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Notes for a Pulp MMORPG: Aiiiiigggghhhhhh!
captain danger?
Nothing undermines a sense of realism like serial dying.

As most of you know, you die in World of Warcraft when you're reduced to zero hit points. (There's no safety zone between 0 and -9 like in modern D&D. You're either a rotting corpse or you're ready for action, baby!) Most of the time, when you "die," your equipment deteriorates and your spirit has to walk from the graveyard to your corpse. Aside from the equipment deterioration there are few other consequences. Which is good, because you die all the time.

There are many problems with this approach. Corpse runs are boring, and can lead to interminable delays when a large party wipes. Designer ingenuity is devoted to more and more elaborate ways to exterminate players, forcing players to turn to outside sources (message boards and so forth) to avoid these things and progress in the game. Yet the lore hasn't been adjusted to reflect death's triviality. There are still "orphans" running around, NPCs still grieve for lost loved ones; no one acknowledges that Azeroth is Valhalla-lite where people chop each other up and put themselves together again, over and over and over again. (A game in Valhalla could be interesting... but that's another post.) There must be a better approach.

One solution, naturally, would be to have a lot less combat than you see in Warcraft. I'd like to see this in my pulp game: Far more time would be placed on solving mysteries or building cases (or committing non-violent crimes) than on gun battles. Still, combat can be fun and should still be part of the game; there isn't much genuine "adventure" without it. Rather than just exclude combat, one should make it more sophisticated, and there are many ways one could do this:
  • Have intermediate stages between living and dead. Characters can be stunned, knocked out, crippled, hamstrung ... These things can happen in Warcraft but they don't take people out of combat, they're just temporary effects to make victims easier to kill. If one had to go through these steps first, killing might not be worth it.
  • NPCs can use non-lethal force. Murder, after all, has serious consequences, even when the victim is a player-character. Maybe the NPC would rather knock the PC silly and dump his unconscious body in the river? It may discourage the PC while keeping the NPC out of the electric chair. Other villains may drop the hero in a death-trap or a dungeon, for the pleasure of killing them later.
  • NPCs could actually run away instead of risking their lives in suicidal fights with player-characters. Sometimes this happens in Warcraft but the mob just runs around for a bit before returning to kill the player-character. Why not continue running until the PC gives up or loses his trail?
There are other ways, of course, to make death less common. When death does come it should be serious business, not something you can pay off in a trip to the vendor. So ... thoughts?

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All things I've mentioned to Jeff as elements I'd want of my RPG. I really think that the best way to a) avoid dickery b) maintain interest is to make gameplay less combat-oriented and more puzzle/mystery oriented. A game where the quest text matters, where the story is important, and where you have to intellectually pay attention is exactly what I'm looking for. I mean when I play WoW I go into zombie mode of "Frostbolt... frostbolt... fire blast... frostbolt... frostbolt..." and it requires NO though, NO attention, and very little engagement on my part. I love games that ENGAGE me.

Part of that is because you play a frost mage. It's frostbolt spam with fireblast on cooldown. That's it. I stopped my mage at lev 45 because I got too bored. You might prefer deep fire - at least you'll be switching button combos around and seeing huge crits. Also, as I keep saying, heroics and Kara calls for more attention. And if you're ever on add duty in Black Morass, that's all about the mage using all of his tricks.

I agree that WoW battles should require more thought. And here's the catch-22 - many of these battles DO require strategy and puzzle solving, but by the time you get to them, everyone has solved them. By the time you're ready, you're just along for the ride.

And I don't mean just you personally, but in general. Those guilds which conquer X boss first will slap the kill vids and strats on youtube and wowhead. The obsessive raid leaders will then study those and relay the raid tactics so their respective guilds can learn the encounter with minimal wiping. Very few guilds are going to try to figure out the boss from scratch when someone else did the dirty work.

