BioWare is working hard to ensure forthcoming MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic sports the perfect risk/reward balance, according to the game's chief combat designer.
In a lengthy post on the game's official forum, Danny Schubert laid out how the team was approaching death. Sounds like it's a challenging tightrope walk.
"Miscalibrating your death penalties can very insidiously destroy your game from the inside out," he claimed.
"We don't want people to ignore the cost of death, but at the same time, we also don't want players to avoid taking chances.
"We want them to take risks. We want them to try wacky new strategies, and exotic new builds. We want them to wonder if maybe they can solo that boss creature. In the name of creating a sense of fear and risk, overly harsh death penalties can inadvertently make people stop taking them."
Schubert went on to explain how making making penalties for failure too harsh can create grinding, alienate users and sap the fun out of the experience.
"If death sucks too much, players will stop taking on higher level creatures or even equal level creatures, and instead only take on creatures that are lower level than them - even though those creatures carry far less reward, the fact that they offer far less risk, might make them seem safer and more efficient to the player. Of course, now the player is fighting boring, ultimately non-threatening enemies, and is being bored to death.
Not only that, but tough death penalties can also "disincentivise grouping", Schubert insisted.
"I'm sure we've all been in some pretty bad groups in our MMO playing," he added. "How likely are you to group with a healer or tank that you don't know if the penalty for failure is disastrous? How hard is it for new players to learn the skills they need to contribute to groups if other group members feel they can't risk taking on a new guy?
"Ultimately, we want players to play the freakin' game", he surmised, promising that The Old Republic would favour skillful play over mindless level-grinding.
"We want them to group. We want them to deck out in their gear. We want them to experiment with builds. We want them to explore the nether regions of all the planets. We want to make really hard stuff for them. And we most assuredly want them to seek out challenges bigger than themselves.
"Does that mean we want the game to be a cakewalk? No, we want there to be tough fights. We want there to be complex fights that might take multiple tries to get right. We want to put in challenges for groups of players that require good tactics, good teamwork and flawless execution to pull off.
"But I would separate the idea of 'challenge' and 'punishment'. I would rather our challenges be gated by whether or not you have the skill, the gear, and the teamwork to succeed than whether or not you have the credits and/or time to wait out the forced downtime in between, you know, the fun part."
Hopefully we shouldn't have too long to wait to find out if BioWare makes good on these pledges. Recent speculation points to a September release for the EA-published MMO.