A free-roaming squad based RPG. Focusing on open-ended gameplay features rather than a linear story. Be a trader, a thief, a rebel, a mercenary, a business owner, a doctor, a bandit... the list goes on. Aid or oppose the various factions in the world while striving for the strength and wealth necessary to simply survive in the harsh desert. Purchase and upgrade your own buildings to use as safe fortified havens when things go bad, or use them to start up a business. Train your men up from puny victims to master warriors. Carry your wounded squad mates to safety and get them all home alive.

Post feature Report content RSS feed Saving, loading, and the absent fear of death

Every game designer worth his salt has pondered this question at some point. How can you instill a fear of death into the player? Should a player be able to save and re-load a game whenever he wants?

Posted by captain_deathbeard on May 16th, 2011

They always come to the same conclusion: That forcing players to replay the same part of a game again and again is just frustrating, and free loading and saving is the only solution.

Saving is bad.

Characters cannot die in games. Sure they can die, but the player will reload and try again until they don’t die. Imagine if we could save and re-load in real life - It would be a superpower, you could achieve anything you wanted to without even making a mistake. In games it is no different, it is also a superpower. Saving in games eliminates the fear, tension and emotion that would otherwise be present if it was an experience in real life.

In real life, thugs and trouble makers only fight when they have a distinct advantage, because for most humans a one on one fight is scary. “What if I lose?”. Yet in a game the moment you feel any tension you just hit the quicksave button and set yourself at ease. You don’t have any doubt or worry, no "what if"s haunting you. Even equal odds are scary when your life is at stake.

Saving is good.

So why is it bad to take out the save/load ability? Because you lose your progress, all your hard work. You are robbed. Its just not fun, its frustrating, the player will give up and never play it again. Never steal what the player has earned, its the prime directive for any game designer. Remember that, game designers, or I will hunt you down.

Real life

So ask yourself this question: How do we get by in real life without saves or extra-lives? hmm?

  • 1. Dying doesn’t happen that often, actually, it can be quite hard to die.
  • 2. People look after their lives. Nobody wants to die.
  • 3. If faced with a dangerous task, one would proceed cautiously and plan with care. They would formulate backup plans and escape routes should things go wrong.


1. Blurring the line between life and death.

Characters in games are both too tough and too fragile. A bullet does not hurt a character, it shaves off a small percentage of hit points, and they do not feel or express pain, so they don’t fear the bullets. They run around like chickens trying to put more bullets into the enemy first. They are not encumbered by injury or fear of death, then suddenly their hitpoints cross the 0 line and they drop dead. I’m talking about players as well as AI’s.

Games need a proper medical system, something more realistic that blurs the lines between life and death. Here's a really old screenshot from Kenshi, dating back to 2008 so forgive the bad artwork:

The damages here are not just for visual effect. A character will use a sword one-handed if an arm is damaged, or be unable to even hold a sword at all if both arms are bad. Same for leg wounds, slowing you down or totally crippling you so you have to be carried. This effectively forces a character to keep out of the fighting before he dies.

2. Enemy AI characters don’t have enough fear of death.

War is terrifying, an army or opponent that does not fear death is formidable. I know AI’s use cover and stuff nowadays, but they need to be a little less aggressive, more careful.
The enemy has to fear death as much as the player-who-cannot-save. The game will turn more into a game of chess and tactics than a click-reaction test. The tension rises, the sweat breaks out.

3. The player needs to re-learn game-playing.

Its essential that the designer teaches the player the line between life and death, but without dying. This is difficult and again it comes back to the medical system. When a character comes close to death it must be made clear how close it was. As long as the player does not do anything stupid it should be possible to play the game through with no deaths. Its a fine line to walk, but a lot can be done. In any situation it should be possible to save 99.9% of lives, but the player must somehow pay for it in return - Time and money cost, expensive doctors, effort and travel distance, slowing yourself down carrying people to safety, loss of potential profit, character recovery time…

4. The game needs to be well balanced.

A character must never die unless it is the players fault. If he dies because the character wouldn’t respond to his orders, or took a stupidly dangerous pathfinding route, then it is the game’s fault that he died, and this cannot be allowed if we have taken away saving.


As this article has been transferred from the old blog the comments were lost, so I will quote some of them here as some good points were made:

  • 3. Snaga replies at 22nd July 2008 um 11:47 pm :

    Sorry for commenting about this so late. I just want to point out something that you probably have thought about, but I think you didn’t point it out specifically.

