Do We Expect To Die?

25th July 2010

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

July 2010: I have reposted this article in the hope of generating some interesting discussion. It was originally published in April 2006.


A long time ago I started a thread on a gaming forum about expert SP FPS gamers. I asked if anybody had beaten a modern (HL1 or Unreal 1 onwards) Single Player First Person Shooter on the hardest setting without playing sections twice. Let me explain that a little. You are allowed to save a game but only to provide a natural break (toilet, food or sleep!); you are not allowed to quick load when you are running low of health or ammo.

Also you were not allowed to have prior knowledge of the game, by that I mean watching somebody else play and thereby know what happens in certain places. The general consensus was that “No, it had not been done and if it had then the game would have been far too easy”.

Different Opinion

At the time I accepted that as a fair answer but now I’m not so sure. Just because one or two people could do it doesn’t mean the game would be too easy. Thousands of players struggle every minute of every day on the lower difficulty settings in many games, that doesn’t mean the game is too hard, does it?


When I first started playing Unreal Tournament I was surprised at how hard the higher difficulty settings were. I believed it was impossible to beat the game on the Godlike setting. I was amazed to learn that many people had already completed it at this setting. Now, unfortunately I started play SP games before I managed to finish the game at this setting but I am honest enough to admit I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it.

Do We Expect To Die?

These thoughts led onto the idea that players of all standards expect to die when playing computer games. Over time we become accustomed to dying within games. This is nothing new or revealing to experienced players, but what about new players? Maybe they think they die because they are new to the game and will eventually stop dying as their skill and experience increases. Can anybody remember what they thought when they played their very first FPS game?

My First Time (Blushes!)

I think the very first FPS game I played was the demo of Klingon Honor Guard and I am highly embarrassed and ashamed to say I didn’t even get past the first room let alone the first level! I distinctly remember trying to exit a shuttle but getting hit as soon as the door opened. The few times I did get out of the shuttle I seemed to be a shot-magnet. Meaning every shot fired at me, hit me. I can’t remember whether there was a difficulty setting but all I remember was thinking “This is ridiculous!” and I stopped playing soon after.

If I had been prepared for the concept of dying many times then maybe I would have persevered. I wonder how many other players, especially older player who have little or no experience with these types of games, have actually given up and moved onto other game genres? Ones where they don’t die!


About 6 months later I found a CD with the Unreal Tournament demo and loaded that up. I was hooked with 2 minutes. This was easy compared to the previous game and dying was part of the game that didn’t adversely affect the outcome.

Big Difference

I’d never really thought about it before but that’s a big difference between the two game types. In MP dying has little affect on the final outcome of the game whereas in SP it generally means going back to the beginning or at least to the last save. This approach reminds me of Snakes and Ladders, which I hated by the way.

Imagine an SP game where when you died you simply spawned again in exactly the same place minus any extra weapons or other items you collected. How much would that spoil the overall game for you? I’m not convinced it would but maybe I’m wrong. There’s a certain satisfaction in being able to get past a tricky situation without being killed. Perhaps there could be a setting in the options menu where you choose either automatic respawn or back to the last save point.

The Challenge

People, especially competitive people, like to be challenged. If you played a game where you didn’t die would you feel cheated? What if the game changed its difficulty settings based on your playing skill? This would be similar to the setting in Unreal Tournament where the bots have their skill level adjusted based on your performance. Would you need the psychological event of death to feel challenged? I’m not sure. Personally I believe we need some sort of event that says “This game has bettered you”. Although it doesn’t have to be death, for example in Blaze Bolden death will be replaced with capture.


Most of us have probably played non-fps games that we have completed but perhaps lost a number of lives. How often have we replayed that game trying to complete it without losing a life? Have any PP readers replayed an FPS game from start to finish specifically to complete it without losing a life?


This brings me onto the next point. How much of our enjoyment of a game is affected my using cheats? I’ll admit that a few times I have turned on “God” mode because I couldn’t get past a boss or a really difficult section. I hated having to do it but I had tried SO many times without success that it seemed my only option. Perhaps games should come with the ability to drop the difficulty level for short periods. Maybe you are allowed a set number of minutes and once you use them up then you have to stay with the set level. For example, for start the game on “Hard” but have 10 minutes where you can play on “Medium”. I would really appreciate this option.


After all my ramblings I think I still believe that to really enjoy a game it has to “beat” us in some way. Perhaps that way is death or maybe it is like Return to Castle Wolfenstein which gives you statistics at the end of the level. That was simply saying “You may have gotten to the end of the level but did you find all the other bonuses and goodies?”

I’m curious as to how many other techniques could be used to Beat the player. One other technique that springs to mind is a puzzle. But in many ways that is testing a different skill than playing games on a harder difficulty setting.

