A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Posts tagged “Diablo II

Discussion – Irritating MMO Conventions

Last night I was playing Dragon Nest when I screwed up my free respec on my Cleric. I got so fed up that I thought of this article topic. Allow me to point out some really stupid and highly irritating conventions in online games (and possibly some single player games) to me.

– When allocating skills, there’s no room for error

Seriously, I’m tired of this. It’s been around for a very long time and it always ticks me off. A good early example of this is Diablo II. If you weren’t sure about allocating that one skill point per level, you could let it sit, but if you spent it accidentally, there was NO way to get it back. At all. Today, Hellgate Global (well, Hellgate: London in general) and Dragon Nest leap to the top of my thoughts when I consider this shortcoming. If you spend that skill point, you’d better be damn sure that’s the skill you want to improve because there is NO going back (unless you throw money at the game in the case of Dragon Nest). Star Trek Online has a slight issue with this, but it’s got a much more forgiving respec system than most games. Essentially, when you get your skill points, you can allocate them and they’re spent, but when you go to respec (and they give you a free respec per rank – Lieutenant Commander, Commander, Captain, Rear Admiral, and Vice Admiral I believe) you can add and subtract your skill points willy-nilly to see what you’d like to do and only when you’re ready and have spent all your points can you hit the Apply button. For a possible remedy, I want to see plus and minus buttons so I can fix things just the way I like it before hitting the apply button and making things permanent. Leveling up my character should not be an exercise in frustration.

– Marketplace/Auction Hall/Exchange prices are too high

This is a classic case of people not understanding how to price things I think. I mean, what Lieutenant Commander has 1 million credits and will spend it on ONE Mark IV Phaser? I didn’t and I don’t expect other people to as well. I price things to SELL, not to sit on the Exchange for days as a thing for people to laugh at and then be outsold. In Dragon Nest there’s a 30 item limit per week with a max of five items up at a time (without throwing money at it, I think). The downside is that I’m seeing items that are going for 5 gold when I’m lucky to have any gold after buying one pesky item off the marketplace. The over pricing problem is rampant and is very obvious when the stacks of 20 Crude Onyx used for upgrading Rare Level 16+ equipment is going for 65 gold AT MINIMUM. Yeah, I’ve never seen that much money and I don’t really ever want to because then I’d have spent way too much time playing a game where the max level is currently 24. It gets to the point sometimes where if I can’t find it myself, I don’t worry about it and I just make do. I don’t think this is as big a problem in Lord of the Rings Online, but still, it can rear it’s ugly head if you’re looking to buy your class quest items so you don’t have to go into Carn Dum and Urugarth. For an example of a possible remedy to this, Star Wars Galaxies has always had (I think) a 200k credit limit (maximum bid) in the Bazaar, however you can price things however you’d like on your personal vendor.

– People spamming the chat with inane crap (mostly gold sellers)

This one’s an obvious one, but a goodie. Dragon Nest currently has an infestation of gold sellers and there seems to be at least three in every instance of Carderock Pass. I remember in Star Wars Galaxies making my Commando unsearchable because at least that way I couldn’t get private messages from other people advertising their billions of credits for cash. I don’t care how hard it is to make money in an online game, I’m going to make this statement: I NEVER HAVE AND WILL NEVER BUY IN-GAME MONEY FOR REAL MONEY. There’s a caveat and that’s only if the company who makes and maintains the game decides to make a cash-shop that has a money tree or something in it. I could see it in Lord of the Rings Online, but just barely. However it goes, I really want to club these chat spammers to death every time I walk by them and their chat bubbles. If people are having a stupid conversation, I’m willing to look the other way. At least in that case the chat box is being used as intended. As a possible remedy, I’ve seen used in games a (not sure what it’s called) repeat chat limiter that prevents people from saying the same thing too many times in a row. It won’t stop spammers, but it will definitely make them talk less often.

