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Columns: What Happens When You Die?

By Tim Eisen on February 01, 2017

What Happens When You Die?

The success of a death mechanic may rely more heavily on how it feels than if it works. Ironically the death loop in a PVP game could kill it (pun, + 50 XP). In assessing it we see the classic battle between emotions and facts, intangibles and tangibles, interpretation and observation. As described I can tell you death in Crowfall already sounds like it will work just fine. How do I know? It utilizes a conventional Artcraft technique, familiarity with a twist. It’s already familiar enough to say I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. What I can’t yet say is if it captures the elusive feels. Before I continue I want to clarify that what they unveiled is the bare bones (pun, + 50 XP) idea come to life. As with everything in MMORPG development the system will evolve over time.

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“Death happens in Crowfall fairly often. If you have played other MMOs, the baseline sequence of events is pretty straight-forward:

Immediately upon death, the spirit crow will disconnect from the vessel and float above it. This allows you the chance to observe the area from the corpse’s perspective for a brief period of time.

During that time, other players will have a chance to resurrect you and bring this avatar back to life.

At the end of the time – or any time prior, if the player elects to click the “Release” button – the spirit crow can be untethered from this vessel and will be automatically summoned to the nearest temple.”

Due to my leet PVP skillz I consider myself somewhat of an expert on death in MMORPGs. That expertise led me down three potential paths for this system. Path number one is it feeling so familiar it’s just sort of meh because we’ve all done it thousands of times. People die, don’t pay much attention to it and go about their PVP with little concern for the inevitable. This works ok, but I don’t want ok. I was brave (i.e. crazy and financially irresponsible) enough to put my money into a crowd funded PVP MMORPG! The genre is full of ok, I want something more!

Number two is death feeling too shallow (additional pun, +50 XP) like in a MOBA, FPS or the instanced PVP that came to dominate our genre. Yes, those untrustworthy feels can work against us too. Far worse than meh is if it has no feeling whatsoever! The most grievous example of this is death used as a teleport. It’s a telltale sign that it’s not working as intended.

That brings me to path number three, the one I’m hoping for. The system as described but evolved to be a little less familiar with some unique, broad consequences. This isn’t easy because it’s a PVP game. Death will be constant. If it’s too punishing people won’t play it but I’m not digging (pun, + 50 XP) for punishment so much as…something more. Fortunately, I believe the space between too punishing and something more is vast enough to allow for such a consequence to be discovered and ACE has plenty of testing time to search for it.

“But we can lose our stuff (campaign rules depending), in a game about getting stuff what greater consequence is there?” Fair question. I’ve done that song and dance many times before. The result is repeatable. Inevitably people wolf pack in scrub gear cherry picking easy wins or people wolf pack decked out mauling scrubs. Both are great short term but fail to retain long term. On this I’m going to play the role of the customer and say I want something, but I don’t know exactly what it is or how to describe it. What I’m looking at is ok, but I’m hoping for death that is a bit more interesting, broad and a bit less contemporary.

You didn’t even talk about the coolest part of death, the vessel meta game! I agree the vessel meta is the most interesting part of the death loop but I feel like we’ve known a lot about it for a long time and I’ve even covered it prior. At first I thought it sounded scary, then incredibly cool, now I realize it could just be a corpse run with a twist. What really intrigued me were the related mechanics.

That reminds me I have to talk about grave digging and necromancy! What can I say, I love them! They sound hilariously epic…in a dark comedy kind of way. The imagery I pictured while reading the descriptions was very Evil Dead. (pop culture reference, ding leveled up) The irony of being ganked while digging in a grave is irresistible. Perhaps I’ll have a conversation about Hamlet as the ganking occurs just to add a second layer of irony to an already ironic turn of events! Both of these ideas have exactly what I felt like the death consequence was lacking, they are familiar but equally unique. The vessel dash seems more familiar than unique but realize that’s just one jabronis opinion. I imagine other MMORPGers might feel exactly the opposite. That’s the thing with your feels, they are unique to you.

Let’s lay this column to rest! (really, you just had to) Loss is the offspring of death. It’s unfortunate but near universally relatable. It uniquely has the power to destroy and unite, defeat and inspire. Isolating it to the individual removes much of its potential power by affecting just one. It’s still foggy but maybe what I’m looking for is a death mechanic with tentacles that reach much farther. How that translates to gameplay, especially in a game with unique rule sets I don’t know. That is for dev people to chew on. I just like to chase cars. I wouldn’t know what to do if I ever caught one.

Tim Eisen / In my columns I walk the line between fan and critic as I document the development of Camelot Unchained, Crowfall, and Chronicles of Elyria.