Search Unity

  1. We are migrating the Unity Forums to Unity Discussions. On July 12, the Unity Forums will become read-only. On July 15, Unity Discussions will become read-only until July 18, when the new design and the migrated forum contents will go live. Read our full announcement for more information and let us know if you have any questions.

Let's talk about player death

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by BeefSupreme, Oct 27, 2014.

  1. RockoDyne

    RockoDyne

    Joined:
    Apr 10, 2014
    Posts:
    2,234
    Or more like it taunts you to get a second round of ass beatings by dangling all the souls you could lose.

    I wouldn't not recommend it (double negative). The music is mostly for boss fights and the occasional ambiance, but it's not bad. Just word for warning, the PC port is pretty bad although there is supposed to be some work being done on it to get it off GFWL.
     
  2. hippocoder

    hippocoder

    Digital Ape

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2010
    Posts:
    29,725
    I think it's amazing. One of the finest games I've ever played and in my top 5. But it will only appeal to people who really want a good challenge. Given I grew up on 8 bit games, it wasn't too much for me. Regarding GFWL, just make a local GFWL account when you first sign in (scroll down the GFWL panels until you see the blue link).
     
  3. AcidArrow

    AcidArrow

    Joined:
    May 20, 2010
    Posts:
    12,015
    Weren't they removing GFWL from Dark Souls? (and switching to steamworks).

    I still haven't finished it. But it's a great game. I like how it handles death as well.

    With auto saves or very frequent checkpoints, you just have to try a challenge a hundred times and just manage to pass it once (even by luck?). I like games that require you pull a series of challenges until the next check-point.

    It also made me genuinely scared at points, because I didn't know where the next bonfire was and I had a bunch of souls. It really forced me to take my surroundings and next steps seriously, which was quite refreshing compared to the "oh whatever I'll just load" mentality that takes all the pressure off.
     
  4. hippocoder

    hippocoder

    Digital Ape

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2010
    Posts:
    29,725
    Yeah it's using death as a tool to scare you. but losing souls isn't a big deal, as typically the real concept is you save souls from knights etc and obtain a large mass of souls from a boss then use them up. Then you can just discard any you die from as you never collect that many. Also, there is a definite order to doing things if you require the game to be easier.

    So killing a boss + using knight soul (consumables) will get you a few levels, then you can just safely die lots until the next boss (or spend them).
     
  5. Atmey

    Atmey

    Joined:
    Nov 3, 2012
    Posts:
    88
    I played some more Mortal Online, the concept that when you die, anyone can loot you, so there is a chance you will lose all your gear on many occasions, you run around naked (if nudity is enabled in the options) punching things every time you die. You get to keep your skill levels. PvP cannot be disabled, city guards will attack you on the spot if you do illegal action.

    It is an interesting concept, but I think many parts of the game is too confusing, there are some few flaws as well, but it is definitely hardcore.
     
    RJ-MacReady likes this.
  6. hippocoder

    hippocoder

    Digital Ape

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2010
    Posts:
    29,725
    Yes I'm a big fan of death being a gameplay tool. It's a game, death doesn't need to mean the end, it can mean you play differently.
     
    AndrewGrayGames likes this.
  7. elmar1028

    elmar1028

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2013
    Posts:
    2,359
    Dead Space is a good example player death. On many occasions you survive and therefore it's almost a rarity to die (if you're playing normal mode) and therefore it doesn't bore players to death. Plus it has various death animations :p
     
  8. DallonF

    DallonF

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2009
    Posts:
    620
    I had a sudden thought: the problem with death in modern games is that it's really not supposed to happen.

    Elaboration: Most players want to do something, epic, risky, and challenging, that if done wrong, would logically lead to death. It's a bit of wish-fulfillment, like watching an action hero defy death over and over. So designers design a situation and tell the player that if they do the wrong things, they will die, so as to encourage the player to play well. It's fun to come close to death and not die.

