A Death Is For Life, Not Just For Quickload

He doesn't like it when people keep coming back to life.

People often discuss the importance of “immersion”. It’s a pretty silly word. But while we at RPS like to tease those who claim their game will have “more immersion” than others, the core concept makes sense. It’s wonderful to get lost in the moment, carried away by the fiction. To physically dodge as the fireball comes toward you. To groan in pain as you land on a spike. To care when an NPC friend is in danger. And it’s obviously a widespread frustration when that “immersion”, that suspended disbelief, that embracing of unreality – whatever you want to call it – is broken. So I have a question. Why are we so quick to accept death?

Of all the things you’d imagine would break our concentration the most quickly, it would be death and resurrection. We scream in horror when there’s a logical inconsistency, when an NPC walks through a crate, or when the physics AI bugs out and a chair wobbles insanely in the corner of a ceiling. But when we get shot in the face, see the screen go red, and collapse to the ground, dead – meh – hit quickload. I’m the last to campaign for bloody “realism” in games (I find going outside offers me quite astonishing levels of realism), but I do like a notion of congruence in my games, and I think dying might stand out as an unlikely thing to get better from.

But we’re a community of nonchalant Lazaruses, unsurprised at our returning mortality, happy to leap back in time to before our mistake and carry on, slightly the wiser. It strikes me as a tad silly. It has, of course, always been the case. In fact, if anything it was more starkly daft in the early days of gaming, where we had “lives”, a finite number of reincarnations before we’d finally snuff it for good. At least there was some degree of finality back then, I suppose. No more. At a certain point all of gaming entered a cosmic cheat code and added infinite lives to every game ever.

I’ve written before, almost three years ago, about my desire for a game in which I’m immortal. However I notice that in the ample development time since publication, no such wave of games has appeared. I’m very angry about this, obviously. But while such a game would completely address my issue with death, today I want to think about something slightly more nuanced.

Clearly there are some genres that lend themselves well to leaving your character unharmed. Adventure games, for the most part, learned the lesson of the early 90s and try to keep the protagonist’s heart all beaty. Those that don’t are inevitably being stupid. And there are of course games where death is a valid game over, such as epic RTS battles, where your army being wiped out is obviously crucial if you’re to simulate war.

But, you politely point out, surely death is similarly crucial if you’re going to make a game about people who shoot bullets at you. Well, yes, that sounds right. What use is it if there’s no threat of failure, right? But what I want to argue is that failure does not necessarily equal death. For example, I failed my A levels pretty spectacularly, but I’m almost certain I’m not dead. It just turned out I was rubbish at things like chemistry, and my failure was a necessary consequence of my staring in confusion at diagrams of benzene molecules with the same level of coherence you might expect from a gerbil. Admittedly my chemistry A level teachers were not openly firing at me during the exams, but my point is so far lost by this late stage in the paragraph that I’m not too worried.

I want something more imaginative than: YOU ARE DEAD. DO IT AGAIN. Heck, I’m really open to even the most haphazard avoidances of it, like the game telling me I’m actually a hologram, and getting shot means shorting out my current projection, and having to be re-projected at the last Projection Station, which just happens to be moments before this dangerous battle that killed me. While some might argue that that’s not entirely realistic, those picky pedants couldn’t disagree that it wasn’t at least internally consistent.

I’m entirely open to a game that recasts me as a new character each time I die. In fact, if you take that idea further, it becomes a far more evocative message of the horror of war and the disposable nature of soldiers than even the earliest Call Of Duties evoked. You’re Private Simon Fodder, plucky 17 year old recruit, sent to the trenches. He’s got a face, a badge with his name on it, a mother back home. And when you run him rather over-eagerly into the path of a stream of bullets, he’s not temporarily set back from his single-handed saving of the world, but dead. Sadly, tragically dead. And he won’t be coming back. But now you’re in control of Private Andrew Targetpractice, whose wife and newborn son hopefully wait at home for the return of their loved one. Unfortunately it will be in lots of individual boxes, since you just walked him over a landmine.

You see, the point isn’t that I want a mechanical change. I’m not asking for games to let me live. I’m simply asking for them to acknowledge the permanence of being dead, however artificially that may take place. I’m not bothered by artificiality, even if it sticks out awkwardly.

Clearly there are those who call for games where death means death, and you have to start over. I think that’s madness, beyond experimental projects. Fun is far more important than that degree of so-called realism. A sense of continuous progression is essential in gaming (until I decide to write an essay saying it’s not), and my desire for the sanctity of life to be taken into account should not get in the way of that.

I think that once we denormalise death as a regular part of gaming, it will make an enormous difference. I’ve written before of how Lara’s death at the end of Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation is a horrendous narrative choice, not because it – alone – is a bad idea, but because we’ve already seen Lara die twenty thousand times on the way there. We know that death is not the end for Lara. That’s what F9 is for. Having Lara die at the end of the fourth Tomb Raider game, when the franchise was just utterly enormous, was an amazing decision. But one completely undermined by her incessant grave dodging for ten hours previously.

Working out ways around killing the player would give new life to death. It could become a genuine tragedy, a moment of emotional severity, with consequence. It would resonate, rather than make you grumble at load times or poor checkpointing.

We’ve done something pretty terrible with death – we’ve made it meaningless. I want my mortality back.

I think fixing this is easier for some genres more than others. But I would love to see a global rethinking of fail states. It’s just so utterly mad that we immediately resort to termination, and then unhesitatingly undermine it. So what’s the solution? I don’t know – I just pay myself to moan. Maybe you know?


  1. P7uen says:

    If you don’t have a Sands of Time or System Shock reason in your fiction for resurrection I suppose we treat death as a pause in the story. In the same way, we baulk at seeing a boom swing into shot in a film but don’t scream “OH MY GOD CLIVE OWEN HAS BEEN FROZEN IN STASIS!” if you pause Children of Men to do a wee.

    Also: I live in Hong Kong which offers terrible levels of realism when you leave the house. It’s all badly rendered city blocks and the characters are paper thin.

    • subedii says:

      Even in Sands of Time if you killed yourself, the Prince would suddenly go “Wait wait wait, that’s not how it happened. I didn’t fall seventy feet to my death on spiky plates, my kneecap being pushed through my kidneys.”

      And then the story continues from the last save checkpoint. Because apparently the Prince has a horrendous memory when it comes to storytelling, constantly getting confused that he might have horrendously DIED at any one point of his recent past. As you do.

    • bill says:

      Sands of Time was the best handling of death in any game ever – both the elegant narrative solution, and also the frustration free gameplay solution.
      For the longest time after, I was calling loudly for ALL SINGLE PLAYER GAMES to include the rewind function, even if it was only the gameplay element. Sadly, everyone ignored my call. :-(

      The Bioshock solution was pretty good – except again it undermined itself. The Vita Chambers worked narratively (and could have worked AMAZINGLY narratively if they’d followed through on them in the second half), but because there were quicksaves I never used them and that undermined that narrative. (plus gameplay-wise the fact that checkpoints are more interruptive than quicksaves).

      Outcast had an interesting in-game solution too – if wacky!

      Personally, while I like the ingame narrative solutions, like being a hologram, I don’t think they really matter that much – we look straight past them anyway.
      What would be more interesting would be games that actually did something different with death – such as having you play different characters, or simply not dying, but getting other negative penalties.

    • P7uen says:

      Oh I misunderstood, I thought it rewound time for you if you were heading for death.

      Still, when I was recounting last Friday night to my friend I was unsure if I was clinically dead for certain parts of it, so it’s understandable.

    • subedii says:

      The Prince had a limited number of orbs of sand, and each time you used the rewind function it used one orb. So if you used them all up, the character died.

      Likewise, the rewind function was for x number of seconds (can’t remember the exact number). So you could also do it by getting killed, and then waiting maybe 10 or 15 seconds. At that point you wouldn’t be able to rewind beyond the point of death, so even if you had sand, you’d still be dead.

      It worked to negate the frustration of things like sudden death, but it was still in there. The entire ending set-piece is actually tailored around this actually because:


      Near the end, your dagger gets stolen. So you have to go through a final segment of complex acrobatic sections without the ability to rewind time. Basically by this stage you should have learned all you needed to know in order to navigate the environment, and this was the final test for the player, where they took away your safety net.

      I felt it worked rather well in that respect. It added quite a lot more to the “immersion” or intensity of that segment, because you knew that you only had one chance to get it right, otherwise you’d be restarting it again (there were admittedly however, some checkpoints in this segment). Some people might call that frustrating, but from a gameplay perspective I thought it was definitely the right decision, and helped the ending segment more interesting.


      It’s hard to make a segment intense when the player doesn’t stand to lose by failing, even if it just means having to backtrack. I think that penalties of failure in a scenario and the intensity of that scenario often go hand in hand. If there’s never any perceived risk, those sections can quickly just become bland, repetitive affairs.

      One of my favourite games ever, and one of the most intense, is probably SWAT 4. And it’s precisely because there is literally no savegame system. If you fail a mission, you FAIL a mission, and you have to start right back at the beginning of it. The nature of the gameplay and level design helped to prevent this from getting frustrating, and there was a real tension as you performed any risky manoeuvre, because literally any punk with a gun can put you down permanently. You follow procedure and execute as well as you can. If you don’t, try to rush things, mess up somewhere, then you or someone else is liable to get shot that didn’t need to.

    • sonofsanta says:

      The rebooted PoP from 2008 (with the painterly art style) never let you die, your friend-with-benefits* would catch you before you fell or jump in and block the death blow from an enemy, so on and so forth.

