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.
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!