Today my slime-filled crypt is festooned with balloons. There is rejoicing! For the first day of the beta has seen only modest (and occasionally quite pretty) explosions. The testers are doing an amazing job of finding bugs and pointing out my typos (which, like the stars, are without number). Meanwhile, over at the Below Google+ community, we’re discussing how many actions you should get and how fast the refresh rate should be. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and the community is open to everyone whether you’re in the beta or not. Drop by and chime in!
Fingers-crossed, touch-wood, avert-the-evil-eye, things seem to be going well. So this seems a good time to talk about death.
After the break: death.
Going Gentle into that Good Night
Lots of StoryNexus games don’t do death, and wisely so. In a story-game, death is usually the least interesting possible outcome to a conflict. Below is about challenge as well as story, though, so it needs the risk of failure.
Most of the time you’re playing, death isn’t at stake. There aren’t any ‘sucker’ results that kill you instantly. You only die when your Spirit reaches zero. By playing cards from the Above deck you can keep your Spirit out of the danger zone. But if you’ve delved too deep, and you’ve let your conditions get out of control; if the region you’re in has particular perils or you’re reluctant to play more Above cards and further complicate your adventure, the danger increases.
Ideally, when you do run out of Spirit, you should feel it’s your own fault. Dark Souls is the model for this. You took one risk too many. You didn’t retreat and refresh yourself when you had a chance. This perception matters because (a) it’s important that I am liked, and (b) it means that you felt you had control over your situation and resources; that play was meaningful.
What Comes Next
When you do die in Below, we steal from Fallen London: you move to a new area with its own stories. I don’t want to reveal too much about the place or personage of Death here. Exploring their mysteries is part of the fun of dying.
There, you make a choice: pass on to the world beyond (which means you leave a legacy and create a new character) or bargain with death for another chance. The first bargain is open to all players, but later ones will cost Nex (StoryNexus’ paid-for currency). That’s because dying is content. Each bargain you make either gives you a short quest or adds new options to your decks. The act changes the game. In fact, there are some legacy items and skills that you can only unlock by dying (one of these is in the beta).
I didn’t want this to be ‘pay to win’, or to feel like putting another coin in the arcade machine. Death is story. It’s cruel and savage and costly, but you returned from the dead and that’s awesome. I’m worried about how people will respond to this. The bargains are all costly, and it feels odd to be asking someone for money and then hitting them with a gut-wrenching consequence. But it’s thematic, and there’s prestige in being a haunted badass who has seen things beyond mortal ken and returned changed.
And maybe it’s even possible – once in a while – to trick death, and emerge ahead on the deal.