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Article - 'Death And It’s Uses' by Salendor

An item about Game Design posted on Aug 12, 2004

Blurb

Salendor tells us about how death can help our RPGs.

Body

You all know what death is (I'm presuming). You know, a handy way of getting rid of annoying characters permanently, or to add a motive to your main character's quest. It works to add emotion into the game as well.

For instance, one of the most effective ways of fuelling either a hero or villain's rage against the world is to kill off some people close to them e.g. their family, loved one etc.

If you were to use this device for a hero it might go something like this:

Hero lives an honest life, married with two kids, he comes home and there's always a meal on the table and his loving wife with open arms and children playing around her. Then one day, BLAM!! He comes home to a scene of destruction and chaos and not surprisingly a dead family.

This usually has something to do with the villain, but somebody else can write an article about that.

Here the hero has a choice to make, does he flee into his shell and put on his 'I don't give a f***' face, (Retract) or does he go and battle piously against the forces of evil, join freedom groups and hatch cunning schemes to overthrow the Empire, the Church or any other authority? (Revolt) Both ways invariably end up with him, (Or her) falling for the heroine, (Or hero) of the game.

If you develop your characters to the degree that the gamer wants to know more about them, then if the character dies, the sense of loss is honed to a point.

If the hero retracts, then he usually becomes a useless hulk that is immune to any emotional prompting. e.g Love, anger, hate and even more death, (Although with death, the character sometimes retracts further.) this state is not generally wanted by the gamer because it provides no adventure and humor. Try and steer clear of retracting your character and hopefully the game will appeal more.

A character that is in the process of revolting (Well I couldn't say 'A revolting character...') is an experience for both gamer and creator. It allows a lot more diversity and originality. For example, the character could go off and be a mercenary fighting the enemy the original way. i.e Swords and guns or he could become a freelance journalist with the exposé of the century.

Music sets the scene for everything. From a slow classical piece to the abrupt sounds of the city, they are all classed as music depending on your musical taste. So instead of playing a BGM of bus sounds and car horns at a death event, try playing something that will appeal to a larger proportion of gamers. At a death event, the music played all depends on the type and speed of death:

Quick, clean death = Slow tempo, flowing music.
Quick, messy death = Fast tempo, staccato (Abrupt, jolting).
Slow, clean death = Slow tempo, rising to a crescendo when the character kicks the bucket.
Slow, messy death = Slow rising to fast tempo with a solo.


If you are going to kill off a main character... Have fun! Be inventive with the cause of death and experiment with the music at the death event. But be careful, because if you make the character too loveable the gamer may be disappointed that you killed off their 'idol'.

With NPC's, (Non playable characters) you can kill off as many as you like without it actually making much of a difference to the story. (Unless they happen to be the hero's town or something...) Getting the right amount of NPC deaths is never important but sometimes it helps to have a lot of deaths to set the atmosphere of the game and the same goes for a few deaths.

For example, if you have a game where the object of the game is to guide Teddy back home through the forest, then you don't want Teddy to have committed suicide and hung himself before the game starts do you?

One of the key things to remember when somebody dies is that they can always come back as a ghost...

This article has 716 words all counted by hand because the laptop that I'm using is shit and doesn't have word count. (And the spacebar is dodgy... Grrrr...)