This post is discussion and critique of the exit gates in Dead by Daylight. While I think many aspects of the design of the exit gates are great, the way they trigger escape leads to bad dynamics between the survivors and the killer, ultimately breaking the tension and the setting.
The Problem and Background
My understanding of the intent of the developers, from their words and playing the game itself, is that survivors should always feel like their life is under threat. And presumably any aspect of the game that compromises this tenet should be investigated and changed. Currently once the exit gates are open they provide an extremely safe space for any survivors not already prone. This area contains an invisible wall, which I'll call the escape line, which once crossed (no matter the health state of the survivor) causes them to escape. Given the small difference in movement speeds between the killer and survivors the survivors safety can be guaranteed from quite a distance away, even when already injured. And while the perk 'No One Escapes Death' (NOED) can reduce this radius of safety for all killers except the nurse when teleporting, it can still be quite large.
"...survivors should feel like their life is constantly under threat"
The result of the easy access to escape once the exit gates are open means that survivors can feel safe. They are free to look around for the killer, to work on nearby unfinished generators/hooks or simply hang out. In fact they are encouraged to wait in this area until chased away since they gain additional bloodpoints in doing so, while also buying their allies valuable time to make their own escapes. I believe this feeling of safety is antithetical to the design of the game.
But killers are also affected by these dynamics. They are rendered powerless by their inability to meaningful enact survivors demise once the exit gates are open, outside of a few edge cases. But not only are the killers rendered ineffective, they also have to waste time chasing safe survivors into properly escaping that they could have spent hunting down the remaining survivors. This kind of situation is known as a lame duck scenario, since one player is no longer able to meaningfully impact the outcome of the game, their decisions are meaningless. Once you realise your impotence as a killer in this situation, it is not a good feeling, I often find myself wishing the game would just instantly end at this point rather than suffer the indignity of flailing at the smirking survivors as they step casually back towards the breach.
Together, the safety and powerlessness the design causes, compromises the fiction and the setting. The survivors become ninja-like and the killer little more than wacky inflatable flailing arm tube man.
Now you might say, "OMG URABAD Killer U'VE already lost if they open the gate". And that is exactly my point. If the game is meant to be over as soon as on of them opens a nearby gate, then it should just end right there and then, all nearby survivors should instantly escape. However, if the choice of when and where to escape is meant to be interesting and a part of the dynamics of the gameplay then the current system needs some adjustments.
You might also say that this is a very small problem. It only happens sometimes and it's such a small part of the game. And while I agree it is a small part of the game, I think it happens very regularly (most games as both survivor and killer). But really I'm only trying to elevate this small part of the game to be as good as the rest of the game. The dynamics are already really great in most other places, so why not bring this up to par?
Maintaining Perpetual Threat
While thinking of a solution to the exit gate issues is difficult, we can first theorise as to what properties a solution to this problem might have. Below is a list of the features I think are most important for maintaining good dynamics of survivor-killer interaction around the escape mechanism in Dead by Daylight. Consider this list preliminary based on my observations.
- Survivors must be able to escape.
- Killers should be able to sacrifice survivors up until the moment they escape.
- Survivors should be able to increase their chance of escaping i.e. through planning, evasion, or subterfuge.
- Killers should be able to increase their chance of sacrificing a survivor in the exit gate i.e. through prediction, accuracy, or observation.
- Survivors should be able to choose not to escape.
- Choosing not to escape, either to rescue allies, to gather information, or to buy time to make the decisions should be at the cost of a direct and real threat to their survival at the hands of the killer.
A possible solution
Exit gates as they currently exist meet some of these design goals: 1, 3 and 5. Notably however there are very few situations where 2 is true, there is almost nothing killers can do to affect 4, any healthy survivors near the gate and out of reach are completely safe almost no matter their actions. As for 6 there is really no punishment currently, especially for healthy survivors.
One solution which is relatively simple to prototype is to change the escape line to an escape time. While a survivor stands in the escape area, the area between the gate and the line, a timer ticks down. Once it reaches zero the survivor instantly and automatically escapes even if prone. If they leave the escape area the timer resets back to its maximum. The amount of time it should take to escape would require a lot of testing but I think could be based around evenly matched survivors and killers having a 50-50 chance of escape if the killer sees a healthy survivor run through the gate from nearby, say 12m. If the killer is already in chase, they should have a high chance of capturing the survivor. If the killer is more distant say 24m, the survivor should have a good (but not guaranteed) chance of escape. Ultimately the evasion and mind games within the escape area should determine the outcome in these situations. But survivors should be able to raise their odds by only making a break for the escape area when they are convinced the killer is not nearby. And the killer to lower those odds by being sneaky, or swift and accurate in their chase.
The killer should be able to make an informed decision as to whether they should chase, whether should lurk nearby, or whether they should hunt elsewhere.
Since the timer resets back to its maximum when a survivor leaves the escape area, this ensures that the decision to wait around is a risky one. If the killer is nearby and you poke your head out, there is a good chance they will see you do so and be able to chase you down, before your freshened timer expires. while making awareness of your surroundings all the more valuable. For example a Wraith could hide just out of sight waiting for survivors to leave the escape area to rescue their ally, before being ambushed.
- Perhaps the escape area would need to be slightly larger with more walls and bushes.
- Perhaps injuring a survivor, from healthy to injured should add time to the timer (~8s?).
- Perhaps the survivor should not be able to hear the heartbeat from nearby killers when inside the escape area, unless being chased.
- Perhaps something should visibly block the escape line, perhaps entity tendrils which burn away over time.
- Perhaps this area should also contain lockers.
- Perhaps this area should also have one sabotageable hook.
- Perhaps perks could affect the escape timer.
- Perhaps a perk could allow survivors to stumble a short distance before collapsing prone.
- May require a nerf to NOED if implemented
At the moment the dynamics around the exit gates are some of the most degenerate in the game. Not only do they offer few if any meaningful decisions, they are used by survivors to draw out the game and they are rewarded with bloodpoints for doing so. Re-imagining these areas and ensuring that they promote interesting choices and good dynamics between survivors and killers could go a long way towards ensuring that the end game is as compelling as the rest of the match and avoids any lame duck scenarios.