GDC 2011: Dealing with death in El Shaddai and Swarm

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The publisher Ignition showed off two console titles — El Shaddai and Swarm — at this year's GDC, and while their play styles don't have much in common, both games deal with death in innovative ways.

First up is El Shaddai, a strikingly beautiful and incredibly obtuse platformer/brawler/meditation on ancient Jewish tome The Book of Enoch (Rus McLaughlin will help clarify what the heck that means in an upcoming preview). The inspiration for El Shaddai's death mechanic is thankfully much easier to parse (though equally surprising): Punch-Out!!


That's right: Whenever Enoch goes down in battle, you mash buttons to get him to pop back up and shrug off death with a blase "No problem. Everything's fine." Of course, like Punch-Out!!, it gets harder and harder to revive Enoch the more times he's knocked out. By the fifth or sixth time, it's nigh impossible, and you have to restart from the previous checkpoint.


Next, developer Hothead Games showed off Swarm, its upcoming XBLA/PSN platformer in which you control up to 50 tiny swarmites and engage in a little black comedy. Like the lemmings in Lemmings (an obvious influence), swarmites are born to die. As you navigate levels, it's impossible not to kill off heaps of the little guys. You kill them to destroy devices that impede your progress; you kill them to keep up your multiplayer and earn enough points to unlock the next level; you kill them to earn in-game medals and Achievements. Heck, even if, shocked by the tremendous carnage you've perpetrated, you decide to leave the controller alone, the brainless swarmites will find ways to kill themselves by accident.

With most games now rendering death meaningless through ample checkpoints and regenerating health, it's heartening to see both El Shaddai and Swarm offer refreshing interpretations of a mechanic that's been around since the birth of the industry.

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