Do you have any ideas?


  1. MikeS

    I expect to die, and often, otherwise where would the challenge be? Clearly everyone have different levels of perseverance. If I think negotiating a steep learning curve will be worth it I’ll die hundreds of times to learn the required skills. Sometimes though I sense a game isn’t going to reward me, i.e. the graphics are bland, the gameplay generic etc etc.

    But really, gamem should be tweaked to make them accessible to all. I happen to think that Valve are the masters at doing this. They watch people of all abilities playing their games in beta stage and observe the different paths people take when presented with a problem. Listening to the commentary on the HL and Portal games and reading online articles on mapping has given me some fascinating insights into how our reactions are manipulated by subliminal clues in the gaming environment. But maybe I’m wandering off topic now. 🙂

  2. I expect to die. The enemy are out to kill me. If they were unable to polish me off, where’s the challenge?

    I deliberately die by charging in to find out what’s where and how.
    The enemy always knows where I am. I want to know where they are.
    Fair doos, I reckon.

    I have never finished a retail game or mod, at any skill on first play, without dying, and do not want to.

    A game where you cannot die on first play and at the top skill level is a game with zero replayability.

  3. I once thought about this. I’ll try to playthrough the half life series on hard soon without dying once. Too bad I already know the levels too well… 😀

    I once thought about this, BECAUSE I was either watching speedruns or Freeman’s Mind. In Speedruns dying isn’t very good obviously and mostly the people performing speedruns know exactly behind which corner which enemy is standing, at what height and which weapon you need to possibly instakill it.

    Freeman’s Mind, if you think about it, is a complete playthrough without dying (however he uses cheats all the time by now). He is very careful when going around corners, just like one would be in real life…

    Intersting article, this will trigger discussion!

  4. bobdog

    One of my main gripes with a game is when you’re already playing on easy and you still cannot get forward for reasons of your own incompetence — this says the designer didn’t look at the lowest common denominator when designing their game. As an example, when I play games like Prince of Persia or Tomb Raider, and the game throws a scenario at me that I just cannot make, no matter how many times I try; i.e. having to hit a certain combination of moves to cross an area, or having to master some funky set of melee moves.

    I don’t mind dying in a game, and I expect that I will so that I learn when NOT to do something. But when the game expects me to become a master of some intricate button-mashing — this I do not appreciate as a gamer. In those sorts of scenarios, even God-mode or lowering the difficulty might not help you.

    As for FPS games, I generally play all of them at the Medium setting and this seems to suit my playstyle fine. I do die, quickload again, and muster my way through until the next death. Only in grossly overweighted scenarios do I need to use God-mode, or alternately, when the game has bored me so much that I just want to rush to the end and say I finished it.

  5. john

    what a great article. hehe.
    yes, I expect to die. When it gets to the big boss battle I count on a good save to fall back on to replay the battle.

  6. RustySpannerz

    I remember when I played Red Faction, because there is hardly any health in that game, and it autosaves at ridiculous times, I had to replay sections over and over for at least an hour at a time.

    There was one instance where I quicksaved it as a boss fired a rocket at me. And another when I was on the final boss fight of the game, I had gotten past loads of henchmen and spaceships and had only 1 HP left. It took me around an hour and a half.

    I like a challenge, but if it wasn’t a fun game like Red Faction I would have given up. I put playing Bad Company 2 on hold for months because there was a section I was dying over and over again in. (I didn’t realise that the Grenade Launcher had infinite ammo, and I was aving ammo by using my machine gun.

  7. Kyouryuu

    BioShock was a bit progressive about this. BioShock 2 (and I think later versions of BioShock 1 did as well) offered the option of turning off the Vita-Chambers that you would respawn at on death. If they were on, which is the default, you could effectively beat the game through attrition since you could respawn infinitely but enemies would never respawn or regain health.

    Do I expect to die in a game? Sure. But whether or not it’s a good thing depends on the game. I don’t personally care for it in a game that’s heavily narrative-driven or based in large cinematic moments. There’s nothing to be gained from hearing the same narrative again, and most cinematic moments lose their power if the player has to sit through them more than a couple times.

    I’m personally a fan of the BioShock and Prey respawning systems, because I don’t like obsessively quicksaving and quickloading. It feels like a crutch for sloppy “gotcha” game design and I can better enjoy the game with respawning systems, or if a game just has rational, well placed checkpoints (such as Halo). Also, remembering to QS/QL is an immersion killer for me – I’m constantly reminded than I’m in a game when I’m reloading to replay a scenario I failed, especially if there’s a big loading time in between attempts. BioShock and Prey not only keep death in the “game world,” but they mitigate load times as well. Especially as games get more complex, we don’t seem to be getting the data off the disk any faster! 😛

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