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Default Gamasutra - Against the Death Penalty

March 1st, 2011, 23:04
One of the Gamasutra hosted blogs has a piece on death in games. The author explores different fail states and the potential narrative benefits and clearly likes alternative ideas to the "game over" screen. An RPG related snip:
During Fable 2’s development, Peter Moore similarly removed the death penalty against the player. Instead the player’s character would become more scarred and disfigured the more damage they endured. This produced two curious responses. In the first camp, players willingly let their character suffer in order to produce the most deformed and mutilated badass possible. The second group simply reset their console: they forced their own death penalty. Old habits die never, apparently.
In Fallout 3 certain characters integral to the main story thread cannot be killed only knocked unconscious. Why the game doesn't afford the player this courtesy is a real missed opportunity. The possibilities of regaining consciousness in an unfamiliar location, like one of the many prisoner caravans, or having been looted and taken hostage by super mutants would have presented even more opportunites for interesting and dynamic storytelling.
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March 1st, 2011, 23:04
I've heard this talk before. It sounds like a casual gamer feature.
There are games where it fits , and others where it would look poorly. You have to play it through, so many games force you to be careful with consumables, meh
I won't go into difficulty scaling now, at which most games suck.
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March 1st, 2011, 23:24
In Drakensang 2, if all party members are dying, a reload is needed.

But - and this is the new thing (at least to me) in that - the storyteller continues with his story … "this had almost meant death !", roughly translated from my memory…

“ Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.“ (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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March 1st, 2011, 23:38
You get a lot more satisfaction from a game if you can die permanently or, even better, your companions can die permanently. You really felt a moment of regret in Baldur's Gate, for instance, if Minsc got sliced and diced into several pieces and was unable to be resurrected.

Of course, you'd then likely reload… but that's another discussion - the use of save/reloading with or without permanent deaths.
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March 1st, 2011, 23:43
Originally Posted by Drithius View Post
if Minsc got sliced and diced into several pieces
Like bread ?

“ Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.“ (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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March 2nd, 2011, 00:26
I know I'm pretty much the only one here with this opinion but, no, reloading isn't another discussion. Every player reloads instantly, so there is absolutely no consequence whatsoever for death (other than replaying that section). I'd rather more innovative systems - yes, even including "unconscious" party members - because it reduces the ridiculous reload metagame and potentially introduces some consequence through injury management or whatever.

Our own poll here shows a substantial number of players reload even if they don't die just because the battle didn't go optimally. They reload just because they lost too many hit points or used a potion too many - better the reload and use your pre-knowledge to ace the battle without a scratch.

That's ridiculous, though I admit I've done it myself.

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March 2nd, 2011, 00:36
Dhruin, I'm not sure if you have played Demon's Souls, but what do you think about their death system? The player was not allowed to reload, and went from being in "body" form to "spirit" form, with reduced health. The player would also lose all unspent xp, with the only way to get it back being to retrieve the xp ("souls") from the location where they died. If the player died on the way back to their blood stain that contained the xp, it was gone forever. I personally though that this was an innovative and fair system that had a real penalty for death, but not at a completely unreasonable level. At the very least, it was much more immersive than the tried and true "reload" system. I'm sure that some would prefer the option of a reload, but it was a very unique experience when, for example, fighting a difficult boss carried a consequence for failure.
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March 2nd, 2011, 00:39
I loved it - but I also think it would be difficult for many developers to replicate that genius (and I wouldn't want every game to make me replay over and over). Still, it's an excellent example of a developer successfully doing something different.

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March 2nd, 2011, 00:48
I don't know why, but this got me thinking of the way Messiah worked. Anyone else play that one? When you got your host body killed or snapped their legs in a bad fall you had to endure being a tiny fragile cupid until you could find a new host. It was pretty painful if you had a great host. I loved breaking legs though and leaving the host alive afterwords but hey I'm sick

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March 2nd, 2011, 02:31
Mount & Blade.
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March 2nd, 2011, 04:02
while not an rpg—thief:deadly shadows had you getting captured by the guard and you had to break out of prison. i'm not so much a heavy user of reloading as i am an overly cautious saver that creates hard drives full of saves that i never end up using just on the oft chance i might want to retry something or an experience i may want to "relive".

mount and blade's system has such a high penalty for getting captured/killed that i think only once did i actually not reload.
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March 2nd, 2011, 09:39
It's not just about penalising the player or encouraging smart play - though I think that can be a good reason to have a death penalty.

