Doing Death Differently

A jam-game without death helped me realize it's importance in games, and how it can be used to help the player progress through a game.

The following article contains my Extended Thoughts on "Death" discussed in the Gameology podcast with my co-host Mathew Falvai. You can listen to the Podcast via RSS, on iTunesGoogle Play Music, or watch the episode in video format:

Death as a means of helping players

A few years ago, I created a Jam game called When We Were Young, a 2D "exploration-platformer" which was all about collecting treasure chests in a world where the player couldn't be harmed. There are no enemies, and there are no death conditions. I realized that as a result of this, failing certain jumps were actually more aggravating than if the player had simply died. The reason was simple; if the game included had a check-point next to the more difficult jumps where the player would re-spawn after dying from failing the jump, this would result in less set-up time before they could attempt the jump again. Instead, players have to perform a walk-of-shame to get back to the correct position before they can even attempt the jump again.

Given the game's intention to provide a stress-free exploration-driven experience, it would have been far more helpful to reset a player's progress a little than to leave them to wallow in the misery of their failure. Bearing in mind that a goal of a game designer should be to guide players through their games, death can be used to expidite a player's progress towards attempting a particular challenge again, placing them just far enough back that they can make a new attempt equipped with everything that they need.

Sapling: The spiritual successor to When We Were Young

When We Were Young has been Greenlit on Steam! I'll be adding Death to the game (as well as a Paper-Mario style action-RPG battle system). Look for it in the coming years under it's new name; Sapling. If you're interested in hearing more about other developments as they happen, you can find me on Twitter @BluishGreenPro

Want your game design questions answered? Submit a question or comment to the Gameology podcast on, and check out the Extended Thoughts articles while you're there.

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