Instant Death in RPGs

Discussion in 'Game Mechanics Design' started by watermark, Apr 28, 2019.

  1. watermark

    watermark Veteran Veteran

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    AAA games such as Tomb Raider have successfully used instant death to help create tension in games. Your hero or heroine can fall off cliffs, get blown up, or killed in close combat instantly regardless of your stats. Instant death is usually a result of failing a movement challenge such as platform jumping or ledge grabbing or failing a QTE challenge during a cinematic scene.

    Usually in these games if you die your heroine respawns at a close by checkpoint and you can retry the challenge. It seems more difficult to do this with the default RM save/load system. Even if a plugin could work around that, rpgs tend to be less action oriented.

    1. How do you feel about using instant death in rpgs?
    2. How would you set it up?
     
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  2. Ebanyle

    Ebanyle Veteran Veteran

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    Hmmm, that do not seems too hard. I really played only a few games in general, so I'm suspect to say anything about instant death. However I like the concept because not only it's a challenge, but also a interesting feature to tension the player, as you mentioned. So I kinda like it. But in a RPG game? It would be... weird, I could say. It depends on how your game is. So, in a more RPG-related way, I think those high-damage skills that make your battle members need to guard are a great detail, but that's not exactly some instant kill, I guess.

    As for how to implement it, if not using an auto-save system, my guess would be to add a "Load from last save file" option in the Game Over scene or simple load this very same file. That's probably something you can retrieve from the default scripts though, so you probably wouldn't even need a Game Over scene? Maybe fake one through teleport in a Game Over map~

    A nice option would to be warn the player about a dangerous area, like how usually there are save/recover crystals near boss fights.
    To be honest I wouldn't insert field instant death in a RPG, though.
     
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  3. Milennin

    Milennin "With a bang and a boom!" Veteran

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    I have a boss with an instant death mechanic in my last game, but it's more of way to temporarily take out 1 character out of the fight, as they get auto-resurrected after 1, or a few turns, as do characters that die outside of the mechanic (less additional enemies alive, higher chance to auto-resurrect). As long as the field is kept clean, you are guaranteed to get your guys back up.
    Surprisingly, I've not had anyone complain about it so far, since I'm well aware instant death is a hated thing in RPG's.
     
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  4. Pots Talos

    Pots Talos Veteran Veteran

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    We have an indiana jones boulder chase scene that causes instant death if it reaches you and I have to say as much as I personally love it, it has garnered the most complaints from users after we put the game up for sale.

    It's in our free demo if you want to give it a shot. ;)
     
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  5. Kes

    Kes Global Moderators Global Mod

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    I take it from the description in the first post that we are not talking about battle instant death, but only map instant death.

    Many horror games have something like this, so it is doable in RM, the boulder falling style dodging game was fairly common at one time, though I've seen it less of late. I personally hated the latter, because usually unless you have good reflexes you are doomed to multiple tries. My general problem with the instant death on map approach is that usually, outside of horror games, it feels tacked on. It is not an integral part of the game/game play, the way it seems to be in the Tomb Raider example, but instead often comes across as something arbitrarily thrown in.
     
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  6. Gremious

    Gremious Warper Member

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    I have seen an Instant Death system in a few rpg's. Mostly for a "scary" aspect - monster jumps out, starts chasing you, if he touches you you die and reset to the room beforehand. It works well when used that way. If you want to create tension/terror you can easily make deadly things slowly get closer towards you. Of course, you could make it jump-scare or tension-scare by making the monsters super fast and run after you at max speed but I'm personally not a big fan of that. Some games do make it work though.

    I can't remember the name of the game, (I think it was "Trilby" or something to that extent), that had a scene where you're stuck in a bathroom with a serial killer moving towards you. You only have so much time to figure out how to escape what is essencially a dead-end.
    Spoiler: You have to specifically pull the rug from under him to run out.
    I can tell you, that certainly created a lot of tension.
     
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  7. Animebryan

    Animebryan Feels like I'm slowly dying! Veteran

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    It makes a big difference depending on if you're referring to battle Instant-Death or Map Instant Death like Kes said. Instant death in battle is treated no differently than any other status ailment in RPGs other than its the worst one to get hit by, but can often be mitigated through resistance or immunity through an accessory effect or such. Now map deaths can be annoying if not set up right. Its imperative that you give the player a save point before entering such an area, or if they can save whenever & wherever, then give them some kind of heads-up via NPC or screen message.

