In role-playing video games (RPGs), permanent death (sometimes permadeath or PD) is a situation in which player characters (PCs) die permanently and are removed from the game. Less-common terms with the same meaning are persona death and player death. This is in contrast to games in which characters who are killed (or incapacitated) can be restored to life (or full health), often at some minor cost to the character.
The term is most commonly used in discussions of roguelike role-playing games (RPGs) and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), although it is sometimes used in discussions of the mechanics of non-electronic role-playing games. Ewen Hosie of IGN states that though action games frequently employ this gameplay element, it carries no emotional weight. Game developer Andrew Douall identifies permanent death as a pillar of roguelike game design. According to Hosie, the roguelike Dwarf Fortress "does [not] even allow the player to win in any traditional sense".
Implementations may vary widely. Casual forms of permanent death may allow players to retain money or items while introducing repercussions for failure. This can reduce the frustration associated with permanent death. More hardcore implementations delete all progress made. In some games, permanent death is an optional mode or feature of higher difficulty levels. Extreme forms of permanent death may further punish players, such as The Castle Doctrine, which has the option of permanently banning users from servers upon death. Gamers may prefer to play games with permanent death for the excitement, the desire to test their skill or understanding of the game's mechanics, or out of boredom with standard game design. When their actions have repercussions, they must make more strategic and tactical decisions. At the same time, games using permanent death may encourage players to rely on emotional, intuitive or other non-deductive decision-making as they attempt, with less information, to minimize the risk to characters with which they have bonded. Games using permanent death more closely simulate real life. Games with a strong narrative element frequently avoid permanent death.
In multiplayer video games
Permanent death in multiplayer video games is controversial. Due to player desires and the resulting market forces involved, MMORPGs (such as World of Warcraft) and other multiplayer-focused RPGs rarely feature permanent death. Generally speaking, there is little support in multiplayer culture for permanent death. Richard Bartle has compared player distaste for permadeath to player distaste for pedophilia. For games which charge an ongoing fee to play, permanent death may drive players away, creating a financial disincentive to include permanent death.
Diablo II and Diablo III are mainstream exceptions which include support for an optional "hardcore" mode that subjects characters to permanent death. Sacred and Sacred 2 similarly feature or have featured a similar "hardcore" mode. Star Wars Galaxies had permadeath for Jedi characters for a short period, but later eliminated that functionality.
Proponents attribute a number of reasons why others oppose permanent death. Some attribute tainted perceptions to poor early implementations. They also believe that confusion exists between "player killing" and permanent death, when the two do not need to be used together. Proponents also believe that players initially exposed to games without permanent death consider new games from that point of view. Those players are attributed as eventually "maturing," to a level of accepting permanent death, but only for other players' characters.
The majority of MMORPG players are unwilling to accept the penalty of losing their characters. MMORPGs have experimented with permanent death in an attempt to simulate a more realistic world, but a majority of players preferred not to risk permanent death for their characters. As a result, while MMORPGs are occasionally announced that feature permanent death, most either remove or never ship permanent death so as to increase the game's mass appeal.
Proponents of permanent death claim the risk of permadeath gives additional significance to their in-game actions. While games without permanent death often impose an in-game penalty for restoring a dead PC, the penalty is relatively minor compared to being forced to create a new PC. Therefore, the primary change in experience permanent death creates is that it makes a player's decisions more significant; without permanent death there is less incentive for the player to consider in-game actions seriously. Those players seeking to risk permanent death feel that the more severe consequences heighten the sense of involvement and achievement derived from their characters. The increased risk renders acts of heroism and bravery within the gameworld significant; the player has risked a much larger investment of time. Without permanent death, such actions are "small actions." However, in an online game, permadeath generally means starting over from the beginning, isolating the player of the now-dead character from former comrades.
