In Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom for the Sega Genesis you periodically marry and then the story carries on through your sons/daughters. In Rogue Legacy when you die you again play on through your decendents (IIRC).

I am working on an RPG and am thinking about a similar concept for a death mechanic. I want dying to cause some of your loot/skills to pass on to your progeny, who can then pick up where you left off (more or less). What are some potential design pitfalls in implementing such a mechanic? One that I already see is that if I make it too punishing, players will revert to last save, not punishing enough and they'll die on purpose.

Bonus points for referencing existing games (other than the two I mentioned).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hey, I think this question may be better suited for gaming.stackexchange.com . \$\endgroup\$ – jgallant Jan 18 '16 at 13:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Possibly reddit.com/r/gamedev then. \$\endgroup\$ – jgallant Jan 18 '16 at 13:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Okay, I already posted this on gaming and got it shot down. Is there any stack exchange site where I can ask this? \$\endgroup\$ – Jared Smith Jan 18 '16 at 13:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Philipp I'm not looking for a recommendation for games to play for fun, I'm looking for examples of a specific mechanic from a development perspective. Its not like I said "I wanna make a JRPG, can you give me some good examples?" \$\endgroup\$ – Jared Smith Jan 18 '16 at 14:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Generating a discussion on the topic would help you. Again, asking this question in a place like /r/gamedev would more than likely benefit you. \$\endgroup\$ – jgallant Jan 18 '16 at 14:07

One option is to simply make dying inevitable in the long run. Let's take Crusader Kings 2, for example. This is kind of a strategy game (the genre is hard to define) which takes place over several hundred years, so your character dying of old age (or sickness, assassination, in battle etc.) and getting replaced with their heir is a regular event in the game. When the player-character dies unintentionally, the player will often say "well, this was bound to happen sooner or later" and continue on with the next heir. A strategic suicide can be beneficial in some situations, but it can be quite difficult to do that, so most players won't bother unless they have a very good reason (like being stuck with a character with abysmal stats and traits).

Conclusion: Make it hard to die intentionally but inevitable to die in the long run, and the player will accept it when it happens.

Another way to make people treat the progeny system as more than just a cheap respawn system is to make sure that each consecutive character looks and plays different than the previous one. By giving the player customization options (but not enough to make them perfect clones of their parent), you can increase the emotional bond to each character and thus make the player reluctant to kill them off needlessly. By making them play different, the player will be compensated for the emotional loss by a new and fresh game experience, so their grief won't be as long.

When your game is story-heavy, you can also force the player to continue on with their next character by killing off their current character if and only if they reach a certain point in the story. When you want to have a plausible and coherent story spanning multiple decades, you will likely have to do this once in a while to skip time. The downside is that you will then have a fixed number of generations per playthrough and must make sure that every new character is properly balanced and playable for the next chapter of the story, so you might lose a lot of potential a progenicy system can offer. A mild example for this is Final Fantasy V where one character of the player's party dies in the course of the story and gets immediately replaced by his granddaughter. However, she inherits his whole character progression and is also otherwise almost mechanically identical to him, so the gameplay effect of this is practically zero.

And then there is the most extreme method to avoid savegame abuse: The roguelike concept. Don't have savegames. Save automatically when quitting but don't allow the player to make selective savegames. That way they are forced to accept the death of their character and continue with their heir.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I have thought about having an age progression system where stats decrease as your character ages (and an option to retire to prevent the necessity of suiciding). But I don't want a particularly heavy-handed save mechanic (or lack thereof): I'm trying to figure out how to craft the mechanic in such a way as to make it almost always a considered choice with pros and cons. I was thinking that psuedo-random descendent characters with equip inheritance will do if I work it right. As for the progression, I was thinking less class-based and more like skyrim's so you can mold the children some. \$\endgroup\$ – Jared Smith Jan 18 '16 at 16:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JaredSmith It's been several years since I played FFV, but I seem to recall there not being any different stats for Krile, that her replacing Galuf was a big deal for the plot but had no impact whatsoever on the gameplay. Is that not correct, then? \$\endgroup\$ – Mason Wheeler Jan 18 '16 at 20:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for Crusader Kings, which is what I was thinking of when seeing the question. Also the Total War series, and to a lesser extent the Europa Universalis series. You'd need to have it easy enough to get heirs, though (IIRC, there was some game where you played a Japanese clan - can't recall the name anymore, read it on TV Tropes - where only the current active character could have children, so it was very easy to end up without a heir, especially if the active character was old). \$\endgroup\$ – January First-of-May Jan 18 '16 at 23:28

I think one important consideration whenever you incorporate a real-world phenomenon into your game - especially one with huge social implications like family & inheritance - is that the mechanics you author articulate an opinion of what this phenomenon is, should be, or means. And how that opinion is read or understood can hinge on cultural factors outside of your direct control.

Rogue Legacy serves as a great example with the fact that your descendants' sexuality is randomly determined.

Since it was released in a time & place where gay rights and even the idea that someone can "be" gay as an innate trait rather than choose to "do" gay(?) are still the subject of some controversy, this drove some strong reactions toward the game.

  • In one view, the game was making a strong affirming statement: people can just be gay, and they can still be heroes and have families. (From my own perspective as a gay player and game designer, I was very happy to see this. It's rare I get to play a gay character who's not just there to be "THE gay character")

  • In another view, the "Gay" trait is doled-out by the same system that gives characters disabilities (and super-abilities, mind you), leading some players to perceive that the game was classifying homosexuality as an illness. (This interpretation's implicit medical model of disability as a negative to be cured is a whole other topic I won't get into right now...)