– A lack of a Buy Back option in NPC stores

Lord of the Rings Online did something smart here. They allow for the last few items you’ve sold to be bought back in the same session you’re playing in (I think it’s the last 20 items sold). Sell too much at once or log off and log back in and you’ve lost your chance to get back some of your stuff. Dragon Nest? You sold it, you lost it. I think it was the same with Ragnarok Online too. Star Wars Galaxies had a similar issue where if you accidentally sold something you’d have to file a help ticket to get it back and even then you might not get it back. Eventually the developers for Galaxies popped out this device that sits in everyone’s datapad and allows for personal rescuing of items accidentally sold. Star Trek Online has a buy back mechanism as well and even allows you to reconstitute things in the replicator that you accidentally threw into the recycler. Some developers seem to be catching on here, but really, I need to pay more attention when selling stuff in my inventory. Wish the item locking mechanism from LOTRO could be used in other games. I like it. For a possible remedy… well, just add the buy back function!

– Players crowding around particular NPCs

This is a problem in every game where there’s really only one NPC for a particular thing. LOTRO attempts to remedy this by providing multiple Auctioneers and Vault-keepers where they can, but from time to time it’s really irritating to go to click on an NPC and wind up trying to figure out how to get rid of a pop-up menu for interacting with this other player that you don’t know. In Dragon Nest I’ve noticed something here: if you’re in a group around, say, the blacksmith and you need to click on him, move the mouse over the NPC and it turns into the NPC interaction cursor. Basically the game ignore people in the way. I like that. Not quite sure how they did it, but it definitely makes the crowds seem more manageable. Star Trek Online seems to manage this issue by increasing the range of talking to some NPCs I think (it might just be my imagination). I think to handle this issue, possible solutions may be to increase the interaction range on certain NPCs or whatever. Expanding the zone of interaction would allow for more people to get in there and such. Another possible solution here is letting the player hold a key or something that fades player characters a bit or completely and keeps the NPCs or environmental interactions in full color and brings them to the foreground (so to speak).

I think that’s enough for today. I don’t expect these issues to go away overnight, but sometimes just airing them out makes them feel more manageable from a player’s perspective. I’m not a developer, but I’ve tried to offer solutions where I could.

Until next time, keep your eyes open.

– Elorfin

P.S. “Only through observation will you perceive weakness” – Charles Darwin

Impression – Hellgate Global

So, last week I was discussing Hellgate London with a friend and we were lamenting the lack of multiplayer on such a neat game (you know, since the servers were now non-existent). On a whim, I did a quick Google search for “hellgate multiplayer” and I found a site that made reference to this game called Hellgate Global. It turns out that the company that bought the IP for Hellgate decided it would be a wonderful idea to release the multiplayer part of the game as a free to play MMO. Without hesitation, I signed up and downloaded the game.

First thing’s first: when you download this game, you wind up torrenting the files. This means you’re going to have around 6 GB of RAR files on your hard drive which then decompress to about 6 GB of an install directory which then install into about a 6 GB game folder. You can delete the first 12 GB of all that crap once you’ve finished installing. Sloppy installation. The last time I dealt with something similar was when Lord of the Rings Online was doing its beta for the Free to Play mode last summer and it left a folder with gigabytes of stuff on my desktop after the installation. Yuck.

Anyways, after dealing with the tutorial and suffering through a graphical glitch (that is apparently linked to having an ATI card on my trusty laptop… there’s a dll you can download if you search the tech support forum for the game) I managed to make some headway and start playing with my friend.

A note on this game: you WILL run out of inventory space and you WILL run out OFTEN. When you kill a normal bad guy (zombie, flesh golem, whatever) you have a chance of getting an item or some cash. When you kill enough normal bad guys in a zone, a Messenger of Hell shows up for you to kill. Upon killing this mini-boss, you get a pile of loot. If you kill more normal guys, another Messenger of Hell shows up with even more loot (ad infinitum or until you leave that zone). Oh, also, there’s this mini-game that you play as you go. If you accomplish certain kills (like kill three beasts, necros, whatever) and if you use certain energy types (like spectral, electrical, whatever) and if you pick up some items (like swords, guns, whatever), then this mini-game drops some loot for you and resets giving you three new goals to meet. Oh, and then there’s the normal bosses that you encounter as you play in conjunction with the occasional named bad guy and the occasional rare normal bad guy (like a Rare Imp or whatever). These specials usually drop a pile of loot. Fortunately for us, they’ve included a mechanism for scrapping in the field which nets some cash (occasionally) and some crafting materials (which takes up way less inventory space per stack of crafting material, but I’ve seen half my inventory eaten up by such materials).

