Arcen Games

Games => A Valley Without Wind 1 & 2 => Topic started by: Martyn van Buren on March 30, 2011, 12:31:30 PM

Title: "Perma-death"
Post by: Martyn van Buren on March 30, 2011, 12:31:30 PM
I'm really interested in the death mechanic Chris has been explaining in interviews, and I'm hoping we can hear a little more about the design philosophy behind this decision.  It sounds great to me, actually.  I've always been bothered by the way that RPG-ish games encourage you to reload every time you make a mistake, but then, once you've died in a fight, you don't really have a lot of other choices.  This sounds like a good solution that lets you take responsibility for your hug-ups, which seems good from a literary or philosophical standpoint or whatever.  At any rate, I enjoyed a lot Chris's posts about how he made decisions about things like micromanagement for AI Wars, and I'd be interested to hear more about this too.
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: x4000 on March 30, 2011, 01:09:20 PM
Glad you like the sound of it. :)

You actually sparked me to write a whole blog post, as this is something I've been meaning to talk about more for a while:

When it comes to the perma-death mechanic, the one thing I want to make most clear is that this has no bearing on the difficulty of the game, despite what some folks might expect.  In most games with perma-death, that means that the game is very hard.  How difficult or easy this game is depends more on how far you push out into the unknown, how many risks and such you take, etc.

No Do-Overs
Rather, the perma-death here is basically just taking away that convention of "oops, you messed up, time for a do-over!"  There are no do-overs in this game, except in the sense that there is in real life.  In real life if you lose your job, it's not like you can never get another job -- you can.  And you might even be able to get your old job back, under certain circumstances.  What you can't do in real life is say "oh, actually, I went back in time and now I never lost my job in the first place!"  So in real life you have the ability to try to correct past mistakes in various ways, but you can't erase them from existence.

That's very true also in AVWW, in terms of the general design of the game.  There is no way to save your game -- things just get persisted to disk as you play, and as you exit, etc.  So that's important because you can't just reload your last save if something happens that you don't like.  As with Minecraft, you can back up ALL your world files if you want to be able to save-scum, but it's really a lot of files and not something we make at all convenient.  That's counter to the idea of the game.

What Does Death Really Mean Here?
Going along with the above, death is the biggest mistake of all, of course.  You did something that wind up getting "you" killed, and now "you" are dead.  End of story for that character.  But you-the-player of course continue on, and so does the world around your character.

You aren't even particular punished for losing that character: their inventory is right where they died, so you can go get it if you want.  No rush, even.  It will sit there without disappearing for as long as the game world goes on.  In general, loot drops and other dropped items in this world never disappear unless someone picks them up.  Because of the fragmentary way we save the world, this is easily possible while still keeping memory requirements quite low.

That's what I mean by persistence: even that little scrap of wood that came out of a tree that you can use for crafting will sit there in the world forever, until somebody does something with it.  No fading-out of drops after a few seconds here.

Anyway, back to the death thing.  So you do lose your inventory, but it's really not lost, because you hopefully know where you died.  In terms of experience points you've gained, and the level of your character, however, none of that is lost.  All experience and levels are actually larger than your character, anyway -- in multiplayer, all players share experience and levels between them, it's a global thing not a per-character thing.  All the neutral-or-allied-to-you NPCs also share all this (monsters, obviously, do not).

So when you die, you choose a new character, and that's that.  They come back with some basic equipment appropriate to their level, as well as the same level as the character that died.  If your character was using some good equipment, you can go get it at your leisure.  If you have a stash of equally-good equipment closer by, you can just take that instead.  Equipment gets obsolete before too long anyway (since it has levels as well), so you're always building newer and better spells, weapons, traps, etc.  Losing some equipment in the middle of some bad guy's lair isn't a crisis by any stretch, if that's what happened to you.

This Is A Really Forgiving Game, But Death Is Everywhere
There is no way to lose in this game.  As in, there is no way that "the world ends and you can't play anymore."  You can lose -- and boy, will you -- when it comes to smaller and larger objectives you might find.  Attacking some bad guy's keep might lead to a real pile of graves in your graveyard, and a real depopulation of your NPCs as you take each one over, try to kill the bad guy, and die (probably you should get yourself stronger before going after that specific bad guy, apparently).

Most players will die as much as they level up, if not more.  It's a really tragic sort of scenario here, for a lot of the characters.  But it really depends completely on how you play, which brings us to...

The Difficulty Is Self-Tuning
The world of this game is normally a really dangerous place, but if you stick close to home, and stick to regions that are at or lower than your level, it's actually not that dangerous.  But the rewards are smaller there, and what's the fun in that!  Most players that are looking for challenge will go out... looking for challenge.   And they will find it!

