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Design Roundtable 1: The Death of Death


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#21 bakanoodle   Members   -  Reputation: 100

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 09:19 AM

I think it's fair to say that games need risk in order to be compelling.

Death as a risk doesn't seem to be that much of an issue, however how it is presented is.
In PoP, you still 'die' but the process to get back into the back has been sped up significantly and the amount of repetition has been significantly reduced.

So really, the difficulty lies in what feels 'fair' when it comes to dealing punishment in a game, and what is presented as a risk.
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#22 bakanoodle   Members   -  Reputation: 100

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 09:40 AM

Quote:
Original post by OrangyTang
It's not unreasonable to remove the possibility of dying in a game, but if you're removing death (or trivialising it to the point of being a minor annoyance) then you've got to add in other ways in which the player can fail to compensate (such as running out of time and having to repeat a section, or having resources removed). Otherwise you're just making a glorified "press X to win" game.



Great point. Games are meant to engage the player and hopefully have a meaningful experience in the process. Make a game too 'easy' and it subtracts from this experience.

Tyler McCullochTwitterBlog

#23 Azenrain   Members   -  Reputation: 122

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 09:51 AM

Here's my own thoughts on the subject as opposed to my earlier 'response' post.

Every time I'm faced with a new concept, I like to start from the ground up. A lot of times this makes for what some people might consider needless rehashing, but I find value in the process of reasoning this way in that it avoids the 'band aid' syndrome so common to problem solving in complex systems. I believe it is beneficial to know and acknowledge where the root causes lie in order to correct the 'symptoms' at the correct level.

With that said, I'll try to address this subject(Our usage of death in games) through what I see as being the intent of the Roundtable Discussion (To form a definitive understanding on the subject at hand in order to clarify its use as a tool in our games)

The inclusion of death in a game has been broken down into different elements. It has been the embodiment of the worst thing that can happen to you in the game. At least it was in the old days, as things have changed a great deal. Now we range from starting over, to being sent to a spawn point, to just stealing a couple seconds of the players time as they watch their avatar resurrect on the spot, to...

Whats the natural continuation of that pattern? We already have hardly inconvenienced the player at all for death...how about getting rid of death? OK!

"In my platform game you can't die, you just run around solving stuff, getting to new heights, and getting loot!"
"OK, so what happens when you fall off a cliff?"
"Nothing! You just climb back up!"
"OK so what happens if you stay under water too long?"
"Nothing, you are immortal!"
"OK so...whats the challenge?"
"You need to collect all these tubes of hair gel in the world so that you can make the best hairdo! It's Awesome!"
"OK, but...like what makes that task difficult or challenging to do, you know...to offer the player a sense of satisfaction, like they actually "Did good"?
"Well the tubes are only on the highest peaks so they are tric-KAY to get!"
"OK so...let me get this straight, you don't die when you fall, but the tubes are hard to get, right?"
"Yupper!"
"And if you fall you have to climb all the way back up?"
"Yup! See! challenging but no DEATH!"
"I'm sorry but you are retarded. In order to avoid death, you just made falling the new death."
"What?"
"Yah that's what I thought..."

Do we need 'bad' things to happen to the player? Well sure, if nothing ever went wrong then we could just keep mashing buttons, clicking, whatever and never need active involvement within the game. So we invent aspects within our games to offer an obstacle to the player(The challenge). Which naturally leads to the question, what if this obstacle bests the player? and we arrive at Game over, death, go back 3 spaces, lose your mats, get a scar, and a million and one other specific ways invented for the purpose of punishing the player for meeting the fate of your own design element.

Game design is really just another class in human psychology as was already mentioned by gxaxhx(i see your point Trent).

So I would conclude with this on the specifics of death. Since the idea of death mostly comes into play when you are controlling an avatar of some sort(ie not playing a puzzle), it is only natural to have death be the price of ultimate failure. It is NOT needed however, and I believe that in actuality it has been removed from most games today.
Getting to the last level in a game 20 years ago and then losing was dying. It was what we now call permadeath in RPG's. "Dying" today is an impotent term used to refer to the fact that you were 'inconvenienced' by a specific punishment. Either get on with the permadeath, or resign to the fact that the death in your game is purely cosmetic.

Devon



#24 Azenrain   Members   -  Reputation: 122

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 10:02 AM

Quote:
Original post by gxaxhx
Quote:
Original post by Azenrain
# And finally, the basics of death have usually been the forcing to REDO content. (PoP had you REDO in small increments, Super Mario Bros. where if it was your last life it was the title screen and quitting for a week because you were on the last stage...again) Is it the fact that content is so static that is the root cause of not wanting to REDO/Die, making it not the death mechanic at fault, but instead the actual gameplay?


