Making Death Matter

Making Death Matter

Death is is a fairly common feature in video games. It is ubiquitous in RPGs, adventure games, tabletop games, MMOs, fighting games, shooters; it’s the universal punishment for failing to keep your character’s life above zero. It is the impact that death has on the player that varies from game to game. Some treat it as a resource-sink and minor inconvenience; it damages your equipment so that you must spend your hard-earned currency to repair it or you respawn away from where your character died and have to start back at the beginning of the dungeon/map. Other games swing to a harsher consequence with inventory loss, so that you must recover your original body to regain your equipment and possessions, or even progression loss.

For Trials of Ascension: Exile we wanted death to be something that players would avoid at all costs, so we looked to the more brutal side of the spectrum. We use a combination of inventory loss, limited progression loss (for dragons), random respawn locations, and life counters to encourage players to play purposefully. Like green 1up mushrooms and pink bottled fairies, life counters are lost each time the character dies. Unlike them, the player cannot earn more and when they run out the character permanently dies.

We believe that Perma-death is one of those features that can really impact how gamers play their characters, and any other death-penalties are minor in light of the possibility of losing a character forever. It is our experience that players take less risks, are less likely to randomly attack others, and tend to play more constructively when their value the longevity of their character. Perma-death also has other, less apparent, benefits.

In so many multiplayer games, players never have an ending to their story. By giving the character a finite number of deaths, their story has both a beginning and an ending. This closure gives the player the opportunity to try something new with their next character. It also prevents the traditional “End-Game” stagnation that happens when every character reaches the pinnacle of their potential and waits around for new content to consume.

The most important aspect of Perma-death for us is how it cycles the power-dynamic of the game. Should a player become too powerful and then terrorizes the rest of a server, the weaker characters can topple their tormentor by overwhelming their remaining life counters. For example, if a dragon should reach adult and decide to make life difficult for a nearby settlement of humans, the humans can hunt the dragon down and kill it enough times to eliminate the threat.

As good as we think Perma-death is, we also recognize that not everyone feels the same way about it. Some players become emotionally attached to their characters and would rather not play a game where they would eventually lose them. Still others might see the loss of a character as a blow representing the loss of their invested time. To that end we offer server hosts the option to give their players infinite life counters, so that everyone can play on a server that best fits their play-style.

Will you play on a server with perma-death? Why or why not? Share with us in our forums at