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The Face of Death is a menu screen.
March 16, 2010 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Ben Abraham decided to play the game Far Cry 2 with a few self-imposed rules. Most importantly, when he died in the game, he would be dead forever. This saga, Permanent Death, is available as a gorgeous, 391-page (!) PDF file, or on his old blog, in post format.

The PDF has an intro by Clint Hocking (the creator of Far Cry 2, among other games), and some interesting interstitials.

This isn't anything new, of course- others have tackled the notion of "no reloading after death", like Christopher Livingston's Livin' in Oblivion, among many others.
posted by Askiba (57 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I hate playing games in Hardcore mode. Nice screenshots in that PDF though. How long is Far Cry 2 to play anyway?
posted by demiurge at 12:29 PM on March 16, 2010


Intriguing read, though perhaps a bit more academic than it should've be. The way the foreword supposes in-game death as some sort of deep reflection could probably only come from a background of intense gaming (what I hope) or no gaming at all (typical beanplating).
posted by zer0render at 12:31 PM on March 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Albeit old school, I think I might have started this idea of verisimilitude in gaming. Back in the day whenever I played pinball, I would actually flipper my balls.
posted by found missing at 12:32 PM on March 16, 2010


Most of the roguelike games are permadeath.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:33 PM on March 16, 2010


Back in the day whenever I played pinball, I would actually flipper my balls.

Is that what the kids called it back then?
posted by kmz at 12:34 PM on March 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


... * been.

And I wonder if ironman gameplay was a bit misconstrued here. Most players in that style (I'm thinking speedrunners) know that they have infinite tries at the thing -- just only in single goals all the way through. Dunno if that'd be death forever at all.
posted by zer0render at 12:35 PM on March 16, 2010


I dare him to do Demons' Souls next.
posted by papercake at 12:36 PM on March 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


That wouldn't count. Death is an integral and unavoidable part of the game.
posted by lumensimus at 12:37 PM on March 16, 2010


Amateur hour. When I played Donkey Kong, I literally jumped over flaming barrels.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:37 PM on March 16, 2010


Intriguing read, though perhaps a bit more academic than it should've be.

As far as I can tell, the guy's in, or straight out of, college. Presumably he was studying lots of subjects related to gaming. He has a lot of actual academic writing on the site, and his honour's thesis is on his old blog.

also, he kind of cheats- he does die, and very obviously notes this, but for the sake of "completion" he finished and documents the end of the game. Only in a few pages though.
posted by Askiba at 12:39 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


This isn't anything new, of course- others have tackled the notion of "no reloading after death", like Christopher Livingston's Livin' in Oblivion, among many others.

If the blessed, +1 craven_morhead hadn't already said it, you could bet you'd be getting an eyefull of ROGUELIKES ROGUELIKES ROGUELIKES DAMMIT ROGUELIKES!!! from me right now.
posted by JHarris at 12:41 PM on March 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Eh, give it to us anyway, JHarris.

I just finished two games: the original God of War and Nethack (my first ascension!). You can guess which was more satisfying...
posted by mr_roboto at 12:44 PM on March 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Demiurge: I slogged through in about 25 hours or so. I did all the missions and sidequests but did not hunt down all the hidden conflict diamonds.

I really look forward to reading this article, because I found the game frustrating but also strangely compelling. It looks terrific and has probably the most realistic fire effects I've ever seen, but then it has so many ridiculous things, like: why does my character have to climb down from a mounted gun to inject a painkiller? How are empty and destroyed guard posts up and running in less than half an hour? How does every living person in the game recognize me instantly, and why do they hate me so much?
posted by Monster_Zero at 12:45 PM on March 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Speaking of permadeath, the new version of Transcendence was just released.
posted by ODiV at 12:49 PM on March 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Far Cry 2 was this close to being a great game. But midway through I reached a point where I got so tired of the same group of guys jumping me at the same curve in the road when all I'm trying to do is get to the damn mission start point that I finally just gave up in frustration.

OK, now having vented, I'll go read the link.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:49 PM on March 16, 2010


Reminds me of Steel Battalion:

If the player does not eject when prompted, the player's in game character will die, and all saved data will be lost, causing the player to start over.

... which also sounds like the opposite of fun, IMO.
posted by jbickers at 12:52 PM on March 16, 2010


So, he was playing it like it was a Sierra adventure?
posted by yoHighness at 12:52 PM on March 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Eh, don't have the time to write it out at the moment.

Suffice to say, not only roguelikes but arcade games have always had permadeath. It actually doesn't make sense to play Rogue or Nethack without it (and in fact, Nethack will actually let you if you enter Discover Mode during play). Continuing play after dying makes high score lists considerably more pointless, means players can use reloaded games to gain knowledge of the game world without suffering through attendant risks, and also greatly lessens the sense of danger the player gets from game situations, which decreases immersion.