Richard Bartle called out as advantages of permanent death: restriction of early adopters from permanently held positions of power, content reuse as players repeat early sections, its embodiment of the "default fiction of real life", improved player immersion from more frequent character changes, and reinforcement of high level achievement. Bartle also believes that in the absence of permanent death, game creators must continually create new content for top players, which discourages those not at the top from even bothering to advance.
Proponents of permanent death systems in MMORPGs are a relatively small sub-section of the hardcore gaming community. These players are often interested in additional challenges provided by games that attempt greater realism in their simulation. These players will often seek less-restricted social and economic environments catering to a greater range of player-versus-player interaction and risk-versus-reward scenarios.
Those players who prefer not to play with permanent death are unwilling to accept the risk of the large penalties associated with it. Paying the penalty of permanent death often means a great deal of time spent to regain levels, power, influence, or emotional investment that the previous character possessed. This increased investment of time can dissuade non-hardcore players. Depending on the design of the game, this may involve playing through content that the player has already experienced. Players no longer interested in those aspects of the game will not want to spend time playing through them again in the hope of reaching others to which they previously had access. Players may dislike the way that permanent death causes others to be more wary than they would in regular games, reducing the heroic atmosphere that games seek to provide. Ultimately this can reduce play to slow, repetitive, low-risk play, commonly called "grinding". Of course, the significance of heroism without the risk of permanent death is dramatically reduced. Most MMORPGs do not allow character creation at an arbitrary experience level, even if the player has already achieved that level with a now-dead character, providing a powerful disincentive for permanent death.
Multiplayer games currently featuring permanent death
- Warlords Battlecry a RTS/RPG series which allows heroes to choose ironman mode upon creation enabling 'hardcore' mode.
- Minecraft allows players to play in 'hardcore' game mode. Once the player dies, the world set to 'hardcore' mode is locked down, and forces the player to start anew. If the world is a singleplayer world, the world will be deleted instead. On multiplayer, the player gets a permanent ban from the server.
- Terraria allows players to create a 'hardcore' character with only one life.
- Din's Curse has 'hardcore' mode and multiplayer
- Dofus runs a server where every character suffers permanent death upon defeat on any single combat.
- Armageddon has featured permanent death almost from its inception, circa 1991.
- BatMUD Hardcore has featured permanent death using a separate copy of the 'normal' server which opened in 2000. This was heavily inspired by Diablo II hardcore.
- Lost Souls has circumstantial permanent death, with a store of replenishable lives that, if exhausted, leaves the character unable to be revived.
- In Darkwind, permanent death is employed, and players each control a team of characters. Characters also age, so that after about 30 in-game years they start to lose physical strength until they die of old age and accumulated wear-and-tear.
- Permadeath is a defining feature of the multiplayer online game Realm of the Mad God, although in 2011, valuable amulets were added to the game which can save a character from death once before shattering. Amulets were then removed in build 4.00 in an effort to restore the game back to its classic permadeath feeling. There is, however, a Vault in which items can be stored.
- Permadeath is a primary feature in the DayZ zombie survival mod for ARMA 2: Operation Arrowhead. In DayZ, all players spawn with minimal survival equipment and must scavenge a vast post-Soviet landscape for better equipment. Players who get killed (either by zombies, hostile players, or worldly hazards) permanently lose their equipment and character and cannot be revived. Some servers will also permanently ban you once you die.
- Omerta , a web-based text game features permanent death whenever a player is killed, losing his or her possessions. An exception would be getting mistakenly killed by administrators.
- Demon's Souls features a more forgiving implementation. Players lose progress upon death, but they can recover it by returning to where their character died.
Multiplayer games no longer featuring permanent death
- Everquest had a special rules server called Discord for a brief period starting in December 2003 that featured permanent death.
- Star Wars Galaxies had permadeath for Jedi characters for a short period, but later eliminated it.
- Sacred featured hardcore gameplay on ClosedNet servers only, which were shut down on February 1, 2009.
- Hellgate: London featured a permanent death mode for subscribers. NamcoBandai games shut down the servers on January 31, 2009, but are making a comeback worldwide according to press release by Hanbisoft. The new name will be Hellgate: Resurrection.