  • The choice to include homosexuality but exclude (or not explicitly mention) bisexuality, pansexuality, asexuality, or other sexualities and gender identities can be read as a value judgement about which identities are real & important.

So the reading of this particular choice in the cultural context the game released into created multiple divergent meanings, which were not all what the creators intended.

There are a lot of sensitive topics that family lines touch, and whether your game implements them or not, and how, can send a powerful message:

  • nature vs nurture (Can the apple fall far from the tree?)
  • do "the sins of the father" carry down to their children?
  • if descendants can have strongly different appearance than their parents (or can't), does this say something about adoption or mixed-race families?
  • inheritance - who gets selected as a potential heir? Who doesn't?
  • birthright/nepotism - does your heir accrue titles, power, or privilege granted to their ancestors, or do they have to work their way up from zero?
  • eugenics - can the player pick and choose partners/offspring to breed a "super-character"?

This isn't an argument against including real-world phenomena with social & cultural connections in your game. It just means that you need to be very conscious of the choices you're making, to ensure they give rise to the meanings you want in your game.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to quibble over details: the heterosexuality / homosexuality trait in Rogue Legacy had a mechanical effect although minor. It was whether the male statues dropped health items or mana, the female statue dropping the reverse. As both statues appeared in pairs, it was a zero-sum change. Point is: how does bisexual (etc.) fit into that mechanic? It doesn't most likely, or at least not in a way that is satisfying. Thus as a mechanic having those other options isn't beneficial to gameplay and were not included. Always keep this in mind: if it doesn't work mechanically, consider cutting it \$\endgroup\$ – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jan 18 '16 at 15:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Draco18s "consider cutting it" or consider cutting the mechanical aspect that causes concern and keep the cosmetic part. \$\endgroup\$ – SuperBiasedMan Jan 18 '16 at 15:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SuperBiasedMan I was only saying that if a proposed mechanic does not fit or does not play well, remove it. That goes for any mechanic. I did not mean to imply that sexuality should be removed if it has no gameplay element (limited comment space). \$\endgroup\$ – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jan 18 '16 at 16:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Draco18s Ah I guess I misread as you meaning cut the whole aspect, cosmetic and mechanic. Sorry! \$\endgroup\$ – SuperBiasedMan Jan 18 '16 at 16:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ A subtle message you send when you explicitly claim a character is gay but never tell when it's not is that heterosexuality is the default. Not really related to the question, but it's something it has been bothering me since I started playing Rogue Legacy. \$\endgroup\$ – Darkhogg Jan 18 '16 at 17:04

You can use the "legacy" feature to offer diversity to the game.

  • Digimon World is a game where you train/raise a digimon that can evolve, a little like in the Gameboy Pokemon game. Your digimon may die from being old and defeated (although death by fight is not automatic if I remember well). When it dies, you can pick its egg which is a baby digimon that has inherited some of the parent's skills. This new Digimon can however evolve in a different way that its parent, thus accumulating some of the parent's skills/abilities plus his own, which are specific to its training or evolution forms.
  • Spore is a game where you make slowly evolve your creature from the bacterial state to the "specie able to travel through galaxies" state. Before the "tribe" age, everytime the specie dies you can customize the way the newborn members of the specie look, using the "genes" that the parent has found by having a contact (good or bad, ie. fight or cohabitation) with different species (maybe from the biological point of view, this phenomenon explained by acquiring the gene by some members of your specy procreating with some of the other). These customizations are often usefull (wings, better vision, spikes, more attractiveness...)

If you combine the two solutions and adapt it to your scenario, you may end-up with "one kind of cool customization material" that you cannot use as the parent but can be used for the children. The counterpart, is that you may loose some skill/abilities, but (new or previous) skills/abilities can be slowly discovered later without needing to die. Both the skill/abilities and "customization material" should be usefull, but cover different aspects of the game.

Cheap example : you may transmit passive or native spells or mutations to your children, but loose some of the active spells the parent has learnt.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to game development stackexchange. Please note that this is a community for game developers. That means it would be appropriate to talk about what effects these mechanics would have on the player, how it would affect the way they play the game and their overall game experience. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Jan 18 '16 at 19:17

Star Citizen is an upcoming MMO game which will supposedly include character permadeath. Although the medical technology is supposedly at a point that they can resurrect someone who'd be dead by today's standards, eventually a character will die a final death and your possessions are inherited by your next character.

There's talk of the character creation being done at your previous character's funeral, and the possessions being subject to inheritance tax. Maybe you don't have enough money to pay the tax on all of your old character's best ships, so you need to unlock one and do some work to unlock the others?

See: https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/engineering/12879-Death-Of-A-Spaceman

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    \$\begingroup\$ I had considered varying the death mechanic so if your character dies in the field then his/her child gets all the loot but if you die in the field they have to go on a quest to retrieve it. That gets me back to the whole save mechanic though, I'd really prefer to avoid a punishing save mechanic if I can make it somehow mesh with the proposed death mechanic. \$\endgroup\$ – Jared Smith Jan 18 '16 at 17:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer could be improved by talking about the effects of these game mechanics from the point of view of a game developer. And considering that this game is not released yet, this is all just speculation anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Jan 18 '16 at 19:12

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