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makuto

What I learned from 21 games on permadeath

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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.

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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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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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[quote name='JTippetts' timestamp='1356374420' post='5013994']
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.
[/quote]

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.

 

[quote name='Servant of the Lord' timestamp='1356375463' post='5014000']
What other things have you observed about permadeath while playing?
[/quote]

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).

 

[quote name='JTippetts' timestamp='1356374420' post='5013994']
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.
[/quote]

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).

 

[quote name='JTippetts' timestamp='1356374420' post='5013994']
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.
[/quote]

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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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.

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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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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

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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

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