One feature common to almost all persistent multiplayer games like Planetside or World of Warcraft is the respawn countdown. Normally, this is just a 10 to 60 second pause to maintain whatever slight sense of realism the game world allows. Without the countdown, Azeroth's battleground graveyards would suffer a strobe effect as dozens of players clicked their respawn buttons like frantic monkeys.
But the respawn timer is boring. You just sit there and stare at it. I think the timer could not only be more entertaining, but could make the world more immersive and give the players something to do.
Start by showing the character getting rebuilt, like Leeloo in the The Fifth Element or Darth Vader at the end of The Revenge of the Sith. For a fantasy game, think Frankenstein.
This is not just a cinematic to help the attention-deficit player survive his 30 seconds of adrenaline withdrawal, this is actually happening in the game world. Somewhere on that battlefield is a circle of druids chanting, or in that starbase is a surgery with doctors milling about. The number of concurrent resurrections is limited by the number of functioning respawn points. Blow up an operating room or stab the right couple magic users, and the opposing team watches their reinforcements slow to a trickle.
That gives the “live” players something to do. Meanwhile, the “dead” players have the option to speed their resurrection. There's a button on the resurrection screen that speeds up the normally-safe respawn process at the cost of introducing errors. So if you'd normally respawn in 40 seconds, you can come back in 30, 20, or 10 if you're willing to live with the side effects.
Like what? Well, think of things that can go wrong with normal human birth, then throw in everything from computer glitches to runaway alchemical reactions to demonic possession. You get to watch the auto-doc's mechanical arms bend your spine the wrong way as it tries to reassemble your space marine, or see the harried alchemist running around the lab trying to stop the weird melting effect that should never have started in the first place. And so does anyone else who happens to be in the room.
Oh yes, your stats will go down. Well, they may go down, depending on how many corners you cut, and that's assuming you have any stats left at all. Monkey-clicking the “go faster” button will probably reduce your 80th level rogue to a puddle of goo and make him start the process all over again.
On very rare occasions, a rush job will produce a huge boost to one stat in the form of some irreproducible accident, which might or might not make up for the damage to the rest of your stats.
This could be especially fun if each side's operating rooms or healing temples were staffed by a random selection from a pool of atypical healer characters (Troll witch doctor, Klingon surgeon, burnt-out American ER doctor with a drinking problem…). Rubber-science fiction could be a blast, because you could include every cynical joke about the modern medical system plus every dark-future staple and every fantasy standby that you could rephrase as a sufficiently-advanced technology.
In fact, this idea came to me first as a bunch of sarcastic, abusive characters in a sci-fi field hospital. It was only later that I realized their potential as respawn entertainment for online games.
Starting Normal Respawn
- Lately I feel like my job hasn't been challenging me. I just can't keep my mind on my work.
- Did we get a complete DNA sample for this one? Eh, good enough.
- Seen one soldier blown through his lieutenant, seen 'em all.
- Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking. <glug> *
- I probably should have washed my hands before starting.
- I was hoping for a burn victim. I haven't had a burn victim all day.
- No one ever cleans this equipment!
Working on Normal Respawn
- Look at this soldier's record! Why do we keep spending money on this loser?
- Same procedure hour after hour… When do I get to express myself?
- My God, core temperature's reached nearly one hundred! How can that be? … OK, who set this to Fahrenheit?
- Nothing I love more than staring at naked steroid addicts all day.
- No, no, no, don't tug on that; you never know what it might be attached to. *
- “Squeeze equal amounts of Instant Patient from each tube and mix well. Handling time five minutes; sets in fifteen.”
- Whoah, deja vu! I'd swear I did exactly this just [time since last rez] seconds ago.
Starting Rush Job
- Sure thing! I have a short attention span anyway.
- Fine by me, I get paid by the procedure.
- 30 seconds or it's free!
- There are risks to the accelerated procedure, but it would take longer to explain them than to just do it.
ing-in! Let's-get-to-work! Work-work-work!
- If I don't have time to do it right, when will I find time to… Oh that's right, we never do it over.
