I'm creating a hardcore survival and simulation game on an alien planet. Plants and diseases evolve, adapt and change the environment, and you set up buildings, breed plants and create machines to help survive in a volatile ecosystem. This being a harsh game, I wanted to make death really matter, but at the same time I didn't want permadeath wiping out everything you did.

So the idea is that, when you die, the simulation continues for hundreds of years, but you are asleep. You wake up and are in the ruins of your old world. The ecosystem has changed, your machines and builds have eroded and you have to pick up the scraps. This could be beneficial, say, if the player has messed up the ecosystem, polluted the atmosphere or released radiation to such a degree that they can't deal with it, you could seal supplies in time canisters, commit suicide and "wait it out"

My question is: what would be a convincing way to portray how this death system works? In other words, what planetary rules and systems would allow this to happen?


  • This can happen an unlimited number of times
  • There is no overarching story-line to tie it into, so it must stand up on its own
  • It must relate to the rest of the alien planet (so it must be plausible given the other parts, not just be a random thing that happens)

EDIT: This species will be a crash landed human, although you could have the human being changed and mutated by the planet

By "convincing", I mean it makes sense within the context of the world - lots of death systems you just respawn, breaking the rules, and only a few games (like Undertale) make this an accepted part of the world rather than just something that makes no sense in the game world.

EDIT 2: I'm looking for the more science-oriented side of things - what would be the biology etc. that would allow such a death system to work

EDIT 3 (sorry): This is a plant-focused game, so the amount of gear and machinery you are given should be limited. Ideally the revive is involved in the biology of the planet, rather than something on your ship - you are basically "going it alone"

  • $\begingroup$ Does this need to be applicable to humans as we currently understand the species, a form of human adapted to the environment in question, or an alien lifeform undertaking these activities? $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Feb 20, 2019 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "convincing?" Who do you seek to convince and why do you think they will need convincing? $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Feb 20, 2019 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site nerryoob, please take the tour and read up in our help centre about how we work: How to Ask I have a feeling that your question would be more suited to our sister site here: gaming.stackexchange.com but you should take the tour there first and goto their help centre to figure out how to ask a good question there. Best of luck. $\endgroup$ Feb 20, 2019 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding. As I look at your question, I keep coming up with ideas that would work if you had posted it on Writing.SE. In other words how does this concept work within your story? How do you portray it? Since it's here on Worldbuilding, I am guessing you want a "sciencey" explanation of how someone can die, go into suspended animation, then come back? Or is it more like the first case? $\endgroup$
    – Cyn
    Feb 20, 2019 at 21:56
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ As much as I appreciate the instant recognition of the accepted answer, I should point out that it's good practice on this site to wait 24 hrs to accept an answer because it gives the entire world (rather than a specfic timezone) a chance to put up answers. While I think the answer you accepted is pretty good (but I'm biased), I'm the first to admit there are some folk out there capable of even better answers than I am. Just as happy for you to give them a chance to prove it. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B II
    Feb 20, 2019 at 22:16

4 Answers 4


Fungal Infection. (Yes, seriously)

The way I see it is that your planet has some form of mushroom that works similar to the Ophiocordyceps fungus, also known as the zombie ant fungus. This one (like Ophiocordyceps) needs animals to assist in its reproduction, but not in the same manner.

When a person dies, the fungus, which is ubiquitous, reads the human DNA and finding it to be a mobile and intelligent creature, rebuilds the body from scratch. This takes a long time and it pulls resources like organic matter from the surrounding environment by going into full bloom. and infecting everything around it, growing in a manner everyone else knows to avoid because in this phase, it's highly toxic. This is to protect its new 'host'. It repairs even memory as much as it can (although this may not be perfect, so it might cost your player some random skills, which is a nice touch) and then when the human body is recreated, maybe up to a century later, it wakes it through some form of electrical jolt straight to the heart and the human is restored.

What does the fungus get out of this? mobility. It wasn't always ubiquitous, but now every time this reanimated human touches someone else, or handles equipment, etc. it leaves spores behind, infecting others. The point of this is that evolving this form of reanimation technique means that the fungus now had access to an active dispersal 'vehicle' in the form of the infected human. It could also be why the fungus can restore memories to a greater degree than replication of biology would allow; while active, the fungus also has a presence in the mind - not to influence as that may lead to discovery and eradication; merely to monitor brain activity and store its own map of memories, like a backup of the neural patterns laid down.

Humans are an ideal candidate because they have their own ways of getting around faster than other animals in their vehicles and such, meaning that the fungus is starting to evolve in a manner that prefers human hosts, almost guaranteeing that if you're human and on this planet, then you'll reanimate.