      The original had the rewind time function so gracefully stolen for GRID and DiRT 2 but if you ran out of sand (and thus rewinds) you had to reload from checkpoint, with the Prince muttering about the story not going that way. Which was clearly a brilliant way of dealing with it.

      *those benefits obviously being the life-saving, you perverts

    • AndrewC says:

      Yeah – like wot has been said, you are perhaps committing a category error. ‘Death’ is something that happens when you fail something ‘in’ the game, but is not something that is ‘in’ the game, like a clipping error or whatever. Just as we don’t get worked up that we are clicking mice buttons instead of actually firing guns/opening doors/firing guns/stroking cat/firing more guns, we don’t break our connection to the game because of dying in it.

      So we aren’t committing hypocrisies when not getting annoyed at Death and Quickloads. However, pushing to make Death an interesting ‘in’ game mechanic, rather than just an invisible and accepted bit of gaame-design, would be cool – and console toys, as pointed out by some of the examples below, seem to be doing it more that PC-tools.

    • Colthor says:

      Grargh, I hated that section in PoPtSoT with a burning passion like the fires of a thousand supernovae.
      Not only did they remove your anti-frustration device, they then decided that checkpoints were for wusses. Then, after a section of fairly normal platforming they added a long vertical wall-bounce, which was pretty iffy at the best of times as you’d often miss a jump and plummet to your death even if you hit the right keys – and unlike the rest of the game, all you can do is watch it happen and do the whole bastard section all over again, and probably fail it. Again. Through no fault of your own.
      I probably died as many times on that section as the rest of the game.

      Why they thought adding a whole heap of tedious, frustrating, pointless and easily avoidable repetition to an otherwise outstanding game was anything other than a painfully fucking stupid dick-move of the highest order I have no idea. All they had to do was not steal the dagger. But they did. Fucking bastard tosspot twatting arsehole cunts.

    • bill says:

      I don’t think penalties make anything more intense. Just frustrating and stressful. That section was really annoying in SoT.

      the whole, “penalties for failure makes success more satisfying” is something I don’t get. Success makes things satisfying, not failure.

    • sasayan says:

      All that time manipulation really plays havoc with keeping things consistent in your head.

    • BaronWR says:

      I think the first time I saw the whole “story unreliably narrated in a flashback” thing was probably the excellently written and sadly neglected Sacrifice. It wouldn’t suprise me if PoP lifted that idea straight from it.

    • MikoSquiz says:

      bill: Are you one of those guys who would start a game of Doom by typing “iddqd” before going for the arrow keys?

    • subedii says:

      Grargh, I hated that section in PoPtSoT with a burning passion like the fires of a thousand supernovae.

      Hence why I said some people find that more frustrating. Personally that was one of my favourite sections. I didn’t really have too many issues with it, it was just the safety net was gone. Even the vertical wall-jump that you mentioned was actually fairly generous in its timing.

      @ bill: This is where I’m afraid I have to part opinions with you, and probably a lot of posters.
      Success on its own doesn’t mean anything, and it certainly isn’t fulfilling. There are hundreds of games out there that are ridiculously easy to finish (from a gameplay perspective), but if the gameplay is the focus of the game, then just winning everything with ease for ever is even less satisfying for me than popping bubble wrap.

      When I’m playing a game and a message crops up spouting “CONGRATULATIONS! You just opened your 500th crate!”, that’s an “achievement”, it’s success but I don’t feel like it was anything I was actually trying to “achieve”. I just played the game and it happened as an inevitable result of playing the game. I feel the same about that as I do about opening an in-game door.

      To take another game as an example, Devil May Cry 4. Now in theory, I could play the entire game through on the easiest setting, and quite frankly blaze right through it to the end. Fulfilling right? I won the game so it must be fulfilling.

      Well no, the entire experience would be freaking dull. Dull dull dull. I would just be mashing the A button repeatedly throughout the entire game.

      On the flipside, Devil May Cry 4 is one of the only games I’ve ever played through on all its difficulty levels (I might have skipped one at some point, can’t remember), right through to the hardest one. Because beating the challenge is what was fun. And there were definitely parts where I got stuck on a boss fight or a section, but the nature of a well designed game is that if you lose, it’s because YOU were the one making mistakes. And I’d count DMC4 as a fairly well designed game when it comes to its combat, because I always enjoyed the combat gameplay, and beating the hard parts just made it feel that much more awesome and satisfying when you do.

      I mean, I’m one of those people who can play peggle for a bit, and I don’t really see the fuss over it. It’s not satisfying at all, and the end result achieved often has extremely little to do with your own actual input, as much as the game tries to provide the illusion of otherwise. They can throw around all those shiny lights and rainbows, and blast “Ode to Glory” through my headphones, but that doesn’t make getting to the end of the level feel satisfying at all, at least not to me.

      Of course, there are some games where the emphasis isn’t on that kind of gameplay. More adventure based games where the content is the story and the characters (like Mass Effect). And that’s fine, but they aren’t depending on you defeating their gameplay mechanics to have fun with the content, the content is the storyline (which also explains why they tried to make the combat more fun in the sequel).

      Even a puzzle game like Portal has its frustrations, with puzzles that you simply cannot seem to work out (and there were a fair few in the sequel that had me wondering “How the heck?!” for a long time). But if you just looked up the puzzle answer, sure you can SUCCEED in completing it. But it sure as heck won’t be satisfying, certainly not as satisfying doing it yourself.

      Which getting back to POP, was why I particularly enjoyed that ending segment. I had been taught up until that point all the mechanics necessary to succeed, and the final test was without them having to offer that additional help of a safety net. Succeeding there felt more satisfying to me.

    • bill says:

      bill: Are you one of those guys who would start a game of Doom by typing “iddqd” before going for the arrow keys?

      No. But I’m one of those guys that was happy Doom had quicksaves so that when I died I didn’t have to go back to the beginning of a section/level and do the whole damn thing again. I can’t see how repeating the easy parts again and again would have made it more satisfying.

      @ bill: This is where I’m afraid I have to part opinions with you, and probably a lot of posters.

      No problem, there are lots of different gamers with different tastes. And of course different games require different elements.

      But, for example, Portal never punishes the player for failing. There isn’t really any penalty, other than being stuck or having to try again.

      If I succeed at doing something great in a game, then I feel the sense of achievement from that. If I fail, then I’ll try again. But I don’t need to be punished for failing – simply failing is enough.
      In real life, if i’m trying to do a new snowboard trick, and I fail, I try again, and I fail and i keep trying until i succeed – at which point I feel great.
      I’m not sure that having someone come around and break my knees or take my board every time i failed would add to the sense of achievement when i finally pulled it off. It sure wouldn’t add to the fun.

    • subedii says:

      I’m not suggesting that games go out of their way to be DELIBERATELY frustrating by throwing random unanticipated crap your way. But here’s the problem. You can learn to snowboard, but only after a lot of effort put in trying, and that’s what makes it satisfying to learn.

      In any game where you simply succeed on autopilot, the success itself isn’t satisfying. Succeeding only feels like an accomplishment if you’ve actually been working towards it. Getting back to Portal, the penalty for failing to understand a puzzle quite literally is the frustration of being unable to do so.

      Likewise an easy action game is pretty much completely unsatisfying, you’re just going through the motions and the game wins by default. It’s only when you’ve had to try towards something, and yes, often get frustrated because you can’t achieve it straight away, that you feel satisfied in achieving a result.

      The nature and form of that frustration differs with different games and styles of gameplay. But with a game like SWAT 4 for example, I have no qualms in saying that quicksaves would have destroyed the gameplay. It’s all about the tension of a level, and the gameplay is built around the perfect execution. Being able to do it RIGHT on the first go. The ability to simply reload a room entry again and again would have pretty much worked against that (it helped that if played flawlessly, the missions would actually be fairly short. So that alongside other gameplay decisions like random enemy placement, worked in favour of the style of gameplay they were espousing there).

      I hit a wall on that game for a real long time, on the first mission that featured a large number of suspects and civilians. And it was tremendously frustrating at times (but never unfair, which is the important factor, and what kept me playing). But once I learned the rules that I was supposed to be playing and executing by (haste gets people killed), it not only felt satisfying to complete, but it set me up for the rest of the game. With that style of gameplay, a good game is one that teaches you its mechanics and then puts you in situations to use them, and if you’ve learned the lessons, you can make it through. Playing through the final mission of SWAT 4: Stechkov, I literally blitzed through it on my first try. And it felt like an accomplishment not because the game was easy and let me off the hook, or wouldn’t punish me outright if I messed up somehow. It was because the game had taught me and drilled into me its gameplay mechanics and when it came to that final mission, I was able to execute them flawlessly.

      I wouldn’t have felt any achievement at all in that level if I had simply been able to spam quickload and play in 5 second chunks until I won. I felt as if I won because I knew what I was doing.

    • BooleanBob says:

      Subedii is working toward a great truth here. Listen to the man!

      Perhaps an example from my own experience can move us along too. One that comes to mind is when recently I bought Noitu Love 2 (a rash impulse provoked by the patented evil Quinns genius for selling games off the back of nothing but his raw enthusiasm. Never let the man cross into PR or the collective content of our wallets is as good as spent). I played it through on the Normal difficulty (the easier of the two initial options) and hated it. Hated hated hated it. Even though the ‘content’ – in terms of music, funky retrosprites and Gunstar Heroes-y creative insanity – was pretty breathtaking, I felt like I was muddling through the game without ever mastering it because the giant health bar was just so forgiving. I was getting Bs and Cs in the level ratings, even the game was kind of underhandedly acknowledging that I sucked, but that in itself wasn’t any impediment to progress, so I kept on blundering forward.

