Games That Get Harder As You Die?


Today, on GameSetWatch, an indie game called GlitchHiker was discussed. In this game, each death of the player character introduces a glitch into the game world. As the player dies more and more, the world becomes filled with these obstacles. An unheard of idea for a game, it actually gets harder as you try again and again. Instead of rewarding the player for their death with knowledge of what is to come, the world changes to get in the player's way even more.

As I read this, I couldn't help but wonder if this could even work as a game today. Compared to some of the early NES games, today's games are fairly forgiving with checkpoints at nearly every turn and some games even offering to turn down the difficulty if you die too many times at one point. In the NES days, developers needed to make their games hard so players wouldn't get bored so quickly, since the games were relatively short (a lot of them, anyways). Nowadays, most games are 5-6 hours + and the focus seems to instead be on experiencing the world and the story over the actual challenge.

An extreme example is something like Prince of Persia, the 2008 reimagining of the franchise. In this game, any missed jump or failed encounter resulted in your female companion, Elika, saving you instantly. You then return to the point right before you fell, almost removing any penality to messing up. Some people thought it was an interesting move but even they admitted it made the game extremely easy. If the game had been any shorter than it was, many more complaints would probably have been lodged against the developer.

Quite a few games have a simple pattern; you try an area and you either succeed or fail. If you fail, the area tends to be easier the next time because you know what to expect (enemy placements in a shooter, boss mechanics in an RPG, etc.). The player either has the skill or luck to succeed the first time or learns from their mistakes. There are a few games out there that aren't so straightforward and have a bit of flow to their challenge. The Halo series is a good example, including enemy A.I. and placement that makes it possible for the same encounter to be different every time you play it. While it isn't radically different, it can be enough so that the player must adapt more on the fly instead of simply learning the right way to do it.

Would going all the way in something like this truly work? What if every time you died in a shooter, the level randomized its layout and more enemies appeared? Or what if dying in an RPG changed a boss' fight mechanics and gave him more health? Instead of rewarding the player for trying again, you instead make it less likely that they succeed in the game. This is why I don't think it could ever work. Most people aren't going to appreciate the ramp-up in challenge; they will simply stop playing the game and not buy any more like it. We depend too much on games being something we can learn to beat for a mechanic like this to be overly prevalent.
18 Comments
19 Comments
Posted by wemibelec90

Today, on GameSetWatch, an indie game called GlitchHiker was discussed. In this game, each death of the player character introduces a glitch into the game world. As the player dies more and more, the world becomes filled with these obstacles. An unheard of idea for a game, it actually gets harder as you try again and again. Instead of rewarding the player for their death with knowledge of what is to come, the world changes to get in the player's way even more.

As I read this, I couldn't help but wonder if this could even work as a game today. Compared to some of the early NES games, today's games are fairly forgiving with checkpoints at nearly every turn and some games even offering to turn down the difficulty if you die too many times at one point. In the NES days, developers needed to make their games hard so players wouldn't get bored so quickly, since the games were relatively short (a lot of them, anyways). Nowadays, most games are 5-6 hours + and the focus seems to instead be on experiencing the world and the story over the actual challenge.

An extreme example is something like Prince of Persia, the 2008 reimagining of the franchise. In this game, any missed jump or failed encounter resulted in your female companion, Elika, saving you instantly. You then return to the point right before you fell, almost removing any penality to messing up. Some people thought it was an interesting move but even they admitted it made the game extremely easy. If the game had been any shorter than it was, many more complaints would probably have been lodged against the developer.

Quite a few games have a simple pattern; you try an area and you either succeed or fail. If you fail, the area tends to be easier the next time because you know what to expect (enemy placements in a shooter, boss mechanics in an RPG, etc.). The player either has the skill or luck to succeed the first time or learns from their mistakes. There are a few games out there that aren't so straightforward and have a bit of flow to their challenge. The Halo series is a good example, including enemy A.I. and placement that makes it possible for the same encounter to be different every time you play it. While it isn't radically different, it can be enough so that the player must adapt more on the fly instead of simply learning the right way to do it.

Would going all the way in something like this truly work? What if every time you died in a shooter, the level randomized its layout and more enemies appeared? Or what if dying in an RPG changed a boss' fight mechanics and gave him more health? Instead of rewarding the player for trying again, you instead make it less likely that they succeed in the game. This is why I don't think it could ever work. Most people aren't going to appreciate the ramp-up in challenge; they will simply stop playing the game and not buy any more like it. We depend too much on games being something we can learn to beat for a mechanic like this to be overly prevalent.
Posted by Makoto_Mizuhara_Sakamoto

It's an interesting thought- almost like going back in time to something you already experienced, but only from another point of view.