I tend to discount immersion as the be-and-end-all of desirable video game characteristics, but I'm surprised that those who worship at its fell altar tend not to complain about the ease of overcoming death.
posted by JHarris at 12:55 PM on March 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the roguelikes are brutal. Spend two months carefully building up a decent character, make one stupid mistake with an offscreen monster, and you're right back to level 1 hitting rats with a broken stick.

Given how fiercely challenging permadeath makes those games, though, as well as how much it's embraced by the savefiles-are-for-wusses culture that's grown up around them, I wonder why it's not more of a standard feature in games? There is an undeniable logic in the idea that being toasted by a dragon should do more than just slow you down a bit.
posted by Catseye at 12:56 PM on March 16, 2010


for those trying to read it on the blog, look in June - October 2009.
posted by yoHighness at 12:56 PM on March 16, 2010


Speaking of permadeath, the new version of Transcendence was just released.

My mouth literally just started watering when I saw that. There goes my productivity.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:00 PM on March 16, 2010


Monster_Zero got the real deep thinking about yourself that Far Cry 2 creates. Why does everyone here hate me so much?

You're just driving around in your stolen jeep and come to an intersection where some guys are hanging out. The minute one so much as hears you they're all running in every direction and pulling out machine guns and shooting at you. If you just drive through at top speed they'll get into their own jeeps to chase you until you or they are dead.

Everyone trying to kill you is normal in video games but it really stands out in Far Cry 2 because the game goes to such lengths to make everything as close to real as possible. You can just drive around the African countryside without any purpose for as long as you like. (You'll get plenty of tired of that before the game is over.)

There is a whole morality play that drives the story about how you are there to kill a mercenary who is arming both sides but who leaves you tapes of deep thinking about the horrors of man a la Colonel Kurtz.
posted by Babblesort at 1:01 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the roguelikes are brutal. Spend two months carefully building up a decent character, make one stupid mistake with an offscreen monster, and you're right back to level 1 hitting rats with a broken stick.

That is another thing, and something that the more complex roguelikes, truthfully, have neglected. That is that roguelikes work best when they are fairly short.

Of course if you're playing Nethack for two months without dying or winning before then something it wrong. But it is true that, when I've put 12 hours into a Crawl character only to die yet again, it does make me a little standoffish. At least Nethack becomes painfully easy after the halfway mark.
posted by JHarris at 1:06 PM on March 16, 2010


I think one of the reasons that permadeath fell out of favor in video games is that it requires you to be very protective of your character. You couldn't take stupid risks in GTA and jump a Ferrari off of a bridge because there's a good chance it could kill you and make you start over. And jumping Ferraris is fun.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:07 PM on March 16, 2010


Suffice to say, not only roguelikes but arcade games have always had permadeath.

When I first read the FPP, I thought it really meant permanent death, as in once he died in the game he would never be able to play Far Cry 2 again because the main character was dead. As in literally one life, no do-overs.

It would be interesting to setup a challenge for people to pick a game they have never played before, and learn enough about it so that they could make decent progress/get a decent score on one life, but that after they die in the game they can never play that game again. I think it would fundamentally change the playing experience to know that you only have one shot to get it right.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:09 PM on March 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm loving the idea of using permadeath as an excuse the next time I don't finish a game.

"Hey, did you finish Bioshock?"

"I tried to, but I died."

"What do you mean?"

"My character, he got killed by one of those Big Daddy robot things."

"And you stopped playing? Because of that?"

"Yeah, I was dead."

"I'm never speaking to you again..."
posted by quin at 1:14 PM on March 16, 2010 [14 favorites]


I've played some games like this, particularly rpg's, and it does fundamentally change the experience -- it's very immersive.
posted by aesacus at 1:16 PM on March 16, 2010


I had keys to the computer lab in college, and I used to get together with friends late at night to play Diablo Ironman-style. If you died, you had to start over with a new character. At some point we also instituted a "no buying equipment" rule -- the only things you were allowed to buy were potions and ident scrolls. Everything else, including the portal scrolls you needed to get back to the potion shop, had to drop in the dungeon. It was difficult to advance past the second set of dungeons, unless you had great luck with item drops.

Think I got all the way to Hell once or twice before dying.

I also got a D in Chem II that semester.
posted by vorfeed at 1:17 PM on March 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Related: You Only Live Once (previously)
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 1:19 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Far Cry 2 was this close to being a great game.

I really enjoyed it, but while I was playing, I refused to call it "Far Cry 2" and instead referred to it as my "African Brushfire Simulator".

Any game which makes a flare gun is a valid weapon will always have place in my heart.
posted by quin at 1:24 PM on March 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


ODiV: Speaking of permadeath, the new version of Transcendence was just released.

