Permadeath in games

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Sogona
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Permadeath in games

Post by Sogona » Thu Mar 19, 2020 4:03 am

The project I've been working on for a while is a bit of a hybrid between a Zelda-esque adventure game, a Rogue-like Binding of Isaac-style game, and also has elements of survival/crafting. With adventure games, the ultimate goal is exploration and progression, so the ability to save your progress is of course a necessity. On the flip side, Rogue-like dungeon crawl games are done more in one shot, and when you die you have to start over from scratch.

So I'm a bit torn between what I think the best option would be in my case, and what players would find enjoyable or frustrating. I'm using MMC1, so saving your progress is possible, but I also want survival to be an integral part of the experience. My current philosophy is that as long as the player can stay alive, they can save their progress and come back to it later, but if they die, there's permadeath and they have to start over from a new file.

Now I can clearly understand how players would find this frustrating and contradictory, especially with a save file flat-out getting erased on a game over, coupled with the fact that I plan on having the scope of the game be comparable to that of Zelda. Some ideas I have to help remedy this are having a "story mode" and a "survival mode", or perhaps having a difficulty setting with something like a certain number of continues. But I'd like to hear peoples' opinions.

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gauauu
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Re: Permadeath in games

Post by gauauu » Thu Mar 19, 2020 6:58 am

I don't mind perma-death as long as it's very clear that that's what the game is about. If the entire game is designed around it, and everyone understands that, then it can be a fun mechanic.

It's mainly frustrating when it's not clearly communicated, or not well designed into the game.

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toggle switch
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Re: Permadeath in games

Post by toggle switch » Thu Mar 19, 2020 7:58 am

a game the scope of zelda with perma death would be immensely frustrating in my opinion.

a better option might be a special ending for people who can win in one life, or something.

even better might be having certain areas that need to be beaten entirely with one life before moving on to the next area. i think if i spent several hours playing a game, then died and lost all of my progress, i would probably never play that game again.

that's just me, though.

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Re: Permadeath in games

Post by Quietust » Thu Mar 19, 2020 8:17 am

Permadeath can be okay as long as there are strategic ways to avoid dying - for example, if there are enemies that can one-shot kill you, they will be a source of extreme frustration unless you can reliably avoid or defend against their attack.
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Re: Permadeath in games

Post by Pokun » Thu Mar 19, 2020 9:56 am

Like everyoe says permadeath is ok when the game is carefully designed around it. And like Toggle Switch said the scope of Zelda with permadeath sounds to me like a concept that would not work. You probably want some save points in the game that the player can go back to when loosing, but still is punishing enough for the player to not wanting to take too big risks so that survival becomes important like you want. If save points are far and few between it is punishing to die, but it is also punishing players that don't have a lot of free time for playing. The solution to that is quick saves. Quick saves allows to suspend the game in the middle of it and will delete itself after loading again.


I do think permadeath in something like a Roguelike is an interesting concept, but the game just can't be too big or it will just be a source of frustration for the same reason that loosing hours of work in a power outage or harddisk failure is frustrating. Miyamoto used to say he wanted to make a game that destroys itself when you loose. I think it's a very interesting as an idea but I can't think of a practical way to make such a game work. Maybe only as an art project.

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Re: Permadeath in games

Post by Bregalad » Thu Mar 19, 2020 10:18 am

Not an expert in that area, but a few thoughts:
  • If you're going to have only one life, then the game should be beatable quickly and without your victory depending on any random factors. That mean, if you have the right strategy, you should be able to proceed without fear of dying, and your success should be reproducible on next playthrough (i.e. not redepend on player's reflexes or luck).
  • Save makes definitely no sense if punition for death is starting from scratch. Then if you die you should just hurry on the reset button fast enough hoping your save isn't erased yet, it makes no sense. Actually the oposite is more common, and I'd say is the standard for NES-era games : You can't save but when you die you restart the level.
  • This can be compensated by, for example, you have to solve enigmas to progress, but once you have the solution, you can procceed immediately. This would make it possible to have a relatively long/complex game still beatable with 1 live. In other words, solution to puzzles would be like passwords that allows you to go to a further level.
  • Double Dragon III is the only NES game I know who have perma-death, and it is lohated by gamers.
  • Ninja Gaiden also has illogical punishment - if you die at level 6-2 or 6-3 your restart, but if you die at last boss you restart at 6-1. I consider this a glitch and I hate it.

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Re: Permadeath in games

Post by lidnariq » Thu Mar 19, 2020 10:40 am

I'd argue that Nethack is comparable in complexity to the original LoZ, with speedruns of it taking 1 to 4 hours.

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Re: Permadeath in games

Post by Dwedit » Thu Mar 19, 2020 11:44 am

When I think of permadeath in games, I think of Dead Cells, Isaac, and other "Rogue Lites". The defining factor for a Roguelite is persistent progression across multiple playthroughs, and permanent unlocks.
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Re: Permadeath in games

Post by 93143 » Thu Mar 19, 2020 9:52 pm

Pokun wrote:
Thu Mar 19, 2020 9:56 am
Quick saves allows to suspend the game in the middle of it and will delete itself after loading again.
Mario Golf does that, presumably to prevent mulligans.

