Death in Choice Games?


#1

Do you prefer games like Zombie Exodus, where you could potentially die with any wrong choice, or games like Life of a Wizard, where no matter how badly you mess up you can never die? I’m asking because I’m strongly considering making my own game soon and I’d like to get a general idea of the level of difficulty people prefer.


The Fight for Home (WIP) (UPDATED 7/30)
#2

If there’s a chance that my character will die, I’d like some sort of periodic respawn points so I don’t have to play through the whole game again to get back to where I left off.


#3

I prefer games were you can’t die.

If there’s a chance you can it’s at the authors whim and usually no one but the author can see it coming. An unpredictable death I’d just a pain and no matter how obvious you think the right choice was there’s loads of players who wouldn’t have expected it.

Maybe if there’s a life system (you play as a cat with 9 lives or something) then one mistake wouldn’t be so damaging because you know you have chances.

Also no one wants to replay the exact game just to redo a choice they messed up on


#4

If the deaths are like the kind seen in Sierra parodies then bring it on. If not: no.

Sometimes the deaths seem out of nowhere but they manage to be so ridiculous to not leave a sore spot and then there are times when so many signs pointed to NO that you had to have been skipping every sign or you’re hunting deaths on purpose to get them.


#5

Guess I’m in the minority here: I think it’s totally fine if a game includes ways to die, some of them perhaps unexpected. Ideally, they wouldn’t be everywhere, or totally random (good sense should probably be able to steer you away from them) but if I enter an armed conflict with an NPC and bungle it, or randomly decide to eat unfamiliar mushrooms or something, I think there should be consequences for that.

I think this can serve a couple interesting purposes: for one, the threat of (even a somewhat unlikely) death can add a bit of urgency or sense of importance to a game and the choices therein, as opposed to a situation where I don’t need to worry about that kind of thing. It’s not the only way to generate that kind of tension, but I think especially in a game that has elements of physical conflict or combat, it adds some important grounding.

It can also enable the “heroic sacrifice” type of ending, if you go in for that kind of thing. I don’t usually, but sometimes, I really do think the way to end the epic narrative is to kill the protagonist.


#6

This is a tricky question.

I personally dislike it when a single bad choice can kill the MC, and particularly despise it when the entire game consists of choices like these. Many choose-your-own-adventure games beyond the CoG community are like this, and I always end up feeling as if the game is only giving me the appearance of player freedom. I think that instadeaths in general are a dangerous thing to put in a game because it can easily end up with the player feeling cheated when, after all their progress, their character is suddenly disemboweled because they wanted to take the left corridor instead of the right.

That being said, I don’t believe that player deaths in a CoG are a bad thing at all. The potential for the main character to die can keep the player on their toes and add a certain kind of tension to gameplay. Games where the the MC has a health bar can also take advantage of a player’s natural inclination to avoid taking damage by giving them options where they have sacrifice their hp to accomplish a certain action (like saving a bystander). Choices like those can help to remind a player of their character’s mortality as the player is forced to ask themselves whether taking the option is worth the risk of inching closer to a game over. Even instadeath can serve their place in a game when sprinkled in rarely enough. Zombie exodus for example has a couple spots where the player can die like that, but only in one instance of it did I ever feel like I was cheated. (it was the spot on the ship where you are ask to choose a direction and one direction ends in random death)

In the end its all a matter of preference, like many things. Deaths aren’t needed, but they can be useful tools. Just please add save spots into the game if you do add player deaths.


#7

@Dread_Dragon

I don’t like it if the MC can be killed just because of a seemingly innocent choice. But if the MC is confronted with very dagerous situations like fighting in a battle or surving in the wilderness, it is OK to have their death as the worst outcome. I also like how in some games the MC’s actions can turn some NPCs into their enemies who would try to kill them and possibly succeed.
Ultimately it depends on the plot and setting of a game. In some cases, for example if the game is about the MC’s life from childhood to old age or a big flashback, it becomes clear that the MC will not die, at least not until the end of the storyline. At the same time, if a game is supposed to have dark and gritty setting It would be quite unrealistic if the MC has inpenetrable plot armor.
I agree with all people above who said that a game that includes early deaths should have some save system.
If you want a more precise advice, pleas tell what kind of a game you want to make, and I would tell you what I think is most appropriate for this one.


