Wing Commander Meets Dark Souls?
There’s still a rather long wait to go before pledgers will be able to test out Cloud Imperium’s upcoming space sim Star Citizen, but last night the official website for the game was updated with a few words with studio head Chris Roberts. The post goes into plenty of detail over the subject of character death, Robert’s musings on how to approach it, and what the current plan is for players of the persistent online portion of the upcoming game.
Roberts starts the post by declaring his goals for the space sim:
My goal with Star Citizen is to build a universe that I want to play in day after day, one that fully immerses me in the environment and stories that happen around me.
In Star Citizen’s persistent universe I want events to happen, governments to fall, wars fought and players becoming legends. I want to see a Galactapedia that grows from week to week, reflecting not just the ongoing content Cloud Imperium plans to continually generate, but also the great deeds achieved by players.
Roberts points out that the current trend of auto-saving mid-mission removes any sense of anxiety while progressing through a game, as players know they can “just re-spawn a few steps earlier” and it ultimately makes players “lazy and sloppy.” The Wing Commander creator feels this sense of accomplishment can be easily realised in Squadron 42 (the single-player campaign portion) by ensuring those that die in a mission have to restart it, but managing to capture the same sense of risk in the persistent online portion of the game is more difficult. To achieve it, Roberts feels there must be a sense of time passing, with characters dying and new ones taking their place at the forefront of the universe, ultimately creates “a feeling of mortality and history without making it frustrating or killing (pun intended) the fun.”
And he’s turned to none other than Dark Souls for inspiration.
How they handled death and re-incarnation of your ghost / body was consistent with their world and fiction and because I couldn’t save mid-level, clearing a level, especially after a difficult Boss fight was immensely satisfying. It was also one of the most frustrating games I’ve played! I think Demon’s Souls was too much on the “punishing” end of the difficulty spectrum, but it really did remind me of the value of having something to lose when playing. You can’t have light with dark and you can’t have reward without risk.
Although he references and praises the way EVE Online married its respawn mechanic with its fiction, Roberts defiantly states that he is “ not interested in making EVE 2.0 with cockpits,” stating that using clones to make characters immortal ends up being “a financial and time inconvenience that has no further consequence.” Instead, he wants to go for a “very visceral and real” way of dealing with defeat, with players who suffer defeat gaining scars and/or cybernetic (or new organic) limbs on their avatar to show they are veterans of the universe.
However, he goes on to point out that eventually the character’s body will give out after a certain amount of abuse, ultimately killing the character (he later compares it to the old school “lives” system, but with a bit of luck thrown in.) While perma-death is certainly not on the cards (as in players lose absolutely everything upon expiration) players will move onto a “next of kin” character which is specified upon initial creation. Roberts explains the process in more detail on the site:
The Character creation screen will be done “in-fiction”. 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. Walking up to the mirror, you’ll see your reflection. Wiping the condensation off of the mirror with your hand (or some similar mechanic) will change / reveal your facial appearance. When you’re happy with how you look, you will exit and return to the UEE recruitment office and officer. You’ll fill in your name on the MobiGlas form and also specify your beneficiary in case of death: this could be a family member, son, daughter, uncle, aunt or someone entirely new (although not another player character).
Although players will be able to spend their hard earned cash to hopefully extend the amount of “lives” they have, eventually they will perish, and anything noteworthy they have achieved will be added to the galactipedia in the game. The “next of kin” character would then retain the reputation and faction alliances in a slightly diminished state, allowing players to either continue the legacy or attempt to start a new one.
What I like about this system is that it creates a sense of mortality and history. No one’s character will die right away. It will take some time to get to that point, but players will feel a sense of risk and so will think twice before needlessly risking their lives, as they don’t want to burn through their “lives”. You’ll also be able to see visually how battle scarred someone is – perhaps having an eye patch or a cybernetic arm could be a badge of pride that you’ve been to war and survived.
Roberts goes on to explain that NPCs will also fall within these rules, and that big name enemies that a group of players take down (which the best comparison to would be “raid” in MMOs) would not respawn – dead is dead, and the achievement of taking them down would rest on the player’s shoulders. Roberts closes the post by admitting he realises that “this game is not going to fulfill everyone’s personal vision of what they think it will be,” but that at the end of the day those that pledged money did so “to make the game in my head and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Regardless of whether you’ve pledged to Star Citizen or not, I encourage you to give the post a look as it makes for a rather interesting read. You can do so by clicking the link here. If you have no idea what Star Citizen is about, you can get yourself up to speed by checking out our coverage here.