It's also about immersion, and I think that's pretty damn obvious.

If you just fall down in the middle of a heroic fight - and "get up later" like nothing happened, or something like that - you completely remove the tension of a challenging fight, and you pretty much kill the immersion of being in that world, fighting to survive.

So, while I'm not a big proponent of penalties for the sake of penalties, I'm a huge fan of immersive and natural consequences - like dying when killed.

If a challenge is supposed to be a challenge, it really makes little difference if you make the challenge super easy to access again. It's the challenge in itself that's frustrating if you can't overcome it - and having to reload and wait a few seconds shouldn't be a big deal.

Unless, of course, you really don't mean for the player to feel challenged - in which case I guess dying can be an inconvenience when killed.
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March 2nd, 2011, 11:24
Such systems don't have to be falling down and getting back up again "like nothing happened". Drakensang, for example, makes small steps in the right direction and it can be improved much further.

"Immersion" means so many different things as to be meaningless but everyone will have a different threshold. It seems obvious to me, for example, that most wars have far more injured than dead. It also seems obvious that the first significant hit with that axe bigger than a volkswagon would have killed an elephant instantly but we conveniently live with that for the sake of "fun"; surely "immersion" was long destroyed before you even started.

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March 2nd, 2011, 11:36
Originally Posted by Dhruin View Post
Such systems don't have to be falling down and getting back up again "like nothing happened". Drakensang, for example, makes small steps in the right direction and it can be improved much further.
I didn't say they had to be, but that's how it worked in Fable 2 - as the article mentions.

If they can figure out a way to implement it so immersion is kept intact, I wouldn't mind it so much.

Though, I still think there's a lot to be said for encouraging smart play.

"Immersion" means so many different things as to be meaningless but everyone will have a different threshold. It seems obvious to me, for example, that most wars have far more injured than dead. It also seems obvious that the first significant hit with that axe bigger than a volkswagon would have killed an elephant instantly but we conveniently live with that for the sake of "fun"; surely "immersion" was long destroyed before you even started.
Meaningless?

Perhaps in a wholesome objective way - but I was merely talking about immersion as I understand it.

To me, it's quite simple - it's the thing that makes it easier to imagine the game is reality.

I'm not sure why you're bringing up wars - as we're talking about heroic fantasy with personal combat.

I'm not saying injuries shouldn't be a possible outcome - but that being killed should result in death. If you're fighting demons and dragons - I think it's key to have death as the outcome when losing the fight.

At least, that should be the common outcome.

I'm all for a realistic injury system in games that go for less hack and slash gameplay.

But without death as a threat in physical combat - I have to say I can't imagine my immersion not being diminished significantly.

That's just my opinion, though, and I'm very big on immersion in general. That's why I prefer single character freeform cRPGs - because I find they give me the best environment for me to immerse myself in. I hate having control taken away from me, and I don't like obvious gimmicks to keep casual gamers playing.

But it's a matter of degree, of course.

No one is talking about a 100% realistic game that's also a fantasy.
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March 2nd, 2011, 12:15
I liked that fights in the Gothic, particularly with NPC's in civilized areas, were non-lethal, and the deliberate act of doing a killing blow. I would like to see that mechanic copied in more games. Likewise you yourself were robbed when you lost, and I often played on, trying to get revenge later on etc.
A nice addition would be NPC's or sentient monsters in otherwise lethal fights occasionally asking for mercy, and the ability of the player to grant or deny it (possibly for different forms of reward, and consequences, etc.).

Bioshock, System Schock, and Spellforce had you resurrected at specific locations, with minor penalites. Not a bad solution, at least for some games.
The wound system was one aspect I really liked about DA:O - while they had the same old "death only when party dies" mechanic of all recent Bioware Games, the wound system actually added some consequence to party members dying. And I liked the feeling of having an ever more handicapped party, knowing that the hardest battle/boss was still ahead. I usually did not reload in such cases.

