THE DEATH PENALTY

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LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
6003
Dying in a video game sucks.

Or does it? It depends on the game; on how many tries it takes you; on whether you know what to do differently next time; on whether the death was caused by something completely in your control or not; on what you lose when you die.

It's that last factor that I want to talk about. I've discussed difficulty before on this site, and you're free to revive said discussion with necroposts or whatever if you think there are ideas that were not covered, because it's one of my favorite topics. But in this topic we're talking about what to do to the player when he or she dies.

Game over, you say. Duh.

First of all, that's only one of a large number of options. And second of all, there are several different factors that can make a game over more or less punishing. What I really want to delve into is why are punishments for failure necessary, why are they problematic, and how can you maximize the player's feeling of accomplishment while minimizing frustration?


Let's take a look at various punishment options.

Game over with periodic save points
Like I said, there are different factors that can affect a game over - the biggest one is how saving is handled. With saving allowed only at save points, which appear periodically through the game, the designer can designate a longer stretch of the game as a "single non-stop challenge" that you can't restart from the middle of. Very few games allow you to save in the middle of a battle and restart from that point, right? Because that would be super cheap, it heavily encourages abuse of enemy AI and stuff. In RPGs where most normal battles are not really very dangerous, but dungeons are essentially wars of attrition where your goal is to get through all the battles without using up your resources, you can make the same argument for a dungeon that you do for a battle. So the player has to restart the challenge - which is the whole dungeon. The downside here is that you can get sent back 30-45 minutes, which can be... extremely discouraging. Losing the better part of an hour to a game over feels like bullshit in cases where you only made one mistake near the end, but you have to redo all of it. If you didn't just make one mistake, but actually are having trouble with the challenge as a whole, you're likely to lose several times before finishing, which means that you'll be stuck in the same dungeon for hours and hours.

Game over with save-anywhere
Basically, here, we swap the "game over sends you back too far" problem for the "you can start from the middle of a challenge and cheese it by brute force" problem. A lot of people prefer this to the above. In games where you are fully or mostly restored after each battle, I can't come up with a reason not to allow save-anywhere. The player still has to remember to save, though, which can get tedious to do after every battle - you can solve this by adding a Retry command to the game over screen, which may have it's own downsides?

Game over with automatic saving at checkpoints
This is kind of a middle ground between the above two. At first glance it doesn't seem that different from periodic save points aside from the fact that it's automatic and thus you don't have to remember to save. But in practice, this system is often used when you only have a small number of enemies between checkpoints. It changes the individual challenges from being entire dungeons full of battles to being rooms or corridors full of battles.

Respawn at nearby point without losing XP
FF6 does this. So does Earthbound. So do a lot of MMORPGs. Essentially here, you get sent back to the last save point or to the nearest church/graveyard or some other sort of nearby respawn point, and have to redo the battles between that point and where you died, but you get to keep any XP you got. So it's a little easier the second time. And if you die again, you'll have even more XP, so it'll be a little easier again the third time. And so forth. I find this to be extremely nice, myself, because it helps out players who are having trouble without making the game any easier for good players, and more importantly because it makes the time you spent not feel like a waste. Sometimes there's also a small penalty - usually gold, as payment for hospital fees or for reincarnation services or for armor repairs, but it's typically a trivial amount.

Respawn with heavy penalty
I've seen this used mostly in online games, such as FF11, but also in single-player games where the world "persists" through your death.

Delete saved game on death
This is as brutal as it gets. The idea here is that the only type of save that a player gets is a quicksave; you can save at any time, but the save is deleted upon loading your game. And if you die, you start the game over. As RPGs go, this is most popular in short games (Gauntlet, Desktop Dungeon) and in roguelikes such as Nethack. I guess the idea here is the whole "can't restart from the middle of a challenge" mentality taken to its logical extreme: the entire game is effectively a single nonstop challenge. To me the cost outweighs the benefit here so heavily that this option isn't even on the table. If you can justify the use of this in games longer than an hour, I'd love to hear your point of view.