    Of course the better way to handle this is by not causing an instant game over (unless this is a horror game) but simply resetting the player to the beginning of the area or outside the entrance to said area so that they can try again (maybe with some penalty for failing the challenge each time).
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2019
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  8. TheoAllen

    TheoAllen Self-proclaimed jack of all trades Veteran

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    I have map hazards that deal 20% of MaxHP each strike and you can get game over from it. My tester already complained despite it just one map, and you can actually dodge it. So as for now, the normal difficulty had been tuned down to not allow gameover. But I'm considering to put it back in the higher difficulty.
     
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  9. somenick

    somenick Veteran Veteran

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    Well, the Zelda game reset you to the start of a room if you fall down one of the black, bottomless pits.

    Personally I do NOT like to add these black, bottomless pits to maps. I feel they kinda clash with the rest of the place. Draw a cool place then add some black rectangles? No thanks. But I may add other traps, such as flames, boulders, or acid floors. Normally its not instant death, but whole party takes hefty damage, signaled by a quick red flashing of the screen. I also dont normally make these challenges too hard as its primarily an RPG game.
     
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  10. Seacliff

    Seacliff RPG Maker Mastermind Veteran

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    For maps? Don't.
    All it does is add an extra layer of tedium. It takes 5 seconds to see the game over screen, 5 seconds to reload a save, and probably up to 30 seconds if not more to reattempt the original challenge. That does not sound bad if it's done once, but it adds up with repeated failures.

    Yeah, it's more difficult to set of checkpoints. But good game design takes effort. If this type of scenario occurs often in your game, then it is worth the effort.

    If the situation is too insignificant to make the effort worthwhile, then it's probably questionable if it should be in your game to begin with.
     
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  11. kirbwarrior

    kirbwarrior Veteran Veteran

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    For a simple answer, this. Player death should come from the type of challenge the game provides, and in RPGs that's the battle system.

    For a more complex answer, QTE and RNG are terrible reasons to get a game over. In a platformer, I fall down a pit and die because of my mistake. In an rpg, I die because I didn't process my resources well enough. Now, if I want something that can and will kill you in an rpg, I think the follwing can work;
    Tongue-in-cheek death - In a few games, you can choose "Don't be the hero" and you get a game over that basically makes fun of you for picking it (and usually brings you back, making a hilarious "But thou must!"). Note that it's only worked because it's not actually a punishment, it just puts you back in time a slight amount for picking effectively the silly option
    Death abilities - I'm perfectly fine with giving both enemies and players 100% instant death moves and that's because the other limitations make it work; Enemies are often built around it and thus will usually have it as only single target, actors will get it with some cost other than a simple resource (some examples I like; "Only when target has less than X HP" was a cool restriction in FF1 and still let you use it to close the deal on bosses, Limit Breaks or 100 TP moves already require some hoops to jump through and it can be fair to make one an instant kill, and in one recent project the MC has two moves that can theoretically kill but one is basically infinite timed attacks and the other is directional inputs done in a short period of time and failure backfires...)
    On map death - Honestly, I don't know if there is a good option. RPGs aren't action games, they lean more on the meticulous side. Dialogue options that can lead to death should instead lead to incredibly hard battles. Terrain damage can be fine, but I'd want some indication how much damage I'm taking and how much HP I have (for instance, having a HUD appear in areas with dangerous terrain would do wonders). Poison is similar, but the problem with poison is that either you just heal it out of battle when it won't cost a turn or you don't care because the life loss is so minor that you'll end up healing HP from encounters to make up for it. Note the first thing above; If you tell the player that this is going to kill them, they do it, then they die, it's their fault, especially if you can save anywhere or there's a "nearby" save (such as auto saves or save points). Tongue in cheek deaths can be fun, but even then that's not a guarantee.
     
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  12. Engr. Adiktuzmiko

    Engr. Adiktuzmiko Chemical Engineer, Game Developer, Using BlinkBoy' Veteran

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    For me, unless your game has a good checkpoint system that will ensure I dont go back way too far because of some instant death thingy you just decided to add, please don't add it..

    And if you're gonna add it, make sure it makes sense, not just a random occurence or a tile that has no indication whatever.
     
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  13. Aesica

    Aesica undefined Veteran

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    Outside of battle...ugh, yeah unless you're making one of those survival/horror games, having instant death due to map puzzles is just annoying. I played one game recently where I was in some unstable area of a mine, and as I attempted to reach the treasure box sitting on the other side...boom, instant game over. If I hadn't been a chronic saver (this game had no autosave) I'd have been pretty pissed. But since I was, I tried again and again, dying each time until a bit of digging revealed that it was just a troll map and meant to be a dead end.

