I’m currently working on an interactive fiction / CRPG hybrid (yeah, I know. I’m just writing it for fun, I don’t expect to have a huge amount of interest) and am after some feedback on a particular mechanic.
It is an entirely text based interactive fiction game with a parser and CRPG elements. You play as a single rogue character with a set of skills (pick locks, climb etc) that can be upgraded as you level up. Your objective is to descend into the underworld and visit hell to free your soul (which you unwisely sold to a demonic entity while in a drunken stupor). You’ll have an imp with you (that sits on your shoulder) who can cast a limited set of spells. Combat will be mostly deterministic and treated somewhat like tactical puzzles but will also be gated by your level.
The game is intended to ‘feel’ like a mix between a fighting fantasy game book and a D&D module. The atmosphere of the game is intended to be horror with an emphasis on exploring strange and sinister places. The problem is, I want the player to feel some kind of jeopardy, like every corner could lead to a horrific death. But if the player can save anywhere (or use an undo command) then there is no real risk and thus no tension. In a roguelike, perma-death is a viable mechanic to achieve this, but that doesn’t really sit well in an IF context as they’re not very replayable. So what to do?
Here’s an idea I’m playing with: the player is cursed and will be reborn a certain number of times when they die. The player will never know exactly how many ‘lives’ they have, as it will be randomly determined (it might be, say, 5 to 10 times). If the character looses all their lives, their soul is lost forever, they become a mindless undead and the game ends (i.e. perma-death). So every time the player is in a risky situation, there’s that fear – could this death be the final one? Thus, an average player might require several runs through the game to win. Some elements of the game could be randomized to make each new game slightly different, but the puzzles would obviously not change so the ‘core’ of the game would remain the same.
What do people think of this approach? Would the possibility of having to start over a few times, just piss people off and make them quit after the first perma-death. Is there a better approach to evoking fear in the player? Or should I implement save-anywhere and be done with it?