The Wages of Death

The Wages of Death

Death in videogames can mean more than just restarting the last checkpoint.

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This reminds me of a browser game called You Only Live Once. If you die, you can't ever play it again. Ever.

Off topic, but is there some better way of getting to the comments on articles like this? I have to click on the featured content page first.

Pokemon fainting is pretty damn annoying

I played the demo for Bioshock a while back. It was really tense, and I remember enjoying it a lot, right up until I died...

...and respawned five feet away with absolutely no penalty or loss of progress. All the tension evaporated from the game. I didn't need to be tactical, or conserve ammo, or use my plasmids carefully. I could just wail on anything with my wrench, respawning when necessary, until everyone was dead.

I've never bothered to get the full game because of that.

Aliens infestation for the DS had an interesting death mechanic, you had extra lives but they were your marines, you could find and recruit more marines but if one was killed they stayed dead, unless it was downed by an alien, in which case you could rescue them but they would be infected.

Worgen:
Aliens infestation for the DS had an interesting death mechanic, you had extra lives but they were your marines, you could find and recruit more marines but if one was killed they stayed dead, unless it was downed by an alien, in which case you could rescue them but they would be infected.

In a way, that is very similar to the Fire Emblem games. Only once a guy died, he was gone forever. Not even close to a chance for rescue.

Hardest challenge? Fire Emblem: SHadow Dragon: Hard 6, Zero deaths.

actually its a very similar idea to the game they showed in the tv show caprica. a whole virtual open world where there were no rules, where no one knew how to "win" where if you died ingame that was it. you were kicked and could never play it again

Jeremy Signor:
But the price of this design is that any true sense of loss is marginalized in favor of player convenience. What would happen if a game forced players to face virtual mortality? If your character's death meant that he or she would cease to exist, you would be forced to approach a game differently, perhaps with a greater sense of caution.

I think Somebody's looking forward to the new XCom: Enemy Unknown.

saintdane05:
This reminds me of a browser game called You Only Live Once. If you die, you can't ever play it again. Ever.

Off topic, but is there some better way of getting to the comments on articles like this? I have to click on the featured content page first.

And that's when the comments page is even Linked! And don't get me started on the videos and features: I WAS here at 12:00, this video WASN'T.

About your Fire Emblem complaint, what you said isn't as true as it would seem. In some of the games it is entirely possible to win using only the required characters at the lower difficulty levels, specifically Path of Radiance, where Ike can win the whole game on his own on easy or normal, and there are still a few other characters you can't let die on top of that (Mist and Elincia? It's been a while.). In the final chapter you're guaranteed three or four characters at the very least, one of whom can win the whole battle on his own, and another of whom is just about as powerful. Plus if you're enough of a moron to lose every character, Fire Emblem just may not be the series for you. I will admit though that Radiant Dawn was quite easy to make impossible to beat (not using Ike constantly being the easiest way), which is part of why I consider it to be the worst in the series.

DVS BSTrD:

Jeremy Signor:
But the price of this design is that any true sense of loss is marginalized in favor of player convenience. What would happen if a game forced players to face virtual mortality? If your character's death meant that he or she would cease to exist, you would be forced to approach a game differently, perhaps with a greater sense of caution.

I think Somebody's looking forward to the new XCom: Enemy Unknown.
snip

Indeed. X-Com, Cannon Fodder, and Rainbow Six were the first places my mind went with this article. Sure you could save-scum but save-scumming just isn't fun.

Jeremy Signor:
The Wages of Death

Death in videogames can mean more than just restarting the last checkpoint.

Read Full Article

Ooh, it's a tough call. When we're looking forward at dire consequences, we're given a very different emotional reaction than when we're looking back on them.

Look at skydiving: The reason it's so thrilling is that, when you're about to jump, you're aware that a mistake or problem will mean your likely death. The possibility of death gives the whole experience a strong sense of risk and thrill... but the reality of death probably would not be seen the same way. We want to know that it "could happen," but we never want it to.

So death itself isn't really necessary to create this kind of environment. Instead of only discussing death, why don't we broaden ever-so-slightly to the idea of "irreversible consequences" (IC's, from here on out).

