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The dread penalty

February 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Fear the...Pink...Reaper?!

Death penalties are a pretty controversial topic in the MMO community. One extreme demands that dying in-game should permanently delete the character, the other does not want any penalty at all. I have no set opinion, only that the penalty should make sense with regard to the game environment and that playing badly should never be rewarded.

Current flavors

Let’s take a look at some of the penalties currently implemented in different games:

  • Dying in World of Warcraft results in the character’s spirit being removed from the body and moved to a specified spot on the map where a Spirit Healer awaits. All items carried are also damaged. The player can run as a ghost back to his body and resurrect on the spot. The penalty here is lost time and gold for repairs. The player can also choose to resurrect at the Spirit Healer, but he will then suffer from greatly reduced stats for ten minutes and a great durability loss for all items. There is no penalty at all within battlegrounds and arenas because people have to be able to get up and fight immediately again.
  • Characters in Lord of the Rings Online cannot really die, because it would not fit Tolkien’s world were death is permanent (although some spirits can linger in the world). Instead of health characters have morale and if morale gets depleted, the character retreats to a preset spot on the map with damage to items. They also get a penalty to health and damage output for ten minutes, which grows more severe as the character levels up, the fall of great hero is more severe than that of a grunt. Although it is possible to ‘resurrect’ on the spot every two hours (every hour for lower level characters) this gives the same penalties and is not to be recommended if the character retreated within aggro distance of mobs Like in WoW the penalty is time and money for repairs.
  • Champions Online does not have a dead penalty per se, but rather a reward for staying alive. The longer the character stays alive fighting equal or near level mobs, the more ‘hero’ stars he gets. Every star gives a minor increase in damage up to 6%. Every dead results in the loss of a star and being moved to a preset place on the map. The penalty here is time. There is no penalty at all within the Hero Games because people have to be able to get up and fight immediately again.
  • Warhammer moves a dead character to a preset location and induces a penalty on all stats that grows progressively, so every dead increases the chances of dying again as long as the penalty is on (up to 10 min). The penalty is time. There is no penalty at all within scenarios because people have to be able to get up and fight immediately again.
  • Star Trek Online has no substantial dead penalty, a blown up ship respawns in several seconds. Suicide runs are rewarded because enemies often do not fully reset during the respawn period, making it possible to whittle them down bit by bit, death by death.
  • In Pirates of the Burning Seas ships can be lost a limited number of time before being destroyed permanently. All ship outfitting is lost permanently upon being destroyed. The worth of ships varies so the monetary penalty does as well. Even in PvP a loss means the loss of a ship, which fits the realistic setting well.

I have not played Darkfall or EVE, but from what I have read it is possible there to lose items (getting looted by an opponent in Darkfall, getting your ship blown up in EVE), while a character can also be killed. The player has than to get a clone active, which could be considered a save file. So it is possible in these games to lose very little or very much. Other games, like Aion, give an experience debt: the player must gain an extra amount of XP to get to the next level. This is a time penalty.

There is only one real currency in MMO’s and that’s time. Everything the players has gained has come from an investment in time. However, gold and equipment are not gained equally fast by all players, which makes converting such items to time difficult to generalize.

Making sense

Although it seems rather strange that a hero is able to escape a encampment filled with orcs in LOTRO, it is possible to imagine him/her desperately making a break for it. While the near loss of life weighs heavily for a few moments (the debuff period) the hero eventually recovers. It is easier in a World like Warcraft where magic is everywhere. Getting an entire star ship blown up and reappearing a few minutes later makes no sense at all, unless every STO captain has their own personal Q aboard.

It is easier to suspend disbelief in a fantasy environment than in SF, but that does not mean that SF should not try to make sense.

Severity

Games are entertainment first and foremost, but what is a game without challenge? Challenge means that the possiblity of failure. Failure is only real if it is felt. Failure teaches people to better play the game. Without penalties there will be more bad players, it’s as simple as that. People should know what they get into before they start, they should know what they can lose. Just like they agree to the EULA when they start up the game for the first time, they agree to the risks as well. So as long as players are able to know what their risk is, I am fine with any dead penalty that is severe enough to show the player that he made a mistake, e.g. basically nowhere is safe in EVE, while a setback in WoW will not cost more than about twenty minutes maximum (10 minutes Spirit Healer debuff and 10 minutes to do daily quests to get repair gold).

Summarizing

  1. Dead penalties are vital in teaching how to play the game.
  2. While the only quantity that really can be lost, this can be a great deal.
  3. Players should know their risks before starting to play.

Ton Anroc returns!

September 13, 2009 Leave a comment

sidenote: I hit 40 today. Thanks to Stronghold I only ran out of quests at 39.5. I like Stronghold, but being forced to grind it constantly for XP has somewhat soured it for me a bit (for now). Luckily, Cryptic has acknowledged the XP gaps and they’re working on it.

Ton Anroc is a player vs. player scenario from Warhammer Online. It plays in an underground cavern filled with lava. Players who fall into the lava get damaged and snared. Many people who used to play during the first days of WAR still have nightmares about it. For a long time it was the only scenario that popped up during t3 (about level 20->30) and RvR lakes were empty, so anyone who wanted to level mostly through pvp had to play that. Warhammer has two factions, Order and Destruction. The former had several classes with large knockbacks. Especially the Iron Breaker’s AOE knockback with build-in root was horrible. It was pretty funny the first time to see a dwarf storming solo into a Destruction team and knocking several of them off the central mountain into the lava below, but that quickly faded.

Lava is hot

Lava is hot

UTC Lava Temple is Ton Anroc’s little brother. There is only one level, so that reduces falling damage, but there’s plenty of lava around. It does not snare, but it hurts. Also, the big rocks can be picked up and thrown for massive damage. Actually, this is fun for a high Strength character, but I see it getting old soon for everyone else. A flying character with knockbacks and pulls can have some unbalanced fun, like floating above the lava and then pulling someone towards you. Yes, I have done that to try if it was possible. I believe that environmental damage should be very limited in small arena’s without objectives. The chance to take falling damage in the High Tech arena is a player choice, but not standing next to lava in LT is as good as impossible.

Contrary to Ton Anroc, Lava Temple almost never pops, because people are playing Stronghold for XP. Actually, I have only been able to get into a game with full teams on both sides during Open Beta. I hope that the other maps will be added for level 40’s, perhaps as a join random arena selection. Nevertheless, these are just first impressions. Time will prove if they are right. If not, I have plenty of other things to do in Champions Online.

Incoming: rock

Incoming: rock