      It may seem counter-intuitive, I needed that impediment. I needed to die a few times, to be forced to rethink my approach, come up with strategies and just to gosh-darn improve at the game. After the third level of breezing through while perfomingly horribly, I started over on the harder setting. I now got Cs and Ds, but because just getting through the level in one piece felt like so much more of an achievement, I was much the more at ease, even if by the game’s assessment I was doing ‘worse’.

      And funnily enough, because I was feeling better about playing the game – enjoying it more – so too was I able to enjoy the fantastic aesthetic content all the more as I reached the levels I hadn’t before played.

      I’m not sure what conclusion you can really draw from this – only, perhaps, that everyone has their own threshold or tolerance for challenge in a game, so you need to be prepared if you’re developing one to cater for a wide, wide range. And that fail states do not necessarily always equal frustration or disrupted immersion. Sometimes, paradoxically, they are vital to preventing it.

    • noodlecake says:

      @subedii Not only have you nailed it, you’ve made me want to give Devil May Cry 4 another go after dismissing it. :)

    • Dominic White says:

      DMC4 and (to an even greater extent) Bayonetta should be required reading for anyone getting into games design, simply for the absolutely masterful way they handle difficulty settings and challenge.

      Both games are geared the same way – there’s an Easy mode with simplified controls and much slower, weaker enemies that is designed to introduce genre newcomers to the core gameplay. Normal mode is designed for players with some genre experience, and the challenge is very carefully pitched to ramp up steadily right up to the big dramatic finale.

      In both games, there’s a strong scoring system, and your end-of-level rating will be affected negatively if you died, used healing items, etc. In DMC4 in particular, if you die repeatedly on a section, it’ll quietly lower the difficulty to let you past, but tell you afterwards that it was going easy on you, showing you exactly how many points it deducted as price for its mercy on you. It’s a short, sharp snap across your pride, and it encourages you to go back and do better, setting out to properly master the game.

      And mastery is what it’s all about – an ace player can play through the whole thing practically without getting hit. The skill ceiling is miles high.

      But back on the subject of difficulty (admittedly a tangent) – once you beat Normal mode, Hard unlocks, which allows you to carry all your equipment and character upgrades back to the start, to play a fully remixed verson of the game balanced with someone who has just beaten Normal in mind. It starts hard, and gets harder, and harder, until the big finale.

      And then you unlock Very Hard, which assumes you’ve got a very skilled player who already has every single weapon, upgrade and perk in the game, plus knows all the tricks in the book. It throws everything at you – minibosses as the first enemies you meet. Normal bosses move about twice as fast and even bust out some entirely new attacks. The game clearly wants you dead.

      And if you come out the other side, you feel like a million bucks, and you can’t quickload even once.

    • Colthor says:

      Has WordPress stopped eating my comments yet? Seems odd it lets the obscenity-filled invective through and then stops the reasonably intelligent and considered posts. Although that would explain comment threads the internet over.

      Anyway, “pressing the right buttons at the right time” isn’t the only challenge games can offer. Figuring out how to solve problems or puzzles is another form of challenge which suits my tastes far better. Once I’ve figured out the solution I hate the implementation being unnecessarily fiddly; to my mind I’ve done the interesting bit, the rest’s just work.

      Portal’s a good example of that, as has been mentioned, but SpaceChem’s even better: you’ll spend hours thinking about some of the problems, but once you’ve got it the bit that looks like the game – dragging symbols around – is deliberately simple and easy. It’s far from an easy game, but it has no requirements for speed, timing or reactions.

    • subedii says:

      @ BooleanBob: I’m thinking I ought to give Noitu Love another try sometime. I tried it once years back when it released, but didn’t really get into it at the time. Which is strange in a way because I’m a huge fan of Metal Slug, and I’m certain that was also an influence on it.

      @ Dominic White: It was like that with me and Batman: Arkham Asylum when I first played it as well. Tried the demo, and it seemed ok but I never really got the fuss over the combat system.

      But after a few more tries, I decided to try going through maintaining as big an uninterrupted combo as possible, and not getting hit once. And just like that, the whole thing just clicked. This was THE Batman game. Batman doesn’t get hit, he’s never in the wrong place at the wrong time, he counters every punch, exploits every opening. All you see is Batman enter a fight at the start, and piles of concussed mooks strewn across the floor at the end. What happens in-between is just a blur of awesome.

      When you put it to hard mode, they remove the attack indicator, but by that stage you don’t really need it because you’ve developed a good eye for where the next attack is going to come from.

  2. Devenger says:

    Games with a short playthrough time can remain fun in the face of death being an almost complete reset state (Spelunky being a great example, of course). But yes, I would like to see more games that make death an end to a character, but not an end to the world that character occupied. Having an open-world game where when you died, you adopted a new character, who would face a world changed by their ancestor/hero/family member/predecessor in significant ways… that would be wonderful. Horrendously difficult to make work well. But so are many great things.

    • P7uen says:

      Like Nethack. I remember a few games in which you could plunder your old corpse, But having no way to know how many times your player is going to die it might be hard to make a decent number of characters with a believable motive to save the universe or whatever it is; he can’t have killed all our fathers.

    • Xercies says:

      I thought of doing it this way as well, imagine you die and get turned into someone else’s conscience and body, you go to the previous guys funeral, get told of how he died and go through the mission again to avenge his death. With many different paths depending on how many people you get killed.

    • Bhazor says:

      Infinity Blade* on the iPad does exactly this.
      Every time you die you become your last character’s son who embarks on a quest to avenge his father’s death.

      *One of those elusive iThing games that isn’t just a ported flash game or a rip off a ported flash game.

    • Chris D says:

      I think Permadeath is something that needs to be tied to procedural generation to really work. It works if you get a new experience when you restart but not if you have to retrace your steps. I played enough games in the eighties where death meant doing it all over again, that’s not a part of gaming history I’m eager to return to.

      Permadeath can work really well to ratchet up the tension for a certain subset of games but we probably need to find other solutions for everything else. Maybe we should just have more games where you play as Jack Harkness or Captian Scarlet. I could google “Jack Harkness and Captain Scarlet” but I’m scared of what I might find.

    • mashakos says:


      was just going to blurt out “Infinity Blade!” after finishing the article. good thing I did a quick search of the comments for the half-word “infin”!

    • Devenger says:

      And now I wish I had an iPad so I can play the odd unique game it receives. As for Nethack… perhaps I need to return to it, give it another go, YASD be damned.

      On an ASCII theme, I suppose Dwarf Fortress deserves a mention, given your fortresses and adventurers make notable changes on the world map that can be noted by future adventurers. Not quite a game worth playing Adventure Mode in yet (except for humour and absurdity), though.

  3. Boozebeard says:

    Well, the system shock and bioshock games had those medical bed things and vita chambers. And I know it’s a PS3 game but Demon souls has a very interesting spin on dieing, in fact dieing in that game is useful in certain situations.
    Ultimately it depends what kind of story you want to tell and it what kind of world it is set as to whether death should just be death or not.

    Oh yeah, the sands of time thing was pretty neat too.

    • BebopBraunbaer says:

      i was also thinking about demon souls and another example would be “heavy rain” where the story will go on untill all (6?) protagonists die (or stuck in jail)

    • Mungrul says:

      Yeah, both of these games immediately spring to mind when discussing death in games, it’s just a shame that they don’t have PC versions.

      The pursuit of life in Demon’s Souls is a double-edged sword, especially when you’re playing online.
      You get more health when alive, have more of an impact on the alignment of the world and do more damage if the circumstances allow, but you’re also vulnerable to invasion, one of the most terrifying and exhilarating experiences in gaming. Seriously, there’s nothing quite so scarey as having ploddingly killed your way through a significant amount of a particularly hard level only to have someone invade your world, intent on killing you.
      And why are they doing it?
      So that they can resurrect.

      In Heavy Rain, I was playing on Hard difficulty and Norman Jayden got killed when investigating the scrap yard as I struggled to grasp the controller in an unnatural way quickly enough. That was it, he was gone. His part in the story had ended, and he had no more to contribute.
      It was a bit frustrating, especially because I felt his death had been caused by awkward controls more than my lack of skill, but the outcome was a real feeling of having had a direct impact on how the story would resolve. I still mean to go back and play it again at some point, as I’d like to see exactly how many iterations the game has accounted for.

      It’s a massive shame that the new “Cross Platform” spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, won’t be seeing a PC release. I have a suspicion that a game with such a novel and unique approach to online play would be incredibly successful on PC, and the open nature of networking on the PC would allow for even more experimentation on behalf of the developers.

    • pertusaria says:

      Quoting Mungrul: “The pursuit of life in Demons Souls is a double-edged sword”

      I remember a zombie game online (just looked it up, Urban Dead) where you could be killed and turned into a zombie. Zombies have a choice to seek out resurrection or not (live humans can use medical supplies to resurrect), although since you can be resurrected while “asleep” (you’ve used up your turns for the day) you can’t entirely avoid someone resurrecting you without your permission. Zombies get fewer turns per day as far as I remember, and since they are limited to grunts the game is less social for them. On the other hand, the worst has already happened, so they can explore freely and do fun stuff like band together to invade the mall. A really neat concept.

