Extra Punctuation: Death in Videogames

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Hasn't Yahtzee also cried against death screens because they take you out of the game? I'm getting mixed messages here.

Personally, I've got no problem with getting rid of death screens. Games like Prince of Persia (2008), Limbo, and yes, even Kirby's Epic Yarn manage to keep the flow of the game going with their systems.

I also didn't mind much PoP's save mechanic (in fact, for all the things people complained about the game, the one thing I disliked was how it had me collecting shiny trikets to proceed, rather than just having me see how many shiny trinkets I could collect).

I think any death mechanic works as long as it makes sense in the context of gameplay. Roguelike games have the most punishing death mechanic, forcing you to start the game over again, but it's designed to be an alluring experience from the first time, so you are never just rethreading old ground. Meanwhile a game can afford to just let you restart from the same spot as long as reaching that spot in the first place is difficult.

Yet another problem with the gameplay and story segregation, although it might be a gameplay and gameplay question this time.

It would be cool if a game really grabbed and ran with the whole multi-universe idea of the deaths. It doesn't even have to be integral.

Like imagine a game where once you die when you go by the spot again you might see the whole thing play out in a kind of ghostly visage type way. You can not only see your mistakes which can help you but it can be a distraction as well. Like maybe after you get shot down you see the "Ghost" of your enemy come up to your fallen body, pull out a blade and chop your head off, so you see the after of your death as well. Maybe you see your "Ghost" team mates scream in horror as you die or call a retreat.

If you want to make it more integral then how about after you die so much in one area the location becomes unstable. You start getting leaks like enemies from your last failed attempt pop into existence and the other you right before you die. Maybe you can save your other self and your "current" self gets killed and suddenly your playing your previous self again with your "current" self dead at your feet.

You could do some pretty poignant things with the whole multi-verse theory.

Crimson_Dragoon:
Hasn't Yahtzee also cried against death screens because they take you out of the game? I'm getting mixed messages here.

Personally, I've got no problem with getting rid of death screens. Games like Prince of Persia (2008), Limbo, and yes, even Kirby's Epic Yarn manage to keep the flow of the game going with their systems.

He's also talked about how the PoP: Sands of Time was a great way for deaths to occur since it does everything that a normal "death screen" does without taking you out of the game. You lose time and progress but it isn't a glaring "YOU DIED HAHAHA" thing it's more the Prince thinking about how he is going to approach and obstacle.

From what I can gather he is against death that snaps you out of the immersion of a game. The "You are Dead" screen takes you out of the game and reminds you that you are just playing some pixels on a screen instead of playing a character in a story.

Onyx Oblivion:
I've always liked the Pokemon method.

Take my money!

I keep the EXP gained in the battle. I have to travel back to where I lost, but with less money. And I still have to beat the challenge previously presented to me.

I think it'd actually fit rather well in some other RPG series, since money takes time to get.

Although, this does fail miserably from a narrative standpoint. And only really works in the happy-go-lucky, all-for-fun world of Pokemon battles.

I just realized I've only lost maybe 10 Pokemon battles in my entire life. And I've got like 250 hours logged on Heart Gold right now. Actually, most of those were with the Elite Four. Huh... kinda makes you wish there was a "hard" mode for veteran players.

OT: I think Sands of Time mechanic was flawless. It succeeded precisely because it let you die without actually dying. The sands mechanic is basically a "lives" mechanic when you think about it. You can continue right where you left off for the first four times you die, but if you're still messing it up, you'd better just go back to the start of the level son. It's like... ok, let me explain:

When I play a game like Devil May Cry 4, I feel like a total badass -- when I'm winning. But if somebody wrecks my shit in the middle of an awesome combo, it really takes it out of me. It's just so disappointing. I get the same sensation if I fall off a ledge in a platforming section in PoP. But in that game, I get a few "retry"s. I still get to feel like I pulled off a wicked series of jumpy-swingy-climby things and retain my margin for error. The part that makes the mechanic shine is the way it lets the player feel competent, despite failure.

At the same time, it wasn't limitless. I could just keep jumping off ledges as many times as I wanted. It was a precious resource to be used sparingly. While failure didn't necessarily mean death, it meant you were closer to death. Hmm... in that respect it was like a health bar for falling off shit. So in that respect, the '08 reboot was like playing with infinite life on.

