Gamer talk on game design: Killin’ me softly

Quite a while ago i started posting a series of post about design choices in games from my, purely gamer perspective. Since the posts are completely in russian i won’t just repost or even simply translate them, but will write here similar musings.

Dying in a videogame is a simple and common thing. Your character/s might and will die in most of the games. It’s a vital part of the gameplay itself, and it’s surprising how usually underdeveloped it is. It is still used like a crude punishment for failing, which annoys more than it motivates you to try again. And even though not every game treats you with the “wow, you lose!” attitude, most of them still don’t try to make dying less annoying.

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I started thinking about dying and failing in games after playing World of Goo. After a while of completing and failing the levels I’ve noticed a strange thing – i was not getting really annoyed with game despite the fact, that some of the deaths came from several inaccuracies in interaction with goo balls. And i decided to pay more attention to my reaction while failing in game. It was funny, but usually failing in WoG went from “oh, dammit, not again” to”oh, but how cute the gooballs are, how fun the music is, how great the gameworld is” and there i was, ready to retry again. So, can game design dampen the annoyance of death? I think so.

What about the mostly forgotten trend of making game death graphic or stylish? Dangerous Dave 2Resident Evil or Dead Space? Even freezecams in Team Fortress 2. Sure it’s not really fun to get killed, but getting killed in game in a visually awesome way did make failing much less painfull (no matter how strange it seems). Oh, did i mention MK Fatalities?

The other trend was rather popular in older adventure games. Space QuestAnother WorldManiac Mansion all treated dying as a kind of unofficial ending of the game.

But all these dying cutscenes might get in the way, if you can’ actually skip them. Which presents another problem with failing in most games. Why do i have to see commander Shepard die in slow motion for several seconds before i get the option to load the game? It’s not a special awesome scene, just you dying in slow motion with camera flying around you. Still, you have to wait for a few seconds before being prompted to load the game. It’s a rather popular thing in games, for some reason.

There is also “death is not the end” thing. Raziel dies in physical world and goes to spiritual world (Soul Reaver). Tommy form Prey dies and can fight for his life to return. Demon’s Souls treats death as a story device. So does Heavy Rain.

There are countless possibilities to make death/failure in game motivational. You can make the game so adorable, that you can’t hate it. You can make the death cool, fast or funny. You can make it a part of gameplay. Just please, game developers, stop making it an annoyance.

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