What about selling these items I’m gathering in the field to a vendor for cash and profit? Well, the game actually gives you plenty of cash as you play through quest completion, kills that drop cash, or even when you deconstruct items in your inventory they occasionally give cash.

ANYway, the game play is pretty much the same as the single player Hellgate London. They retooled the first few areas, but as far as I can tell, the story and gameplay are essentially the same. I’m having fun playing a marksman again (spraying bullets for the win).

I highly recommend you give it a spin. Hellgate Global is a ton of fun and it’s even more fun in multiplayer. It’s like a post-apocalyptic Diablo II (developed by a lot of the same people even). It’s just kind of tragic about the original developers.

Until next time, remember the dead and fight for the living!

– Elorfin

P.S. “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.” – Old Man from Legend of Zelda

Discussion – Old games, old friends

As I’ve said in the past (I think), I feel that old games have that level of familiarity and nostalgia that make them better when you get older (or at least more fun). It’s very akin to hanging out with old friends.

Last night I spent several hours playing Mario Kart Wii with a couple of my old friends and we had a riot of a time. We hadn’t played in quite a while, so with all the cursing and the laughing, it was good fun. It got me thinking about other games we used to play together. We used to play computer games like Diablo II, Empire Earth, Age of Empires, and Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds. We used to play console games like Super Smash Bros and Mario Kart (we played them A LOT). We still play Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars RPG together.

When sharing games with friends, you get some fantastic memories. Like where one friend and I decided to both play Necromancers in Diablo II and wound up slowing the game drastically thanks to our skeleton armies. Or in Galactic Battlegrounds where I played the Republic and my other friend played the Empire and the field was covered in clone troopers and AT-ATs. Or where we were all playing Super Smash Bros. (the original) and one of us was Captain Falcon and two of us were Pikachu (one of us was Darth Pika and the other was his apprentice). Many many hours of gameplay filled with laughter and adventure.

Yesterday I ran a Star Wars RPG game for the first time in a very long time. It was quite fun, but we only played for about four hours and then we decided to do something else. We’ve been playing SWRPG since Wizards of the Coast got their hands on it and we definitely prefer the Saga Edition these days (we feel it’s better and more fun to play than the Revised Core Rules).

Anyways, apologies for writing something kind of disjointed and without much of a point. It’s more of a thought dump today.

Until next time, have a happy 4th of July!

– Elorfin

P.S. “But remember! when it comes to friends, it’s not how much time you spend with them, just how you spend it!” – Eiichiro Oda

Discussion – Player Character Gender

There are a great many games out there that allow you to choose your gender when you’re generating your character. In the game Mass Effect, Shepard can be male or female and you can import him or her into the sequel so you maintain your preferences. Some games have genders specifically picked out for what you want to do like in Diablo II where the Sorcerer is female but the Paladin is male. Still, there are other games where you’re stuck with the gender chosen for you like in Assassin’s Creed where you’re male or Tomb Raider where you’re female.

When playing games, I typically play a male character. I find it easier to identify with a male character, to put myself in their shoes, and wherever possible, that male character is an extension of myself. Coincidentally, I’m a male, so this is understandable.

The reason I’m bringing this up? Well, I was reading the news post that Tycho posted on Penny Arcade this past Friday. In it he mentions that he always plays females. He states his reason being: “These are truly alien experiences for me, and I’m exposed to them and enriched by them…” This makes perfect sense to me.

Let me put this another way… I play games to insert myself into the world and experience the world through some sort of extension of myself. I try to make characters that are like me or that I can identify with easily because that helps me to feel like I’m a part of the world I’m participating in and attempting to make a difference in. It helps me to become invested. I believe that Tycho is looking for new and strange experiences and in doing so he’s looking to, well, enrich himself through them. Neither is more right than the other and both are important to us. I very much respect his approach to gaming and readily admit that, from time to time, I have also built a female character or have played as a female character either through a desire to experience something very different or because the game forces me to (not in a bad way though).