The problem is that all mentioned replacements are evidently the same thing.
I really do not mind as I don't wanna restart my 14 hours of gameplay on an rpg because I forgot to buy potions once

Upcoming movie Source Code uses pretty much exactly the idea you talk about at the end Yahtzee:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkTrG-gpIzE

It's by Duncan Jones, the same writer/director as last years Moon, which starred Sam Rockwell, Sam Rockwell, Sam Rockwell & Kevin Spacey's voice.

Also Assassin's Creed series uses a similar concept with the Animus to the clairvoyant idea.

I can't count the number of times I've died and my only response is frustration at having to repeat the last 20 minutes. Though there are those (very few) games that actually make me pause and think about the fact that a character I really connect with just died, which in my eyes is a sign of a really developed character. However, I don't care how amazing a character is, after a while it just gets annoying watching them die.

There's really nothing story-wise that will make me regret letting my character die, because eventually I don't notice it anymore other than to thing it's a waste of my time. I'd like to see a game that has a mounting penalty hanging overhead through the entire game for death. Like an extra battle after the final boss against all of the versions of your character that died, or the final boss himself is harder to defeat, or something like that. The more times you're killed, the harder the battle is, so there's a reason to avoid death. If it has a connection to the story, even better.

But really, no matter what game developers do, death is more a pain rather than a punishment.

His suggestion at the end reminds me of a demo I played of a game called the Sting ages back. In that you planned your robbery first and then play out a simulation which would show the holes in your plan. This sort of allows you to have try and fail method without actually getting arrested.

There was one game, Steel Battalion...
If your pilot actually died, it completely wiped your save file...and since it was on the X-BOX, if you weren´t clever enough to use a memorycard to make a backup save, you lost everything you did.
The only thing that could prevent it was if you ejected, saving the pilot, but you still lost the mech.
That is an interesting death mechanic. If you ignore the "WARNING, MECH ABOUT TO BLOW UP! DE-ASS THE COCKPIT!" signs, you lost all your progress (your life, if you will), but if you manage to hit the "Eject" button on that huge controler, you could at least retry.

It was hardcore. It was a sim for a reason. Not only did it have the hugest control interface ever to be used on a home console, it also had the most punishing death mechanic in all of gamings existance.

Wait a minute, you said you liked the lack of dying in Prince of Persia '08.

"In this kind of game it works... A freerunning game has to be all about the flow, which as Mirrors Edge demonstrated, can't survive constant unavoidable bucket kicking."

Now your saying you don't like that part, and that you have made fun of it before?

Yahtzee's idea at the end was actually used in Black Shades. In that game, you're a bodyguard. The manual states that any time where you die, or the person you're guarding dies, doesn't actually happen; it's simply a scene going on in your head. You're such a good bodyguard, that you map out all possible mistakes you could make before actually doing the level. Obviously, the one where you live is canon.

7th paragraph. The question "what if?" comes to mind. What WOULD happen if my character died and didn't arbitrarily come back to life for me to be able to play him? What if the Nerevar died in Morrowind? If Lt. Powell never even got out of the LCVP? If Gordon Freeman got headcrab'd?

I've always wished there would be an alternate storyline continuing the events of the game world after my character's death, and if I have allies I could play them trying to carry things out, perhaps with frantic dialogue because the main protagonist is usually the only one who knows how to disarm a bomb in a 4-person team of supposedly expert soldiers.

Perhaps a good punishment for failing, especially in what should be a crucial part in the game, is that the game files will corrupt and make your PC or your console asplode in a fiery ball of your incompetence.

There's also the technique where the actual gameplay is told in retrospect, and death scenes are followed by "No wait, it didn't happen like that" eg the death scene in Monkey Island 2.

I also played a text adventure a while back where deaths were permanent and your body stuck around. The game opened with you in front of a house - when you knock on the front door, guard dogs attack and kill you. Then when you "respawn" they are busy attacking your previous corpse.
That was a very linear game though - I don't know how well that concept would/could work in a more open world.

I also recall an experimental flash game where the object of the game was to create a tower of corpses up to a point in the sky. However, you only got one life (per IP address, I think) and it was a joint effort. 99% of the time you basically went in and tried to die in the best (or worst) possible position.

