The Death of the Death Penalty

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While I can understand the sentiment of people who want harsher deaths, for most people playing a game is a game. Something to relax and enjoy. Sometimes these games are played without full attention. Some people use WoW as a glorified chatbox; that's all fine. Those death penalties are not something that many people like. That is why the majority of the games do not employ them.

But I don't see anything wrong with the current market; there are still harsh games out there. A bit of the niche kind maybe, but enjoying harsh death is kind of a niche preference.

Not that much harsh games :/ I mean the last harsh games that still exist aren't new games but popular games, still alive because of the community.
Except EVE-Online who is update(new expansion) every 6 months :)

These harsh games tend to be made my small indie companies so you really have to look for them. Some are even made as free games, but don't feature nice graphics...some are even made in asci art...but are damn good with their gameplay.

I'd say that for Eve Online ship loss would fall under "natural" from the article. The xp loss is completely avoidable with some foresight. The lack of "bind of acquire/pickup" gear also means that anything you can get once (ship/equipment) you can get a 2nd time through the market/contracts (there are few exceptions like limited issue items and possibly super capital ships which tend to be more of an alliance (superguild) than personal asset.

To me, I think that the potential for major but still natural loss is the biggest draw for me in playing Eve. I tend to get reactions more on par with what I'd expect in reality. If person A runs their mouth in the game then person B may decide to spend the next month destroying everything person A owns and has worked for. It tends to make the type of people like person A learn that there are player enforced repercussions to their actions. You might also get person C "griefing" person D for the hell of it, but from my experience person D was either doing something stupid that they hopefully quickly learn not to do or was actually being a prick.

I like games like COD4 when you have unlimited lives in story mode, but you can play arcade to test your skill and prove your skill by getting zero deaths on every level. I am yet to be able to do this on veteran, except for a few levels.


Halo 3 co-op definitely needed a harsher penalty. Whenever we were low on ammo, we'd retreat somewhere safe and kill each other to get more ammo (you respawned with stock weapons w/ ammo).

Seriously ? (I am a hardcore PC gamer so I only played the first Halo)
You seriously kill each other and the game DOESN'T display "Game Over" ? That's insane ! (and stupid)

Let me clarify. If your partner's in combat, you won't respawn. How it worked was:

1) Clear an area (or retreat to a safe area)
2) Kill partner.
3) Partner respawns w/ fresh guns and ammo.
4) Partner kills me.
5) See 3).

Yeah, pretty insane.

I'm surprised there was no mention of Prince of Persia the cell shaded one.

There was no death or game over screen. Fights would just take longer and jumps would need to be done over, but I still wanted to do good cause it looked cool and couldn't continue the game unless I succeeded. But there never was a time I wasn't playing.

I'm surprised there was no mention of Prince of Persia the cell shaded one.

There was no death or game over screen. Fights would just take longer and jumps would need to be done over, but I still wanted to do good cause it looked cool and couldn't continue the game unless I succeeded. But there never was a time I wasn't playing.

I didn't like this one, I prefer the forgotten sands.
I found this one way too easy (maybe because of the nodeath thing) and to "arcady", I hate having to harvest things for hours ^^.


I'm surprised there was no mention of Prince of Persia the cell shaded one.

There was no death or game over screen. Fights would just take longer and jumps would need to be done over, but I still wanted to do good cause it looked cool and couldn't continue the game unless I succeeded. But there never was a time I wasn't playing.

I didn't like this one, I prefer the forgotten sands.
I found this one way too easy (maybe because of the nodeath thing) and to "arcady", I hate having to harvest things for hours ^^.

I get what you're saying, I didn't like that about the game either. I think it's a unique way to handle failure. You were playing constantly and in a way it helps immersion. The hero never dies in a movie and tries again. In this everything flows.

I think it's a system that could be improved upon and maybe used more, at least in easy modes or more casual games.

I also liked Demon's Souls handling of death but you need the right mind set for that one.

This is the wrong angle to look at things and frankly illustrates a problem with MMORPG's in general. In my opinion, the perfect MMORPG would have permanent death. What it would also have is a world in which it was possible to have an adventure without death being very easy at all - because at present, the need for regular death is pretty important to giving gameplay any sense of validity.

What's needed is an MMORPG that's about the journey as much as the fighting, and manages to actually make that fun. Fights should be realistic, things to be avoided unless you're a complete nut-job or know the chance of winning is very high, and very dangerous to be involved in and exhilarating to come out of in one piece.

'Ever read EPIC? Yeah, like the MMORPG in that.

The necessity of a death penalty of any sort lighter than permanent death in order for a game to be enjoyable isn't a fact we should just accept, it's a clear illustration of the limitations of current technology and the template as a whole.

That said, yeah, it's gonna be a loooong time until that issue is going to be resolved and permanent death becomes something that makes the game content all the richer and more valid. Like... we'll probably have holodecks by then before someone works out how to make a game like that. For now, the closest you're going to get is a MUCK.

The only reason people like harsh death penalties is so that can "lol omfg noob!" when they see someone around them die. That is until it happens to them and they rage quit because they're so hardcore they couldn't possibly die.

