Winning, Losing, Death and Consequence
I was reading this article the other day and thought that it was interesting. This post was originally going to be a response, but it kind of went off on a tangent. So by, “Winning, Losing, Death and Consequence,” I really mean “Death and Consequence.” The other part of the title just sounded nifty. Anyway, gaming deaths should have consequences, given that they are appropriate to the nature of the game. The player should have to feel the weight of a bad decision as to not trivialize the game. At the same time, these consequences need to be reasonable.
I am not certain if it is because I have gone increasingly casual over the past couple of years, but as a working adult with relatively little free time (in comparison to uuh college), I don’t have that much time to enjoy my media of choice. I like a challenging game and I like my decisions, poor or not to have significance, but I really do not enjoy the time wasting aspect of a rough death mechanic. On any given week night I have about 3 to 4 hours of playtime after eating and what not. A half hour to an hour of time making up time after reloading a game after dying is a significant portion of my evening. I can personally do without arbitrary time wasting.
This exact criticism was one of my big beefs against Final Fantasy XII. In a long RPG, harsh death penalties severely interrupt the story, which is counterproductive given that the entire purpose of a role playing game is to progress the narrative. Sparsely placing save points and forcing players to traverse long distances after dying during a boss encounter doesn’t fit with the context of the game. It is an old mechanic originally used out of technological limitation; It doesn’t have a place within modern gaming.
Final Fantasy XIII handled death in a slightly different manner: Save points, though still used are placed with more frequency. If you die during an encounter, your party will load from the point right before you engage in battle, giving you time to rethink your strategy and swap paradigms and party members around. Many newer games follow a similar train of thought regarding death mechanics and I think that it is a good compromise. An encounter can be hard without being unnecessarily frustrating. Other than repeating a though fight x amount of times, there is relatively little disruption to the flow of the game.
Besides, why does time need to be the only method of punishment? And for the record, WoW’s punishes in the form of a hit to equipment durability. Repairs cost money and time = money (same thing :P). Death should be fun or at least more creative. Ideally, I think that character death should have a lasting effect in the game environment. I love persistent gaming environments that embrace this idea, which is what fascinates me about Dwarf Fortress (I still intend to play more of this game if I ever get over the learning curve).
You will die horribly in Dwarf Fortress. Your civilization will crumble and fall, overrun by enemies and social unrest. But losing in Dwarf Fortress is just the beginning. When you die, you can reclaim your fortress as well as your previous fortune should you chose or start a new. Either way, the efforts of your first campaign are now an active part of the gaming world. The big picture is that every event, be it winning or losing contributes to the overall story. You still lose, but your loss is a part of the game. No time is ever lost.
Death should add to the uniqueness of your particular story, instead of representing yet another tedious element of gameplay. Or rather, instead of dying and restarting from a saved game, what about just having characters that permanently die in a dynamic fashion? You could of course just reload a saved game, but I think that players should be encouraged to face the consequences of their failure within the context of the game. The goal of a game is to be challenging AND fun, not frustrating. Neither goal is mutually exclusive.
Bioware has the idea. Mass Effect 2 for example (spoilers ahead): Towards the end of the game I was given the chance to travel through the Omega 4 Replay to rescue my crew or to delay the rescue mission for the sake of preparing myself. It was not a forced option, it was a location within the galaxy map (that I accidentally clicked on…). I chose the latter option, not knowing that my crew, including the lovely Kelly Chambers would be dissolved in a vat of acid before my eyes. I sacrificed my crew for the sake of dicking around. I really wasn’t expecting that to happen, I wasn’t expecting there to be a consequence.
A part of me still wants to reload the end of Mass Effect 2 to replay it for the sake of getting a perfect ending (I also lost Legion during the last mission). Another part of me though feels that doing so would be cheating. I think I will just stick with my original outcome. I will be missing a few buddies when the third game rolls around but that should at least make it a little bit more interesting, right?