Video Games

Grand Experiment Thoughts: Part 2

A week later, and the experiment is still underway, and quite happily so. For a variety of reasons, this foray into the old world of Norrath has been incredibly pleasant. The more time I have to play, the more things I find I have the desire to discuss. However, before I get into the topic of discussion today, I wanted to link the PC client again, as the previous link is no more. This is a direct link to a rar file that has everything you need.

EQMac PC Client

The instructions are easy:
1) Extract to the root C:\ so that the final directory structure is C:\EQMac
2) Allow WSOCK.DLL into your anti-virus list
3) Run eqw.exe

That’s really it. It’s super simple. As a word of warning, this does not suddenly update the graphics, change the UI, or magically alter the core experience.

In the last entry I discussed how I could write an entire post about death and dying, and what the Lost Lessons were, if there are any to be had. As it turns out, I have experienced a death or two in my return to Norrath. Not only that, Al’Kabor, the EQMac server, tends to all congregate in a single channel, Alliance. This means that I often hear when someone has met their untimely demise. The soul-wrenching cry of the long damned as they cry out for salvation, “wtb rez will pay”. Some of these souls seek to further entice the holy ones to their aid with that glorious chant, “will port”. For some, the plea falls on deaf ears and the damned lament their torment. For others, their dreams become reality and they read the words of the holy scriptures laid bare before their eyes:

Soandso is casting Reviviscence (96%):

Do you wish to accept?

For the uninitiated, let me explain this arcane wordsmithery. Soandso is the name of the person casting the spell, and Reviviscence is the name of the spell. This is the most common resurrection spell in the game, due to its inclusion on the Cleric “epic weapon”. When you accept this spell, you are instantly transported to that location. In addition, you receive 96% of your experience back that you lost upon death. You have died, spent near an hour finding a Cleric to resurrect you, paid two hundred platinum pieces, and you are downright relieved you only lost 4% of your lost experience. If you are very lucky, you made your way back to your body from your bind point, you retrieved your body and got your stuff back. You are now ready to kill again!

Wait, what?

Death is not the Ferris Wheel of Post-Life pleasures that it has become in other MMOs. In fact, it is explicitly because of the Everquest Tilt-O-Whirl of Decomposition is so incredibly harsh that death is so easy in other games. You respawn in your “bind location”, which is highly flexible if you are a “pure” spellcaster with the Bind Location spell, but otherwise is only available if someone else can bind you, or if you find a Soulbinder NPC, which was doable only much later on in the game’s life. You have no equipment, if you are a magic user, your spells are no longer memorized, you have no inventory, and no food or drink. You lose a portion of your experience , including potentially losing levels if you are at a threshold. Your body is wherever it fell, be it underneath some filthy kobold king who serves a red dragon, or at the bottom of an underwater fortress dedicated to the God of the Ocean.

You have a few options at this point. You can physically retrieve your body. You can beg and plead for a res, or be a Cleric I guess, I will cover the Cleric and all the problems separately. You could get someone to summon your corpse to you inside of the zone, if they were a Necromancer or Shadowknight, but that revisits the begging of a res, and you still need the res. You could also enact that most fearful of answers, the consent. Giving someone consent allowed them to drag your corpse around, via the /corpse command, but it also allowed them to loot your corpse. As you might gather, this creates some trust issues rather quickly. However, this trust issue played directly into the larger social contract that was Everquest.

To sum up:
1) It was not only punitive, it was regressive
2) It was time consuming
3) It require co-operation
4) It was an ordeal

By all accounts, death is a much more tolerable experience now in MMOs. Most games now only penalize your time, well and slightly impinge your pocketbook by way of durability. Economy is something else for another day, however. Games have tried variations of death penalties before deciding on the current time/coin model. Dark Age of Camelot too out the reliance on others with the Gravestone system. City of Heroes got rid of experience loss, and instead tried out experience debt. These didn’t seem to catch on to any degree, and people got tired of the penalties associated with dying. After all, they just suffered the indignities of death, isn’t that enough? Thus came World of Warcraft, which removed everything but durability loss, the game peppered with graveyards to respawn from, and everyone can cast gate. Due to the unmitigated success of World of Warcraft, everything after has just adopted this system wholesale.

Death was a miserable experience, and now it is not. Doesn’t this mean we have learned the lessons, and nothing has been lost? As unpopular as this may be, I believe just the opposite. Death is actually so convenient in WoW that the game had to implement a variety of mechanics to stop death from being used as a travel mechanism, a raid tactic, and a griefing method. Instances, yet another topic, had to be locked against people zoning back in, which is a blatantly artificial mechanic. It makes no sense in the world and is just a reminder that yes, this is a game world with gamist laws. In world encounters, a debuff was applied so that if you died and came back, you would instantly die again. This tells me that the game designers knew that death isn’t really a punitive measure, and that to really discourage bad behavior, they had to go to other lengths. So what’s been lost? Simple, the fear of death.

Say what you want about the methodology, the one thing you can’t deny is that death in Everquest is terrifying. You did everything in your power to avoid death, thus the horrific creation of the train to zone. You had to ensure you had “safety experience” if you were on cusps of requirements. Every death was a possibility that your equipment might disappear. Death was coupled with res sickness as a mechanic, so the idea of res rushing was pretty much non-sensical. It wasn’t unheard of, but the raid mechanics were so basic as to really discount such tactics. Death was time consuming for all involved, and your party had a vested interest in keeping you alive, lest you were all penalized. In short, death was meaningful, and you wanted to avoid it. People were incentivized to play better and to learn from their mistakes. After all, everyone had more on the line.

So then, what are the lost lessons?

1) Death occurring in a silo means that no one cares. That’s a sad fact. In EQ, you actively did not want people to die. Res was a much rarer spell than the ability to heal, so a death could bring a group to a grinding halt. When the death impacts everyone, the social buy-in is much higher. If you are invested in the survival of your group, you obviously work harder to avoid death.

2) Time and Punishment. Yes, everything boils down to time, that’s true. However, when time is the only obvious punitive measure, it’s not much if a deterrent. The common argument is that death is failure and that’s punishment enough, and maybe that’s true. However,I’d strongly argue that a steeper curve incentivizes better play. Frankly, there is no need to bring back experience penalties, but a more obvious punitive measure might be in order. One example, a debuff when you resurrect no matter what. It naturally throttles pacing, and is an obvious “you performed suboptimally”. It slows down group play, so your team cares when anyone dies. That’s all you really need to get the point across.

3) The Social Contract. This is something I will keep coming back to in this series, but having to keep in contact with your other players and maintain relationships is something that has mattered less and less. Having interdependence is a sticky wicket, but it is an important and lost part of game play. If one person can do everything, no interaction needs to occur. This is different from silo, in that this has nothing to do with game play impact. This has only to do with community.

So there you have it, death and dying. A different perspective than most have, I’m certain, but I fee it’s worth consideration. When you minimalize the negatives, they stop having an impact. While it’s good to cut frustration, it’s not good to remove one of the most direct methods of teaching.

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