Assigning Weight to Death in Games, Pt. 5.0: Lives After Deaths

With permadeath out of the way, I return (admitted rather belatedly) to discuss… well, more or less the rest of death in video games. That is to say, games in which the player is allowed to continue the game using a player character, even after that character has died. To put it another way, games which allow for lives after deaths.

The way I see it, these games can be grouped up into two main camps. Originally (and as the ending paragraph of the last installments suggests) I would have defined these as respawns and save restorations. However, I have concluded that better classifications are “character restorations” and “save restorations.” Unsurprisingly, considering the absolute number of games which employ either character restorations or save restorations, this is no small topic to cover, and so it will take a few installments to provide anything approaching adequate coverage. In this first article on the matter, we’ll cover the boundaries between character restorations and save restorations.

Differentiating Character and Save Restorations

So, character restoration? The heck is that? Some sort of self-help book for unbearably dull people? No. What I mean by character restoration is simply death mechanics which bring a player character back after their death. Games with a death mechanic that falls under this class normally have a respawn or revive sort of mechanic, and initially, I considered that to be the entirety of the camp. However, I eventually decided that there may be other possible approaches which could be grouped in with respawns and revives. As a result, I dubbed this group of mechanics as “character restorations.” In contrast, save restorations are when the player is able to continue from a point in the game by loading a previous save file when they die, such as in Portal or Fallout 4. The player character isn’t brought back from death because the game literally just loads the last save file and it’s as if that death never happened.

The bottom line distinction between the two camps may be unclear at first, so here is a relatively simple way of conceiving the difference that applies most of the time: think of what a player would see if they were to watch their playthrough of a game through the eyes of the player character(s). In a game with character restorations, they would see the character(s) die and be brought back repeatedly. In games with save restorations, they would never see the player character(s) die (unless it’s a death in the game’s narrative) because the times when they died effectively never happened since they weren’t saved.

Loading indicators after dying, such as this one from portal, often tip off a game as employing save restoration,

Besides this watching through the character’s eyes method, one can generally determine which camp a game’s death mechanic falls into by considering the characteristics of the death mechanic and looking for those which indicate it to be one or the other. A couple of characteristics which indicate a game as using character restoration are actions taken between deaths without reaching a new point from which the player continues seeming to affect the world, and there being some explanation of how the player character(s) continues after death. Some characteristics which could suggest a game employs save restoration include seeing an indication of loading a file each time the player dies, being forced to listen to or watch already seen bits of story or dialog when continuing after a death, and the whole world is in the same position as when the player first reached the point from which they continue each time they die.

It’s important to note that there are some games which make it just about impossible to tell into which camp they truly fall. For an example, imagine a side scroller type game with discrete/separate boards/sections where, when you move from one board to the next, all the enemies and objects in the board you leave reset. Now imagine that, as the player progresses through the game they come across various special points, the most recent of which you are allowed to continue from upon death. Finally, imagine that each of these points is set in a section/board which contains no enemies or interactive objects. Now tell me, is that point from which they continue after death a checkpoint at which they respawn or a savepoint which the game is restoring? There’s no definitive way to tell within the confines of the in-game experience. The upshot is that because the characteristics are the same whether they fall into save or character restoration, it’s not to big a deal that games such as this exist.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this has given you a good idea of what I mean by save restorations and character restorations, and where the boundaries lie. As I said before, this is only the first article on lives after deaths, and the upcoming articles will build on the two classes described here. The next installment will tackle save restorations in greater detail, discussing different types and applications. It should be interesting, so make sure to stick around for the next installment of Assigning Weight to Death.

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