Why do players save-scum? It is an ignoble action, and certainly not one promoted by any respectable modding community. Yet, it persists in gaming society, in our gaming society. Without inquiring into its root causes, we cannot expect ourselves to formulate effective methods to remove it from our DOS platform-game fraternity
From A Treatise on Outcome Manipulation via Exploitation of Game Features
by A. N. Lemm (2013 p.4)
I mean DUDE, that was some academic stuff!
Nothing about 'good mod design' as you list it: bright colors, large levels, and tilework, suggests to me wanting to replay a level from the start after dying at some point within it, merely having enjoyed playing an instance of what's there so far and wanting to see the rest. You mention replayability, but there are two kinds of this: wanting to replay it in the future vs wanting to replay it immediately. For extra lives to function as extra lives, and indeed for player death to function 'correctly', players must have some desire to replay immediatly, rather than load the game.
I would argue they are if not the same, then linked. If a mod is arduous, encouraging a 'save and scum' mentality then the player is unlikely to want to play it even after some time. Why play something again that was a chore to do the first time?
On the other hand if a mod captures the player's attention, gets them absorbed into its atmosphere and story then they are going to enjoy the act of playing itself; the repetition will take long to become a chore since simply playing through the level it itself a reward. This is also likely to make the player want to play the game again.
In summary the more interesting the basic gameplay is the more likely a player is going to want to experience more of it either by repeating a level from start or replaying the entire game.
I believe I've said as much; situations where a jump ends up being badly timed 9 out of 10 times, or in which an enemy is passable 1 out of 10, should not happen.
On the other hand this raises questions of what a 'difficult' challenge should be. Traditionally a big reward is paired with great difficulty\a large penalty for failure.
This seems an inherent misunderstanding of what an interactive element is; something more than what is simply 'seen', hence interactive.
No I get it; things like the Keen clones I'd still treat as 'neat stuff being seen'; it's not just an interactive element that's important but how it is used; I have played the basic level with the exploding Keen clone cyborgs, but there's a passageway up left I didn't need to explore. If I have come across interesting uses of the clones I will be tempted to explore to see if anything more interesting can be done there. But if they have been used in a dull and straightforward manner then why bother? It is not just how interactive an element is but also how interesting, intuitive and neat it is to use.
Who here hasn't tired of the escort mission where your partner is very interactive but so dammably stupid? Is not a good point and shoot level more fun than one of those treks?
You're right that saving isn't the issue, but loading is. Unless extra lives function as something other than extra lives, loading renders them, and death, useless.
A problem being that *some* players will avoid save scumming so we can't just abandon lives. (I have had endless complaints based on doing this.)
And if our extra lives function as something other than extra lives, we must question the purpose of death at all in the face of loading.
The problem there arises in that some players will not know to take advantage of loading. It is hard to find a good game that does not have some sort of 'death' mechanic somewhere.
Possibly the route would be that of Chip's Challenge or Jill of the Jungle where lives are pretty much infinite. However these games are also quite linear.
Minimizing death and creating lesser setbacks is effective but players must be willing to accept the setbacks rather then just circumvent them via loading.
This is in effect just lowering the bar, it doesn't change the nature of the problem.
bonuses should be worthwhile; the secret level is a great example, but not every mod can do this, the same goes for an alternate ending. Does every mod wishing to overcome this need to turn it into a unique gimmick?
WIE offers a bonus level for explorers in every level (In normal difficulty or above.)
On the ideas of gimmicks, that's taking a rather linger view of game development than I think is warranted. Every mod is already filled with 'gimmicks'; each galaxy mod has keygems of 4 colors and 100 collectables these are worked into the story time and again with little alteration, especially the gems. (I have had chance to see mods that tweak the gem dynamic and it is glorious.)
If a mod has a 'gimmick' then it has already failed. What a mod must do is take a mechanic and make it its own, use it in a way that is new and interesting. After all, what is a mod but the same old thing made to do new tricks?
However, this also penalizes not playing in one sitting, albeit in a friendlier way than life detraction.
Make the map level an exception. Easy enough.
It was just a carryover from the arcade machines, which is why the early ID games had the mechanic, but it was removed for Doom and beyond. I think that John Carmack mentioned this in the Wolf3d playthrough he did a few years ago on Youtube.
He did mention that the Game Over sequence in Keen 5 was an attempt to make the player actually G.O. instead of loading to save lives. In a similar vein Crash Bandicoot had its multiple deaths. (And in Keen 10 there are 4 different ways to die.)
1. Game Over
2. Death/Level restart
3. Repeat an obstacle
4. Loss of ammo
5. Loss of points
Game Over is really a holdover from the second generation of games, the 'Nintendo hard' generation where saving was rare death was common and you could expect to regularly encounter losing all your lives.
In the more modern era it is seldom something to be concerned about since checkpoints and saving have made it a rare occurrence, often one it is harder to access than avoid. It has taken an air of boogeyman about it a distant fear something you avoid without really thinking about it but which has no practical consequences.
Death however CANNOT be so easily brushed aside. It is deeply ingrained in the fabric of gaming culture. Be it a K.O., fainting or actual obliteration the 'death' is THE threat in gaming. Repeating a section, loss of items, these are setbacks true, but they lack the sting of death of 'losing'
Neglecting the G.O mechanic death should just be a send back to the level start, a bigger version of the 'repeat obstacle' punishment, but it often feels like so much more. The reason I think is because we play a game and we take on its story. If a story does not have high stakes, a real chance at failure, then it is of little interest to us. It matters not what guise it has there must be a death of some sort somewhere.
Paradoxically loading does not rob death of its effect rather loading IS an effect of death. Look at what happens when God mode is enabled, saving stops. Why save if you're never going to need to? It is not that with loading their is no death, rather there is no loading without death.
Indeed I wonder... how many save scum when activating the cheats is more simple? Do we even know? Is scumming the problem we think it is or is it the cheats?
But it seems something more subtle than simple health or the opportunity to god mode and brute force situations would be preferable. Something the player can't just activate as they approach and use to pass through an obstacle, and something that isn't "OSHIT K KEY!", although the later is probably preferable.
Ah but that's the thing; there's not enough lives about for it to be used like that for long. The player can squander lives to pass through a level, but what will they do for the next level when their counter is at 0? A player must ask themselves 'Do I use this here and save 5 minutes or should I accept the penalty and keep this ability for when I might need to use it more?'
In my experience gamers are a conservative lot, often keeping valuable items 'for later' and never in fact getting around to using them.
you need the usual saving system cause of situations where you played for a bit but, i dunno, have to go to bed or do something else, to continue on later on.
Checkpoints have been mentioned and in fact I worked briefly on a system that allows Keen to do everything usual, but be sent back to his last checkpoint when he dies. (Think jazz Jackrabbit 1)
Reframing the situation in terms of loading being the problem with death being vital to that (Removing death will remove loading, otherwise you've just reinvented death by another name.) then I think what is required is simply a small but persistent penalty when loading your game. The player then CAN save scum but at a constant cost to themselves, one that builds up the more they abuse the mechanic (But is mild enough not to inconvenience those who split their game up even into level-by-level plays for brevity.)