There are two issues within this -- the mechanical considerations of ICs, and the emotional considerations. I think that, too often, games try to capture the weight of ICs by mechanically imitating them (which is why most IC mechanics center on death)... but Death is only one kind of IC, so we limit ourselves.

Fire Emblem at least took a step back, and made sure the Death IC wasn't on the player, but on units. In a sense, you're not dying... but you're permanently losing a finger or an ear.

What if that actually happened to a player character -- a permanent amputation as a result of a particular failure? It's possible that could carry the same emotional weight as an IC, without having to be death. In fact, it could be more valuable...

Think if it like a formula -- "Inconvenience to the Character" / "Inconvenience to the Player" = "Contextual Severity"

Diablo III's permadeath in Hardcore Mode is pretty severe, and represents a pretty big inconvenience to the player (They lose the character and gear and any money invested). That meta-game inconvenience to the Player (rather than the Character) undermines the severity of the IC in the game's context.

The original Star Wars Galaxies featured permanent item decay. Your favorite blaster would eventually break beyond repair. Of course, the game wasn't populated with one-of-a-kind items farmed from bosses, so getting another meant contacting a crafter skilled enough to make one of the same quality. Still, it often caused players to consider whether they wanted to use that favorite pistol... or stick with a back-up until it really mattered. The inconvenience on the player was minimized, allowing the severity of the IC to stay in game context.

I guess another way to put it is that we don't have to face the player with the one Big Death to get the desired effect. We can instead surround them with many "tiny deaths" (of other characters, of stuff, of plot threads, of limbs...) to make sure the pain is hitting them in the right place.

Azuaron:
I played the demo for Bioshock a while back. It was really tense, and I remember enjoying it a lot, right up until I died...

...and respawned five feet away with absolutely no penalty or loss of progress. All the tension evaporated from the game. I didn't need to be tactical, or conserve ammo, or use my plasmids carefully. I could just wail on anything with my wrench, respawning when necessary, until everyone was dead.

I've never bothered to get the full game because of that.

If I were you, I would go back and buy it, it is a wonderful game, just make sure you turn off vita chambers in the options menu.

I have no idea why that easy-mode option is on default

12 replies in and no one mentioned jagged alliance.
image

escapists i am dissapoint.

Hmmm...

INDIANA JONES AND THE WAGES OF DEATH!

I think forcing mortality might take away something about what's fun in a game. It's a game, therefore death isn't SUPPOSE to mean anything. Change that, and maybe some people will like it, but I dunno if it will be the next rave.

Azuaron:
I played the demo for Bioshock a while back. It was really tense, and I remember enjoying it a lot, right up until I died...

...and respawned five feet away with absolutely no penalty or loss of progress. All the tension evaporated from the game. I didn't need to be tactical, or conserve ammo, or use my plasmids carefully. I could just wail on anything with my wrench, respawning when necessary, until everyone was dead.

I've never bothered to get the full game because of that.

You can shut that feature off. (I don't know about the demo, but you definitely can in the full game.) In gameplay options, switch "Disable Vita-Chambers" from off to on. When the Vita-Chambers are disabled, you won't respawn after dying and will have to load from wherever you last saved. If you still have the demo I'd give it another go. Bioshock is an amazing game, you really are missing out. It's also really cheap on Steam now.

OT: I've played a few games where death was permanent, or at the option was there to make it that way. The Escape Velocity series, which was basically a role-playing Asteroids type game, had an option called "Strict Play", in which if your ship got blown up and you didn't eject (or you didn't buy an escape pod at all), your character was dead for good and your profile got deleted. Considering that this was an open-world game with 30-40 hours worth of main and side quests, this would be quite a blow.

Currently I've been playing Aliens vs. Predator (2010), and in Nightmare difficulty, there are no checkpoints or save locations. You have to beat the entire mission without dying. Of course, there are 6-7 missions per race, so you don't have to start the whole game over, but the missions are long enough that it can get tense.

