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A Death Worth Having

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Morrius 7th February 2011, 13:35 Quote
Two words: Demon's Souls
mi1ez 7th February 2011, 13:35 Quote
A really interesting article, and one that I would completely agree with. While these things have to happen, there's no real right way of doing it. Each game just has to decide on the best of a bad bunch. The best of a wrong bunch.
Deadpunkdave 7th February 2011, 13:59 Quote
As you say, much of our perception of whether the death mechanic works well or not for a certain game depends on what we want from the game and simply how good the rest of the game is. For some reason my mind has gone straight to Goldeneye and Zelda:Ocarina of Time. I am 90% a PC gamer these days but bear with me. I suppose I am just in the generation for which these games were a major part of childhood.

Do I remember being infuriated at death in Goldeneye? Damn right I do, but the gameplay was so good that the death meant something because you so wanted to progress and so needed that cheat unlock. The story wasn't the point, so I didn't care if the narrative was interrupted. The gameplay was good enough that you would play the same level thousands of times, inventing new ways to make it challenging. The myriad deaths along the way simply meant that the sense of reward once you beat the game using only a pp7 was that much greater

In Zelda:OoT, was the death mechanic any better than those you describe? Absolutely not, and I still hate the shadow temple, as all right-minded people must. But did the death mechanic actually make the game worse? No, because the story was good enough that I had my own narrative, I projected parts of my own personality onto link. And this narrative is quite separate from the one that the game tried to tell. So when I died on screen, that was just something that happened to link on screen. But when I beat the shadow temple, it was damn well me that beat it; that really happened.

I would say that if the gameplay is good enough or the story is good enough then the death mechanic doesn't matter. If the reaction to dying is the thought 'ah dammit, I have to do this again' then the problem isn't the death mechanic, its the rest of the game.
DatenThielt 7th February 2011, 14:02 Quote
I have to say I agree, But without those character choices of re spawn or restart, I would have wet myself many a frustrating time :D
tad2008 7th February 2011, 14:12 Quote
Death should be the last possible outcome, since death is the last great adventure.

The biggest problem is not death but the way games handle the path and choices, far too often this is one path with only two choices, succeed or die. As you rightly said in the article Craig, there need to be alternatives and something more than right or wrong decisions.

Its about time games gave us consequences, let us fail, get caught/captured or take a different path than the one limited by the sandbox environment, let us create our own paths to victory and explore some potentially amazing environments.

I fear the problem with a lot of games is in giving us a choice. It means that developers have more work to do. I would rather play a few great games than a hole pile of poor ones. There have been games out there with a great premise that really make you feel a part of the story, give meaning to your character and provide an almost perfect atmosphere and ambience that keeps you enthralled.

Let us have the choice of walking in the front door, making big explosions or going in guns blazing or the option to hide, sneak and covertly deal with a given scenario, to snipe a potential target, to be able to disguise ourselves to avoid detection or any variety of methods to help us achieve our goal and complete the game, finish the story and long for more.

I digress though and death is the topic of the day. Falling off a cliff does not have to be fatal, snagging on a branch, landing on a ledge, last moment grab of the edge are all saving graces if somewhat cliche. They give us that 2nd chance, to extract ourselves and try again, to be rescued or even captured.

Some deaths should be final, when it is out of sheer stupidity or when it is clear that a particular option would result in death. Just give us other options, paths and a chance to explore all that hard work that has gone in to making a good game great and not just another spin off or sequel.
BRAWL 7th February 2011, 14:17 Quote
Made me think of playing New Vegas... the amount of times I quicksaved when I went hunting the Legendary Deathclaw amazed me. I don't think any other death mechanics could actually work though... unless you're like us and demand realism.
nukeman8 7th February 2011, 14:30 Quote
wouldn't any alternative just lead to annoyance?

perma-death, died, ugh gotta make another new game.

being captured/missing out of extra stuff - more annoyance, most likely a reload to do it right.

alternative/harder route - again more annoyance, more likely to just reload.

That said thou i would love the last 2 options, don't let the player save and just automatically save at set intervals and when the player 'dies' so no option of reloading to skip the 'punishment' is there.

You go in guns blazing, a sniper takes you out. You wake up as a prisoner and have to escape, there is no option of reloading before you went in guns blazing as it automatically saved.
jhng 7th February 2011, 14:48 Quote
Good article.

I certainly have a collection of unfinished games for exactly this reason -- the one that pains me most is Far Cry where the combination of no quick save, really unforgiving combat (literally one mistake and your dead) and no regenerating health/armour adds up to hours of frustration. It is a shame because the gameplay is great and I would love to finish it, but as it is I simply come back to it every six months or so, get through a few more checkpoints, and then put it to one side after spending more time reloading than progressing.

I'm not sure if there is a sensible way forward on death mechanics. But it would be good to see more game developers trying to do incorporate the death mechanic as gameplay element rather than letting it simply break immersion and drop you straight out of the gameplay.
As it is the prevailing 'return to checkpoint?' mechanic is a bit like going to a play where each time an actor fluffs a line the whole cast stops, turns to face the audience and asks them whether they would like to start the scene again or go home.