  4. bglamb says:

    To me it’s like the difference between pausing a film and having it freeze itself. if a film keeps freezing, it’s difficult to stay immersed, but pausing it, even repeatedly, is much easer to deal with. You can pop in and out of the immersion at your leisure.

    Quickloading is intentionally taking yourself out of the immersion for a moment and thus easily rationalised without spoiling the rest of the experience.

    • Masked Dave says:

      This is exactly what I was thinking too.

      Quick loading isn’t any more suspense-of-disbelief breaking than rewinding a film, or pausing the game to make a cup of tea because it’s happening outside of the narrative and so is just a tool for me to play the game.

      If you actually died and came back to life, but five minutes in the past, in the game itself (and you weren’t magic or something) then that would be immersion breaking as it wouldn’t make sense. But I’m choosing to reload. I could choose to stay dead or start from the beginning again if I wanted to.

  5. Catastrophe says:

    I had a dream last night where it was the End of Days and if I didn’t survive what it through at me, it started all over again.

    I say dream, it was more of a nightmare. There were many hungry dogs turned rabid, cats gone crazy, zombie-style people (maybe once bit by the rabid dogs?).

    One of them was even a flood of shit, literally in my nightmare, I had to avoid being drowned in shit.

    If I recall I died to the rabid dogs once and “restarted” and also the zombies.

  6. Acosta says:

    Prince of Persia has a lovely system for that: “ops, wrong story.” I actually rationalize the death and reload as that in every game.
    And yes, the lovely Demon Souls makes you basically immortal, but removes any chances of quicksaves and so, it´s an awesome system with a great balance between fairness and punishment. I wish more games experimented more with things like that.

    • alexmasterson says:

      “No, no, wait. That’s not how it happened – let me start again.”

      God, those words are burned into my brain >_<

    • Dozer says:

      The best example of PoPtSoT’s “wait, that’s not how it happened” unreliable-narrator game-death-substitutes is the text adventure (sorry, ‘interactive fiction’) Spider and Web, by Andrew Plotkin. Although you can still die. It’s free, and you’ll soon see how the death-substitute mechanic works:
      link to eblong.com

  7. Mr Chug says:

    Haven and Hearth’s got a neat mechanic for perma-death, whereby you respawn as a descendant of your previous character, inheriting a certain percentage of skill points depending on whether your ancestor preferred change or tradition. You can also pray to your ancestors later, with the quality of any gifts depending on their skills at death, etc.

  8. skymt says:

    Soul Brother comes quite close to your idea of moving to a new character when you die. In fact, that’s its primary gameplay element. Though it does reset the stage if you run out of playable characters.

    I myself am a fan of games with hardcore failure modes. Roguelikes typically have permanent death, while quite a few others make it an option (props to Torchlight, VVVVVV and Escape Velocity). An acquired taste, of course.

    • Fumarole says:

      I often choose the hardcore mode in games that have it. Sure, when I die I feel like hurling my keyboard out the window, but a few deep breaths and all is fine with the world once again. When playing party-based RPGs I also accept the death of individual characters and try to continue playing, resurrecting the poor puppets of my ineptitude if the game world allows it.
      This extends beyond death too, from botched quests to poor choices in skill selection. I feel that living with the consequences of the choices I make brings me into the game world so much more and I have a better experience for it. Some people I know save their game before every fork in the path and play all possible outcomes to see what they are. That’s not for me; if I want to experience those paths I replay the game at a later date in a different manner than before. This makes the story have a more cohesive feel to me.

    • caesarbear says:

      The problem is that most all games are absolutely fixated on linear storytelling. Imagine not being able to finish a game like Portal because of a hardcore failure state and never knowing what everyone else was talking about. So many games are preoccupied with telling an authored story that will get out into general consciousness. This is were a hardcore fail state does nothing but frustrate and jar you from immersion because the intention is for the player to complete.

      Games that don’t focus on a linear stories can produce more personal narrative that can allow for hardcore fail states, or better yet more significant consequences. Eliminate the idea of a game being completed or following a path of success, and you can have something with much greater personal resonance and appeal. Otherwise it’s just someone stealing your comic book from you before you’ve finished.

      Fail states seem like such a ingrained hold over from the arcade days though. Challenge doesn’t require them. Trying to persevere in a game seems like much more of a challenge than repeating a moment in time until a fail state is avoided. If I screw up in a racing sim, I have to deal with my mistake and keep going. Yet it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve lost the race. Why do our RPG adventures require us to win and kill every single thing we fight? Why not follow a different path after fleeing from battle? Is that too much for a gamer’s pride and the demand for endless victory?

  9. Grape says:

    A game where, when you die, you represent another person when you respawn?

    You already have that in just about every multiplayer game, ever. When you get killed in Bad Company 2, and respawn as reiforcements, you don’t seriously think you’re representing the same guy, do you?

    • P7uen says:

      Thanks a bunch, Grape, where was the *SPOILERS* alert?

    • Grape says:


    • Hallgrim says:

      If this were true, there would be differences after you died. You would have different weapons and gear available to you depending on how well you did in your last “life”. Players who were capturing objectives when they died would be able to set global waypoints for the rest of their Rambo-type teammates. Players who did really poorly for a sustained time would be given access to gear that improved their survivability, but “broke” when they started doing well again.
      You’re not respawning as a different person, they’ve spraypainted “reinforcements” on the Doom deathmatch respawn mechanic.

    • Grape says:

      If this were true, there would be differences after you died. You would have different weapons and gear available to you depending on how well you did in your last “life”. Players who were capturing objectives when they died would be able to set global waypoints for the rest of their Rambo-type teammates. Players who did really poorly for a sustained time would be given access to gear that improved their survivability, but “broke” when they started doing well again.

      That could be one way for the developers to interpret it, yes. But there is absolutely no universal rule that says it has got to be that way. Also, there usually are differences after you die. In most games, you have the option to choose a new class, which uses an entirely different skin, which in some cases even mean giving the characters fifferent faces. Don’t tell me that when you die as a blond, bearded man and respawn as an African-American man with no facial hair; you’re supposed to be the same guy.

      They’ve spraypainted “reinforcements” on the Doom deathmatch respawn mechanic.

      Yes, Obviously. So what?

  10. Nighthood says:

    To me, the most immersive way to have a death mechanic is (oddly), the way they do it in ArmA2. When you get shot (unless you get shot in the head, which can happen) you fall to the ground and call out for the medic that is in your squad, or any other teammate who can do first aid. Or, if all else fails, you can start crawling while bleeding out, shooting as many people as you can with one magazine, then eventually dying, and having to go right back to the beginning again (assuming you aren’t saving constantly, which you shouldn’t be). The more long and drawn out the process of death is the more shocking it seems.

    When you play games like Call of Duty, death is instant. Ran out of health, boom, dead. Now respawn at the last checkpoint and try again. The difference with things like ArmA is the agonising wait for a medic, being dragged to cover from an open field, knowing that your death may lead to the death of everyone else in your squad. You feel accountable, like your death would really mean something, almost guilty for having let it happen.

    Perhaps I’m rambling, but that’s how I see it. Instant death is immersion breaking, an agonisingly tense wait is one of the most immersive things you’ll get in games.

    • P7uen says:

      That is more of an annoying consequence in your real life than immediately dying as well, so you want to avoid it more. I like the sound of it.

    • bascule42 says:

      I’m with you about BI’s Arma games. It’s one of the few games I play where getting killed matters to me. As mentioned abocve you have the injury/medic system. Even so, you still have an option to load the game from a previous point – but what BI have done here is just briliant – sure there are “auto saves” in campaign missions, and many user made missions, but at any reasonable level of difficulty you only have one user save available to you. Just the one. I love it. It’s an idea that really gives you a reason not to get killed and in my mind it works brilliantly because if you only have the one save, and you don’t know the mission very well, it’s fairly pointless trying to save the game using your one save tactically, i.e. after a particularly troublesome firefight, because you don’t know whats coming next. So that one save, the one chance of a re-do, (or since were talking about Arma(2), “re-deux”) rarely gets used, by me at least.

      Flashpoint, Arma & Arma 2 is perhaps the only game, (yes there are 3, but it’s the same game really), where I start a mission expecting to fail – and fail quite often I do. In todays handholding, respwning, F5ing, and regenerating games, I find it a breath of clean air, (with a tinge of gun oil and cordite).

    • Dozer says:

      I only played the first ArmA, and only briefly. But I remember that you can take control of your squadmates, before or after the character you’re controlling dies. So if you’re leading a four men tasked with destroying the parked jets at the airfield and you get shot, you take control of the second-in-command, make sure to get any necessary equipment from the body of the first guy, and carry on. I like that mechanic, because it means that death is punished by making the mission harder but not necessarily impossible and therefore requiring a reload.

  11. Jonas says:

    In my experience, a lot of people don’t like the idea of using a different metaphor for failure than death. If you don’t give them that narrative threat of death, regardless of how meaningless it actually is in gameplay terms, some people will just be less engaged in the game – at least that’s what I gather from certain discussions of games like Torment or BioShock. Admittedly those games also didn’t dial back your progress though, which may factor into it.

    • Chris D says:

      I picked up Bioshock about a month ago. My problem with the vita-chambers wasn’t the fictional aspect. I’m prepared to stretch suspension of disbelief quite a bit but it felt like an unsatisfying mechanic. Here’s why.

      A game where you reload a quicksave might look like this.

      I just got jumped by 5 guys, now I’m dead. I suck.

      Ok, lets try that again. Dead again. I suck.