- Gemstone IV featured a system in which permanent death happened if the character did not obtain favor in the form of "deeds" with the Goddess of Death, Lorminstra, but this has been removed. If the character dies and is not resurrected by a cleric, the character will decay and meet Lorminstra after a period of time. Under the permanent death system, if the character had deeds, Lorminstra would guide the character back to life in a new body, with all of the character's equipment and free of wounds, but not of scars, and receive an experience penalty. If the character did not have deeds, Lorminstra would guide the character to his permanent resting place. Now, if the character does not have deeds, they will just receive a larger experience penalty than the one for characters with deeds.
- Face of Mankind also claimed to have permadeath, but it did provide automatic respawning for dead characters via 'clone insurance', which was available for a trivial in-game fee. Characters also started with three free clones, more of which could be purchased very cheaply, so permadeath only occurred when players made an effort to use it to delete their characters, as no other option for character deletion was provided.
- Sierra's Middle-earth Online (in 1999) planned to include permanent character death as a risk posed in certain encounters. Development on this game halted and the rights later passed to Turbine, who released Lord of the Rings Online without permadeath in 2007.
- The Survival Test and Indev versions of Minecraft featured permadeath. This feature is now optional. There are multiplayer servers that cater to permadeath tastes in offering a "deathban" of duration that varies between servers.
- In Wurm Online, high level priests can choose to become Champions of their gods. While this makes them much more powerful, if they die three times, the character will permanently die. [Not Anymore]
In single-player video games
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Few single-player RPGs exhibit death that is truly permanent, as most allow the player to load a previously saved game and continue from the stored position. Intrinsic implementations of permanent death can be seen within roguelike games, such as NetHack, most of which do not allow for restoring games upon making a fatal mistake (although save files can be retrieved by copying them before death, a tactic known as "save scumming"). Another example of a single-player CRPG that has permanent death is Wizardry 8 when playing in "Iron Man" mode. In an Iron Man game, it is not possible for the player to save the game manually; it only saves on completion of certain quests or when exiting the game. If the player's whole party dies in an Iron Man game, the save file is permanently deleted.
A variant of permanent death was used by some mid-1980s CRPGs such as Ultima III. On the death of any party member, the game would automatically be saved, preventing the player from restoring the game to a point before that death happened. If the last character alive died, it would be impossible to continue with that auto-saved game. However, a player could then assemble a party of new characters and heap up enough gold to have their old characters resurrected in-game, then continue with the old characters again, so there was no completely permanent death. Players usually circumvented the whole feature by pulling the floppy disk out of the drive when death of a character seemed to be imminent, thus preventing the auto-save feature from working. Another way of circumventing it was by making a copy of the floppy disk that stored the characters before going on a dangerous quest, so that the game could be restored from that copy if the characters died. A related concept was used in some releases of The Bard's Tale and in The Bard's Tale II: Upon loading any character, the game would automatically re-save that character devoid of money, so that if a player just quit the game by turning off power without saving, for example to avoid character death, he would find his characters bankrupt when re-loading the old saved game. This was usually circumvented by making a copy of player character data before loading.
The Mystery Dungeon series of games feature gameplay whereby the character will lose all items, levels, and progress upon dying, although players can stash items in "warehouses", allowing the items to be recovered on a later playthrough.
The Xbox game Steel Battalion offers an example of permanent death in a non-RPG context. The lengthy campaign mode must be started from scratch if the player fails to eject from a destroyed vehicle. This reinforces the simulation aspect of the game, and forces the player to think seriously about any risks taken on missions. The hacker game Uplink also features an example of permanent "death"; although the player cannot die in the game, the player can have his or her campaign end if caught hacking an important server, which results in the PC being disavowed by the Uplink corporation and forced to start from scratch.