But for those players that are cautious, or less skilled, or just want to have a more relaxed time, you can do that, too.  You can just hang out in Kokiri Village the whole time in Zelda if you want, and you hardly get attacked.  But that gets boring pretty quick, because there is not much to do there.

In AVWW, you can opt to level up without engaging in combat (based on exploring instead), and you can just stick to the relatively safe areas, which have all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies, if you like.  And as you level up, more of the world becomes "relatively safe" for you.  So to extend that Zelda example, it's like if you had a very large Kokiri Village that had some low-level monsters, and which got bigger the more you explored around.  You could play the whole game that way if you want, and it's a slower, more peaceful, less stressful way to play.  It's perfectly valid!

Then again, I think most hardcore players are just absolutely happy when they get out of Kokiri Village the first time.  I know I was itching to get out.  If "Kokiri Village" is large and ever-expanding in this game, that's absolutely dwarfed by the dangerous parts of the world.  And that's where all the really interesting rewards are, too.

Most players will, I think, strike some sort of balance between the safer regions and the more dangerous ones.  The specific balance will depend on the player and their preferences -- even how they are feeling on a particular day.  Sometimes I'm spoiling for a fight, other times I just want to explore around and find some useful smaller goodies, as well as do a bit of crafting or something.  You don't have to play the same way each time you sit down to the game.

The World Lives On

I've mentioned before that the goal here is that you can only play with one world for as long as you're in the game, if that's what you want to do.  Some players want to have multiple worlds, and that's perfectly fine and supported.

But there should never be a point where the world says "okay, that's it, you're done and you need to start a new world now."  There also should never be a point where the player says "okay, I want to play with feature X, but I need to start a new world to do that."  You can do anything in one world that you can do in another, no matter what the history of the respective worlds is.

The cool thing about having a world that is long-lived is that you build up a history there.  Not some random facts about the backstory of that world; that's not that interesting.  Instead, you build up a history of what you did in that world since you got there.  Players of AI War know pretty much what I'm talking about.  Know how some planets there take on a significance to you alone, because of one (or more) epic battles that were fought there?

In AI War, of course, all of that is in the player's mind.  The game doesn't really keep track of the history of each planet, because that's really just not the focus of that game as a military strategy title.  With AVWW, however, it's all about the world and the characters in it, and what those characters do.

If you have some character who was really accomplishing a lot and then died, the other characters will react to that.  We're thinking about adding funerals into the game, for several good reasons I won't go into here (you don't have to attend with your new character if you don't want to).

Similarly, if you've been going around murdering lots of good NPCs with your character, and that character is really hated, then there might be a celebration that the evil guy -- you -- is dead, rather than a funeral.  And your new character has their own past, and isn't really associated with those evil actions you took while in control of your prior character.  The slate is wiped clean.

In that sense, you really are sort of like a puppet master.  You're one character at a time only, and the only way to change characters is for your current character to die.  But while you are "in character" for one individual, you can do whatever you like.  Do bad deeds, do good ones, and the game will remember.  The narrative of the world gets built up through what happens in this sort of fashion.

Many Of These Features Are For Beta
Just one note of warning: a lot of the features having to do with the hopes of NPCs, the deeds of player characters, and basically the narrative of the world in general, are all what we're targeting for beta.  In early alpha, our focus is completely on the exploration and combat and crafting and all that sort of thing, which is a large enough topic by itself.

Perma-death is already there, and works as described except that there is no memory of what that character did (and no graves quite yet).  But this game is being built in layers, and the first layer is the physicality of the world and how you interact with it.  The second layer is the narratives that get told in that world.

Just so there's no confusion when it comes time for alpha!
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: BobTheJanitor on March 30, 2011, 02:01:04 PM
Seems like there some cut-and-paste repetition in the first couple sections there. Just fyi!

Since you take your new characters from existing NPCs, (as I understand it) what happens if you run out of NPCs beating your head against some obstacle that you probably shouldn't be beating on? Or say I start a brand new game, walk to the first monster, and ineptly die immediately. What happens in that scenario? All of this new groundbreaking stuff is very fascinating, and I hope it works out well.
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: superking on March 30, 2011, 02:34:50 PM
so basically the same as dwarf fortress adventure mode, except your gear stays at your corpse instead of getting hoovered by bandits
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: Zhaine on March 30, 2011, 04:05:10 PM
so basically the same as dwarf fortress adventure mode, except your gear stays at your corpse instead of getting hoovered by bandits

That and it's an entirely different genre of game, yes :D

Did they get around to making the DF adventure mode fully featured like the fortress mode? Might have to revisit that game. . .