    Then we run into a problem: it's an interactive medium. What happens if the player doesn't play well and actually dies? It's not part of the game, not part of the story we're trying to tell. It's not the way it's supposed to go. It's the biggest glitch in every game. But there's no easy fix. If you make it impossible to die, you lose the fun that comes with risk.

    So mostly what designers do is just a little bit of dynamic ret-conning: "Oh, that didn't really happen in this story", putting the player back at some point in time, before they died, to try again.

    This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I've found the games that handle death best are the ones that make it part of the canon story: Rogue Legacy and Dark Souls (although I have issues with the learning curve of that game [but that's another topic], its handling of death is spot-on for what it's trying to accomplish) come to mind. Even FTL and other true permadeath games to an extent - death is the end of that story and an opportunity to begin a new one.
     
    RJ-MacReady likes this.
  9. hippocoder

    hippocoder

    Digital Ape

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2010
    Posts:
    29,725
    I'm not sure about the "it's not supposed to happen" - I get it with the concept of a film or book, but in films and books, they're passive experiences while a game is interactive. Trying to rationalize a game is probably the best way to fail at game design. I mean if I have to contort the difficulty level and everything else then it's probably not going to end up a good game.
     
    RJ-MacReady likes this.
  10. DallonF

    DallonF

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2009
    Posts:
    620
    I'm definitely not saying it should be impossible, or even implausible, to die in a game. Many games need that threat of death to be exciting!

    I think the point I'm getting at is more that death is difficult for designers because it's a friction point between storytelling and interactivity. If you think of gameplay as a story (the player's story, that is, not just the story you want to tell; if you want to do that, you should make a movie), it just doesn't make any sense when the player dies. It's a point of confusion - a sort of "well, now what?" moment for designers. Death stops the story in its tracks and doesn't allow you to continue without doing something weird like time travel or resurrection. Even permadeath is just a form of time travel - you have to start the whole game over!

    Ultimately, what most designers do is tell the player "you weren't supposed to do that. Try again." You're forcing them into your story, and your story doesn't include the main character dying, so stop fooling around and get it right!

    So games that do death well:
    • Accept the fact that you died
    • Work it into the player's story
    • Most importantly: use that fact to create new gameplay (example: in Rogue Legacy, you get more gold and get to explore a new dungeon. In Dark Souls, you have to chase down all the souls you lost) rather than asking the player to do the same thing, just the right way this time.
     
    Atmey and Teila like this.
  11. hippocoder

    hippocoder

    Digital Ape

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2010
    Posts:
    29,725
    But what if you don't want that? What if the story kind of sucks because of it? This is shoehorning, and it works well for some games - ie dark souls - but I actually did not like it in borderlands. I didn't like being a clone each time I died. I felt more disconnected from it.

    Borderlands explains away death by constructing a body at the last checkpoint, and works it into the story.

    But in a game where I die, and I continue from there, I don't actually consider it as death, but a part of the same experience as if I didn't die anyway. Part of the problem with death is that it feels like death and lives if you have a restart point. But if you just restart the entire chapter, the idea of death isn't there - it's kind of like yeah this is the story once it's complete and you can disregard the failed attempts.
     
  12. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2013
    Posts:
    1,718
    This is something that happens when you believe "Games are Stories". My character can only die if the story days his soul is instantly reincarnated... etc. The story musn't be intrinsically linked to gameplay. If you can do it, that's great. If not, that's also great.

    But it is. You're supposed to die. Survival is anomalous.
     
  13. DallonF

    DallonF

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2009
    Posts:
    620
    Sorry, I'm using the word "story" in a different sense here. I'm not talking about the narrative of the game, or the "designer's story". I'm talking about the player's story, the narrative formed by the player taking actions within the game. Even Tetris has this sort of story. Perhaps a better term is needed to avoid confusion. I'm going to say "player narrative" from now on until someone comes up with something that's more descriptive and/or concise.

