Continued from part I – (I realized that I’d never finished the Etilica Soulflash story)
When the soulflash went live on Etilica and the lore changes went into the documentation, along with a note on the forums detailing how death worked. There was uproar!
Generally, Etilica’s community fell into three camps:
1 – Those who did not think too much about the ramifications of everyone respawning – or were okay with it – and just found it kind of cool to find dead bodies from player character now and then. If you were on the server during off hours when it was very quiet and happened to be in a far flung zone, coming across a shell from a respawn hours ago was a concrete sign that you were not alone. Also, PCs could get a small amount of experience from cremating a shell and it served as a roleplay device
2 – Those who did not think too much about the ramifications of everyone respawning – or were okay with it – and were simply happy to rezz shells and do bizarre things with them. It quickly became de rigueur for evil characters to rezz shells of fallen enemies to mock them. The whole “turn your worst enemy’s cast off corpse into your mindless, living zombie butler” was part of the intent of the system and I heard that my own character’s shell was used for precisely this kind of roleplay. I was also given vague hearsay warnings about inappropriate usage, but was never told the details.
3- The last group was the ones who were not okay with the everyone respawn lore. They were extremely vocal about it. They were completely fine with the fact that their character was more or less immortal. What bothered them was the fact that slaying the orc king would now seem utterly pointless because he returned to life. They would be trapped in a groundhog day scenario forever.
They had something of a point. The problem was this was in fact already the case. There were a number of repeatable quests where the PCs had to kill named villains and bring back their heads/rings/etc. or rescue the children that they had kidnapped. Everyone conveniently overlooked the fact that these named villains – whose lairs we would probably now call raid instances – would probably be reset and ready to fight again even before their ring was turned into the quest giver. Where is the closure in rescuing the children when you go back out and there they are again? This is a problem that every PW, from the small text MUDs to WoW experiences. Players consume content. In the absence of compelling GM activity and in the absence of player driven roleplay plots, players will grind and run quests during quiet times. But this is another problem for another time.
These resistant players were correct about the groundhog day effect. The problem was that they were not really thinking through the effect of having a sub-population that was effectively immune to death, while the rest were. And for the record, if a god restores you to life every time you die, you are pretty fucking immune to death. They despaired at the pointlessness of it all. I despaired at the thought that the logical way to play the alternative out would be to effectively turn most NPCs into second class citizens at best and slaves at worst with the respawners as a divinely chosen aristocracy. Eventually I implemented a compromise. Everyone – PC and NPC alike – still soulflashed. All PCs and 10% of NPCs (all named bosses and 10% of spawns) also took their gear to the fuge plane. There people were destined to be respawned and were collectively the immortals. With such people, the shell left behind was naked. The rest of the NPCs left their gear behind when they soulflashed. They were truly dead. It was a sloppy compromise and I was never really happy with it; not least because I still had to paper over the cracks in the lore and pretend that human nature was not at play here and that the world would not develop a caste system. Nevertheless, the changes did not go over well and some people left. Ironically, one of the most vocal of the resistant players was a member of the dev team. He had ignored the posts on the builder forums leading up to the insertion of the new death system/lore into the world and only spoke up afterwards.
I took two lessons away from this:
1- “Everyone Respawns” is not an acceptable alternative to “Only Players Respawn”. Some players will happily ignore the knock on effects of their own serial resurrection, while getting hot and bothered about NPC resurrection. This reality and consideration of possible alternatives eventually led to HSM.
2 – In addition to being competent team players, devs actually have to participate in the developer discussions. This is kind of ironic in a way as – at least at the level of technical skill required to work on NWN1 – all development PW discussions are essentially bike shed discussions. Users don’t pontificate about ERP software, but they’ll do so endlessly about PWs. On the forums, they’ll give unsolicited advice on changes to the world that are either technically impossible to implement or miss the point of the world’s vision. If they are not posting on the forums, they are blogging. I know this phenomenon quite well. Over on Project Angela, the brainstorming discussions of what was to eventually become the Memotica design language were full of debate. I had trouble keeping up sometimes. When the discussions reached the advanced stage where deep thought was required in solving tricky design problems, I found myself being the only meaningful participant as often as not. When it came to actually doing the grunt work in the formal language design and writing the interpreter, I was completely alone.
In the case of that guy on Etilica, I still don’t know why he did not know what was going on.