The mechanics sound cool, thanks for fleshing that out a little more. . .

Random questions: How frequent on the world map will friendly settlements be (ones you've built and ones you haven't)? Aprox how many NPCs in each? Will they be quite distinct from each other? Do new NPCs at existing settlements get 'born' (and are there plans, presumably post release, for 'families', 'children' or 'friendships' in whatever form they might take)? I guess much of this isn't finalised and it's fair enough if you don't want to share  :P
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: x4000 on March 30, 2011, 04:14:39 PM
Fixed the duplication, thanks!  Not sure how that happened there.  I had started typing this in the forums, then copied it to blogger, so perhaps I pasted twice or something. But not sure how that only pasted part of it twice.  Ah, well!

In terms of what happens when you are low on NPCs, it just creates random characters for you to choose from.  Always at least 3 characters to choose from, no matter how many NPCs you have remaining.  We might make that number a bit higher than 3, I'm not sure. 

Bear in mind that just knowing an NPC isn't enough to come back at them, you have to actually win them over in some manner so they are considered your ally.  As of early alpha we won't be having that yet, most likely, so your new character is always from a pool of about 5 random characters at present, and the NPCs that you encounter aren't evaluated in that.

In terms of DF adventure mode, that's interesting to hear there are similarities.  I've played some DF, but never in adventure mode, and didn't particularly know much about it.

In terms of the frequency of settlements, they won't be all that frequent that you'll encounter them.  NPCs, on the other hand, are fairly common -- found inside always at the moment, and usually at least one group of 1-3ish NPCs per world tile.  There are a lot of buildings per world tile, though, potentially, and a lot of floors per building, so finding that NPC isn't always as easy as you might suspect from that "frequency."  Each tile is a pretty big amount of space, when you add up all the interiors!

In terms of settlements you create, we intend for those not to be too dense, but most of our decision making on the settlements will be something we work on during alpha, and the completion of that, hopes, and deeds will mark the move to beta, most likely.

The various settlements will be distinct from one another in many ways, even down to including the types of people in it.  Different nationalities at times, as well as finding other races like a settlement of neutral skelebots, etc.

In terms of families, births, etc... we haven't really got there yet, conceptually.  A lot of that will be stuff for either very late alpha, possibly beta, or possibly post-1.0.  But I imagine that's the general sort of direction we'll be thinking in, if it sounds fun to players that are familiar with the game, and if we think it will be fun at that time, too.
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: Zhaine on March 30, 2011, 05:39:37 PM

In terms of settlements you create, we intend for those not to be too dense, but most of our decision making on the settlements will be something we work on during alpha, and the completion of that, hopes, and deeds will mark the move to beta, most likely.

The various settlements will be distinct from one another in many ways, even down to including the types of people in it.  Different nationalities at times, as well as finding other races like a settlement of neutral skelebots, etc.

In terms of families, births, etc... we haven't really got there yet, conceptually.  A lot of that will be stuff for either very late alpha, possibly beta, or possibly post-1.0.  But I imagine that's the general sort of direction we'll be thinking in, if it sounds fun to players that are familiar with the game, and if we think it will be fun at that time, too.

Thanks for the info. . . Sounds very cool, especially the bits I've quoted.

I guess find people in non-settlement world tiles will be part of the exploration stuff, should be fun :)
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: Nice Save on March 31, 2011, 06:05:51 PM
This seems like the right place for something I thought of a while back...

Will the characteristics of the NPCs in your  settlements help the survivability (or some form of value) of the settlement? It would be really cool if you had to choose between using an awesome NPC as a player character or leaving them in a settlement for a different advantage.
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: x4000 on March 31, 2011, 06:21:53 PM
Will the characteristics of the NPCs in your  settlements help the survivability (or some form of value) of the settlement? It would be really cool if you had to choose between using an awesome NPC as a player character or leaving them in a settlement for a different advantage.

To some extent, yes.  The settlements won't actually be directly threatened at least at first, though "defense events" are something we're thinking a lot about for post-1.0.  But the people in your settlements do actual work, the most obvious of which is crafting.  For certain legendary items, you might be training up a really good weaponsmith or gemcrafter, and if you're doing that then you'll want to leave them in the settlement rather than taking them out.

