What if dying really meant something?

Based on a friend's recommendation, I've been fooling around with the alpha pre-release version of the multiplayer zombie survival game, DayZ. It has the potential to be a great game, if you are into the horror genre. Frankly, I'd rather play EVE Online.

DayZ - where dying has real consequences.

DayZ - where dying has real consequences.

However, one thing that I discovered while playing DayZ is that dying really means something in that game. Basically, if your character dies, you lose everything, and have to restart from scratch. And it's amazingly easy to die, either from the zombies out to eat you, or from lack of food and water, or from disease - or most frighteningly, from other players who just want to get your stuff. Just staying alive feels like a significant victory.

After dying a few times in DayZ, it got me to thinking. What if being podded in EVE Online really meant something? If dying had real implications, how would that affect the gameplay?

The Minor Inconvenience of Dying

As we all know, every capsuleer has a medical clone safely ensconced in a station, ready to receive our copied neural patterns in case we die. We resurrect as a new copy of ourselves in a new body, ready to continue making our mark on New Eden, as if nothing really happened.

In terms of gameplay, this means that everyone in EVE Online risks relatively little when they are podded. Dying is simply no big deal.

EVEclone.jpg

You can lose skill points if you fail to upgrade your medical clone, but that is limited and is at best a minor inconvenience - and if you are conscientious, this potential downside is easily avoidable. (Although how many of us have gotten podded in battle, jumped into a new ship in our zeal to rejoin the fray, and forgot to upgrade their clone before doing so, only to be podded again and lose SP? I'm raising my hand here, sheepishly.)

If you are flying a Tech III strategic cruiser when you get podded, you will lose some subsystem skill points, but again, this is really just a minor annoyance, corrected after a few training days.

When you are podded, it means that you lost your ship (unless you were flying around in your capsule), as well as the loss of any implants you may have installed in your clone, so it can be an expensive loss of value, but that's all. It's only ISK - and completely replaceable if you know how to make a decent in-game income, or if you have some extra Real Life cash and can buy and then redeem PLEX.

I used to worry about losing ships, but once I amassed a few billion ISK from manufacturing, missioning and trading, it ceased to be a concern. In my EVE career, I have lost a Navy Dominix worth over 800M ISK, a Proteus worth over 1.5B ISK, and a set of Slave implants worth over 2.3B ISK, all due to insanely silly errors. (But that's how one learns, right?) In every case, I simply tapped into my reserve of ISK, and bought replacements.

The only players who really risk anything by being podded are those who ignore the #1 adage of EVE Online: never fly what you cannot afford to lose. Those players get to personally experience the bitter truth of this sagely advice - something we wiser capsuleers already know, either through direct experience or from witnessing the experience of others.

So, except for the truly reckless or thick-headed, death is simply a minor vexation in EVE Online, if it is any real bother at all.

The Occasional Usefulness of Dying

In fact, the mechanics of EVE Online makes dying useful from time to time.

doomsday.jpg

I once took a large group of EVE University players on a field trip to null sec, where a friendly corp gave us a exhibition of their capital ships, including several titans. This was back in the days that doomsday devices were "area of effect" weapons (something that I wish CCP would bring back as a scripted option). Rather than make the long journey back to UNI HQ in Aldrat via jump gates, we just gathered around a titan in our capsules, and got a free trip home to our medical clones, thanks to a deliberate massive doomsday podding. That was fun - and a good experience for the newer players.

I sometimes take the "self destruct express" back home to my medical clone, when I'm in a remote location and don't want to worry about leaving a jump clone in some out of the way spot. Or I'll relocate my medical clone to where I want to go (or somewhere nearby), and self-destruct in a clean clone to wake up in my intended destination.

So, once again: dying in EVE Online is no big deal - and in fact, can be very convenient.

Pondering the Possibilities of Permadeath

Let's now consider what might happen if there were more significant consequences for dying in EVE Online. Would that make for a better gameplay experience, or would it be worse?

Grim_reaper.jpg

Let's imagine the most extreme example first. What if there were no such thing as medical clones? What if death of a character meant permanent death? In other words, if your character got podded, it would no longer exist. You'd lose every skill point for that character, and would have to start over from scratch with a new character.

It's a scary thought. If death was permanent, players would be much more cautious about the risks they took with higher developed characters. As they earned more skill points, and gained access to larger and more powerful ships, they'd be extremely careful about when and why they undocked. And I bet they'd be very aware of what they undocked in - and that those ships would be heavily tanked, as a rule.

Everyone would use multiple low-skill pilots for simple tasks. Using dispensable alts would become universal common practice. Undocking in higher skill characters would be infrequent, and for very special purposes. The proportion of pilots flying smaller ships would increase, as a larger portion of undocking characters would have relatively low skills.

