The Issue of Player Death


#1

I’m working on a choicescript game and I’m trying to figure out how to handle player death and wanted to get some feedback on the issue. Do you think player’s should be killed for failing a check, or only if they make really bad decisions? Is an injury system the best way to handle it so there are no instant death areas? Do you think there should be death at all, or some kind of other penalty for failing a check/doing something stupid. I want the game to have stakes and consequences, but I don’t players to feel like they can’t roleplay their character or that there’s no way they can progress without certain skills. Thanks for any input!


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

It depends. If the scene is, like, a fight or whatever, then just injury. If it’s like, a spiked pit, then instant death. Also, injury or death should depend.


#3

I prefer when player deaths are limited to making bad decisions. I think a player should be able to play with the skillset that they like, and still be able to achieve a good ending to the game.

Also, I don’t know about anyone else, but sudden instant deaths always make me not want to try the game again.


#4

@KelaSaar
Well my game is set in the Roman Empire, you can take a look at it here on the forums, but the character is usually engaged in sword and shield combat. So death is rather straight forward. In my game the player is given a crash course in roman military tactics and if they follow them they tend to survive. However you have to bring the player’s stats into the equation. For example if the player has really poor stamina, then they shouldn’t try and *Dodge all the attacks, roll under his legs, and do a backflip to safety. To enforce this use *if statements like this:

#Dodge all the attacks, roll under his legs, and do a backflip to safety
—*if stamina >= 60
-----You make it to safety!
—*if stamina >= 40
-----You make it to safety, but just barely.
—*if stamina < 40
-----You’re simply too slow and the last thing that you remember is a steel tipped blade plunging down through you’re body.

Hope that gives you some idea. Also I suggest implementing what is more or less a checkpoint system. So death can be common but the player won’t have to start all over. This is especially helpful in longer games. To find how to do this go look at the modding proposed by @Eposic.

It really all depends how comfortable you are with code and what you are capable of doing. I hope this helps.

-Matt


#5

Thanks so much for the feedback from everybody, especially the coding tips. I’d been using the *if, *else method for fight scenes, but I like the idea of having that middle ground. I think my hangup is what to do with charisma based characters, since those are characters I really like playing, and I’m trying to include it as an important skillset, but it’s not really something you can use in combat. At the same time I don’t want to just kill them or give them a free pass through combat.


#6

@KelaSaar, that’s a great question and I’m glad to give you my opinion on the topic. What you’re really asking about is under what circumstances should the story end – which doesn’t necessarily have to be because of a loss of the character’s life. Other conditions could prevent the character from accomplishing the optimal goals of the story and cause the story to end. As a reader/player, it’s not fun to keep starting the story over without getting very far. But it’s rather expected with interactive fiction that you might make a wrong decision that prevents you from getting the most desirable story ending.

Unless you implement a means of inflicting (and/or healing) random amounts of damage in your game, every path taken in your story is deterministic. You can use stats and damage to give the player an idea of how close the character is to meeting an undesirable ending, but if the player were to play the game again and make all the same choices, the damage dealt to the player would not vary from how it was dealt the first time through; the character would meet the same end at the same point in the game as before.

If you implement a means for inflicting or healing damage in random amounts, then you have a storyline that is not deterministic, which has its pros and cons. Having the game act differently each time you play it, even if you take the same path more than once, increases playability, but it can make it more difficult to test and debug the game.

Inflicting and tracking damage, whether random or fixed amounts, serves three main purposes: 1) it gives the player some feedback as to how well the character is doing, 2) the ending clearly depends on earlier decisions made, and 3) it gives you, the story writer/programmer, a way to determine when the story should end for the character. If you do instant kills, you’re using the instant kill paragraphs to determine when the story ends, obviously, but you aren’t giving the player any feedback on how the character is doing until the moment of instant death. And that’s okay, depending on the nature of your story. A player who encounters a deterministic instant death paragraph will very likely remember to avoid that particular path through the story the next time.

