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ThomasHobson

Design Discussion: Perma Death

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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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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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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".

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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.

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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.

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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:

[color="#1C2837"]When perma-death penalties far outweigh the benefits of tension and accomplishment it should be considered "hardcore" or "inaccessible".[/quote]
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. [color="#1C2837"] 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.

[color="#1C2837"]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.

[color="#1C2837"]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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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[color=#1C2837][size=2]Permanent death is a feature that should be implemented more often, but only as an option. [/quote]

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'.

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