Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Circles in the Sand

I am a proponent of death. The more fatal, the better.

I do not like med kits. I do not like respawns. I do not like phoenix downs. I am, of course, talking about death in games - I think it should be deadly, and I dislike nerfing it.

But, on the other hand, I hold even less fondness for killing.

"Wait, for death, but against killings? What is he saying?"

I'm saying that, in order for a game to be truely dramatic, death has to be so fatal that you avoid it. Death has to be something you only risk for the most important reasons.

And the place I think this is most important? Massively multiplayer on-line RPGs.

Yes, that's right, I'm talking about perma-death.

"Everyone hates it! Nobody will play! You'll be the scorn of the universe!"

Bah. It might not please the mainstream, but lots of things don't please the mainstream and still have merit. Like truth, like science, like greed... like death.

Think about all the problems that impermanent death causes. Trolls. PKers. Maxed-out characters. Mudflation.

Can you solve these without resorting to perma-death? Maybe. But permadeath solves all of them, and offers some astonishingly unique and interesting opportunities.

Imagine a game where you control your family, or a game in which when you die, the player takes over a related character. Instead of building your character, you have to build your family's legacy.

Imagine a game where you could sacrifice your character for something you really believed in - a game where your allegiance isn't just an hour of your time, but your very life, sacrificed to stop your enemies.

Imagine a game where you really could have a sword passed down from generation to generation, imbued with the spirits of your noble ancestors. A unique magic item deeply linked to your personal story.

Drawbacks? Yeah. You don't want to kill anyone who doesn't know they're risking getting killed, primarily. You don't want new characters to be able to kill themselves to stop experienced characters, because then the PKers and trolls will not be stopped after all.

But these are easily solved. There's a hundred ways of doing it.

Anyhow, just thought I'd bring it up. Perma-death should not be taboo. It should be courted. It is viable.


Patrick Dugan said...

So I'm dying to know, what do you think of permadeath in dramatic games where you're dealing with one player, or maybe a few people playing collaboratively?

Patrick Dugan said...

BTW, its very interesting you named the post "Circles in the Sand". I wrote an essay about Super Columbine RPG that I plan on getting in The Escapist, and I say that Eric and Dylan drew a circle in the sand to highlight the fatal flaw in the American Dream. Same concept of permadeath at work. Of course, in the game we're living, all death is permanent.

Craig Perko said...

It's just as important, but the difference is smaller. MMORPGs have further to rise, since they are further behind.

I have no opinion on the Columbine RPG.

Patrick Dugan said...

Yeah, I'm thinking a very constrained variant of permadeath could be an effective mechanic in the RH archetechture. A simple factor like Weariness in MLwM would ensure it doesn't happen until the endgame, when it'll reverberate the most.

Craig Perko said...

Hm. I'll have to write up my player-guided permadeath essay.

teamonkey said...

Everquest has permadeath, no?

Craig Perko said...


Jason O said...

I think it's a fantastic idea. Even if you lose your character you don't lose everything you worked for.

Oh, I imagine there might be something of a funeral tax or the like to discourage people from dying on purpose. Probably a percentage of wealth so it works on a sliding scale.

Still, it would make more sense than the millions of virtual immortals running MMO's right now.

Craig Perko said...

There's a lot of ways of doing it. I, of course, agree with you: I think it's a great idea. :)