Proper Punishment for Dying in Video Games

-by Dylan DiBona

I’ll never forget one day I was playing Twilight Princess HD. I died in the middle of a dungeon and thought “Damn! I don’t want to start from the beginning”. The game respawned me right outside the room I died in, I then remember thinking “What? There’s no punishment. What’s the point of dying?” It’s these conflicting thoughts that inspired this topic.
Image result for twilight princess hd There are a few areas I feel like game designers never really nailed perfectly, death is one of them.

In Super Mario Bros. if you run out of lives even in the last world, you have to start all the way from the beginning of the game (unless you use a cheat). That’s far too drastic, and I’m sure it keeps tons of hopeful youths from beating the game after the downloading  it from the virtual console.

Then there’s Super Mario Bros. 3 where if you get a Game Over you start at the beginning of the world. Not as painful but still annoying.

Fast forward all the way to modern Mario and you’re given rewards for dying. Players dub it “god mode” but if you die more than five times in specific recent Mario games, you will be given a white tanooki suit of invincibility. Doesn’t  that seem like something you’d get for 100% completion in the N64 days? Now it’s given to you for failing.

It’s a see-saw of design; if we punish the player they could get too frustrated and quit, but if we make it too easy they might get bored or beat the game too quickly. There’s really no clear obvious answer for developers. Trying to “fix” this issue would require extra thought and work, maybe some developers just think their death punishments are fine.

I have a one proposal, it actually came from another Wii U game. I was playing Splatoon and while waiting in a lobby I was given a small mini-game.

Image result for splatoon squid racer

I like the idea of giving me a minigame in between the real game. I thought back to Twilight Princess. What if Zelda ran on lives like Mario? If you ran out of these lives you would then have to earn some more in a small arcade-type minigame. I understand the flaws with this idea though: player frustration and lack of immersion are just a few.

It may just be impossible to give a universally accepted death punishment. Some players swear by the Dark Souls games, others find them too hard. Some people (like me) enjoy a good Kirby game, others laugh at the easiness. It comes down to the millions of different people and tastes there are. Who knows, maybe a game will add some color to this gray area soon.

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So guys, what games have the most fair and unfair penalties for dying? Let me know down below and I’ll try my best to reply! As always, thanks for reading.

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10 thoughts on “Proper Punishment for Dying in Video Games

  1. Interesting article! It’s very hard to find that balance. And although I like that Squid Jump minigame, I can’t see it working for Zelda. Though I guess having to do something as soon as you fail reminds me of Punch-Out!! where you have to mash the button repeatedly to get up. The more times you’ve fallen, the harder you must mash.

    Honestly, I think Shovel Knight handled death perfectly. For one, there are checkpoints that you can choose to destroy for more treasure. If you do activate them, they’re great places to start from. And the punishment for death is not only going back to the last checkpoint activated, but losing a portion of that hard-earned money. You have chance to reclaim that money where you lost it, but otherwise, there is no lives system or game over.

    As for worst death, there’s an old Famicom game that’s apparently being brought back called Takeshi’s Challenge, where dying at any point in the game led to restarting from the very beginning. There are points of instant death and unconventional challenges that are hard to figure out, and if you mess up, you’re done.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have rage quit Dark Souls so many times now, yet I keep going back. I love that it is really challenging and death feels like it means something so you don’t just charge in reckklessly, however after being smacked down repeatedly it does get discouraging. Still, I think it is good there’s a range of games and difficulties and punishments out there. It means that theres a game to suit everyone’s taste.

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  3. This is interesting. Deaths are hard to handle in games. If the punishment is too lenient, what’s the point (look at the Prince of Persia reboot in which you couldn’t die at all)? Too harsh and it dissuades players from continuing unless you provide a damn good reason to do so. I’d love to know how developers make these decisions.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I always wondered the same thing – handling player deaths is just one of many instances where a player could decide to keep playing, or put the game down. I assume _tons_ of research and user testing goes into it for larger AAA titles, but what about all the smaller games whose developers don’t have those massive QA resources?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember the first time playing Super Mario 3D Land. I loved the game, don’t get me wrong, but my god was I insulted the first time it gave me God Mode! Like come on man, I know I’ve been sucking, but I don’t want you to beat the level for me!

    Of course, with large games that aren’t level based, there are so many options when “punishing” the player for dying. Sometimes restarting an entire area is just the worst. Xenoblade Chronicles handled this well – there was very little punishment for dying, you would just have to start the immediate area over again. For boss fights, it let you restart the battle from the beginning. But you didn’t take any debuffs or anything. Most Zelda games put you at the beginning of the room, or some mid-point in the dungeon. All of these options are pretty decent.

    The God mode thing, yeah, I didn’t appreciate that. Not in the slightest.

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