      Got 4 of them this time, getting closer…

      I just killed 5 guys. Who’s the daddy? Go me I’m awesome.

      Bioshock is more like:

      I just got jumped by 5 guys. I’m dead. I suck.

      Four guys this time. Dead again. I still suck.

      Just three left, how hard can it be? Got two but killed by the last one. Gaaaagh!

      One guy left. I killed him. Great one measly guy, some achievement.

      The problem with Bioshock is that you never really get the cleansing “I’m awesome moment”, you’re just left with the bitter aftertaste of sucking.

    • wintergreen says:

      @Chris D: Completely agree. I remember one section in particular where you have to hold out against swarms of enemies for about 3 minutes. Or alternatively just sit in a vita-chamber for 3 minutes. I don’t know if there was an option to turn vita-chambers off in the first bioshock, but I definately turned it off for the second one. To me, that narrative device ruined the gameplay.

  12. applecup says:

    I don’t know how many people here played it, but what about the Witch’s Wake module/DLC for Neverwinter Nights? Death was a part of the narrative – if you didn’t die, you lost quite a bit of worldbuilding, given the events that followed it. Death and resurrection were quite prominent themes.

    And then the rest of it got canned. I was not amused. :|

    • mattratcliffe says:

      Speaking of neverwinter nights. There was a fan made module called path to ascension. It became so popular in it’s time the modders implemented the ability to become a god (level 50 or something). You were practically immortal but if you did die, everyone on the server (usually 100 or so at a time) excluding other immortals would be killed and had to respawn. As it was so rare it was quite an epic event to see everyone explode into pieces.

  13. Xocrates says:

    TvTropes has a page on that. It’s called “Acceptable Breaks From Reality”.

    And ultimately that’s the thing, isn’t it? You can weave and contort the fiction in order to accommodate death, and plenty of games do that fairly well, but there will be cases where death is not only a possibility, but where replacements aren’t a viable excuse, it really doesn’t make sense if your special ops team is the size of a small army.

    Sure, you can pretend that you’re on a Spaceship playing in a holographic representation of World War 2, or, you know, you can pretend you’re a dude in his bathrobe playing a videogame.

    • Acorino says:

      >>but where replacements aren’t a viable excuse, it really doesn’t make sense if your special ops team is the size of a small army.

      True, but a fictional excuse could be that another special ops team gets sent in after the previous one was eliminated. But I agree, death doesn’t disturb your suspension of disbelief, I think because we’re used that games work this way. I’d like to see more games with an original approach on death, nevertheless.

  14. Ringwraith says:

    Men of Valor, which was set during the Vietnam war, was a game that really gave death a shock as whenever you died, it would cut to the reading of the message sent home to your character’s family informing them of his death. This even changed depending on where you were and what the mission was before you died.
    Sure it went back to the last (often badly placed) checkpoint when it finished (or you skipped it), but it certainly made the whole thing hit home.

  15. KauhuK says:

    How about a sandbox game (ala fallout style, be it the classic 2D or modern 3D version) where you start the game as one of the characters in the game. The game world is a place where all characters go on about their lives (like in oblivion, witcher but a bit improved of course) and you will be one of them. You take a control of an existing character who has hes/her own story (you get a brief description of your charaters life) You can live the life like you want. You can be already married or you can marry someone. The character interaction is (supposedly) realistic. You can hunt/gather food and water. You can build your own house. You can get friends and/or get into fights. You can change the whole world by your actions if you get that far.

    The thing is that when you die it is permanent. When you die you can choose to leave the game or continue with other character from the game world. That character can be anyone, even the one that might have killed your earlier character.

    This is the idea in a nutshell.

  16. Hides-His-Eyes says:

    I always liked the SWAT like system of carrying on as a different member of the team; consistent, punishent, but not stupid.

    The trouble is, some games rely on you trying and dying once to know how to continue. How does Pvt. Andrew know that german who shot you is behind the second pile of sandbags on the left?

  17. chokoladenudlen says:

    The best solution would no doubt be to create a USB-to-testicle clamp, which gives you a stern, but friendly, ZAP! everytime you cause the demise of your protagonist.
    Bonus: Options for compatibility with older games! Ka-ching! Or not…

    I don’t like the hologrames, as the cannot bleed of wince, and you’d have to remove those effects to be consistent.
    Expendable cannon-fodder grunts sound like a fun solution, but it would totally fuck up the backstories of any game. As would cloning, but to a lesser extent (the Bioshock revival thingies worked ‘okay’).

    If you’re looking for punishment for your ‘failure’ when you die, you could just force yourself to restart the map or the entire game ( Diablo 2 Hardcore or Iron skull from Halo come to mind). That would be a heck of a punishment.

    I’m satisfied with simply having to replay the game from the last checkpoint whenever I die. It is a very minor punishment, but a punishment none the less – which is why I’ve grown to prefer checkpoints to quick save/load (never thought I would hear myself say that!).

    Perhaps devs could incorporate a slider to adjust how often checkpoints occur depending on how hardcore you want it?

    • Acorino says:

      I think punishment is not the important factor. Instead, the game has to make sure that you can’t get past an obstacle just by trial & error, luck or chance on the x-th try.
      I have to think of Mafia. Its checkpointing was pretty harsh in places, but as soon as you knew where the game placed your opponents it became much easier, since the AI was pretty dumb and didn’t move around at all.
      Otherwise, if you quick load your way through a game, it may not be much fun since you don’t test your skills, you just quick load again and again until you get past the obstacle.

      I know I played games like this many years back, but in the past years I became wary of constant quick saving/loading.

    • Thecreeperskg says:

      Diablo II was in HC mode the closest thing I ever had to a GENUINE fear of loosing something important and dear to me. I really miss that sorceress… sniff.

  18. patstew says:

    On a somewhat related note, one of the few times I’ve thought that anti-gaming moral crusaders might have had a point was one during of those sudden moments of clarity you get when you realise you’ve done something quite stupid. In this case it was my drunk teenage self realising that ‘I can always reload’ is not an appropriate reason for swinging about on scaffolding several storeys up.

  19. Squirrelfanatic says:

    Hm, maybe a spoiler warning would have been nice for the Tomb Raider part. I think that could have been a really cool surprise for some people.

    Apart from that: What about Planescape:Torment? The whole game is built around the idea of an immortal person.

    • son_of_montfort says:

      Yeah, I’m fairly disappointed. An entire article about the consequences of Death in games and Planescape Torment is only mentioned in the comments and pretty far down. That game was all about being immortal and dying sometimes was a “teleport back to the morgue” but other times it was absolutely necessary to advance the story. The story even revolved around death, dying, immortality, and the consequences of facing an afterlife.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      and you could get XP for dying (triggering a non-specific hidden memory)

    • Ralphomon says:

      That’s pretty much exactly what I was thinking – where’s all the Planescape: Torment chat? The whole point is you’re immortal so dying is just passing out and waking up back in the first room.

      Wasn’t there a flash game or an indie game where you would play as a succession of queens sent into a dungeon by their unscrupulous king? The idea being that one would die and you’d respawn at the beginning as the king’s next wife and try to get further, learning from your previous mistakes, given a narrative justification via all these telltale queen corpses lying around. Does anyone know what it’s called?

    • drewski says:

      Yep. Massive RPS fail, getting this far down a comment thread about death in gaming without more than a passing reference to Torment.


    • BeamSplashX says:

      You mean Queens?

    • Ralphomon says:


      Yes, Queens is exactly what I mean!

  20. Sheng-ji says:

    Your comment about coming back as a different character reminded me a lot of Cannon Fodder, where every soldier lost would result in an identical soldier but crucially with a different name being added to your roster. And the gravestones on the hill! It became a matter of pride for me to get as far into the game as possible with Jools, Jops, Stoo, RJ, Ubik and CJ still intact! The fact I still remember their names and order proves how effective a game mechanic this was, and yes I know that was kind of the point of the game!

    • Seymour says:

      I was wondering how long it was going to be before someone mentioned Cannon Fodder. The soldiers are all identical, but I personally felt bad for putting them through the horrors of war. Simply because they had names, ranks and could actually be gone forever. Relegated to a tiny white cross among many on that hallowed hillside… The eager new blood on the road below. Simple but potent.

      RIP Jools and Jops. Heroes Always.

    • Phydaux says:

      Cannon Fodder was my first thought too. It has many of the elements John was suggesting.

      X-COM and Dwarf Fortress also have named individuals for whom death is the end.

      DF is great in the way a whole fortress can grind to a halt because a popular dwarf dies. (Although with Toady One’s more recent developments it may be that death is no longer the end for dwarfs and other creatures who may go on to haunt :D )

  21. henben says:

    In Cannon Fodder, your fallen soldiers were replaced with fresh recruits in pretty much the way you envisage with Simon Fodder and Iain Grindermeat. The title screen even showed you a graveyard to bring home the cumulative cost of your incompetent leadership.
    I’d like to play a time-travel FPS game featuring a gadget which prevents death by zapping you 30 seconds back in time when your health is depleted. You then see your earlier self repeating your actions of the last 30 seconds, but you can intervene by shooting the baddie who shot you. After the 30 seconds, your former self zaps back in time and you play on alone.
    If you fail to save yourself, a paradox happens and the whole universe ends.

