Death and Game-Overs


I’m curious as to the board’s opinions on what you like the most regarding death in stories. If a game is hard, and you die and are forced to go back from whence you started, is this frustrating for you even if there are many different avenues for you to try, or do you like the challenge?

Also, how long is too long? Do you put down books and pick them up again or do you run through the whole thing at once?


It depends. In CoG and HG games it can be frustrating if certain character builds make it near impossible to make it to the end without dying or suffering a bad ending. Mainly because it forces me to start all over again and try to tweak my play-through enough that I can still play the way I want to. If on the other hand it is something like puzzle combat, where you need to choose consistent and clever choices to win I enjoy the challenge.

As far as length is concerned I usually go through CoG and HG games in one sitting on my first few play-throughs. After that I might do a few chapters, then go do something else, then come back. I don’t care how long the game is either, as long as it doesn’t feel rushed or drawn out needlessly.


I don’t mind them so long as the game tells us so that you can die or have the option to turn it on.

Though, it was indeed a huge surprise to me when my play through ended in my MC dying, I can’t recall which story it was. It certainly wasn’t Zombie Exodus because I expected that’s how the game was made.

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I think so long as the player is warned in advance that there will be moments where the MC can die – whether that warning be up front, or common in that genre/style of game, or heavily hinted/obvious in the narrative itself – then deaths where you must go back can add an interesting challenge. But I also think that the longer the story is the more frustrating it becomes if the MC’s death means starting all the way back at the start, and that saves/checkpoints can help with balancing difficulty and encourage further replays.


In ZE it might have been a bit frustrating with how easily the MC could die. But can’t say that’s unexpected in a game set in the zombie apocalyse. Other than that if the bad ending/game over isn’t too common then I’m fine with it tho I’d always vote for save checkpoints being included if we can mess up that badly.

As for game lenght, I say the longer the better. More likely that the game will actually be paced well instead of some parts getting rushed. Anyway normally I don’t play games on one go, I have kinda short attention span so I need pauses to do other things before getting back to reading.


I feel that the old ‘make the wrong choice, die, go back and make the right one’ system is outdated and lacks actual consequence. I believe it would be best to have middle ground. I like how doomsday on demand did it though I believe it should’ve been taken further. You can’t die until the 3rd act of the game, and before that you have several survival choices. These choices effect if you get any wounds and, if your not alone, your reputation with other characters. In doomsday on demand, characters commented on your wounds and it would characterize you a little. But what if that was expanded? So that when you gain wounds not only would people comment on them, but they would change the gameplay and raise the stakes, but not kill you though.
The whole “you die” kind of ending should be allowed only in the third act, and it should still be a story ending not a fail ending. I don’t believe in fail endings. The unlock-able death ending could be really emotional and thought provoking If done right.
That would be my favorite approach.


I don’t generally mind it but if it’s very easy to die then I would want to have a checkpoint save option in case I’ve progressed far in game and happened to lose. Mainly because it gets tedious to replay and choose same options up to the point of death multiple times.


It depends on the genre and how is implemented. In a dating sim die would be shocking or unexpected. However, in a zombie or horror game die could be a powerful mechanic to reinforce the storyline.

I like The Tin Star approach with the legendary system as giving the choice to Keep playing with a lost in legend points or starting from the beginning.

Guns and Sabres have also save points if you screw up in battles.


Deaths have to matter. If they don’t, then what’s the point?

I think fiction, especially interactive fiction, sometimes glosses over the importance of someone dying. Usually because it’s easier to code one dramatic character breakdown following an optional death than it is to show the repercussions throughout the remainder of the game. This makes a lot of deaths feel cheap or unimpactful when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Death is a huge deal, and the context in which it happens is so important. Do other characters or the player witness the death? Does it happen off-screen? If so, how is the news delivered and by whom? Do the characters get time to mourn? How to do they mourn? Do they lash out, shut down, or repress the pain? How did they die? If it was an accident, how brutal? If it was murder, what were the murder’s intent? Do they regret it, or do they feel no remorse?

I actually have guidelines for how to write good death in fiction.

  • The death needs to serve the story in the moment. If it’s death for sake of itself, it won’t matter.
  • Off-screen deaths should be avoided.
  • Relevant characters need deeply emotional reactions to the death, especially if they were close to the deceased.
  • The effects of the death need to permeate the characters throughout the book. It doesn’t have to be constant, but it has to show up in key moments until they’ve fully grieved.

Personally, I prefer to avoid optional deaths in interactive fiction unless the character in question is a main character. If they’re a main character, an optional death could really encourage the player to replay or at least gut punch them with guilt over mistakes. I avoid player deaths until the very end - kinda defeats the purpose to end the game any earlier.

I also loathe “deaths” that involve going back to a checkpoint, at least in interactive fiction (in regular fiction, I understand the practicality). If a character dies, kill them for good. Bringing them back through checkpoints is cheap and ruins the impact.


You know, in a game which has checkpoint saves noone would force you to actually use the function. If it ruins the impact for you then just don’t use it, but just bc using in game saves wouldn’t be the right way to play an interactive fiction in your opinion, the option to use them shouldn’t be taken away from others who bc of practicality reasons might not want to start everything over from squere one when they mess things up or just want to see other paths in the game.