In the first two games in the Way of the Samurai series, players are forced to restart the game upon death, and if the game is saved you are also forced to quit back to the menu. Subsequently re-loading the saved game promptly deletes the save straight after, thus preventing re-using saves as a means of avoiding permanent death. As the game features multiple story pathways and endings, this device is used to attach weight to your decisions, such as the option to yield to certain boss characters if low on health and facing possible death (and subsequently be forced to work for them and follow their story path) rather than risk being killed by them and having to start the game from scratch (but with the reward if victorious of being able to carry on down your chosen story path) You can however carry items through into subsequent new games upon death in specific circumstances such as mailing them away during play, which has the added consequence of preventing you from using them in the current playthrough and thus making that more difficult to survive through.
In the various Fire Emblem games, if a character dies in combat, they will be permanently dead, though one loophole is to restart the battle from the beginning (The game saves the number of deaths in even if the player restarts). If a player chooses to finish the battle after a party member dies, they will be permanently lost. In some situations, goals of the missions are to keep one character alive, so that loss instantly ends the level and forces the player to start that battle from the beginning. In all cases, the main player character must not die under any circumstance—the death of this character will result in a Game Over. Also, in some of the games, such as the fourth, there exist ways to re-obtain characters who have died in battle. The most recent games in the series add a "Casual mode" where permadeath is disabled entirely, and lost characters are returned at the end of the chapter, although a game over still occurs if a main character dies.
Characters left dead on the battlefield in Final Fantasy Tactics for more than three turns are permanently removed from the game. However, this fate can be avoided by winning the battle before three turns pass, reviving the character in-battle, or, in extreme cases, resetting the game.
The first iteration of Valkyria Chronicles features permanent death for non-story characters. If a downed player character is left for more than three turns, or if an enemy soldier touches the downed player character's body, then the character is killed off permanently for the remainder of the game. However, the player has the option of reloading an earlier save to avoid this.
Fantasy action RPG Depths of Peril features the ability to play 'Hardcore mode' after at least one character has attained level 25.
In the first three games from the X-COM series, soldiers who were killed remained dead permanently. In the remake XCOM: Enemy Unknown, there is an optional Ironman mode which allows only one save point for the selected game; the members in the XCOM squad can permanently die in all modes.
Dead Space 2 features a hardcore mode. Using a New Game + save is not allowed, supplies are limited, and enemies are more lethal in this mode. Also, once the player dies, they are reverted to either the start of the game, or one of the three saves they are allowed to make. As the only viable strategy is to space out the three saves, this makes the game much more difficult. It's sequel, Dead Space 3, features a more extreme hardcore mode where the player can save at any point they wish. However, upon death, this save file is reset, starting the player back at the beginning of the game.
In the Steam version of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, an additional official campaign known as "Justine" does not allow the player to save progress, this forces the player to restart the game upon death or if the player quits the game.
In Dungeon Hack, there is the option to have "real character death". When this option is turned on, all saves involving the character are erased upon character death.
The Wii U game Zombi U has permanent death as a central mechanic, uncharacteristically for a first person shooter. Any time the player character is bitten by the eponymous zombies, it is always fatal. Another playable character is procedurally generated upon death, and then the player must set out to find the zombie of the previous playable character to retrieve their survival kit.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II features elements of permanent death in its campaign mode (a first in the series), where some characters will remain dead for the remainder of the story, depending on choices made by the player. This in turn affects in-game events as well as the game ending. Also, in the "Strike Force" missions, if the player dies they will reappear playing as one of their friendly AI soldiers.
The indie game Receiver, by Wolfire Games, randomly generates a new game world and weapon state upon death.
In the roguelike-city sim hybrid game Dwarf Fortress, if the player loses they are forced to start anew, but the world and lore which was generated remains if the player desires to build another fort.
The Microsoft game Combat Flight Simulator 2 featured permanent death of the player's character if he is killed while on a campaign mission, forcing the player to create a new campaign. In the sequel, the permanent death was eliminated by allowing the player to reload to the last save.