    • NaFola says:

      But if you save yourself, the device wouldn’t zap your previous self back in time, and therefore you couldn’t save yourself, so you would once again zap back in time to save yourself, but if you save yourself, the device wouldn’t zap your previous self back in time, and therefore you couldn’t save yourself, so you would once again zap back in time to save yourself, but if you save yourself, the device wouldn’t zap your previous self back in time, and therefore you couldn’t save yourself, so you would once again zap back in time to save yourself, but if you save yourself, the device wouldn’t zap your previous self back in time, and therefore you couldn’t save yourself, so you would once again zap back in time to save yourself, but…

      it’s going to be one short repetitive game… it would really make you want to avoid dying in the first place though :D

  22. 9of9 says:

    Does anyone still remember Nomad Soul, I wonder? Not only was there a wonderful mechanic wherein your soul gets pulled into the body of another nearby character whenever you die, but it also had the ongoing metanarrative that your soul, the player’s would be sucked through the computer into hell if you ever died for real when there’s no other character for you to take refuge in.

    • Alabaster Crippens says:

      I was thinking of Nomad soul all the way through the article and comment thread. It was a really great mechanic for that, and did make me very immersed, despite the ridiculousness of the control systems in that game.

      Something that irritated but kinda improved it was that you lost your experience based skills when you swtiched bodies. So you had to learn to fight and shoot as well again. This annoyed the heck out of me, but it also meant that I felt ‘real’ pain when a character died. I did have to start again, even though I was still continuing the same narrative.

      Very neat.

    • sonofsanta says:

      Curses, beaten to the game name drop!

      How I loved the Dreamcast, though.

    • Bluepixie says:

      Yeah I used to get really attached to the characters for that very reason. Well, it made you care about their body. :)

      Also, this article made me think of Cannon Fodder. The pain of watching one of the original 4 get caught out by a stray bullet, their grave then appearing on boot hill. Tears might have been shed…

      Valkyria Chronicles does that as well, even more effectively I might add.

    • _Jackalope_ says:

      Loved Nomad Soul. Can’t find my copy of it anywhere which is a great shame. i played it for hours and barely scratched the surface. The soul possessing was a brilliant way of getting you to care about the characters.

    • Pinky G says:

      On one play through I let myself be killed by the first two demons and I was reincarnated as a thief. This was during the section when you still need access to the police station as Kayl. Quite funny. It wouldnt let me in.

  23. bill says:

    There was some talk of this recently (Sunday Papers? Forget where) – basically games have conditioned us to expect success at all times.

    If we’re playing a game, and we make the wrong choice, 95% of people will reload and try again until they get the best choice. Because that’s what gaming has conditioned them to do, and probably that’s what the developers expect them to do, so if they don’t they’ll be disadvantaged.

    This is a big problem for games, because it means they can’t present any negative consequences, other than death. And we know death is just a restart/retry.

    If we think of other narrative forms (and so excluding purely game-like competitive/puzzle forms), we’d never expect the leading character to die in the middle of the story – but on the other hand we’d expect them to make mistakes, fail, hit problems, and then ultimately succeed despite these problems. But in games we usually expect to be perfect, right up to where we succeed. The only alternative is the Lara-death type of thing where the failure is taken out of the hands of the player.

    I heard the Witcher makes some attempts to overcome this by making the results of your choices unclear until much later. But that’s rare.

    What would be interesting would be a totally different approach. A game where you can’t DIE or outright FAIL, but also with no checkpoints or loading/saving. Where positive and negative effects are irreversible and become part of the story. (and if necessary the game adjusts itself to take account of them).
    For example, an RPG where if you lose in combat then your character is wounded which permanently sticks with your character – but DOESN’T make your game less fun. Or an FPS where you can fail objectives or lose weapons, but always manage to keep on trucking (like an action hero!).

    The key thing would be to prevent it being annoying or unfair – as that’s about the worst sin a system can commit

    • sonofsanta says:

      I think the article you’re thinking of was a Witcher guest column on here recently actually, think it was Lewie or Dan Grillopolpopospsouosollous.

    • Catastrophe says:

      Is this Dan bloke the owner of the Laundrette on Albert Square?

    • caesarbear says:

      Well said Bill. I wholeheartedly agree.

  24. Richard Beer says:

    If it’s just a convincing framework for a do-over that you’re lacking, then Assassin’s Creed games have probably the most ingenious framework for that kind of thing. You’re not actually the protagonist for most of the time, you’re merely re-living his memories. This allows them to reload should you die (because Ezio didn’t actually die in the real world first time around), stop you straying too far afield (the memory runs out beyond a certain point) and even killing civilians.

    Everything is desynchronisation. Problem solved.

  25. danimalkingdom says:

    This is perhaps tangental but there were a few RTS games in the last 15 years in which you faced personal death regardless of your army, by having a unit representing you on the battlefield. There was a fantasy one, from around 1997, that did this. Also (and I keep mentioning this game, sorry) Scourge of War: Gettysburg and the Take Command games have you playing an actual officer. If he is slain, the battle stops and you lose, unlike in say Total War where you have a general, but it’s not the end of the world if he dies. Not sure which system I prefer.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      In the original Shogun Total War you could use your Daimyo as a battlefield general who could be killed by the enemy.
      If your Daimyo died through any means (battle, assassination, old age or illness) & you had no heirs to continue your clan dynasty, it was game over & you had to start from scratch (or reload your last save game & try again).

    • Jad says:

      Well, Total Annihilation quite famously did that, in most game modes if your Commander unit died everything was vaporized in the resulting nuclear blast.

  26. BattleMage says:

    Does anybody remember the old 2004 Conan game where you had to face Crom and deliver him a good fight so he would send you back to life after dying?

  27. Zwebbie says:

    I’m not sure how being told you’re a hologram or switching characters every minute actually helps immersion. Whenever gameplay mechanics are being explained with lore logic, it tends to be a mess.

    IMHO, the problem with shooty death is that it’s always victory or death, and retreating, licking your wounds and coming up with a new plan is generally either impossible or a massive waste of time. Which is why I’ve taken a liking to Paradox strategy titles lately, they just keep going, you can mess up really badly, but it’s nigh impossible to do so badly that the game stops.

  28. SuperNashwanPower says:

    I guess one solution is Portal’s personality spheres. When Wheatley gets crushed by Glados, he just has a new sphere made with his consciousness uploaded. Star Trek did this loads with putting entire minds into other bodies or robots – each time you die, its only a robot or one body dying, but the consciousness lives on.

  29. Mario Figueiredo says:

    While certainly a game where one doesn’t die has a good appeal, personally I think death has a lesser impact on immersion simply because it’s in the gamer genes to accept death as a possible consequence of their actions. In fact, for most games no death could mean there’s fewer conditions for the player to get immersed in the game.

    Immersion is broken not really by a sudden disconnect between the game world and the player caused for instance, by having to reload a game (I personally am pretty sure I don’t experience that disconnect when fiddling through load game screens after I botched). But by breaking an unspoken contract players make with their game. In that contract death is pretty much accepted, so players don’t construct a mental barrier around it. Or at least find little reason to.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      But on other type of games, death may be an immersion-breaking experience, for sure. And particularly when it means Game Over. But “Game Over”, we have to face it, is becoming less common. Games were you play with a limited number of lives aren’t just the industry standard anymore.

      That said, Death (how the game handles it) and Dying (the frequency and impact on gameplay) surely are on the minds on game developers. Some may do it badly, others better. But overall, I think games have been becoming more immersible, instead of less.

      As game making developed, prior immersion-breaking experiences have been tackled. Pixel hunting, loading screens, in-game cinematics, all have been decreasing significantly. These are the type of items, on that contract I speak above, that have always been poorly accepted by players. There’s still a case to be made, however, of more difficult factors to tackle with. Dialog trees and moral alignment scores are two that come immediately to mind. Also game writing in general. So we are still very often confronted with games that offer badly written plot sections that simply remove us from the game reality, moral alignment scores that are extremely easy to disbelief, or incomplete dialog trees that give the player that highly frustrating feeling of not finding the option for what they really wanted to say.

      These are the things that frankly have been bothering me. Death? I can live with it.

  30. 7Seas says:

    Excellent and thought provoking peice, couldn’t agree more. So much of the emotional impact of big narrative dramatic sequences is ruined by the player feeling like it takes place in a different universe from the one in which they were playing…. as you say, hard to take death seriously if you’ve quicloaded it 541 times before.

  31. Dominic White says:

    I just played through a Japanese indie arcade-style game, which I’ll be doing a review of later. Through the whole game, you have one life. One health-bar that is restored by maybe 20% on completing a level, 10% on finding a health pickup. That’s not enough to even restore you from a single heavy hit. It encourages really careful-but-aggressive play. Knock bosses out as quickly as you can before they can bring out their really big guns, and blitz through enemies before they can really gang up on you.

    On death, you can continue from the start of that level (3 continues max), but your score disappears into the ether, so there’s this encouragement to keep on trucking and trying as hard as you can on that one, single extended life. And y’know what? It’s bloody thrilling. Real heart-in-your-throat tension as you go into the final level with only half your health remaining and knowing that you’re going to be practically drowning in enemy bullets soon.

    Beating it without dying once? That is very, very satisfying. I can’t imagine how hollow it would have felt if I could just pop up where I dropped instantly upon death, or press a button to undo it, or even rewind to the last room on making a mistake. My score was huge, and death would have destroyed it. Even if it was just something as silly and abstract as that, it made death meaningful enough to be scary, and something to be avoided. It made me panic and fire off smartbombs when I should have held back.

    I think I’m going to replay Contra: Shattered Soldier tomorrow. That game ends with no less than 13 final bosses back-to-back.

