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LemonLime

On dying in adventure games

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I second autosave. An adventure game should be among the easiest type of game to implement autosave in. If the game simply saved every time a new environment was entered and every time any action was performed for the first time, no progress would ever be lost.

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This topic came up several times in this thread:

http://www.doublefine.com/forums/viewthread/6172/ (LucasArts VS Sierra thread)

Many people seem to like it, many seem to hate it. My suggestion in a different thread was to create a "sierra mode", where dying for example is possible but if you don't want to, you just play the normal version.

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But let's think broader: how else could an adventure game handle failure that doesn't involve death? Perhaps failing to get the right solution to one puzzle blocks off one of many multiple solutions to a puzzle, forcing you to try things another way. Perhaps if you fail at something a lot it changes the way certain characters react to you. Perhaps failure at a certain number of things means that you don't get the optimum ending. I'm not saying these are things DFA should do - only that there are lots of ways of handling failure seriously, which are much more pro-storytelling than death.

I like these ideas a lot. Some branching possibilities within the game based on player choices\actions would add a lot of depth and interest, and it wouldn't have to be as radical as story branches which lead to entirely different scenarios. A strong sense of freedom could be conjured simply by providing some alternative paths within the details of a scenario.

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But let's think broader: how else could an adventure game handle failure that doesn't involve death? Perhaps failing to get the right solution to one puzzle blocks off one of many multiple solutions to a puzzle, forcing you to try things another way. Perhaps if you fail at something a lot it changes the way certain characters react to you. Perhaps failure at a certain number of things means that you don't get the optimum ending. I'm not saying these are things DFA should do - only that there are lots of ways of handling failure seriously, which are much more pro-storytelling than death.

http://www.sizefivegames.com/2012/02/04/tea-death/#more-1505

I believe not progressing in the adventure (as a result to not solving the puzzles) could be considered as a failure. But that's just my opinion.

But that's not what I meant. I meant if there were multiple solutions to a puzzle, perhaps some of them could fail permanently. Not that you should be able to get permanently stuck.

I get your point, death in a video game almost never mean game over permanently, it is often just a setback or a checkpoint. Death is often used as a "failure aspect" for games in general. What I mean is that in a adventure game the not progressing and not solving puzzles could be considered as the "failure aspect". It doesn't need fabricated failure.

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But let's think broader: how else could an adventure game handle failure that doesn't involve death? Perhaps failing to get the right solution to one puzzle blocks off one of many multiple solutions to a puzzle, forcing you to try things another way. Perhaps if you fail at something a lot it changes the way certain characters react to you. Perhaps failure at a certain number of things means that you don't get the optimum ending. I'm not saying these are things DFA should do - only that there are lots of ways of handling failure seriously, which are much more pro-storytelling than death.

I like these ideas a lot. Some branching possibilities within the game based on player choices\actions would add a lot of depth and interest, and it wouldn't have to be as radical as story branches which lead to entirely different scenarios. A strong sense of freedom could be conjured simply by providing some alternative paths within the details of a scenario.

Thanks. And I think the important thing is that those were just ideas that came to mind while I was typing. There are probably problems with them because I only gave them a few seconds' thought, but the point is, if someone really applied themselves to the task of handling failure in meaningful ways to the story (L.A. Noire flirted with this nicely, and earlier Blade Runner, but wasn't QUITE there), then it could be really interesting and progressive.

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I get your point, death in a video game almost never mean game over permanently, it is often just a setback or a checkpoint. Death is often used as a "failure aspect" for games in general. What I mean is that in a adventure game the not progressing and not solving puzzles could be considered as the "failure aspect". It doesn't need fabricated failure.

I see. I agree in a way, that just getting stuck and not being able to think up a solution to the puzzle is a type of failure in adventure games, so maybe you don't need other types - but maybe it would be interesting to also have various ways you can 'fail' which wouldn't stop you winning, but affect the story (Heavy rain, LA Noire and Blade Runner are all games that have toyed with this, no matter what other problems they have).

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Back when I was young, my sister and I loved to play adventure games, we played nearly all we could:

Mi 1+2, DoTT, but also stuff like the Kyrandia Games. WHile I never minded that much, my sister nearly never liked to play adventure games in which you could die. In fact, even when a new game comes out nowadays (we come from Germany, so, yes, that happens from time to time) and I tell her about it, the first thing she always asks is "Can you die in the game? If so, I'm not interested."

And to be honest, I kinda grew into feeling the same way. If I want a game where I could die, I just download the next best new game and that's it. As long as conversations are tricky and riddles hard enough to make you try more than just once, it's all fine.

So, in short: No dying. Dying sucks enough, we don't need it :)

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I'm not a fan of death in Adventure games. In other games, fine, but Adventures, for me are about the puzzles. IF you reeeally must include dying, then it must follow these three golden rules:

1) It MUST be part of a contained puzzle, not a random death resulting from the fact that you're not psychic.