I think that's *part* of it but there's also the aspect that when this happens the player is no longer progressing (instead, it's quite the opposite) which can have a negative impact on the player's motivation to continue playing.

Think about if your save game became corrupt (Sort of a death by game bug instead of game mechanic). Even if the game is dynamic and starting a new game won't be the exact same experience, the loss of all of that progress may be such a blow that the player will just shelve the game and move on.


You are quite right, the possibility that it could be the dynamics came from being able to replay simple physics based games forever. Then I realized it wasn't that it was dynamic, it was because it was simple and short.

Time investment of the player is a (The?) MAJOR facet to the penalties of death.



#25 thk123   Members   -  Reputation: 180

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 10:27 AM

Quote:
Original post by OrangyTang

Personally I'm not a fan of having death have minimal or zero side effects - not only does it make a mockery of people who actually play the game skillfully, but because it can mean a player can force their way through a game without really understanding it. I've witnessed this first hand when a friend was trying to play Bioshock like they'd play Quake 3 - run around frantically while shooting everything that moves. The result is that they miss the subtler stuff (like listening out for enemies or security cameras), and fail to learn how to use the weapons or environment properly. They end up dying repeatedly (and frequently) but because they're making slow (but painful) progress they never stop and realise that they're missing the point of the entire game, and end up dismissing it as too frustrating to be fun.

Games need to have consequences for wrong or bad decisions, otherwise there's no satisfaction in making the right decisions. Unfortunately big budget games have been sliding towards the politically correct "everyone's a winner" approach because the more "casual" end of the audience only want to win and will go and play something else if they loose even once.

It's not unreasonable to remove the possibility of dying in a game, but if you're removing death (or trivialising it to the point of being a minor annoyance) then you've got to add in other ways in which the player can fail to compensate (such as running out of time and having to repeat a section, or having resources removed). Otherwise you're just making a glorified "press X to win" game.


Interesting points, and Bioshock is a good example. My counter argument is this; in Bioshock the point of the game, for lack of a better phrase, is to explore and discover the cool under-water world. If the game was continuously challenging, the player would end up focusing on the combat and ignore the story. In a game like Halo, I focus on the combat, so I haven't collected any of the skulls, I don't explore the world, because I don't find that to be the focus of the game. By making death so irrelevant, they allow the player to explore the world fully without constantly worrying about dying and having to repeat an entire section. Without this mentality, many players wouldn't explore, as dying miles away from where you are supposed to be is worth than dying a few feet away.

In summary, I don't think that a game does need a way to fail. Instead, I think it needs a motivation to proceed. For many games, death is a convenient motivation. However, it is not the fear of failure that drives me on in, say Bioshock or Fable, it is the lure of what is round the next corner.

(Sorry mitttens, will include name, read the first bullet point, was the same, so skipped them, you should have highlighted the one that changed :P)
Thomas Kiley (=thk123, if you want to use any other post)
-thk123botworkstudio.blogspot.com - Shamelessly advertising my new developers blog ^^

#26 Sandman   Moderators   -  Reputation: 2136

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 10:56 AM

Death in games is generally such a pointless affair; a short trip to the Load Save Game screen, followed by a small bit of frustration at having to redo part of the game, and then you're back to where you were. Personally, I'm of the opinion that you should either have permadeath, or no death at all. Even if in practice it just means skipping that load screen and restarting the character at some checkpoint ("you wake up in hospital" kind of thing, e.g GTA)

In my experience of P&P RPGs, it's not all that uncommon for characters to die - usually, the DM does not force you to do the whole campaign from the start. Instead, you roll a new character and pick up from (roughly) where you left off.

I've never seen this implemented in a CRPG though. Often, the story line doesn't help - if you're The Chosen One, it seems a bit odd that you can die and some other random bod comes along and Saves The World for you. But it would be interesting to see how it worked - it's probably the only way to incorporate permadeath into a story based game without making your players hate you.

#27 bakanoodle   Members   -  Reputation: 100

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 11:23 AM

Quote:
Original post by thk123
I don't think that a game does need a way to fail. Instead, I think it needs a motivation to proceed. For many games, death is a convenient motivation. However, it is not the fear of failure that drives me on in, say Bioshock or Fable, it is the lure of what is round the next corner.


The motivation of wanting to proceed forward comes from the player's engagement in the game they are playing.
If the player is not engaged, the desire to look around the next corner drops.

A major component in increasing player engagement is how a game presents its challenges.
The most common of these challenges being 'death'.
I would say even though Bioshock and Fable reduced the death to a momentary pause, the game still would have felt much different had if the player took no damage at all.

