Death in video games is a tricky thing to do right. Permadeath is always a little too scary (just ask any Diablo III player who has lost a level 60 char), but games that allow you to quicksave and quickload whenever you want to end up removing any real sense of achievement.
Chris Roberts is making a new space combat MMO called Star Citizen alongside a single-player offshoot called Squadron 42. We’ve written about both of these before.
Roberts has recently updated the project’s website with a lengthy explanation of how he plans to handle player death in Star Citizen. He points towards games like Mass Effect and Gears of War as being prime examples of how death has become meaningless in games. As such, Roberts aims to breathe new life into video game death, so to speak.
In Star Citizen you will have a player avatar that you’ll get to create “in-fiction”. In other words, the character creation process takes place in-game rather than in a menu system before any actual gameplay starts. An example Roberts provides is the following: “You’ll start the game in 1st person view looking at two bathroom doors – one with a male sign and one with a female sign. Which door you walk through will determine what sex you are when you walk into the washroom.”
Once you’ve sorted out the aesthetic side of things, your character will walk over to a UEE recruitment officer who will get you to fill in some paperwork. This paperwork forms the groundwork for how death will be handled. One of the sections your character will need to fill in will be to provide the name and relationship of a beneficiary, who will be contacted in the event of your death. That beneficiary could be your character’s son, daughter, uncle, etc. depending on the backstory you’ve developed.
Sometime later you might find yourself in a particularly hairy space battle. If you’re ship is about to explode, you’ll have limited time to eject. Ejecting safely will result in your eventual rescue (once hostiles are a certain distance away from you and it’s safe for rescue ships to get to you) and you will then return to your station or planet that you launched the most recent mission from. However, if the eject goes badly, or your ship explodes, or you actually eject but then somebody shoots your ejected pod, your character might wake up in a med bay with visible physical damage. “Every ‘death’ creates wear and tear on your body,” Roberts explains, “Depending on where you were hit and how you died, your character may require a new body part, which can either be cybernetic or organic.”
Obviously for some players these artificial limbs or scars will become badges of honour within the game. Unfortunately, the amount of times your character can recover from med bay treatment is finite and eventually that character will die. Once that happens, the game will continue at that character’s funeral, only you’ll now be playing as the next of kin that you specified in the UEE registration form. All equipment, supplies, money and ships will be inherited by this next of kin. Any allegiances will as well, although Roberts says that those allegiances won’t be as strong as they were with the original character. “No slate will be wiped clean,” Roberts cautions, “but if you want to change your allegiances, this would be the start. This matches life, where the son of a criminal has to deal with the bias of people thinking he is going to be like his father, or a son of a cop is assumed to be on the side of law and order.”
Another way of looking at it would be to think of your space ships as your actual “RPG” characters, and your human characters as merely your MMO avatar for the game. All upgrades and customizations are done to your ship, so losing the pilot doesn’t mean you’ve lost all progress. It’s kind of half-permadeath in a way.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? It definitely makes the persistent universe feel that much more real and lived-in. There’s a lot more over in the original post, so if you have any interest in this game then I thoroughly recommend you give the article a read.