  • $\begingroup$ Could these fungi also recreate other living things, to bring back old plants that went extinct (naturally within the game) or even introduce hostile aliens? $\endgroup$
    – nerryoob
    Feb 20, 2019 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ @nerryoob Possibly, but the fungus has to gain something out of it. In this model, it's going to voraciously attack and break down any biomass around the host to recreate it, so the fungus really has to prioritise what is worth that kind of energy expenditure. Humans make ideal candidates for dispersal, but it's possible that plants or hostile aliens may provide some other benefit as well. The trick is explaining what the fungus gets out of the reanimation of whatever it chooses $\endgroup$
    – Tim B II
    Feb 20, 2019 at 22:19

I need to begin with a frame challenge

You're trying to make a necessary game mechanic "realistic." Have you ever played the original Wasteland, the precursor to Fallout and basically the father of all post-apocalypse games? In that game death had meaning. When you died, the game started over.

And it sucked.

It was probably the one, single aspect of the game mechanics that people really hated. You had to go out of your way to save regularly, keep copies of the save files, etc., just in case you ran into something that gave you the beat-down of your life.

People aren't playing your game to experience reality. They're playing your game to have fun. And what you appear to not understand is that all the "rule breaking" easy-to-start-over aspects of modern games exist because people don't want to be punished for playing the game.

And that's what making death "really matter" does — it punishes people for not doing everything in their power to not have fun playing the game. And most players hate it.

Why is this frame challenge important? Because this question almost doesn't deserve to be asked here. There's a legitimate argument that your question isn't about worldbuilding. It's about game mechanics.

You need to make choices

  1. Do I want to punish my players for not playing the game in exactly the way I think it should be played? (It's INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT that when you say "death really matters" you understand that what you mean is "I expect the game to be played a certain way." If you don't believe that, you're not ready to write this game.)

  2. Do I want to make the game playable forever, or should I stick to the 60-hours of game play that's the average for a thematic story-driven game? Video game companies are increasingly hiring psychologists to help them design games that meet business goals. They want players to pay-to-play... over and over and over. It used to be you'd pay \$50-\$60 for a game and you'd expect about 60 hours of game play before the game ended. Today, people want to play forever. But dying sucks! And that's not how you make money. You make money by getting people back into the game ASAP.

  3. Are you building a business or making a statement? I ran a micro-publisher for 10 years. I learned a lot of lessons. One is that there's a huge difference between authors who understand the business of writing and authors who are simply "developing their art" and don't think the nastiness of business should influence their art. The former tended to become profitable and popular authors. That later rarely became published. You want people to love your game, don't you? And yet you're talking about a game mechanic that sets them back. Have you explained (for yourself, if no one else) how that set-back encourages continued play? You need to really think this through, because people who must start over again and again stop playing very quickly. It is NOT a motivator. It's literally the reason why 99.9% of games make no big deal at all over dying.

Having said all that... let's answer your question.

  1. Your player always starts with a special building: an automated hospital. The building may serve other purposes in terms of game mechanics (like supplying food for X number of resource gatherers, etc.), but it's primary purpose is to be the emergency medical team that gathers your player's body when it collapses into critical unconsciousness and puts it in suspended animation until all the necessary organs and limbs can be cloned to restore the player to health.

  2. Your player is infected with a virus that forces the player into a death-like trance or meditation that fools attackers or waits out the environment while the virus goes to work rebuilding the body.

  3. Your player actually dies. The body is out there rotting in the jungle or staring with a lifeless skull at the burning sun. What walks out of a cave filled with tech is a clone. Using an idea I first read about in Bob Mayer's Area 51 books, your character can wear a medallion or carry an artifact that is constantly transmitting his consciousness back to the complex to be used to fill the clone's brain with current knowledge. If you really want to make your players hate you, only fill the clone with the knowledge the player had gained at the last time the medallion was placed into the tech for download (clone has stats of "last downloaded condition").

  4. At the moment before death, your player's tech activates an emergency teleport back to the hospital. Your player is stored digitally until everything is reconstructed, upon which the teleport is completed (the repaired body is rematerialized).

But, fair warning for future questions...

Frankly, I probably should have voted to close this question because it really isn't about worldbuilding at all. Your statement that "There is no overarching story-line to tie it into..." guarantees there is no worldbuilding going on here — just storybuilding, which is off-topic for this site. In fact, if you look at my proposed answers to your question, you'll see that none of them are about the rules and systems of a world. They're all about circumstances that rationalize game play.

However, making a game can involve a LOT of worldbuilding — the framework of imagination that the story (you didn't write) fits into that justifies all the game mechanics. I'm hoping you'll ask about those things.

So, fair warning to a new user: worldbuilding is about the rules and systems of your world independent of any story that may take place in it and it is not the development of game mechanics.

