Toward more interesting deaths

New Penalties

I’m still mulling the death penalty in Project Gorgon. I’m happy with where we left the Hardcore Penalty discussed earlier, but I’m not happy with the normal death penalty. I don’t want it to be more punitive, though. I want it to be more fun.

The normal death penalty is that you’re sent back to a graveyard. Eventually there’ll be item damage, which means you have to pay money to fix your stuff. And that’s the entire penalty. Which is perfect in terms of punishing players for dying. I don’t want it to be more punitive, really; that’s what the Hardcore mode is for.

But it still feels like a missed opportunity. Death is a natural point at which the game’s “flow” can be broken. (The flow in an MMO is usually “kill, loot, kill, loot, kill, loot, sell, turn in quest, kill, loot… yawn”.) Breaking up that flow is really important to sustaining play for the long term. The Hardcore penalty does a good job of breaking the flow, but it’s very punitive. How can I break the flow for regular players without feeling like I’m kicking them when they’re down?

My first idea was “death curses.” Every so often you’d respawn with a curse that gave you some modest stat penalty, and you’d have to seek out a cure. The cures would be craftable items spread all throughout the crafting skill trees, so this was an excuse to get you to socialize with other players who could help you. But it was way too punitive. Even if the stat penalty was negligible, it felt like this huge burden you had to fix. Turned out to be a terrible idea. So I took that out.

But while talking with Sandra the other day, I stumbled on a better version: role-played death penalties! Every once in a while, when you die, you come back with one of these penalties on you, telling you to role-play a certain way.

Fear of Spiders

The only thing it does is put an icon in the player’s status bar. It has no other effect whatsoever. When the player earns enough XP (or enough time elapses), the effect disappears.

If the player is feeling frustrated, they can ignore this entirely. But if they’re in a more accommodating mood, this gives them something new to incorporate into their playing.

Usually the effects will be pretty small, and might not even come up during play at all:

Occasionally the penalty will be more invasive:

And very rarely, it will be extremely disruptive:

Some players will completely ignore these. Others will be delighted by them. But hopefully very few players will be really upset by them.

Hardcore: The Two Possible Implementations

Speaking of death penalties! I’m still figuring out how to implement the Hardcore penalty (where items are dropped on death and you have to go back to your corpse to get your stuff). There are two ways to do it, and they both have pros and cons.

First there’s the Asheron’s Call way: your items are transferred to a Corpse entity which lays on the ground where you died. It’s a real entity (much like a player, or an ore mine, or a monster). You click it to get your stuff back.

The advantage of this approach is that it’s completely detached from the player. Thus a player could give their friends (or their guild) permission to loot that corpse, and then go to bed. Their friends could get their stuff for them. Pretty cool.

The problem is is that there’s a limit on the number of entities that can be in one area at a time. If a really popular dungeon has hundreds of unclaimed corpses in it, the game needs to clean some of those up to avoid lagging other players. And cleaning it up means… the items go poof.

What I’d do is tell players, “Your corpse will last at least 3 hours, and up to 72 hours, depending on server load.” That way if I need to, I can clean up their corpses pretty quickly, but if things are going slowly, there’s no rush.

The other way I could code it is as a “fake bag”. In this case, your items are transferred to an imaginary bag on your character that you don’t have access to. To get access to that bag, you have to go back to the spot where you died. Then the GUI will give you access to your stuff.

In this case, there might still be a corpse in the world, but your stuff isn’t stored in it. It’s just a handy way of spotting where you died. That corpse might decay out of existence early, but you could still go back to that spot and reclaim your stuff. (There’d be special abilities that helped you find your stuff if the corpse melts — creating a special glowing trail for you to follow.)

The up side of this is that the items can last as long as I want them to. And instead of counting down time in calendar days (“you have 72 hours to get your corpse”) I could count it down in time-played (“you must retrieve your corpse during the next 20 hours that you are online”). This has big benefits for people who can’t play again until next weekend.

The down side is that when you’re offline, so is your stuff. So there’s no way for other people to retrieve your loot for you.

So I have to pick between these two approaches. (There’s lots of other solutions, but these are the two that are relatively easy.)

I’m leaning toward the “invisible bag” approach, but please let me know your thoughts!

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14 Responses to Toward more interesting deaths

  1. “What I’d do is tell players, “Your corpse will last at least 3 hours, and up to 72 hours, depending on server load.”

    Corpse despawning in EQ1 et al set MMO’s back a generation in terms of the perception of addiction.

