_____ or die

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I’m posting this thread in reference to the current GiTD. I’m hoping people will use it to exchange ideas and stimulate each other’s creativity. This is my third GiTD and, true to my habit, I’m taking the first two days to think up what my entry should be about. Here are some musings, please add yours if you feel so inclined.

The first thing that should be noted regarding this theme, is that ‘[your word] or die’ should be the title of one’s entry, not simply the theme of the game. As a construct, it has been used before, in at least two video games: Skate or die! and Ski or die.

I remember playing the skate one when I was a kid, and it was pretty much what you’d expect from the title. You had to skate around a city park, chaining tricks to accumulate enough money to enter various competitions and upgrade your skate. When you spent too long earning cash and not competing you’d be chased by bees (yes, bees!) until you either skated, or died. Simple, effective.

On the other hand, the construction ‘[word] or die’ could serve as title for a variety of games, because of the almost universal connotations of death in games: Death is the penalty for failure, it is what happens when the players fails to fulfill the game goal. It is always a penalty, unless the game is specifically designed to turn this penalty of death into a game mechanic. Therefore we could rename a variety of games using the template ‘[Goal of the game] or die’ and not lose much of what the game is about.

Make full lines so they disappear or die. (Tetris)
Jump or die. (Just about every platformer, ever.)
Kill zombies or die. (Half of all zombie games.)
Kill zombies and die. (The other half.)
You get the gist.

Knowing that I could, without changing a single line of code, re-enter either my first GiTD contribution as ‘Explore or die’ or my second one as ‘Bounce or die’ and have them fulfill the theme is somewhat disheartening. Although this competition does not reward it, I believe ‘clever use of the theme’ should always be a prominent criterion when judging themed competitions. So how do we make clever use of the [blank] or die pattern?

Obviously, the first option is to turn the conventional wisdom of [game goal] or die on its head, making ‘die’ the game goal and the first part the penalty. Unfortunately, that means the penalty for failing should be worse than death, crossing into territory that is probably not as fertile for game design as others, to put it mildly.

I could conceive of attempting suicide as a game goal, and it might even be fun, in some macabre way. I picture a platformer where the goal is to dodge lethal dangers all the way to the top of a building so the character can (you guessed it) jump off. But then the goal would be to jump (even to one’s death) and the ‘die’ in ‘jump or die’ would remain the penalty.

Another way to pervert the theme would be to use a pun. The rules are: [One word] or die. But nobody said it had to be a dictionary word. We’re entering knock-knock jokes territory here, in terms of pun structure, and pun quality.

What would you call a shooter game where the goal is to kill as many raptors as possible with a shotgun before one of them manages to eat you? Dierapt or die. Yes, it is terrible, that’s kind of the point.

Anyway, this is getting to be a pretty long post, and I don’t even know if there’s an audience willing to share their own musings, so I’ll stop here for now and let’s get the discussion started: How do you interpret the ‘[one word] or die’ theme?

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My first inclination was to try “dye or die” or “dye, dice, or die”: A Make Trax-type game or some bizarre dice game. Eventually, I settled on using “dye or die” as a kind of alternate title, where changing the colour of the screen contents would be an effect that occurs as the player approaches their goal. In the current iteration of my game idea “End It All or Die”*, the player becomes (consecutively) the four horsemen of the apocalypse (each with their own effect on those within their influence) in a kind of “practice run” for the impending end of the world. Failure is punished with becoming mortal, which, as we all know, means death — eventually. As play progresses, the player has to expand their influence (changing the colour of the screen within the affected area) while avoiding getting hit by too many of the enemies’ projectiles. …well, that’s the basic idea in a nutshell, though there are a few other things that I was toying with adding in.

I had recently written an email to my friends purporting to be Death complaining about “Management” postponing the apocalypse (again), in reference to the supposed Mayan end-of-the-world BS, which is where I grew the current idea from.

