Game Over?

If you’re playing an arcade game and you lose all your lives you’ll have to pay more money to have another go. That’s a genuine game over.

Back in the early days of console gaming, there were no saves and the collection of extra lives were important as running out meant having to start the game again from scratch. As such, learning where the extra lives were hidden was an important skill. The term ‘game over’ stayed, but was really more of a ‘game restart’.

Fast forward to gaming today and you can pretty much save the game whenever you want, not to mention the auto-saves after and before every significant event (or new room).

Don’t get me wrong, I like that we have checkpoints and auto-saves, but this means that we don’t need a lives system.

The only reason to keep a lives system in your game is if losing all of your lives results in having to start over from the very beginning, or perhaps lose a couple of hours of game time. Otherwise all it adds is an unnecessary delay in you getting back into the game, at near enough exactly the same point you left it. There’s no jeopardy any more, and the sooner designers stop trying to imply that there is the better.

This is evidently a hangover of arcade and early console games but one which designers seem averse to cutting out of modern titles. Keep health systems by all means but don’t show me a game over screen when I lose all my lives. It isn’t game over. It isn’t even game restart. It is game continue from where you left off.

About Adam

Games designer, Newcastle fan and prolific tea drinker
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3 Responses to Game Over?

  1. I was thinking about this the other day, and I agree the terminology should change from ‘Game Over’ – but I think there is some value in a forced pause when losing all your lives.

    A little bit like the twist before a mid-episode break on TV, or maybe the fade to black in a movie. It helps the drama of the situation either grow more poignant, or more calm, depending on the situation and the player.

    I might be thinking too much into it, but at the very least every time I see Game Over in Skyward Sword I take a breath, have a think about why I just died, then go back in. One thing’s for sure – without these pauses a lot fo action-heavy games would become all too dense in terms of feedback and user-demands. In other words I get easily stressed in games and it’s nice to have a breather 🙂

    No conclusion from me, just some thoughts to throw in 🙂

    • Adam says:

      It’s interesting that you raise Skyward Sword as that’s the game that got me thinking about this subject originally. I’d say that Zelda uses a health system more than a lives system though, and the only time I feel worried about running out of hearts is during boss fights.
      Dying in Ocarina of Time added to a death count shown on the file select screen, even if Skyward Sword had something like that I’d take more care when playing.
      A forced pause can be a good thing as you say, but I’ve not experienced many games in which this is done in an interesting way. For me, the best use of a forced pause is de-synchronising in Assassin’s Creed. It’s one of the few games in which ‘dying’ makes sense in the context of the game.
      But that’s a game without a lives system.

  2. Pingback: Why I Love… Fez | Adam Russell, Games Designer

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