When I’m playing games with my character-who-is-an-extension-of-myself, I become a part of the story, I become a member of the cast, a part of the team, and when I step away from the game, the experiences that I accrued while playing are a part of me. It gives me a great sense of being there, of connectedness… and that’s what I look for.

Until next time,

– Elorfin

P.S. “It reminds me of when I first saw Samus Aran’s face in Metroid: Prime, my face, flashed inside the visor, saw my eyes, which were her eyes, blinking at the brightness. These are truly alien experiences for me, and I’m exposed to them and enriched by them because I didn’t have to fill out some questionnaire before playing the game to make it aware of my sacred boundaries. I wasn’t given the option to check the “No Homos” box, or to choose an elf with a less bewitching accent. Instead, I was dropped hip-deep into the Inferno Round of a moral quiz show. I just want to shake these people sometimes. Hey. That feeling, the one that you’re feeling? That is the game.” – Tycho, Penny Arcade

Discussion – Inventory Maintenance

Hey everyone! As promised, the discussion on Inventory Maintenance in games!

Inventory maintenance in games is essentially the act of messing around in your inventory… from rearranging things so they fit better to just selling off the clutter, this is an integral part of a great many Role-Playing Games, Turn-Based Strategy Games and Action Role-Playing Games. Allow me to demonstrate…

X-COM UFO Defense (all these screens will be 300×200 resolution even though I took them at 1280×800… yay DOSBox?):

Okay X-COM has a rather robust inventory system. Your soldiers carry equipment (armor, weapons, etc), your aircraft carry equipment either for the soldiers to use or for air combat, and your bases hold all that equipment for the soldiers and aircraft to use. The above picture is indicative of the amount of stuff you can put on your soldiers. The armor is equipped on the soldier back at base as one unit, so you never really have to worry about that in the field. If you note, the objects that this soldier happens to have possess specific shapes. This comes into play when you’re juggling grenades (1 square), heavy plasma rifles (2 squares wide by 3 squares tall), magazines (1 square), heavy explosives (2 squares wide by 1 square tall), mind probes (2 squares wide by 2 squares tall), and pistols (1 square wide by 2 squares tall). Personally, I think less is more, hence the Laser Rifle (1 square wide by 3 squares tall) and the Medi-pak (1 square wide by 2 squares tall). At night they get an Electro-flare (1 square).

Next up is the Aircraft/Soldier Inventory. You’re allowed to have a maximum of 80 items on the Aircraft (although it never says the limit unless you hit it). Therefore, you need to consider balancing the desire to have Heavy Plasma weapons on all your soldiers (in a Skyranger, you can have 14 soldiers, so that works out to a Heavy Plasma per soldier plus at least one clip, I prefer two, and that works out to 42 items out of your 80 right there), and the wish to have other equipment. Late in the game one craft can be built called the Avenger. It can hold 26 soldiers and at that point I either start using mixed arms (a smattering of Heavy Plasma and Laser Rifles) or I just go ALL Laser Rifles (yeah, 1 item per person or 3 items per person… when you have an 80 item limit versus 26 people?). In this case, the Tank/Laser Cannon counts as one item that takes up four soldier spots on the transport (it’s a simple way of reducing the number of items per soldier that you need, but tanks can’t gain experience or use equipment at all… oh well, they’re good expendable scouts).

This next screen is here to show you a specific line… Stores. Essentially you need to keep an eye on your population (another inventory subset if you will) as well as your facility usage. You can build General Stores in your base that hold 50 items per. As you can see here, even with 5 General Stores, it’s easy to max out. Here’s where the next screenshot comes in:

This is the result of clicking the Stores button on the previous screen. Here you see that 20 Heavy Plasma’s equal 4 space in your General Stores and so forth (BTW, see that Elerium-115? NEVER SELL IT!… hence the 182 space it takes). Also… what happens if you try to buy more items than you have space? Well, you get this friendly message!

