The Meaning of Life/Lives

What is the point of multiple Lives in a modern game? Are they still relevant? They certainly seem to be appearing less and less.

Clearly they were vital in early arcade games (and still are), by ensuring that sooner or latter the player will lose and have to put in more money. This seemed to transition over to home consoles and became a method of increasing the challenge of the game by giving you only a limited number of tries at completing the game, while rewarding skill with extra bonus lives.

But today, where just about every game can be saved between or during levels, is there really any point to lives anymore? Perhaps if there are checkpoints thought out levels that allow you to re-spawn halfway though (but not save) then Lives can limit the number of attempts at a level before you have to start over. But other than that, I don?t think there is any use to them in today's games.

Certainly most PC games don?t use them, most of which allow you to save anywhere and at anytime, thus negating any penalty lives would incur anyway. And I don?t think I?ve seen many console games with lives in a while - except maybe handhelds, though these tend to be re-releases of older games, or new games of similar style to older games. But still many of these allow for iterative saving, which, like on a PC, can negate any loss incurred by a Game Over anyway.

Super Mario 64 is a perfect example of what I?m talking about. This game included limited lives - they could be gained by collecting 1-Ups and losing them all would result in Game Over. But Game Over had no meaning, since the only time anything was actually accomplished in the game was when you collected a star or beat a boss (there literally was nothing else to do that would require saving), and the game allowed you to save after doing so. Thus if you died or hit Game Over after collecting one star but before getting another, you didn?t actually lose any progress. In fact dying simply ejected you from the level and reset it to its defaults (incidentally the same result as collecting a star).Game Over simply meant you had to reload your last save, which of course was the last time you collected a star or beat a boss (the only times game progress actually change in any way). Hence lives were meaningless.

I can?t think of many modern games that use lives, except games that are meant to be played in short tournaments with the Game Over condition occurring when you lose to many matches (cart racing or fighting games for instance). But certainly not in any action games. And in the end I don?t think there needs to be.

Looks like it's Game Over for you, 1-Up Mushroom.[img]http://www.sumea.com.au/forum/attached/LiveWire/2005102984235_Mushroom.g...

mcdrewski's picture

good point indeed, I can't help but think it's related to two main drivers.

1) games getting bigger and deeper. In the past the challenge was to "finish" the game without dying too many times. As soon as games started getting too big to play in a sitting, saving your progress was needed and "dying" became less useful.

2) The move out of arcades and onto systems that we consider "ours" with "our" save games means there's no pressure to finish in a sitting now.

Of course, we now have UT2k4/Q3A style tournament play flying the flag for the life counter, but I'd love to see what these guys: http://www.experimentalgameplay.com/ might do with a "finite lives" theme...

souri's picture

Multiple lives are a remnant of arcade games in the past like Mcdrewski said, but damnit, they made games a lot more challenging. Games these days hold your hand all the way through to the end, and as a result aren't as satisfying to complete as old games. If you fall off a platform in a recent platformer game, there's usually a quick route back to where you dropped off. You fall off somewhere in a platform game back in the 80's, you lose a life (and a third of your chance to continue) and get booted to the beginning of the level.

Sure, getting booted to the beginning was frustrating, but I honestly believe gamers these days are darn wusses (myself included) who need save points every 2 minutes, and we've been gradually conditioned to this point over the years [:D]. Sooner or later, games are going to be have god mode as standard and your challenge is to rush to the end of the level in the fastest time you can. [;)]

And I used to get to stage 99 in 1942 or finish Rygar on one credit.

Leto's picture

I do agree, but it depends completely on the game. I had a look at the Serious Sam 2 demo and it uses "lives". The game itself might be a dud, but I think it's Lives system works well for the style of game - just walk around and blow up everything in sight. I don't think you can save your game, but you can continue if you run out of lives, you just don't get any more points.

For something like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, introducing a lives thing would destroy the experience. The thing that _really_ shit me with PoP: Warrior Within was that everytime you finished a "level" (even though it was supposed to give the impression of being free-roaming), a special screen would come up saying "You've got a new sands-of-time power available to you for no apparant reason". It completely ruined the experience being reminded all the time that you're just playing a game. Almost the complete opposite of Sands of Time where you could totally immerse yourself in the experience, without interruption, from beginning to end.

I don't think there's anything wrong with a Lives system in a game as long as it makes sense, i.e. it's an active part of the gameplay and not just tacked on in a half-assed attempt to increase longevity. Hmmm....that could be a difficult balancing act.