Edit: *Well, I obviously overlooked the “single word” constraint… Still, the only thing that affects is how stupid the title will be (for my game). I prefer “End It All or Die” (mostly because of the juxtaposition of death with what most people would perceive as its equivalent), but “Armageddon or Die” will have to do, I guess (or some variant thereof)…

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When I saw the contest theme, the idea that came to my twisted mind was “Eat shit or die.” It sounded like an amusing title to me, although I admit that the things I find amusing may be considered disturbing by other people. Nevertheless, with judicious use of punctuation, one can come up with an interesting variation to this title — “Eat, shit, or die.”

Unfortunately, I can’t use this title for obvious reasons. UG clearly stated that only a single word should precede “or die,” and “eat shit” is two words. That’s grounds for disqualification right there. :P

All right, now that I have your attention, I can contribute some serious (albeit boring) ideas to this thread.

Every species on Earth has three main directives to follow:

  1. To eat.
  2. To procreate.
  3. To keep from being eaten long enough to accomplish directive number 2.

Any species that fails to accomplish these directives becomes extinct. No one would question the idea that we must “eat or die.” Somewhat less obvious is the directive to “mate or die” because this is aimed not toward specific individuals but to the entire species. Making an entire game that revolves around having to “mate or die” may be interesting, but one cannot go overboard with that theme here on Kongregate. Being graphically extreme may be permitted on Newgrounds but not on Kong.

Reflecting on the above directives can yield other ideas that are unfortunately obvious as well.

  • Kill (harmful creatures) or die.
  • Run/Jump/Ski/Drive/Ride/Roll/Bounce/Move (from danger) or die.
  • Seek (food/clothing/shelter/money/power) or die.

All these ideas arise from logical thinking, but if you want a clever idea, you’ll need lateral thinking. What are the creative and unusual ways one could die?

You may have heard people say, “I’ll die of boredom.” What if a person could literally die because of boredom? How? Perhaps the player is the court jester of a cruel king who threatens to behead the jester if he fails to entertain. “Entertain or Die.”

Alternatively, instead of focusing on unusual ways to die, one might try to find unusual ways to keep from dying. What if the world is overrun by hungry and indestructible creatures of horror, and the only way to live another day is to drive around in a modified pickup truck and catapult farm animals into the maws of these eldritch creatures? Then you’ll have “Feed or Die,” a marriage made in hell between time management and catapult games.

What if instead of running away from danger, you have to keep running at a certain speed to keep from dying, perhaps because there is a bomb that is set to explode if you don’t maintain that speed? Oops, sorry, that idea has been taken. It’s bad luck to make games out of movies starring Keanu Reeves. If you don’t believe me, ask the people who made the Matrix games.

Anyhow, I hope my post may spark a few ideas of your own.

Edit: The idea behind “Feed or Die” sounds kind of interesting to me. I just might make a game of it.

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I think I’ve taken a different direction. Right now it seems to be all the “or Die” parts seem to be around people or living things. Does it have to? Other things can die. My entry will be a simulation game where you have to keep a company alive.

The really hard part about this theme is that it is so common. A lot of games exist where if you don’t do the {word here}, you die. So how is the theme constraining? How is it different from making most games? I’m not sure myself. I’m really hoping a few people will know by the end of the competition and we’ll get some creative entries.

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Originally posted by UnknownGuardian:

Right now it seems to be all the “or Die” parts seem to be around people or living things. Does it have to? Other things can die.

True. A flame can die, but that idea in itself isn’t particularly creative. I’m not sure if stretching the idea of what things can die will yield good fruit, to be honest.

Originally posted by UnknownGuardian:

The really hard part about this theme is that it is so common. A lot of games exist where if you don’t do the {word here}, you die. So how is the theme constraining? How is it different from making most games? I’m not sure myself. I’m really hoping a few people will know by the end of the competition and we’ll get some creative entries.

