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Deathmatch (also called DM or Free for All) is a widely-used gameplay mode integrated into many shooter and real-time strategy (RTS) computer games. The goal of a deathmatch game is to kill (or "frag", from the military term) as many other players as possible until a certain condition or limit is reached, commonly being a frag limit or time limit. Once one of these conditions is met, the match is over, and the winner is whoever has accumulated the most frags.



In a typical First Person Shooter (FPS) deathmatch session a group of people use individual computers and connect together through a computer network in a client-server architecture, each individual computer generates the first person view that the computer character sees in the virtual world, hence the player sees through the eyes of the computer character. To control the character, the player commonly (on the PC) uses a combination of the keyboard and mouse—in which the mouse provides a near-stepless smooth manner to orient the head and eyes of the character on the X- and Y-axis of the mouse, with the mouse buttons often used for weapon trigger control, whereas the keys on the keyboard operate the feet of the character for mobility as well as further control of the weapon system. The players can also type instant chat messages within the game to other players. Every computer in the game renders the virtual world and the characters in realtime sufficiently fast enough that the number of frames per second makes the visual simulation seem like standard full motion video or better. Within this virtual world various types of games may be played (Capture the flag, Domination, Assault, to mention a few), one of them is deathmatch, which itself has many modes and variations.

The typical FPS-deathmatch session, where every player fights every other player, starts with each player being spawned (starting) at random locations—picked from a fixed predefined set. Being spawned entails having the score, health, armor and equipment reset to default values which usually is 0 score, full (100%) health, no armor and a basic firearm and a mêlée weapon. After a session has commenced, arbitrary players may join and leave the game on an ad hoc basis.

In this context a player is a term that can mean a human operated character in the game or a character operated by a computer software AI -- a bot (see Reaper bot for example). Both the human and computer operated character do have the same basic visual appearance but will in most modern games be able to select a skin which is an arbitrary graphics model but that operates on the same set of movements as the base model. A human player's character and computer bot's character features the same set of physical properties, initial health, initial armour, weapon capabilities, the same available character maneuvers and speed—i.e. they are equally matched except for the actual controlling part. For a novice player the difference (i.e. experience, not taking into account the actual skill) between a human opponent and a computer controlled opponent may be near nil, however for a skilled player the lack of human intelligence is usually easily noticed in most bot implementations; regardless of the actual skill of the bot—which lack of intelligence can be at least somewhat compensated for in terms of e.g. extreme (superhuman) accuracy and aim. However, some systems deliberately inform the player when inspecting the score list which player(s) are bots and which are human (e.g. OpenArena). In the event that the player is aware of the nature of the opponent it will affect the cognitive process of the player regardless of the player's skill.[1]

All normal maps will contain various power-ups; i.a. extra health, armor, ammunition and other (more powerful than default) weapons. Once collected by a player the power-up will respawn after a defined time at the same location, the time for an item to respawn depends upon the game mode and the type of the item. In some deathmatch modes power-ups will not respawn at all. Certain power-ups are especially powerful, which can often lead to the game rotating around controlling power-ups -- i.e. assuming ceteris paribus, the player who controls the [most powerful] power-ups (namely collect the item most often) is the one that will have the best potential for making the best score.

The goal for each player is killing the other players by any means possible which counts as a frag, either by direct assault or manipulating the map, the latter counts as a frag in some games, some not; in either case—to attain the highest score—this process should be repeated as many times as possible, with each iteration performed as quickly as possible. The session may have a time limit, a frag limit, or no limit at all. If there is a limit then the player with the most frags will eventually win when the session ends. See frag for more information about the usual score system.

The health variable will determine if a player is wounded; however, a wounded player does not entail reduced mobility or functionality in most games, and in most games a player will not bleed to death. A player will die when the health value reaches equal to or less than 0, if the value is reduced to a very low negative value, the result may be gibbing depending upon the game. In most games, when a player dies (i.e. is fragged), the player will lose all equipment gained and the screen will continue to display the visible (still animated) scene that the player normally sees, and the score list is usually displayed—the frags. The display does not go black when the player dies. Usually the player can choose to instantly respawn or remain dead.

The armor variable affects the health variable by reducing the damage taken, the reduction in health is in concept inversely proportional to the value of the armor times the actual damage caused; with the obvious differences in various implementations. Some games may account for the location of the body injured when the damage is deduced, while many—especially older implementations—do not. In most games, no amount of armor causes any reduced mobility—i.e. is never experienced as a weight issue by the player.