Ganking would be far more serious than it is today, as it would become more costly. In high sec, miners would probably just dock up if they saw anyone in local that looked even slightly intimidating.

The number of pilots flying capital ships would decrease, as the cost of losing a very high skill point character would make it much more risky. With the preponderance of caps in null sec these days, that wouldn't be a bad thing.

PvP would be heavily weighted towards small ship engagements. This is not a bad thing in itself, but the frequency of PvP would probably diminish, as fewer players would be willing to engage in combat. There would be fewer targets for PvP'ers, because fewer players would be willing to engage in PvE activities.

On the whole, I think that removing medical clones would be a bad thing for EVE Online. The use of high-skill characters would diminish, and players would be less likely to undock in them. More people would discontinue training characters when they reached the level that players no longer wanted to risk losing their investment. That would reduce the use of larger ships, from battleships to capitals. Increasing the risk of loss of investment in characters would certainly repress the desire to use those characters. That could only mean fewer players logging into EVE Online.

The Consequences of Capsules

When our ship is destroyed, we find ourselves floating in space in a pod - a capsule designed to protect the capsuleer. While it is possible to target lock and destroy a capsule, a savvy pilot should be able to escape intact virtually all the time (see EVE University "podsaver" overview instructions here). The capsule is simply a buffer zone for protecting the value of characters.

pilot-capsule.jpg

What if there were no capsules in EVE Online? What if our characters died when our ship is destroyed, every time?

Certainly, the use of implants would diminish if the risk of losing them increased. Other than that, I don't see how much else would change. Players would respawn in their home system. This would actually speed up the process of reshipping and rejoining a fight or mission, if it was nearby, as players would not have to pilot their capsule back to their hangars.

One negative implication of the elimination of capsules would be that characters with low security status would no longer be able to fly in high security space. Currently, they can traverse through systems in their capsules even if they have -10 sec status, comfortable in the knowledge that CONCORD and the Empire navies will leave them in peace. Taking this option away from pirate players would restrict their travel - an annoying inconvenience at best.

Otherwise, the elimination of capsules would have few implications for gameplay in EVE Online. Now that I think about it, I wonder why we have them, except for aesthetic reasons. I do like looking at my pretty gold pod, thanks to the special implant I got when I bought the Collector's Edition.

The Wormhole Conundrum

EVE Online includes a lot of inconsistencies, made for the purposes of simplicity or good gameplay. But one inconsistency that has always bothered me is the safety of wormholes.

class-5-to-highsec-wormhole.jpg

Yes, there is more risk in wormholes, and higher commensurate rewards. There is no Local chat, and no stations in which to take refuge. You can die rather suddenly in a wormhole if you are not a master of your directional scanner. But for denizens of wormhole space, these are just some of the appealing aspects of living there.

And yet, I cannot understand why pilots who are podded in a wormhole end up in their medical clone in their home system. If a wormhole is disconnected from the interstellar network, how does this happen?

I know why it happens - as a convenience to the players, of course. But what if something else happened if you were podded in a wormhole? What if getting podded in a wormhole meant the loss of that clone? To be even more consistent, what if you lost any skill points that you earned while in the wormhole?

This would increase the potential risks of wormhole life, of course, and would add little to actual gameplay. As a wise man once told me, consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, and one shouldn't sweat the small stuff. But my obsessive-compulsive nature keeps pointing out that getting podded in wormholes should not work the way it does.

Let's just say that wormholes are connected to the interstellar network through some unknown alien magical force, and leave it at that. Perhaps people who understand the lore better than I do can help me out with a better explanation.

The Nature of Death

I once had the opportunity to interview Ian Chisholm, the creator of the outstanding Clear Skies movies, all based on the EVE Online universe. I asked him why he did not depict his characters as capsuleers in his films. "I wanted death to mean something," he replied. "If the characters just woke up in a new clone, then dying wouldn't mean much in the story."

EVEdying.jpg

Death is drama. Death is loss. Death means something - except in EVE Online.

As CCP Games continues to develop the emerging theme of colonization of new space, I'd like to see how the mechanics of being podded are handled, whenever we players get a chance to go there. Will we still be able to wake up in our medical clones, as we do today? Or would there be new implications of going to this new space? Will we be risking more? Will death actually mean something?

I often hear players say that different areas of space should reward higher risk with higher potential reward. I'm all for that. But I wonder how many would be willing to venture into space where they could lose everything. How many of us would be willing to "HTFU" and dare to explore such a dangerous place?

Count me in.

Fly safe! o7