That's kind of pass one, and we have a ton of other ideas to include a pseudo-city-simulation in the settlements, which would really encourage using NPCs for things other than cannon fodder.  But I'm not sure how many of those would make it in before 1.0, it really just depends on what we have time for and what seems interesting to players.
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: BobTheJanitor on March 31, 2011, 06:32:34 PM
I don't really like gameplay mechanics that involve lesser-of-two-evils choices. So if it was either take this NPC, and leave your post weak, or leave the NPC, but then your player is weak, I wouldn't find that to be an enjoyable game mechanic. When it comes to choices, I much prefer the type that is between one good option or another good option, without any real drawbacks. Let the challenge come from the game itself, not from being forced into something un-fun. Perhaps it's too much like day-to-day life? I'm not sure if I'm articulating it well, I just know it irks me. I'm in a game in my leisure hours to have fun, not to make hard choices!
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: x4000 on March 31, 2011, 08:30:20 PM
I don't really like gameplay mechanics that involve lesser-of-two-evils choices.

As a general rule, I hate that, too.  I think there can be certain cases where it is actually an interesting design choice (there are a few things like that in AI War), but it has to be used sparingly and purposefully.

In terms of how the NPCs are handled in settlements, that's definitely not to be a case of that design pattern, so no worries.  Generally speaking, all NPCs are good at some adventuring-related stat (magic or physical or health or just balanced all around), regardless of their crafting abilities.

So when you have someone that is really good at crafting, someone specialized I mean, you simply just don't choose them as a character.  You should always have at least 2-4 other choices, even if you're down to the end of your NPC pool, depending on how that turns out.  If it becomes too much of a pain (say if you have FIVE awesome crafters that you don't want to take over, and that's all you have left somehow), then I'm thinking I might institute a rule where there are always at least 3-5 brand-new "wandering" NPCs you can take over in addition to the NPCs you've actually met and won over.

I'm not certain exactly how it will shake out, because that really requires some playtesting to be sure, but rest assured that I want to avoid precisely the sort of situation I think you're worried about.  I've been thinking about that quite a bit as we go.

In terms of other things beyond crafting, that's not something we've got concrete enough in our designs (given that it's not even planned for 1.0) for me to be able to comment on it yet.  But we'll definitely also be trying to avoid too many inter-dependencies where you feel like you're really losing something every time you die.  All of that sort of thing is what would lead people to start manually save-scumming, which I want to avoid incentives for if at all possible. 

When a character dies, it should be notable, but more of a story element that changes things in interesting ways, rather than something that punishes you in any way other than the loss of that character and their inventory.  If you're being punished by depleting your settlements in a way that is causing long-term strife in those settlements... that's a problem.  That will really argue for always having enough "wanderers" around that you don't have to deplete your settlements if you don't want to.
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: superking on April 01, 2011, 06:33:09 PM
zomg x4000, I strongly recommend you take an afternoon to have a browse around the current DF adventure mode. it is nowhere near feature complete and combat is fairly broken, but it does a large number of things you have proposed for AVWW, like permadeath, each character being a peasant taken out of a settlement, permament corpses, trackable character history, trackable family lines, limited inventory, tools & crafting, currency and loot, tough dangerous areas and safe ones, and of course its all procedually generated.
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: Flatfingers on April 01, 2011, 11:19:22 PM
But we'll definitely also be trying to avoid too many inter-dependencies where you feel like you're really losing something every time you die.

One of the perennial arguments in game design (among gamers, anyway) is between people who think the in-game death of a character should be painful, and those who want no such thing and resent being told how they're "supposed" to play a game.

I'm pretty sure this fight breaks down about 99% of the time according to innate playstyle preferences. Some people care a lot about the world of the game; their fun depends on pretending that it feels like a real place (or at least an internally consistent creation). Other people reject that perspective; their interest in games is primarily in the mechanics -- whoever's best at following the rules of play, whatever those may be, wins the game and gets the rewards.

So the former group wants character death to cause appreciable loss. Not "punishment," not something wildly punitive, but a consequence serious enough that most players will voluntarily choose to behave in such a way as to avoid getting their characters killed.

The latter group, meanwhile, considers character death a stupid interruption in their gameplay. They view characters in a gameworld not as people but basically as vehicles -- you move the avatar around according to the rules of the game and try to load it up with as much stuff as possible, and whoever collects the most stuff the fastest wins. These gamers perceive character death as an annoyance, an inconvenience, an irritant; they're certain that it needs to be minimized, and it definitely had better not impose a serious cost because having to think about how to avoid dying would just make everything slow and boring.

Put people with these divergent perspectives in a forum and ask them whether character death should have a sting, and you can almost always count on massive flamage, followed by an unspoken agreement to avoid that question in future.