Newtonian physics are often only somewhat accurately simulated, common in many games is the ability of the player to modify the player's own vector to some degree while airborne, e.g. by retarding a forward airborne flight by moving backwards, or even jumping around a corner. Other notable concepts derived from the physics of FPS game engines are i.a. at least bunny-hopping, strafe-jumping and rocket-jumping -- in all of which the player exploits the particular characteristics of the physics engine in question to obtain a high speed and/or height, or other attribute(s); e.g. with rocket-jumping the player will jump and fire at rocket at the floor area immediately under the feet of the same player, which will cause the player to jump higher compared to a regular jump as a result of the rocket blast (at the obvious expense of the health variable being somewhat reduced from self-inflicted injury). The types of techniques available and how the techniques may be performed by the player differs from the physics implementation as is as such also game dependent.

The lost equipment (usually not including the armor) of a dead player can usually be picked up by any player (even the fragged player, respawned) who gets to it first.

Modern implementations allow for new players to join after the game has started, the maximum number of players that can join is arbitrary for each game, map and rules and can be selected by the server. Some maps are suitable for small numbers of players, some are suitable for larger numbers.

If the session does have a frag or time limit a new session will start briefly after the current session has been concluded, during the respite the players will be allowed to observe the score list, chat and will usually see an animated pseudo overview display of the map as background for the score list. Some games have a system to allow each player to announce they are now ready to being the new session, some do not. The new sessions might be on a different map—based on a map list kept on the server—or it might always be on the same map if there is no such rotating map list.

Common in many games is some form of message broadcast and private message system; the broadcast message system announces public events, e.g. if a player died it will often be informed who died and how, if fragged, then often by what weapon; the same system will also often announce if a player joins or leaves the game, and may announce how many frags are left in total and other important messages, including errors or warnings from the game; instant text messages from other players are also displayed with this system. The private message system, in contrast, only prints messages for individual players, e.g. if player A picks up a weapon, player A will get a message to confirm that the weapon was picked up.

Most modern deathmatch games features a high level of graphic violence; a normal modern implementation will contain high quality human characters being killed, e.g. moderate amounts of blood, screams of pain and death, exploding bodies with associated gibs are common. Some games feature a way to disable and/or reduce the level of gore. However, the setting of the game is usually that of a fictional world, the player may resurrect in the form of mentioned respawning and the characters will usually have superhuman abilities, e.g. able to tolerate numerous point blank hits from a machine gun directly to the head without any armour, jumping extreme inhuman distances and falling extreme distances to mention a few things. These factors together may make the player experience the game less real as the game contains highly unreal and unrealistic elements.

The description depicts a typical deathmatch based on major titles such as Quake, Doom, Unreal Tournament and others, the purpose served is to give a basic idea of the concept; however, given the many variations that exist and the manner that options and rules may be manipulated literally everything mentioned could be different to a minor or major degree in other games.


The origin of the term deathmatch in the context of video games is disputed, especially as it is not well defined; for pointers, the term might have been coined by game designer John Romero while he and lead programmer John Carmack were developing the LAN multiplayer mode for the computer game Doom, another source to investigate is the fighting game World Heroes 2, also developed and released in the early 1990s as an early use of the term. However, the latter's usage was different as it referred to the players' environment (arenas which housed dangerous hazards) rather than to the game itself. Both of these claims are controversial as the term's common definition as used by gamers (to describe a video game match in which players kill each other over and over, respawning after each time they die) predates both titles by over a decade. Romero commented on the birth of the FPS deathmatch:

"Sure, it was fun to shoot monsters, but ultimately these were soulless creatures controlled by a computer. Now gamers could play against spontaneous human beings—opponents who could think and strategize and scream. We can kill each other!' If we can get this done, this is going to be the fucking coolest game that the planet Earth has ever fucking seen in its entire history!'"[2]

Games that had such gameplay features beforehand did not use the term, but later it gained mainstream popularity with the Quake and Unreal Tournament series of games.

Some games give a different name to these types of matches, while still using the same underlying concept. For example, deathmatch in the Halo series of games is named "Slayer", and in Perfect Dark the name "Combat Simulator" is used.