The problem with that, is that the "Nightmare" skill level is just as difficult as "Hard" is, in terms of the decreased efficacy of your weapons and the increased damage that enemies can dole out, with the addition of having no saves. I think it'd be interesting to have a sort of two-tiered system of difficulty. Consider a game that first let's you choose gameplay difficulty, as the standard "easy, normal, hard" settings, but then has a completely different menu that allows for realism difficulty that could range from "Many Checkpoints", to "Few Checkpoints", to "Zero Checkpoints". A player could mix both settings to get a game where the combat is easy but you can never die without starting over, or have the combat be insanely difficult, but allow plenty of saves. The extremes of this would being gameplay that is very lazy and casual (easy/many saves), or downright masochistic (hard/zero saves). At any rate this is just a rough idea, but I think it could open up options if implemented correctly.

Dastardly:
Ooh, it's a tough call. When we're looking forward at dire consequences, we're given a very different emotional reaction than when we're looking back on them.

Look at skydiving: The reason it's so thrilling is that, when you're about to jump, you're aware that a mistake or problem will mean your likely death. The possibility of death gives the whole experience a strong sense of risk and thrill... but the reality of death probably would not be seen the same way. We want to know that it "could happen," but we never want it to.

So death itself isn't really necessary to create this kind of environment. Instead of only discussing death, why don't we broaden ever-so-slightly to the idea of "irreversible consequences" (IC's, from here on out).
-snipping the rest to prevent wall o' text syndrome-

I like where you're going with this. When I'm a rich developer I'll take this into consideration.

I think the biggest problem with this sort of perma-death approach (besides its niche appeal), is that it ignores one of the more glaring video-game specific narrative pitfalls: the dreaded glitch. There may be some merit to the idea of mortality as a tool for immersion, but any gains are immediately replaced with good old fashioned nerd-rage when uncontrollable circumstances snuff that sole candle. Dying in Diablo 3's hardcore mode is frustrating, certainly. Dying because the servers hiccuped and your character was jogging in place while his face was chewed off is infinitely moreso, and not in the way that inspires a second attempt. With anything but the simplest game designs, there's the risk of a permadeath feeling equally "gamey," but at odds to the player's experience rather than in service of it. Other than consigning these types of deaths to a specific, fixed context (ala Mass Effect), I think "oh man, I'm dead dead" as a narrative device will be confined to the periphery of game design.

I still play Roguelike games, and that's hard. You can save, but once you die in-game, all your saves are wiped, so there is no coming back. Makes games much more tense than just "Oh, if I die, I can just go back to my last save."

If a developer could somehow figure out how to make a game where at any moment the death of my character would mean having to play as another and I'd still be interested in playing the game I'd be all for that.

But the idea of my character dying and then the game being unplayable, I just don't see how that can lead to anything but frustration. If a lead character in a movie dies it doesn't always mean the end of the movie but with a game what do you do then? You're only option is to play as another but then you lose any and all attachment to your avatar assuming any was made to begin with. I mean you could have a random character generator in a mp shooter for every time you die but it wouldn't mean anything so you would need a well written linear narrative wrapped around this concept I'd assume.

I think Spec Ops was a good step in the right direction of all this, I was certainly deeply invested in the morality of my actions in that game. By midway I was already thinking "I really don't want to shoot anyone anymore" but then the game forces you to and it only gets more fucked up as it goes along.

Well, it's the problem. You don't want to die and have to start over or give up completely, but you don't want to know that you aren't going to die.

No easy way around, really.

Worgen:
Aliens infestation for the DS had an interesting death mechanic, you had extra lives but they were your marines, you could find and recruit more marines but if one was killed they stayed dead, unless it was downed by an alien, in which case you could rescue them but they would be infected.

Did anything ever happen to those who had been facehugged? I kept expecting to enter the safe room and then one of them to go all John hurt and die.

I particularly like the aliens infestation mechanic. It gave you a sense of death meaning something without impacting too much on the playability of the game. Sure, you could potentially run out of marines and end up struggling to beat the final boss with one marine, but mostly it was okay. It relied on making the characters unique, with unique sprites, dialogue, and animations. This meant you could become attached to your marines, and recognise them as more than disposable xeno fodder, so that, without it being much different than a simple "lives" mechanic, it could give weight to their deaths.

Doclector:

Worgen:
Aliens infestation for the DS had an interesting death mechanic, you had extra lives but they were your marines, you could find and recruit more marines but if one was killed they stayed dead, unless it was downed by an alien, in which case you could rescue them but they would be infected.