    Many games force you to kill absurd amounts of enemies. A good example I think would be STALKER, because the killing destroys both the immersion and gameplay. Sadly game developers tend to concentrate solely on combat in games, thus there will be absurd expectations of the player.
    As a counter the player must be super-human. This really is a pity. In some multiplayer games, you actually feel proud when killing someone.

This is a good point, I also don’t like being superhuman in every game I play. It gets old and this is what marks the core difference between single and multiplayer games.
How to address this?

  • RPG type leveling is a good solution for this (when done right, which it rarely is) because you start off weaker than average, and then you EARN your super human abilities. This obviously wouldn't apply if you scaled all the enemies level to match the player's level all the time, like some kind of idiot game designer madman from another planet.
  • Give the player allies to help him and even the numbers. This is a reason why kenshi is squad-based, and you also have to seek safety in numbers by fighting alongside allies or at least those who share a common enemy.

Gratuitous resurrection

  • 5. Paul D replies at 20th August 2008 um 9:29 am :

    Interesting topic, you make some really good points. The problem is also that we are comparing the fact that we don’t die often here in real life, as opposed to a game where potentially everyone is constantly fighting, and everyone is running around baring lethal weapons. So surely in a world like that, as a player you almost expect your character to die fairly soon.
    A related point of discussion is the death of actual n.p.c’s – I find it very annoying when a game character dies (in combat, or accident) but is then resurrected as if nothing happened, so that the story may continue. Okay, admittedly this is rare, but it happens and little breaks the immersion more.
    Look at Mass Effect. Not only can your group buddies return from the grave after being blown up, its actually a feature of the game, whereby one of your upgradeable skills is the ability to quickly resurrect your AI side kicks.
    I really hate that, but you know what? It’s completely necessary, because they are terrible in battle and have no idea how to effectively use cover. For me, it’s just shining a spot light on the flawed AI.

Even in a dangerous game world or a war, you can survive better by working closely as a team and being cautious. When you have no fear of dying, you will just charge straight in, get killed, then try the same again because now you know where the enemies are.

I hate magic resurrection too. That's why I’m going for a decent medical system instead. When a character goes down they are usually not dead yet and you have a chance to save them, but its not instant, you have to carry them to safety and give them realistic recovery time. At the same time this also adds an extra tactical element to the gameplay, especially during retreats when you have to decide whether to carry your wounded or leave them.

Thats all I have, feel free to weigh in with your ideas on the subject.

Post comment Comments
Razihel May 17 2011 says:

OMFG, this is gonna be one HELL of a game.

+9 votes     reply to comment
Herr_Alien May 17 2011 says:

This is a pretty good piece. I like your take on the AI needing to fear death as the player would. Thumbs up!

+2 votes     reply to comment
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CMDKeen May 17 2011 says:

The points you described are exactly why I really disliked most RPGs. Kenshi might be the first true RPG I like :D

"Never steal what the player has earned" - many roguelikes have permadeath, but their world is usually so variable players rage for a while and then play again. A great example of that is a space game Transcedence.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Aleksander_Rasputin May 17 2011 says:

I just felt kind of "forced" to answer to this great post. Despite my lack of programming experience as a normal User its nice to finally find a kind a kindred soulexperienced enough to transform the idea into a game

This post made me realise how the question alone is kind of the holy grail of questions.
Answering to the question :"is saving bad?" with "yes" kind of is the root to the Decision-tree which follows up.

I couldnt agree more. Saving is bad. Decision progresses players normally take cease to apply.
Why risk dying when u could just press F5 and retry endlessly.


I've beend playing two PC conversions of console-ego-shooters, beeing "wolfenstein" and "singularity", and I have to say that the System of checkpoints doesnt appeal me either.
Replaying the same scene over and OVER again doesn't do the trick either.
Knowing at which point in time which exact scripted action is going to take place just rips of the exactly same thought progress from the player than pressing F5.

So in essence NOT knowing is the deadly part, and the part to which you revere as no-go and "ripping the player of what he has earned"

My personal logical consequence to that is:

-- Either one tries to walk the line between these two extremes


-- Why not making the "Art of saving" part of the game experience?
Why not lay the choice in the player's hand?

my first thought would be something like:

You may save but you either get a disadvantage for saving or an advantage for not saving. I dont know in a way of extra experience or something.