If the player took no damage at all, the desire to proceed to the next area would be significantly reduced.

#28 Luctus   Members   -  Reputation: 580

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 11:26 AM

The problem how I see it is that death [of the player character] is usually not an interesting gameplay event, mostly because it's usually is paired with a save system which makes it meaningless.

Take an example. Assume a game, any game really, with the added game mechanic that periodically forces you to press some specific button, failure to do so within some resonable time would lead to a reset of the game with the associated loss of progress. I think it's not far fetched to consider that particular game mechanic to be deterimental to pretty much any game. It's similar to functions such as eating or sleeping that get left out of other games because they add nothing valuable to game experience, and are instead implied to be performed automaticly behind the scenes.

This is analogous, although admittedly farfetchedly so, to the save mechanic of modern games. "Death" means that the player is forced to resume from the last saved game. So as in previous example, why should you get punished for not pressing the quicksave button every 10 minutes instead of saving being done automatically behind the scenes? And if it is done automatically, popping the player back to the last safe position upon "death", why bother to model it is as death at all since it's quite clearly not the permanent end it implies?

Then on the other hand, there are scenarios where death is a fundamental gameplay mechanic. Any multiplayer deathmatch game is a good example. There your death means the success of the opposing player[s], which is in itself interesting. It's not hard to come up with other scenarios either. Tetris for example, here the "death" mechanic is interesting because it marks an end of the game. The challenge, a meta-game in a sense, is to see wheter you are able to play better next time.

What the examples above have in common is of course that there death is permanent. If it would be possible to undo placing pieces in tetris or saving a multiplayer game, the enjoyment of the game would be destroyed.

Of course, while removing save-mechanics would give death meaning, it would not automaticly make death interesting. The death of the main character marks an "end" to the game, but unlike the intended end of story based game, it's not an interesting one. Any story-based game that included permanent death with restart as the only option would likely tank, rightfully so too.

In conclusion, unless death is meaningful and interesting, then I would rather see more games that implements failure using an actually interesting mechanic rather than resorting to the death-and-reset approach. That said, the presence of "death" in a common death-and-restore scenario isn't really deterimental to a game either, as long as there's a working autosave functionality anyway.

-Johannes


#29 Alpha_ProgDes   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 4692

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 12:25 PM

The best way to force skill is to force the player to train and exhibit said skill. If they fail to progress in their in-game skill then either the player goes no further or even goes back further. Think of it as rigid kung-fu training. If the student does not show he has mastered a particular technique then he goes no further and practices until the master is satisfied. If the technique is sorely lacking or sloppy, then that student will go back to the basics and work his way back up.

#30 doomhascome   Members   -  Reputation: 142

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 01:39 PM

Death, as a mechanic, can be used as pretty much whatever the developer wants it to be. Some games, mostly RPGs, use it as a punishment, which forces the player to either reload a game or resume from a previous checkpoint. This is entirely valid. The question becomes, for these games at least, how can you successfully instill fear in your player if not by death. Note that death isn't literal reduction to 0 hit points. I could also be letting the princess die, running out of time to save your master, or any other goal which is essential and failed.

Ideas:

Ridiculously large procedurally generated content. We're talking huge, here. Death would cause you to branch out in the story. Maybe your master is dead, but now you have a quest to avenge him. Or the wandering monk found your corpse three years later, and everyone thinks you are dead now, and your girlfriend has married another man. That type of thing.

Specific branches only unlock-able by death. Like, if you die, the baddies capture you and you have to escape in a little mini-arc. Kind of annoying, only happens once (the mini-arc skips the area you last died at, so you could hypothetically play the entire game by dying at every option)



#31 swiftcoder   Senior Moderators   -  Reputation: 10409

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 04:20 PM

Quote:
Original post by bakanoodle
I would say even though Bioshock and Fable reduced the death to a momentary pause, the game still would have felt much different had if the player took no damage at all. If the player took no damage at all, the desire to proceed to the next area would be significantly reduced.
This is a good point - go fish out your favourite CRPG or shooter, and play it with 'god mode' enabled. At least for me, playing as an invulnerable character yields very little enjoyment.

The challenge of seeing how long I can stay alive keeps me going - in effect, I am not playing against the game, instead I am playing against myself, to see if I can beat my previous attempt to reach the next checkpoint...

Tristam MacDonald - Software Engineer @Amazon - [swiftcoding]


#32 MaulingMonkey   Members   -  Reputation: 1556

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 12:16 AM

I like death, except for the way it's actually done in most games.

