Salem Dev: MMOs Without Permadeath Aren't Proper Games

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Salem Dev: MMOs Without Permadeath Aren't Proper Games

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"Save points are the bane of good gaming, and they lead to a very hand-held type of experience with 'success' nigh-on guaranteed for the player," says Björn Johannessen, Lead Designer of Salem.

Salem is a quirky little MMO about being a settler in the new world. As the name implies, there is a lot of mystical-Cthulu-witchcraft-occult stuff, so if you misstep you could find your character dead. Permanently. Lead Designer Björn Johannessen spoke to WarCry about the permadeath feature, as well as how modern games have become way too easy. "I feel that a game without a proper 'You lost!' state is more of an interactive movie than a game proper," said Johannessen, discrediting perhaps the majority of MMOs out there as not being "proper games."

Johannessen feels pretty strongly about permanent death in Salem. "It was always intended to be a means of conflict resolution with finality, as well as establishing a definitive fail-state for the game," he said. "In a context where players can establish competing claims on limited resources, conflict resolution becomes important." When asked to clarify his statement about games without permadeath not being proper games, he said:

"I wouldn't speak disparagingly of someone else's baby. It's more of a general trend in modern gaming than an issue I have with any particular title. I grew up with the old generation of NES and Amiga games - often times repackaged arcade games - that made you play through the entire game again from level one and scratch if ever you failed, lost the three lives you did have, or whatever, even if you had made it to the proverbial final boss. No save points, no anything."

It looks like he is definitely angling for the "old-school" market, but is that big enough to sustain an MMO? Diablo III's hardcore mode, which allows permanent death, is played by a much lower percentage of players than its normal mode. Not content with just calling out developers that allow players to actually continue playing the game after dying, Johannessen said "Save points are the bane of good gaming, and they lead to a very hand-held type of experience with 'success' nigh-on guaranteed for the player," discrediting pretty much every video game ever made after 1988.

Johannessen also feels that PvP is an integral component of MMOs. "I much prefer multiplayer games in general for that reason, because where a single-player campaign may fail to deliver, at least multiplayer always offers actual resistance from someone who is actively trying his best to beat you," he said. "In my opinion, that is kind of the essence of what a game is, and also what separates it from a movie," implying that games without PvP are simply "interactive movies" rather than actual videogames.

The deadly combination of PvP and permadeath point towards Salem being a very, very hardcore game. The advantage of this for the developer is that they don't really have to develop an endgame, which is traditionally where the majority of new content lies in an MMO, as players will just keep dying and restarting. The game is due out some time in Q1 this year, and will be free-to-play.

Source: WarCry

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Permanent death doesn't sound very fun to me and neither does PVP. Usually if an MMO makes PVP the central focus and that everyone is flagged for PVP that is an MMO I will never play because I hate PVP. I don't want to be forced to fight against other players.

Permanent deaths sounds OK in a game like Crusader Kings II where if your character dies you take over as the heir. In general though I most likely would not play a game or difficult level that made death permanent unless there was a secret ending of some sort.

Has that dev ever played an MMO with PvP? Ever get ganked by a group of players that do it just because they think its funny? The idea of permanent death in an MMO is a really really bad idea! ganking is a popular pastime for many players and its bad enough having to spawn and then need to gather a large group to get past the gankers just so you can get to where your quest is at. The idea just doesnt sound very fun to me when you will need to start over from the very begining in an MMO. Last man standing in an FPS would be reasonable.

Seriously though MMO is like going to a store called Assholes R Us for PvP and permanent death would just make the game itself permanently dead inside of a month.

This actually sounds pretty fun, until we inevitably get that one guy that kills players for the ducks of it.

My guess is three minutes before a witch hunt starts.

I can't say I'd inherently hate an MMO for 'permadeath'. but such a game needs to have *REDICULOUSLY* strong control over the douches who will inevitably want to ruin things for everyone else...unless PVP is in some kind of dual consent arena situation, we're looking at a grief engine here. I have no problem with a developer talking big...but he'd better be able to back it up when reality comes knocking.

Different strokes for different blokes-some like the hardcore,misstep and your royal fucked approach-other like the I'm here for the experience don't shit on my party outlook-both are valid as games and as gaming experiences.While I appreciate what he's doing he shouldn't lump all games that don't fit under his view as "not real games" as games really are just interactive experiences when you get down to it with no definite in stone rule book.

No thanks, the big majority of games is better with save points. And FYI, I ascended in Nethack, so yeah.

I have heard unfortunate things about roaming gangs of players already having taken over this game, running an extortion racket on all new players.