Yeah… and I’ve played this game from 1995 to now. I am well trained in the art of inventory management according to X-COM UFO Defense (it pained me to create this screenshot actually, but it happens if you already have maxed out stores like I showed above).

I’ve got two more examples of inventory management for you in the guise of Star Trek Online and Torchlight. First Star Trek Online (and it’s got a 1280×800 screenshot!):

STO gives you plenty of space as you play. Firstly, as you rank up (going from Lieutenant to Lieutenant Commander to Commander and so on) you gain more personal inventory space and personal bank space (you see the Inventory page on the right there? Yeah, that’s the side effect of being a Vice Admiral). Also, the bigger/better your ship is, the more stuff you can put on it (a Light Cruiser has two forward weapons and one aft whereas I’m rocking four and four). Further, each of your bridge officers can handle one weapon, one suit of armor, and four devices. You can personally handle TWO weapons (that you can switch between), a suit of armor, a special skills kit, and four devices. Every item in this game only takes up one box (unlike in X-COM where things have drastically differing shapes and sizes at the soldier level).

Here’s Torchlight (also at 1280×800):

Here you can also see the now lovely “one item per slot” design that’s become popular since Diablo II (I’ll talk about that in a bit). However, note that space is ALWAYS an issue. The developers of this game did a few neat things that I really liked. First, they added tabs to your personal inventory, so if you picked up spells, they’d go to a separate inventory page (which is awesome and makes finding them way easy). Further…

They gave you a pet. The pet has the same amount of inventory space as YOU do and they let you send it back to town to sell its pack full of crap that you don’t want. Then, the pet returns to gift you with the monetary amount you are owed. Genius.

Now, here’s why I mentioned Diablo II. Diablo II basically DEFINED the term Inventory Maintenance for me. First off, you had very limited personal inventory space and objects frequently took 2×3 parcels of space (Bows, Armor, Longswords, Large Shields, the list goes on). Further, before the expansion showed in 2001, the Stash was about as big as the inventory in Torchlight (only one tab though) and it was pitiful. When the expansion hit, they made your stash huge, but still, you had the same limitations. The Horadric Cube works in a pinch for giving you a 3×4 space that only takes up 2×2 in your inventory, but still… it’s a pain. At least gold didn’t take up inventory space any more like in Diablo. At least I picked up on Spatial Relationships pretty quickly.

Anyways, inventories in all their flawed glory have played an integral part in my gaming experience over the last 15+ years and I have a feeling that I’ll miss it when it gets streamlined down to a ghost of its former self. You can’t get rid of the joy of picking up cool new toys as you go. It’s just too rewarding. Next time you take a look at your inventory screen, wonder… where did this come from and where is it going? It’s fascinating.

Until next time, don’t forget to sell your junk loot!

– Elorfin

P.S. “He who knows he has enough is rich” – Tao Te Ching Chapter 33

P.P.S. “Capitalism tries for a delicate balance: It attempts to work things out so that everyone gets just enough stuff to keep them from getting violent and trying to take other people’s stuff.” – George Carlin

Discussion – An incomplete approach to my fear of failure and gaming

I have a fear of failure. It keeps me from doing some things in my day-to-day life, it drastically reduces the number of risks I take (in or out of games), and it makes me question whether or not I want to continue doing certain things once I’ve achieved a certain level of progress but feel like I’ve hit a brick wall.

Connected to this fear of failure is a big amount of stress (it’s stressful trying to avoid failure) and I hold myself to (occasionally) absurd standards that just invite the stress and the sense of eventual failure. Yay self-perpetuation, huh? This further causes a strong sense of restlessness when I just want to kick back and enjoy myself only to find that the things I typically do are filled with strategies and methodologies that are designed with an eye towards avoiding failure and sometimes I just want to PLAY without fear.

There are very few ways to reduce the fear of failure. One of them is a save/load mechanic. Seriously, I save a lot. My father taught me that a quick way to keep that soldier from dying is to save at the end of every turn and if things worked out okay by the time my next turn rolled around, save on a different spot at the beginning of the turn. If things didn’t work out, reload and see what you can do to fix it. Rinse and repeat.