Limited number of lives/continues
This is super rare in RPGs. Ultimately you have all the same problems as the above "delete saved games on death" method, but the player is less likely to encounter them. Some games play with spins on this, giving each character on your team a limited number of lives before they permanently leave the party (SaGa series), or giving the player a limited number of continues to retry the current battle and if you run out you have to reload from the beginning of the dungeon (Wild ARMs 3). If done right, this can make "cheap" deaths feel less cheap - because they don't feel like a complete death, they feel more like... losing some of your HP.

What are your favorites? Why? What are the biggest problems do you have with the others? Almost all of these have both good and bad points, so I guess it's largely a matter of which good points you value more and which bad points you find more irritating.
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
9219
This is a really intelligent and well thought out post.

As a player of general games, I don't have a favorite death/game over/respawn scheme. I don't think such a thing exists. As a player of RPG Maker games, I certainly want save anywhere or save points as often as possible. The latter might be preferable as without seeing a save point I might not remember to save. But all of that's largely due to GAM MAK BIAS/RPG MAK FALLACY which I have an ongoing discussion of in another thread (the one with the really long name).

I don't like games where death is meaningless, in other words, I don't like games where death causes you to lose stuff OTHER THAN PROGRESS while losing no progress. A great example is the Bioshock games. Compared to the incredibly tense resource management of System Shock 2 where you're desperately trying not to die, DEATH IS ESSENTIALLY MEANINGLESS RESPAWN WITH NO LOSS OF PROGRESS in the Bioshock games was a real let down.

But I mean, honestly as a player I enjoy quite a lot of different death/respawn/game over schemes in RPGs. From save anywhere to traditional jRPG savepoints to crazy funked up systems like Dark Souls which brutally punish death six ways to Sunday.
UPRC
Exciting, but ultimately pointless.
7376
What I do with Blackmoon Prophecy is, predictably, throw a save point down a map or two before a boss fight. In Blackmoon Prophecy, after you see a few save points you'll start saying, "Incoming boss! Time to rest up and save!"

While not all save points are just before bosses, the ones that are almost feel necessary to me. Not all of my bosses are hard but hey, some are. When someone dies on one of my rougher bosses, I don't want them to lose lots of progress. Nine times out of ten they are thrown a room or two before the boss to minimalize having to go through everything again. It makes it easier on the player when they die on a boss and are able to load the file up again and have a rematch only a minute later.
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
9219
That's a totally sensible way to do things; it's also very traditional.
Respawn with heavy penalty
I've seen this used mostly in online games, such as FF11

Ugh, this is awful for stuff that requires you to be a certain level. But it's effect is diminished if you get a powerful Raise. I always hated that dreaded "Level Down" text floating over my dead Mithra u.u

author=UPRC
after you see a few save points you'll start saying, "Incoming boss! Time to rest up and save!"

What about different colored save points before the boss? That'll drive the point across.


For RPG's I like save anywhere except in dungeons, where you need save points. That feels like the right amount of difficulty.

What about this option:

Game over with limited saves
You can save anywhere, but only like 3 times per dungeon. When out of saves you only get them refreshed when you leave the dungeon.
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
9219
Limited number of lives/continues
This is super rare in RPGs. Ultimately you have all the same problems as the above "delete saved games on death" method, but the player is less likely to encounter them. Some games play with spins on this, giving each character on your team a limited number of lives before they permanently leave the party (SaGa series), or giving the player a limited number of continues to retry the current battle and if you run out you have to reload from the beginning of the dungeon (Wild ARMs 3). If done right, this can make "cheap" deaths feel less cheap - because they don't feel like a complete death, they feel more like... losing some of your HP.


BTW I've never actually played an RPG that does this. It sounds super interesting.
When you die you get three options: Retry, Respawn, and Restore.

Retry is simple: You died against the Big Bad Wolf and try again in the same state with a free dip into the menu to make any extra changes as needed. Pretty much FF13 style except without being a try to escape button too.