    Generally, I think it's better to just auto-reset the player to the start of the map if they fall off the cliff, get smushed by a rock, or otherwise fail deadly map mechanics. Maybe with some HP damage as a penalty. A hard game over, especially without little or no warning beforehand, is just plain unpleasant unless done well. And I have yet to see a non-horror RM game pull it off well.

    As for battle mechanics, that's another story. Just don't go too far--as in, no RNG-based AoE instant death with no way for the player to counter it.
     
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  14. atoms

    atoms Veteran Veteran

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    I like what @Kes said, as I think horror games need to be treated different from the rest in this discussion, but yes on-map game over's through events or interaction usually works in horror games and make some sense, but I still get annoyed if checkpoints are far away from one another. Otherwise, I think it could work well in those instances!

    Still, it needs to be balanced well, not every single thing every few seconds should give a game over, I think.

    On maps in any other RPG made in RPG Maker though, I don't know if map instant death would work. At first thoughts, they sound annoying to me and probably very dislikable, I can't say I know an example where it works, but I'll leave my opinion as that. To me, it just sounds an annoying idea for players.

    I also don't like joke games that do this either, I actually can find a joke game funny in some instances, but instant KO's on map events a lot still just comes across as annoying to me, even in those games.


    In battles though? An instant death possibly on a single party member may be interesting and add a challenge to the battle. I've done that before on a final boss in a game I developed, but had to balance it carefully.

    I think it worked well. One person told me they enjoyed that a lot. I had 3 party members in that battle as well, so it was a bit threatening.

    However, I had three other people give me feedback, before the positive comment. They said they didn't realize there were revive item's to pick, because I spelt the Revive Potion description as the same as the normal HP Restored Potion by mistake, whoops!

    That definitely didn't go down well, but interestingly enough they didn't criticize the mechanic of an instant death on a character, only the problem that they couldn't revive, which of course is an example to say it'll have to be balance if you plan to use the instant KO on one single party member technique. (In my case, after fixing the description, player have added revive items before the fight, a few more extra than enough for me to beat the boss with. And one of those 3 party members could cast revive as a skill too, I like the idea myself, and I used it once, not often.)

    But ALL of your party members, in a battle, getting a instant full game over from a skill being used? I definitely can't see this as being a good idea, nor working at all. Prove me wrong, maybe, but my first thoughts are I'd quit the game and how annoying that would be.
     
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  15. Aesica

    Aesica undefined Veteran

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    I think this can work, but really only on extra hard/superboss type battles, and only if the player is given tools to counter it. For example, I have one superboss with an aoe that deals 9998 unmitigatable damage to every party member, so if you're not fully healed AND geared to max health (9999) when it lands, you're dead. Another attack deals 9999 damage to 3 party members, meaning you need 4 alive when it lands or you're also dead. Finally, there's an 100% insstant death AoE that requires some sort of death immunity, but since there's only a few instant death immunity items out there, you have to decide who lives and dies beforehand.

    But especially if a game is designed so that death is meant to be difficult to deal with, or if no death immunity items exist, RNG-based AoE instant death is a complete no-no. The only time it potentially could work is if your saving options are limited in a given dungeon, and you (the designer) want that dungeon to feel incredibly risky to explore for prolonged periods of time. The Dragon Quest games do a good job pulling this off.
     
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  16. kirbwarrior

    kirbwarrior Veteran Veteran

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    That's precisely what Zelda and a few other action and platformers do. It makes sense that it could completely kill the character, but the point is that it's an obstacle, so it's treated as such.

    For some reason FF6 does have a room that can straight up kill you, and there's literally nothing you can do to avoid it if you didn't get a specific accessory earlier in the game. I'm not saying it's a good idea, but the badness is softened by a few points;
    A) The accessory in question doubles movement speed. I can't imagine someone not getting a few, let alone one.
    2) The room is entirely optional and not even easy to get to. You have to actively lose a not difficult battle to get to it.
    3) It's not hard. I didn't actually know it killed you until my third playthrough.

    And even with all that I'd still say it's a terrible decision. I'd set it up Zelda style where you just get sent to the beginning of the screen (it doesn't even need health loss, the time loss is enough of a punishment).

    Hmm, okay, I can see one way to use instant death on maps in a (maybe) fun way. You do have a party, and Revives tend to exist in buyable quantities. If there's a HUD or some way of letting you know how many you have, anything that could be a straight up death could be "countered" by losing a Revive or MP loss of healers, and you'd only die if you somehow had zero ways to revive. I'm not certain about this (it is basically a more complicated version of "warp to map start"), but theoretically it might work.