Another method to reduce my fear is the game design. Honestly, if I can pick up a game quickly and it just comes easy to me, I’ve got no worries. I’m not afraid of screwing up Final Fantasy Tactics because I know the game very well (and I know when I need to prepare… Riovanes Castle SUCKS!… also, I was taught some nifty tricks that help me be prepared). FFT comes EASY to me.

I suppose when it comes to my fear of failure, preparedness helps. I keep a notepad next to my computer so that when I play games, I can jot down things I should remember. When crafting in Galaxies, I would hand write the list of resources I needed and manually go through my resources to see which ones were the best for the job at hand (and I would figure THAT out by using a bit of math that required a calculator). When playing LOTRO, I keep a list of the tasks for a region at hand so that I know what I need, how many, when I can turn them in, and when I can’t turn them in any more. I love strategy guides that help me prepare for what’s ahead with little tips like “you should make sure to purchase plenty of potions for this next part: FAIR WARNING” or something like that.

If we want to get into the psychology of it all, I suppose it’s a fear of the unknown, a fear of failure and a fear of loss that are all interconnected to bring me here. I’m a sore loser, sure, but that comes from those fears. I do what I can to face these fears in the context of games and I feel that it helps somewhat. The other day I was playing LOTRO and running a quest that took me into the Misty Mountains (a place I have NO right to be in at level 33). I was scared out of my mind, but I kept moving. I didn’t know what was ahead, I didn’t want to die and have to run out there all over again, and I didn’t want to lose progress. I pressed on, hoping I wouldn’t get screwed over by a level 43 Warg (or whatever was there). I eventually finished the quest, but my hands were shaking.

I guess you could call me a coward. I’m working on it though, slowly but surely. I also love it when things come easily to me and I don’t like to beat myself up just because I’m focusing on the easy stuff. I have a friend who refused to call Diablo II finished until he’d defeated it on the highest difficulty setting. I beat it on two of the three settings and considered it a win. I don’t understand making things hard on yourself when you’re trying to have a good time. Why wouldn’t you try to swing everything in your favor when playing games? Why wouldn’t you approach a quest at a slightly higher level with good equipment if you could? Why wouldn’t you do everything possible to ensure victory the first time around? Why would you do something that you feel you’re going to screw up at over and over again? I suppose I give up too early, but I just don’t see why I need to stress myself out over the failure that I know is coming. Occasionally I can pull a win out of a near loss, but it really scares the crap out of me.

So, I have these fears and I’m working with them and around them as best I can. I suppose that’s all anyone can really do or expect from anyone else.

Until next time, relax a bit!

– Elorfin

P.S. “But he had hardly felt the absurdity of those things, on the one hand, and the necessity of those others, on the other (for it is rare that the feeling of absurdity is not followed by the feeling of necessity), when he felt the absurdity of those things of which he had just felt the necessity (for it is rare that the feeling of necessity is not followed by the feeling of absurdity).” – Samuel Beckett, Watt

Discussion: Death Penalties in Games

Okay class, today’s discussion is covering the penalty associated with getting whacked, slain, or otherwise killed in games. Dying or death is an issue in a majority of games and a great deal of mechanics center on preventing it from happening. There are a lot of games where there’s no character that dies, so there’s a moment of defeat that the player has to struggle to stay away from like in Tetris or Bejeweled or any number of today’s “casual” games. I’m mostly going to talk about games that have a character that can be killed or subjected to some kind of incapacitation in this discussion.

This is sort of the flip side of the coin from making progress in a game. I mean, what would stop you from making progress at all? Yeah, being dead can kind of cause a bit of a problem there. Just a bit. Anyways, games tend to throw a roadblock in front of the player and if the player fails to pass that obstacle, there are penalties like death to deal with. Let’s pick out a few examples of this.