2) Play MUST restart at the beginning of the puzzle and not expected to reload at an earlier save.

3) The puzzle should be be such that the player can solve it in a reasonable number of attempts. Say 3-5, depending on the nature of the puzzle. Any more and you're just taking the piss as a designer. Especially if it involves an element of timing. There's nothing worse than knowing HOW to solve a puzzle, but not being able to because, say, you're reactions are not what they used to be.

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That's something I always appreciated about LucasArts adventure games - you couldn't do things wrong.

I don't mind dying if it's not really a punishment. As in, if the character then walks back onto the screen and you get to try again. Or the game autosaves just before the bad and then you get to load from there.

Some of these deaths were quite amusing :D

Don't mind, so long as it's short and funny and you don't have to mess about replaying bits to get back to that point.

P.S. can you believe the voice of Brandon is provided by the guy who plays Kane in Command and Conquer? It really is! :D

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Bah. "Can't die." Bah. "Autosave." Bah. "Death with no punishment for it." BAH, I say! Give me ridiculously unfair deaths that strip you of all your collected currency and force you to replay a maddeningly long and difficult sequence over again, and if you don't do it exactly right this time, you lose the aforementioned currency permanently! With no way to save the game before a difficult segment and no way to load a saved game...any mistake you make is permanent, no going back!

...can you tell I've been playing Dark Souls?

Seriously though, I don't mind deaths in an adventure game so long as they aren't for ridiculously stupid things that any character with any degree of common sense or at least the survival instinct of a brain-damaged moth would be smart enough to avoid (i.e. walking straight into a fast-running river when you can't swim)

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3) The puzzle should be be such that the player can solve it in a reasonable number of attempts. Say 3-5, depending on the nature of the puzzle. Any more and you're just taking the piss as a designer. Especially if it involves an element of timing. There's nothing worse than knowing HOW to solve a puzzle, but not being able to because, say, you're reactions are not what they used to be.

I agree with your points so far, but in general, for all games, I feel that any challenge which can result in death should be survivable on the first attempt if the player is observant. I'm not a fan of forced trial and error in a game which tries to have a credible plot, because a situation that requires the player to die in order to learn what to do would never be solvable by the character you are controlling. As digesters of the fiction, attempting to suspend our disbelief, it needs to be believable that the character could proceed through the game's plot without needing to see the future.

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Dying in a game that you have to think of a solution to progress is just too frustratng.

I don't mind too much though. unless I have to use timing or action skills and can't progress without them.

I haven't read the full discussion yet, but man I want to say ^THIS. I don't know that I'd apply it to Adventure games specifically, because they give you so much time to come to your solution, but man I wish the makers of Catherine had realized this.

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But let's think broader: how else could an adventure game handle failure that doesn't involve death? Perhaps failing to get the right solution to one puzzle blocks off one of many multiple solutions to a puzzle, forcing you to try things another way. Perhaps if you fail at something a lot it changes the way certain characters react to you. Perhaps failure at a certain number of things means that you don't get the optimum ending. I'm not saying these are things DFA should do - only that there are lots of ways of handling failure seriously, which are much more pro-storytelling than death.

Basically that gets us back to the multiple solutions discussion, with the slight difference that every solution could be blocked permanently. Yeah, sometimes you have that in a typical adventure game but usually only once in a while a bit but not fully. Indiana Jones 4 for example has it when you're trying to convince Trottier to go to Sophia. This task can work out smoothly but if you piss him off you need to slightly different approach. But I'd say for such a design it will always take one way that can be restored any time - because otherwise it will lead to chess mate. I think Fahrenheit is going a lot in this direction but it's not really comparable to typical adventure games (although it does a lot right).

@OptimumEnding: Yes sometimes that could mean it but I guess during the first 3/4 of the game the consequence shouldn't be so much influencing the optimum ending but maybe just affect later puzzles (let's say you don't get a special tool - so for some puzzles you have to find a more tricky way). During the last chapter however I wouldn't mind having several puzzles that significantly change the outcome of the game and maybe lets say one of these puzzles requires a special tool you didn't manage to get in the first chapter, which makes the solution more tricky and failure more likely - which then would affect the outcome. I don't like it when I have the feeling the the outcome of a game is messed up pretty soon... I think it would be important to know what choices maybe triggered what outcome and that gets really tricky when those choice happen too soon.

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But let's think broader: how else could an adventure game handle failure that doesn't involve death? Perhaps failing to get the right solution to one puzzle blocks off one of many multiple solutions to a puzzle, forcing you to try things another way. Perhaps if you fail at something a lot it changes the way certain characters react to you. Perhaps failure at a certain number of things means that you don't get the optimum ending. I'm not saying these are things DFA should do - only that there are lots of ways of handling failure seriously, which are much more pro-storytelling than death.