One of the best death moments for me is in a favourite game (you can guess which but I won't mention the name for spoiler reasons) where you are effectively forced to die by the level design but then wake up imprisoned by your former colleagues. Obviously, you can't have that sort of scripted event as a general death mechanic, but it might be fun to have death mechanics which effectively jump you onto different paths in the game rather than just sending you back.

Here's a spontaneous idea (which may have been done somewhere already): I could envisage an RPG where death or near-death essentially forces you to jump into another one of the nearby characters or creatures (whereupon you would partially take on the characteristics and stats of the new body while retaining some of your own). Then death becomes a punishment (you lose your kit unless you can get back to your previous body to retrieve it, as well as losing some hardwon skills) but also an opportunity (for example, there may be cases where the only sensible way forward is to try and engineer a situation that lets you jump into a body that can do what you need to do) and even a combat mechanic ('strike me down, Darth, etc. etc.'. If any game designers are reading, feel free to have a go.
jhng 7th February 2011, 14:51 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by nukeman8

You go in guns blazing, a sniper takes you out. You wake up as a prisoner and have to escape, there is no option of reloading before you went in guns blazing as it automatically saved.

Nice idea -- didn't see it before posting, but that is the sort of different path thing I had in mind.
eVoPhantom 7th February 2011, 14:58 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by nukeman8
You go in guns blazing, a sniper takes you out. You wake up as a prisoner and have to escape, there is no option of reloading before you went in guns blazing as it automatically saved.

Nice idea but would ruin some of my gaming experiences. Some of the best fun is to be had when you decide you are done for the day, save and then go mental.
nukeman8 7th February 2011, 15:15 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by eVoPhantom
Nice idea but would ruin some of my gaming experiences. Some of the best fun is to be had when you decide you are done for the day, save and then go mental.

fair point but i can't think of better ways of ensuring that death/losing has sort of meaning without the playing simply reloading from their last save.
Maybe a free roam mode would solve that problem, pick a level and then just blast through it, no consequences.
yakyb 7th February 2011, 15:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by nukeman8
wouldn't any alternative just lead to annoyance?

perma-death, died, ugh gotta make another new game.

being captured/missing out of extra stuff - more annoyance, most likely a reload to do it right.

alternative/harder route - again more annoyance, more likely to just reload.

That said thou i would love the last 2 options, don't let the player save and just automatically save at set intervals and when the player 'dies' so no option of reloading to skip the 'punishment' is there.

You go in guns blazing, a sniper takes you out. You wake up as a prisoner and have to escape, there is no option of reloading before you went in guns blazing as it automatically saved.

Depends on the type of game you play

In wow you die and get 10 minutes res disease (i cant remember exactly what it was called ) you lose no armour or weapons no money or health pots. In other games you die and simply run back 20m and res (Bioshock).

personally i prefer a little more risk involved, In the Game i play (Mortal Online) when you die you lose absolutely everything you had on you (bar starter sword and rags) if you are a murderer in game you also lose 10% of your stats this leads to a risk vs reward situation 'should i run through here alone carrying 20G or should i get some one to come with me' or im about to buy a house (300G) i need to get the guild together to go to the house vendor; In WOW those questions are not there.

the idea behind Salem really intrigues me, imagine being a fairly confident lvl 30 char you walk around the mountain and see 2 lvl 15 chars with an expensive item, do you attack? knowing full well if you fail you are at level 1 again, do you go out farming using your new spear of epicness knowing that if you get mugged you will lose it forever.
FelixTech 7th February 2011, 16:28 Quote
I still remember when Skies of Arcardia puts you into an extra tough battle (which to beat it required using every heal/revive item I possessed), only to discover that it was all unnecessary as the boss then changes into an even more unbeatable state and kills you off. I think it's the only time where an RPG has put me into a fight like that, and there was no indication that everybody dying was not leading to a game over.
Xtrafresh 7th February 2011, 17:48 Quote
EVE
ZodiacKiller 7th February 2011, 18:36 Quote
Was just going to post EVE online, best death options, make a clone and keep it updated, when you die the clone is activated but at the skill level you last updated it too. Can mean a lot of skill and money is lost if you did'nt do it for a few weeks :S
nukeman8 7th February 2011, 18:47 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by yakyb
personally i prefer a little more risk involved, In the Game i play (Mortal Online) when you die you lose absolutely everything you had on you (bar starter sword and rags) if you are a murderer in game you also lose 10% of your stats this leads to a risk vs reward situation 'should i run through here alone carrying 20G or should i get some one to come with me' or im about to buy a house (300G) i need to get the guild together to go to the house vendor; In WOW those questions are not there.

I played Ultima Online for a long time which had an almost identical system and it worked well, was tons and tons of fun.

As Xtrafresh mentioned eve is similar but lacks the murderer difference, getting killed sucks no matter who are you (lose your ship, any items in cargo, ship fittings and if you aint careful any implants and even skill points.)