  32. Lambchops says:

    The 57th greatest PC game of all time (surely by now you don’t need to be told it’s Outcast) was a great champion of internal consistency. Resurrection occured via an artefact called the “Gamsaav” crystal, which you couldn’t use during fights because the energy from weapon fire interrupted it’s miraulous operation. Not only that but you had a minaturisation backpack, you got a game over when killing important NPCs because their essence rose from their bodies and killed you and there was also a sensible plot reason why an alien race spoke English.

    • Lambchops says:

      I see Bill beat me to this, should learn to read the comments first!

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      No way, Gamsaav crystal? Was there also a Quiklodicus artefact and an Exitomenu staff? If you got really fed up with it, could you use an UrnInstaal potion?

      I quite like the idea of menu functions being things in the game :D

    • AndrewC says:

      Assassin’s Creed dopey sci-fi framing device was also excellent for this ‘in-game justification’ stuff.

  33. groovychainsaw says:

    There are games lthat do ‘death’ differently, but they’re unusual. Most have already been mentioned in here, but to recap, there are a lot of games that do have alternatives, but are in the minority. Eg:

    Demon’s Souls, in which you only have 1 ‘body’, otherwise you are a soul, punished with less health and a crazy corpse run back through the level (which is still just as hard as always with all the bad guys respawned in) to save your body. If you fail to make it there, you’re stuck like that, in a depleted form, until you beat a boss (or get a couple of special items). The ethereal nature of the game makes it far more plausible that you are a ‘ghost’, and being sent back to the beginning of the level (which is a huge, sprawling thing in most cases) makes you fear death like nothing else. It only works as the combat is tense but fair, and as you learn the level, you work out shortcuts to get through it, saving you effort on future ‘runs’.

    Planescape, obviously, casts you as an immortal. Everyone else can die, but you can’t, so you always make forwards progression with little loss when you die (apart from your compadres).

    Cannon fodder, as others have said, gave you a great vision of war, with the title screen graveyard filling up as each new recruit died in service. Having them get more skilled as they went along (I think -they ranked up for sure?) meant it was that much more painful when they died. This could be adapted for any shooter (lets not worry about character-driven narrative, as there doesn’t seem to be much in FPS in the first place).

    ‘Course, in a sci-fi/fantasy world, you can use any mcguffin to explain away your respawning, but does that necessarily make it any better/smarter than a quickload? I think what I’d like to see is some mechanic that effects your game in some (permanent?) way and creates that fear of death, without making it so punishing that you give up entirely.

  34. Guiscard says:

    I miss the good old days.
    Mind, that raises the point of the old Sierra games, where death was pernament. Not thought-provoking deaths though, you just screwed up somewhere and died hours on without anyway of quickloading. As John points out, that was stupid.

  35. SuperNashwanPower says:

    How about a system based on capitalism? Each time you fail, you lose a ton of money. Go broke and you have to work in Burger King for a month before you can afford to start again. You can’t die, only lose money and hope and sanity and OH MY GOD WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO MY LIFE IT WAS ALL SO PROMISING

    **hangs self**

    • Chris D says:

      Two points.

      1) There, there. Things will get better. (Insert more platitudes to taste.)

      2) I’ve played games that use that kind of mechanic. Most of the time I’d just end up reloading anyway. Usually the thought that I’m now going backwards outweighs any desire for narrative consistency. There are some exceptions, I’ll let losses stand in a Total War game, but mostly making progress feels good. Going in reverse is usually a sign that I’ll go and play something else now.

    • Catastrophe says:

      Haha, you think you can escape your life that easily? You said yourself you cannot die, hanging yourself simply means you loose EVEN MORE money and you are now required to work LONGER HOURS in Burger King. Mwhahaha, you cannot die when you’re already in HELL. *Large explosions of fire while all the previous narative was spoke in a deathly spooky voice*

    • Qazi says:

      Mount & Blade comes to mind.
      Lose your freedom for a bit, your army, lose your possessions, potentially even lose your horse, then kicked back into the world alive but in a diminished position of power.

  36. Ultra Superior says:

    My “attempt at solution” would be –

    A painful loss alternative to the loss of life.

    Imagine a space fighter/ racer / rts or gladiator game, where your failure would be treated with the loss of an expensive ship / car / budget / rank / prestige / limb and you’ll have to find – within the game, ways to get around this misfortune. You could switch the teams, join the losers, find one handed weapon, desert to the enemy faction, get to the shady underground league, endure being at the bottom for a while and try to work your way up again and make your return, get your respect back.

    If you would fail that – you would be just a loser, like you are in the real life (presumably).

    Sad, aging loser, with little money, little love and no quickloads.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      I reckon soon we will see Activision employing a “pay £5 to reincarnate” function, with your credit card details as part of your profile.

    • Wunce says:

      I’d have to disagree with you on the whole “conditioned to only accept success”. While many people want this, I prefer it when failure can and will happen. When playing Mass Effect (2), I never retry any saves no matter how poorly my choice is. What this lead to is the idea that when playing a game with this mind it creates your personal canon playthrough.

      Why this canon playthrough idea is so cool is that I knew there was a chance everyone could die in the end of ME2. I didn’t know what caused it but I ended up holding my breath through the entire end scene. I’ve never felt that intense feeling while playing a game and watching a movie, so it goes to show how potent the threat of true failure is.

  37. Keep says:

    Great comments section, it’s posts like this that make me glad I know of RPS.

    Let’s look at this from a mechanic point of view – what’s the point of dying in a game? It’s basically the game telling you “No, you didn’t do things right; try again”.

    Which yeah, is an immersion breaker. Being told you have to do things a particular way grates. But one thing that I think is mad about how most games punish you for not doing things right is…to make you play more of the game.

    Wouldn’t it be interesting if death in the mechanical sense (screen goes black, reload to last savepoint) wasn’t just replaced with a narrative explanation (‘You are a different soldier now’, or ‘You are retelling the story and corrected yourself’) but with a different mechanical outcome. Maybe death makes you skip over some sections of the action instead of repeating them. Now that would punish the player for dying. Or maybe death sends you to a different game-world – maybe permanently, so death’d literally be a real game-changer :P.

    Because I think it’s just as absurd that we accept dying in games, as that we have a convention for what ‘death’ means – end of the line, you have to go back to before you died in order to keep playing this game. Why not shake that up?

    • AndrewC says:

      Perhaps the point of dying in the game (especially an ‘immersive’ type of game), is to make you connect with the world more? A baddie is just moving landscape unless he can kill you. The sound of gunfire is just noise unless it signals approaching danger. A cliff is just scenery unless falling off it will brek your legs. Yes?

    • Ultra Superior says:

      What AndrewC said – usually you, player, being the hero means much depends on you. If you die, there is no auxiliary hero to save the world instead of you – and you set on the quest because you cared (maybe) about something in the world.

      Take a multiplayer FPS. When you die, you often become a spectator, you see the kill cam, or leaderboard, or respawn timer – you are temporarily removed from the control seat, but you are still fed information about the world you’re desperately wanting to reincarnate into again.

      The gameworld matters, not you. But I think it could be designed the other way around too.

    • triple omega says:

      But death doesn’t necessarily need to be the mechanic that connects you to the game world. Since Hitman was on the frontpage, let’s use that as an example. If you are any good at playing hitman your main concern has nothing to do with your death. It has to do with your mission/target. Even getting caught is not your main concern, because that can simply be avoided by taking the easy route. It’s your choice to go for the hardest option that will put your cover and possibly life on the line.

      That is a great example of a game where death is very low on the list of fail-states. That is also the reason why I don’t see a problem with a game that makes you immortal or extremely powerful compared to your enemies. The only adjustment that is needed to make it work is a rearranging of the list of fail-states. When death disappears of the list, another will take its place.

      I think it would be very interesting to see how games would change if they were forced to implement immortality. Right now probably the majority of games are taking the easy way out when it comes to fail-states. Coming up with new concerns for the player other then “don’t die!” is hard, but probably very rewarding. We can already see some alternatives right now, but mostly they are still built around death in some way.

      Personally I love it when games put you in positions of superiority, because it allows the focus to shift away from yourself.

  38. SuperNashwanPower says:

    How about a kind of Deus Ex Machina type thing? Your life has whittled away to nothing, and that final sniper round is about to hit your brittle little melon. Suddenly ‘God’ (voiced by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog) pauses time, hovering that bullet by your head all matrix style, says something rude and then rewinds you to an earlier point in the level.

    For variety a whole panoply of dead singers and actors can pop up for the voiceover, like sarcastic angels. “Play it again, Sam” would be the most obvious.

  39. jack4cc says:

    Why did noone mention prey ? That’s the first example that comes to mind when someone talks about death in pc games….

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      Because it sucked?

    • Dominic White says:

      It also had possibly the worst ‘alternative’ approach to death I’ve seen. Rather than dying, you got to play a target shooting minigame for five seconds and then continued exactly where you were, as if nothing had happened to you. Dying slowed you down for a few seconds. You could literally just stand there with the fire button glued down, come back a half-hour later and find that you just beat whatever boss you were fighting through sheer mindless attrition.

      People bitch about Bioshock letting you respawn, but so do a lot of the enemies, and whatever ammo/heals you used before dying were still gone forever. You could theoretically win through attrition, but at least there was some skill and effort involved there.

  40. sonofsanta says:

    A few thoughts on this.

    Firstly, whilst I always get a chuckle out of an in-game excuse for saving, I don’t know if it particularly becomes more immersive. Saves & reloads are such a part of playing a game now that they’re invisible to my mind. Trying to excuse them draws attention to them, particularly because it’s always such a cludgy excuse by virtue of the weirdness.

