Vanguard to introduce “variable death penalty”

Premise #1: I thought that by the time I had the occasion to write about this, it wouldn’t be anymore a news. Instead I still don’t see anyone talking about this significant news about Vanguard, not even on FoH.

Premise #2: my brain is currently *fried* by the heat, so don’t expect very bright comments from me these days.

What is the news about? The “death penalty” in Vanguard is changing and going through significant revisions.

There arer currently quite lengthy posts from Brad on the official forums trying to explain the philosophy behind these latest changes. Or better, trying to justify them against the hardcore fanatics of CR (corpse recovery) that Sigil cultivated and nourished along these years.

Since Brad wrote a whole lot as always, I’ll try to simplify as much as I can:

– Levels weren’t enough. So the idea to add a parallel “con system” (to consider the difficulty of an encounter) that could provide a variation that, in their opinion, wasn’t possible using just the levels:

Now is the time (beta 3) to take the con system and death penalty to the next stage and make it even more dynamic.

In general you evaluate the difficulty of an encounter by checking the level of the monster/s. WoW and EQ2 already complicated this pattern by adding monsters that were flagged as “elite” to better identify a “group” encounter (I’m tired to do all the work. Someone in the blog community could write an article about elite mobs and describing exactly how they work from a game design perspective?). Vanguard will (obviously, since they are hardocore) go further and add a “threat level” on top of the standard levels.

Simplifying. A monster could be the same level of another. But it could still have a much different “threat level”.

The threat level is based on “risk Vs reward” mechanics. An high threat means that the monster is stronger (has more hitpoints, skills, better AI etc..) and also carries better loot (the “reward” part). This is all still quite conventional. The news is that an higher threat doesn’t just correspond to higher difficulty and reward, but also to different death penalties (risk).

So if you attack a mob with an high threat level not only you risk to lose because he is stronger. But you’ll also incur into an harsher death penalty.

This also means that CR runs won’t be the standard when you die (as it was before this last announce), but instead will become just ONE of the cases possible. While the death penalties corresponding to lower threat levels should be milder.

High threat: the moster is stronger (higher HPS, more skills, better AI, etc..), but it drops better loot. While if you die you’ll have to suffer harsher death penalties.

Low threat: the monster is weaker, soloable, poor loot, mild death penalty.

About the death penalty “cases”:

But in general, the death penalty can range from a money sink, to some exp lost but able to be regained, to exp lost period, to dropping a corpse with all of your gear but having that gear respawn after X number of hours real time at an Outpost, to a corpse that drops with all of your items that has to be recovered or dragged out by a friend, to even more severe penalties (for example, perhaps a corpse cannot be dragged, or even you have to defeat the mob that killed you in order to have access to your corpse (for example, a giant worm that eats your corpses, and until it dies, there is no corpse to loot)).

This obviously leaded to “core players” accusing Brad to give up on these core concept:

Now, before anyone panics, does this mean we are dumbing down the game? No, I really don’t think so. We *are* making deaths from mobs with a lower threat level easier, but then we are also making deaths from mobs with a high threat level as hard or even harder than before. And then we have options in-between. What we are doing is making the game more inclusive and less exclusive – players with different playstyles, tolerances, varying contiguous play times, etc. will all have plenty to do, again regardless of their level. No, we’re still not trying to make a game that is all things to all people, and yes, our primary audience is still the core gamer and we won’t make decisions that hurt what makes it attractive to our core audience. But there is a middle-ground – we can and are making a game where solo/casual, core, and hard core/raid gamers can co-exist.

My comments (in short, I ran out of time):

1- “Now is the time (beta 3)…” No, “now” is not the time. You don’t make these kind of significant changes so late in beta. This belongs to the very beginning of the design phase.

2- I always thought that “Risk Vs Reward” has never been a really fun mechanic to use because it encourage players to aim lower instead of higher (the game punishes experimentation, I call it fun Vs frustration).

3- Linked to the previous point. The players will tend to “game” the system. Instead of supporting different playstyles, most of the “harder” content will be simply ignored and people will just grind their way up (to boredom). Challenge not imposed isn’t a challenge.

In a treadmill the point is reaching the top (sadly). If killing easier monsters is simpler and risk-free, people will do that and outpace the lack of good loot (supposedly the motivation to do the harder content) through the acquisition of higher levels (like in DAoC where it’s the norm to go around with “grey” equipment while you grind the task dungeons). Instead if they try to make the harder monsters much more desirable, then it means the game will be insanely grindy for solo players who are “stuck” at killing those simple, worth-less mobs.

Moreover I’m not really “getting” the design behind these changes. Why use a “threat level” instead of the standard level to just give a monster more HPs, skills and all the rest? Why the need to “double” it? If the goal was about differentiating “group” content, why not just reusing WoW’s and EQ2’s elite flag (which I consider already superfluous)?

Linking “good loot” to “group content” and then to “harsher death penalties” is also a very dangerous idea. You want to promote grouping, not to punish it. It’s already not a simple task to put a group together, not even always possible (actually I always thought that grouping shouldn’t be “promoted”, as it is supposed to happen spontaneously. The point is about removing the *barriers*. Not to force the players in a direction). As we have already seen, dying is a very good incentive to log out of the game and go do something else (see Prey’s fix attempt). It’s a ticket out. You don’t want the players to do that. You want them to get addicted and keep going, breaking the flow as less as possible. If an higher threat level will lead to grouping incentives, while also leading to harsher death penalties, then you are really risking to punish grouping instead of encouraging it. While also making the game incredibly frustrating for those who don’t have access to another type of content.

A short exchange on FoH:

Laerazi: If it takes 2x as long to level on easier mobs, than it does on more difficult mobs, as well as the harder mobs dropping better loot, I think it would be worth the risk to try more challenging content; plus fighting easy/predictable mobs isn’t exactly fun.

Abalieno: Let’s see.

The goal behind these changes was about promoting different playstyles. Or, as Brad says:

“What we are doing is making the game more inclusive and less exclusive – players with different playstyles, tolerances, varying contiguous play times, etc. will all have plenty to do, again regardless of their level.”

So you think it’s a good idea to support soloing by making the game INCREDIBLY GRINDY for solo players?

What I mean is that the original goals behind Vanguard are about promoting grouping and the community, and then supporting different playstyles:

1- With a link between “better loot”, “group content” and “harsher death penalty” then the risk is about *discouraging* groups.

2- When there will be the need to promote content flagged with an higher threat level, then the risk is that the rest of the content will be incredibly grindy and dull for those players who cannot “afford” a better “risk Vs reward” ratio (because it’s not a choice).

Both basically mean that there’s the risk that those changes will be counterproductive instead of realizing the goals why they were made.

Bottom line is: do we really need all this sophistication? Is it really necessary?

EDIT: interesting perspective

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