Basically that gets us back to the multiple solutions discussion, with the slight difference that every solution could be blocked permanently. Yeah, sometimes you have that in a typical adventure game but usually only once in a while a bit but not fully. Indiana Jones 4 for example has it when you're trying to convince Trottier to go to Sophia. This task can work out smoothly but if you piss him off you need to slightly different approach. But I'd say for such a design it will always take one way that can be restored any time - because otherwise it will lead to chess mate. I think Fahrenheit is going a lot in this direction but it's not really comparable to typical adventure games (although it does a lot right).

2 quick points:

1) As I pointed out above, I wouldn't have it so every solution could be blocked forever, since that would be just as annoying as dying. But if you could do a puzzle 3 ways, perhaps 2 of the ways could fail permanently, but one tricky solution could remain open.

2) I said this elsewhere as well, but these were just off-the-top-of-my-head examples of a story-positive way a game could handle failure, one of which happens to involve multiple solutions. Basically the point was: there are other things you can do with failure, besides death, things that support the story.

Here's another: what if an adventure game was structured more like a story-heavy RPG, with side-puzzles which could be failed, with story-consequences, but never stops you from carrying on? That could be a cool way of building danger/failure into an adventure game without death.

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Yes, if you're risking your life in a game then you should die if you fail. I couldn't imagine playing games like Police Quest even half-seriously where every criminal's gun conveniently jams or some other silly thing.

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Comical deaths, that immediately reset the game to just before the "fatal" step, would be fine. Also, varied and interesting ways to die, so as not to become repetitive and prevent the player from exploring and experimenting for fear of yet another long and boring death animation/sequence. And finally, the game should only have a few spots one can die, to keep it a surprise for the player when they do manage to off themselves.

The game could have a death-o-meter at the end, that tells you how many times you died during the game (along with appropriate mockery).

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Just my opinion, but I really don't like being able to die in adventure games. As a couple of people have mentioned, the possibility alone makes you play more carefully, especially when they are deaths that you might not see coming; it actually deters you from experimenting, or makes you save constantly, and neither is ideal.

My take on this is that death itself in games is usually used to give the player a challenge, a sense of achievement, and to provide barrier to progress - for example, in a shooter if you die it's generally due to a mistake or lack of skill, and so with practice you get over this and become better at the game. If you couldn't die in a shooter, you'd breeze right through it and there would be no challenge or feeling of accomplishment.

For an adventure, the puzzles themselves already do these jobs - solving a puzzle allows you to progress and gives a sense of accomplishment - the challenge is in thinking rather than reacting to things quickly.

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Dying is never fun. We already have to do that in real life. So, no thanks.

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I have no problem with dying in adventure games. As a matter of fact, I'd say it was the *best part* of some of the old Sierra games, particularly Space Quest. It added tension, real consequences for screwing up or being incautious, and a sense of danger and exploration.

Of course, I don't expect an adventure game designed by Lucasarts vets to feature lots of deaths, but that doesn't mean they are some horrible abortion of game design.

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I'm with jonathanfrisby on this one: I think it really hinges on the genre you are going for. If you're going for light and comedic, then hell no you don't let the player character die (or go to jail, or whatever qualifies as a reload-your-last-save situation in the game in question). If, on the other hand, the genre or story you are going for relies on establishing tension and/or fear then the possibility of death is quite handy.

I think there are numerous ways to make death less frustrating whilst remaining scary. Set it up so that death is only possible if you go to a particular location, so once it happens once the player can think to themselves "Brrr! I better not go back there unless I'm prepared". Or, alternately, set things up so that you can't get into a life threatening situation unless you already have the resources to hand in order to beat the death-puzzle, so a player knows they aren't dying over and over simply because they forgot to pick up a cocktail umbrella two rooms back.

Oh, and make sure you've got a system in place where people can't save the game once they hit the point of no return and can't rescue themselves!

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Yeah, I'm fine with deaths - it's when you can forget to do something earlier in the game that prevents you from finishing later that I don't like. Unless it's pretty obvious what you did wrong (like getting all the kids in jail in Maniac Mansion, where it's pretty clear you messed up and should restart), not know whether the game is unwinnable or you're just stuck would be quite frustrating. For example, I have no problem dying over and over again in Kingdom Hearts on a boss fight since 1. I know that I just saved so I can just try again to figure it out and 2. I know that the boss is beatable!

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My opinion, I've played both types of games, and it just has to fit properly.

Death works very well in two ironic type of situations, the first one (Kings quest 6,) where some death realm is part of the game, or in Discworld 2, where you takeover death's job.

Comedic death also works great if it's a comedic fumble, (like in the space quest series.) But in this case it should let the player return to before they made the fumble and then not let them do it again without having progressed further in the game, to prevent "oh for crying out loud what is the solution" frustration.