So the holy grail question is answered. The decisions which follow are answered by you at least in parts.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Aleksander_Rasputin May 17 2011 says:

to 1.

I agree to what you say. I dont know if you didnt finish this one branch of the decision-tree, or if you just left it due to the lenght of the text.
Corresponding to a realistic physiological medical system, imho a psychological system is needed.

I mean how can you justify a complex wound system with hit zones and consequences like "arm wounded not beeing able to wield 2hand weapons" when you miss 50% of the whole system.
We are talking about a realistic transfer of fear of death to everyones screen dont we?

so things like heartbeat, adrenalin level, blood loss, fog of war, psychological consequences because of death, killing, etc. shouldn´t be left out.

In fights you are reduced to actions and reactions due to your training. Your body reacts faster if you dont think about every move. The adrenalin level also "saves" you from aktually feeling the blood loss and pain and what is called "fight or flight" saves you from the psychological consequences till the end of the fight.

So actually the bad time is the time the fighting stopps.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Aleksander_Rasputin May 17 2011 says:

to 2.

Im in no way satisfied with the way AI currently works. Im talking about shooter AI`s. They are mostly to dumb, running against walls when Im standing beside them, or too good, hitting in unrealistic godlike ways. As from what I know RTS AI's does seem to have reached a very realistic level.

Totally agree to your view. If we try to illustrate a realitic view of things and a fear of dying this must also apply to the AI

to 3.

I stated some my thought regarding the 3rd of your points above. Especially the gamers choice of saving or not.

Yes this medical system showing you how time/money-costly beeing close
to death can become seems very sound to me, but is missing the psychological side like war-veteran-flashbacks (just to illustrate what I mean)

to 4.

Yes this is the very tricky part. Beeing able to transfer a detailed system in a way that can be thought through by the player.
As an example I would like to mention the game "desktop-dungeons" in which a players death is in nearly every case a mistake that can be prohibited by knowing the system working in the background.

So if we take saving away from the players we have to have a easy to master but realistic game rules.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Aleksander_Rasputin May 17 2011 says:

to Super-humanity...ness

Comming from a past of pen&paper RPGs like DSA, Shadowrun and D&D Superhumanness was the part I always hated the most. The Systems in a way made this possible or encouraged to use the rules to the best possibility.
Which lead to absurd amounts of orks/men/similar like some may know in form of the 3847 orc card from Munchkin.
Or just impossible strong highlevel NPCs to match the players strenght to not lose the tension and difficulty of the game.

This was/is like a vivous circle players start to strong and as they grow in strenght so have to do the NPCs.

I totally agree that one should start as low in skill as possible so that you enter the upward spiral og inhumanness as late as possible.

to Gratuitous resurrection

I might have a proposal for you comming from the Call of Cthulhu universe, to be exactly from the Boardgame "arkham horror" in which if you get "die" you may choose to be treated in the hospital and take on turn to heal,
you choose to draw a card which gives you a disadvantage further in the game.
It depends here if you lost all your "psychological" hitpoints, then you draw a psychic disadvantage or if you lost all your "physiological" hitpoint, then you draw a body disadvantage

To your opinion conserning Squad/Teamplay, I have to say, I get your point, but personally I absolutly hate Group PC games. Because the AI is not as responsibly as myself playing and if I play all characters its simply to much to handle for me to actually enjoy.

So far
hopefully structured enough

+1 vote     reply to comment
Tastyrice May 17 2011 says:

VERY promising looking project :) Will be keeping an eye out for you guys.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Baconation May 17 2011 says:

Srsly this is gonna be an awesome game...

+1 vote     reply to comment
Jeffman12 May 17 2011 says:

If you leave wounded, I'd expect there to be some cases where the enemy takes them prisoner. Especially if it's a high value NPC.

+1 vote     reply to comment
captain_deathbeard Author
captain_deathbeard May 18 2011 replied:

Thats a planned feature, you will have the options of rescuing or bargaining for your captured men before they are executed. Or you can pay someone to rescue them, or control the charater and have him escape by himself.

