Every once in a while a conversation crops up around me–usually in the context of MMORPGs–as to how punishing death should be in video games.
It’s an odd conversation to have around someone who spends his time playing roguelikes and games like Dwarf Fortress, but whatever.
Anyway, seeing as how I’m asked about death penalties in games so often, I figured I’d fill today’s post with some relevant gibberish. And just for the sake of a consistent context, I’ll keep my ramblings confined to death in MMORPGs.
Make it Harder to Die
A big reason why some people hate harsh death penalties is because it’s stupid easy to die in most MMOs. It’s easy to accidentally bite off more than you can chew, and hard as shit to run away from a fight once things start going tits up.
The frequency with which the average MMO deals out death is ridiculous, immersion-breaking, and not at all like what you’ll find when you crack open the latest novel in your favorite fantasy or sci-fi series. Sure, there are some authors who kill off major characters at every turn, but characters usually die only once and their deaths are meaningful.
If an MMO came out in which death was relatively easy to avoid in all but the most extreme cases of player stupidity, and much of the hooplah over harsh death penalties go away.
Make Death Permanent, Mostly
I grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons. When my character bit the dust, he was done for. Kaput. Six feet under. An ex-adventurer.
Or he was unless one of my traveling companions survived, humped my corpse back to the nearest temple in time, and shelled out a fortune to get me raised. And even then I lost a whole level of experience or took a ding to my Constitution score.
In other words, while there were ways for mid- and high-level characters to get out of the whole being dead thing, death still came with a significant, character-altering cost.
I’d love to see this or a mechanic like it come to an MMO near me. Combined with making death less frequent, permadeath would turn every final blow into a meaningful cause for mourning.
Let Me Have Your Stuff
When you die, the stuff you’re carrying should be free for the taking. I should be able to strip your corpse bare and sell your crap at the auction house and pocket whatever gold/credits you happen to be carrying.
If you add in item durability and a robust crafting system, this kind of loss can create a vibrant, player-driven economy which would benefit everyone.
I have no illusions that I’ll ever actually see an MMO like this. Every MMO to date which had the devs talking about “permadeath” in alpha ended up dropping the mechanic long before release.
And the average player is about as enthusiastic about losing a high-level character as I am in losing my favorite coffee mug.
Still, I can dream, can’t I?