Please be sure you ask worldbuilding questions.

  • $\begingroup$ Good answer, +1. The question does read a bit like: "Give me an idea", which I believe are rather frowned upon, are they not? $\endgroup$ Feb 20, 2019 at 22:30
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, I worded it quite badly. What I meant was what circumstances would allow the mechanic to take place assuming the world were "real". Hopefully the edit has improved it $\endgroup$
    – nerryoob
    Feb 20, 2019 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ @ArkensteinXII oh, yeah, they're generally frowned upon. It's the off-topic infinite list of things vs. the on-topic finite list of things problem. If the only reason you're here is to overcome writer's block, you're off-topic. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 20, 2019 at 22:33
  • $\begingroup$ The game is not to make money, it is just a project for me and my friend. We want to make it very hardcore, but this death system means not all your progress is lost, so you still have the satisfaction of getting better $\endgroup$
    – nerryoob
    Feb 20, 2019 at 22:35
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    $\begingroup$ your question isn't about worldbuilding. It's about game mechanics. No, your answer has made it about game mechanics. At no point is OP's question asking to evaluate their decision for a "soft permadeath". OP is asking for a thematic explanation ("a convincing way to portray how this death system works"). Secondly, permadeath games still exist. XCOM, Rimworld, a whole slew of roguelike games (FTL, Enter The Gungeon, Rogue Legacy, ...) and pretty much every 4X game all revolve around the "survive or restart" mechanic. I see no reason to consider permadeath a thing of the past. $\endgroup$
    – Flater
    Feb 21, 2019 at 8:40

Digital Backup

Come the singularity, people will be able to move between a physical and digital existence.

Your ship has crashed and is damaged. The crew are stored digitally so don't require food, water or air which makes space travel far easier.

The ship is equipped with bio 3D printers so the crew can regain physical bodies when required. The problem is that during the crash, the reactor that powers everything is damaged so systems are barely functioning. Due to the lack of power beyond the emergency systems, there is only a trickle of power spare to use for printing thus it takes years to build up enough charge in the batteries to print a new body.

The ship's hope is for the selected crew member to build up a base with enough technology to repair the ship so they may return home. The problem is that the life on the planet is hostile and fast evolving to deal with the unstable weather and geological events.

Luckily the ship is buried during the crash and is more than strong enough to resist local conditions and it's own state is stable. With the crew stored digitally and backed up, the ship has time on it's side to complete it's objective.


It's a combination of artificial human adaptation to space travels, lack of typical predators and exceptional planetary conditions that caused such plant-only planet.

Let's start with an interesting fact. There is an animal on Earth (a jellyfish called Turritopsis dohrnii) that is capable of biologically living indefinitely.

In preparations to space exploration human race decided to use this special feature. Using genetic modification they changed some human embryos to be able to follow the same pattern. It wasn't flawless though. The process of reverting and restoring vitals is very slow. It was fine, for those humans were supposed to fly in spaceships for ages in order to reach planets scattered across various parts of the Galaxy. Other modifications made it possible to provide nutrients through skin. It's not enough for a normal activity, but when in the reversal stage such "feeding" is sufficient if only a person is in the right environmental conditions (e.g. high level of pollen that can be digested).

The reversal process works through a coma-like state. As already mentioned, the process is very slow. It takes 100 years to revert the changes that happend in 1 year of normal life(1). The process is automatically triggered, when the state of human becomes life-threatening (low blood pressure, lack of oxygen etc).

These modification were intended for space travels only, but rendered interesting side effects. Humans in "reversal" state could survive on very low nutrients levels, significantly reducing metabolism. At the same time it allowed to reverse quite severe damages to tissues and organs. As a result many problems that used to be life-threatening could be cured through the "reversal" state. The drawback is that a person cannot control it, if the state of the body becomes within conditions to trigger the reversal, the person just immediately falls into the "reversal" coma.

On Earth this had little benefit, as the environmental conditions does not provide enough nutrient resources to actually reverse, just barely to keep going in an indefinite state of coma. Unless a person in the "reversal" state isn't put in the correct conditions in hospital-like premises, they will eventually die out of other external reasons.

But it works great for the space travels. Human are not exposed to risks that exist on Earth. They are also constantly in the right condition. As the body grows older or undergoes life-threatening condition, it automatically goes into the "reversal" coma and allows to go back to the youth. This cycle allows to travel to stars.

Luckily enough (?) your star-traveller crashed on a planet without animal predators. There are very few things that can really kill them and they have learned to avoid them. Moreover the air conditions are very close to those required to regenerate. Still, if they fails in the eco-system adaptation to their needs, at some stage they end up with nutrient resources insufficient for being active, leading to a near-death starvation, triggering the "reversal" coma.


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