Originally posted by Ace_Blue:

Although this competition does not reward it, I believe ‘clever use of the theme’ should always be a prominent criterion when judging themed competitions.

Now there’s the fly in the ointment. The winner of the contest will not necessarily be the one that makes the most clever use of its theme. It will be the entry that offers the most entertaining gameplay. It’s ridiculously easy to come up with a “_____ or die” type of game, and coming up with something really creative may not help you win the contest. Nevertheless, if you’re willing to look past the prizes and aim for becoming a more creative game developer, it may pay to stretch your lateral thinking a bit. Personally, that’s what I’m aiming for.

Originally posted by Ace_Blue:

So how do we make clever use of the [blank] or die pattern?

Perhaps we can learn from some of the more clever Flash games on the web. For instance, the idea of dying so that others may live is a theme that is celebrated in literature. One of the better Flash games that revolves around this theme is SeppuKuties, whose candy-coated graphics belie its dark humor.

An autorunner is a natural shoe-in for “move or die” type of games, so it’s no surprise that most of them don’t push the envelope on creativity. There’s only one truly mind-blowing autorunner that I know of — Solipskier, a game where the slopes do not exist until you make them.

In both these games, it isn’t the type of creature or the manner of its death that shows creativity but how death is staved off.

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Originally posted by Elyzius:

Perhaps we can learn from some of the more clever Flash games on the web. For instance, the idea of dying so that others may live is a theme that is celebrated in literature.

Oooh, self-sacrifice, that’s an interesting take on the theme. But self-sacrifice to what greater good? So many possibilities…

I hope I still have time to come up with something simple along this vein. Thanks Elyzius.

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they didnt do surf or die?

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Moved from GiTD voting thread:

Originally posted by Ace_Blue:

Escape: I didn’t know one could turn the light off. Does it serve a purpose in the game? Besides fulfilling the ‘or die’ requirement of the contest, I mean.

Hunt: I counted it.

Jump: It’s not, I counted it. But it would have been nice to have an in-game depiction of death. Not for my morbid satisfaction, but because the theme was ‘or die’!

Gamble: I can’t figure out what the picture is supposed to represent. Based on context, I infer it must be the blown up protagonist, but I don’t see it. And if I don’t see it, I can’t count it.

Slime: It gets off because I’m grasping at straws and that any acknowledgment of death as real I counted.

Fry: I didn’t find it, and I tried every key and the mouse button.

Frankly, I can’t blame the entrants for not putting the theme at the center of their game; it was a very poor theme. That said, a lot of the entries have nothing to do with the theme at all, and it’s not the first time. From now on, that will be my first criterion for voting in GiTDs: Does it match the theme? If the answer is no, then I won’t vote for it, no matter how good.

Escape: Other than to conserve the batteries, there is no reason to turn the light off (that I’m aware of). As I had a problem with the lag, too, I’m not sure whether the flashlight going out before the end is likely or not.

Hunt/Jump: I know you counted it, but: “That’s not dying, that’s metamorphosis” and “No death animation, but …” seem to indicate that you didn’t really want to consider them as dying. Could have just been the way I read it, I guess…

Slime: Yes, I realize that you counted it because you’re stretching. I was commenting on the little corpsey puddle being the sole difference between that and all the other re-spawners. I don’t actually disagree with you, here, I was just mentioning it.

Fry: You have to click on the attackers when they’re inside of your range circle. It takes a few tries before they burst into flames, so if you have the sound turned off, you might not notice that you’re having any effect right away.

Addition: Most people seem to consider a game over as the equivalent of death (in many cases, so do I). Apparently, most entrants to the contest consider reincarnation/re-spawning as a death equivalent (neither of us agree with that). Last contest, it was indicated before the contest started that “jump” was being considered as the equivalent to “bounce” (which I wouldn’t normally agree with, but since that was indicated in the theme discussion thread, I considered it as a viable criteria). Without explicit delineation, there are bound to be quite a few different takes on the criteria.

