If you can respawn infinitely, and with no (or negligible) penalty, then there’s no real challenge — you cannot lose.
The way all the numbers are set up in Project Y4, your hit points are pretty low and attacks are good, making combat a lot snappier — but increasing the risk of death by a considerable amount. So I decided to implement a revival system whereby the AP-AM is reconstructed at a designated repair pad on death, giving the player a bit of a safety net.
Right now, there are no limits on reconstruction… But this cannot hold forever. So what’s the best approach?
Infinite No Penalties
The first time I encountered true, unimpeded infinite respawn was BioShock. You die? You zap back to a Vita-Chamber to have another go at that Big Daddy with your wrench because you’ve run out of everything; it’s not like death means anything, so you may as well give it a… bash (*sunglasses* yeaaaaaaaaaaaaa).
This is made even more ridiculous because in the final boss, your ability to instantly and infinitely respawn is removed — so the boss is ridiculously underpowered and quite dull to compensate (presumably to avoid putting off the casuals who’ve struggled all the way through by suddenly making them re-load a saved game when they’ve never had to do this before. I seem to remember the loading times being pretty punishing, too).
Combine that with respawning generic enemies, so you can hoover resources back up, and there really isn’t much challenge in the game anymore (note: there is a considerable difference between ‘challenge’ and ‘lol-difficult’, before you get to hatin’ on me). Your actions are rendered meaningless.
I suppose I should consider some Unreal Tournament match types here, because they give you infinite respawn… But considering the style of UT, dying itself is actually a penalty, so I’ll talk about that below.
The approach of Borderlands is to reset the health on enemies that existed before you died, though it doesn’t respawn enemies themselves until their timers are up, so you can still grind through an area by dying a lot if the respawn point is close enough. This means that while you get to respawn, the challenge of the objective isn’t necessarily reduced by your immortality; you’ve still got to kill a boss in one life. But you have the luxury of being able to try again and again and again to your heart’s content.
So, Unreal Tournament. Since it’s not a story-driven game, the way you lose is completely different, so limiting lives isn’t necessarily an issue at all. In the likes of Capture the Flag, you can lose no matter how good you are at not dying — it’s all about them Field Lattice Generators. Dying itself is a penalty anyway; you’re out of the match while you run back into position, you’ve not got the good weapons anymore…
Whereas in singleplay, you play a character and that character’s death is the end. Plot events, such as objects that require defence against destruction to avoid defeat, are rare and sit alongside the death limits.
The first kind of respawn to consider is the classic die, lose a life, lose all lives, end. This is the kind of thing I’m leaning towards, though quantifying a “life” in terms of a futuristic mega-corporation with effectively unlimited resources (in the context of the scenario, at any rate) is going to be quite awkward. I suppose I could just divorce story and gameplay and call it a “life”, but where’s the fun in that?
I’m going to talk about money-limited respawning here, too. Back to Borderlands again, and it threatens that you won’t be revived if you run out of money — but when the hell does that ever happen? This pretty much counts as having lives, except that it’s also a penalty on the rest of the game (having less money to spend), though in reality (unless patches) it’s a completely negligible amount. It’s not like you ever buy guns in Borderlands anyway.
In Sonic games, you can take a maximum of two hits before dying, so a lives system is pretty much obligatory to avoid supreme frustration. The situation in Project Y4 is a little bit like that, though not so extreme.
Where I’m At
Right now, I’m at respawn penalty: lose 200 gold, “the cost of assembling a new AP-AM”. This is billed as a dick-move on the part of management; you break company property, you get your wages docked (though they completely don’t care about you gleefully shattering every crate and barrel of precious material in the base, nor stealing expensive equipment from containment chambers).
But once you reach 0 gold, where can one go? Should I have a hidden lives system whereby management get more and more angry and eventually fire you for being a crap pilot? Maybe when you run out of money they deem the AP-AM itself a failure, and just drop a nuke on the facility (hmm, that reminds me of something… I can’t think what).
Not that it’s much of an issue at this stage in development, but your thoughts on the matter would be welcome.