Deaths

By Alec Meer on September 15th, 2008 at 9:31 pm.

most of these are probably me

Death in games is meaningless. Unless it also corrupts all your savegames and then sets fire to your PC. Then it’s pretty bloody meaningful. Usually it’s just an obstacle, not an impasse – and like any obstacle, it’s something you want to overcome. What if death was, for once, an aid rather than an impediment?

In puzzle-platformer Deaths, other players’ misfortune becomes your fortune. Every time you load a level, it grabs the data for the exact location of the last 50 deaths from any and everyone who’s played it lately, and duly deposits their dismembered corpses in your iteration of the game. Their lifeless flesh is your handy navigational aid.

The reactions I had to seeing some fresh pile of corpses were rather mixed. On the one hand, there’s something genuinely unsettling about it – not because it’s corpses, but because it’s faintly voyeuristic. You’re seeing someone else’s mistakes, and they don’t realise it. Right now, someone’s probably looking at my corpse, perhaps even scoffing at the fact I’d died there, fallen prey to a blatantly obvious trap. There’s something slightly creepy about that.

On the other hand, there’s a delight to seeing that small giblet-mountain. It’s a clue to your next puzzle: if there are a load of bodies in a given place, it means danger is close, so you instantly set to calculating what it could be and how to avoid it. Occasionally, the bodies can even provide physical assistance; I failed one trap so many times that the heap of my own corpses eventually blocked the sharp thingy that kept impaling me as I passed. Right now, someone’s probably looking at my corpse, and perhaps they’ve managed to sidestep a less obvious trap themselves because of it. There’s something slightly pleasing about that.

It’s not all that hard, bar the occasional particularly fiendish trap, it’s visually crude, and it’s only a six-level demo. Don’t let that stop you. According to Playthisthing (which is where I stumbled across this clever wee thing) its creator Jesse Venbrux plans to expand the game if it proves successful. Clearly it’s very basic as is, but it’s an absolutely wonderful idea, and I’d love to see it taken further. So, go play, go enjoy the sight of each other’s broken bodies, and maybe we can help persuade him to make some more. Play in a browser here, though you’ll need YoYo Games’ browser plugin thingy, or download a standalone version from here.

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42 Comments »

  1. Jim Rossignol says:

    That is a clever webgame.

  2. Mike Boxleiter says:

    The first time I avoided a trap by seeing a few other unfortunates, I really felt good about my brain and the design. Too bad it’s so short, there aren’t a lot of those moments to be had.

  3. roBurky says:

    That’s an ace idea.

    First level, I saw a body lying in the first obvious pit of spikes. I laughed at him. “How could you be so rubbish to fall into the first obvious pit of spikes like that?” I thought as I passed him.

    Then I fell into the second obvious pit of spikes.

    This game makes you feel very embarrassed about dying.

  4. yns88 says:

    [spoiler alert]

    Wait, so was the only way to beat the last level to stack up corpses?

  5. Wake says:

    yns88– I believe so, at least that’s how I did it.

    What’s great about this, and why the rudimentary implementation doesn’t even matter at this point, is that you’re rarely going to find big budget developers pulling stunts like this. Independent games are where you’re going to find the best exploratory development, and I think this is a great example of that.

    Kudos to Jesse Venbrux, I think some fun and interesting things will come of this.

  6. someone says:

    That is a good idea.
    Also, Planescape: Torment has some thing where you have to die to advance the plot.

  7. Skree says:

    Yup, yns, I like to think of it as forced mass suicide teamwork, a morbid statement really :P

  8. aiusepsi says:

    I’d like if maybe there was some way of telling your contribution to the corpse pile apart from strangers.

    Some of that was actually pretty hard, the bit with those three guns…

  9. jungleFish says:

    Awesome. That last level is really painful to someone who hates to die. :)

    I noticed that in the last two levels, no one but me had any deaths. Maybe they gave up?

  10. PJ says:

    one frustrating piece of…

  11. nabeel says:

    It’s hard ;_____;

    nabeel

  12. lethu says:

    I like meaningful games, thanks RPS!

    [Edit]Aww fancy new edit function… with countdown even!

  13. Mman says:

    Cool, it works really well; I managed to get through with very few deaths thanks to using other’s corpses to guess when something was up (and I was lucky enough for the pre-requisite amount of corpses to already be in place at the last level), when I would have likely died quite a few more times without them. It should be even more interesting when it’s expanded.

  14. Noc says:

    Hey guys.

    This is an MMO.

    I’m saying this now because I know I’m going to bring it up again later.

  15. espy says:

    I like how cyclic the whole thing is: the more people die somewhere, the more people get the hint, resulting in less people dying there, less corpses, less people getting the hint, which results in more corpses… ad infinitum :D

    In any case: nifty idea.

  16. gulag says:

    Cute.

    As far as co-operative suicide games can be called ‘cute’.

  17. Brad says:

    The game has an interesting premise, but I think the execution (I swear I didn’t intend that) on the later levels could use some work.

  18. Dead Fish says:

    Stacking corpses is a very interesting idea (one that I would have never thought of) but hasn’t really been implemented that meaningful, except for giving the player hints and that “Oh that’s kinda cool.” feeling. I want to see puzzles like the last one, that need corpses in certain places instead of pure platforming.