- If this works, I expect a tip.
- This new procedure comes with a lifetime guarantee. For whatever that's worth.
- Why not? After thirty lethal mutations in a row, I'm due for a win.
Working on Rush Job
- Should I go back and…? Nah, should work out.
- White blood cells aren't a need, strictly speaking.
- Stop… squirming! Oh, now look what you made me do.
- What is that smell?
- No! This one goes there, that one goes there! *
- Hooves don't reduce combat efficiency much, so I'll just leave them.
- Funny, I don't remember adding that bit.
- One more word out of you, and I'll perform another unnecessary surgery. *
- Look, I'm the doctor and I say it's supposed to look like that.
- Not bad. Not great or anything, but not bad. Adequate.
- Like flipping burgers. A monkey could do this job.
- Try to take one of them with you this time.
- Another soldier ready for duty! At least, as ready as you ever were.
- See if you can achieve a smooth liquefaction this time out. The chunky bits just make my job harder.
- See you again in [time since last rez] seconds, give or take.
- So, who's hungry? … Not you.
- And they said no one could survive an injury like that! Well, OK, technically you didn't.
- Now go out there and get tripped over!
Result: Harmful Mutation
- Judging by your combat record, you won't live long enough to miss your digestive system.
- The bad news is you'll never have children. The good news is they'll never see you like this.
- Maintaining your blood chemistry will require several costly drugs. If you survive your first day of combat, we'll order some for you.
- Don't feel bad, it's what's inside that really counts, and that came out mostly OK.
- There's a bright future for you in the carnival circuit… If you have a future, that is.
- The spleen is an much-neglected organ, which is why you no longer have one. My bad.
- Somehow you ended up with two hearts. Too bad we couldn't get them to beat in sync.
- There's always a few parts left over, but… eighty seven?
- You may have picked up a few allergies, so contact the poison control center before eating anything. Or drinking. Or breathing, for that matter.
- I've seen worse. Not still living, mind you, but I have seen worse.
- On the bright side, the arm you do have is in exceptional shape.
- The pain you feel now will only increase. Nerve stapling can help, but it's not available at your rank. See if you can get promoted in the short time you have.
- There are two problems you should know about. The second is an inflammatory infection of your gills…
- Quit whining, it's not like it was a prize-winner in the first place.
- There was a minor problem with your uterus. Yes, I said uterus.
- It's those cute little flaws that keep a man interested. At least, you'd better hope so.
- Let's both pray you don't survive long enough to discover what happened to your menstrual cycle.
Result: Beneficial Mutation
- Tests indicate you are now several times stronger than any other soldier. If we hadn't canceled the Army Olympics, you'd be a sure bet.
- The process has somehow increased your intellect to record-setting levels. Just imagine what you could achieve if you weren't in the army.
- Your metabolism is now several times faster than before, giving you a better running speed, quicker reflexes, and a lifespan of about eight weeks.
- A curious side-effect has resulted in a near-perfect metabolism. You will literally live forever, no matter how many pieces you get blown into.
- Looks like you came out with a little extra! Not that it'll help you in a war zone.
- Looking good! I mean, real good. You work out?
- I haven't seen a figure like that since they started rationing silicone.
- Your new body is a masterpiece! Mind if I take a picture before you get it mangled?
Result: Death (Start Over)
- Orderly, help me decant this soldier. I think we can re-use the rib cage.
- Another one for the recycling tanks.
- It's not my fault that Buttle's heart condition didn't appear on Tuttle's file! *
- Looks like sloppy joes for dinner again. <others grumble>
- You've got a body like a coat hanger — skinny and bent, with a big hole in the middle.
- Thank God I get paid the same either way.
- Orderly, take this soldier to the agriculture dome and spread him on the bean patch.
- Two words: Closed casket. *
- It's not technically an autopsy if the patient was never alive to begin with.
- Help me clear the table for the next patient. Nurse, where's my spatula?
* I've borrowed (stolen) a couple of these from other games and movies, as an exercise in homage (plagiarism). See if you can identify them.