The thing is, though, a game developer doesn't get to avoid the question. If characters can die, there must be some cost. It might be nearly nothing; it might be significant; it might be terrible; but some decision must be made. What should it be?

I think the general answer I'd give follows the observation that different gamers like different kinds of gameplay: who's the target audience? In this case, what's the design vision for A Valley Without Wind? Is it meant to be a fast-paced game of loot collection, where there's never much need to plan carefully to avoid negative outcomes? If so, then character death probably needs to be minor enough that it slows down advancement only trivially and barely interrupts the flow of play. Will that feel right for AVWW?

If on the other hand the AVWW gameworld is meant to have some depth, where non-player characters have personalities beyond mere function and where storytelling matters... in such a game, death probably needs to be pretty painful in some way. If it's not, then the people who care about deeply engaging gameworlds will be incredibly frustrated by herds of "it's just a game" players rushing repeatedly into insane levels of danger.

If death has no sting in a game where it should, what you will see will be bunches of gamers dying over and over and over again. They'll persistently run into the "instant death" zones on the off chance that they'll get lucky on one of their attempts and survive an impossibly difficult encounter and score major loot as a result. Good benefits (whether it's loot or something else) and a low cost of death guarantee player behavior that involves lots of dying. Would that feel right for AVWW?

I mention all this not to say how I think AVWW "should be," but to try to outline (for whoever's still reading) how developer choices on this subject will to a large extent determine player behavior. I'd be glad if some of the above comments inspire some thinking and discussion on the subject of how much character death should hurt.

In a single-player game, this isn't too important. But it needs to be addressed in a game with a multiplayer component because the behavior of gamers as a large group itself becomes part of the shared gameworld. Designer decisions regarding the in-game consequences of player choices guide the choices of many players. Those decisions therefore have a powerful effect on how the gameworld winds up feeling, and thus on who likes the game and who really doesn't.

So has this persuaded anyone to conclude that character death in A Valley Without Wind needs to be more painful or less painful?
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: Teal_Blue on April 02, 2011, 02:52:23 AM
So has this persuaded anyone to conclude that character death in A Valley Without Wind needs to be more painful or less painful?

:)  Interesting point of view. Personally, from a storytelling point of view, i vote for <if there is a vote>
for a memorable death for the characters.

To be honest, i had already planned that i would stay close to the settlement and craft alot and go linear instead of out into danger too often. But that is just my cautious side, and the fact that i'm more of a 'crafting' kind of player anyway, instead of a hack & slash player.

But, having my character do her thing in the village, meet people, perhaps get married, have children, provide food and clothes, <which might have to be found as well, hint>  :) And explore, meet new people out in the world, build new settlements, craft some more, explore some more.

But if i was killed by a bear in the woods ten miles out from my settlement, then my husband and children could go on. I could be buried in the meadow beyond the house where my settlement is.

Perhaps the name of the village is changed to Teal's Village, instead of Black Ridge, or my daughter now carries the spear that I had and it becomes a memorial more than a functional weapon.

Perhaps, if there is 'game time', then my daughter grows up and founds her own family, leaves the settlement and marries a man from a new settlement and names her first daughter after me, perhaps she is a crafter or a farmer, or a fisherwoman and raises her family relatively quietly, but her daughter and perhaps her son as well, are nothing like that at all. They are hunters and warriors, and five generations down the line the great valley where everything was so very difficult when i was living, is now tame and farmland and most of the animals have moved on.

This is probably 'not' the kind of play that anyone else might particularly enjoy, but for me, it is fulfilling in several ways, there is a history, a family, a line of descent from one generation to another, there is the great unknown, that gets carved out and tamed and becomes the great known.
There is the simple pleasure of small journey's and small challenges, <having to build that first house in the wilderness all those years ago from slim trees and moved down to a thin stream to provide water and occasionally fish, with the house facing west out of the direct flow of the wind down off the mountains>

It is like creating your own 'imaginary' life, like living it, year by year and watching the generations pass and the world move around us. That is very pleasant to me, and although AVWW may be nothing quite like this, i am hoping it will be 'sorta' like this.  :)  Or even just a little like this.  :)

I understand the guys want to adventure and that is normal and fun, but it would be nice to have other things, like the crafting that chris mentions and a slower pace, with still things that need to be done. Perhaps an adventurer might not care to bring water up to the house everyday, or sew clothes, or raise crops, or grow chickens in the yard, or milk the goats or churn the goat milk into cheese, or having my character get sick and have to go to the medicine woman to get sour root to heal up, or to get old and slower, or break my leg and have it stay that way as a consequence of that event, but these small things, and repetitious things for me are like 'living' in that life, living in that world.