The core of what I dislike about death as done in games is the step back. Being forced to redo what I just did, loosing experience, whatever -- it's annoying, it's frustrating, and it leads to repetitious situations where for every step forward you take it's two steps back. That's not fun.

Planetside had the closest thing to what I'd call "well done death". You didn't
lose experience, you'd didn't lose much other than your time -- half a minute to respawn, another minute to load up your gear and grab a vehicle, for example. You'd respawn at your forward base and continue on. Not great so far, just inconvenient.

The interesting part came about when you upped the stakes. You could try to flank the enemy and hit less defended outposts. However, without the support of the rest of the "Zerg" (as we called the main force that would constantly take the shortest path to the fight with the enemy), it was also the less supportable. I grouped with an outfit that specialized in this -- in our heyday flying platoons of infantry to drop and hold enemy bases until they flipped to our side.

Here's where the fun part of death came in. You'd often end up in situations where returning after respawning was downright impossible -- the enemy would reenforce en-mass and carpet bomb the hell out of their own base, destroying your AMSes (forward spawn positions) and trapping you inside, covering the base trying to work their way back in. If you respawned, at the extremes you could be facing a 10 minute flight back to the battlefront (at the extreme), and being forced to assault a base full of minefields and automated turrents -- not to mention the enemy. At times it was downright impossible to return to your defensive position. You often wouldn't get another chance at that base for quite some time if you lost, either -- the enemy outnumbered you to kick you out, and will continue to outnumber you there for awhile as they repair and rearm the base. Even when they've left, someone will be keeping an eye on it the next time to get the reenforcements there much faster.

So you'd have these alamos -- limited supplies, hunkered down around their command console desperately trying to hold on for the 15 minutes you needed to hold the base. Between exchanges of gunfire, you'd pass around dwindling supplies of ammo and healthpacks and trying to resurrect any of your dead comrades hanging around not hitting the respawn button.

No repetition -- just do or die.

And, in the grand scheme of things, you didn't loose anything you got to keep if you died and had to respawn. There'd be other bases to assault, others to kill, you lost no XP, equipment, or much else.

But at the same time, death was your doom. If you died anywhere but around the command console, you were out of that fight. If your valuable medics tried to come resurrect you, it could easily cost your team that battle if they too died -- so they usually wouldn't! If most of your team (or even just your medics) died just once, you lost that entire battle. And that gave meaning to holding out against superior numbers for those 15 minutes, meaning beyond just "pwning them noobs lol".




There's a mechanic I want to see tried sometime. I call it "semi-perma-death". Sure, allow players to resurrect each other if they can. But if you die downright proper and will need to respawn? Give them a nice jolly roger across their screen.



Don't let them back in game for, say, an hour. Maybe a day. Maybe a week if you're a real bastard (I know I am!). Make death something to be feared... without coercing the player into carebearing the entire way to level 99 if they ever hope to reach it. They'll get to do exciting risk taking things. Not because they're risking having to grind another million EXP, but because they're risking being dead to the world of the game. Gone. Downright proper.

At least for a minute ;-).

-- Michael B. E. Rickert

#33 GerardL   Members   -  Reputation: 146

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 12:31 AM

"Without defeat, you can not appreciate victory."
- Gone in sixty seconds.

I think there is a relation, in some games, between the penalty of death and the reward of cheating it.

For instance in a game like Pac-man. You want to win from the ghost, because you know, when they get you, you are death. The enjoyment of these games, comes partly from the high cost of dying.

There are some 'stealth' shooters like this. In which you have to achive a whole level without saving. Because the pressure is higher, you try harder not to die. Thus increasing the enjoyment for some players (like me).

Some games, like Fallout, are not just about winning from the enemy, but also about exploration. Here the relation is not as apperent and death should not be treated by penalizing the player greatly.

I think MMO games are a nice example. The first time I die in a MMO, I really worry about the cost. You will try to avoid it. Because it is something to be avoided, it brings enjoyment to the game, by increasing pressure on the gamer.

#34 JasRonq   Members   -  Reputation: 156

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 01:17 AM

What is it players don't like about death. the root of the annoyance and displeasure? Is it lost progress? Is it being faced with load times? Or is it the idea that you "lost"?

I figure most of the time its not really losing, but the sudden stop to game play or even the back step. How do we make it such that the player feels a punishment for unskilled playing without disrupting the game?

I think the best model for this is that when you fail, you are presented with an alternative situation that will bring you back to where you were before death when the challenge is completed. The player isn't faced with a lose of progress or a break in gameplay, but is delayed.

#35 thk123   Members   -  Reputation: 180

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 04:27 AM

Quote:
Original post by MaulingMonkey
They'll get to do exciting risk taking things. Not because they're risking having to grind another million EXP, but because they're risking being dead to the world of the game. Gone. Downright proper.