  19. Jezebeau says:

    Another game in which deaths are helpful is “Choke on my Groundhog, YOU BASTARD ROBOTS“. It’s one of those top-down shooters where enemies come at you from all edges of the screen. In this case, each time you die you start over, but are accompanied by all your previous attempts, adding fire to the fray.

  20. Ben Abraham says:

    This game makes me cry on the inside.

  21. hydra9 says:

    That was excellent! It’s also not that hard (and I’m not just saying that to appear cool). [SPOILER]The trick with the guns is just to keep running – Ignore them.

    Anyway, great idea and even if this is a rough demo, it has perfect music, effective graphics and good level-design. I’d like to see more!

    Out of the ton of indie games I try out, this is one of the very few that I really, really like. Good stuff!

  22. hydra9 says:

    Btw, when I got to the final level, the corpses were ready-stacked, meaning I saw what I had to do, and I had the means to do it, first time. Thanks dead guys!

  23. Jonathan Strange says:

    In Nethack you’d occasionally run across the remains of your previous characters, complete with whatever it was that killed them… you… whatever, still haunting the area. That still creeps me out on the rare few times it’s happened.

    Only other game I can think of where it’s possible to stumble across your own remains.

  24. Caiman says:

    That was probably me, hydra9. There were no body parts at all when I got there!

  25. Lukasz says:

    we need to see this game bundled with Episode 3 in Bronze Box if you know what I mean.

  26. megaman says:

    Is there any way to play that using linux? Using the firefox plugin, no go, using wine, no go, … :S

  27. Del Boy says:

    Going back to what Alec said at the start of the article. Would anyone play a game that randomly deleted a file from your computer every time you died?

    If it was completely honest about it right from the start – “this game could ruin your operating system!”.

    Sounds incredibly stupid but, man, would it be tense.

  28. Jetsetlemming says:

    That was pretty neat.
    @Del Boy, no

  29. hydra9 says:

    @Del Boy:
    Only a crazy person (or, more likely: Someone playing from an old hard-drive that they’d backed up) would try that game. However, people might be tempted if it was the most AWESOME thing ever…

    Anyway, this reminds me: Back in the mid ’80s, an obscure DOS game was released that had that kind of mechanic. I can’t remember the name of it, but the basic plot was “You are the only one who can save the world,” and if you died… that was it. ‘Game over’ resulted in the program deliberately corrupting the boot sector of the floppy disc, meaning you could never play it again. It must be the only game that ever did that… Needless to say, it didn’t sell well.

  30. Malagate says:

    @Del Boy, and risk my “artful” pictures? NEVER.

    There needs to be more games where dead bodies have a use, rather than just either getting in the way or causing huge loading times (that still happens to me in Stalker, stupid bandits in the garbage…)

  31. araczynski says:

    brilliant concept, hope that its incorporated someday soon into full/retail games.

  32. Saul says:

    That is the best idea ever.

  33. alphaxion says:

    it’s like someone took “I wanna be the guy” and blended it with a creepy version of social networking sites..

    Interesting *strokes the chin of one of the corpses*

  34. Calabi says:

    It was quite fun albeit obviously a bit short and easy. I did die in a few less than obvious places just for the hell of it.

    That might be interesting, you have a spontaneous combust button, so you can scare, confuse other players.

  35. Ian says:

    @ Del Boy: The game would have to be very carefully made so there were no unfair moments.

    It would also require the most rigourous bug testing gaming has ever seen. :D

  36. Ian says:

    Holy hell, that “Choke on my Groundhog, YOU BASTARD ROBOTS!” game is awesome!

  37. Sam says:

    Sort of related to the hypothetical game with “real computer consequences”: Doom as a Process Manager is still the silliest application of FPS technology.
    http://www.cs.unm.edu/~dlchao/flake/doom/

    (And, indeed, Roguelikes generally do delete all your savegames when you die, so it’s not just Nethack that does that [although Nethack's bones files are fairly unique])

  38. Sam says:

    Sort of related to the hypothetical game with “real computer consequences”: Doom as a Process Manager is still the silliest application of FPS technology.
    http://www.cs.unm.edu/~dlchao/flake/doom/
    and the related “Brutal File Manager” (File management as an FPS)
    http://www.forchheimer.se/bfm/

    (And, indeed, Roguelikes generally do delete all your savegames when you die, so it’s not just Nethack that does that [although Nethack's bones files are fairly unique])

  39. Seth Burgess says:

    Does anyone remember the Windows game several years back that had you fighting enemies based on the filenames on your own hard disk?

  40. Pod says:

    I cant’ get past level 4 :(

  41. MakiTo says:

    Hehe, I love this game! In the last level I didn’t die because there was a huge mountain of bodies =P
    Hope to see this game again soon, so much potential :D

  42. snowyowl says:

    @Del Boy: The same person who created this game claims that he made a game like that, but never released it.
    It was going to be called “Game Over Forever”. If you died once, the game would never restart (because it saved a file to an obscure location on your computer). Sad.