Why is this the case? Because corpse running and extensive repair bills suck. And if even YOU don't mind too much, most other people in the raid probably do. And they will become less willing to stick around and figure the puzzle out. The larger the group, the harder it is to maintain morale. This is why Dave spends all that time researching strats. For those who were on Aran and Prince, imagine how MUCH MORE frustrating it would have been if the raid leaders had no clue at all what these bosses could do.

Puzzle solving seems to work better for smaller groups. My personal favorite remains the first time we cleared Uldaman. We had no idea how to handle the encounter. We kept wiping at the end. And then Dave had his eureka moment concerning when the adds came. That was an incredibly satisfying moment, but it's a one time only thing. That is a flaw with puzzle encounters - solve once, and the challenge is gone.

Yeah, unfortunately I just agreed to become a shadowweave tailor and now I'm sorta stuck unless I want to spend heaps of money.

It isn't really all that much. Just 100g, which a couple specialized shadowcloth cooldowns ought to pay for.

I don't understand, how does this keep you from trying fire for a few days?

Have you actually made the shadoweave stuff?

Even so, you might want to respec for kicks and see what you think. You couldn't have built up your heavy-instancing wardrobe yet.

I know zilch about these games, but perhaps something needs to happen when gamers are between states of being dead, and being resurrected in the game.

For example, rather than simply coming back, they have to play a Zombie or some other NPC monster in the game for some period of time. The more times they die, the longer they need to be intelligent NPC fodder. And the longer they play that fodder successfully, the shorter their next time of being in such gaming limbo.


Have you tried playing an MMO with Serious Penalties for dying? Say, an old TinyMUD where you lose *all* your gear when you die? And garner significant XP penalties in the process?

It's hard to come up with good method for penalizing death within the game system without overly penalizing the player for their indiscretions. As tedious as death is in WoW, one of the biggest gameplay innovations in the game was largely removing the large penalties normally associated with death in MMOs.

forcing players to turn to outside sources (message boards and so forth) to avoid these things and progress in the game
Players cheat in this manner on even trivial games--check out GameFAQs sometime for an idea of the incredible breadth of this. There's nothing you can do to seriously prevent this sort of thing. Your challenges shouldn't come solely from knowledge of the thing players face--there should be some difficulty in the actual execution.

I never played MMO's before WoW but I've been playing City of Villains where "dying" leads to an XP penalty. And of course I've played D&D where (most of the time) you lose a level after a rez. These penalties may be annoying, but WoW's answer isn't necessarily the best one, especially when it leads to death becoming a lot more common than it is in those other games.

Sure, players will always consult outside sources, just as there will be gold-farmers and leveling services. Nevertheless, you can set things up so players don't need to consult message boards and so forth. WoW, unfortunately, isn't designed that way.

> there should be some difficulty in the actual execution.

excellent examples: moroes, aran, and now netherspite

Even when you know exactly what to do, it's still tough.
The challenge of execution will still piss off people too, I noticed people cranky after only 3 wipes on learning just where to move on netherspite.

I guess people will be frustrated no matter what. Losing sucks. And yes, WoW is lenient because all you lose are money and time. Yet when the time starts adding up, then no one wants to keep at the encounter - ESPECIALLY with respawn to worry about.

I was getting cranky not because I was angry -- people were doing a reasonably good job with an unfamiliar boss -- but because I was bored and annoyed. The contrivance of the whole encounter bothered me. These boss fights are cleverly designed but there's no good reason for the world to be set up this way. (At least Onyxia behaves more or less like a traditional fantasy dragon.)

that is true, and that IS a criticism of the "lore" of Kara.

Why the hell is there a dragon lurking around the library anyway? What is the Prince up to? Why are we fighting everything BUT a shade of Mediv?

I do want the guild to hit Onyxia (yay traditional dragonslaying) but I don't think enough want to go, plus most of those who took a year to level aren't keyed ...

I agree that WoW had a good innovation in no penalizing death so heavily; the problem is that death is still tedious and something that players want to avoid as much as possible.

It's more a problem with death being such a key component of the game, than of players' attitudes towards it.

And yeah, perma-death (D2 Hardcore mode anyone?) makes a player either overly cautious or ridiculously frustrated...

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