In both games there's a downside thou, there's this overwhelming fear of losing your ship that alot of people have thus hugely limiting pvp in most areas of the game. A softer death penalty would most likely improve this but at the cost of the satisfaction you get from winning.
Buck_Rogers25 7th February 2011, 19:18 Quote
Really good article this, thoroughly enjoying reading it.

The death mechanic in Eve is quite unique with their being a cost to your death, be it your ship and fittings if destroyed, your implants if podded, and if you didn't keep your clone up to date, then valuable skill points aswell.

The more 0.0 oriented player really doesn't see losing a ship in pvp as a hard ship, it's losing that plex fitted tanking raven with Gisti fittings or a jumjp freighter when the fail factor starts to kick in, and so does the teasing :).

In a sense it's the immortal model, but immortality comes at a price, call it costly immortality if you will. I think it's a mechanic that could work well in a lot of games. I vaguely remember a Deus Ex mod that went along the same lines now that I think about it.

The mechanic used for L4D is used in quite a few MMO's to a lesser extent and sightly different way, but only in dungeons and instances. For instance being incapacitated isn't death in say DDO, but merely time to shout "HEEELP!" very loudly, with the cost for your whole group wiping being having to start the adventure again. If would be nicer if developers included those wipes in the narrative to some extent, even if it is just witty comments from NPCs making reference to how many times you've died trying or similar. Immersion in the narrative seems to be the key to death mechanics.

Intrigued my Mortal Online after yakyb mentioned it above, going to take a look at that
Eiffie 7th February 2011, 19:26 Quote
The part about how a player can spawn after they die in left 4 dead only applies to single-player, in multiplayer you are dead until the end of the next round when you die as a human. Kinda makes it more intense when you have to decided to either save or ditch a team member. Edit: Not sure if it applies to multiplayer games not featuring human controlled infected.
frontline 7th February 2011, 19:53 Quote
Still waiting for someone to release a decent game that captures the 'Culture' based novels by Iain M Banks - fantastic scope for gameplay using enhanced AI 'Minds'. combat in a virtual world with partial personality constructs and combat in the real world with humans 'backed up' using a neural lace device in their heads when they physically die.

Reincarnated in the 'real' game world but missing some of the latest experiences since the last personality 'back-up' could offer some great gameplay opportunities. Sending out multiple versions of your consciousness, with varying levels of experience into battle or to carry out various tasks. Lose one, and your capability diminishes slightly, lose the real you permanently and it's 'game over'!
Dasos 7th February 2011, 20:32 Quote
Interesting that it's not been commented on, but The Getaway: Black Monday had a system based on being allowed to skip failed missions, which changed the ending.
I agree with most of the article, but can't suggest any alternatives! :P
Megazell 7th February 2011, 20:36 Quote
There was an older game for the PC called 'Omikron: The Nomad Soul' where death lead to new gameplay. In it you originally played the role of a cop on another world in which you the player possessed. If you died in the game you inhabited the body of the last person you spoke to. It could be a fellow cop or the stripper you just tipped at the local club...or even a robot/mech. Depending on the person you were inside of you could get access to closed out areas and sometimes storyline content. That game stays in mind often when a topic of this nature comes up. Despite it's lackluster reviews it had a lot of great things in it that lead to some very unique gameplay experiences.

Also there are ton of freeware games that play with death in various ways...my personal favorite are roguelike games where the world is procedurally generated so that when you do die and it's over and try to replay the world has move on and changed.

The aspect of death/punishment and wining are part of the reason why many games today are considered too easy...but like the author I have no clue on what needs to be done to get games to be challenging again.
Hovis 7th February 2011, 21:04 Quote
Maybe I'm just old school, but I like the idea that bad players don't get to see the end of a game. Go back, do it again, get it right or do one. A game should not be like a movie or book, because you don't just read or watch a game, you learn it, you improve at it, you master it then you complete it. Or at least that's how it ought to be. Anybody who finishes a game ought at least be competent at it.
PostItNote 7th February 2011, 22:11 Quote
The worst possible death scenario is the "replay unskippable cutscene" scenario. Pretty much every JRPG of all time does this, especially starting with FF7 - a 5 minute long cutscene followed by a difficult boss battle. Die in the battle (which you will), and you are punished by having to watch this 5 minute long cutscene again and again.

At least replaying the level requires some interactivity. I agree though, L4D has it correct.
PostItNote 7th February 2011, 22:13 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hovis
Anybody who finishes a game ought at least be competent at it.

The other side is that if I paid $60 for the game, I should have the right to experience the fullness of it. All that's really required is cheat codes - maybe print them on the back page of the manual or something.
pimlicosound 7th February 2011, 22:28 Quote
Colony Wars: Vengeance on the PS1 was a great game with a massive, branching mission structure that branched one of two ways after every mission depending on your success or failure. There were about 10 possible endings to the game.

I think think sort of branching and acceptance of failure could work really well in games like Half-Life, where the result of each major encounter with the enemy results in your being routed in a particular way. With a system like that, failure wouldn't be a barrier to seeing content, and it wouldn't carry a stigma. It would just be another possible outcome, with its own implications for the story.
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