Did anything ever happen to those who had been facehugged? I kept expecting to enter the safe room and then one of them to go all John hurt and die.

I particularly like the aliens infestation mechanic. It gave you a sense of death meaning something without impacting too much on the playability of the game. Sure, you could potentially run out of marines and end up struggling to beat the final boss with one marine, but mostly it was okay. It relied on making the characters unique, with unique sprites, dialogue, and animations. This meant you could become attached to your marines, and recognise them as more than disposable xeno fodder, so that, without it being much different than a simple "lives" mechanic, it could give weight to their deaths.

Yeah, I expected that also, so if my marine was captured by aliens and I thought they might be infested, I played a bit loose with them, after they got downed again a chest buster would pop out.
The game also seemed to have different dialog based on which marine was being played when talking would happen, I need to go back and win that game.

Dastardly:

Jeremy Signor:
The Wages of Death

Death in videogames can mean more than just restarting the last checkpoint.

Read Full Article

Ooh, it's a tough call. When we're looking forward at dire consequences, we're given a very different emotional reaction than when we're looking back on them.

It's becoming a bit of a bromance?

Look at skydiving: The reason it's so thrilling is that, when you're about to jump, you're aware that a mistake or problem will mean your likely death. The possibility of death gives the whole experience a strong sense of risk and thrill... but the reality of death probably would not be seen the same way. We want to know that it "could happen," but we never want it to.

So death itself isn't really necessary to create this kind of environment. Instead of only discussing death, why don't we broaden ever-so-slightly to the idea of "irreversible consequences" (IC's, from here on out).

Let's contextualize this some. Ultima Online offered a pretty cool experience in this sense simply because leaving the security of the town or ones home, even with friends, required a certain sense of planning and organization. The inconvenience of death and the strong possibility of encountering dangerous (well armed - skilled) players in the field made "planning" as much a part of the game, as the game itself.

Coupled with the manipulation tactics and psychology tactics often employed it was possible to find people to play with, who in turn, would simply take one out into the woods for a little of the ole' murder, loot, and scoot. Extremely problematic if one had a house key and rune in the bag. Thus murder, then breaking and entering, possibly griefing where all part n' parcel of more advanced play.

(hehe ahhh nostalgia... own a copy of this album, Midas signed it for me, really nice guy... went Pk'n with em a couple times :)

Older games engendered this sort of consequence as a part of the experience, albeit, I am not sure it was intentional by design. It is also interesting to note that some servers developed their own sense of character and atmosphere. I remember the end of alpha when some of us organized a "Lord British gang bang..." when the character was still "killable". If I recall that was the last time that Richard actually played his own game out of disgust (at least he didn't play overtly).

Baja, my home server was the Tatooine of the UO line up.

Atlantic, was considerably more friendly.

Interestingly I always seemed to come away with the impression that the developer's (including Koster) thought they had failed in their attempt to create the DnD experience online, yet by fan estimation, UO seems to be the high water mark and something that may never be again in the current developmental climate of a modern industry.

There are two issues within this -- the mechanical considerations of ICs, and the emotional considerations. I think that, too often, games try to capture the weight of ICs by mechanically imitating them (which is why most IC mechanics center on death)... but Death is only one kind of IC, so we limit ourselves.

Fire Emblem at least took a step back, and made sure the Death IC wasn't on the player, but on units. In a sense, you're not dying... but you're permanently losing a finger or an ear.

A lot of older games did this though, not just fire emblem. Interestingly the part of Heavy Rain where the player seems forced to amputate himself is one of the most intriguing narrative moments of the entire game/experience. It was a great use of thematic tension and certainly one of the more memorable parts of the game. Mechanically it does noting for the actual play of the game.

As a secondary note, saving the girl (reporter) only to have ones way with her later is a rather cheap psychological trick which I have dubbed "the harem gambit". Looks like the same tactic is being used in the new tomb raider... sometimes called the "white knight" approach.

As a tertiary note I found it interesting that so much heat was liable toward the tomb raider developer's when the exact same thing already exist in Heavy Rain... (and a couple other games) in a very overt and explicit way. (Common as dirt in many Japanese games and media).

I suspect this is a "bad press" is "good press" approach to develop interest in the title and create an artificial drama on the escapist and other web-zine sites. Manipulation done well is still... manipulation... ahh Chomsky would be proud....

