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Killing players

I would be interested to hear others' thoughts, both from a player's perspective and a developer, on the subject of killing players.

What little research I've done suggests it's a complete no-no, but I ask myself why. Dying is something that has always been present in video games - tolerated by players because usually it only results in having to start that particular level again.

It would be difficult to implement such a devise into CYOA games, as they don't involve levels as such, but I'd be interested to learn if it's a technique any of you have experimented with.

I suppose the biggest hurdle is that 'choices' in these games usually amount to two or three, meaning that if a player did make a choice which resulted in death, it wouldn't take a Sherlock Holmes to work out that this option needs to be avoided next time round.

Anyway, thought?


  • The Sorcery series by Inkle I think did this quite well. It's a CYAG for Android/iPhone but the mechanic of rewinding or "undoing" choices is a prominent part of the UI (as opposed to Twine where it's sort of hidden off to the side). There are many ways to die in that game, but you don't lose anything because you can just rewind. That may not seem interesting at first, but I think what Inkle did well was making all the deaths funny or interesting. I've heard the experience of playing there games compared to the old Choose Your Own Adventure books, where everyone would keep their finger in the last page in case they horribly died on the next done. Personally I found this fun, and in many of the deaths I learned from dying what I needed to do to not die next time.
  • edited November 2015
    I might have to take a look at them. A CYOA on my iPhone is the one thing I don't have.

    That sounds easy enough to implement into Twine games. Just add a return macro on the death page. But that seems like defeating the object of having deaths in the game.

    I suppose one could experiment with a 'hardcore' mode, where death results in the game ending and the only option would be to play from the start again. Although I'm not sure CYOA games have the same replay value as console game, so such a mode would probably not go down well.
  • Twine Rewind gets you back to where you were before you died. But if you want to preserve anything about that path (like that fact that you went down it and died) you need to do some fiddling with macros. See

    I got a working example in my latest game:

    Endings on the left shows the endings you've reached (not all deaths).
  • I tend to associate twine games more to game books (Lone Wolf, for example) than to videogames, and I seem to remember dying was always a possibility in those.
    In my first game, which looks a lot like a game book (pointless to link it here since it's in Italian), you can "die" in the first scene - your character has to meet a local noble and if you chose to stay in bed and ignore the appointmnet, you lose and have to restart.
    I see, however, how this can be a bit frustrating for the player after many hours of play.
    This is why I make sure there is a save / load option always very visible. :)

    I use Harlowe so I am not sure I could implement a rewind option, but I am pretty happy with just save / load + teaching the player early on that they could die, so they save often.
  • Melyanna wrote: »
    ... but I am pretty happy with just save / load + teaching the player early on that they could die, so they save often.
    Agreed. If you are going to have possible deaths in a CYOA, I think it's vital to warn the player beforehand.

  • Jud_Casper wrote: »
    It would be difficult to implement such a devise into CYOA games, as they don't involve levels as such, but I'd be interested to learn if it's a technique any of you have experimented with.
    I'm pretty sure back in the 80s there was a CYOA book that you were able to die in if you actually played it properly as opposed to just popping a bookmark in the previous page once you realised you could actually die. It added a level of difficulty to the book that neither my friends nor I had seen before.

    I'm with Melyanna on using saves. While saves are a hassle, especially if you forget to save and then something kills you, it allows you that little bit more freedom as an author to get evil and actually kill the player. I think where there's the possibility of having your character(s) killed makes things a lot more interesting and, with an decent combat system, it really can draw the player in more.
  • I tend to agree, Anton. Fortunately I'm a big fan of Sugarcube, so the save function is already there, built in.
  • Yeah, Twine 1/Sugarcane rewind and bookmarks works a lot like an autosave. You can basically go back to any previous decision point (that the author tagged as a bookmark) and start playing again from there. Gives the author control over where the player can save and restore, gives the player a chance to explore the game without getting real tired of going through the opening again and again.
  • If you're aiming for the old CYOA style, then possibly dying horribly at every step can be fun/funny. Personally, I find it frustrating.

    If death does not exist, however, then what's the real risk in your game/story? I prefer to keep death as a possibility, but not something that can normally occur because of a single bad choice made - a favorite tactic of old CYOA books and some games. The real key, though, is to give players informed choices... and in the cases of little information, a logical result - Don't create a choice where it's something like:

    "The horrible monster spots you and will be on top of you in moments!

    1) Run out the door
    2) Whimper and cower

    1 -> BOOM. There was a landmine on the other side of the door.
    2 -> The monster, feeling bad for you, stops and cuddles you before leaving you alone forever."

    The result of Options 1 and 2 could not have been predicted, the author is just being arbitrary and cruel. I see that too often. It's infuriating as the player, not challenging or interesting.
  • Yeah, I added a metalayer around my game to keep track of which endings you'd reached. A sort of Achievements/score system that works with rewind to encourage exploration and easy replayability. You die, you get the death/ending scene, you rewind to a previous decision point and try something else...

    I do agree that random deaths don't really have a spot here because the player has no realistic chance of intentionally choosing to avoiding them.
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