Posted by benjaebe

I'm surprised you didn't mention Demons Souls.

Posted by Rattle618

Well I guess unless they have consoles in hell all games will be impossible for me when I die so...

Posted by CL60

Demon's Souls gets harder when you die.

Posted by Makoto_Mizuhara_Sakamoto
@CL60 said:
Demon's Souls gets harder when you die.
Don't a number of Atlus games do that to you?
Posted by wemibelec90

Technically, Demon's Souls does punish players for dying by making them lose all of their souls, but the player also learns what to expect from the world and also gets a bit better at playing the game.  It is definitely a good example though.
Posted by TehFlan
@wemibelec90 said:
Technically, Demon's Souls does punish players for dying by making them lose all of their souls, but the player also learns what to expect from the world and also gets a bit better at playing the game.  It is definitely a good example though.
Your max health also decreases, unless you were already in soul form when you died.
Posted by AngelN7

Hmm personally I hate the "Cheap" Deaths and traps in games like I wanna be the guy and those other crazy platformers  , But I do like the idea of a game that changes everything  knew about it in terms of enemy locations, weaknesess, places wich you can go, type of weapon that was effective before etc. In Hack Slash games and RPG could be very interesting , only if they do no resort to cheap you out increasing dificulty or make enemies damage sponges and things to screw you over in a cheap way

Posted by MooseyMcMan

GTAIV kinda did, because all the ammo, body armor, and money carried over after you died, meaning that you could go and buy a bunch of stuff, use most of it, die, and be worse off than when you began. But that was remedied by saving and loading over again (which was pretty tedious). 

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Posted by jewunit

The Maximo games don't actually increase the difficulty when you die.  However, the coin cost to continue increases each time you die.  As such, you have considerable incentive to avoid death. 

Posted by MrKlorox

That's counter-intuitive game design. Just like kill streaks.

Posted by Tim_the_Corsair

Old FPSes (Doom), as death would remove your whole arsenal of weapons, putting you back into the situation that killed you with far less ability to defend yourself.

Posted by s10129107

bullet hell shooters.  you usually lose all your upgrades and stuff when your ship gets blown up.  play hellfire for the sega genesis

Posted by CL60
@TehFlan said:
@wemibelec90 said:
Technically, Demon's Souls does punish players for dying by making them lose all of their souls, but the player also learns what to expect from the world and also gets a bit better at playing the game.  It is definitely a good example though.
Your max health also decreases, unless you were already in soul form when you died.
And also the game in general gets harder because of the whole black world tendency thing. When you die you get more black which increases health of enemies and causes Black Phantoms to spawn.
Posted by Bribo

This is no longer an issue since we've learned that, if you're having trouble with a game, you just need to use more skill.

Posted by FluxWaveZ
@makoto_mizuhara_sakamoto said: 
Don't a number of Atlus games do that to you?
I don't know of any.
Posted by iam3green

it would be different for them to do that. i would guess that people would stop playing the game because it got too hard for them.

Posted by shamroll

I'm primarily a PC gamer so I'll answer from a PC perspective.  As i see it death is becoming more forgiving and if the world became harder every time I died, I would just reload a save.  Dragon Age: Origin and The Witcher did not have a lot of auto-saves so if you spent a lot of time in the world then died, you would lose hours of game play.  It was really bad with The Witcher because the game crashed so much, even the enhanced edition from Steam crashes all the time.  So I got into the habit of hitting the F5 key about every 5-10min and this would be my response to a game that became harder with every death.  I would reload a save and lose nothing. 
 
If the game was like an MMO where you couldn't save, then I'd just point to World of Warcraft's success due in part to its low death penalties.  When you died in Everquest, you were spawned at a set bind point, with no gear, you lost EXP, and then had to run and get your body/gear back.  If you lost your body in a dangerous place, it was nearly impossible to retrieve it without help with you dying over and over again in the process and losing even more EXP.  With WoW, you lose some gold for repairs and spawn as an invincible ghost at the nearest graveyard.  Most modern MMO's are going for the low death penalty to make the game more appealing to a wider audience. 
 
I think it is a cool idea but probably more as a niche game and unlikely to see wider appeal at this current point in time.