What if that actually happened to a player character -- a permanent amputation as a result of a particular failure? It's possible that could carry the same emotional weight as an IC, without having to be death. In fact, it could be more valuable...

It worked in heavy rain, it works in Day Z with maiming style damage... that damage becomes mechanically inconvenient and doubles as source of dramatic tension for the player. It's a wonderful call back to the old school of gaming. At over 1/2 million players, is it niche anymore? Considering Bohemia interactive create software for some of the worlds military, are they indie? I like that the pendulum is swinging back this way.

Think if it like a formula -- "Inconvenience to the Character" / "Inconvenience to the Player" = "Contextual Severity"

Again lot's of games have done this to various degrees... Everquest with the infamous "corpse retrieval", "Dark Souls/Demons Souls", "UO", "X-Com", "Jagged Alliance", "X 1/2/3 AC, potentially X-Rebirth", FF Tactics, Ground Control 2... so many more...

Diablo III's permadeath in Hardcore Mode is pretty severe, and represents a pretty big inconvenience to the player (They lose the character and gear and any money invested). That meta-game inconvenience to the Player (rather than the Character) undermines the severity of the IC in the game's context.

Nothing new, the previous games had it by degree's and the flash MMO "Realm of the Mad God" has this difficulty of permanent death as standard. While not the same type of time commitment and perhaps not the same weight, the concept is very clearly carried over in an hour of RotMG.

It's interesting you point out a meta-game strategy that attempts to counteract the severity. Human's are pretty clever when it comes to figuring out ways to minimize the cost per benefit, even if it means circumventing the rule set by degrees. Just look at Wallstreet.

The original Star Wars Galaxies featured permanent item decay. Your favorite blaster would eventually break beyond repair. Of course, the game wasn't populated with one-of-a-kind items farmed from bosses, so getting another meant contacting a crafter skilled enough to make one of the same quality. Still, it often caused players to consider whether they wanted to use that favorite pistol... or stick with a back-up until it really mattered. The inconvenience on the player was minimized, allowing the severity of the IC to stay in game context.

Another R.K. game, so in this discussion 3 of his games have been mentioned as examples of this approach. Although with each iteration of his products the severity of the consequences were diminished. Likely this is a mirror of the trend of the industry to create a more friendly situation (widening the audience gate) of potential customers.

Ultimately the situation you mentioned could be entirely mitigated by having a craftier ready to go.. which is what my little team of droogies precisely did. In fact having of played both alpha and beta, at release we had two master craftier's ready to go within 2 weeks. Totally eliminating the consequence, and in turn we began to manipulate the games item's market, eventually ending up with an RMT scheme.

The same with Everquest, having of sold about a half a dozen accounts and tons of items, I personally walked away with a couple thousand dollars from RMT.

Did the same thing with D3 as well... simply optimized strategies for completing the title and overcoming the difficulty gate by abusing the weaknesses of the systems and incredibly bad testing practices of Activision/Blizzard as it related to builds.

Most of this just comes down to a systems analysis.

I guess another way to put it is that we don't have to face the player with the one Big Death to get the desired effect. We can instead surround them with many "tiny deaths" (of other characters, of stuff, of plot threads, of limbs...) to make sure the pain is hitting them in the right place.

Big Death still hits like a truck in Day Z. Depending on how the player is approaching that particular "play". Consequently death happens... which in and of itself becomes a ticking clock element. Fascinating.

Little deaths, I dunno... again as a narrative tool utilizing some thematic tension it's adds a lot of seasoning to the recipe... but over time, the audience will construct bridges to offset the effects. It's what people do... lifetime of problem solving.

There is a lot of fruit on this tree though, I certainly agree... however, it's going to take some highly skilled monkeys to pluck off the choicest specimens at the top as it relates to a system structure.

saintdane05:
This reminds me of a browser game called You Only Live Once. If you die, you can't ever play it again. Ever.

Off topic, but is there some better way of getting to the comments on articles like this? I have to click on the featured content page first.

This dude is crazy... I would give him a job in a heart beat... just to walk around and make us all laugh! Thanks for sharing this!

While I am thinking about it... here is an interview with Dean "Rocket" Hall concerning the development of Day Z...

