Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Death in Videogames

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 29 Mar 2011 12:00
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This also explains why the time-rewinding mechanic in the Prince of Persia games isn't said to make those games unchallenging. Essentially it's the same as death-restore, a step back to before a mistake was made. The only difference is that the player character gets to come along for the ride, not just the player. The future mistake still exists within its own timeline. This is even played with in the dialogue of the first game: after rewinding, occasionally your sidekick complains about suffering from déjà vu.

But when recovering from death occurs within the same timeline, it does feel like less of a challenge and raises several vast issues within the story. What possible hope do the villains have if the heroes are functionally and demonstrably immortal? In a standard death-restore system the villains lose because the heroes have quantum immortality and are just getting a lot of lucky breaks that couldn't possibly be anticipated, but if the heroes have the secret of eternal life, you'd think more enemy soldiers would get demoralized and surrender. You'd think the villains would stop wasting their bullets and concentrate their efforts on perhaps capturing one of you and reverse-engineering your technology. Or at the very least offer to suck you off if you let them go.

There was a rather poorly-received movie a few years back called Next in which Nicholas Cage played a character who could predict the future. Just roll with it. Whatever the film's merits, there's a rather striking sequence that sticks out in my mind in which Cage needs to search a large building in a short time, and so uses his powers to essentially save scum. This is represented by showing him split into two Nicholas Cages every time he reaches a fork, until an entire army of Nicholas Cages are wandering through the halls until one of them finds whatever they're looking for and so becomes the "true" version of Nicholas Cage. Quite a complex visual metaphor for Hollywood standards, and probably the best representation of video game death mechanics I've ever seen in film.

It made me wonder if there isn't room to play around with the quantum mechanics approach to death and reloading. I had an idea for a game in which the main character is a clairvoyant trying to prevent some kind of disaster. It'd be controlled Hitman: Blood Money style and you'd have some kind of astral projection mechanic to let you map out the area and your objectives, but whenever you died it would cut to the player character back before the mission, clutching his temple and looking concerned, thus revealing that you weren't actually playing the real world, but a prediction of a possible future that could now hopefully be avoided.

Or perhaps I'm overthinking all this. No, I guess you're right, Nintendo, the best approach is to replace dying with making all my pocket change fly across the room.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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