    In Hippo's example, Borderlands does it badly - the designer narrative (the "story") goes on because your character is a clone. But the player narrative goes backwards - you have to retread the same path you previously took to get where you died, except without all the enemies and loot that made it interesting the first time. (If I remember the game right.)

    My argument, to restate it with less ambiguous terminology (I'm also going to use the word "failure" instead of "death" to make it clear that I actually am talking about mechanics), is that failure is a glitch in the player narrative you're trying to craft. The ideal experience is a player fighting through the game, often feeling like they're going to fail, but narrowly overcoming those obstacles in an exhilarating manner. But it's impossible to balance a game like that, because sooner or later some player is going to mess up and get killed. Er, "get failed"? (And making it harder to fail makes the game overall less exhilarating)

    So the part that designers struggle with is what you do next. The player has just failed and the entire experience is best when they are narrowly averting failure. Do you punish them, make them replay that section of the game, tread over challenges they've already experienced and mastered? If so, what do you do with the more casual players who don't like to be punished by their entertainment? Or do you just shrug it off, put them right back where they failed and try again, the only punishment is the denial of new challenges? If so, what do you do with the more hardcore players who complain that "death is meaningless" and there's no challenge?

    The examples I mentioned do neither: they are designed to absorb failure into the player narrative, adding a whole new challenge. You are denied the goal you were reaching for (which acts as the punishment, making failure meaningful), but given a new challenge to play with, which keeps the player narrative rolling.

    Example: FTL. I just died to a pirate, so I'm not going to reach the boss this playthrough. But when I click "Try Again", I'm not going to play the same game over again! I'll start over fresh, with a new ship, with new weapons, new crewmembers, forcing me to develop a new strategy to get through the game. I might not even encounter the pirate that killed me last time!

    Of course, this isn't perfect either. It denies me the ability to hone my skill with a particular challenge (I'll never know if I actually could have beat that pirate, if my reflexes or tactics were a little better). It's hard to develop. (FTL is procedural, but what about games like platformers that don't benefit as much from random level design?) And it's still a little bit too hardcore for mass appeal.

    (To clarify: I'm mostly talking about singleplayer games. Multiplayer is a whole other can of worms.)

    Please provide some supporting points... this sounds like an interesting branch of discussion, but I've got nothing to work with.
     
  14. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2013
    Posts:
    1,718
    When a hail of bullets comes your way, you aren't supposed to walk away. Yet, in a game, that's exactly what you may do. You may jump over the spike pit with expert precision, or dodge that laser by 4 pixels. If your health reaches 0, you shall die. Games often put you up against immense, insurmountable odds and typically, you fail a lot. Which makes sense... in real life, that's how it would go. In a game, however, you may retry again and again and improve your skill.

    If you beat the game, how many times did you fail? How many times have others failed without having completed the game? How few people can achieve one-life/one-credit runs?

    Only your skill and persistence can result in survival, death happens all on its own. All that is necessary is that you don't do what you're supposed to in order to avoid it.

    A goomba heads for you and if you don't jump, you die.
    Short on that leap over the cliff? You die.
    Lava? You die.
    and so on.

    The player's narrative ends in death in all but a few, anomalous cases where talented players beat the odds.

    That's why it feels special to win.

    So again, you're supposed to die. It's not a glitch or a short circuit in the system. It's the path of least resistance, the inevitable, fait accompli. Beating the game is to kick fate square in the balls.

     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2014
  15. DallonF

    DallonF

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2009
    Posts:
    620
    Aha! I think finally I understand your argument, and I think I'm mostly in agreement.

    The idea that "death is not supposed to happen" is usually not the correct way to think about games. That's a bit of a departure from my previous posts.
    It is, however, the way that many designers do think about games, which often results in handling death badly. This would be either caused by being too interested in telling the designer's story (not the player's), or by just not thinking it through very much and just doing it the way it's been done in the past.

