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Gamasutra - Rethinking Player Death

by Skavenhorde, 2009-11-23 14:02:10

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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