Back from the Dead

You-Died-Screen

I’m back! I know it’s been a while, but better late than never amirite? Well I still have things to say and I hope you guys are still willing to hear them. To fit the occasion, I thought it appropriate to talk about death and respawn in games.

We’ve all played countless games, lived hundreds of lives and surely died a thousand times, but in a game, death is rarely permanent. For a while now I’ve wanted to share my thoughts on the way different games deal with player death. By that I mean the way games explain how it is possible for the player character to come back from the dead for a retry. Now I’m sure there are many games worth mentioning that I will forget so feel free to comment about them.

Some games try to give an explanation to why the player is able to respawn and others simply put you back at a checkpoint. The latter aren’t what interest me so let’s look at the former with some examples. (Please keep in mind that most of the incoming explanations are my own and might not be what the developers had in mind)

Dark Souls

Dark Souls

In Dark Souls the player character is an immortal “undead” and thus can always respawn at checkpoints. This explains why the player’s death isn’t permanent and also why all the enemies also respawn when the player rests at a checkpoint (except for bosses). This is all good and logical (for a game) but if the player consumes the souls of his enemies, how can they respawn ? Unless the souls the enemies leave behind are not their own, just as the player leaves behind all the souls he has upon dying.  Where are all these souls coming from? Let’s leave it there.

Assassin’s Creed

This is one of my favorites. In the Assassin’s Creed series the player is presented with the idea of genetic memory and a machine that allows the user to tap into it. As Desmond Miles a descendant of Assassins, the player is able to relive the memories of his ancestors. Dying prematurely, failing missions  or committing acts such as killing innocents is considered inconsistent with the ancestor’s memory and as such causes the player to “de-synchronize” and return to the last point where the player was “in-sync” with the memory. I haven’t been able to find any holes in this explanation yet, so hats off to Ubisoft.

World of Warcraft

Spirit Healer from World of Warcraft

As many other MMOs, WoW has a problem with death. When a player dies his/her spirit is resurrected by a spirit healer saying “it is not yet your time…etc.”  The player would then have to run back to his corpse as a spirit to return to the material realm or ask the spirit healer for a resurrection on the spot that comes with a penalty. Alternatively another player could resurrect a fallen player using specific spells. The problem is, while the game treats the players as heroes who can’t be allowed to die, NPCs that are heroes to the player can die. Enemies that respawn and boss fights that are endlessly repeatable make the concept of death a bit strange in MMOs (Lets not even get into the Undead race). I wonder how WoW would change if it got rid of spirit healers and corpse running and used the method of simply teleporting to a waypoint that is present in Guild Wars 2. Then again the spirit healers are kind of cool.

The last thing I’d like to mention is funny moment in Bastion when you fall off the edge for the first time and the narrator who speaks throughout the entire game says “and then he falls to his death… I’m just foolin’”.  To me that was fantastic and fit the game so well.

I hope after reading this that I won’t be the only one thinking about this every time I die in a game. Also if you haven’t played this already, try out the game You Only Live Once. As always, if you have any thoughts don’t hesitate to comment below.

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Posted on December 15, 2012, in Game Design and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Braid where you are on your way to death, only to find time stopping as you reach the end of the screen for you to turn back and change your mind. The explanation seems to be in that it’s a story being told so the character simply lives for the duration of this story and does not die
    Roguelikes are cool too, where players fight to stay alive with no retries due to permadeath. So the experience of a lack of retries changes gameplay where player death is absolute and non-negotiable.

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