Good Games with PC Death or Inventory Limits

I am interested in finding IF works that lack one or more of the following features and are nevertheless good:

  • A PC who can never die in game.
  • An unlimited inventory.

If you were able to think of examples, what makes them good despite lacking these features that modern IF players tend to take for granted?

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Are you looking for modern works, classic, or both?

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Good question! I would love to see recommendations of both kinds. And if you have the time and inclination, I would also be interested in hearing about why a modern example may or may not feel modern (whatever that means for you) despite lacking one or both of these features.

There are tons of well-regarded modern games with player death - Cragne Manor and Hadean lands come immediately to mind, but there are many many others. It’s just that there’s an integrated system making those deaths no big deal, like ensuring that UNDO rewinds you past the point of no return. The problem isn’t death, it’s unwinnability, to my mind.

A fair number of games also have inventory limits, but the best I can say about those is that as long as they’re barely noticeable, they’re fine.

(Specific puzzles where particular large objects can’t easily be moved across a particular barrier are ok, but examples aren’t immediately coming to mind)

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I’m primarily an aficionado of Infocom. They had multiple good games with death and inventory limits. Planetfall, my favorite, has these plus food and rest requirements! But it succeeds despite these because of its consistent appealing atmosphere, its writing, and your faithful robot companion Floyd.

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I seem to remember Zork I having this type of puzzle, although not with a large object. I can’t remember the specifics.

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Counterfeit Monkey has a very nice rewind feature when you do something fatal.

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The variation I’m more familiar with (found in Zork, Adventure, a few of the Scott Adams games, etc, but also Anchorhead and various modern games too) is there’s a particular barrier that you can’t bring anything past, and you need one or more specific inventory objects on the other side. The Scott Adams system even had a special opcode for “stop the player if they’re carrying anything” for these puzzles!

The most ancient and venerable version is that you need a way to get your light source through to see what’s on the other side, but it can be used for other purposes as well; in Savoir-Faire it’s used to keep the endgame fast-paced by removing most of your inventory (you can’t carry anything into the endgame region but can wear things) and thus cutting down on all the combinatorial options. You know you only have these three objects to solve the puzzle with, so what do you do with them?

This is one of my favorite puzzle setups, and I’ve used it pretty much everywhere I can; Enigma of the Old Manor House has the classic “get your light source through an inventory-restricting barrier” version, Scroll Thief has a library security scanner that won’t let you carry books through without checking them out first, and Death on the Stormrider has a room that allows carried things but not pushed things (and you need to push a large object to the other side of the map to use it as a step).

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The endgame of mainframe Zork, aka Dungeon does this too.

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If I remember right, it just magically removes your whole inventory rather than making you drop it to get through a particular barrier, right?

Yes. There is also an earlier puzzle that makes you drop most stuff (temporarily) to proceed.

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Every death in Counterfeit Monkey would be worth it even without UNDO, to be honest. One of my favorites is the time I removed the B from a ball.

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If anyone is curious, the reason for these questions (and for a poll I made in another thread) is that I have been wondering about the feasibility of writing survival horror IF, including some of the elements associated with the genre.

Anyway, I am grateful to all who have shared their thoughts and examples. I would love to see more if you want to share them!

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My introduction to IF was Trinity and I’m hugely partial to it, but I think it’s a great game, although it has both character death and carrying limits. I know people aren’t hugely into “learning by dying”, and for a good reason, but in my opinion Trinity as a time travelling story ties it very well to both story telling and gameplay – it’s like RESTORE is a core mechanic! The carrying limit doesn’t really become issue until late game, and when it does, it’s also tied to the game design. There’s this (nail-bitingly hard) last section to the game where you need to take very certain items with you and you can’t go back once you’re there, and those very specific items fill your carrying capacity to the brim. So the only way to learn what you should have with you is to just repeatedly go there and fail in a true groundhog’s day fashion.

Maybe none of this sounds inviting to you, and honestly I get it, but I thought it was, not to put too fine a point on it, genius as I was playing it and figuring it out. I really recommend that game. Although in hindsight, it’s kind of weird and amazing I fell for the game like I did as it was my first one – really not something I’d recommend to an IF novice.

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Zork! Or more widely, as @rileypb said: Infocom games.

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One more thing: For a horror game, even more for a survival game, PC death is just a useful element, it fits.

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I’m not super experienced with those, but I’d imagine a horror game with no possibility of death would require a good reason for that design decision. High stakes are just good for the atmosphere.

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Kerkerkruip has permanent death and is very enjoyable.

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The Abbey of Montglane remedied my dislike of try-die-repeat puzzles. I had to go through many iterations of one of the puzzles, each time adjusting my hypothesis about the solution based on new information gleaned from my character’s death. Until then, I was a firm adherent of the IF player’s bill of rights (chapter 3 in Graham Nelson’s splendid essay The Craft of Adventure (Internet Archive)). This particular puzzle is one of the best I’ve experienced, and in its wake I had to rethink a lot of my opinions on the bill of rights.

The Abbey - Details (ifdb.org)


World, a *massive* SF exploration game, allows you to continue walking around and mapping the world after death. As a ghost, of course, you lose the ability to pick up objects or manipulate levers and buttons. I still don’t get this design choice, except “why not?”

World - Details (ifdb.org)

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Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies is a game where conserving ammunition is the main challenge, although your mileage may vary as to whether you consider its other elements as survival horror.

And Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head strikes me as a bit survival horror-like - you have to avoid monsters and there are inventory limits on certain items - although I’ll confess that I haven’t played very far into it, so I don’t know if you get the chance to fight back or not.

(Also, I am just polishing up a survival horror IF myself, so I definitely think it’s feasible, whether or not it’s advisable…)

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