In a longer game, I'd start to worry about technical problems. If you had a power failure while playing (or if your mom or little brother pulled the plug), you'd have to start from scratch. With a long RPG, this might be a real risk.

I've been musing about an RPG that uses quicksave, or perhaps high-frequency autosave, and also has character permadeath. The idea would be that if you lose a party member, the story branches around it, and if your whole party dies it's a bad end rather than a game over. The save shenanigans would be intended to force players to take the branch they're on rather than reloading the game.

But I'm not sure how much your average player would like that...

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Re: Permadeath in games

Post by Bregalad » Fri Mar 20, 2020 1:13 am

93143 wrote:
Thu Mar 19, 2020 9:52 pm
I've been musing about an RPG that uses quicksave, or perhaps high-frequency autosave, and also has character permadeath. The idea would be that if you lose a party member, the story branches around it, and if your whole party dies it's a bad end rather than a game over. The save shenanigans would be intended to force players to take the branch they're on rather than reloading the game.
That's an interesting idea, and basically what Fire Emblem games does, although some main characters' death becomes instant Game Over, and most players will always restart from last save rather than loose a fighter. Tactics Ogre works that way, too, but most playable characters have no role in Story.

I can imagine that wIth a very large pool of potential playable characters on your side (such as Suikoden), it'd be rather simple to make you recruit more character as some of your party dies. You could even say that if the whole party dies, some other character form a new group that continues to fight for the same cause, and you continue playing as them. However there's still a risk of everyone dying and leading to an unwinnable situation, and I'd avoid that at all costs as this is bad game design. Also nothing would prevent players from restarting from previous save to not loose beloved characters.

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Re: Permadeath in games

Post by Pokun » Sat Mar 21, 2020 1:20 pm

Yeah well the quicksaves are generally just to make it possible to quit playing at any point so that busy people can play a game with long between save points. If a power outage happens the player never looses more progress than the last save point. In Fire Emblem you can save between each map so it works fine there. It works less well in Majoras Mask where you only can save permanently by going back in time, something you generally don't want to do too often due to the effects it has. And Japanese version doesn't even have quicksaves at all.


I've also played with an idea of an SRPG where failing a mission would not mean Game Over. Failing would have negative effects on your army and new missions would depend on the outcome of earlier missions. So one mission was about infiltrating a base and it failed, in that case we would have to stop the enemy's convoy, and if that also fails something else would need to be done, and so on. The game would be designed to encourage the player to accept failures and proceed in the game. There might be major story missions that can not fail as well though. Deaths would also be permanent for generic characters while story-important characters would have a 100% chance to survive a defeat and return after the mission all patched up. It would have a modern warfare setting but with some sci-fi elements like robots. Basically like Metal Gear and Full Metal Panic.

A complex game like this would probably have many ways of softlocking though.

Bregalad wrote:
Thu Mar 19, 2020 10:18 am
  • Save makes definitely no sense if punition for death is starting from scratch. Then if you die you should just hurry on the reset button fast enough hoping your save isn't erased yet, it makes no sense.
I think Steel Battalion is doing something like this. When fatally hit, the player must eject the seat before the robot explodes, and if that fails the player will die and the save file gets deleted.

Bregalad wrote:
Thu Mar 19, 2020 10:18 am
  • This can be compensated by, for example, you have to solve enigmas to progress, but once you have the solution, you can procceed immediately. This would make it possible to have a relatively long/complex game still beatable with 1 live. In other words, solution to puzzles would be like passwords that allows you to go to a further level.
Portopia for Famicom is doing something like this. It was originally a computer game designed for saving the progress, so the Famicom version could not save and was made to work around this by making certain cross-examinations and other parts of the game unnecessary to progress if the player remembers the hints he gets from them in a previous playthrough. The chance of accidentally progressing without ever learning of the hints is too small for it to be a problem.

Bregalad wrote:
Thu Mar 19, 2020 10:18 am
your success should be reproducible on next playthrough (i.e. not redepend on player's reflexes or luck)
A game like an RPG (including a Roguelike) or a card game wouldn't work very well without being dependant on luck. An an action game wouldn't work if it didn't depend on the player's reflexes.

lidnariq wrote:
Thu Mar 19, 2020 10:40 am
I'd argue that Nethack is comparable in complexity to the original LoZ, with speedruns of it taking 1 to 4 hours.
Yeah Roguelikes tends to be a tad too long, too hard and too random for the permadeath not to feel frustrating. But that's also a feature of the genre.

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Re: Permadeath in games

Post by Sogona » Sat Mar 21, 2020 2:34 pm

I've thought of a few more things to help mitigate potential frustration. Quicksaves have already been implemented, but I think having various spots around the world map to "make camp" or something would be nice so that if the player dies they can start back at that spot instead of at the initial spawn point. And things like weapons and essential items stay with you but non-essential items get erased. This should hopefully give it enough balance to not feel unfair but still have a game over actually mean something.

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Re: Permadeath in games

Post by Alp » Sat Mar 21, 2020 7:49 pm

My roguelike project "Tower of Algol" that was lost, used lives to be as NES-like as possible.

The player started with 3 lives, and upon death, they could choose to retry the current dungeon, with a small penalty, or have the game generate a completely new dungeon, but keep everything they had earned.

It would have been possible to gain more lives, by randomly receiving one from a Goddess statue. (which was an unimplemented feature)

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