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.
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