    If your customer recognizes that they should responsibly go to bed, they should be free to do so. Instead, the dev says “well… you can but you lose all your gear – should have been more careful.” As a result, almost every EQ1 player I know has a story in which they knowingly stayed up too late by their own reckoning solely to retrieve a corpse for themselves or a friend. Thus, when the local news runs their scare story, the EQ1 player sits back, reflects on their experience, and concedes the point.

    The time /played approach is much more reasonable, with the caveat that the player might need help getting to their corpse. Is it fun to tell them they had better not log in until they can organize a recovery raid using out of game forums, so as not to advance the clock? Perhaps, since it is an optional mode, especially if your game is not too heavily gear based. Just make sure that NOT recovering your corpse is an option, rather than a penalty the player is never meant to accept.

  2. Rolan Storm says:

    Both approaches are good, although ‘invisible bag’ is a little more acceptable. Truth is it would be marvelous to have option about death penalty, but if I should choose one that will be ‘bag’.

  3. Matt says:

    I’d do both actually. :-)

    Allow your friends to interact with your corpse; when they do they won’t be able to loot your actual stuff, but will instead get an item that will sort-of proxy your stuff. This bag of “Matt’s Stuff” (for example) wouldn’t be an actual bag or container of any sort; your friends wouldn’t be able to open it or use any of the stuff that’s ostensibly “inside” it, but they would be able to give the “bag of stuff” back to you, put it in guild storage, or whatever.

    You could then get your stuff back by either looting it directly from you corpse or by acquiring the bag that someone else “looted” and brought back for you. This second option would allow a few additional benefits:

    1. It means you don’t need to completely trust other people with your stuff. Anyone who “loots” your corpse can only help you, not hurt you. While it’s interesting to require trust as a prerequisite, I think it’s more useful to use death and “corpse runs” as a way of building trust.

    2. It would allow multiple friends to loot your corpse. While rationally silly, this sort of capability makes a lot of sense for a virtual world, where you don’t know where or when you’ll see any specific friend again.

    3. You could still do the corpse run, and get your stuff back yourself (should you enjoy that sort of challenge, or if you’re next online when your friend’s aren’t). Once you’ve acquired your stuff, you may even be able to get the game to do something silly with any remaining supposed bags of “Matt’s Stuff” laying around.

    For example, “You swear there was something important in here, but it’s just a goblin’s dirty laundry,” or “It’s a bag of rocks. Why are you carrying around a bag of rocks?”

  4. mynsc says:

    I don’t know the technical details, but related to the first option, can’t you just move the old corpses from a crowded area, as long as there is nobody in the zone that has permission to claim them? Instead of deleting a corpse you could just store it in the database and only spawn it when someone is trying to claim it (either by being near it or by actually pressing a GUI button of some sorts). Of course, it would still eventually expire, but after a clear pre-determined time, not a highly variable one.

    As you can tell, I like the first option more, as it’s closer to the MMO spirit (helping and getting help from friends / guildies), so I’d very much like to find a good way to implement it.

  5. Ancaritha says:

    I like the idea of it being based on ingame time, or making the out of game time very very long. I think your key demographic is now married and may have kids, which is not conducive to extreme time constraints :)

  6. Curtis says:

    I have tons of item retrieval stories in AC especially with early confrontations with Vapor Golem’s …”Is that steam?…oh no that is a mob!” Next thing you know I have tons of corpses surrounding the mob and am naked at the mansion recruiting a team to begin raiding this treasure trove that is my corpses. I also have spent many a night up late determined to obtain these items. Me and Epion/GrubChub still chat about the naked at Mansion night lost his Black Amuli thought I was in deep shit. Also wearing raggedy backup gear that mixed up colors so bad I was an “Ass Clown” according to my team, screw them my average AL was higher lol.

    I guess the question is how “Hardcore” is Hardcore Mode supposed to be? If Hardcore is meant to be a challenge then adding convenience to its Hardcoreness seems counter productive. You can always choose NOT to be Hardcore, it is a choice after all.

    The other side of me says I love the idea of based on “In game time”. More friendly to players for sure and though I personally don’t like overly friendly systems ala AION.(There is a God in my head telling me I have 10 arrows left and need to resupply…GET OUT OF MY HEAD!) However I am the minority now. There is no game catered to me unless I return home to AC and even that is much more friendly than it once was. Thus since your demographic is not entirely me I would say the other option is more inclusive.

