I agree that ratcheting up the tension towards the end is great, but I think there are ways to do that that don't involve brutal timing puzzles. The *threat* of death ratchets up tension - actual death relieves it, because the game is over. At least for me. Maybe that's because I tend to die a lot in those situations?
I agree, but for me this is partly a result of the awkward UI experience that these puzzles engender. Either I have to remind myself to save when the action picks up, or I have to use UNDO a bunch of times. The first essentially kills the tension and the second destroys immersion by making me guess exactly where I am in the unfolding sequence of events.
TADS has a nice autosave extension that automatically creates a saved checkpoint to roll back to, and extends the usual RESTORE / RESTART / UNDO / QUIT prompt with a RETRY option. It's used to pretty good effect in All Hope Abandon
. As a player, it feels about the same as the checkpoint system in open-world games, where some missions require you to succeed to advance the plot. I'm thinking specifically of Assassin's Creed 2
and Red Dead Redemption
. RDR had an additional refinement where you could skip a mission altogether after failing it more than three times, advancing to a "success" outcome without penalty.
I'm writing an adventure that is heavily reliant on tension and suspense, and I'd like to have dehydration/oxygen level pressure without actually killing the player immediately. I'm well on my way to implementing it, but I always try to learn from others' mistakes, and I'm having trouble finding similar constructions.The Duel That Spanned the Ages
has a few timed sequences that are well-handled. One puzzle during the midgame has you open an airlock while low on air. You do eventually die but there's a generous amount of time to explore the area in the meantime. As an example of what not to do, I would cite Nevermore
and the need to periodically refresh your alertness.
may be worth a look; the major puzzle is oxygen-related and the tension arises from danger to others rather than danger to the player. This is an avenue that strikes me as very promising to explore; placing NPCs in jeopardy lets the player formulate a goal ("stop X from dying") rather than reacting to a mandatory, author-imposed one ("avoid dying for the Nth time").
I would encourage you not to rely on atmospheric messages alone. One of the first things I do now when confronted with such messages is to type >Z for a few dozen turns, just to see if I will eventually die and to establish a sense of the turn limit involved. Especially do not make them progressively more urgent if there is no real urgency in game terms. (Divis Mortis
was a slight offender in this regard.)