    In order to approach death in games, I think we have to accept that it can and will happen to all but the most freakishly skilled players*. So why not make it part of the game? Instead of punishing players by withholding new gameplay, create new gameplay based on their death (while still punishing them by keeping their goal out of reach until they master the appropriate skill)

    Easier said than done, of course.

    And like I said in my last post, I don't think that idea is appropriate for every game. It simply doesn't work in a handcrafted game where you have to master a specific skill to advance (a Zelda boss comes to mind) - you have to keep the feedback loop very short in those cases - it would be immensely irritating to have to go through an entirely new dungeon when you're really just interested in learning how to dodge the boss's attack.

    *Unless you come up with a soft failure system that punishes players without "killing" them. Example: you lose money instead of hitpoints when you get shot. Actually, that's an interesting idea...
     
    Teila likes this.
  16. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2013
    Posts:
    1,718
    Repair costs... and ammo could cost money rather than bullets.

    Death is probably the coolest thing about games. It's like being on the other side of a glass gorilla cage. It can't really get you, but it feels like you're in danger.

    I think if you change what death is all about, you're running the risk of losing players flow state. Death is a super soft reset, it encourages you to try again. It's a form of feedback.

    Making death just another way to get through the game is almost as formula breaking as taking out death entirely.
     
  17. RockoDyne

    RockoDyne

    Joined:
    Apr 10, 2014
    Posts:
    2,234
    Is your wizard tower a WWII bunker that was used as a warehouse for arcade machines and has been sealed for the last twenty years? When you talk about death, I can't help but think you've been locked in a time capsule.

    If you want a player to realize they are playing like S***, you kill them. If you want them to realize they seriously F***ed up, you don't kill them. Instead, you give them consequences for their actions.
     
  18. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2013
    Posts:
    1,718
    Hahaha... no, not twenty years.

    I just look at games now and I just stare, unblinking, bewildered somewhat at how... utterly, simplistic they've become. Follow the on screen prompts, the radar shows you where to go, the difficulty drops if you are having trouble, etc. I remember barely being able to play because my palms were sweaty from gripping the NES gamepad so tightly, developing blisters on my fingers from trying to perform special moves in a pinch in Street Fighter and Streets of Rage.

    Many a day I wondered why did Double Dragon have to be so hard?

    A good day was a day when you died one level ahead of where you died last time. Completing the game... that was something that had a lot of meaning once upon a time. Now it's become a matter of spare time.

    I believe not everybody should be able to complete every game. As long as it's not just plain stupid impossible or the controls/collision detection is just terrible.
     
  19. DallonF

    DallonF

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2009
    Posts:
    620
    I think you're misunderstanding my argument. The positive examples I gave (FTL, Rogue Legacy, Dark Souls to an extent) all create new gameplay when you die, but they don't let you progress. In order to beat the game, you must be very skilled. In fact, I haven't beaten any of the three! But they're some of my favorite games. (except Dark Souls, which I just don't have the patience to play)

    In fact, creating new gameplay when you die allows designers to make the game much harder to beat, because it makes death more tolerable - while giving it far greater consequences!

    I was going to mention something to this effect, but I couldn't think how to do it without sounding like a personal attack. Thankfully, somebody else did it for me. I think this is a good point, though. Misterselmo's viewpoint on death is very... ah, "classical". Rather than dismiss his arguments, though, let's think about what they mean: the old system is not broken. There is a market for arcade-style death.

    I think that this is a fairly common sentiment:

    I think there are good reasons games have been changing in this direction. For one, sequelitis: how many people are going to buy a sequel to a game when they still haven't made it through the original? In fact, their last experience with the original might have been a ragequit. That's bad for business!