  7. Xhi says:

    I like the role-play idea, but it would be better if you could implement some type of graphical or even just chat effect. For instance:

    Ex 1) If you are terrified of rats either all rats could appear twice as large or else you might occasionally see emote text in your chat box “You can hear rats in the walls. Scratch scratch scratch.”
    Ex 2) If your face is melted either you see green goop dripping down your screen occasionally or else every 10th line you type is replaced with “Xhi attempts to talk but can only mumble with his face melted.” In this case you can just press the up arrow and hit enter resend the mumbled line (if using standard chat box controls) to keep it from being annoying.
    Ex 3) If your are mute then a little text could be added in front of anything you type out so instead of “Xhi> Hi guys, lets kill spiders.” it would be altered to “Xhi waves his hands around and signs> Hi guys, lets kill spiders.”

    People can roleplay it up on top of that, but it makes the effect more noticeable and memorable to you and sometimes others than just a tiny buff icon. It encourages them to play along or even attempt to cure it.

    As far as hardcore corpses, I’m for the invisible bag approach. I have occasionally helped someone out by looting their body or extremely rarely allowed someone else to loot my corpse, but I have had to listen to many complaints from people who allowed someone to loot their corpse who wasn’t as trustworthy as they thought, and then needed to attempt contact with a GM. Which then meant wait for a response, then wait while the problem was investigated, and then maybe or maybe not get their stuff back.

    Usually anyone who is willing to loot your body and bring the items to you, is also willing to bring you to your body instead.

    However, if you do go the real container/corpse path, I have seen pretty happy results from being able to give other people permission to drag your body around and release it somewhere safe like zone entrance, but not actually loot it.

  8. Sandra says:

    Xhi: I love the idea of emote text a la the rats in the walls. Now I am imagining whispers from your invisible friend …

  9. whackedenforce says:

    Looking better and better each update cant wait tell January to test it out!

  10. Xhi says:

    I got to wondering, as far as corpses go, couldn’t you do both options?

    When you die you leave a corpse entity for 1-3 server hours depending on server load which then despawns, and its items are cleaned up into your invisible bag where they sit for however many hours of your personal online time. That gives all the upsides of both approaches, although the downside is twice as much work on your end.

  11. bubble says:

    Not a specific answer but something that occurred to me last time is the first step in designing the death penalty (if any) is deciding what the death penalty is for?

    harsher penalty leads to greater fear of dying leads to greater feeling of elation from avoiding death

    explicit challenge:
    – an exp bonus balanced against exp loss from dying so you’re ahead if you die fewer than n times per level
    – how high can i get before dying
    – minimum number of deaths before max level

    as defined by the game lore, doesn’t neccessarily mean perma

    opportunities for player interaction:
    possibly the best aim?

  12. Cenan says:

    The second option of having an invisible bag sounds really cool. And having locations of corpses stored as an array on the character could also open up quests involving death; “In order for Boo the Necro to teach you Super Life Drain, you must die at the feet of Foo the Lich, construct a candle from mummy wax and place it in the right eye socket at midnight”.

  13. Michael Kujawa says:

    A virtual bag certainly seems like the way to go. Depending on your storage schema, that could be extended quite a bit as implementation time permits. If the bag was independently loadable from the database, then you could give the id of that bag to your friends/guild, and they could load it without your player object in memory (and then go get your stuff for you.)

  14. Mike says:

    Lots of stories and single-player games have the protagonist get captured when they would probably have really just been killed. To offer more varied game play, certain enemies could capture you instead. You would respawn in a tower, dungeon or cage, awaiting sale as a slave or sacrificed to an evil god. You (and any other captives there) would have to try to escape or be rescued by your friends. Your stuff (possibly damaged) is in a chest next door. Having such locations would allow “rescue the prisoner” quests too.

    “Killed by mob X = respawn at location Y” wouldn’t seem too hard to code, though making the escape perilous & fun might be. It could involve using abilities or it could be a puzzle, like everyone standing on one side of a cage suspended above lava causing it to sway until you can jump onto a ledge. A hint like “the cage sways as you walk around it” if they get stuck could help. I imagine anyone who really got stuck would just log off and look it up on a forum. Making escape ability-based runs the risk that none of the prisoners has the right one(s).

    Making the prison further along a dungeon so the remaining party can push on and rescue you instead of running all the way back from the nearest graveyard would be handy. A solo player might need to find a secret (one-way) back door out of the dungeon if there aren’t enough player prisoners to fight their way out and no one is coming to get them. No one would want to be stuck there for long.

    Maybe this has all been done in MMOs I haven’t played, but it sounds like fun to me. I realize that coming up with fun ideas is the easy part though.