Tobold's Blog
Thursday, January 01, 2009
Powerful mages with perma-death

Nils from A Blog about Everything has an interesting design document for a MMORPG, in which he proposes (near the end of a long wall of text) to design a game in which magic was rare and powerful. Normally that would be a problem, because if there is a mage class more powerful than non-magic classes, lots of players would want to play it, and thus it wouldn't be rare any more. So he proposes to balance the class by having it have perma-death. Every other class would resurrect on dying, but mages would be permanently dead, and would have to reroll every time they die.

I don't know if that is such a good idea. If I look at World of Warcraft, I notice that my characters die rarely when soloing, and much more often in group situations. Perma-death would discourage players from joining groups, as they'd feel much safer alone. Nils has some proposals to overcome that, but I'm not sure if they are sufficient.

Would you want to play a character class which is much more powerful than the others, but had a huge disadvantage like perma-death?
Well ... it would become some kind of solo pet project maybe, since -- as you've mentioned -- there are just too many variables when it comes to playing with other people. I can control my actions and do what needs to be done, but I cannot be sure that the other people will do what they are supposed to. Even when they do, it's not like they're going to be looking out for your livelihood. It's their game too, and their character comes first. So even when the proverbial poo hits the fan, they're going to save their own skin. The lovely powerful mage who cannot be resurrected isn't going to feature too highly in their minds -- unless of course you were playing with friends, then perhaps they would try to save you however they can.

In any case, too many variables. I guess if I didn't mind starting over again and again, it wouldn't matter. But I do kind of mind starting over, especially if my character has advanced quite a bit already and I become rather 'attached' to her. I don't know. I guess it's one of the reasons I love persistent worlds: my character persists across all the changes and all the things that are to come.

I find permadeath interesting in concept, but apart from my MUD days when I briefly played in a MUD with a very harsh RP environment where permadeath was the norm, I've found that I like to look at it from a conceptual viewpoint rather than actually participate in the system. I feel the loss of my character too keenly, and when my character does permanently die I feel as though all the time, effort, and gold I put into her are all rather wasted ... which is not a good feeling, and certainly no fun at that moment. I'd rather be able to go about doing some risky and crazy things just because I wanted to see if I could do them (and later get resurrected if I turn out to have taken too large a bite), than to sweat/worry/be too concerned about dying.

I don't know. Even long ago, when I was playing a MUD where dying was catastrophic in the sense that it could undermine days of effort, I was still fine with dying. I knew I had friends who would run to resurrect me, to keep me from losing any more experience (your experience slowly drained from you all the while that you're dead -- you could either 'pray for salvation' which would take quite some time to get through the entire spiritual situation and thus lose a ton of XP, or you could have friends who could resurrect you do so). Even if my character was set back a week's effort or whatever, I was okay with it -- because I wasn't actually losing my character and EVERYTHING with her.
The idea of perma-death was discussed before with SWG - I remember something like the rare Jedi were meant to only have 3 lives in order to balance out their power. It never happened.

People die a lot in MMOs, it's part of the game. In fact, newer MMOs are making the death penalty less severe every time so I don't see something which goes completely against the grain being popular.
It could also be the opposite: Soloing makes you very vulnerable to an ambush, so you wouldn't go anywhere without a support group designed to keep you alive. EvE's Titans are used in this way due to their extreme vulnerability to enemy counterattacks after firing their Doomsday weapons.

Of course, the same would apply to PvE play. Many of the people who played Diablo 2 with permadeath liked to group up to minimize the impact of lag or other environmental factors.
Forget about PvP'ing with your uber-mage, it's too risky. Of course, if your afraid to group and afraid to PvP, why did you bother rolling an uber-mage?
Gordon beat me to the punch, but this is almost exactly what Galaxies attempted and then abandoned.

Not that I'm against any idea from Galaxies, but this type of prestige class just doesn't work in practice.
Actually let me a little more constructive.