It is probably point number 2 above that is the biggest reason to use incremental damage rather than instant kill paragraphs. Having the end of the story depend on the accumulation of previous decisions can give a player a greater sense of control over the story. I think it also increases the suspense. So, yes, my preference is for incremental damage over instant kill endings. A friend of mine who hasn’t programmed any of these games but has played them also voiced the opinion of preferring an incremental damage system over instant kill endings. I think most players appreciate getting feedback during the game.


#7

@eposic, really interesting read, you made a lot of good points. I think it’s given me a fairly good idea of what I want to do. Thanks.


#8

In a game without a combat system, you should at least afterwards realize how you could have avoided death.

So if you die instantly in a spiked trap, you should realize that
-the old man telling you not to take the right door was right or
-you must have a high perception to survive this corridor or
-only people with the attribute “spot traps” would survive or
-you pissed off the dwarf so much that his “OK, you can go first” was not meant in a friendly way.

etc etc.

Just “Take one door, get treasure, take another one, die.” doesn’t work very well, unless you have a very short game where the player is supposed to die and try a lot of times.


#9

Okay, the way I see it, there are four (or so) major kinds of death involving player choice (in CS games):

  1. Damage based: For example, in CoD you can take three or four ‘hits’ with each describing you as more injured. You see the damage coming in, and therefore death becomes more avoidable. It really doesn’t matter how much damage you can take, or if it’s randomized, so long as you can foresee it, and you cannot die from one action. Unless the actions which lead to damage are impossible to figure out, this is not very cruel, as the player is constantly given the chance to be more conservative with their actions (and therefore their health).

  2. Obvious death: In my demo of 8Thrones, one of the first choices you’re given is to make a pact with a daemon. I’ve tried to make it very clear that saying no is an instant death (maybe even to the point of being heavy handed). These can also be used comically (Sierra games with ‘pick nose’), or seriously, but so long as they are very clear, I don’t think many people consider them cruel at all. One thing to keep in mind, is that the later in the game these appear the less likely these are to be seen as ‘obvious deaths’.

  3. Clearly Dangerous: You can survive if you prepare, but it’s dangerous and deadly. However, the player clearly knows to prepare and/or avoid the situation if they aren’t prepared. The above two types of death are usually okay, and the one below this is usually a bad choice. This, however, is a point of argument, and I think it’s really a matter of personal choice.

  4. Random: Random deaths are considered, by virtually every modern game philosophy, bad. They are points where the player can’t tell they are going to die.

Here (http://ifwiki.org/index.php/Cruelty_scale) is a cruelty scale for IF games. Do keep in mind that most CS games will fall down the scale a bit if they include death due to the lack of saving.


#10

As at least one person has already mentioned, I believe deaths in general make people loathe to play again. I know there’s been a few times in both ZE and Wizard’s Choice where I’ve put the game down because of a death and annoyance at having to play through everything again.

I’ll go back to them eventually, but not everyone will, particularly if they die an awful lot.
I will hasten to add however, ZE has since started to include checkpoints, these have helped alleviate any issues dramatically.

So if you can, I’d avoid death entirely, something I always try to do is punish the player in other ways, kill off a character instead perhaps. They’ll be hurt by it, but they’ll likely press on and even replay it to try and save the character the next time round.

If your game is more - well - game than story, I think death is pretty essential though… It’s a hard line to draw. Checkpoints. That’s all I can say on that front!


#11

I think both incremental deaths and instant death can both have their place in the game.

In my game players can either die after taking so many ‘hits’ there will be the odd choice that will lead to instant death but these choices will be noticable

ie trying to stab a lycanthrope with a silver knife = instant death (in the game world lycanthropes are immune to silver so taking it on with a silver weapon is tantamount to suicide.

However like Zombie Exodus I’ve began to use checkpoints at each episode and also have just added the option of a hard save via a password.