I was searching my old design notes about my “dream mmorpg” for something else but I found a part that caught my attention.
Today there are many players who complain about PvP because of bland death penalties. Because there’s no permdeath, there’s no full looting, no harsh exp losses, corpse camping is often considered griefing and so on. They don’t want these possibilities to exist, they want them even encouraged by the rules.
Well, I’ve always been strongly against those positions because I always thought that PvP should be accessible and fun for everyone. Never punishing or elitist. But I found these notes where PvP is quite harsh, harsher than what you’ve seen till today, and yet without getting in the way of the gameplay.
It was part of a bigger scheme to make the combat more visceral and cinematic. The idea was about letting players chop off heads and limbs from corpses to create totems with which “decorate” a battleground. “Trophies”. That is something with a strong effect but that doesn’t remove character progress. It has a strong emotional impact that doesn’t leave you indifferent, but at the same time it doesn’t cripple the gameplay.
I had divided PvP vibes into two groups. The first was “personal” (corpse looting, permdeath, corpse camping all fall in this category). While the other was “communal” (conquest modes, domination and everything that is usually goal-based). And I decided that the second group was always ok, while the first should be used to “punish” the loser, but without depriving him of his progress or his possibility to play the game. So the idea to go with the emotional impact, on the “roleplay” level.
Think to the extreme scenario where you could kill a character and then rape the body. This would be *more than enough* to drive away from the game in shock and disgust half of your players and create so much noise that the “Hot Coffee” case would be nothing compared. But it is just to say that you CAN make death harsher and have more of an impact without crippling the gameplay or impairing the characters.
It’s part of what you may call “taunting”. It doesn’t have any weight on the rules themselves, but it adds a lot of “spice” and I’m sure it offers something that even the hardcore PvPers would appreciate. Adding the personal satisfaction through totems and similar mechanics (I had planned even a hostage system), while the persistence and purpose through goal-based systems (the conquest mode, housing, city building and so on). Actually I even added notes to give these totems some effects, with enough totems in an area the other faction could suffer a “morale loss” that could work like a slight penalty while fighting in the area. Giving for example the possibility to “decorate” your city walls with these totems as a deterrent for an assault (I didn’t decide if the morale penalty would apply only to NPC guards and patrols or also to the players).
In my design notes these totems were also tied to the crafting system, requiring materials to be made, with the purpose to limit their number somehow. The totems would also decay over time, becoming unrecognizable and turning into skulls.
Below these notes about totems there were other ideas for visceral combat. One in particular was about the use of “finishing moves” or “fatalities”, with choreographic, dramatic animations and everything.
You could think that the implementation could be problematic because of the netcode, but the way I described them seems doable. Basically I had considered them like normal attack skills to be used only as finishing moves. They could be dodged or parried (I actually described these as the “grabs” in Tekken). The server resolves the action before the whole animation is triggered. If the attack misses, is parried or dodged, the cost of the move (like “rage” or whatever) is paid and lost. Instead if it hits and it deals enough damage to kill the enemy the finishing move animation is triggered and can run freely for a few seconds. During the finishing animation the attacker is invulnerable, so the animation can run uninterrupted without problems, in all its spectacular effect (if you think about it God of War does pretty much the same, making your character invulnerable as long the animation runs).
This gave the possibility to add spectacular, cinematic animations and special fatalities for all classes, maybe in various combinations triggered randomly. A warrior could throw his victim on the ground, block him down with a foot on his chest and then push down his sword on the body. A mage could burn to ashes his victims or freeze them with a cone of cold to send them to pieces shortly after. The more gore-ish, violent and cinematic was the animation, the better.
In particular these animations could be completely in synch, without technical problems thanks to the way they are triggered (after an enemy is “already dead”), offering a strong sense of “touch” between two fighters that is completely missing in today mmorpg’s combat. And you could also have a lot of freedom, not only adding 1vs1 animations, but also 1vs many if it’s the case.
Thinking about it, it isn’t so unreasonable to think these special synched attacks not just as finishing moves when a fighter is already dead, but also to use them mid-combat. You may think that taking out the control from the player to play a synched animation could be frustrating and unfun as a “stun”. But a stun locks one player while the other continues to hit, while a synched animation is one attack only. It would become more like a “matrix” mode, a “pause” or a “slowdown”, a temporary suspension (of disbelief) in the combat that actually gives you a couple of seconds to plan your next move.
And, of course, the monsters could be enabled to have something similar and very special, cinematic attacks.
It would deserve at least some prototyping to see how far you could go (and no, your middleware won’t allow you that).