At least for a minute ;-).

-- Michael B. E. Rickert


Or, they'll not do anything even slightly risky out of fear of being blocked out of a game they paid for. I can see your point, and I think it can work, but if I was paying for something, even a one off fee, I don't want to be locked out of it for a day, or an hour for that matter. As a result, I would probably play so conservatively I would stop having fun.

In a different sense, I really like your idea. For example, stick it in to a shooter. You can go down, and each time you go down, you can be healed by a team mate. But, if you properly die, then that is it, your out till the end of the game. Thinking about it, that's what Gears of War does. In that game (multiplayer anyway), I think it works well. You are constantly on the edge of your seat because you don't want to have to sit out till the end of the round, but (ignoring insta-death weapons that are just stupid, the terrible lag and countless other problems that are down to Gears itself rather than the gameplay mechanic) you won't get frustrated when you die, because you will probably be healed.

I guess this also builds in to the whole risk/reward thing you were talking about, if you try and sneak behind the enemy, there will be no one on your team to revive you.

-Thomas Kiley
-thk123botworkstudio.blogspot.com - Shamelessly advertising my new developers blog ^^

#36 Sandman   Moderators   -  Reputation: 2136

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 04:36 AM

Quote:
Original post by MaulingMonkey
Don't let them back in game for, say, an hour. Maybe a day. Maybe a week if you're a real bastard (I know I am!). Make death something to be feared...


That would annoy me even more than having to do a whole chunk of the game all over again. Discovering a game had a death system like that would be an instant uninstall scenario for me.

#37 Durakken   Members   -  Reputation: 535

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 04:57 AM

I think the real problem with it is the immersion that it breaks you off. If I die that's when I go to get a drink or something.

The easiest way to counter the immersion break is by figuring out how to explain why you just called something dying and you aren't permanently dead. Some games call it a knock out, but then they send you back to the beginning any how and breaks there... but if you take the route of what City of Heroes (explained when you hit 0hp there is an auto-teleport safety device that brings you to the nearest hospital for healing) does or what DC Universe online (you are knocked out and have to wait an amount of time before reviving where you are)is going to have you take a step closer to keeping a player immersed in the game.

Apply something like this to spy games, where you have the knockout/death be more realistic and what you end up with is a sorta lives system where you get knocked out and brought to a prison for questioning as a spy would, but if you don't succeed after a number of attempts you get killed permanently. Combine that with save points and you have an excellent system to keep a person immersed in the world, provide that challenge, but allow players to have that natural break from the game with the save points.

#38 madeso   Members   -  Reputation: 592

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 05:50 AM

The only way to avoid death is, believe it or not, avoiding permanently killing the player. You can auto-reload from the latest safe place like the latest PoP does, recreate a new character like fable or (gasp) make a game where you cannot die.

While that last one rules out kill-or-be-killed games it actually works in puzzle games and platform-games. However in the platformer, if you managed to fall down and would have to replay the last 20 minutes it would be as frustrating as being killed. This could be combated by a transporter(autosave in-game) or by simply not allowing the player to loose more than say 5 minutes by smart leveldesign such as one-way platforms.

Another solution is to actually include death in the gameplay and to treat it as part of the experience. I'm toying with the game-idea of escaping/surviving in a zombie-infested town. Create a character like in the sims, meet up with other (dynamically generated) NPCs and have them join your group. When your character dies you assume control of your best fried or loose the game.
The basic idea behind it is that in a zombie-movie even if all the characters died you would still have had a great time.

Gustav (happy now? :) )

#39 Durakken   Members   -  Reputation: 535

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 06:03 AM

You know, another game handled death interestingly is Legacy of Kain: Sou Reaper. Raziel when he died he moved over to the spectral realm and after sucking in enough souls could revive... that was a cool game play feature.

#40 nuvm   Members   -  Reputation: 326

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 06:05 AM

Quote:
Original post by Sandman
Death in games is generally such a pointless affair; a short trip to the Load Save Game screen, followed by a small bit of frustration at having to redo part of the game, and then you're back to where you were.

What is particularly interesting about this point, and identified in OrangyTang's player-story, is the failure of death as a game mechanic to actually force a player to adjust their play style. It is interesting because death as a mechanic is applied broadly across all methods of failure. A player who charges in recklessly receives the same response from the game as a player who runs out of ammo at a bad time.

Which begs the question: Are some of the issues resulting from death as a mechanic a failure of a mechanic, or a fault of the broad application of it?

Should we be applying separate mechanics based on the conditions of failure?




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