a few months ago i was complaining that the shooter is trapped in a death spiral: because shooters are designed strictly for players who are already good at them, they are becoming harder and harder to the point of being unplayable to anyone who isn’t already knee-deep in the games. fortunately, some designers are trying to address this by recontextualizing player death in the shooter.
in leave home, the player can “die” as many times as she can manage and still see the whole game: a play of leave home lasts about five minutes regardless of the player’s performance. that doesn’t mean that death is meaningless: the game’s handful of scenes are generated anew each play, and the player’s performance affects how threatening they are. dying makes the game easier, perservering makes it more frantic. in this way it rewards performing well without shutting players out for underperforming.
and there’s shoot 1up, a game in which each extra ship the player earns is a literal extra ship in her armada: the player steers every “life” she has at the same time. nathan fouts has essentially reinvented the euroshmup, a degenerate shooter that gives the player a lifebar to compensate for the sheer unavoidability of objects on the screen. here, the player’s lifebar isn’t an abstraction but a more meaningful conceit: each hit destroys one of the player’s ships, and each one-up gives her one more ship to shoot with.