Respawn is the backup option in case you fucked up and can't win or escape the fight you're trapped in. This takes you back to the last town you were at. The state is undetermined if you'll be restored like in retry (items used in the battle you died in restored) or as the battle ended but healed (items used lost). This also means death abuse warps! In situations where the respawn point isn't available (ex. passing the point of no return) I might use a checkpoint or disable this option.

Restore is what you'd expect. It's there for Sierra adventures convenience and as the option for taking too much attrition damage. Shit went wrong, don't want to retry or respawn, just restore a game.


I like the mentality that failing should result in a lack of progress rather than losing it. More than once I quit playing a game due to losing too much progress which isn't always the game's fault. If I lose too much progress and get too disheartened the break becomes longer to the point I no longer remember how to play the game and then it becomes a case of restarting the game or fumbling around with it. I'd rather avoid that potential situation altogether.
Here's an idea I just thought of:

- If you die because you were stupid and couldn't beat a regular, random battle, bam, it's back to the last save spot/town/whatever your system is.

- But, if in the other hand, you die on a boss battle, you actually go to a different dimension, hell/purgatory -like, where you get to redeem yourself for a second chance at life: you can do puzzles or adventures to get back to your body (Maybe even involving some power ups), to retry that battle where you lost your life.

Don't know, I just imagined it and haven't given much thought about balance.
That second bit reminds me of a game where dying actually took you to THE DEATH ZONE that you had to escape in order to resume the game. Each one was different than the last and it cumulated with the fifth one which you could not escape. Interesting idea and I have no idea what game it was beyond it being an NES game.
I had no idea that it would already exist, but that sounds cool, specially the part about it being cumulative.
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
9219
author=GreatRedSpirit
That second bit reminds me of a game where dying actually took you to THE DEATH ZONE that you had to escape in order to resume the game. Each one was different than the last and it cumulated with the fifth one which you could not escape. Interesting idea and I have no idea what game it was beyond it being an NES game.


I'm Scared Of Girls had something a little like this actually!

Which was weird because for the entire game (MINOR SPOILER) you're ALREADY DEAD. So I guess Death is not a boolean variable.
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
6003
Breath of Fire 5: Dragon Quarter deserves a special mention for its brilliant Shit Outta Luck System. (Technically it was the Scenario Overlay System, but they knew exactly what they were calling it when they abbreviated it to "SOL Restart."

In BoF5, there are extremely limited resources. Enemies don't respawn. Items are rare. You can quicksave anywhere, but quicksaves are deleted upon load; to make a real save, you have to find a rare save point and spend a save token; there is one save token hidden in each dungeon and maybe three or four you can find in towns. The game is a good 20 hours long from beginning to end (not counting restarts), and your main character has 100 MP to spend over the course of the entire game.

You will get stuck due to the difficulty your first time though. And your second time through. And a lot more times after that. But fortunately, BoF5 does not make you lose everything you earned. At any point in the game when you can open the menu, or upon getting a game over, you can perform an SOL Restart.

Now, when you beat enemies in BoF5, 10% of your XP earned goes into a pool of party XP that can be allocated at any time to any party member of your choice. But unless you're really sure, you don't want to spend it. Because when you SOL Restart, you lose all your gold and levels, and most of your items, but you keep any unspent XP in your communal XP pool. And then you can spend it after restarting! Or not spend it, and save it up for when you inevitably die again.

This game is basically ridiculously fucking brilliant and insanely fun, but it's not a model you can emulate. It's just not. It's the kind of thing that absolutely sounds like a fucking horrid idea, and it would be with anything less than perfect execution. Hell, even with perfect execution, it's probably not something I'd want to do again in another game. But with the way they pull it off, and the fact that it's one-of-a-kind, it's crazy fun. They do a lot of stuff to make sure it doesn't get too repetitive - like if you get far enough to meet certain characters, and then restart, the game new cut scenes earlier in the game showing things that are happening to those people before you meet them. New side paths and shortcuts and treasure areas open up if your completion percentage was high enough. Etc.

