No One Has To Die does not start with a title screen. There are no credits, or even a mention of the author (Stuart Madafiglio). Instead, this is the first screen the player sees:
Two things can be surmised by looking at this screen. First, there will be decisions to make, and those decisions will have consequences – there are a finite amount of boxes. Second, it appears that the game’s creator does not want you to think this is a game. A title screen would prepare the player for the game that will come up. In fact, the very presence of a title or credits would indicate that the player is playing a game. By immediately going into the first screen, the creator is trying to catch the player off guard.
When the player clicks on the top of the decision tree, s/he is brought to a chat. The player is the “Visitor,” an anonymous individual bringing a delivery to the Fenix Corporation. When a fire suddenly breaks out in the building, the Visitor logs onto the Fenix Corporation, looking for survivors and possible sources of help. The question is, why doesn’t the Visitor leave the building and call the fire department, or the police?
I have a possible answer: It’s detrimental to the storyline. Like a horror movie, calling the cops or another outside source for help would remove the main character from the situation too quickly. However, there’s another possible reason why Madafiglio chose to have the characters interact via a chat instead of on the phone, or face-to-face. Had the Visitor met the other characters face-to-face or on the phone, the corporation workers s/he met would be polite in the presence of a stranger. However, on a company chat application, the coworkers are not at their best. Some of them initially ignore the Visitor’s anonymous presence, bickering amongst themselves or revealing unnerving aspects of their personalities. It’s only until they realize the Visitor is listening in that they try to calm down. It’s also important that the Visitor only sees a picture of each coworker’s face. Like a picture on Facebook, photoshopped and selectively chosen so everyone looks good, the coworkers’ appearances can be misleading. By entering the chat, the Visitor enters an uncomfortable situation. Everyone desperately wants some people to live (and some people to die), appearances are deceptive, and everyone’s true emotions are slowly becoming visible under their archetypical exteriors.
Then the Visitor must make a decision – s/he must decide which of these people, who s/he has just met, will live and who will die. S/he is the only person in the building who has access to the water system in the building. The Visitor can manipulate the people in the building to move to different locations, and turn the water system on and off. Of course, in almost every situation, one person (or two people, or none) will done.
While any other author would use the deaths of the characters as ways to cause emotional pain to the Player, there is another disadvantage to the characters’ deaths. Each of them knows a reason why the fire started. The Fenix Corporation is not a normal corporation, and their scientific experiments (and questionable ethics) has caused the current situation.
Once the Player gets to an ending, s/he will return to the beginning of the game. Ordinarily, this could be seen as an exception to Madafiglio’s attempts to not portray his game as a “game” (since the Player returns to the game’s beginning with all of the characters alive). However, if the Player completes all of the endings, s/he will learn that Madafiglio used this “New Game” mechanic as part of the plot. There is a reason why all of the characters remain alive, but I don’t want to spoil it for new players. Instead, play No One Has to Die, and discover the mystery for yourself.
What do you think of Madafiglio’s subversion of the “New Game” mechanic? Are there any other parts where he subverts/goes along with common game mechanics?