Technically, you can whip up an avatar at any time, regardless of your town's status, and take him for a spin. But once you top out your hero-building infrastructure, you'll be able to cook up some serious badasses, and really make waves. You make a character, name him, gear him up from the town treasury, and off you go. Maybe he'll find a magic sword that boosts his attack power. Maybe he'll bring back treasure that can be stored and issued to a different guy. Maybe he'll conquer a goblin nation, and bring its tattered pennant back to adorn your mead hall. Maybe he'll die on a far-distant mountainside, and his body and equipment will be buried for all time in the drifting snow.

In any event, the player's status is never totally bound up in an individual character, but rather the character's starting stats and gear are an outgrowth of the player's status, wealth and prior accomplishments. A character, in the course of his career, would seldom (if ever) get more that 10-20% more awesome than he was at the outset.

Each character's life would be roughly analogous to a play-through of an action game, in terms of leaderboards and e-peen. Did you kill more dragons than anyone else before one of them finally did you in? They tear down the old statue at the Hall of Dragons and build one of you. Did you bring 40 magic crystal shards to the Wizards' Hall? They agree to magically augment one piece of armor and give it to your treasurer. Medals, trophies, titles, services, access privileges and countless other benefits are the reward for excelling, both in an absolute sense and relative to other players.

So, to recap, three main points:

1: Permanent HQ. Measure of progress through game, can generate an essentially endless supply of short-lived hero toons at a level of badassery commensurate with the HQ's level, thus preserving a standard of uberness for the player and avoiding the "start from scratch" pitfall.

2: Mortal Characters. HQ builds 'em, you wear 'em out. These guys can be built at will, with a skillset and loadout of your choice, from the palette that your HQ makes available to you, and can receive upgrades throughout their lives that let them exceed that level, and even to exceed the maximum theoretical "built level", but never by so much that you'll cry and quit when they buy their farm.

3: Competition. Your greatest champions are measured against everyone else's greatest champion, and prizes are distributed based on what you do with them. Some awards have fixed criteria, and everyone can win when they get it done, others are based on leaderboards, and there can be only one current winner at a time. Lots of room for innovation here.

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Despite it being a "kids" game, Runescape was rather hardcore.

Not perma-death, but when you die you lose everything in your invetory and on your character, including money (which was a physical object stack). You get to keep the three most valuable items, but everything else was dropped on your corpse and lootable by other players.

You get transported to the newbie zone with just about nothing, but keep all your stats and you're still alive.
It's more of a massive inconvenience.

But I don't think I could ever accept permadeath, because I get attatched to my characters. I make friends, have adventures, and I would just be too devastated to lose the emotional connection I have built, not to mention everything I have worked for.

There are some things that just don't need to be "hardcore". The pros of perma-death simply don't compensate for the cons. There are other ways to increase immersion, and make more exciting, involved battles.

I mean, you could take it one step further and make virtual death result in perma-banning your account, or sending two thugs to your house to harm you in real life. That would be truly hardcore. There's a line that simply doesn't need to be crossed, and for me perma-death is on the bad side of that line. It's not nessecary to risk it all to have fun.

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Original post by Humble Hobo
I mean, you could take it one step further and make virtual death result in perma-banning your account, or sending two thugs to your house to harm you in real life. That would be truly hardcore.

Yeah. That's the thing with permadeath. You think you're just gonna add some excitement and tension to playing games, but then one thing leads to another and before you know it you're left with a pair of broken kneecaps.

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Original post by Humble Hobo
I mean, you could take it one step further and make virtual death result in perma-banning your account, or sending two thugs to your house to harm you in real life. That would be truly hardcore. There's a line that simply doesn't need to be crossed, and for me perma-death is on the bad side of that line. It's not nessecary to risk it all to have fun.

I remember back in the days when games ran on diskette there was a designer who proposed that his new game should have copy protection that meant the original diskette needed to be in the drive at all times, and when the player died in the game it should wipe the disk. That's hardcore. Thankfully it didn't catch on.

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