#8

Ultimately it’s completely up to personal preference but…

I don’t like interactive novels in which you can’t die (or fail). It basically means there is no real risk besides doing badly a bit. It underwhelms any risky situation because you know you will get out of it alive. Why worry about things if you won’t die anyways after all.

Games with death are harder, more interesting and feel a bit more real. The risk of death makes dangerous situations actually feel dangerous than me thinking “I wonder how my characters plot armour will get him out of this one.”.

Then again I’m spoiled by games like Sabres of Infinity and Lords of Aswick.

As long as the deaths are fair of course. If I die because of a choice “Go downstairs” and my character trips, falls down the stairs , gets mauled by a bear and then the house gets set on fire with his corpse or half living body burning in it then we have a problem.

Do agree with WulfyK though, it depends on the setting. You aren’t exactly going to add death to a game in a high school setting (getting beaten to death would be unusual.) but if its a war? If its a scene or game that would, realistically, endanger the main characters life? Yes is the answer to including death or not. No to plot armour.


#9

In my game (still working on it, though some other projects have distracted me a bit these days) I used a “difficulty setting”, allowing the player to control this aspect… in easy setting if the player dies some code will bring him to a previous “save point”, maybe a nice compromise between being able to die and letting some players “cheat death” and return to a saved point? (while keeping a score for everything)


#10

Honestly save points are a good idea regardless. Death is good but starting over can be a pain, then again sometimes your stats are so bad that you can’t pass the stat checks no matter how much you smash your face into the wall.

Though restarts should reduce score tbh.


#11

I okay with death scenes for my character but I want a check point prior to death. So I no need to repeat everything which is a deal bummer.


#12

Using death in a game comes down to one thing ‘plausibility’.
Make the deaths believable and a likely possibility don’t let an MC death catch the reader by surprise, and if you do there are tricks one can use to make them feel a little less ‘cheated’ or ‘trick’ deaths.

There are plenty of tools to use, but you never want your reader to feel ‘safe’ because that damages the story pretty badly, it becomes bland if there is no risk of failure and thrill of victory. Kind of a funny line. Think of it in magician terms, magic is only magical until everyone figures out how the trick is done.

If death happens or doesn’t happen its best to keep the fact of the matter unclear unless you’re immortal that is.

All said and done who wants to play a game that you win no matter what?


#13

If you die because your real time skills were lacking (usually dexterity and/or reaction time), then that’s one thing. Dying because you made a logical choice is never okay. And usually, dying because you made an illogical one isn’t all that great either. Imagine that you’re running from le bad guys, you’re presented with a choice, and one of those choices happens to be jump off the cliff. Now, normally that’s not something most people would choose. But because the author has included that option at all, it prompts us to think. Huh, maybe something cool happens if I jump off? Or perhaps; it would totally be in my character’s nature to jump off this cliff because reasons.

So if you then end up a pancake, while somewhat expected, it’s also unexpected since why would you even give the player that choice then?! You still end up feeling cheated, because a possibillity was dangled in front of you. It’s not the same as in other games where unless you actually see something at the bottom of the ravine, it’s generally not a good idea to jump down it, and there are no signs or anything asking you if you wish to jump. It’s like if you made a platformer, and bound one of the keys to “jump down cliff”. If someone then pressed that key and jumped off a cliff, would it then be their fault for making a dumb decision or the designers for giving them such stupid input in the first place. The answer is rather obvious.

Death in a game, unless designed otherwise, is always considered a failure. And since in COGs where you won’t be carrying anything over from the last failure, it means hours of playtime could be wasted. Now for me personnally, that’s a bye-bye - not gonna bother playing this again - deal breaker.