I think death is its own penalty. The goal of the game is to succeed, and the opposite of it is failure. The entire idea behind a game is that success is not easy, but it is achievable; it's just a matter of figuring out how to succeed. Our brains key in to this, rewarding us for the success and punishing us for failure. So long as we can distinguish between success and failure, we reward ourselves for our successes and punish ourselves for our failures. That's why we keep trying; one of these times, we're going to succeed and we will be rewarded.

Adding a "death penalty" just increases the amount of work that has to be done to try again. The longer this is, the less likely we are to try again, because we have an intrinsic expectation of successes-to-failures. If we go too long without a success, and don't get enough rewards, we grow frustrated and decide to look for something else that gives more rewards. Conversely, if we succeed too quickly and get too many rewards, we decide that the game offers no challenge and that the reward isn't "real", because we didn't have to work for it. The longer it takes to try again, the less often we will receive those rewards, and the more likely we are to give up trying.

It may seem that the opposite could be true; that too little time between tries would make the game too easy. This may be true, but only if the choices are reasonably exhaustible. For example, if your only "choice" is between two possible answers, then if you fail once, you automatically succeed the next time. This eventual success isn't rewarding because you didn't come up with the solution yourself, the answer was given to you because you failed, with the final outcome being that you failed entirely and will never get a chance to succeed. If this is what each decision in the game looks like, and the time between attempts is short, a player can easily enumerate all of the choices until they happen upon the correct answer and no challenge remains; like cracking a password, all you have to do is keep trying until it works.

However, a game with real decisions will not be simply enumerable. The player will need to solve the system, figuring out what is happening, such that he can choose the correct answer out of the multitude of possible answers. Solving the system is the success and the player knows it's a success because without solving the problem, they couldn't have reasonably expected to discover the answer. There's a clear line between success and failure.

If this is the case, the time it takes between attempts can be infinitesimally small and still the cost of failure will not be small enough to eliminate the challenge, because it's infeasible to bypass the challenge through sufficient attempts; the only way to succeed to is solve the problem.

For a great example of this, you need look no further than games like Super Meat Boy or Braid, where the time between attempts is nearly instant, yet the player does not feel that the game fails to pose a challenge. The time between attempts doesn't matter because repeated attempts will not eventually lead to success, only solving the problem (either solving the puzzle or developing the proper muscular responses) will lead to a success.

In my own opinion, long delays between attempts, especially due to explicit death penalties, only serve to interfere with game play. Once I have made my decision and failed, I immediately want to try another solution; I don't want to spend 10 minutes waiting for the opportunity. The challenge of the game was to solve the system and find the correct decision and the death penalty is an external thing which is preventing me from attempting to solve the system; it's getting in the way of my game play.

So why do online games, especially MMOs, insist on long death penalties? Part of the reason is that every problem they pose you with is a decision between "safe and slow" or "fast and risky". If you are hunting for a lost item, it's only a matter of time until you explore the limited space to find it; death penalties force you to decide between fighting an enemy to take the shortest path and save time (at the risk of dying and actually increasing the time) or taking the longer, safer route. Likewise when choosing which quest to complete: the harder ones may give you more experience, causing you to progress faster, but they carry a higher risk of dying, which -- with a sufficient death penalty -- will cause you to progress slower. Even the choice of whether or not to get somebody to help you is a tradeoff between the time it will take to find a helper and the inherent loss of experience for completing the goal, versus the amount of time wasted repeatedly failing if you don't have the help. The goal is always to progress faster, without knowing how long it will take to complete or how much time you risk losing due to deaths. The cost of death, therefore, is the great counterbalance -- too small, and you will always choose to risk dying; too long and you will always choose to get avoid the risk.

But clearly, the cost of a death doesn't always have to be used to maintain the difficulty of a decision. If time is not an issue, such as when solving a puzzle, the cost of the death doesn't affect the difficulty of the decision; the decision is not a time-risk trade-off. The same is also often true for FPSes, depending on how success is measured; where fast and precise reactions are the deciding factor of success, the time between attempts doesn't improve or impair your success rate. However, there can be a time-risk trade-off, such as choosing between risking a costly death to get a kill or avoiding the risk and waiting for a better opportunity, in a game where you must maximize the number of kills in a fixed amount of time.

Shamus :

Check out the death mechanic in the new MMO; Rift. Once an hour, you get a Prince of Persia-esqe rewind of your failure. (really, you get to "soul-walk" which gives you 15 seconds to run back to a clear area, in world or in instance, and auto-res there.) This means entire groups can soul walk out of a full party wipe and give it another go, pretty much immediately.

This may or may have not been mentioned already, but I think City Of Heroes/Villians has a perfect death system. When someone died, they could be rez'd or click a go back to hospital button whatever. But when you died no matter what there was a system of debt. Until that debt was gone you only gained 1/3 XP and 2/3 debt (not exact measurements, just an estimate). I think that is a good punishment without being too time consuming or ridiculously harsh. Sure travel time back to the mission you were at may be bad, but you can kill baddies chillin' on the corner on the way there.

Mortal Online by Star Vault. Buggy as hell with a currently very low population is still the best MMO I know because it is full loot open PvP. If you really liked UO its worth checking out, but be sure to try it before you buy it because it is simply not for everyone.

Oh and the loot you lose is potentially quite unique as the game has player crafted items with thousands of combinations from gathered resources as well as epic and rare spawned creatures and you also suffer reserve stat loss which must be replaced by consuming food items after resting (although if you lose too much you have to eat before you can rest).

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