A Different Reality: Graveyards

In MMO land, death is a temporary inconvenience. But does the in-game fiction reflect this?

I object to many games because it is not even theoretically possible to complete them without dying many times. There are trial-and-error puzzles where “error” means “death”; in-world, your character somehow just knew to jump after opening that door and to put a bucket on his head before walking into the cave. The NPCs see an invulnerable god, but you just had many save files. It is entirely player knowledge, where the character never knows why he avoids certain doors

Some MMOs recognize that death happens. Asheron bound you to a lifestone, and there is an explanation, although not perhaps for how your equipment rebounded with your spirit. You have a telepathic bond with a stored clone, which is how you bring back knowledge of what killed you. Other games have stories in which people die, which seems ridiculous when graveyards are known to be waystations rather than permanent parking spots. Who is in those graves? Why don’t they just release? How can there be widows and orphans, and why are there epic stories about fallen heroes when they could just rez?

That you can kill the boss once a week seems less silly once you remember that you died three times in the process. What makes it more silly is that everyone else should know, so why does anyone think that VanCleef is really gone just because you decapitated him? You’ve survived worse. I want a game that takes this principle seriously and has quest-givers comment on why they would want to temporarily inconvenience the enemy, or the quest is to finally banish the Lich King rather than to kill him. Again. Of course, if you do, he would really need to be gone for that to make any sense.

: Zubon

17 thoughts on “A Different Reality: Graveyards”

  1. I have a MMO game idea (don’t we all) which explains almost all of why players are players and NPCs are NPCs. That said, it doesn’t have graveyards, either, since death isn’t permanent and that’s part of it’s lore.

    A longer explanation is at http://www.wizarth.com.au/wiki/game/storyline (self promotional link) but the tl;dr version is “The world only exists because someone imagined it. Everyone there knows this, and uses it as a vacation spot to beat on monsters for fun.”

  2. To explain equipment remaining when you rez, it’s soul-bound! Would like see a game take this concept further (or backwards?), by making it a fairly rare occurrence and that armour that isn’t soulbound is left behind like Darkfall. So you’d have disposable pieces of armour but your best pieces would be magically soul-bound, a happy medium and make professions more worthwhile.

    For the reason behind player rezing and NPCs not rezing, like to use the Tolkien elf reason, sure they are immortal but their will can be irreparable broken where upon they leave for the West. So the players are a determined, driven spirit with a destiny that must be fulfilled, whereas NPCs slaughtered by bandits will not be able to live normal lives after facing that horror. But do like that in one of the recent Guild Wars 2 Q&As they mentioned that important NPCs involved in events could be rezzed and thus setting off the event again, nothing wrong with accepting it’s just a game.

  3. You already know this of course, but CoH manages to sidestep this by claiming that nobody dies. Heroes get teleported to hospital and instantly healed, while enemies get teleported to prison and immediately broken out.

    CoV is a bit more of a grey area.

  4. That’s one of the reasons I liked City of Heroes so much – in-game rezzing after you get KO’d, assuming someone didn’t use a power on you, was due to a medical teleport or “mediport” system. You respawned in a hospital, all nice and fresh, and had to get back to the fight.

    To give another example, EVE Online’s players are capsuleers, who have backup clones sitting in a station somewhere that, if their escape pod gets destroyed, they wake up in – in-game, this is a known mechanic and is explained by, when a capsule’s skin is breached, a lethal toxin being injected into the brain to freeze synaptic function, a snapshot being taken of the capsuleers brain patterns at the moment of death, and a quick FTL databurst with that information being transmitted to whatever station you left a clone in.

  5. Permadeath! sorry Julian, but not this post.

    Rather than trying to adapt the entire game world to “death,” why don’t we look at better ways to represent defeat?

    If you’re in a team, and the team doesn’t all wipe, you could easily suggest that the fallen players had gone unconscious or near-death and have them revived and bandaged up.

    If your team wipes, their “rez point” could be:
    – the encampment of a patrol that managed to come along in time to chase away the foes.
    – a traveling merchant “good Samaritan’s” wagon. He found you and was taking you to town for help. Some of your items may be missing, but if you go back and battle the same type of foe, these items may have a chance to fall again as loot.
    – the battlefield where you fell. Something’s distracted most of the foes- maybe they hear something from the woodline, maybe reinforcements come at the last minute. Maybe they’re bickering over an item they looted from your group. It could randomly be any of these. Whichever it is, it gives you a chance to recover, stumble away, regroup, and plan your next move.
    – a prison in your foe’s base… with an alternate-mechanic minigame focusing on escaping, regrouping, and regaining your prized possessions.

    Just change the mechanic and reward so “kill or be killed” isn’t the only option. Bandits would often only fight while the foe’s resisting- not until they’re 100% dead. Battle formations broke long before even half of their group fell. Heroes would be captured and pay to be set free… so why must every game end in “death.”

    Is it because we’ve been so damn conditioned to expect that in games? Do we blame the legacy of ghosts killing our dot-eating-yellow-circle” until we ran out of lives and had to plug in more quarters?

  6. In single player games it is always doing some type of save before you did something with a questionable outcome. My favorite take on this was Planetfall. When ever you did a game save and Floyd was around he would ask “Are we about to do something Dangerous?”

    I think in MMOs you should have some story reason why you can keep coming back with all your stuff. I would rather have the designers tell you they are hand-waving the issue then not address it at all, like the giant squid in the corner that isn’t there.

  7. Thing is, we’re not really playing in living, breathing worlds where life matters. We’re chronicling the Valhalla of hapless heroes; a world of undeath, nondeath and the perpetual Sisyphian cycle of war.

    It’s a special sort of hell.

    (And yes, it would be interesting to see a game take that as a central storytelling conceit and run with it. Death is but a speedbump to an immortal, always chasing bad guys across the Elysian fields. Neverending, glorious war… what better core concept for a “perpetual now” MMO?)

    1. LoL! The Valhalla analogy is great! But I don’t think it’s a special sort of Hell.

      In fact, in Celtic Mythology, I believe it’s as close as you can get to Heaven. Tír na nÓg, to be precise. *flings batter precisely*

      I’ve thought about the similarity of MMOs/MUDs to that quite a bit, but you’re the first other person I’ve ever seen to bring it up. YayTesh!

  8. I like it when MMOs at least pay lip service to the mechanics. For example, in EQOA (of all games) the first time you talked to a spirit binder they explained that the gods do not allow any of us our final rest until we have fulfilled the destiny they have in store for us.

    The logic breaks down pretty quickly if you over think it, however it was nice to see some minimal effort put in.

  9. I agree, the whole death and resurrection concept is a little silly. I like CoH’s approach as well. I’ve been thinking of on an approach would be to have players who are “dead” become AI controlled entities and automatically run offscreen and fade for each client. Then, characters awaken (teleport) right near or inside a medical facility. I think this approach would look convincing and be a hell of a lot more realistic than cloning or resurrection.

  10. CoH’s approach is fine and all, but it doesn’t get much more than a mention. Fallen Earth, on the other hand, won’t let players forget that they’re clones, and I’m a big fan of that… even if I can’t be bothered to log in anymore.

  11. I’m with Bhagpuss on this one.

    Sometimes one has to be reminded that any Game is a microcosm: a representational simulation of life rather than a factual or ‘true’ simulation. In a roleplaying game the illusions become more front-and-center, but any illusion is bound to break under examination.

    These points of bothersome life-comparison inaccuracies have probably been argued since Chess.

    In other words: Death is just a game mechanic.

Comments are closed.