Mondays In MMORPGs – Corpse Runs

Feb
05

Mondays In MMORPGs – Corpse Runs

In the history of MMORPGs, one of the more controversial topics has always been corpse runs and death penalties. On the one hand, they are a powerful tool for binding players together and forming friendships, as you need the help of others to overcome challenges greater than what you can overcome on your own. They are also a type of training wheels for a game. On the other hand, they can be seen as an excessively harsh penalty that can drive some players away from a game because they don’t to have to deal with being punished in any way, shape, or form for what is, to them, a form of entertainment, and why should they be punished while they are being entertained?

Raph Koster has an article up from way back in 2008 called “Why Are Corpse Runs Bad“. Note that he’s not entirely against them, but he argues that they worked best in a MUD setting, and were the most painful in EverQuest.

While I think we can all agree that corpse runs in (early) EverQuest were extremely harsh, if there’s one thing you could take away from the death penalty in that particular MMORPG is that it taught you one very important aspect of community gaming: he who has no friends will quickly go nowhere in the game. Which lead directly to players naturally making more friends than they do in a single player game masquerading as an MMORPG, such as SWTOR or ESO, where corpse runs do not exist and players can run around willy-nilly without any need to interact with others.

There’s another component to the corpse run equation as well, which I alluded to in the first paragraph: corpse runs are training wheels for learning how to play a game. Play well, and you can avoid penalties in all but the most extreme circumstances. Play poorly, and at the very least you will constantly face having all of your gear left behind on a corpse somewhere that you somehow have to find your way back to and require.

But there are also the inevitable scenarios where a player lags out or their Internet goes out or their power cuts off, leaving them in a situation where they are left with a corpse run that is out of their control. What do you do in those situations? It’s not fair to penalize players in situations that are the whim of nature or an ISP, so how can you feature corpse runs in your game for the “right reasons” (i.e. fostering community interaction and players forming friendships, and learning how to play well with others in a group setting), while avoiding any of the “wrong reasons”?

It’s a tricky situation, and one we’re eager to find a solution to in our own game. Because yes, the Saga of Lucimia is absolutely an MMORPG which features corpse runs.

“Could they (corpse runs) still work in a modern MMO? Probably, with the right design choices to compensate for the different environment the massive game provides. And with the wrong ones, well, they suck.” – Raph Koster

On the plus side, we don’t have experience points, so you won’t be losing any levels in our game. We’ve got a fairly basic setup so far in our pre-alpha, where you are first knocked unconscious and can be brought back to consciousness by anyone who happens upon your crumpled body (or your group mates, since theoretically you won’t be out there traveling alone too often). There’s a time limit to how long you can remain unconscious before you will be automatically booted back to the spawn point, at which point you leave a tombstone behind with all of your gear on it.

The idea behind it being that you were found unconscious in the wild and someone dragged your body back to town/your bind point, but you were too heavy to be dragged with all of your gear on your body, so the kind soul who did the dragging was forced to leave all of your gear where he found you in the first place.

There’s still a lot to work out as we continue to flesh out our game. We’ve toyed around with the idea of a faction of goblins who live in the depths of the world who can help players transport their goods back to the entrance of dungeons after a set period of time has expired, obviously for a heavy price, as we want players relying upon other players more than they do upon in-game  mechanics. But the idea is that if you die a horrible death somewhere in the depths and your group can’t get back down, or you died in a PUG and the PUG logs out and you don’t have anyone available to help you get your gear, or you die due to lag or some other issue, we want to be able to allow players to get their gear back without being 100% restricted.

There’s a lot to work out, though. We would want to make sure the timer was long enough to encourage players to first look to other players for a solution, and only use the NPCs as a last resort. And also make the NPCs have a high enough cost through some form of currency (such as faction-specific coins or dungeon-specific gathered items) that, again, players will want to first look to other players to help them get their gear back.

Tune in live tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern as I’ll be working through the talking points of this blog post over at Twitch.


Want to help us build a better game? That’s what joining our pre-alpha is all about: testing mechanics and having input into the evolution of our MMORPG as we continue to flesh this beast out. Pre-order today and come join the fun!