I don't want to tell chris how to make his game, i am just hoping that some of these things could make it into the game later. Anyway, as to grand and memorable death, yes. Quick and relatively painless and back at hacking the skelebots for whatever i can scavenge and dying and going back and doing it again? Well, not really, but i'm sure there are players that would absolutely 'love' that.  :)

Anyway, thank you for listening and for the interesting post.


Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: BobTheJanitor on April 02, 2011, 03:17:04 AM
So has this persuaded anyone to conclude that character death in A Valley Without Wind needs to be more painful or less painful?

From what I understand so far, the main AVWW negative to death is that you may lose a character that hopefully the game has given you some feeling of attachment towards. They won't just be a series of nameless faceless goons that you throw away like toys. They'll be people with a bit of history and personality and you won't want to use them as cannon fodder because you've grown attached to them. For me, at least, that's a very nice way to go about handling character death. No gameplay enforced arbitrary punishment, outside of the things that make sense, like losing all the gear that person was carrying (which may be a pretty big slap on the wrist anyway; I don't think much has been released yet about how inventory management will work).

But on the general subject of in-game death and the effect it can have on the game overall, you points did remind me of one thing. Note: Amnesia game mechanics spoilers ahead, don't highlight if you don't want to know:

In Amnesia, all the fear was ruined for me when I realized that dying did absolutely nothing to you except move you to another spot in the map. There's no reverting to the last save. You didn't lose any gear, you didn't have any puzzles revert to an unsolved state, nothing changed except that you get moved to somewhere else. Suddenly the game's expected behavior when you see a monster, that of hiding in the dark until it went away, just became tedious. It got the point where I would see a monster shambling down the hall and just go give it a hug so I didn't have to waste the next 3 minutes huddled in a dark corner. When you're snuggling with every fanged nightmare that you meet, the horror has gone right out of your game. Which was too bad, because the game was pretty good otherwise.

Spoilers done, thanks.

Death is always going to be handled arbitrarily in games. If your character died and that was it, game done, you can never continue, you have gone on to join the choir invisible, time to uninstall the game and go outside... well then games wouldn't be much fun at all. So we all start from the baseline of nonsense when it comes to dying in games. You're always going to be able to go on in one way or another. For my 2 cents, I don't really care much how death is handled, as long as it doesn't jar me out of the game world too much. Thinking about it, I get the most enjoyment out of games when they provide me with an aesthetically enjoyable and consistent environment to play around in. It's kind of hard to articulate, but I know it when I see it. It's like being able to enjoy a piece of music or other artwork. When a game is done well like that, the actual core gameplay simply becomes something for me to do while I'm enjoying the world. So with that as a baseline, deaths in the game can be anything as long as they don't go against the grain of whatever it might be that I'm enjoying about the game.

So, for example, if I was playing a game that for whatever reason didn't start feeling right and enjoyable for me until I'd put 10 hours into it, then perma-death (of the classic type, not the AVWW type) would be a pretty terrible thing. It would take me out of the part of the game that was feeding my enjoyment and put me back at square one. Now I'm 10 hours away from the fun again. That game would disappear into the dark pit of games that I'm going to get back to playing 'one day'.

I hope this made some sense, it's getting past 2 AM here and I have no idea why I'm still up typing out diatribes on forums.
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: x4000 on April 02, 2011, 10:48:22 AM
Whoo, there's a lot of text and opinions here.  A lot of good thoughts.  And also, thanks for the recommendation to DF adventure mode, superking.  I'll have to at least read up on that some, although I don't want to just do what they've done -- specifically, their game is a hardcore simulation game, and is thus starting from an utterly alien premise as far as AVWW is concerned.

I think it's fair to say that the perma-death mechanic in AVWW is currently something that has only minor penalties, but as the world gets more complex, the penalties also get more complex by necessity.  But before that freaks anyone (Bob) out, I think it's important that I back up for a minute and explain the overall design goals I have. 

I'm always talking about my immutable design goals (, right?  So here they are for perma-death:

1. When a character is dead, the character is dead for good.

1.a. It is possible that in some VERY rare cases we might have some sort of life-saving elixer or something, but that sort of thing would be "the super rare exception to the rule that is used for dramatic effect to underscore the rule itself."  99.9% of the time, when a character dies they are gone.

