|November 17th, 2008|
In a recent discussion over at f13, folks are cataloging “design errors” from past MMOs. And one of the ones cited was the notion of a corpse run. For those not familiar with this concept, this is where your character dies, leaves all of their stuff at the corpse, and you have to run back to where the corpse is to pick up your gear.
I argued that corpse runs shouldn’t belong on this list. It’s like calling the telegraph a design gaffe because phones replaced it. Corpse runs were (mostly) all there was at the time, and under the philosophy of “don’t change what works” would have been everyone’s default choice back then.
More than that, though — corpse runs were part of a constellation of features that perhaps only worked well in text games. Frankly, a corpse run in Everquest was WAY more painful than a corpse run in a mud. Why was that? Because features do not exist in isolation. For example, some of the things that made corpse runs less onerous in muds:
- travel time in a 3d world vs travel time in text is vastly different. Getting back out to the place where you did in a non-aggro mob death was trivial. It was easy to get corpse recovery groups to the same place.
- global chat with a smaller, tighter group. Muds were smaller — peak concurrency of 60 was a typical thing. So asking for help on global chat was plausible and relatively easy. For those who have trouble picturing this in the world of massive games — imagine if you had a private WoW server for just your guild.
- donation rooms, wherein people would put fresh loads of gear for newbies or the newly dead. You didn’t need to run out to your corpse naked. In fact, there was generally a greater sharing of gear, because soulbinding was highly uncommon. Everyone had extra gear they could give away to someone in need.
- less emphasis on “perfect” gear, and more cases of equipment loss. Stuff like deathtraps which ate all your gear were more common, and thus gear was not as irreplaceable. A corpse run could in fact be optional to some degree.
Picture an Ultima Online with instant teleport back to your corpse (which gets rid of the tedious travel bit) and instant summon of friends to your corpse (which gets rid of the “I can’t handle what killed me” bit). UO already had a more disposable item mentality — there were no soulbound items, gear was traded more freely, and everyone had multiple sets of gear.
All of a sudden, corpse runs don’t necessarily seem like a supertedious thing. The above combined would potentially mean that you could very well show up to recover your corpse and find the monster was easier than when you died to it, making the corpse run a case of satisfying revenge.
This goes to show design choices don’t happen in isolation. I think a lot of design choices from MUDs were altered dramatically for the worse given the text-vs-3d-space issue in particular. In the mud scenario, corpse runs were a powerful social force, creating a mutual need and indebtedness that brought people together. Could they still work in a modern MMO? Probably, with the right design choices to compensate for the different environment the massive game provides. And with the wrong ones, well, they suck.