FUNDAMENTALS OF GAME DESIGN, SECOND EDITION

THE PROBLEM OF DEATH

For many years, game designers have debated the question of whether adventure games should allow the player to make a fatal mistake. Some adventure games proudly advertise on their boxes that the avatar can't ever die; the manuals of other games warn that the player might encounter mortal danger. In some respects, this seems like a strange thing to worry about. After all, avatars routinely die in action games and in flight simulator crashes, so why shouldn't they be able to die in adventure games?

The nature of the gameplay makes the question controversial. In a first-person shooter or a military flight simulator, it's obvious that the avatar is in mortal peril all the time. In fact, in games of most genres, it's win or lose, kill or be killed by clearly marked enemies, all the time. Adventure games differ because they seldom provide an explicitly declared enemy; instead, the game encourages the player to go everywhere and touch everything. If you tell the player to explore the world and
then you fill it with deathtraps, he's in for a frustrating time. Nowadays, most adventure games adopt a "fair warning" approach, making it clear when an object or action threatens danger and (usually) offering a way of neutralizing or circum­venting that danger. If you put a dragon in a cave, it's a nice touch to litter the entrance with the bones of earlier adventurers. That ought to get the point across.

Most adventure games supply a save-game feature, so death isn't necessarily cata­strophic; on the other hand, stopping to save the game does tend to hurt the player's feeling of immersion. Adventure games shouldn't be so dangerous that the player needs to save all the time. If you are going to let the player's avatar be killed in your game, make sure to use an autosave feature to save the game at intervals, which allows the player to restore it later, even if he hasn't explicitly saved it. The player doesn't have to know that the game is being saved for him; telling him only harms the suspension of disbelief.

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