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“you didn’t really want to consider them as dying.” No I didn’t. What I wanted was to find at least one entrant that took the ‘X or die’ theme and made it central to their game. After I tested a few games and realized that people basically ignored the theme, I started writing the comments. I removed the ‘or die’ from every title (except Senekis’) to illustrate that none of the games needed it. It brought them exactly nothing.

The reason leaving a corpse (Slime), or having a death animation (Lure, Hunt, Fly), or a death screen (Jump) marked the game as separate from the ones that didn’t is that when the designer does not acknowledge that a death occurred, anything else could have happened. Time travel, retconning, who knows? In fact, even a death is not technically enough. Take the game Hippolyta for instance. If you have the sound on, you’ll notice after the death sequence the narrator saying: “No, no, that’s not how it happened at all.” That game presents itself as a story being recounted and death occurring to the protagonist as an error, an anomaly. Hippolyta did not die in the story, she succeeded, so certainly your killing her is a mistake in the retelling.

But going back to the basics of ‘X or die’, Slime is really the only game that met the bare minimal requirements of the theme in my view, because the puddles are persistent. In any level, whenever you enter, you only have two options: ‘slime’ your way past the guards, or die trying. By leaving a corpse as a reminder of previous failures, the game signals that a new slime is entering the room. The old one is dead, and your failure killed it. By contrast, Lure does not leave a corpse for the protagonist and resets the stage to its original state. Not only does your character respawn, but so does every enemy. In fact, everything happens like in Hippolyta, except for the narrator’s explanation of why dying means you’re not actually dead. It’s more akin to time travel. In Fly, you don’t get to fly over the wreckage of previous attempts, Jump doesn’t get littered with the mangled corpses of your predecessors, and the landscape in Hunt isn’t dotted with the smoky flags of the hunters of yore.

This post is getting long, but I want to add that a game over is not at all the equivalent of death. You can get a game over screen because you ran out of bullets (Conserve), because you collided with a wall (Portal), because you ran out of time, or money or of another resource. Some games in this contest had no way to die at all. If you enter an incomplete game in a contest but you didn’t include references to the theme for lack of time, surely you can’t argue that the theme of the contest was central to your project.

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Death is the “game over” of life. If Portal or Die had said something like “the walls are electrified” and the game ended when colliding with a wall, I would consider that equivalent to death (most people hate games that force you to start over from the beginning when you fail, though).

There were several games that didn’t have death in it at all, I agree, even in a stretched sense. I’m curious for an example of a game where death isn’t just “tacked on”, though (i.e., where it can’t be removed or changed without affecting the game itself).

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There’s this Flash platformer I can’t recall the name of, where there are two worlds. If you die in real life, you go to the underworld, which is a mirror image of the life world (upside-down, yay controls!) with subtle geometry changes and back-to-life portals. The mechanic is move forward, die, move forward, resurrect, repeat. It’s badged too, if I recall. I’ll try to find it and edit this post if I do, but if someone else beats me to it that’d be great!

Otherwise, after seeing all the games that were made for this GiTD, I got the idea for Normandie, a game (and horrible, terrible pun on the naming convention) about D-Day. Top down view, you start at the bottom of the map and need to reach the top, killing all defenders along the way. Defenders are static with lots of firepower, attackers are moving but have much shorter range, and they basically need to get behind defenders before they can do any significant damage. The kicker: The computer controls about 20 attackers at once and the player controls one. Every time the soldier controlled by the player dies, control automatically transfers to the attacker that’s the highest up on the map. Dead soldiers get constantly replaced by reinforcements coming from the beach at the bottom of the map, but every corpse remains on the map.

The goal would be to clear the map as quickly as possible with as few allied loses as possible, possibly counting player-controlled and computer-controlled losses separately. It would be extremely disrespectful to anyone who fought in WWII, and of terribly bad taste, so I’m glad I only got the idea after the contest ended.

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