Oy...

Look.

I understand that that's what you find fun. I get it. I respect it. And to anyone who has fun playing that way, more power to you.

However, I'm starting to go just a little bit more crazy every time I hear someone say "A game that does/does not do X isn't a real game."

I will recommend this game to a friend. He love this kind of stuff (e.g. he played D3 in hardcore and atm plays Path of Exile the same ways) and is a jerk (he likes to PK and exploit the shit out of people in MMOs).
Seems to fit pretty nicely.

Well, if you count out PvP then I can see what he's getting at. Not an MMO but while I was playing Hardcore mode in Path of Exile, the amount of care and emotional investment I ended up putting into my characters was leagues above any game I had ever played before it.

I remember back in the day when death in an MMO did mean a rather hefty Exp and skill penalty, where hours or even day and weeks of time could be undone by a single death. PvP was tense, calculated and coordinated and coming across other players in the world had immediate impact on your current emotional state. Especially if they appeared strong enough to kick your ass.

Most people prefer a theme park to a world with consequences, however. Thus, this kind of game has become rare and niche. There aren't many around that I still play but I'm hoping one day I can get into a game with that kind of feeling to it again.

MMO Permadeath is approaching Adam Orth levels of stupidity in the real world.

"Oh your ISP lagged, or your connection dropped killing your high level charactter? #Dealwithit"

Some might appreciate it even though, but not me.

Oh, for fuck's sake.

There's always one or two devs with a philosophy that's either similar or put forward in just as blunt and frankly offensive manner. "Oh, so you never played Diablo III's hardcore mode? Feh, I'm done talking to you!"

There's being a hardcore gamer, and then there's being an elitist asshole who passes really sweeping judgments on things he really has no authority over. I like to *build* my characters, for one, and I like to think that making mistakes is natural. This "one misstep and you're doomed" approach is really going to limit Salem's potential market.

Free-to-play it might be, if that's the attitude they're going with; I don't give it six months.

well this game is a pass then, one this guy sounds like a pretentious ass, and not like in the good way like Jim Sterling.

two, 'perma-death' and 'always on PvP', are a BAD combination, this will pretty much encourage asshole players to be even worse, and the PvP crowds are bad enough when you can respawn, can't imagine how much worse this will make them.

Well this is going to have ZERO replay value.

Ok Mr. Johannessen is a retard.

The reason those old games made you start over at the beginning when you ran out of your three lives?

As he said, it was because they were ported arcade games, arcade games asked you to dump more money in to keep going if you used up your lives. It wasnt some good game design choice, it was a cash grab.

I kinda get where they are coming from. Games have gotten pretty easy, and success IS pretty much guaranteed (And that's not even really a problem for many people).

That said, they really come off sounding like high and mighty buttholes here. And while permadeath can work, a dev really needs to structure the game well so players just don't give up. Particularly for an MMO that needs to retain players.

I've found no way to kill my interest in this man's MMO than listening/reading about him talking. I can just FEEL the pretension oozing out of every pore. I was even going to give this a look, but now I won't.

Save points?

Sorry, the permadeath in an MMO sounds dumb enough, but he disparages save points??

I've formed a hypothesis that the man has never played a game longer than an hour.

I read it as him saying his own taste is objectively right. Permadeaths were fine when games could be beaten in an hour by a skilled player, but have no business in modern 5-to-50 hour affairs. If Metal Gear, Uncharted, or Final Fantasy had permadeaths, I'd imagine they all would've been universally panned.

P.S. Thanks

P.P.S. "Gaming has changed. It's no longer about practice, reflexes, or consequences. It's an endless series of immediate respawns, played by scrubs and Super Guides. Gaming, and its lack of skill, has become a well-oiled machine. Gaming has changed. Pre-scripted combat carries pre-scripted attacks, uses pre-scripted deaths. Cutscenes inside the battles enhance and regulate their flow. Attack control. Strategy control. Ability control. Player control. Everything is scripted, and kept under control. Gaming has changed. The age of good graphics has become the age of control. All in the name of deeper immersion from cinematics. And he who controls the player, controls the industry. Gaming has changed. When the player is under total control, gaming... becomes Medal of Honor Warfighter."

In other words, "I grew up with games that killed you every seven minutes as a matter of course as a 'feature', blithely failed to note the economic reasons behind that design or why the medium might evolve out of them, and now preach a pseudo avante-garde philosophy to a tiny user base that has enough spare time on their hands that they don't call for my head for squandering their feelings of progress in an artificial world."

"Hardcore", my ass. There needs to be a better word for this kind of sociopathy.