It has been suggested that in 1983, Drew Major and Kyle Powell probably played the world's first deathmatch with Snipes[citation needed], a text-mode game that was later credited with being the inspiration behind Novell NetWare, although multiplayer games spread across multiple screens predate that title by at least 9 years in the form of Spasim and Maze War.

Early evidence of the term's application to graphical video games exists. On August 6, 1982, Intellivision game developers Russ Haft and Steve Montero challenged each other to a game of Bi-Planes, a 1981 Intellivision release in which multiple players control fighter planes with the primary purpose of repeatedly killing each other until a limit is reached. Once killed, a player would be respawned in a fixed location, enjoying a short period of protection from attacks. The contest was referred to, at that time, as a deathmatch.[3]

Other forms of deathmatch

In a team deathmatch, the players are organised into two or more teams, with each team having its own frag count. Friendly fire may or may not cause damage, depending on the game and the rules used — if it does, players that kill a teammate (called a team kill) usually decrease their own score and the team's score by one point; in certain games, they may also themselves be killed as punishment, and/or may be removed from the game for repeat offenses. The team with the highest frag-count at the end wins.

In a last man standing deathmatch, players start with a certain number of lives, and lose these as they die. The player who remains in the game when all other players lost all their lives is declared a winner. See section "Fundamental changes" for more insight.

Any arbitrary multiplayer game with the goal for each player to kill every other player(s) as many times as possible can be considered to be a form of deathmatch. In real time strategy games, deathmatch can refer to a game mode where all players begin their empires with large amounts of resources. This saves them the time of accumulation and lets hostilities commence much faster and with greater force.

History, fundamental changes



The first-person shooter version of deathmatch, originating in Doom by id Software, had a set of unmodifiable rules concerning weapons, equipment and scoring, known as "Deathmatch 1.0".

  • Items do not respawn, e.g. health, armour, ammunition; however weapons had a fixed status as available to any arbitrary player except the player who acquired the weapon — i.e. the weapon did not in fact disappear as items do when picked up. The player who acquire the weapon can only collect it anew after respawning (this sometimes lead to lack of ammunition if a player survived long enough, eventually leading to his death due to being unable to fight back)
  • Suicide (such as falling into lava or causing an explosions too close to the player, or getting crushed by a crushing ceiling etc.) did not entail negative score points.

Within months, these rules were modified into "Deathmatch 2.0" rules (included in Doom v1.2 patch). These rules were optional, the administrator of the game could decide on using DM 1.0 or DM 2.0 rules.

The changes were:

  • Picking up an object removes it from the map.
  • Objects re-appear 30 seconds after being picked up and can be picked up by anyone; bonus objects which provide significant advantages (invisibility power-up etc.) re-appear after much longer delay, some of them may not reappear at all.
  • Suicide counts as −1 frag.

Notable power-ups that are featured in most consecutive games are i.e. the soul spheres. Although the name and/or graphics may be different in other games the concept and feature of the power-up remains the same in other games.

Rise of the Triad

Rise of the Triad was first released as shareware in 1994 by Apogee Software Ltd. and honed an expansive multiplayer mode that pioneered a variety of deathmatch features.

  • It was the first game to feature deathmatch with more than four people (Doom's player limit) simultaneously playing.
  • It introduced the Capture the Flag mode to the first-person-shooter genre as Capture the Triad.
  • It was the first FPS to carry a wealth of maps specifically designed for deathmatch, offering 30 maps in its 1995 commercial release.
  • It was the first FPS to have an in-game scoreboard.
  • It was the first FPS to deliver its level of multiplayer customization through a plethora of options affecting aspects of the level played like gravity or weapon persistence.
  • It was the first FPS to have voice macros and the ability to talk to players via microphone.
  • It introduced a unique point system that awards different amounts of points for different kills (for instance, a missile kill is worth a point more than a bullet kill).


  • Quake was the first FPS deathmatch game to feature in-game joining.
  • Quake was the first FPS deathmatch game to feature AI operated deathmatch players (bots), although not as a feature of the released product, but rather in the form of a community created content.
  • Quake popularized rocket-jumping, even though it was already possible in Rise of the Triad.

Notable power-ups that are featured in most consecutive games are i.a. the quad damage. Although the name and/or graphics may be different in other games the concept and feature of the power-up remains the same in other games.


