Monday, October 31, 2011

Death Comes To Those Who Wait...

We've all lost people in our lives who have touched us at some point... right?

Family members, significant others, perhaps even children... sometimes all of the above. I am finding that the longer I live, the more aware I am becoming of my own mortality, and what it means not only to myself, but to those around me whom I call friends and family. Yet even with this sobering reminder, on this day of Samhain (that's Halloween to you modern folk), I cannot help but think that, perhaps like in the games I play... Maybe death is NOT the end?

Back in my death metal vocalist days, affectionately known as "The Drewcifer Era", I used to have this ritual at every show of screaming the words "Death comes to those who wait"! It became a tag line of sorts, as if the sight of a black death metal vocalist with a long goatee and LaVey-esque bald head was not disturbing enough. Back then it was mostly done for shock value... and boy did that ever shock people. As I grew older and started getting into video games, I started to gain a new value to death... since in games, death is hardly the end.

The first time I died in an MMORPG, was of course, in Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). I was about level 5ish (there were no real levels back then), and running around Theed, on Naboo, doing delivery boy missions. Yes, you heard right...  I was a "Fedexer" in that galaxy far far away. I am not quite sure what got into me, but I decided I did not want to wade through a gaggle of gnorts (little pseudo bunny/armadillo looking things), so instead I started pew pewing them with my little CDEF pistol. Unfortunately I missed the part in the game manual that stated that some animals have herd mentalities, and in short order I found myself dead, by bunnies.

2 hours into Star Wars Galaxies... GO ME!

It was embarrassing to say the least.

Since that first "death experience", I have died many many more times in that particular game, and of course in the many others I have played, right up to Guild Wars (GW); my current poison of choice. Now, with GW, I have the pleasure of not only killing myself, but all my other alts as well... an epic wipe to end all wipes! I do this multiple times a night... regularly!

The common denominator with all the games I have played is, once you're face down in the dirt, your game is NOT over! You always have the option to clone, or respawn... be reborn as you were when you died, at the closest "save point". Now that is a nifty little trick that I earnestly wish real life had! Imagine how many second chances you could get with loved ones if there was that respawn button you could push to bring them back to you? Yeah, I know... wishful thinking. All the same, there is so much I could tell my grandmother, my daughter Deanna, or Heather, or even my Uncle Billy- who passed on this past August (and was the reason why my summer blogs were written in Florida, and not home in PA).

I often wonder how different games would be if as a death penalty, you simply could not go any further. That's IT... You are gone... poof... end of game, unsub, no more for you. Of course we all know that would royally suck, so let's hope no gaming companies even get that thought in their heads. Speaking of death penalties... even in the games I have evolved with, those have changed. It would appear that gone are the days of corpse running. If you have no idea what corpse running is, let me summarize:

Your character just died and is cloned. You appear in your skivvies (because well, they could not make you appear naked and keep that T rating). You now have to RUN to your corpse, wherever you left it, to loot yourself and gather the items you had on your person before you died... You know, just the basics like clothes, money, weapons, etc. An annoyance? Indubitably! It only takes a couple of times, if that much before you learn to always insure yourself. (Another lesson I have had to learn the hard way in multiple games... Thanks SWG and EVE Online... not to mention the MAIN reason why I have life insurance in real life... Just in case). I for one, am glad to see corpse running go. I am certain there may be a few out there would wish it would remain, simply for the downtime factor, but you all are on your own on this one. I won't be rallying for the comeback of the corpse run.

I KNEW I should have taken that "accidental death and dismemberment" policy.

Ok, so no more corpse run... Well there is always "cloning sickness", which takes various forms in different games. Guild Wars, I think, does it the most hardcore; making it an aggregate each time you die. You generally start off with a 15% diminishment of your attributes, and it keeps getting bigger each successive time you die, to the max of 60%. Talk about an incentive to fight smarter! If you kill bosses, or large groups, you eventually whittle this down (or if you are lucky enough to find the trinkets that can wipe out death penalties all together). If you are really frustrated, simply use your map to teleport back to a town or outpost and you will be right as rain once more. The catch being, you have to start all over with whatever you were doing that kept getting you killed... Perfect time to redo your skillbar, and reformulate a strategy.

Yes, Chicago is one of the bears... Original, I know.

Usually I see a timer on the death penalty, in most games. X amount of time where you are not quite your full capacity, which is also a good time to relax a little and take that well needed bio break. (We have to eat and use the facilities after all)

Every now and then a game comes along to challenge what we know... and this time around it appears to be Guild Wars 2. As pertains to death, ArenaNet has purported that you cannot really "die" in the game (ask them, they hate using the word). Instead, when your health bubble goes down past critical, you fall to the floor in a last ditch effort to save yourself. It's called the downed state. It essentially amounts to being mortally wounded, with the caveat that you can get back up to fighting trim if you-

A- manage to kill an enemy with the skills you are given in this downed state before you "bleed out".


B- have someone around who can resuscitate you. (All players, no matter their class can do this... from level 1)

If none of the above happen, you go into a defeated mode. This "technically" would be what we gamers call death, but even so ArenaNet prefers to describe it as simply being unconscious. You then choose a spawn point nearby and pop back up. Is it semantics? Possibly... Is it annoying, probably not as much as a corpse run, or waiting for a timer to expire on your weakened condition. You rise up no worse for wear, with no after-effects of your... "near death experience".

In essence this would mean that there is no "true" death penalty in this game... That is if I am understanding this correctly (and feel free to correct me, in the comments if I am not).

But hey, don't just take my word for it... Here is what ArenaNet has to say on THEIR website about death penalties:

"Players who have recently been downed several times will take longer to revive each time. If no one revives you, you can spend a small amount of gold to come back at a waypoint. It's as simple as that, and why not? Why should we debuff you, take away experience, or make you run around for five minutes as a ghost instead of letting you actually play the game? We couldn't think of a reason. Well, we did actually think of a reason--it just wasn't a good one. Death penalties make death in-game a more tense experience. It just isn't fun. We want to get you back into the action (fun) as quickly as possible. Defeat is the penalty; we don't have to penalize you a second time."

Hardcore RPG purists may have a tricky time coming to terms with this new mechanic that seems to take all the hassle out of something so bothersome as death. It's unheard of! There has to be some kind of penalty!! Well, unless I am totally off base... Nope... No penalty. They did it this way to add more fun to the game, and reduce a lot of the tedious things that turn gamers off to MMORPGs.

Of course we are all still waiting for closed beta to test that theory... Hint hint, ArenaNet.

While death still comes to those who wait, it is apparently just a passing phase anymore. It's a shame real life could not operate this way, but then... the world is overpopulated as it is. I have always felt that those who die make room for those who come after. Might seem a little odd to think about it that way, but if as a species our job is to perpetuate itself... It seems only natural to me.

I only hope that when my time comes, if there is in fact an "Other side" (I have no concrete proof yet), I sincerely hope it looks like this.

Yeah... I could live here... What dreams may come...

If it does, I won't be coming back for another run!

A very happy Samhain / Halloween to you all, and try not to eat too much candy... What are your thoughts on death, whether ingame or as touched you in real life? 

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