I hate that game with the fire of a thousand suns. It is the perfect game for netbook play, the funnest, smallest, coolest game ever - so you'd think they'd introduce netbook resolution. But no. George doesn't give a damn about netbook users. It's so impossibly frustrating, every month or so someone will post a complaint to the forums and it gets no love.
I'll give a $100 to the first person who ports Transcendence to native netbook resolutions without scrolling or windowing. I'm serious.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:33 PM on March 16, 2010


African Brushfire Simulator

Good god yes it was fun to just drive into a huge area of waving dry grass, blow up a stack of gasoline barrels, and watch a whole hillside burn. Trees catching on fire were especially exciting.
posted by Babblesort at 1:36 PM on March 16, 2010


My mouth literally just started watering when I saw that. There goes my productivity.

Holycrapthatgamelooksawesome. I am screwed.
posted by georg_cantor at 1:39 PM on March 16, 2010


Also yes what the hell is wrong with me, I play Nethack every day and did not include rogue likes in the post... >.>
posted by Askiba at 1:56 PM on March 16, 2010


Funny, I was just musing about the notion of permadeaths in modern games after watching the last few episodes of Caprica, the Battlestar Galactica spinoff. There's a virtual game world called New Cap City, noir-themed, like Mafia Wars, I suppose. If you die in that game, you "de-rez" back to reality, and you're permanently banned — quite the concept! Doubt that would gain much traction on this Earth.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 2:11 PM on March 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


If the player does not eject when prompted, the player's in game character will die, and all saved data will be lost, causing the player to start over.

In Escape Velocity you were a space ship pilot. If you purchased escape pods and your ship got blown up, you got to live and keep all your money and other belongings, just lost the ship. If you were cheap or overconfident or broke and didn't have escape pods...permadeath.
posted by jermsplan at 2:19 PM on March 16, 2010


Escape Velocity (and its sequels) have given me a lot of fun over the years. When you start a new game, you're given the option for "strict play," which deletes your save file when you die. It was an interesting concept but not one that I ever actually used (it's not actually that fun).

Transcendence seems to be a spiritual successor of sorts for the EV games. I'll have to try that one out when I get some free time. Looks pretty cool.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 2:25 PM on March 16, 2010


I don't even want to contemplate the number of hours I lost to the game Escape Velocity. Because I know it's a not insignificant number. It is also the game that taught me that it takes very little provocation to turn me into a pirate. I mean, like embarrassingly little.
posted by quin at 2:36 PM on March 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


OMG. I loved loved loved Escape Velocity, and Transcendence looks fun enough that I'm tempted to partition my drive and re-install Windows on my Mac just to play it.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:44 PM on March 16, 2010


I got fed up with the concept of 'permadeath' back on the 8-bit Atari, with Alternate Reality: The City - you'd even have to reboot the game to start again. Extraordinarily frustrating, but very addictive. The closest I've come since that was the superb roguelike ADOM... although I never managed to complete it.

The only game I'd love to see played with just one life is something like Modern Warfare 2; I'd have thought that it's not possible, but having just said so probably means that someone somewhere will go out and prove me wrong.
posted by Chunder at 3:02 PM on March 16, 2010


The only problem with this that I see is that he has, apparently, played the game multiple times before and therefore possesses a "precognitive" awareness of where enemies will be, etc. I had a similar experience with Deus Ex, my favorite first person shooter/RPG. In that game, even when I was playing on the hardest level (where single shots against you can be fatal, especially if they hit you in the head), I "knew" where every sniper would be, every ambush, which soldier was likely to be around the next corner, and so on. It gives the player too great an advantage to be anything like "real life."
posted by Palquito at 3:25 PM on March 16, 2010


I wonder what Africans think about their continent being used as an open-ended sandbox mode first-person shooter game that reflects on "no reloading after death".
posted by KokuRyu at 3:38 PM on March 16, 2010


Yeah, Far Cry 2. I've whinged about it previously. An intensely disagreeable game that was superficially a great idea. It would have functioned far better as an RPG because RPGs set you up to be rewarded for going back and forth across enormous maps (with enormous load times) to complete missions. With Far Cry 2 you can spend twenty, thirty minutes just getting to an objective, another ten minutes completing the objective, another 20/30 returning to the point on the map where the objective was given to you, and then...not much of anything, really.

I love big, open worlds, but I dislike clumsy maps and I dislike big, open worlds where there is nothing to do except the same thing you've already done twenty times and for no reason. Sure, with something like Oblivion all the caves are identical and the creepies within are identical but at least you're a) getting xp and b) possibly getting some neat treasure and c) as often as not, completing a quest. But after going through that same checkpoint, with those same dudes, for the dozenth time? Guh. With Far Cry 2 there's no sense of achievement whatsoever and, yeah, maybe I should be getting my sense of achievement from benchpressing or making my own butter but, y'know, still.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:51 PM on March 16, 2010


(I'm exaggerating timeframes somewhat, incidentally, because it's more like five minutes but it feels like eighty so 20/30 is a fair compromise)
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:52 PM on March 16, 2010


I wonder what Africans think about their continent being used as an open-ended sandbox mode first-person shooter game that reflects on "no reloading after death".