I think the reason the reload last save option is more accepted is because the "get up like nothing happened" death system allows you to simply bullrush your way through the game. With loading, if I die I have to try again, and all the enemies from before that checkpoint will return. In the other system, I just have to keep falling down and getting back up, each time a few more enemies fall until there are non left and I can go on my way. In this way, i don't even have to try because failure still brings me closer to my goal. It also makes me wonder why my enemies think they can beat me since I'm essentially immortal.

I had the idea of a main character who makes a pact with a demon or something wicked so that each time they die, they go to hell and have to work their way back. The problem being that each time the character becomes slightly more imbued with demon power (adjusting difficulty), but also more dependent upon the evil power, and thus more susceptible to being controlled, or prone to evil outbursts. A little bit like the mechanic in The Darkness.

That was a very insightful read, Yahtzee, I loved it! Except for the Nintendo part at the end, which I honestly didn't get...

NOW WAIT hold on a minute, I thought he said he liked the "Elika saves ur skin" thing in PoP'08?? good for the free flow or something?

idk, but I thought that one was fine even by the ideas stated her if not just in the grey areas

BloodSquirrel:

Yahtzee Croshaw:
There have been several games that have made the connection that, what with players frequently quicksaving and autosaving, death will usually mean nothing worse than using up a few minutes of your time as you're backtracked to a little way before your mistake.

It's not *time* it's *progress*.

It's the kind of difference that only matters when the game is actually challenging in the first place. Not actually losing progress means that it doesn't matter if you die- you can gain ground one inch at a time without ever having to change tactics or get better at the game. Losing progress means that you have to actually be able to beat some defined chunk of the game to move on. When you can oaf your way through anyway, it stops mattering so much.

This is why I far, far, prefer checkpoint systems to quicksaves.

This reminds me of Bioshock. You didn't even need to quickload, as you just came back to life with all progress intact. You could just bludgeon your way through the entire game if you wanted.

beefpelican:

BloodSquirrel:
[quote="Yahtzee Croshaw" post="6.273845.10585312"]There have been several games that have made the connection that, what with players frequently quicksaving and autosaving, death will usually mean nothing worse than using up a few minutes of your time as you're backtracked to a little way before your mistake.

This reminds me of Bioshock. You didn't even need to quickload, as you just came back to life with all progress intact. You could just bludgeon your way through the entire game if you wanted.

That's exactly what I thought too. Bioshock, as Yahtzee pointed out in his review, stops being challenging since you don't lose anything by dying. Of course now you have the option to turn off the Vita-Machines but when I played there were times when I couldn't be bothered to even heal since I would respawn 10 feet away.

Aww... no mention of System Shock and the bring-back-to-life-instantly chambers?

Going slightly off topic, I feel that the "death means it's game over" approach has something rather unique to add to the gaming experience, even if it's opt-in.

One of the games, where death was a real consequence, was Nethack and I think it was part of its appeal. It not only made the game more challenging, but also forced the player to pay attention to the situation, to learn about enemies and to make good use of the tools at your disposal and your surroundings. It also added a lot of replayability, since not save scumming yourself a wand of wishing meant that no two games were the same.

There are a few other games that in my mind benefited much the same way from playing them without saves. For example Thief and its sequel. Not being able to reload after a mistake really added to the tension and a lucky break or a narrow escape after a bold move just felt much more satisfying, if you knew that failure meant more than reloading from the point before you tried.

I do think this is kind of overthought, but then again, I prefer not to overthink things anyway. As Yahtzee said in his review of 'Prince of Persia', a free-running game has to be about the flow, so that's why death doesn't take so much time. On this train of thought, one can be lead to believe that the quality of the death mechanic is subjective to the game. I am one of those passengers.

What else can be said on this, though... I'm not too particularly sure. But one way of not botching this is to make death hard to achieve if not actively pursued. This is why 'Silent Hill 2' is scary; we have no idea what death is. I believe Shamus said something about the difference between these two thoughts:

#1: OH NO! I'm about to die!
#2: Oh no, I'm about to go back to the last checkpoint.

The first one is the one you're looking for in most scenarios. The second one is excusable in some scenarios ('I Wanna Be The Guy', 'Crash Bandicoot', Mario, Sonic, etc.) as some games require a action-based trial-and-error approach to be interesting, as opposed to the adventure-game-based trial-and-error approach (that is, rub something on something else, it doesn't work, rub something else on first something else).

