CCP's massively multiplayer spacefaring game continues to thrive in 2011. Though it boasts many innovations that have set it apart and helped create an identity which, in turn, ensured the developer's hold on its player base, of particular interest to this feature is CCP's approach to handling player death within the EVE universe.
Players have access to two types of clones beyond their "current clone", or the body they presently inhabit. Everyone has a Medical Clone, which is where he or she is taken after the avatar's death. This Medical Clone can be upgraded to ensure that it has enough memory to store the acquired skill points. Additionally, a body can have a number of implants which are lost when it is destroyed.
The second type of clone -- the Jump Clone -- can serve as a teleportation enabler and it also allows players to enter dangerous situations without the risk of losing an upgraded clone's implants.
A different take on this mechanic would allow players to redistribute their skill points when they create a new clone or pre-emptively add physical upgrades (such as implants) to the replacements. Also, by giving them the option of choosing the body in which to respawn one would add an extra layer of tactical reasoning -- the choice of location, the choice of skill set, and the choice of physical upgrades.
Depending on game type, a shuttle drop or teleportation option could prove beneficial in avoiding the overhead of getting back to where a player met his or her end.
Id Software's latest creation made streamlining player experience into a design goal and philosophy statement. Menu navigation and HUD elements are reduced to a minimum and player character death is avoided through the use of a minigame.
When the character's health drops to the bottom, the player is faced with a minigame screen for using a "defibrillator". Depending on reaction speed and timing, the character returns to the fight with more or less health, but is, regardless, saved from demise.
This minigame approach is effective because it always works (the only difference is how well it works), and it effectively removes the need for a respawn or another death-saving mechanic.
As an alternative or complementary solution, the introduction of the luck factor on top of player skill could help close the gap between players of different abilities. While not essential in single player, this is still important to ensure that the gaming experience doesn't differ too much.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, it provides an overview of practical solutions to a ubiquitous problem. The fact that our playthroughs are split over several sessions is bad enough -- no one wants to play through a string a déjà vu moments and confirmation boxes. Developers have clearly taken an interest in this, with more and more titles trying to streamline player experience and reduce overhead.
I also feel that the old save / load system has to either be removed (as was the case with Diablo II, for example) or revamped. The idea is that a system that deals with player failure within the game's boundaries will always be superior to one that does so outside those boundaries.