What are some interesting mechanics in videogames you can think of that involve the player dying? (Like losing your curency in the Souls series when you die too many times)
Okay, so what’s death really? Death is resetting the state of the game to a prior state. How can you change this mechanic? By changing what is persistent through the reset, or what persistent effects are created after the reset, or having something happen between the point you technically die, and the point where the reset actually happens. The other obvious thing is changing the point that is reset to.
Some examples I can think of the last one are in Jedi Knight, F-Zero GX, and System Shock 2. In Jedi Knight, you can launch your corpse using explosives into the level end trigger to beat the level. In F-zero, blowing up your car by grinding the rail can fling it at high speed through the finish line. In System Shock 2, if you die and propel yourself before you die so your corpse runs into a ladder, you become invincible.
Dark Souls obviously changes what’s persistent through the reset, by making souls non-persistent, but it has another effect in creating a new effect after the reset, creating a bloodstain. Bloodborne makes this more interesting by having that bloodstain attach to the nearest enemy when the level is reloaded, so you need to kill that enemy to get your souls back. Shadows of Mordor also plays with this concept with the nemesis system, where enemies that kill you become stronger.
So what else can we do? What if something is left behind when you die, like an enemy is spawned at the position you died? What if an environmental effect is left behind on the spot where you died? What if world tendency is changed like Demon’s Souls, making the whole world harder? What if enemy positions are relocated after you die, not removing or adding any enemies, but having them dispersed closer or further from the spot where you died, so enemy placements in the level change over time as you die in different places? What if these effects are cumulative? What if they’re reset each time?
Also importantly, how does this mesh with the content of the level? How does it create or alter the challenge of the existing level? How does it work with the elements around it? How does it contribute to a larger dynamic? This is tricky when you tie it to death. Death is something players typically want to avoid, because it stymies their victory. If you produce a positive effect on death, then players may intentionally die, which produces an unintended effect, so the positive effect on death should ideally itself have some type of strategy involved, some variability, some situationality.