Many platformer games (Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros., etc.) have the controlled character with a few hit points and when these two or three run out, you’ve got to restart at your last checkpoint or at the beginning of the stage. Some games had save points (Super Metroid), but those are essentially the same as checkpoints and some games let you have a lot more than two or three hit points (again, Super Metroid is a great example of this), but it’s essentially the same. If you run out of hit points, you are killed or defeated and you either reload or respawn or retreat (depending on the terminology the game is using) to the last safe point you found. The object is to go for as long as you can without being forced back to that checkpoint by death and the game sometimes gives you little items to help stave off this penalty for as long as you can. In Super Metroid (I suppose I’m going to keep using this as an example) you get more energy canisters that increase the overall amount of health you have, you get special suits of armor to help in resisting particular types of damage, you’re given new weapons to help with defeating enemies faster and more efficiently and you’re given new ways to prevent falling down pits or to keep you from getting stuck in certain areas. In a simpler example, in Super Mario Bros., Mario (or Luigi) is given mushrooms to make him large, enabling him to jump higher, break blocks, and take one more hit before falling. If you grab something like a fireflower, you are given the ability to shoot fireballs and you can take another hit before dying.

The above mechanism is constant through a lot of game genres. Essentially, it’s the same for platformers, role playing games, first person shooters, even racing games. Let’s take a look at a Final Fantasy game. Here you have three or four party members, each with their own abilities and so forth. If your party dies, you’re kicked back to the load screen so you can pick which save you’d like to start from. If you die in a Final Fantasy game, you lose time spent towards progressing the storyline and the development of your characters. Overall, the penalty for death in a lot of these games is lost time, lost investment. I recall playing Final Fantasy XII through the Necrohol of Nabudis and I was trying to get to the monster called Chaos (he becomes a summon, but he’s completely optional). So, here I am, entertaining the completionist part of myself, and I spend a long time trying to get to this one point. Mind, the last save point is literally a 20 minute walk away at this point and the bad guys will respawn in the dungeon, so I’d have to fight through them again on my way back after saving. I got killed in the fight with Chaos when I ALMOST had him. I dropped the controller, shut off the game, and didn’t touch it again for a year and a half. Mind, I didn’t play because I got killed in an optional area. Yeah, I’m a sore loser sometimes. I eventually went back and just beat the game, but every now and again I get tempted to play it some more.

With the introduction of online role playing games, death penalties are something of a point of contention amongst players. Here’s a few examples of the differences between games.

In D&D Online, the death penalty consists of 1) damage to all of your equipment that you need to repair for a small cost per item and 2) reduced experience payout for the quest you’re doing. That and you kind of need to catch back up to your party if you accidentally resurrect back at a tavern or something.

In Star Trek Online, there’s  not really much of a death penalty at all. If you’re in space, your ship blows up and you’re forced to respawn back at the nearest respawn point that you flew by (these respawn points are not obvious and are often the beginning of the zone where you entered). If you’re on the ground, you’re knocked out and you can be brought back by a teammate or an NPC crew member if they’re still alive. No tangible penalties unless you increase the difficulty setting for the missions you’re running. Then you need to deal with injuries on your captain and injuries on your ship which can be removed if you have minor/major/critical regenerators or components in your inventory.

In Star Wars Galaxies, they changed the death penalties a bit either when the Combat Upgrade hit or the New Game Enhancement, I forget which. The original death penalty was that your equipment would take damage (you could insure your equipment so instead of taking 5% damage, I think, they took 1% damage) and you had to “clone” (basically respawn) where you had stored your cloning information (saved your character). Also, you had wound points to deal with in each of your three damage taking statistics: health, action, and mind (referred to as HAM). You had to go to a medic or a doctor in a medical facility to heal the health and action wound points and to an entertainer in a cantina to heal the mind wound points. Wound points essentially reduced the maximum amount of health, action, or mind your character could have until they were removed. The more deaths you experienced (and in some cases, the more fighting you did), the more wound points you would have in each category until one hit could probably kill you. They later removed the wound point system, the mind bar, and the deterioration of your equipment. These days if you die you get a 5 minute death penalty status that makes it so you have only a percentage of your maximum health and action (making it really easy to die again). Getting rid of this status is possible in three ways: have an entertainer remove it, pay the medical droid in the cloning facility to remove it, or wait the 5 minutes for the penalty to go away on its own. The cost of paying the medical droid scales with your level, but does not exceed 5000 credits at level 90. It’s mostly a minor inconvenience and many players just ignore it and do what’s called traveling by cloning. Essentially, you can now clone anywhere on a planet regardless of where you saved your cloning information. You can still only go from planet to planet if you’ve saved yourself at a cloning facility on another planet from the one you’re on, but now if you’re at the top of a planet and you want to get to the bottom and there’s a cloning facility there, instead of driving or walking the 12 kilometers, you just die and BAM, you’re there. It works pretty well if you can’t find a place flat enough to call your Instant Travel Vehicle.