I think it's very satisfying to become an uberpowerful being, but what if it was a short term reward for something that was very difficult to do? Say a difficult boss rewarded a player with a temporary state like this, which lasted for a limited amount of time, or until the character died?

Then you'd essentially get the chance to become godzilla for 20 minutes, and raid the enemy's capital city, where they'd all have to gang up and finally kill you. You'd have to put some restrictions in place to keep one side from having too many characters in this state at any one time, and it still would be frustrating for the other side if some jerk decided to use that power to corpse camp a single player, but I think something temporary is a more tenable solution.

Really though, I think you need to just make a game where a wizard can be killed by a guy with a big club, unless it's under very specific circumstances like this.
Would you want to play a character class which is much more powerful than the others, but had a huge disadvantage like perma-death?

No, I want to be the raid healer who screws up when Mr. Permadeath is DPSing, because I don't hear enough profanity in my life.
It is an interesting concept. I can't imagine that it would be successful with all of the carebears. It would cause serious girlfriend aggro for me, because I really wouldn't be able to stop playing this instant to help fold the laundry or take out the dogs.
I think it's a pretty flawed idea. And while "special" (overpowered) players may exist in sports (such as a star QB or star pitcher), it's rather dubious to think that people would want to play underpowered/non-special roles such as an offensive lineman or a .200 BA utility infielder. Everyone would want to play the "star" role.
The first problem you run into with a permadeath system, and a problem Galaxies ran into, is what to do when a permadeath character dies because of technical issues, for example a player gets disconnected during a big fight. Galaxies eventually extended it to 3 deaths, before eliminating permadeath completely, at least partly because of all the CS problems it caused.

And, as many have pointed out, during a couple of iterations of Galaxies (the hologrind of pre-CU and the Village grind of the CU), the state of the game was such that well over half the population of players either were already alpha-class Jedi, or grinding towards becoming one.

And when everyone is super, nobody will be....
Not in a game where it takes 10 days to reach max level.

Perma death is a concept that doesn't mix at all with the mmos out today.

Hey.. you went afk to bio or disconnected and 6 guys jumped you... g'bye weeks of effort!
Lets have an impossibly overpowered healer instead!
Nah, I think its a terrible idea! Cant imagine it every catching on. Whats the point of being more powerful than everyone anyway? Balancing more power with perma death is just a terrible way to balance. Unless it takes like 2 days to reroll back to the same state you were at before you died. But if it only takes a short time to reroll, then people are going to get very bored of it very quickly.

Dont forget other players will get their kicks out of trying to get the super toon in trouble too. It'll be the equivalent of taking down a boss in a traditional mmorpg.
Permadeath is simply unworkable for an online game. What happens when you lose your connection? If you stay in game and die from mobs then every time there are server issues (and EVERY MMO has server issues on occasion) all the permakillable characters die. And all those players riot. Or, if you leave the game world or are otherwise invincible when disconnected then everyone about to die just unplugs their connection. And so nobody ever permadies and they just get the bonuses for nothing.

I've never seen anyone explain how the above quandary is surmountable because it isn't. Permadeath is the deadest of dead horses and only keeps coming up because people new to MMOs think they've had an original idea. LOL.
I like the "permadying-ubermage" in theory because it sort of works well with certain loreish notions of them -- they tend to be very reclusive and spend a bunch of time alone in their towers, etc. etc.

I agree the technical issues would probably make permadeath too unattractive from a customer service level.

But.. how about something like a 2 hour buff on your uber character. Die within that time and you rez back at your tower. Once the buff is over, if you die the penalty is "torpor" or something, where you can't rez for a week or a long amount of IRL time. Actually, now that I've written that description it sounds more like a vampire than a mage.
the only way you could have a powerful character like that work in a group setting is if it were designed for a group setting. Make it so that a guild, or a 5-man group, or whatever has to team up, pay X gold, or sign a contract (whatever to show they are dedicated to the cause, basically) to elevate one member of the group to the "Uber" status. It is the "weak" group-member's responsibilty to keep the "Uber" member alive. If you want some net to catch you, you could make it so that if the "Uber" member does die then another member of the group becomes "Uber" and the old one returns to the normal status. This could continue until every member of the group has had a chance to be Uber (and died), at which point the group is declared a failure and must restart.

