My wee mention of Left 4 Dead put me to thinking about things. Of course the thoughts aren’t terribly original but hey Echoes here.
While collecting links for this post, I remembered where Syp talked about permadeath. Permadeath as he points out is a polarising thing. You either hate it or embrace it and rarely fall on either side. Unsurprising really given that a quick look at game wikis proves character death is cheap. In Champions, you take a hit to your effectiveness. In City of Heroes, technological wonders rebuild you on a molecular level as you fall, avoiding all the issues of death (probably also explaining why you can “arrest” with a broadsword to the neck). Aion, you’re immortal. Warhammer, you’re too busy to die. Warcraft, death is helpful if you want to get all the quests. There are so many ways of sidestepping the Reaper explained away by the fluff of the game, usually in the tutorial to boot, that is causes fights when applied to NPCs. Ask people about if Heroes kill or not in the Champions Online or City of Heroes role-playing forums and be ready for a firestorm.
Permadeath is based on a very basic premise though, one that exists in many games and I think could be applied well in MMOs (or it’s a horrible idea as the title of this suggests), specifically the idea that supplies are limited. There is only one of you. There are only so many resurrections available. There is no healer or mediport or other Applied Phlebotinum around to get you on your feet.
So if in fact supplies are limited, shouldn’t that apply across the game world? The Left 4 Dead example, and the idea of the post, is this. You have X amount of ammo, Y amount of friends and Z options. You need to get from A to B and there may not be a handy drop of medical supplies or pills or ammo or anything along the way. You could face hordes of mooks or a handful of specialised problems. Part of the tension comes in the fight, another part comes in the debate. Do I use my pills now or do I wait? Can I afford to unload my weapon like a madman into that mob or should I get my (unlimited) pistol? Will I survive just a little longer, saving that precious med pack for when we really need it?
In a post apocalyptic world or survival game world, supplies should be limited. Give people the ability to patch up friends into walking wounded, give people a weapon they can always use but isn’t exactly going to rock anyone's socks. Give them the tension that comes of the choices, to use what little they have now or try to hold on a little longer.
Like in Kyle's example, the best supplies and remaining scant resources are in the danger zone. You’re not. Maybe such a game would have permadeath, maybe not. Either way there would only be so many people with so much stuff and you’d have to work out how to survive on that. Logistics and tactics become paramount.
Two MMO settings where supplies are precious and choices hard. First, Sci-fi setting where humanity (or for extra points humanity are the invaders and you play something else) is on the run from an invading force. Until such time as the story allows it, it would be a game of rearguard actions and ever increasing pressure put on the survivors and their stockpiles. Escape, abandon other guilds to die, try to fight the good fight. Whatever you do, you’ve a game where people need to work together to win, otherwise they die piecemeal.
Second setting, easy one this, Post Epitaph One-Dollhouse verse. The world is clearly in tatters and people have all sorts of dangers rallied against them. Make the escape from a large city a very very long tutorial where you either learn what you need to work with people in refuge or you suffer a fate worse than death. Extra points if the game doesn’t include permadeath in a traditional way and instead offers you the chance to override a Doll. Do you take that option and take someone's body? Or do you do the honourable thing and go out shooting?
Either way the idea of limiting supplies could be awful, the one wonderful part of it is it has brought me that much closer to lunchtime. Really really awful. I remember reading about old school Everquest and guilds camping dungeons that they wanted to run. Do you think the world is ready for the ultimate co-op game? Not just an MMO but one where you really do have to shape up yourself as well as work well with others. Then again given the boards of many online games, do you really want to rely on those people for your continued survival? Would you play a game where every med pack is precious and if you don’t join the guys guarding the pharmacy, you may never see another?
I suppose in the end, supplies are limited. People will be patient with current game designs for only so long, many already have lost their patience. I guess my final question is this, would you play in a world where, in the big picture, your side has already lost? All you can do is survive and hope to turn the tide someday.