Wednesday, February 07, 2007

On Death Penalties

Sure, death is very annoying, what with having to go back to where you died to resume the fight, but the really annoying part of being dead is the accompanying penalties. Equipment damage is common, as well as a debuff, often called resurrection sickness, which makes adventuring next to impossible. Past that point, it all depends on the game.

Everquest had become (in)famous for its harsh death penalties; namely, if you died, you had to walk back to your corpse or risk losing everything you had.
Dungeons in Everquest were notorious for being quite empty, since dying in a dungeon pretty much meant that you lost everything you had. Nowadays, kids get a corpse summoner service, which, according to some players, takes all the fun out of it.

Before that, Ultima Online had an even harsher penalty; namely, your items were left on your body (except those which were newbied, the ones you started the game with), but other people were able to loot them as well (though they would become criminals by doing so, if you are a law-abiding citizen). Ultima Online was violent, with player killers pretty much running every tile outside of protected areas; and of course, when Origin decided to create a non-PvP server, the player killers complained that they no longer had victims to slaughter and insult.

Nowadays, it's impossible to not compare any MMORPG to World of Warcraft. WoW has a very nice death system, where, upon death, you get the choice of waiting or reappearing at the nearest graveyard, as a ghost. If you decide to run to your corpse as a ghost, or a friend resurrects you, you take no penalty besides the equipment durability loss from death. Alternatively, you can talk to the spirit at the graveyard, who will resurrect you for a higher equipment penalty and up to ten minutes of resurrection sickness (Just long enough to check the city and go back into action, it seems).

As with most everything that doesn't have to do with the core game play, I think Blizzard got it about right with the death penalty. A few things could be done better, though. For one, death adds emphasis to the two resources in World of Warcraft, namely time and money, in that it makes you lose some of both (time in running back to your corpse, and money for the repairs). This means that you don't lose anything important or permanently upon death, which actually makes it a trivial matter; not that low death penalties are bad, but this simply adds another reason to the already large list to farm lower-level monsters instead of finding challenging enemies.

Had the previously-mentioned greater rest experience system be implemented, it would be logical to think that players could lose some daily rest upon death. Even further, were they out of rest bonus, they could become tired more easily, so the death penalty would mean less time to hunt during the day, whether the player is casual or addicted.

But no matter what the death penalties are, they should follow the game's philosophy. If you want a hard game, high death penalties are fine, while more casual games will want low penalties. Besides difficulty, developers should remember that anything they do can and will change other parts of the game. If you have high death penalties, players will be less likely to try to explore, especially if they have to run naked to their corpse upon death. In a game that is about PvP, that's fine, since it means players can't run back into the game after death; but if the game is about exploring or socializing, harsh death penalties may tend to push your desired player base away from the game. So the important part is not to decide what you want as death penalties, but rather to decide what you want as a game; then the death penalties will mold themselves around the game.

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