In Minecraft, players can opt to start single-player games on "Hardcore" mode, in which players can not only die, but when death occurs, due to a variety of possible causes in-game, the world that is generated for that game is deleted. However, if the player likes the world used for that certain game, they can choose to re-create it either as survival (players can die due to the same in-game causes, but are able to respawn) or creative (death can only be caused by falling out of the world, and all blocks are easily created, placed and destroyed) mode.
In other games
Few non-electronic role-playing games give players the opportunity to resurrect characters, although older combat-oriented games, including the most popular game, Dungeons & Dragons, sometimes do. Dungeons & Dragons ' implementation of death would go on to influence early computer role-playing games, such as The Bard's Tale.
Even within those games in which death is possible, the frequency of permanent death varies greatly, based on the desires of the Gamemaster and the play group as a whole. Similarly, because of the freedom of the Gamemaster to modify rules, some Gamemasters choose to add permanent death to games that normally lack it. Others may subtract it from games where it is normally present.
For most games with character resurrection, PCs typically must pay a price to be restored. The price is often an in-game fee paid to a non-player character with magic or technology capable of restoring the character. Such a fee might be paid by the PC in advance, or by other PCs. In many games, the effort required to create a character is decidedly non-trivial, giving players a significant incentive to avoid permanent death. Unlike MMORPGs, new player characters can be created at a power level equivalent to the remaining party, to allow the new character to meaningfully contribute to a game in progress.
Games of other genres, most notably early arcade-oriented, casual, platformers and others (where the savegame functionality is usually not available) often feature a version of permadeath where the player is given a fixed (but sometimes replenishable) number of avatars (or "lives"). Following the loss of one avatar, the player usually loses progress through the current location; after the loss of the last available avatar, the player loses progress through the entire game (i.e. see the Game Over screen). Examples of such games include Super Mario Bros., Digger, Pac-Man, and various Breakout clones.
A unique variation of this was Square's 1986 fantasy shoot 'em up game King's Knight, which featured four characters, one per stage, where the player must keep them alive before they join to face the final boss. When a character dies prematurely, it's a permanent death, and the game shifts to the next character in their own stage.
- Bartle, Richard (2003). Designing Virtual Worlds. New Riders. ISBN 0-13-101816-7.
- Bartle, Richard. "Column 2". Retrieved 2007-05-26.
- Glater, Jonathan D. (2004-03-04). "50 First Deaths: A Chance to Play (and Pay) Again". New York Times.
- Schubert, Damion (2005-04-12). "Please, Not the Permadeath Debate Again". Retrieved 2014-11-07. Schubert is game designer whose massive multi-player game credits include Lead Designer on Meridian 59, work on Ultima Online, Lead Designer for the sequel to Ultima Online.
- "Never-to-return death is called permanent death or PD." (Bartle 2003, p416)
- "Some old-timers prefer the expansion persona death. Exceedingly old-timers might even use player death, but at least we're trying to break the habit." (Bartle 2003, p416)
- Hosie, Ewen (2013-12-30). "YOLO: The Potential of Permanent Death". IGN. Retrieved 2014-08-13.
- Douall, Andrew (2009-07-27). "Analysis: The Game Design Lessons Of Permadeath". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2014-08-12.
- Griffin, Ben (2014-03-07). "Why permadeath is alive and well in video games". GamesRadar. Retrieved 2014-08-13.
- Meer, Alec (2013-06-05). "Die Hardest: Perma-Perma-death in The Castle Doctrine". Rock Paper Shotgun. Retrieved 2014-08-12.
