Whilst only having knowledge of the briefest outlines of the Permadeath championed by Ben Abraham’s with his frankly mind-boggling and mad odyssey into Far cry 2 followed by an impressive machinema novel documenting \his journey, it is apparent from the continued attention that the idea is clearly a valuable one. Ben, responding to some of the Permadeath criticism creates a miniature Permadeath account on Operation Flashpoint Dragon Rising, looking to answer the prior experience arguments. Whilst you cannot judge the value attributable to such an experience by length, the fact that it was two paragraphs suggested that the run was distinctly less than Far Cry 2. Ben goes on to note that this particular Permadeath run was long, boring and “ultimately was both extremely unsatisfying and devoid of any kind of personal meaning.” Contrasting heavily with Ben’s machinema novel and Anthony Burch’s continued speaking into the Permadeath model could lead one onto several ideas about the theory as a whole, or perhaps at Dragon Rising’s effectiveness with it. OF:DR has many similarities to FC2 in terms of its size, difficulty and level of narrative engagement and would seem a good candidate for this approach. OF:DR, because of its punishing missions and general lack of guidance has the district ability to make ones life within the game feel fragile, extremely fragile in fact. Before the difficulty really begins to pick up towards the end of the game the mission goals feel achievable, you just have to plan, take your time and often, pray for your life.
Why then, was this experience so unfulfilling? I can only speculate of course, I’m not privy to Ben’s mind, nor am I that well read in the area, however I have racked up considerable time on both games, played both through onto completion and believe that each has enough in it to potentially be a compelling Permadeath subject. Now, the most obvious (and certainly most contentious) reason could be the unfamiliarity to OF:DR. Rather than prescribing completely to this idea and “misunderstand[ing] the point of the venture” I with to offer a compromise between the two camps. It is worth noting that both OF:DR and FC2, as games have steep learning curves, and even on the easier difficulty settings have the potential to have to cursing the chance encounter with a marauding gun-ship or jeep. Yet, no matter how experienced you are at either game, you cannot account for the often unexpected incidence of fiery death which can await you over the next hill or around the corner. The prevailing challenge in both games is the apparent spontaneity with which fortunes of the player can be switched in blink of eye, yet that, is what I’d argue which makes the Permadeath process most rewarding. However, because of the steep learning curve, I’d argue that jumping into either with a Permadeath run through in mind is going to ultimately create an unsatisfying experience, in the same way running into a war zone or country in the throws of civil war without any experience would. This is not me saying that Ben’s FC2 run was down to his extensive experience with the game, just only that you need to at least be familiar with the rules, objectives and difficulty before a Permadeath experience which wouldn’t feel cheap or like a waste of time is possible.
With experience then, is OF:DR as good as an example for the Permadeath model as FC2? My gut reaction is largely a negative one. As I briefly outlined earlier I believe that many of the traits conducive to Permadeath are present in both games, however, I’d argue not enough. Whilst the worlds in both games are very large, open and to some extent, varied, OF:DR is essentially an extremely linear game. You have a whole island to explore in any given mission yet you cannot advance through the game without completing the established mission goals. Taking an APC to the other side of the island or similar, whilst offering a novel few moments is ultimately a futile endeavour. FC2 on the other hand does contain rewards from deviation from the main quest, and I’d go as far as saying it actively encourages it. Whilst you cannot blaze your own trail through the narrative, completing side missions, or destroying checkpoints contribute (if only marginally) to the progression of the player, but what’s more, they can often add much to the narrative the player constructs. However flying a gunship away from the mission area towards another town, or base would ultimately get you killed quickly or worse, confront you with an absence. From what I can remember straying to far from a mission area (no matter how large it is) confronts the player with just an empty landscape, no enemies, no side quests or objectives, although I feel I’d need to research further to confirm this. This is by no means a judgement on OF:DR as a game, it would have been odd (if a commendable) if Codemasters would feel as if they’d need to have made a populated island even if the mission area was a only fraction of it. The limitations OF:DR has over the player within its scope sadly detract from the Permadeath approach, whereas FC2, I believe promote it.
As I draw this to a close I believe I need outline here that much of what I’ve just written has been written on the spur of the moment and the rest is a collection of thoughts gathered over the period of a few years. There are elements which obviously need to be looked into further, and potentially elements which need rethinking completely, but I do hope that this engagement into the Permadeath debate hasn’t been a wasted one. The world, and the player’s journey through it are what I believe are most integral to the Permadeath model, but also a familiarity to this world and its rules are needed before a reasonable attempt can be committed, if each Ben’s FC2 example was the first and last great one purely because people refused to familiarise themselves with the game prior to the run through then Permadeath theory would suffer greatly because of it.