Valkyria Chronicles had a similar perma-death system in place with its battle system. If a character was knocked out, you had 3 turns to get another character to transport them out via medic or they would die. If an enemy got to them within those 3 turns they would also die. If one of the main characters, however, got knocked out and died then you would have to restart the entire mission.

The main problem with these kinds of mechanics is that most of the time I would just save before an encounter and if anyone died I would just restart the mission. I guess in a way I didn't want to have the guilt of letting one of the soldiers under my command die, promoting your analysis of death mechanics, but at the same time it would be worth it to just restart the mission and keep my soldiers alive.

One game that I don't think anyone's mentioned yet and that has a interesting death style is Dwarf Fortress, an ASCII text game(still being developed). In dwarf fortress mode you order around a group of dwarves to make your dwarf fortress and you will lose, it's an inevitable ending leading to the motto losing is fun
( http://dwarffortresswiki.org/images/4/40/FunComic.png ).
This gives you the sense that you're not avoiding death or trying to outrun or beat it but seeing what you can do within it's confines.

In adventure mode you play until you die but when you die you can create a new adventure character in that world and they can go to the place you died and find your remains, they can talk to people you've helped and kill or talk to who or what killed you. You can even see a screen detailing the impact they had on the world. This style obviously works best in open ended games and doesn't really work when there's a main characterized protagonist, but I still like the style and styles similar like in infinity blade.

I am guilty of picking favourites in Aliens:Infestation >.>.

Worgen:
Aliens infestation for the DS had an interesting death mechanic, you had extra lives but they were your marines, you could find and recruit more marines but if one was killed they stayed dead, unless it was downed by an alien, in which case you could rescue them but they would be infected.

I actually quite liked that. It made sense in terms of the game and put you as a player in charge of rescuing them. If you fail to save them, it really hits you hard.

One of my favorite games, Final Fantasy Tactics, has a version of this: if a (non "guest") character isn't revived from KO after a few rounds, they turn into crystals and are gone forever. This includes important characters who you can later employ permanently. While obviously not as bad as losing a story-critical player, seeing a someone you've taken so much time and thought into leveling up and customizing disappear is still heart-breaking in its own way, especially if you're like me and assign an imaginary back-story for them: "Don't die on me! You've got a wife and six kids (that I made up)!!"

Also, should've mentioned the Pokemon "Nuzlock Challenge" mod - a randomizer means you can encounter any Pokemon, even legendaries at the beginning, but you're only allowed to catch the first one you meet in each region and KOs equal death, i.e. no reviving via items or Poke-Centers. It's an amazing challenge of strategy and luck - you work with what you have, no matter how crappy the team could be, and are constantly praying an opponent doesn't get off an insta-kill move or a lucky critical. It's death as an extra layer of depth if you think the original game is too lenient.

As much fun as perma-death can be, it does remove the fun for some of us. If the game is longer than 20+ hours you end up with there being a certain point beyond which players dread logging in for fear of death. Sure, some people love it, but personally I've never been a fan of perma-death for longer games because I know I'll make a stupid mistake or misclick 20 hours in and see all my time wasted.

There's a certain level of risk that's fun, and that level is different for each person, but for me losing hours of progress because of a ten second lapse of concentration isn't fun.

Incidentally, I found that to be one of the more interesting changes between Age of Empires II and Age of Mythology: In AoEII, there were campaign levels where you were given an awesome hero unit that you had to keep alive. What was discovered after release was that most players would just keep the hero unit in their base and never so much as move it because if the hero happened to take a bit too much damage, they would lose the entire level and have to start over again even if the enemy had only three bowmen left. So in AoM, the developers changed it so that hero units never permanently died. Suddenly, playtesters actually started using the hero units.

The big difference between the Age series and Fire Emblem is that in Fire Emblem, the turn based nature of it means that you have plenty of time for planning. You can spend as long as you need to make sure your plan is flawless. This makes it a lot easier to prevent the deaths of your units, so if they do die, it's easier to accept it as a logical consequence of the player's actions.

actually i believe zombiU fixes this problem. no respawns, no extra lives, nothing. when you die, your charecter dies. you have to start of from scratch with a new charecter after you die and at least hope you find your dead corpse.

 

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