    One thing I should bring up is "Why do I want instant death in my game?". As pointed out by @Animebryan, it's basically just a status ailment (although I'd argue that Petrify is worse in some games, due to it being harder to remove) and more importantly it's a status ailment that removes any ability to use the character for multiple turns (Paralyze is already a hefty state). If it's for show, then let it be for show and let the player come back quickly (such as in Zelda). If it's a punishment (such as to add tension), I'd look into if it actually works well as such and plays well. It also matters how death is treated; Many rpgs have death mean game over and you lost a ton of progress, but some just bring you back with most of your loot and put you somewhere safe (such as Dragon Quest). The more dying punishes the player, the less instant death works well.*

    *I've intentionally not talked about it's use in Horror games. Part because the genre seems to intentionally make things unfair to the player, part that I've not played a lot of horror, and part that many design decisions that go into horror games seems like bad ones to me. Mind, it's impossible to avoid if the character doesn't have HP.
     
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  17. Aesica

    Aesica undefined Veteran

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    Where was this? I've replayed FF6 dozens of times over the course of my life, but I can't recall this particular event.
     
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  18. bgillisp

    bgillisp Global Moderators Global Mod

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    I think it depends on the game. I made a little puzzle game where if you get hit by the man eating plants they eat you and you lose the puzzle, but since there are no fights and each map is short its not too bad to do that again (no more than say if you die in an old puzzle or shooter game). But then again, that game IF I ever go back and finish it will be for those kind of players too.

    In battle? I try to avoid them. Probably the closest I have is an enemy in the optional dungeon which has an instant kill skill, and the player has a skill which negates all instant KO skills for the battle if they use it, so they can block it if they wish.
     
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  19. kirbwarrior

    kirbwarrior Veteran Veteran

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    Getting Gogo requires going through quite a few gimmicks after getting eaten by a giant worm. One room has a falling ceiling that will crush you to death. But the "puzzle" is short and easy that I forgot about it until it killed me.

    That part is definitely important. A puzzle game "death" is not different from a "retry". The puzzles are the challenge, and losing the challenge requires you to restart the challenge, regardless of what we call "failure".
     
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  20. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    People come to RPGs for numbers and strategy (and stories and characters), and by the nature of their engines RPGs usually handle action sequences in a relatively clumsy and prosaic way. You can still implement them, but how well it's received is going to depend on how clearly you realize that the action sequence is not what your RPG is good at delivering.

    A success case came in the form of Tales of the Abyss. At one point in the game, your party is being hunted by a nation's military, and needs to cross a large swath of the world map without being spotted. Soldiers roam the world map, and you need to stay out of their sight while running by them (or around them), much like a very clumsy Stealth game. Some games would give you an instant Game Over (or send you back to the start of the world map and make you do it again) if you were spotted by a Soldier. TotA realized that stealth gameplay was not its strong suit, and that players would find it frustrating if forced to play the stealth perfectly. So all that happens if a soldier sees you is that a slightly-tougher-than-usual battle begins; you can fight the soldiers off (using the action battle gameplay that the game does do well) and then continue on your stealth mission across the world map. In theory if you get spotted a lot of times and aren't so good at battle, it might result in a game over, but this isn't something that would feel surprising or grossly unfair to the player.

    What to learn from this? If you're going to make it possible to take a Game Over from things that happen outside of battle in an RPG, I think it's good form to make sure the Game Over doesn't result from anything that was less than three minutes coming. If the player has to dodge falling boulders throughout a dungeon that each deal 50 HP worth of damage to your party, and those boulders can kill you, at least you gave the player a lot of chances and had them run out of healing items and HP (resources they expect to be able to use to avoid death) before succumbing to the damage. If the dungeon is crumbling and the player has 10:00 to escape it, and they fail to do so, at least it's not going to feel like a cheap death out of nowhere (as long as your time limit was reasonably generous) - the player has failed in a multitude of things they needed to do to get out in time.

    Most importantly, never ever blindside the player with a Game Over. Final Fantasy 3 is a good example of a game that utterly botched it - if you stepped somewhere you weren't supposed to go yet on the World Map, a quick cutscene would play showing your characters dying (such as sinking into a swamp) and then boom, Game Over. Didn't save in the last hour? Too bad, now you have to do that hour again. In FF3's defense it came from the era of Adventure Games which are known for cheesy deaths, but it's still an awful design decision. It's much better form to just tell the player they can't go there yet, or warn them by flashing the screen red and slowly ticking away at the party's HP until the player gets out.

    As a quick implementation note if you do something like a QTE - rather than actually throw a Game Over, just move the player back to the start of the QTE and reset all of the moving/changing parts to their original position (and test carefully to make sure you didn't miss any moving/changing parts). Then there's no need to use the save/load system at all.
     
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