I really really hate "timing" puzzles (quick-time events too,) as these aren't puzzles, and they aren't fair to people who like to explore. Mostly it's the arcade sequences itself that are annoying, but there are cases where like in SQ1,2,4 and 5 where there are fixed time limits, during a certain event and then you die, so if you save the game during the event, you might not leave yourself enough time. The Maniac Mansion game also incorporated some timing-related unwinnable situations.

In most other cases, long death/game-over sequences just make the game overbearingly slow to progress due to the loading time of having to roll back (like with most console RPG games, having to sit through the same 10 minute pre-rendered video over and over, get to a boss fight and die.) If a character is about to die/game-over, the game should let them restore from before that event, even if they didn't save the game, as in a "abort/retry/fail" option.

The older Lucasarts and Sierra games, even when you had to reload, it only took 30 seconds, and there was no long unskippable cutscene you had to wait through.

But one other point I'd like to mention, is that back when these games were made, you had to pay money to buy hintbooks, or call a hint number. Until the internet came along and everyone and their pet dog created walkthroughs for games, or video walkthroughs (Let's Play.) So death is largely avoidable if you're cheating with a walkthrough. But you also miss out on all the easter eggs, clues, and gags from the death sequences.

(There are youtube videos of just Space Quest and Quest for Glory death sequences)

So in my opinion, games have to be designed, knowing full well that the player may be sitting there with a walkthrough or cheating in some other manner, in which case you do have to slap the player on the wrist for doing things out-of-sequence or too soon (eg making a cake without the recipe, but having all the ingredients.) Using the cake as an example, let's say you have to make a cake and you know in advance what ingredients you have to buy, because you've clearly played the game before, so you buy the ingredients well before you get the recipe. One of those ingredients are "eggs", so when you pick them up early it says "fresh eggs", but turn into "bad eggs" by the time you get to make the cake, in which case making the cake with the bad eggs ends up with a "bad end - food poisoning", a hint about the eggs being bad, and the option to retry by sending the player back before they added the eggs, and trying to add them again will say "I think those eggs have gone bad, you should throw them away, and buy fresh ones."

I think one of the most frustrating things that happened regarding death in games was in Kings Quest 3. The game has a clock, so you have to be at X place by Y time or you die. If you never figured out how to get rid of this timer death (by feeding the cat cookie to the wizard in the porridge) then you might very well have a race against the clock to finish the game before the wizard comes and zaps you.

But non-death games also have a problem, by allowing too much trial-and-error, you end up doing the "pixel-hunting" game frequently to brute-force find a solution, because there's no penalty to doing something wrong. In the Sam and Max games this comes up, where the puzzles reset, having to sit through the same actions over and over. It slows things down instead of just refusing with "already tried that."

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So in my opinion, games have to be designed, knowing full well that the player may be sitting there with a walkthrough or cheating in some other manner, in which case you do have to slap the player on the wrist for doing things out-of-sequence or too soon (eg making a cake without the recipe, but having all the ingredients.)

I think the game shouldn't punish the player for doing things out of sequence or too soon. It should instead encourage players to go the longer route with easter eggs and interesting dialogues. It should allow going straight for the solution (so people wouldn't get stuck trying to fugure out that one particular illogical trigger when they know what has to be done but the game refuses to do it), but also make it interesting enough to just go around and explore, so that people wouldn't resort to shortcuts, and only consult a walkthrough when they're hopelessly stuck.

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I really have no problems with dying as long as there's a quick save option (which there probably would be). Though, having a save right before things get rough, ala King's Quest VII or Broken Sword would be pretty nice. I'd especially like it if there were little sarcastic messages that play if you manage to off yourself in a particularly stupid way. That's the sort of thing that breeds replayability.

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I don't mind dying either and I remember some of the old Larry games where you fall of something and bounce back and some times you actually died and had to start over. I don't see it as an game stimulating feature to an adventure game but I don't mind it either.

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A big part of adventure games is thinking outside the box - and maybe there's actually a puzzle that requires you to drink the acid, so the player shouldn't live in fear of that.

This is it, exactly. I'm going to be trying stupid, strange stuff in an adventure game, because that's exactly the sort of thing that gets you past a puzzle. Just handle it like Monkey Island where, if drinking the poison would kill you at that moment, then the character just says "I'm not going to do that now".

There's no reason to autosave, kill my character, show me a stupid cutscene, and make me go load the autosave just so I can get back to trying stuff. All it does is waste my time and take the chance, however slight it might be, that the save will either be corrupted or out of date and I will now loathe your game with a deep seated hatred for making me play a bunch of stuff I've already gotten through.

I say "no" to deaths in adventure games. If there is a decent save system then it is completely pointless.

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