The Best Game Death Innovation At E3?S

One of the odder things about video games is all the work that's put into new ways of killing virtual enemies or having one's own character meet their doom. Atlus' Demon's Souls showed a new twist at E3.

I was given a quick demo of the dark upcoming PlayStation 3 third-person action game Demon's Souls during E3. The game features a knight who hacks his way through both knight-sized and dragon-sized enemies.

The hook for the game are the ghosts that appear. They appear to be other players' characters or enemies running in unexpected patterns through the levels that you're playing, but not quite. They're not, the developer playing the game in front of me explained, programmed by the Demon's Souls' creators. They are generated by the game's other players and randomly sent out to haunt other people's games.

This is a very different approach to pulling other people's content than Spore pulling in your buildings into my copy of the game or even of me downloading ghost data for your run through a Mario Kart track.

Demon's Soul pulls snippets of real players' actions in the game. It then randomly replicates snippets of other players' actions, rendering them as the actions of ghosts in the levels that you would be playing through. Players can also manually leave messages for others to discover (all based on a canned phrase-list, so you can't write anything you want). They can also offer to help other players and be invited in for brief co-op action. But the ghost appearances are the most clever touch.

The most interesting application of the ghost mechanic may be how it handles player death. Throughout the darkened caverns of the level I was shown that there were bloodstains on the floor. Some were at the edge of a chasm. Others were in the middle of an area where open combat was waged. The bloodstains represented the deaths of other players. Stepping on the stains and pressing a button activated a ghost rendering of some other player's final moments in the game before getting their character killed. Stepping on it would reveal how they met their fate.

One blood stain on a stair case caused a ghost-character to spawn. It represented that doomed other player. The developer at the controls next to me watched as we observed this ghost-player run up the stairs, turn and jump to their doom. That's what happened to someone else who was playing the game who knows where at some earlier time — it happened to a tester, I assumed.

And I thought death in adventure games was a private thing.

That's my nomination for best new gaming death mechanic of E3. Watching other people's ghostly failures while you march forward to success. What took so long for a breakthrough like this?