    Also, you might overestimate the skill level of the general audience. They might honestly struggle as much with a modern "easy" game as you did with NES games back in the day. I've seen a high-level World of Warcraft player struggle with Portal. How do you close that gap? How do you make a game that appeals to both? The answer becomes very clear when you consider that skilled players are a minority: forget about them entirely. Someone else will pick up that niche market (e.g. Dark Souls)

    Finally, gamers themselves have evolved; there are more kinds of gamers now. It used to be that all gamers were accomplishment-driven - frankly, you had to be, otherwise you would ragequit the games that were released in that day. Now gaming has expanded, and there are other kinds: exploration-driven (that's me), socially-driven, competition-driven, and maybe more (we discussed this briefly in the What is Game Design topic). A notable consequence of other kinds of gamers: I personally don't want to work for my games. They're entertainment to me, nothing more. When I go into a gaming session, I want to just tease my mind, not struggle for success. If I get stuck, I'm going to either look up a walkthrough or go play another game.

    With that said, while games have become more inclusive (a good thing), the original core market (skilled accomplishment-driven gamers) are being left in the dust (that's a bad thing). Anybody who wants the satisfaction of finally beating a really hard game has very few options in the modern market. That's partly their fault: the very things they like in a game are things that will drive away every other kind of gamer.

    But it seems to me that there could be a design solution - a sort of game that appeal to multiple skill levels and gamer types. Which brings me back to FTL: It's hard. It's brutally hard. I haven't beaten it (even on Easy mode!), and I don't think I ever will. In fact, I don't particularly want to. But I keep coming back to play it once in a while, because there's so much to see, so much to do, always something new.

    Food for thought.
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2014
    Teila likes this.
  20. hippocoder

    hippocoder

    Digital Ape

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2010
    Posts:
    29,725
    I clocked double dragon with one credit. But I'm aware the arcade machine' might not have been set to highest difficulty :) but I could always do golden axe on one credit regardless of difficulty.

    Yes, it took a lot of coins to get that good. But I survived from start to finish, without dying, that was my narrative. Death in games isn't really the problem (although I've said it could change how you play), the observation is actually life. You are being brought back to life for another try, so this is the real issue here if there is one.

    Films have done similar things with a new life: groundhog day, edge of tomorrow.
     
    RJ-MacReady likes this.
  21. Gigiwoo

    Gigiwoo

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2011
    Posts:
    2,981
    Way back, in a previous life, I stopped by the student center to waste some time between classes. I walked up to Gauntlet 2 and there was one guy ahead of me. He put one quarter in and played for ~30 minutes straight. Each new level, he was moving within 1s, directly and precisely towards the exit. He used the Elf, because 'it's fastest and can hit the tight spots'. In the 20 years since, I'm not sure I've seen a more impressive demonstration of mastering a game.

    Gigi
     
    AndrewGrayGames and RJ-MacReady like this.
  22. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2013
    Posts:
    1,718
    I'm tired of QUOTE tags, you know what you said. :')

    Yes, games that are hard attract some people and drive away others. I do believe that's the most concise definition of niche I've ever heard.

    I think "to play is to be" applies here. Who we are in gaming is who we are in life. I'm used to having a rough time, obviously hippocoder enjoys a challenge. Look at the popularity of bullet hell games. Flabby Bird.

    I just take it further, saying that without the possibility of a crash nobody would watch NASCAR. Without looming death, games wouldn't be so popular. It's fun to die. It's more fun to defy death, though.

    Look at me, ma, I AM TUROK!!!
     
  23. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2013
    Posts:
    1,718
    A stretch from 'playing to relax' :)
     
    Gigiwoo likes this.
  24. DallonF

    DallonF

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2009
    Posts:
    620
    Yep, I think we're honing in something here - especially like what Hippo said, the problem with death in games isn't death (as the developers of the dreaded "easy" games would think). Death is fine in games, in fact, it makes them better! The problem is with how you restore life and keep the player narrative moving. Having the player reload from the last save (which in older games without autosave, might have been hours ago)? I'd almost rather stay dead! (Actually, isn't that the essence of a ragequit?)

    So the trick to make "hard" games more appealing is to make the next life just as fun as the last one.
     
    Gigiwoo and RJ-MacReady like this.