Like I said up above in the intro, preventing death is what a lot of games focus on. In Star Trek Online, my captain can focus in shield skills that keep his shields regenerating in combat or that allow me to quickly heal my hull as it takes damage. In D&D Online, I can wear armor to help prevent getting hit to begin with or I can carry around healing items that fix the damage that I take from getting hit. In Star Wars Galaxies, every character comes with his own personal healing skill that gets better as they gain levels (Commandos still need Medics to back them up though… 4500 from a heal every once in a while is NOT enough).

I mentioned that this topic is a point of contention amongst players and it really is. I’ve read long forum threads decrying or supporting the use of a death penalty in games and I recall a great deal of complaining being made by crafters in Star Wars Galaxies that the removal of the damage to items from the game has made it harder to sell stuff to players (why buy a new pair of shoes when the old pair never wears out?). It’s definitely changed the economical standpoint in the game, but players are still buying stuff like crazy and even more now because you can have an appearance (essentially an overlay costume) that covers your actual equipment. I can almost guarantee that if you look for it, you might find a forum thread somewhere discussing the merits of harsher or softer death penalties in just about any online game. The fact remains that the players have a skewed perspective: some are there to have a good time and others are there for a challenge. For some, those are both the same thing. It’s up to the developer to determine at what point is the game killing players so frequently that it’s just not fun any more. Case in point, I find the Crystalline Entity in Star Trek Online to be way too hard a fight to be worth fighting. I tried it once and died in a single hit three times in a row and I vowed to never do it again. Some of my friends have come to the same conclusion. It’s not worth the effort and time to attempt to do that fight correctly for us.

Rare is the game with a “hardcore” setting where if you die, you can’t play that character any more. I only know of two games that have that… Diablo II and Hellgate: London. That’s a box I never check. I get kind of attached to my characters.

Ah, speaking of perma-death (that’s the “technical” term for it), the tabletop game of Dungeons & Dragons is really where you grasp the concept that your character, that extension of you and a major investment of your time, could die quite easily. It’s a precarious balance between making sure you can do damage to enemies and keep them from hitting you long enough for your party healer to get to you to fix whatever ails you. We had a game the other day where one of our party was hit all the way down to one hit point and she just shrugged and we were all confused. Apparently, she had armor that could heal her all the way back up to full if she ever dropped below one hit point. She was laughingly upset when the fight ended and she still had one hit point, so we all offered to crack her character upside the head to trigger the heal.

Games tend to trivialize it, but no one wants to have to start all over every time they die. It’s the human condition to wonder about death and those who play games happen to deal with it rather frequently without much thought. It’s a rather morbid topic, but addressed in a wide variety of manners by our games and our religions. I think it would be nice if we had a save and load function in our lives or maybe a few extra coins for continues.

Until next time, don’t forget to save often (if you can) and pay attention to your hit points!

– Elorfin

P.S. “I have no terror of Death. It is the coming of Death that terrifies me.” – Oscar Wilde

P.P.S. I really like this: While on a journey, Chuang Tzu found a skull, dry and parched. With sorrow he questioned and lamented the end to all things. When he finished speaking, he dragged the skull over, and using it as a pillow, lay down to sleep. In the night, the skull came to his dreams and said, “You are a fool to rejoice in the entanglements of life.” Chuang Tzu couldn’t believe this and asked “If I could return you to your life, you would want that, wouldn’t you?” Stunned by Chuang Tzu’s foolishness the skull replied, “How do you know that it is bad to be dead?” – Zhuangzi