It is a game built around losing.
chana
(Socrates would certainly not contadict me!)
1584
Sounds amazing.
Normally, game over with save-anywhere will do just fine. I don't worry to much about the player being able to brute force it by constantly saving and reloading. Personally, if I save and reload to much, it starts to feel less like I'm playing the game and more like I'm doing a repetitive work. That's enough for me.

If I get a game over, I will often reload, even in games where I can just respawn. It doesn't mean I mind if the option is there, it's just that I'm likely not to use that option at all.

I don't like losing a lot of progress from dying. I know two games where I was annoyed by the final battle because every time I lost, I had to go trough over 15 minutes of plot and preliminary battles before I could access the last battle again. Otherwise I would have liked the fact that the last boss put up some resistance.

author=Link_2112
Game over with limited saves
You can save anywhere, but only like 3 times per dungeon. When out of saves you only get them refreshed when you leave the dungeon.

That sounds like an interesting idea that may work for quite a lot of RPGs actually. Just make sure to give me a clue when a boss battle is incoming.
And very abusable *. Throw all your good items into permanent storage, so a SOL Restore (which refills some of your items, like some basic healing items and a save token), do some grinding / scoping out the next dungeon with super but limited dragon powers to accumulate items and party EXP, repeat. It's a very interesting and unique system and I'm not entirely sure where I stand with it. I should probably replay it one of these days, I'm not sure if I even beat the game last time **.

* If you suck at the game **

** I really sucked at Dragon Quarter :(
I usually run trough to almost the end without using the SOL system and then use it over and over against the cloning boss to rapidly accumulate party exp. The exp is usually used to get a good D-ratio or for Kokon Horay.

You can also use the SOL system to duplicate items.

Abuses notwithstanding, it's a very interesting system, but definitely not recommended for most games.
I really hated Dragon Quarter. Why would you want to play a game where you have to lose, many, many times, in order to actually eventually progress? It's like an anti-reward game. You're punished over and over for not doing everything the game wants you to do, for no real reason but that it can. I hated the general gameplay, but the characters, story, graphics etc, were really good.

That aside, I'm more or a 'save anywhere, but add a save point or indicator of some kind when a boss is coming up' person.

Another game that did the whole 'limited continues' thing was Threads of Fate. You could find coins (platinum, gold, silver and bronze) that allowed you to continue when you die. Platinum would restore your full HP and MP and increase stats, bronze would restore full HP and 1/4 MP. The others fell somewhere in between. You could find the coins around the towns and dungeons, but also get them by donating a certain amount of money to the church. For instance, 5000G would get you 5 silver coins.

(Fun fact: A manga based on the game was planned to be made by Ken Akamatsu of Love Hina fame, but the project was scrapped. Many of his character designs would later be redesigned and used in Akamatsu's Negima!: Magister Negi Magi.)

iirc the platinum coins also gave a small permanent boost to stats when used too.
Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
13865
Save points all the way (preferably with quicksave as well; quicksave should be mandatory for all games). Save points remind you to save, which can be really hard to do when you're enjoying a game. (I recently lost an entire week of work in Recettear... :< ).
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
6003
Yeah, the SOL system had some major problems. But it was extremely fun to play through once if you didn't try to abuse the bugs. At least I thought so.

Hmm, what other games merit mention? Ah, SaGa Frontier 2.

For the first 80% of the game, if you lose a battle, Odin, one of the most powerful gods, summons your spirit and speaks to you in the afterlife, offering you a second chance. If you accept your second chance, you get to retry the same battle, fully healed. But there is a cost: Odin will only revive those who are valorous and willing to prove their valor. He says that one day, when the time comes, you must face Odin himself in battle.

About 80% of the way through the game, Odin appears to your party and makes good on his bargain; he is one of the hardest battles in the game. From this point forward, if you die, you get a game over.

Due to an oversight by the programmers, you fight Odin even if you never accept his offer. The original concept is still cool: You can retry battles at the cost of having to overcome a much more difficult challenge much later. I'd like to see a game make better use of this idea (possibly with an added cost each time you die instead of just the first time).
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