Another game that nicely provided an alternative handling of defeat was Mount and Blade.
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March 2nd, 2011, 12:22
Yeah, I really like the option of handling enemies in non-lethal ways - and I felt the system in Gothic made sense - given the prison environment and scarce resources. I really enjoyed sparing lives in that game

As long as you're fighting intelligent beings - it's always nice to have plausible alternative outcomes.

I suppose it really matters WHY they're implementing non-lethal outcomes. If they're doing it to make the game more plausible and have more options, then that's obviously great.

If they're doing it because they fear people might be dissuaded from playing on, if they have to work a little to learn the game - then I don't think it's good.

A great game will survive, ideally, even when work is required to succeed.

Look towards Demon's Souls. Frankly, I'm amazed so many people found that game to be so good - as I thought that kind of harsh gameplay was long dead.

In System Shock - the mechanic made some in-game sense, given how SHODAN had rewired everything to enable cybernetic regeneration. Still a bit far-fetched, but the challenge was kept intact based on the finite resource system.

Bioshock ruined the mechanic, because there was no explanation for it - and you didn't even have to find and activate it. Worst of all, they ignored the survival/resource gameplay - and had the 9/9 item limit - which meant you always had what you needed, based on how the levels were designed. Sigh…

In System Shock, you benefitted from careful hoarding of resources and using them sparingly (more so in the sequel), and in Bioshock that whole idea was all but meaningless - because you'd just respawn no matter what and resources were never scarce enough to be a serious issue.
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March 2nd, 2011, 12:32
Demon's Soul's drew a lot of praise, but unfortunately didn't do so great sales-wise. It hit the bargain bin fairly quickly over here, dropping all the way down to $19.99 in about a year.

I hated the Vita-chambers in Bioshock for the reasons described above.
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March 2nd, 2011, 12:36
Hmm, strange - I seem to hear so many people talking about it as one of the best games in recent years. Not just traditional hardcore players, either.

Sad to hear it didn't do so well - but I can't say it's much of a surprise.

The game is pretty damn harsh - but also very fair.
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March 2nd, 2011, 12:43
Yeah, most of the people I know who have played DS, and I mean *really* played it, had nothing but positive things to say about it. I rented it for a few days and was very impressed by the atmosphere.

I wasn't surprised though, because I had really enjoyed several games by From Software in the past. They've been doing RPGs for a long time, and their King's Field series was one of the first to feature an open 3D world on consoles.

I've seen some sources refer to Demon's Souls as a spiritual successor to King's Field, although I personally didn't think it was very similar.
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March 2nd, 2011, 12:59
There are both story and mechanical effects for death penalty systems in games and multiplayer/persistent games have to take it even more carefully, as there is no loading mechanism.

With our NWN persistent world we created a death mechanic that was designed to allow freedom to roleplay while also still providing the risk avoidance incentive for power gamers - previously we'd found that the usual xp penalty unfairly hit roleplayers who weren't grinding XP (their XP/hour rate was low) and provided little worry for power gamers (who needed some kind of reason to avoid dying).

Our system didn't take away any XP for dying - the player would respawn at the last 'stone of power' or whatever that they had attuned themselves to. They were then unable to gain any new combat XP for a certain amount of time in game (which varied with level). This appeared to be a good solution: There was in game lore justification for the respawn mechanic and the lack of combat xp gaining, it gave roleplayers the freedom to roleplay any effects of death that they wished their characters to have (and they did), and power gamers feared it enough to provide good incentive to stay alive, yet if they did die then they were encouraged to try out some non-combat play for a while if they wanted (it wasn't possible to idle down the counter). Of course, they could still gain loot from combat etc. if they still didn't want to try non-combat play.

While there isn't the same social/roleplay aspect to single player games, I do think there's a lot to be said for making sure that your death penalty provides an incentive not to die if that's part of the game design, yet at the same time is done in a way that keeps the game flowing. And it doesn't have to (shouldn't) be the same for every game. Diablo/Torchlight etc. up the risk avoidance by not allowing you to reload, yet they have a quick to return to the action mechanism. Torchlight in particular seems to give the player the choice of how they want to play.

Other games use death as a gameplay mechanic, including PS:T of course, and parts of our persistent world too. Once the consequences of death aren't too debilitating, it opens up the way for them to become part of the story process.
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