I haven't really thought this through, though, so think what you will.

I actually quite liked the PoP '08 death mechanic. I was smart enough to know that all a death would do is just loading the nearest save. Elika didn't simply "nanny" the Prince back from death. In the case of falling, the Prince would be returned to the nearest flat platform (ie, not hanging, not swinging, etc). That was often case quite a setback. With this mechanic, gameplay was streamlined. We would run jump and swing to our hearts content! There were no hang ups or loading screens to take away from the experience. We were always there, in this world. And I loved it there.

In combat, when the Enemy did the Prince in enough to drop his HP to zero, Elika stepped in to protect the Prince from the would be fatal blow. The mechanic here was the enemy would recover some health, and you'd start anew. Later in the game, the enemies would fully recover, and you'd start the battle all over again. The difference there is just the loading screen, the backtracking to where you lost, and a little perception that you haven't failed.

There is a powerful story mechanic to all this. For any gamer that has a beating and loving heart (which may not be Yahtzee), this is one of the many ways we the player come to feel a need for Elika. There was a chapter in the game where the Prince was without Elika, and I had a very primal fear of high places, all of a sudden. Then the end of the game--

Of course, I can't help if there isn't some machismo involved behind Yahtzee's, and other male gamers that felt the games death mechanic was broken. You? The man? The Prince? SAVED, by a girl?? Pshaw, say it isn't so. So, really, say it isn't so. :P I'd hate to think this was anyones reason.

Crimson_Dragoon:
Hasn't Yahtzee also cried against death screens because they take you out of the game? I'm getting mixed messages here.

This is nothing new. Yahtzee, like any human, is full of contrary statements and conflicting things. This isn't the first time something hasn't quite added up, and likely won't be the last. :)

All this 'find some way to make the death not count' is kind of slapping a band-aid on a gaping design wound, isn't it? That's the sense I got from PoP 2008. They made all this hype about how they were going step back and completely reassess death in games. And then the game came out, and I was like, "Boy I like how they addressed the problem of death in games by...refusing to...address...death...in...their...game.......???"

So I'll throw my hat in with a suggestion for some kind of staggered impairment mechanic.

Say you're playing through the first level of Generic Third Person Shooter. When your character detects a bullet collision, he flinches out of the way -- seemingly JUST in time. Meanwhile, there's an invisible quasi-HP variable ticking away in the background. If it runs down all the way, eventually he doesn't -- and he takes a bullet in the arm. That's the maximum amount he can get injured in the first level. It prevents him from using two-handed heavy weapons, and it carries through to the next level. Which has its OWN injury for repeat failure, which can stack on top of the first one.

As the game progresses, the injuries accumulate, providing continuous feedback and increasing challenge. What's that? The player's doing really well? Okay, bump the difficulty up to hard mode, and have the villain jumps in between levels to cut one of the player's arms off.

By the end of the game, you've either learned to play well, or your character is a scarred, bleeding, one-arm-broken wreck of an action hero -- or somewhere in between. And if you 'die' at the last boss, you still kill him, but you go out in a blaze of glory (rather than returning home to get the medals, girl, etc).

Challenge need not equal to a brick wall. Consequence does not equate to "you failed" and "do it right this time" is not satisfactory player feedback.

Honestly, I think death really only needs to be there as a vague threat which compels the player toward mastery -- and once you've established that, you have to ask, "How can we incorporate compulsion and consequence at a deeper level, on a longer scale?"

Heavy Rain and Mass Effect 2 are a step in the right direction. Modularized alternate endings, depending on success of specific gameplay objectives throughout.

I'd like to see/design the next logical step: a game where you can 'fail' THE ENTIRE GAME completely and still get a holistic, unbroken, thesis-fulfilling, satisfying gameplay experience -- just not AS much so as you would for playing 'right'.

just as the 3rd person games for playstation shouldnt have a different control layout than what is normally used, i think the F5 Quicksave F7 Quickload was good enough for me, although maybe a bit too easy.

what i would like to see more of is the "hardcore character" system from diablo 2. Atleast having the option to do this as opposed to 10 difficulty settings. then everything seems harder, but ofcourse it requires alot more from the developer.