With the game Unreal (1998, by Epic), the rules were enhanced with some widely accepted improvements:

  • spawn protection (usually 2–4 seconds), which is a period of invulnerability after a player (re)enters combat (such as after being killed and respawning); spawn protection was automatically terminated when the player used a weapon (including non-attack usage, such as zooming the sniper rifle). Spawn protection prevents "easy frags" — killing a player which just spawned and is slightly disoriented and almost unarmed.
  • "suicide-cause tracking" – if a player dies by "suicide" that was caused by some other player's action, such as knocking him off the cliff or triggering a crusher or gas chamber, the player that caused such death is credited the kill and the killed player does not lose a frag (it's not counted as a suicide). This concept increases the entertainment potential of the game (as it gives players options to be "cunning"), but it at the same time adds complexity, which may be the reason why Epic's main competitor, Id software, did not implement this concept into Quake III Arena (just as they did not implement spawn protection).

Unreal Tournament

  • "combat achievements tracking" – Unreal Tournament (2000, by Epic) added statistics tracking. The range of statistics being tracked is very wide, such as:
    • precision of fire with each weapon (percentage of hits to fired ammunition)
    • kills with each weapon, being killed by particular weapon, and being killed when holding particular weapon.
    • headshots (lethal hits of enemy heads with sniper rifles and some other powerful weapons)
    • killing sprees: Killing 5, 10, 15, 20 ... enemies without dying is called a killing spree, each greater kill count being considered more valuable and having a unique title. The game tracked how many times has the player achieved each of these titles.
  • consecutive kills: when a player kills an opponent within 5 seconds after a previous kill, a consecutive kill occurs. The timer starts ticking anew, allowing a third kill, a fourth kill etc. Alternatively, killing several enemies with a mega weapon (such as the Redeemer, which resembles a nuclear rocket) also counts as consecutive kill. The titles of these kills are: Double Kill (2), Multi kill (3), Ultra kill (4), Megakill (5), MONSTERKILL (6; 5 in the original Unreal Tournament). For comparison, id Software's "Quake III Arena" tracks double kills, but a third kill soon after results in another double kill award.

Quake III Arena

This game's approach to combat achievements tracking is different from Unreal Tournament. In deathmatch, the player might be rewarded with awards for the following tricks:

  • "perfect!" – winning a round of deathmatch without getting killed
  • "impressive!" – hitting with two consecutive shots or hitting two enemies with one shot from the railgun (a powerful, long-range hitscan weapon with a slow rate of fire)
  • "humiliation!" – killing an opponent with the melee razor-like gauntlet (the killed player hears the announcement too, but the fact of being humiliated is not tracked for him).
  • "accuracy" – having over 50% of hits-to-shots ratio.

Last Man Standing

The Last Man Standing (LMS) version of deathmatch is fundamentally different from deathmatch. In deathmatch, it doesn't matter how many times the player dies, only how many times the player kills. In LMS, it is the exact opposite — the important task is "not to die". Because of this, two activities that are not specifically addressed in deathmatch have to be controlled in LMS.

  • "Camping", which is a widely recognized expression for staying in one location (usually somewhat protected or with only one access route) and eventually using long range weapons, such as a sniper rifle, from that location. In standard deathmatch, camping is not that much of an issue, as in most maps, fierce close range combat generates frags faster than sniping from afar. In LMS, however, camping increases the average lifespan. Unreal Tournament 2003 addresses this unfairness by indicating players who are camping and providing other players with navigation to campers.
  • "Staying dead" – after dying, player representations lie on the ground (where applicable) and are shown the results of the game in progress. They have to perform some action, usually click the "Fire" key or button, to respawn and reenter combat. This principle prevents players who might have been forced by real world situations (be it a sudden cough or a door ring) to leave the computer from dying over and over. In standard deathmatch, a player who stays dead is not a problem, as the goal is to score the most frags, not die the least times. In LMS, however, a player that would be allowed to stay dead after being killed for the first time might wait through most of the fight and respawn when there's only one opponent remaining. Because of this, Unreal Tournament 2003 automatically respawns a player immediately after being killed.

See also


  1. ^ [1] from ArsTechnica
  2. ^ Kushner, David (2004), Masters of Doom, New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, pp. 149, ISBN 978-0812972153, 
  3. ^ Haft vs Montero 1982 Bi-Planes on YouTube


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