I think that is how the system would have to work, but would it be fun? Honestly, it sounds a lot like what we already have (i.e. it is the healer's responsibility to keep the tank alive...). The key for a system like this to work is the support roles would have to be as much fun as the ultra-powerful role.
'cuz I'm a huge EVE fanboi sometimes:

Expanding upon what Shalkis said (well, in a different direction)- EVE has a limited form of permadeath, in that when you get shot down, your ship is destroyed. So if you buy a really expensive ship made of win and awesome and get caught and shot down, it goes poof forever, losing you all the time/money sunk into getting it. On the other hand, your character, which has all your skills on it, will be fine. So I guess it's kind of a half-permadeath; you have one part of the account which does have permadeath (the ship) and one part which doesn't (the character).

So, with respect to the "Wizards have permadeath" maybe it would work if there was a part of the character which carried over, even though part of it is permadeath-like? Like, you could keep a spellbook or something after you die, but then when you died you'd start back at level 1 without equipment/money? This would make it possible to still progress your character, even if he dies. Would that make it more palatable(err, spelling?)
Leaving aside permadeath for a moment... I recall the elder scrolls series had the option for powerful magic bonuses, at the cost of no mana regeneration. So, why not have a wiz but w/out the normal mana regen mechanic of traditional MMORPGs. Absorb from incoming spells, use potions, and/or (get this) mana regen only when grouped (and in some proportion based on who you are grouped with). This would drastically reduce the number of players who would choose that class since soloing is now a more tedious affair... but you would still have a few players around for that 'rare and powerful' magic.
Why again is soloing something to be punihshed?
@Mike Darga you have just described the Ranger / Troll feature of LOTRO. You can "buy" (with special quest rewards) an hour of session play where you become an uber character. No leveling up is required - the character comes fully loaded but only lasts for one hour. It only works in pvp play and each side has a limited number they can have. As you describe the enemy have to gang up to kill you. I am not really a pvp player but I remember there was a lot of discussion about the impact of Rangers / Trolls on balance when they came out first. I notice that Turbine has since changed they system so that the side which is losing the battle (has less keeps) can have more rangers/trolls.
Permadeath might be pretty fun, assuming the early stages of the game were fun to play over and over.
Ah ok, thanks mbp, I'll check that out.

Ideally, the thing you do to become powerful would happen within the context of the pvp map. It reminds me of old shooters like UT and Doom where everyone starts out with the same weapon, but rushes toward the top of the level, where the BFG is. Suddenly the crowd of people rushing to get to the powerup just becomes fodder for the person who got there first.

There's a similar mechanic at work in TF2 with medic ubercharges. I don't like anything that makes you invincible, but I do think they achieved their gameplay goal of having something that breaks stalemates.
Well, a Mage could be über powerful, capable of killing lots of players in a single, but extremely draining, spell with a loooooong cooldown. A true glass canon.
If the mage dies he would have a harsher penalty than most, like 3 days of rez sickeness as opposed to 10 minutes.
A Mage would be an unlockable char with some difficulty attached to it.
Only the Destruction spells would be über, he could still be useful to buff the party, activate complex runes, invoke spirits, solve riddles.
Magic would be a rare and dangerous thing, critical misses would return.
In conquest PvP it would be like "ZOMG! THEY HAVE 2 MAGES!!!"

Just some random ideas to the pot. You might want to check out Wizards and Sorcerers in DDO. Can kill anything or anyone, but get one-shotted at close range.
I know that this is a late comment, but what about if the death were say 1 hour? Or fill in a time limit. Kind of like heroes in W3. They could take time and expense to revive.
Old thread I know, but the mmorpg 'Wurm online' has you being able to have your priest become a champion of his god, becoming more powerful, but if he dies three times, he's gone forever!

Interesting parralel development there.
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