Great article. Funny, thoughtful, interesting ideas.

hawk533:
While I haven't play Meat Boy yet, the quantum mechanics version of death and reloading in video games reminds me of the replay at the end of each level of Meat Boy. You're essentially getting to see all the versions of Meat Boy that failed along with the one that succeeds and moves on to the next level.

Heh, I love that. I got to play a bit more SMB. Its just...the hell level is soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo hard..........

Iglock:
I think I know a solution to the continuous timeline problem.

The character never dies, but can "faint".

Think of the Pokemon games. Pokemon never die, they faint. If you lose a battle, you'll restart at the last healing centre. That way, the flow of time continues as normal, but the player still must replay the battle until they win.

You could apply this to other games (for example Fable 3).
-Player starts quest
-Player is unsuccessful and character faints
-Character is saved from death (by an NPC?) and attempts the quest again, essentially restarting the quest
-Rinse and repeat
-Player completes quest

This is what GTA4 does, and I hate it, because it mixes elements from the two views of a game's timeline.

If a player dies and reverts to a checkpoint, the entire game state reverts to what it was before you died. This is how games like Halo works. The entire universe rewinds to a point before you died, and you get to play forward again in hope of not making the same mistake again.

If the player "faints" and revives somewhere else, but the quest fails and can-- or rather, must-- be restarted, then the player has continued to move forward in time (he was wounded, treated, and recovered) but some or all of the rest of the world has been reset. The quest giver doesn't remember you having started and failed the quest, you have to re-do parts of it that you'd already done successfully, but usually the resources you used in the failed timeline are still gone.

Bioshock does this but manages to put it in the proper context by having Vita Chambers recreate your body. Sure, that's hard to believe, but if you believe it, it explains why the universe kept going after you died, but you get to live again.

There's a game called Omikron: The Nomad Soul (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omikron#Gameplay) where if you die, you get reincarnated as another character. I think more developers should explore this idea.

What about the "lives" system? Mess up more than three times, you die permanantly and have to start the game all over again. (Or at least from a much earlier point in the game.)

You want a simple death mechanic? Look at roguelikes. Can't get simple than "you screw up, you die and your character is deleted. Start over from scratch, bitch."

yahtzee, the game you propose actually gives me a warm feeling inside. i mean, you never get to be clairvoyant in games, because it's difficult to do, but your idea sound pretty nice

As others have mentioned, the game concept Yahtzee describes sounds a lot the game Second Sight. However, in that game it only applied to the story and didn't really tie into the actual game mechanics. If a sequel to Second Sight was ever made it would probably be a lot like the game Yahtzee described.

There are two games, both of which are obscure, I can think of that handles the act of restarting somewhat like Yahtzee's idea. However, it isn't revealed until near the end of the games; As you can imagine, it made for some really brilliant twists.

I'm always confortable with an autosave feature, the kind that saves after big challenges. I dislike the idea of just reviving on the spot through magic because it feels like I haven't been punished (kinky).

The idea of being sent back to a safe place works because it gives you (usually) a bit of practice against regular enemies and some time to strategise. After grom the ogre pounds you into the ground like Wile E Coyote reviving him on the spot will probably disorient him, cause him to act impulsively and get pounded back into the ground. If he went back to a save point then Mr Coyote could change his brand of helmet, choose a different Acme device to take with him and practice using the dodge button.

I don't like it when this happens in RPG's a lot of the time, when your 3 man awesome squad raids the temple, beats the magic skeletons and gets to the treasure room at the end they pick out all the shiny trinkets and legal tender when a dragon slips down to fight them. They almost kill the beast but at 25% health it grows three heads and removes your fire protection. Your heroes fall in battle and the game is over, despite the 4-5 other members of the party who didn't go into the cave still being alive. Shouldn't the B-Team come in for the rescue? either to revive the original party from a safe distance or to fight the dragon themselves and recover your bodies?

It could even lend itself to a more dynamic plot, you now know that a Dragon is waiting and guarding the treasure so now you can send in your second party while the dragon is sleeping to stealthily retrieve the treasure and your precious internal organs. Other possibilities could be the option to disarm and surrender at low health against the empire so you can person a daring rescue from a prison later.

Then again everyone hates B-Teams, they never get the good weapons and armour :(

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