    The cases where it works best are those where it’s an integral part of the gameplay rather than someone having a funny idea, cf. the Nomad Soul mention above.

    Secondly, I thoroughly agree that an over-reliance on quickload is ruining games for me. At least, the good games – those that do insta-death or other such sudden horribleness still need it, but I’d rather they just improved their design altogether.

    To pick some examples, in Mass Effect, reloading to change a conversation because you didn’t like the outcome (or just wanted to see what would happen) cheapens the Universe horribly, because it doesn’t feel like the story. I’m reminded of one of the Deus Ex Is 10 articles on RPS, where someone played it for the first time unaware that it was a game based around choice and flexibility, and just played it thinking that was The Path Through. The experience of some games would be much improved by having that innocence, I think, particularly for those of us with a completionist itch to scratch.

    Secondly, STALKER SoC, although I think quicksave is nigh on essential there given the scale, a lot of tension got taken out by hammering F7 before going round every corner. Perhaps better to have an enforced gap of 5 minutes between quick saves to balance between convenience and cheating? (I know I could just time myself, but I am weak willed, and Bloodsuckers scare me)

    Thirdly, EVE Online taught me how much I rely on quick load, because not being able to go back in an MMO was terrifying. Losing that safety net made me so overcautious initially. In time, of course, it became the attraction – knowing that every fight did count, that if you lost your ship and your pod here you had lost it, the resulting adrenaline rush from PvP becomes addictive.

    So er, to wrap up a comment no-one is still reading… mechanics could do with tweaking, because they take a lot of tension out of a game. In-lore reasons attempting to explain it are dangerous, and unless done well, will actively do harm to my immersion.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      Couldn’t agree more on STALKER & EVE-Online. I wrote something similar regarding STALKER but the comment system seems to have swallowed it up. My experience in EVE was exactly the same. Everything scares the crap out of me in STALKER even when I play it in the middle of the afternoon on a bright sunny day so if it’s only the Bloodsuckers that get to you, you’re doing well in my book.

      I actually think that what you just described is why a lot of people don’t “get” EVE.

  41. andyhavens says:

    On one level, this would be an interesting way to run a game, yes. As the game master in a sci-fi GURPS campaign years ago, we had a team of immortal soldiers whose minds/souls/what-have-you were backed up to a computer every now and then, and who had clone bodies ready to reload them into. You could, then, use your death very strategically… you’d forget everything since the last backup (bad for XP, of course), but if it helped move the team forward… bully for you. It also made for some interesting decisions from the team in terms of “when to return to base to back-up.” Sometimes doing so meant losing a strand of the puzzle, etc. So death became another tool in the box.

    On the other hand, I don’t think the way that most games handle easy resurrection of the character usually bothers me. We’ve been referring to “turns” in games as “lives” forever. I think we understand that the narrative itself backs up. My character didn’t really die; I’m just rewinding the clock a bit. There’s also the difference between the “character” dying, and you (the player) f’ing up. Your example of Lara Croft is a good one, but flawed. Lara didn’t die all those times you screwed up; you just played her “wrong.”

    Sure, a narrative that allows for some kind of death/rebirth as part of the explicit story might be interesting. But it might, also, be pretty “deus ex machina,” in a bad way. As long as the game is good, death as do-over doesn’t really bother me much.

  42. Olero says:

    I’m thinking of the Mount & Blade mechanic of being captured if you fail, but I’m not sure if I like it that much. It sure is punishing, and often sends you on a quest to “get the band back together”, but I don’t find it all that immersive (maybe you wear a keep-me-alive-for-ransom-codicil, like a medieval type of a donor-codicil?). And it always bothered me that I couldn’t kill the lords of the factions.

    • Tergiver says:

      It was exactly Mount & Blade that came to mind when John said he wanted to be immortal in a game. You (and all the other Nobles) are just that: Immortal.

      So wish granted.

    • Ateius says:

      “maybe you wear a keep-me-alive-for-ransom-codicil, like a medieval type of a donor-codicil?”

      Well, in a way, yes. Those in charge of warbands, especially if they’re nobility, are going to be worth a lot of money in ransom. It’s how warfare was handled and war was waged back in the high medieval (in a very broad, general sense of course). By virtue of being the leader, you’re wearing a symbolic “Keep me alive, I’m going to make you rich” sign over your head at all times.

      Admittedly the structure kind of falls apart at the beginning when you’re leading 5 farmers around, but whatever. Gameplay!

    • sinister agent says:

      Mount & Blade’s “captured” thing is one of its biggest flaws, in my opinion. Well, perhaps ‘flaws’ isn’t fair, but it’s the thing I like least. Taking away basically everything you have essentially sentences you to grind for ages just to restore the status quo. I always just consider it a death and reload a save instead, because screw grinding.

  43. RagingLion says:

    I agree John. I’ve thought about exactly this before and wrote a blog entry elsewhere (link to giantbomb.com) that passed over this issue as part of it. Key sentence:

    “There has to be fail states in games where right decisions need to be made in order to progress, but being able to retry after having failed strains the sense of verisimilitude the player might feel with the game and is compounded by any subsequent repetition of game elements that the player then experiences.”

    I was still feeling my way at the time with these issues but now my conclusions are that it’s a good idea to aim for fail states other than that of straight death. What these could be depends hugely on the type of game but loss of equipment, abilities, getting hemmed into a situation that the player then has to work their way out of are all possibilities. Reducing the number of ways you fail in the first place is also useful as there’s probably only a limited number of fails you can allow the player to have all of which reduces their effectiveness before they get themselves into an impossible position to make further progress.

    It’s difficult if you’ve got guns in your game though because you can’t deny the fictional consistency that if you get shot you should die. I think more games could try set-ups that avoid using them a bit more.

    I would also be interested John in seeing what the effects would be of increasing the respect for death by making it a less frequent experience. I think it could make a big difference but yeah, gamers have become so conditioned to just being able to reload at present.

  44. sasayan says:

    I remember playing a top-down shooter (I think it was called Expendable, but I could be mistaken) where your character was a clone from what was basically a soldier factory; if you died you were simply replaced by the next one off the assembly line.

  45. Corrupt_Tiki says:

    Well, Death is at least as inevitable as Taxes. Maybe it is reassuring that you can/will die in your game where you are a supersoldier on some alien planet fighting horrific beasts etc.

  46. Daiz says:

    I believe there is nothing wrong with the mechanic of death and quickloading. In fact, I much prefer it over some lame attempts at explaining things in-game. Just treat death as death. While you might think that quickloading trivializes death, do you really think like that if you are playing an immersive game?

    Let’s take STALKER as an example. Most people probably quicksave in the game a lot, since the world is rather unforgiving. You can die very quickly. But that’s in my opinion a big part of what causes the game’s immersion. If the quicksaving and quickloading was taken away, the hostility of the world would probably have to be toned down notably, which in my opinion would make the impact of the game much weaker. And death is still death. When you play the game and really get to it, you don’t think about it as a game, and thus the danger of death feels real, even when you know it’s actually not. I honestly feel fear about growls and gunfire in the distance in STALKER because it can kill me.

    And an ultimate example of why just pure, unadulterated death works are horror games. You know you won’t really die if you die in a horror game. But you still get scared and feel terror within yourself. And why do you feel it? Because you fear dying. Yes, you’ll probably lose some progress, but do you really get scared about that to the point where you’re about to shit yourself? No, you fear the death. Death is something to be scared about in real life, and it’s still scary in a video game even when it can be undone because of its very nature. We fear death in real life, we fear death in video games, especially if we are immersed in it. Even if I’ve quicksaved just a moments before, dying still has an impact on me. Especially if the game is an immersive one.

  47. MrCraigL says:

    I wrote about this over at Bit-gamer a while back for anyone who’s interested (it was Sunday Papered too IIRC)

  48. brulleks says:

    As annoying as death can often be in games, I only find it breaks the immersion if it witholds further play for a significant period of time rather than letting you get on with it.
    VVVVVVV gets this spot on – you die, maybe a million times or so, but every time you are immediately back at the last save point with no menus popping up and no marathon reloads.
    However, death in point and click adventure games is a complete and utter no-no. Inexcusable. Sierriously.

  49. Premium User Badge

    Gassalasca says:

    Hey John, what’s that third picture?

    • Premium User Badge

      Gassalasca says:


    • Josh W says:

      One of the things I love about that painting is the way she has that sort of “deliver me upstairs” look about her, a confidence that this ominous angel is just the taxi driver. With the single beam of light coming down from above onto her head as semi-confirmation.

      In some ways quite appropriate, in that the sadness is expressed by the bystander:

      It reminds me of metal gear solid; although you might be fine with dying over and over, each time the characters around you are really upset to lose you.

      So that’s one way to express mortality; it’s weight is sometimes more for the people you leave behind.

  50. PeopleLikeFrank says:

    Just wanted to point out that Marathon, way back in ’94, had save terminals which were “pattern buffers”, after Star Trek. So you reloading was you being beamed back in from a saved state in-game-universe. Of course, this brings its own inconsistency (which John’s hologram idea shares if it’s similarly a ‘reskin’ of regular saves), that the game world resets to its state at the point of your save, rather than all the events leading up to your death having still happened.

    Also, it had health points the way that any game of the era did, but also made the sudden-existence-failure aspect of that make sense by having the points be a energy shield thing. Consistently, you could survive at 0 ‘health’, but the next hit would kill you.