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Default Gamasutra - Rethinking Player Death

November 23rd, 2009, 23:45
Gamasutra posts an editorial originally published in Game Developer Magazine's November 2009 issue by editor-in-Chief Brandon Sheffield. He asks the question "Why is death even part of the equation?" for games if meaningful consequences aren't built in. While this isn't technically RPG related we have had a few discussions and a poll dealing with this very issue. Here is a snippet:
Rise From Your Grave

This extends in a mild way to the checkpoint systems in modern games. Most triple-A games have rid themselves of the idea of continues, or even the concept of limited lives, but death is still not so much a punishment as it is a setback—you simply lose a few minutes’ playing time, and probably learn some strategies in the meantime.

So why represent this as “death,” rather than in some other way? It could well be because we’ve always done it that way, rather than for any reason anyone spent time thinking about.

Demon’s Souls is going to be a hot topic discussion among alternative journalists and academics for some time, perhaps rightly so. The way that game deals with death is well thought out, and actually has an in-world reason behind it. If you die, your (weaker) soul must go out in search of demon souls with which to reclaim your physical body.

In Assassin’s Creed, “death” is explained as a de-syncing of the player from his host body in history. In Prey, players must fight their way back from the valley of death, to reclaim their place among the living. Even Silicon Knights’ drawn-out resurrection sequences in Too Human are conceptually relevant.

So many games employ outlandish sci-fi or fantasy scenarios that it seems death could be explained away in simple terms — or, even better, with some entertaining gameplay.

Continues and their progeny are usually not a nuisance. They just seem unnecessary, evidence of the early framework around which games have evolved. When a developer intends it, player deaths can be entertaining, they just need to be given weight.
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November 23rd, 2009, 23:45
If you want consequences for dieing then why not set a flag in memory so when the person reloads their last save game they will have stat penalties applied to them. It shouldn't be that hard to implement since not everything is unloaded from memory when you reload a save game anyways.
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November 24th, 2009, 01:31
I don't see a problem with simple reloading. In a game where you are fighting and killing monsters or people or whatever, it makes sense that if you lose, you die. So you reload and try the fight again. I don't see the need for consequences beyond this. The fun comes from trying to figure out how to win the fight. It's a puzzle dressed up to look like whatever kind of game you're playing. You either solve the puzzle and move on, or you mess it up and try again.

I have no problem with the way it's handled in Bioshock, that's basically an automated reload that takes away the the problem of having forgotten to save recently. It also means you don't have to hit F6 every time you walk down a hallway.

It might be because of the kinds of games I play, the fun in Dragon Age doesn't come from tension built around the possibility of consequences for failure. It comes from the narrative and your ability to shape it, and the tactical combat that requires you to think about what you're doing. I guess it's more cerebral.
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November 24th, 2009, 14:03
Nethack has "Bones". In any new game one can encounter the bones of fallen former characters the player played.

“ Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.“ (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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