Edit: Also OPs question was about the MC dying. So regardless of how it is written (“a zombie ate you, you died, game over” or making it into an actual ending scene showing how other people react to MCs death or if MC had a “the choosen one” like quest or something then how them failing impacts everything) it’d still be hard to move on from that point wouldn’t you agree?


I meant this purely in terms of NPCs. My philosophy is to keep the player alive until the end or as long as possible. Not a huge fan of player permadeath - I also hate restarting the entire game due to an early death.

Hence why I save player deaths until the end. Anywhere else, the deaths are either permadeath that ends the game early or cop-out checkpoint restarts that lessen the impact and/or waste time. The player is the most important person — their death needs to come at the most dramatic point at endgame.

I think that depends on the story/genre wether premadeaths work or not. I guess it’s best if we just agree to disagree here.

Most genres take permadeath just to mean “this iteration of the player died but the next iteration begins.” In this case I mean a death that literally ends the game at the death. It’s totally fine if you disagree — it’s all personal preference. I just think the player’s death should matter if it occurs.

But novels don’t have checkpoints :thinking:

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I don’t really care for stories that don’t do proper premature game overs (death or otherwise) and even worse try to get around it by having a link the goes back to a previous point instead.

This isn’t a new thing though. There was an old book series called Time Machine which essentially only had one ending even though it had several choices and such, but any time you picked a failing choice, you got send back in time again to a previous point.

I’d rather see a premature ending than a path just leading to the same result with superficial changes in dialogue or something similar. To me a choice that leads to a premature ending still feels more like a choice that made a difference. (Even if it wasn’t in your favor!)

In any case, I’ll kill a protagonist early, later, often, meaningfully or otherwise. If it’s not the reader’s thing, well they can read something else.


In my opinion, all depends on the plot and how is executed. A game action-packed should have bad ends as to further enchanted the dread feeling. Horror exactly the same.

But most Cog stories are higher power fantasies where dead ends have no plot reason at all. And it’s okay, each scene has to serve a purpose of empathizing the storyline. Whether it has dead ends or not.


Apparently I like to smoke crack before making longer posts. :man_facepalming:t3: Don’t do drugs, kids.

EDIT: Omfg, I remembered what I meant! I was referring to linear video games, not novels. I understand why checkpoints are useful in linear-storyline video games. Major brain fart.


I prefer games to have a challenge and in combat heavy IF’s, death can reinforce the importance of the combat choices. I think one of the major complaints about the new COG “Sword of the Slayer” is that for such an epic high stakes good Vs evil game it is relatively very easy to get through. As for game length the longer the better


Books are different from games to me – I will take as much time to finish books as I need. If you mean CoG/HG games by using “books” in the quote cited, there is no game too long for me.

What I like most about “death” in stories is that it provides a mechanic to either provide closure or to explore a character’s development.

It depends.

If a death is one that makes sense to me when it happens, then I can accept it, and I am often willing to replay the game.

If I am put into a death spiral that I am unable to recover from, and I am unable to figure out “why” I am on that death-spiral, or how to correct it or prevent it in the future, then I get very frustrated with the death mechanic of that game. I may or may not retry again later.

An example that I’ve found to have an excellent implementation is: Tin Star

An example that I’ve found to be frustrating and very discouraging is: Nocked (a non-CoG/HG interactive fiction piece available on mobile and Steam).

I disagree – the implementation of the death mechanic does not always make it “easy to recognize” … in some action and/or strategy games I’ve tried, the root cause of your death or death spiral is complicated or not easily sussed out.

Choice Script games may have more “story” elements than “game” elements, but they are still games and benefit from game design that follows best practices.

The implementation of the stats mechanics will often make or break titles. An example is Empyrean a very well written story that was sabotaged by a mechanics system that eventually needed a total revision after publication.

In game design for CoG/HG games, my belief can be summed up by @EndMaster:


As a long time tester within the game industry, I can assure you that even multi-million dollar AAA titles often have this issue – working with developers of all stripes and hues, I found that the most brilliant design often suffers from implementation.

Which is why (to bring the discussion back to the death mechanic) whenever something of this nature is undertaken by authors/designers here, I urge them to test the game more than an average amount.

I have no disagreement with you here but the naked truth here is that many (but not all) authors/designers that come to Choice Script from the print/literary world often completely ignore mechanics as much as they can, which is a detriment to their end-product.

The Choice of Games company itself has had a bias against those coming from the game-world – often displaying a bias stated much like your statement above and below … assuming that a game background would lead to one attempting to pound a square peg into a round hole.

Choice of Games has learned a lot but it has taken a long time to learn the lessons.

Just as you stated you assumed we were discussing quality works and that faulty games were not part of the discussion, I too thought the same – RPG elements can work wonderful in the Choice Script world; Zombie Exodus, Tin Star and other favorites such as @Lucid’s series are proff that they can work very well.

The Hybrids like @Havenstone’s Choice of Rebels and @Cataphrak’s Infinity series are also successful in their design … again both are show-casing successful death-mechanics. Both of these authors are extensively testing their designs from the beginning to the end.

I am going to forgo talking about design in this thread but am willing to talk in PM or another thread if so desired :slight_smile:

It was fun having a mature discussion with another informed person.