2. When a character dies, the player should feel the loss in some manner.  It shouldn't be like losing a life in Mario where it's just utterly unmemorable.
2.a. How exactly this is accomplished will be determined most by things that we have not put in the game yet -- deeds, hopes, and more robust NPC stuff in general.  In a sense even your player-character is still an NPC, so they still have hopes and a past that has nothing to do with you-the-player.  When you take over an NPC to play with, it's not like their past just gets wiped or something.
2.b. I also figure that even if the player doesn't care about that NPC, it's important that the world does.  Thus even if the player "didn't know the character very well yet" and thus hadn't built up a depth of feeling for them, the world should be affected in subtle ways that matter.  When I read the obituary column, as one example, I feel the gravitas of all that loss even if it doesn't really emotionally affect me directly because I didn't know any of the people.  This is the minimum of what I'd like to recreate here, if possible.

3. When a character dies, the player must not be punished in a significant gameplay sense.  In other words, there should be no incentive to try to "save scum" after death for most players.
3.a. Temporary lack of access to inventory that the prior character had been carrying, as well as being jettisoned to a new area, is the only punishment in a gameplay sense that we currently have.
3.b. Going along with this immutable goal, having the players have to choose from a limited selection of NPCs that they might prefer to keep alive in their settlements could be a big punishment, hence my recent thinking on the wanderers.
3.c. Later, as NPCs are more robust and have other functions in settlements and otherwise, this is where the "penalties get more complex."  When someone leaves the world, that does leave an awful hole, as they say.  The goal here is to make that hole reflected in the world and story in a poignant way, without making the player feel like they are being punished.  Mostly that involves making the players not replay stuff they already did; not "lose work" that they'd had in progress; and not significantly reduce the number of options available to the player at that point in the game.

Whew, that's a lot of qualifiers for those design goals, but hopefully that makes sense.  Everything else about perma-death springs up from those and only those.  Right now, mechanically, it's going what I want for #1 and #3.  Item #2 is the more subtle and tricky one, and really involves a lot of world-lore logic and the deeds system, neither of which are likely to be in place for another month at least.
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: Teal_Blue on April 03, 2011, 01:05:59 AM

Thank you for the nice and well thought out post. It is interesting to read, and gives me some idea of what to expect. I think the Beta, when it gets here is going to be very, very interesting indeed!  :)


Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: Martyn van Buren on April 03, 2011, 06:27:59 AM
Thanks for the response, Chris!

Since people bring up the possibility of attacks on settlements, I'd like to argue some for there being some danger to NPCs, at least at times.  Personally, I've found that some of the most effective emotional moments I've seen in games have been when familiar NPCs die, especially, in fact, when it's because you fucked up rather than because it's part of the plot.  I'm thinking of the NPC soldiers who accompany you in Halo 2, as a matter of fact ---- they aren't really characters, and most of the time you just blow though levels while they get picked off.  But I tried once to get through a level with them alive, and it quickly became really important to me.  It's difficult to keep them alive, especially since they tend to advance into dangerous areas when you want to stay back and snipe, and even more because they never, ever retreat; it forced me to take risks I would have preferred not to take.  In the end, only one of them made it, but my anxiety when the aliens shot at her and my relief when I beat the last boss in the level and she was still standing are my strongest memories from playing that game.  I think it was a lot more effective than scripted deaths, like that of the psychic girl in FFVII and the point in Mass Effect I where you have to choose a member of your team to sacrifice, precisely because I had to take ownership, as it were, of the characters' fates; if they died, it wasn't because the developers had written into the story, but because I planned my battles wrong and got them killed.  Although, if you know the game, I think Mass Effect recognized this effect, and did a very good job of making it seem like you could have saved one of the characters if you'd moved faster or tried harder.

Anyway, I think the lesson of this is that even a totally undeveloped, cardboard-cutout NPC can suddenly start to seem really important if you're made responsible for them in a way that means you can save them or lose them, and even more if the game forces you to make difficult choices.  So I think being asked to protect NPCs in a way that you can genuinely screw up can potentially provide a good deal of emotional depth.
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: x4000 on April 03, 2011, 09:49:37 AM
My pleasure on the response!

So I think being asked to protect NPCs in a way that you can genuinely screw up can potentially provide a good deal of emotional depth.

I very much see your point, and in a lot of senses I agree.  But, one has to ask "what kind of game is this?" primarily.  This game is more like Zelda, or Crystalis, or some similar game of that sort, in that most of it is lone adventuring where you go out and the people that you know (NPCs) all stay safely bundled off somewhere.  Granted, there's co-op, so you can be off "alone together," but that's still fine.

