A 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. 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).
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 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.
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, 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 the games that were used as references and gives a basic idea of the concept; however, given the many variations that exist literally everything mentioned could be different to a minor or major degree in other games.
Some consider the term "deathmatch" (as it applies to video games) to be coined by game designer John Romero while he and lead programmer John Carmack were developing the LAN multiplayer mode for the computer game Doom. Others point to 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, coming back to life each time they die) predates both titles by over a decade. Romero commented on the birth of the FPS deathmatch:
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, a text-mode game that was later credited with being the inspiration behind Novell NetWars, although multiplayer games spread across multiple screens predate that title by at least 9 years in the form of Spasim and Maze War.
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 amount 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.
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:
Notable power-ups that are featured in most consecutive games are i.a. the soul sphere. 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.
Quake was the first FPS deathmatch game to feature in-game joining.
Quake was the first FPS deatmatch 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 was the first FPS deathmatch game to feature vertical rocket jumping.
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.
The Last Man Standing (LMS) version of deathmatch is fundamentally different from deathmatch. In deathmatch, it doesn't matter how many times you die, only how many times you kill. 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.