- "It's [permanent death is] the single most controversial subject in virtual worlds." (Bartle 2003, p415)
- "Existing virtual world culture is anti-PD." (Bartle 2003, p444)
- "Dr. Bartle finally interrupted the conversation by trying to bring the conversation back to a player's perspective: 'Do you want permadeath or pedophilia? Both seem equally attractive to most players.'" Woleslagle, Jeff. "Slaughtering Sacred Cows". Retrieved 2007-05-26. (Quote is on second page)
- "The most frequently cited reason against permadeath is, of course, player investment, which put succinctly says, 'We never want to give players a reason to stop paying us $10 bucks a month.' … Due to the intricate coding complexities and the… unique nature of sharing a space with other players, it’s hard enough to prevent these catastrophic events from occurring. Why on earth would we want to give you a choice as to whether or not to start a new character, or cancel your account altogether?" (Schubert 2005)
- "Not only will they [players] say they'll leave when it [permanent character death] happens, some of them actually will leave." (Bartle 2003, p424)
- Farrell, Dennis. "Permadeath: The Best Terrible Decision You Can Make". 1up.com. Retrieved 2014-08-12.
- "For a few months, one type of "Star Wars" character, the rare and powerful Jedi, could be permanently killed. But when players began singling out Jedi characters for vicious attacks, Jedi players cried out for help, and last month LucasArts abandoned permadeath, a company spokeswoman said." (Glater 2004)
- "This is primarily due to imperfect early implementations and bad customers service decisions; nevertheless, the legacy is there." (Bartle 2003, p444)
- "Many of the benefits that advocates of PKing cite are primarily due to PD; some of the strongest objections to PKing are due to its PvP element, rather than to PD." (Bartle 2003, p416)
- "If they [players] began with a virtual world that had no PD, they'll judge your virtual world from that standpoint." (Bartle 2003, p424)
- "Even if they are 'mature enough' for PD, they're [sic] attitude is analogous to the way that people in the real world view public transport. … So it is with PD: It's fine when it happens to you, but not so fine when it happens to me. (Bartle 2003, p424)
- "Certain high level monsters would also have the ability to perma-kill a player character. […] In retrospect, though, that one just seems crazy." Ludwig, Joe (2007-05-31). "Whatever Happened to Middle-Earth Online? (Part 2 - The Bellevue Months)".
- "Then, the fact that the whole experience [play without permanent death] is vacuous begins to nag at them." (Bartle 2003, p431)
- "By having a strong death penalty, such as permadeath based on life points, then one feels the thrill of battle and exuberance of a battle won." "Drannog". "A Case for a Permadeath Server". Retrieved 2007-05-26.
- "Without PD (it can also mean "permadeath"), there's no sense of achievement in a game." (Bartle, "Column 2")
- "Without PD, 'small actions' are steps on a treadmill and 'done well' means you move slightly faster than people who have 'done badly.' Heroism is no such thing—it's just another example of a 'small action.'" (Bartle 2003, p431)
- "In virtual worlds [without permanent death], this is called sandboxing — the people who are first to positions of power keep them. There is no opportunity for change." (Bartle 2003, p426)
- "In a virtual world with no PD, you only get to experience a body of content once." (Bartle 2003, p427)
- Bartle summarizes these points in Bartle, Richard (December 6–8, 2004). "Newbie Induction: How Poor Design Triumphs in Virtual Worlds" (PDF). Other Players conference proceedings.
- Powerful PCs aren't retired because "That [retiring the PC], however, is too much like PD for many players to stomach." To satisfy these players, additional high end content is continuously added. When this is done, "Newbies (and not-so-newbies) feel they can never catch up. The people in front will always be in front, and there's no way to overtake them. The horizon advances at the speed you approach it." (Bartle 2003, p426)
- "It [permanent death] leaves no room for error, and the tension of the game kills the enjoyment for casual gamers." Mortensen, Torill Elvira (October 2006). "WoW is the New MUD: Social Gaming from Text to Video". Games and Culture 1 (4). pp. 397–413. doi:10.1177/1555412006292622.
- "The more harsh your death penalties are, the less likely that your player base will take risks and interesting chances." (Schubert 2005)
- "And just like that, your game is considered grindalicious, as your players bore themselves to death." (Schubert 2005)
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