I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about death. I could start quoting great people in a deep, philosophical, existential sort of way, but that would be giving myself far too much credit. I'm just not that clever.
No, I've been thinking about death in a player behaviour sort of way. See, there are certain things I want people to do in game and there are certain things I don't want people to do, so it boils down to positive and negative reinforcement, or to put it another way: the carrot and the stick.
Death is a stick. In fact, it's the ultimate stick, or at least it should be. In game, death can be defined. It can be meaningless: instant respawn, no loss of items, stats or otherwise. It can be the end of the game, perma-death, game over etc.
"That's all well and good, but what are you getting at?" I hear you ask.
Well, I want to make my game fun and my own experience of RPG games in particular leans towards borderline kleptomania. If there's something of some sort of value, I will take it, trade it, build it, anything to ultimately increase my own wealth in game. I'm very, very greedy!
So when I come to play games with perma-death or item loss, it can be very painful to lose all my hard earned (read: 'stolen') items and other trinkets. However, the level of pain very much depends on how much effort it takes to reacquire those lost items.
I want death to mean something, but not mean everything. The game needs to be hard enough that there's the threat of death without death being the be-all-and-end-all!Onto the carrot then, what do I want players to actually do? I want them to improve and explore, I want them to get better gear and progress through the campaign. To do that, there needs to be bigger and better carrots as the game progresses.
There also needs to be a balance between risk and reward. I don't want it to be a formality that the boss has been defeated, so now I have to move onto the next part and I can. I want a decision to be thought through.
I want players to doubt themselves, "Do I have good enough gear to do this?"
That's what fun boils down to, interaction and decision in the environment. If things are heating up too much, I want to have the option to jump back to safety and return to a part of the game I can beat to get better gear and push onto the next level of campaign, monsters and loot. Because when I do beat the thing I thought I couldn't, that feels like an accomplishment! Accomplishing things feels good! Feeling good is fun!
Death is not fun, but it is necessary. However, I want to make my game system fair enough that death means a character reset but with minimal need to play everything over again. Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between perma-death and instant, inconsequential respawn.
If only there was some sort of divine entity... perhaps deity... that could help with this sort of thing... I think I know how I am going to implement it, hopefully I can reveal all in the near future.
In the meantime, what do you think about perma-death in games? Or death in general (ideally in games, but it's a free world)...