Monday, November 9, 2009

Mortality in games

I came up with an idea the other day with the help of a friend when playing the Left 4 Dead 2 demo which has sparked an interesting thought process in my head. As I'm sure most of you know in Left 4 Dead you start each campaign with choosing a character out of four to play as and the idea is to get to the end of the campaign without dying. This is where in terms of realism it gets tricky, as if you DO die you are not really dead and your team mates can actively re-rescue you from an impossible to escape cupboard the same character that had just died. This is a disruption of reality in most worlds, when you are dead you are dead forever, not for five minutes until you magically spring back into existence in a constantly safe space. Now what if we take the idea of the same character re-spawning away?

For example lets say we have a disaster at the beginning of our game like a plane crash. If instead of choosing a character when you start, the game randomly generates a character for you instead. So if four people are playing at the start of the game four randomly generated characters will survive the crash, if only one person is playing only one character survives. This helps with other aspects of a drop in drop out co-operative system. Say you are playing through the game solo and one of your friends wants to join they can drop in to the game as a "new" survivor which if on the same console would be close to you for screen space sake and online could be anywhere in the same check point area. This system would add more realism to the world that you are playing through as each character is technically a living character within the world, and as I said earlier in the blog when living things die they permanently are dead, this brings me to my next idea. With the random character generator if your character dies he is dead, no respawn for him and no extra lives. Instead you will re-spawn within the nearest check point area (a select area defined through various check points) as a new survivor. I initially thought this would result in a lack of connection with the characters yet with your survivor being fragile with a definitive end if you do like the person created you will want to hold onto them. This could be especially engaging in co-operative mode as real stories through various survivors could take place. For example your best friends character "Jim" went back to heal "Dave" after he got knocked down by a horde of zombies yet couldn't get there in time and watched him be devoured. "Jim" is dead for ever and if the idea is pushed could even come back as a zombie to be later re-discovered as you are trapsing through areas. The only issue with this is that the story through out the campaign could not possibly be character based therefore the story portrayed through the world would have to be cleverly engaging and interesting to keep the players hooked. As I said in a previous post this could be achieved through audio from televisions or radios or out of reach converstaions or writings on the walls. You could even have events happening in the background that are key things to the overall story of this world giving your characters reason to survive.

A tough design route possibly yet ultimately engaging and different. If handled carefully and designed well the inclusion of mortality in games could invigorate the story rather than detract away from them.


  1. One of our third year students has written his Futures module document based on Death and Mortality in Games. It may be interesting to chat with him to compare ideas. Remind me to introduce you after the hols, if you want to follow this up.

  2. It may be worth taking a look at this weblink
    named, “You Are Dead. Continue?”: Conflicts and Complements in Game Rules and Fiction
    Jason Tocci

    Eludamos. Journal for Computer Game Culture. 2008; 2; 2; 187-201

    There are some interesting articles here