In either case, death doesn’t have to be the only worthwhile consequense of failure, at least not your character’s death. Other people you care about could die as a result of poor choices, you could fail at romance, wealth, achievement etc, that way it hurts to fail but it won’t have been a total waste of time because at least you got some kind of ending.


#14

Thank you all for the feedback so far, I’d actually completely forgotten that save points were a things so thank you for reminding me of them.

As for what I’m developing, the idea is for it to be a Kaiju/giant monster game. The player will have different stats and body parts that can affect their chances of success in certain scenes, so if you try to, for example, swim through a mine-filled underwater cave without the correct stat or body part you’ll die.


#15

Honestly speaking death is sort of ok with me as long you have a savepoint you can return to so you can remake your choice rather than start all the way from the beginning.


#16

Tricky question indeed… A Choices game is not like an action game, shooter or RPG or the like where you expect to get killed a few times. Also, most of choices game don’t offer the option to save, so if you’re killed off, nothing to do but to start all over and make those 50+ choices all over again…But death must almost certainly be a feature, especially if you screw things up really badly. It depends on the setting, really - in a game such as Unnatural, Choice of Zombies or It’s Killing Time, where the main character gets into a plenty very dangerous situations, it should be no surprise if there’s many deaths, because the setting has death lurking around plenty of corners. Makes less sense in a game such as Psy High or Way Walkers though, because while there are certainly dangers, the PC/Main character there is still in a relatively safe environment, for one thing…

Even in the first case though, unless there’s the option to save or checkpoints, it makes more sense to have most of the possible deaths early int he story (can be explained as being because the PC/Main character doens’t have full control over their powers and the like at that point, for example), so that even if you die, you won’t have to spend that much time to get back to the point where you screwed up…


#17

There’s two separate issues with death, I think. Death in the endgame and death during the game. Death as an ending, in the end, is obviously something I’m usually okay with so long as it’s a properly awesome failure (or success).

Death in the middle needs to be handled more carefully. I like how Tin Star does it; it’s a dangerous game and easy for you to die messily, but because of that, chapters have save points. Also, the difficulty level isn’t ridiculously high - in most cases, for example, it feels fair that you died (for example, you died because you tried to wrestle a bear without having a beary good Brawling stat).

But even Choice of Robots allows you to die early if you mishandle an assassination attempt. That’s a slight negative, but CoR is good enough that paths leading to death are as interesting as paths that don’t - not a lot of games are that interesting. Choice of Broadsides is a game where I’d say they used death badly; if you die in Choice of Broadsides, it’s a sign that you simply didn’t do well enough in that section, rather than being because you chose to put yourself at risk. Kinda lame, that.


#18

Off topic, but the puns! I can’t bear them anymore!


#19

I’ll play devil’s advocate here…

I would be in favour of more deaths, more bad things happening if and only if, the games become more accessible and convenient in regards to saving/bookmarking.

Many a time I have pressed the bloody ‘restart story’ because there was no save available, either in terms of the chapter or the choice. Especially when replaying a story, even more so for the lengthy ones. Some days, I just give up trying to see the different consequences and choices, because a particularly meaty one might come at mid-late game, and require a certain set of choices in the run up to it. But of course, no save, so you select and see the choice and it becomes a chore to go through, or BLOW THROUGH it again, without reading, just to try and get to that choice again, to see if the alternative is equally as juicy.

The latest time this has bothered me is, Champions of the Gods. It is linear, ridiculously so, yet it is such a chore trying to get to a specific stage, with specific choices, so I can see what a specific outcome might be, even if the overall story is linear. There’s no saving, no chapter selecting, so my interest and patience in trying to find out more about this game has faltered.


#20

I like that Life of Wizard is naration of somethig that happened thus that you survive. I like that Zombie Exodus happens in the present so there is thrill of possibility that you can die. Of course if there is posibillity of dying there should be some sort of checkpoint system.