+1 vote   reply to comment
ZachSlayer117 May 18 2011 says:

I disagree with you saying that the player dosen't fear death when there is saving. If the player dosen't fear death then the game designer has failed. The game designer needs to make the game feel like it is real. Many games have succeeded in scaring me and severely ******* me off when I died. You should make the gamer fear death but saving is an essential part of games. And also, if you can't save, do you need to start over and over again every time you exit?

+1 vote     reply to comment
captain_deathbeard Author
captain_deathbeard May 18 2011 replied:

No, that is the point of the article, that alternatives are needed to just dropping dead and restarting the game. You need to give the player incentives to continue playing, such as experience points for losing a fight and surviving.

+1 vote   reply to comment
GrimSheeper Jun 28 2011 says:

I've played FEAR 3 and one moment really proves you're right about the AI. I shot an Armacham guy in the face with a shotgun. I shaved most of his skin off and looked at bare bones and muscle tissue and and empty eye socket. The guy made a grunt, ran through an animation and promptly opened fire again despite having NO FACE LEFT! What kind of human being in that situation would not drop to the floor in agony? The crazies in that game are a different kind, they're completely insane and don't need to feel pain. It just baffled me that these guys are basically just armed targets that simulate damage in the way a robot would. Yes, FEAR 3 is an FPS and you usually kill the enemies too quickly, but it doesn't mean enemies should be 'okay' until they are dead.

I just want the deaths to be fair. If I've won a skirmish, I don't want to pick through the pieces of half the people I've known for years and trained to be gods among men because some bandit got a lucky shot and they just cannot be healed for some reason, despite having good armor and a lot of 'toughness' amassed over the years. Like Mount&Blade did with skills to keep your soldiers alive through battles because they can also be knocked unconscious, it still feels bad to lose a soldier, even more so when they have names and a story attached.

So what I'm trying to say is that with a good medical system in place and a fair chance that player characters and allies can survive, with the incentive to do so through experience, it should be a great combat system.

+1 vote     reply to comment
besterich27 Jul 7 2011 says:

This is gonna be awesome, im really into "Roleplaying"/Realistic games, realistic graphics and realistic gameplay is the "key" to victory. :P

+1 vote     reply to comment
Atlasfield Jul 10 2011 says:

I like the idea of be careful when you save the game, I´ll feel like another RPGs like Temple Of Elemental Evil in hard mode, only you can "save and exit", and load without "replay/reload".

I like this one, and agree, this will make more exciting the game with the desitions and dont send the characters like super heroes... if you do will be a nice epic fail. x3

Keep your work, looks really interesting. :D

+1 vote     reply to comment
Redwin Jul 25 2011 says:

Lol i like what you did with "Organ Damage"

Keep up the good work! We're counting on you!

+1 vote     reply to comment
Roh Oct 21 2011 says:

I personally look for a game where I have a chance to lose things. But of course you first need a game where you can really build things.

A good balance of both would be my gaming holyland.

I've also considered the concept of dealing with no saving and reloading. Mostly for a different type of game. But the general concept still applies. What I was considering was how to handle permadeath. And I also fell to making it harder then most games to actually die as well. I like your blurring the lines term.

I don't know where games got stuck on this idea that you are either alive and completely functional or dead. Dead and gone to be reloaded or resurrected by your friendly neighborhood god. I very much like your advanced health and damage system.

+1 vote     reply to comment
pusface2 Jul 23 2012 says:

this is only a idea but you could make it so players can only save bye going to sleep in a bed or some thing cuz in almost every town has one bed in it

+1 vote     reply to comment
방탄_수도사 Oct 15 2012 says:

so im going to have to find the auto-save in the files and save it manually then, I don't think forcing 'realism' on people makes sense because those that want it would stick with an auto feature and those that don't will still find a way around it.. if forced upon them. I have played the demo and even with no sound I love it, but this one thing bothers me a lot.

I love everything else though.. but still I feel so reluctant because of it... im not an ego *****.. just don't want to be ****** over after 500+ hours playing. making it so it disarms you of your main weapon equipped maybe half your money and then you wake up in a minor town 'some merchant found you bleeding out and removed half your money as payment for dragging you back and half patching you up' - that would be annoying and not exactly stupidly unrealistic i understand your being bothers by saving but you could make it so you could only save in cities... lets face it how many of us would loot loads forget to save and lose 7 hours anyway...

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Lo-Fi Games Ltd
Ogre Engine
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Released 2011
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Kenshi Role Playing
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