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Design Roundtable 1: The Death of Death

80 posts in this topic

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We can of course call it something other than death, and disguise it however we choose, but the core Risk/Reward mechanic remains.


i think that's all about this topic. Game is of 2 types, one is to chanllege and to be successful, the other is focusing on the culture and concept it've created and expressd.

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Death could be substituted by forcing the player into another role. (I've never played the game, but this could be Assassin Creed-ish). If a player is a spy in the middle ages. Obviously to progress in the game, he has to collect information and not be detected. B7t what happens if he does get caught? He could die and start the mission over. But it seems the better mechanic would be to throw him into a dungeon. There the player now has to be a jail breaker -- but could still gather intel. Once he breaks out of jail, he then has to blend in with the common folk and gain a new disguise and find a way to reenter the castle from where he was booted.

I think transitioning roles for the player gives them something new to do and also creates new challenges. It's far more satisfying than: "Oh. You're dead. Ok, start here."
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Here are my personal thoughts:

Obviously, as we all know, games must have a risk(punishment)/reward factor. I can't think of a single game that doesn't have some sort of punishment and reward system of some kind.

However, death is just one of many kinds of possible punishment. I big reason why it is chosen is because it's real; players in the real world truly fear death. So why not use it as a persuading means of punishment?

My first thoughts (as mentioned by others) were having a system that brings players to the brink of death, but they never quite experience it. The problem with that is death is black and white (as it applies to this example); either you totally experience it, or really not at all. A player who can get extremely close to death and not experience it is essentially immortal, and they will figure that out.

Personally, I think the choice of how to use death depends on the complexity of your game. A puzzle arcade game doesn't need a complex death system (or necessarily one at all). Whereas an involving RPG such as WoW, or a intense shooter like COD4 should really have some form of death. Death is more psychological in games like that; the player didn't have permadeath, like real life, they only have that "I just died" feeling.

Whatever system chosen, I think making it persuasive is key. A player who starts a game and sees that Boss A has wreaked havoc on earth and killed millions won't truly understand and fear death, they'll just view it as another form of punishment for their screw ups. I think making death something real to them by causing something near and dear to them to die. Whether that is fellow squad members dying, FX such as heavy breathing and a loud heartbeat when near death, and things like that.

What it comes down to is whatever method chosen, make it feel like death through means of persuasive effects and roleplay. To take example from Hollywood films, the movies that really stuck with me were the ones were someone died (Braveheart, Gladiator). But in the end, victory, like LOTR.

Jared Johnson
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If the player is captured instead of killed, how is failure of his jail breaking handled? Just toss him back in? How do we avoid the level restart repetition and the hard death.
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Original post by Sandman
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Original post by MaulingMonkey
If you're striving for it, that's quickly getting back into the "oh noes you just died and completely reset your progress" stuff that, hardcode or not, I'm generally wanting to avoid. It's not scary, just irritating as hell -- for me, anyways. It results in many colorful cursewords, instead of the "Oh shit... shit shit shit SHIT SHIT SHIT AHHHHHHH AAAAAAHHHHH AAAAAAAHHHHHHH" as the situation progresses from bad to worse to being on fire, which I assure you is much more fun.


I don't really see how - as an achievement it's purely optional, and therefore if you miss it, then you can just settle for the next best one. If you're only playing the game to get that one, ultimate achievement, then maybe - but I imagine that anyone doing that would likely be a hardcore gamer who has probably played through the game several times, at least once on the hardest difficulty. By that point, if you give up in frustration, then fine; you've already played the game half to death and got more than your money's worth from it.

You can scale the achievements easily enough. "Get to level 2 without dying" could be one. "Get to level 4 without dying" could be another, and so on. The cost of failure is loss of bragging rights - which to most people, aren't so important as to make them restart the game, but always nice to have.


See, that's the thing. I mentioned planetside -- it actually had achievements (titled as badges). A large number of achievements along the lines of "Get X kills, then get Y kills without dying, with weapon Z", or "kill N vehicles of type M, O without dying". And while they were cool to show off and gave some bragging rights as you've mentioned, I felt the killstreaks without dying for the most part detracted from the game rather than adding to it.

When holding a base, it was all about taking a series of calculated risks. If you took too few, you'd get backed into a corner and wiped out too quickly. If you took too many you'd get cut down before you had a chance to retreat. Strike the right balance, and you had a chance.

When getting an achievement, it was all about cowering behind a corner and stacking the odds in your favor. There's no reward for risk taking then, only punishment. I remember an extreme example of this, when one of my CR5 ("Command Rank") teammates was aiming to get his MAX buster achievement -- kill 6 maxes without dying (IIRC).

To get his CR5, he'd had to earn a LOT of CEXP. To earn that CEXP he had to lead squads at fights at countless enemy bases. The bigger and badder the fight -- and risk of losing the battle (and thus getting NO cexp), the larger the rewards. Winning at empty bases would earn you nothing. As a final reward, CR5s get access to some orbital weaponry.

So to get his MAX buster achievement, he noticed a bunch of maxes defending one of the bases we were assaulting. Did he lead us in battle taking calculated risks like he had so many times before?

Sure. But not before he hit the base with his orbital strike once, catching enough MAXes in the blast radius to get his achievement. He didn't even need line of sight on the enemy base -- he could easily hunker down cloaked and unspotted fairly far away before he hit his button. 0 risk. Somehow, pushing a button from a mile away doesn't seem to qualify as all that fun.

In the following hours, many more MAXes died in close combat, which was much more exciting, risk taking, and importantly, fun. Not because of some achievement, but because we had to risk our deaths fighting them if we were to have any hope of taking that base.



The problem is that achievements generally need to be simple, and it's hard -- if not impossible -- to build a proper risk/reward scenario into their simple confines. Even something as large as an MMOFPS such as Planetside only had a few risk/reward scenarios.

Risk your life at a chance to kill: Personal victory over others and BEXP
Risk your team at a chance to take a base: Team victory over others.
Risk your base (or chance at taking it) at a chance of AWESOME: Team victory over others and the odds, as well as CEXP.

There are a lot of games that have the same first two mechanics in very similar rehashes. And yet it was the last mechanic that made the game the most fun.

It involved a large risk for large and rare rewards -- it was possible, common, even probable to lose when attacking at the flanks that would be reinforced with defenders. And yet you weren't pissing away some finite resource where if you had an unlucky streak you'd be undoing weeks of work (and successes!) saving experience points (so many MMOs), money (EVE Online <_<), and so forth. Your losses were large (your efforts for the past 15 minutes were for nothing, your team died, and all your orbital weaponry won't recharge for another 3 hours), but largely non cumulative.

If things got too frustrating, I could call it a day and log off -- and often I'd log on later the same day, ready to go again like nothing had ever happened. My experience points would still be there, my resources, my levels, everything. Compare again to EVE Online where I'd have to start digging myself out of the mess I'd made of everything, or say, Diablo 2's hardcore mode, where I'd have to start all over again.



My hope is that "semi-perma" death (or other loss) would help capture some of the same risk/reward, and maybe even improve upon it, by offering a larger spectrum of possible risks to take (all the way up to loss of everything, loss of character, or loss of ability to even play the game) -- while similarly managing to avoid adding insult to injury by making making all losses (and thus frustrations) temporary.
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Thanks for all the contributions, folks. I started on the article last night so, hopefully, it should be posted somewhere today or tomorrow.
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