Thursday, October 09, 2014

PvE Experiment With Permadeath

Another experiment I would like to see is a game with perma-death but without PvP. A purely PvE game.

I think perma-death would have interesting effects, especially on the economy. Right now, characters are walking vortexes which just continuously accrue more and more stuff. Having those accrued resources released back into the game might have positive effects on economic balance.

Perma-death also makes the risk/reward calculation more realistic, and that might result in more interesting behavior.

The reason I don't want PvP is because if the game had PvP it would be a griefer's paradise. As well, in a PvP game--especially Free-for-all PvP--if you see another player, your first instinct is to treat them as a hostile.

By default, in a PvP game other players are your enemies. In a PvE game though, maybe the default will be to treat other people as allies, not enemies. Especially with perma-death, helping someone out could become imperative.

Such a game would have to have several other design considerations. For example, some form of bounded accuracy and non-exponential power levels would make it a lot easier for people to play together. This is especially important if you have people restarting often.

I envision perma-death to be present, but difficult to actually happen. For example, perhaps the entire party needs to wiped out before perma-death kicks in. If only one person "dies", then the other people in the group can save them after the fight.

There's probably tons of design issues with such a game, but I would like to see what a PvE perma-death MMO would look like. Right now, anyone who proposes perma-death seems to automatically take it for granted that PvP will be included. Then all the sane players just go, "Nope!"


  1. Great idea. You're right that the suggestion usually implies or includes PvP which makes it pretty stupid but PvE-only is much more intriguing. I know I've spent dozens of hours playing Rogue-likes which are the exemplar of permadeath PvE games, though single-player. With the right design, people would be willing to play a permadeath MMO. Emphasis on the right design.

  2. I like permadeath in solo games. When my characters die, usually I or sometimes desync or other network issues, are to blame. I learn from the death and try again, hopefully better than before.

    In an MMO, suddenly others could be to blame. Griefing happens in PvE just the same as PvP.

    - Healers that stop healing at crucial times.
    - Tanks that quietly stop generating threat mid fight.
    - DPS that intentionally fail to burn down a target prior to an enrage.
    - DDOS attacks on streamers.
    - Trains dropped on unsuspecting players.
    - "Helpful" portals to lethal locations.

    The latter couple are easily dealt with, I think, but unfortunately, treating people as allies is precicely what will kill many people. It's the ideal situation for griefers.. instant trust of their victim with no effort to gain it.

    I think at the very least you'd need level scaling similar to FF14.

    Perhaps better yet would be a shift away from character levelling altogether. What if progression were simply one of achievements and/or meeting requirements to unlock further content? More skill/story-based than grindy brute force progression. More character depth/development than transforming from weakling to godlike.

    No doubt guilds will form with non-griefers and they'll do fine but it only takes one bad new recruit or disgruntled member to potentially blow apart a guild. Harder to maintain guilds large enough for more than 10-person raids?

    Warhammer Quest for iOS has a permadeath option where characters that hit 0 HP are saved if healed or if the dungeon is completed before the round ends. Works well gameplay-wise and makes sense if you treat it as more of a knockout than receiving lethal damage. But if a character clearly takes lethal damage, especially in a graphical sense, it would feel wierd in a permadeath game for that character to survive on a technicality.

    I dunno.. I would love to try such attempts at least. Would definitely be an interesting change for a while and might spawn more systems that spill over into other (perhaps more forgiving) games.

  3. While you are certainly on the mark about griefing, if there's no PvP, why would players wish to play a permadeath MMO instead of a single player roguelike?

  4. A PvE permadeath game would make a lot of people risk averse if they wanted to have toons that lasted for a long time.

    If you ever played old school D&D (1e or the Moldvay system), low level campaigns are very often risk averse because people don't like to have their characters be one-shot. Even though you could potentially have a character raised, the main issue there is gold to pay for the process: low level characters simply don't have it, so that Third Level Thief you had that got killed by a poison needle on the treasure chest (hello, Black Dougal!) wasn't going to be coming back.

    PvE single player games, such as Baldur's Gate, had permadeath for characters, but they also had the magic of the save function, so you could reload to your last save and continue with the game. After having played BG/NWN, I was surprised to see my companions in Dragon Age automatically revive after a fight (assuming I survived), so even the PvE single player game format wasn't quite so keen on permadeath as they once were.

  5. @Gevlon, Diablo 3 doesn't really have the "world" aspect that I'm looking for.

    @Durentis, for surviving on a technicality, there's no hard and fast rule that 0 hp = death. Maybe the character is knocked unconscious and is bleeding to death like in D&D. Maybe the character goes to a "downed" state like in Guild Wars 2.

    There's room to play with exactly how death works, and perma-death does give some incentive to come up with something interesting.

    I think there would be a few griefers, but I also think the lack of PvP would prevent a lot of them from joining in the first place.

  6. PvE permadeath is not really a new idea, the problem is that noone has really found a solution which is not permadeath=regrind the same content. I mean, ALL the old single-player games (think donkey kong) had permadeath. The problem is that no new ideas have ever been added: permadeath only means you have to restart.

    To be honest, there are two designs which I heard/read about which are possible:
    - purely player-skill based games. You have no character progression, you have player progression. Skill-based progression has some serious drawbacks, anyway. I mean, why play an MMO when I can play chess?
    - you don't play a character, you play a family: stats of the sons/daughters depend on the experience (i.e. also the deaths) of the parents. Progression is not character-based, it's group-of-characters based. But could this really be called "permadeath"?

  7. The way existing games get around the "regrind" of old content, Helistar, is that they randomize it each time.

    And it is getting more commonplace to have roguelikes with progression systems. For example, Rogue Legacy and Crypt of the Necrodancer both have ways to gain permanent upgrades that last between runs. This strikes a balance between the permadeath intent, and the desire to have at least something to show for each attempt.