Similiar things a New Yorker would, if I played GTA 4 without reloading..?

I don't know, this statement sets me off for some reason... clarify? Because for some reason I'm getting a "it's in Africa, and people die there of various unfortunate circumstance so it is not okay to have games set in Africa" vibe (although that's likely me being an assuming fool).
posted by Askiba at 4:06 PM on March 16, 2010


Palquito: "The only problem with this that I see is that he has, apparently, played the game multiple times before and therefore possesses a "precognitive" awareness of where enemies will be, etc. "

Far Cry 2 is a little different in that your enemies will not be standing in the same place every time you encounter them. So you might know there will be 5 guys standing in a 100 foot radius ahead of you, but you won't know where exactly they will be.

Far Cry 2, with its buddy system makes it extremely difficult to die. If you are about to be killed, you can be rescued by one of your friends, who will revive you.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 4:07 PM on March 16, 2010


Far Cry 2, with its buddy system makes it extremely difficult to die

True to a point, but the only times I died were when I either did something profoundly stupid, like drive my Unimog off a cliff for the lulz, or right smack-bang in the middle of intense firefights against dozens of baddies. So, yeah, you get revived and all, but the chances of getting shot through the face again, instantly, resulting in permanent death, are pretty high.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:20 PM on March 16, 2010


God, I've still never managed to ascend at nethack, and I wrote Nethax for god sakes.
posted by BenNewman at 4:49 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Although I've never played Far Cry 2 or heard of it before, I found the constant use of the flare gun in the PDF narrative to be completely hilarious. BRUSHFIRES! PEOPLE ON FIRE! I'm not sure it was meant to be ha-ha funny, but I couldn't stop laughing every time I saw it. I'd go a dozen pages or so, and— there we go!— another pesky mercenary begging to be shot at point blank range with a flare gun. It's like how when you first play GTA IV; as soon as you realise that the car physics are much more realistic, you spend a not inconsiderable amount of time driving vehicles into immovable obstacles just to watch Niko go through the windshield (ditto driving cars off the roofs of skyscrapers).
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 4:50 PM on March 16, 2010


When I saw this post, I got mixed up and was imagining Uncharted 2. A lot of the comments ("why does everybody hate me so much" and stuff like getting chased in Jeeps) seemed to mostly fit, but then I read the comment about being able to drive around in the countryside all you want and I couldn't remember anything like that, and then I was like ohhhhhh.

Because it would be pretty hard to play Uncharted 2 without dying.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 5:55 PM on March 16, 2010


Far Cry 2 was a gorgeous but fundamentally flawed game which is unfortunate because the atmosphere and the live instrument system were lovely. However, for a game that touted being ultra realistic the weapon system was really laughable.
posted by Vaska at 6:47 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whoa, that firearms wiki is da bomb!
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:17 PM on March 16, 2010


JHarris: That is another thing, and something that the more complex roguelikes, truthfully, have neglected. That is that roguelikes work best when they are fairly short.

Some roguelikes are just ridiculous. I used to play ADOM, but later on it would just get ridiculous. There are plenty of ways in the late game for you to die that are essentially totally random, or just the result of a typo, or something. I lost a high level wizard to making a typo, firing a (bouncing) magic missile into a wall, and getting hit by it 15+ times. I lost another, near the end of the game, by missing a message, letting a spell expire, and being instantly crushed by the weight of the stuff I was carrying around.

A lot of the roguelikes also require foreknowledge of the game world in order to get anywhere, which is just bad game design. ADOM and Nethack are very bad in that regard.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:56 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


"One bad move nullifies forty good ones." — I. A. Horowitz, on chess
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:28 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mitrovarr: I myself have sometimes had that same kind of problem with ADOM. The moment that leaps to mind is when an ordinary shmuck enemy gains super powers just because a lot of them had been killed that game, punches through armor, and kills your guy immediately.

In Nethack's defense, most of the stuff you absolutely need to know to win can eventually be learned by paying for major consultations at the Oracle.
posted by JHarris at 12:06 PM on March 17, 2010


One other feature of permadeath is that it makes your deaths more memorable, at least when you've managed to build up your character. I will remember the critical shot of a Super Mutant bypassing my armor and doing 263 damage, turning my character into a pool of goo and killing him, as I was about to infiltrate the military base and win the game. Sigh.
posted by ersatz at 3:35 PM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Speaking of permadeath, the new version of Transcendence was just released.

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! There goes a week of my life.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:23 PM on March 29, 2010


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