It looks like he is definitely angling for the "old-school" market, but is that big enough to sustain an MMO? Diablo III's hardcore mode, which allows permanent death, is played by a much lower percentage of players than its normal mode. Not content with just calling out developers that allow players to actually continue playing the game after dying, Johannessen said "Save points are the bane of good gaming, and they lead to a very hand-held type of experience with 'success' nigh-on guaranteed for the player," discrediting pretty much every video game ever made after 1988.

This is just romancing the past, without regard for the realities of the present. The reason people shy away from permadeath games, especially those with a PvP feature (or, worse, PvP focus) is because there are far, far too many external factors that can cause the permanent death of a character in which you've invested a lot of time (and possibly money, via micros or just subscription fees).

Slow connection that day? Dead. Power flicker? Dead. Player using a cheat/hack/exploit? Dead. Killed while loading/spawing? Dead. Ganged up on by a wolf-pack of griefers? Dead. It's one thing to lose your character because you failed a challenge of skill -- that's like playing roulette or blackjack and losing to the house, and it's just part of the game. It's another thing to lose because of factors beyond your control -- that's like playing roulette and, right before the marble stops, some jackass runs in and tips the table.

Permadeath won't really be a big thing until that sort of player (and those technical issues) are dealt with, and they won't be because that kind of player is the bread and butter of permadeath games.

Permadeath is acceptable in TWO instances.

1: Death is not an ever present event. It is hard to die unless a person takes risks. Basically imagine a D&D game where the PC's sit in the tavern for the entire campaign. If they still die it makes no sense. If they die because they took on a challenge they KNEW would be hard or because they were stupid then the death is warranted.

2: If the time investment is not centered around the character. For example you COULD get a new character and go get the loot from your previous dead body. You could attempt to reclaim lost property or take revenge on what or who killed you. However the point here is that the time spent between death and being able to achieve any such goals is minimal. Losing a lvl 80 character because of permadeath would be unacceptable simply because of the immense timesink that character was.

Now the two aren't mutually exclusive. You can adhere to point 1 and ignore point 2 or combine em. Point is that the game cannot be designed around trying to kill the player as much as possible. Then you have a bad game, wait no you have an arcade cabinet.

In short if you have random performing raids on your village in Salem resulting in massacres, you won't have any players left at the end of this week but the extreme diehards. If you say have a special forest that is labeled Death Burrows and someone still goes there in search of rare shit and dies, then you have a good permadeath system.

Ultima had extreme PvP, Ultima also didn't have permadeath. Why? Because players would form grieving groups and wait outside cities. Basically making it impossible for a low level character to go anywhere. Most of em did and got killed.

Permenant deaths don't always work. They're great in X-COM, but the iron skull in Halo is bullshit.

Alfador_VII:
MMO Permadeath is approaching Adam Orth levels of stupidity in the real world.

"Oh your ISP lagged, or your connection dropped killing your high level charactter? #Dealwithit"

Some might appreciate it even though, but not me.

I actually vastly appreciate this statement. Blizzard have had this rule since the days of Diablo II hardcore (In the diablo II manual, it says "we don't care if your ISP died, you had a blackout, or your little sister unplugged your net cable, we will not restore hardcore characters under ANY circumstances") being so upfront about this means that players know EXACTLY what they are getting into.

The problem with restoring permadeath characters is it lends itself to abuse. How can Blizzard tell a legitimate "i tripped over my power cord" versus "I bit off more than I could chew and died and want a second chance"?

Permanent death? Hmmmm... Well, let's ask the star of Sword Art Online about how well THAT works out. Kirito?

Kirito: It sucks. It's the most terrifying and horrible experience in my life and I still have nightmares about it.

Well, there you have it, folks. Perma-death in an MMO is the spawn of Satan. Good day!

I don't find the allure of permadeath interesting at all, especially in an MMO. This is why I usually steer clear of "hardcore modes" in general that include that.

If I am about to invest a very long time in a character, I don't want all my hard work and hours put into it to be washed away just because I either did a mistake or something that wasn't in my power to avoid killed me.

Look at Path of Exile hardcore league, so many deaths happening due to that desync, it's insane.

I am not a masochist to waste my nerves by attempting to play a game with a permadeath. If I want a challenge, I just up the difficulty but that is about it for me.

Of course it's free to play. I'm not going to pay a subscription to re-buy your game every time I have to deal with, oh, the usual people in PVP focused MMOs.

Imagine some of the people who play EVE online moving to this. Griefing on a whole new level. There would be no co-operation in this game, sheer paranoia once you get past the early stages will drive you kill almost everyone you meet.

