You’re Dead

You die in game. Its, at least a temporary, game over. What happens? Generally, I simply freeze the game. Rendering the fatal moment in aspic until you close the window or restart the game or level. On more story-based games where the player demands to be able to complete it, I might move the player automatically to the respawn without a blink.

This posts won’t be about my choices however it is about what I view as the most common reaction to the player dying: the death animation.

Why use death animations? Perhaps people like them, although I’d much prefer to get stuck back into the action. Perhaps, they are used as more thematic and relevant loading screen, though as I mentioned on my The Crew post I wish more resources were spent on removing the loading screen rather than clutter. Of course, another possibility would be, as I mentioned in Geometric Squares,  that producing polished death animations cost resources that signals that the game’s producers had the resources  to also produce polished gameplay.

A fourth possible, is that the delay in letting the player get actively stuck back into the game is the point. That rather than the player simply running back falling into the same issues as before, the player has time to consider  his mistakes and he can fix them. That explanation is a perfectly noble reason unnecessarily shows that death animations could have their place. On the other hand, shouldn’t the game trust that people who need the time to think will take the time even if not forced to?

A fifth argument that I’ve seen put forward is that it is their to punish the player.  That’s something that I’m strongly against, and could never convince me to implement death animations. The designer shouldn’t set forth to punish the player, the designer simply shouldn’t. I’m rather against rewards and punishment is just the more negative side of that.

What if the punishment helps to fit the mood? Should gameplay and story be mixed? That’s fine, it’s realistic; in real life our actions and our context feedback on one another. However, the cheap tricks aren’t so fine. The developers wanting you to hate the antagonist for burning down the puppy orphanage so he also kills the party’s healer while he’s at it. Its a cheap trick. Using the act of death animations to set the mood is also a cheap trick unless the mood you want to set is being irritated about death animations taking too long.

What about when the actual content of the animation fits the mood? It lets you use movie tricks rather than relying solely on the gameplay. However – and perhaps I simply die too often – the substance of the death animation often fades away from my mind, and all we’re left with is the irritating act.

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