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Back from the Dead

You-Died-Screen

I’m back! I know it’s been a while, but better late than never amirite? Well I still have things to say and I hope you guys are still willing to hear them. To fit the occasion, I thought it appropriate to talk about death and respawn in games.

We’ve all played countless games, lived hundreds of lives and surely died a thousand times, but in a game, death is rarely permanent. For a while now I’ve wanted to share my thoughts on the way different games deal with player death. By that I mean the way games explain how it is possible for the player character to come back from the dead for a retry. Now I’m sure there are many games worth mentioning that I will forget so feel free to comment about them.

Some games try to give an explanation to why the player is able to respawn and others simply put you back at a checkpoint. The latter aren’t what interest me so let’s look at the former with some examples. (Please keep in mind that most of the incoming explanations are my own and might not be what the developers had in mind)

Dark Souls

Dark Souls

In Dark Souls the player character is an immortal “undead” and thus can always respawn at checkpoints. This explains why the player’s death isn’t permanent and also why all the enemies also respawn when the player rests at a checkpoint (except for bosses). This is all good and logical (for a game) but if the player consumes the souls of his enemies, how can they respawn ? Unless the souls the enemies leave behind are not their own, just as the player leaves behind all the souls he has upon dying.  Where are all these souls coming from? Let’s leave it there.

Assassin’s Creed

This is one of my favorites. In the Assassin’s Creed series the player is presented with the idea of genetic memory and a machine that allows the user to tap into it. As Desmond Miles a descendant of Assassins, the player is able to relive the memories of his ancestors. Dying prematurely, failing missions  or committing acts such as killing innocents is considered inconsistent with the ancestor’s memory and as such causes the player to “de-synchronize” and return to the last point where the player was “in-sync” with the memory. I haven’t been able to find any holes in this explanation yet, so hats off to Ubisoft.

World of Warcraft

Spirit Healer from World of Warcraft

As many other MMOs, WoW has a problem with death. When a player dies his/her spirit is resurrected by a spirit healer saying “it is not yet your time…etc.”  The player would then have to run back to his corpse as a spirit to return to the material realm or ask the spirit healer for a resurrection on the spot that comes with a penalty. Alternatively another player could resurrect a fallen player using specific spells. The problem is, while the game treats the players as heroes who can’t be allowed to die, NPCs that are heroes to the player can die. Enemies that respawn and boss fights that are endlessly repeatable make the concept of death a bit strange in MMOs (Lets not even get into the Undead race). I wonder how WoW would change if it got rid of spirit healers and corpse running and used the method of simply teleporting to a waypoint that is present in Guild Wars 2. Then again the spirit healers are kind of cool.

The last thing I’d like to mention is funny moment in Bastion when you fall off the edge for the first time and the narrator who speaks throughout the entire game says “and then he falls to his death… I’m just foolin’”.  To me that was fantastic and fit the game so well.

I hope after reading this that I won’t be the only one thinking about this every time I die in a game. Also if you haven’t played this already, try out the game You Only Live Once. As always, if you have any thoughts don’t hesitate to comment below.

Guild Wars 2’s combat system : tip of the iceberg

As I mentioned before, I had access to the Guild Wars 2 beta last weekend since I pre-purchased the game. I have to say I’m quite impressed with the way the game is shaping up. Throughout the weekend I mainly played a Charr Ranger up to lvl 16, a Norn Engineer to lvl 6 and a Human Mage to lvl 7. Now today I’m mainly going to talk about the game’s combat system and what makes it different than your run of the mill MMO.

In essence the game’s combat system is about the player’s choices and skill. The player has a 10 slot skill bar that’s explained in the diagram below.

Taken from the Guild Wars 2 official wiki

The 1st five skills can be switched out in combat instantly by switching to a secondary weapon set for most classes (elementalist can also switch elements using F1-F4). Since these skills are determined by the weapon, the player’s choice becomes also about play style and not just the stats on the weapon. Some skills can be charged for more power and some skills have a chaining quality to them. Chaining is when a skill changes after you use it the first time (Ranger’s Hornet Sting leaps back away from the target after striking, it then becomes Monarch’s Leap which leaps back into combat crippling your foe when you use it the 2nd time).

Ranger in the middle of a chain attack

When you press a button on your skill bar, your character is going to swing the weapon. Whatever skill that button is, it’s going to fire off and go on cool down whether you have a target or not, and it is going to hit any viable target in its path. This means that if an enemy is standing between you and your target, that enemy will take the hit instead. Some skills’ damage is based on the distance to the target (such as a longbows long shot or point blank shot).

Some skills in the game have something called a combo-field quality to them, meaning that they can interact with other skills. The simplest example of that is a Ranger or a Warrior shooting an arrow through an elementalist’s Flame Wall, imbuing the arrows with fire as they touch it (check the video below at 1:20 to see this in action) . This emphasizes the importance of movement and positioning and adds another layer to player interaction and cooperation that goes beyond each player just doing their job in the “holy trinity”.

The game also introduces a dodge mechanic. Double tapping a direction key will cause your character to dodge roll in that direction to avoid damage. This uses up points from an endurance bar that recharges overtime, which means that you can only dodge about twice in a row before having to wait.

All these mechanics -and others that I didn’t manage to get into during my time in the beta weekend- help create a very engaging combat system that keeps you active all the time and gives a feeling of satisfaction in a good fight. My experience with the ranger left me quite satisfied when I was switching from a longbow to a sword and axe when an enemy gets close, Dodging out of strong attacks when I saw them coming, using “Hornet’s sting” to leap out of combat when things got too hot to use my heal and leap back in to finish the job. The bottom line is, it never felt stale. Like a breath of fresh air after all the “WoW clones”.

There’s a lot more to it than what I just talked about and I’ll probably return to the subject later when I’ve gotten to experience it more. I’m out!