FalloutJack:
Permanent death? Hmmmm... Well, let's ask the star of Sword Art Online about how well THAT works out. Kirito?

Kirito: It sucks. It's the most terrifying and horrible experience in my life and I still have nightmares about it.

Well, there you have it, folks. Perma-death in an MMO is the spawn of Satan. Good day!

I dont know what the hell the first part of your post means, but I agree with the spirit of it. Im not against the idea of Permadeath, played a few games with it in place, but they were all single player games, as well as games that took maybe an hour to beat and ran on the idea of multiple playthroughs (FTL, for example.)

But Permadeath in a PVP MMO? Say goodbye to that player base.

I don't think someone would like an MMO where they can lose all their meticulous, hard-earned progress through some crass mistake or a fight gone wrong. It's going to drive away everyone but a small group of extreme roguelike fans.

Hey, guess what Salem devs, if I am able to die after all the progress I make, I'm not going to sink a dime into the game.

If it were quick and easy like that god of madness game, then there is no harm to dieing and trying again. otherwise I'm not going to bust my balls. Demons Souls was a bitch already, I'm not going to do it for an MMO.

from what i was reading your character is permamently killed but then you play their descendent which is an interesting touch but what concerns me is that MMO's tend to be worlds where a good chunk of the population display all the behaviour and compassion of a psychopath with no restraint

So all I learned from this is that a particular developer is possibly into virtual S&M; because you'd have to be a sadistic asshole or a diehard masochist to enjoy the prospect of permadeath in any online game let alone an MMO.

RaNDM G:
This actually sounds pretty fun, until we inevitably get that one guy that kills players for the ducks of it.

My guess is three minutes before a witch hunt starts.

Well the thing is it won't be one dude that does it, it will be a large, well organized group of people that do it. As Ultima Online pointed out, community policing really doesn't work in an MMO enviroment, especially seeing as the guys that are trying to do their own thing and getting ganked generally don't want to drop whatever they are doing and become full time PVPers themselves just to try and keep things safe.

I do tend to agree with the general sentiments that success in games should not be guaranteed, they should take a degree of effort to progress and win, and there should be points where if your not good/successful enough you just don't get to progress... period. That said permadeath in an MMO is a really bad idea due to the reliance on connection speeds, lags, bugs, exploits, etc... not to mention that in an MMO you want a persistant community and people to want to keep coming back in to work on their projects. People are going to get bored if the game is a matter of dying and restarting a bunch of times and just seeing the same exact stuff again and again.

Roguelikes get around this problem by being hardcore, and having permadeath, but also by being simplistic enough to have crazy amounts of raw potential content, randomization, and most importantly, not being online or having to worry aboiut other players finding ways to cheat, exploit, or just ream you with a better connection, when you die it's usually because of something you did playing the game and can learn from it. If your connection hiccups, or some dude shows up with a better internet connection and wastes you, there is nothing you can really learn from that experience, your character just died because of something entirely beyond your control.

That said, it is an interesting idea, but one that I don't think will work very well.

Oh and one important caveat... I'd imagine the dev is lying about "Permadeath" in the game by having designed things so it's not quite what it sounds like. For example the current "ultimate hardcore MMO" Wizardry Online, has a "permadeath" system but what it actually does is kills your current avatar, your soul, which is your account, that continues to advance as you play avatars/characters remains and directly influances what you can do with your avatars. The soul is more or less your character, and it's progress never dies or resets. So yeah, your favorite level 20 warrior might die in the dungeon, and perhaps quite easily, and not be recoverable, BUT all the power you accumulated for your soul is still there, so the next warrior you create is hardly going to be the mewling newb someone brand new to the game created. You simply have to think about progress in the game differantly... that said I did not much care for
Wizardry Online. Sad because I was a huge fan of the "Wizardry" single player games.

I could be wrong about the above of course, but in general when I see people hyping permadeath mechanics it rarely seems to be what it claims.

The few times I've tried PvP in MMO's has always ended with me getting killed by higher level players that buff-stack out the wazoo, with maxed out weapons and armor. The fight lasted about four seconds, six if I was lucky. So, combine this with permadeath, and you have no sale for me.

Unless Salem has low end goals, and permadeath doesn't mean twenty hours wasted, I don't see it keeping an audience very long. In fact, I can see it becoming a game for griefers very easily.

As for Johannessen's opinion on things like "save points," I'd like to see him play through any modern game in one playthrough without dying. If he's so "hardcore," then I expect him to quit and select New Game from the menu every time he dies.

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