Now, that makes it sound like I don't want to have NPCs ever be in danger, which is not what I mean at all.  Rather, the focus for 1.0 is just mainly not relating to NPCs being in danger or not.  Having NPCs be in danger involves one of two things: either they are accompanying you on missions (which I really don't want to do, as it's counter to the above "lone adventurer" feel that we're going for, not to mention it takes a bunch of extra AI coding that I don't care to get into for this game -- there's enough to do already); or there are some sort of semi-random or triggered events where they are threatened in settlements or whatever else.  That's something Keith and I have talked about quite a bit, actually, but we decided that would probably be best as part of an expansion, possibly as the centerpiece of an expansion, sometime post-1.0.

Why is that one such a big deal?  Well, for one thing, balancing it is extremely tricky.  If your NPCs are suddenly vulnerable at times, that changes how you need to be able to set up settlements.  And that in turn causes a cascade of other gameplay events you need to have in place for it to work.  It's very much taking the game in a huge, branching new direction with a ton of implications, which is why we think that sounds like an interesting expansion rather than one more thing to try to cram into 1.0.

Maybe it's gauche to be planning an expansion before 1.0 is even done, but we have ideas that plainly don't fit into 1.0, and so we either have to throw them out or plan to do something with them.  Granted, if we were to see, say, a Minecraft level of success to the base game, then we'd be leaning even more heavily on free DLC instead of expansions. ;)  But as it stands at the moment, we have to do a certain amount of work and then get paid for it in order to stay in business.  And so when there's a big nest of related un-anticipated functionality like this, we tend to earmark that for expansions rather than 1.0 or free DLC, for the simple reason it would take us a month or more to implement this satisfactorily, most likely (and longer in public testing).

Anyway, that's not to say that if some simpler ideas didn't come up, that we might not go with them.  Keith and I have also talked about overworld caravans for populating new settlements, but we discarded that a while ago as being too complex for such a core mechanic of the game.  But we might have some other purpose that we could use caravans for, which could involve NPC-defense when the caravan gets caught in windstorm events, for instance.  I dunno.  When it comes to stuff like that, it depends on how much time we wind up with later in alpha/beta.
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: Martyn van Buren on April 08, 2011, 07:14:18 AM
That makes great sense to me.  I have a lot of faith in Arcen expansions, as well.
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: Echo35 on April 11, 2011, 10:53:43 AM
Hey, after playing Nethack and Steel Battalion, I'm used to not only losing my character for good, but my save files as well, so this can't be THAT bad :P
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: x4000 on April 11, 2011, 11:20:57 AM
Hahaha, no, nowhere like that! :)
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: Awod on April 11, 2011, 08:41:13 PM
Hey, after playing Nethack and Steel Battalion, I'm used to not only losing my character for good, but my save files as well, so this can't be THAT bad :P

I hear ya, big fan of Diablo II, hardcore. (perma-death)

This game sounds like fun, can't wait.
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: Teal_Blue on April 12, 2011, 02:00:30 AM
I don't want to seem a downer with the perma-death stuff, i just hope we don't have to lose our characters 'too' much. I mean, it would be nice to build up a sense of history, maybe several weeks, before losing them? I'm afraid if i lose them like on the hour, then it will get to the point, where it's not a big deal and just run around doing whatever until they die and then go on.

That is really 'not' the kind of game i was hoping for, the die every hour kind. I don't want to tell you how to do it, but perhaps when we get to beta we can 'tweak' the death thing, so it is kind of well... balanced. AI War is different, a ship doesn't really 'hold' as much of a player's 'self' as an on screen 'character' does.

I just want to spend some time getting used to and enjoying my characters before i have to lose them.
Anyway, just my opinion.
Thank you for listening,


Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: eRe4s3r on April 12, 2011, 02:14:41 AM
I think this is even more important than that - players often don't play "a character" but "their character" which as you say, is how they "connect" to their avatar. Having perma-death close in each encounter makes people explore less and take less risks or (the inverse) lose connection to their avatar and take many pointless risks (because while permanent with no connection to a character players have little incentive to care).

Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: x4000 on April 12, 2011, 09:08:49 AM
It depends on how you play as to how dangerous it is. I'd you play 10 levels up, you probably will die at least every hour. If you play closer to your level and equip yourself with at least some healing potions, etc, you ought to be able to string one character out for quite a while. It all depends on your choices, mainly how aggressive you are. You don't have to be a passive bunny to keep your character alive a long time, though.
Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: Teal_Blue on April 12, 2011, 01:59:38 PM
:) I am glad to hear that.

 I suppose I will just have to wait and see how the game plays when the beta comes out.  :)

Thank you for the explanation,


Title: Re: "Perma-death"
Post by: x4000 on April 12, 2011, 02:33:30 PM
Yep, things like that are pretty impossible to balance until more of the components are in place.  All of that sort of polish really gets focused on closer to beta and then ongoing afterward.