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Alternatives to Hit Points.

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I kind of have a thing against the basic Hit Point model in general.  I think its overused.

 

What alternatives do we have?

 

I can only think of:

A) One-hit kill (2% of games)

B) Health (98% of games)

C) Independent limbs having health (Vagrant Story / Deus Ex)

 

You can mix it up a tiny bit by making enemies immune to certain types of damage, or damage from certain directions, but these are just mechanic "decorators" on top of the basic systems.

 

There's probably more mechanics to be invented. Do you have any ideas?

 

 

I figured I'd start a new thread.  Now, this thread title is a bit of a misnomer, in that at it's core, some sort of damage tracking has to occur, and will almost always boil down to some sort of number tracking mechanism.  But, that said, I really hate how hit points are used in almost all computer games, which is a standard integer number and said character merrily goes on about it's way as long as it has at least 1 hit point.  It's a really basic and overused system, and it has all sorts of weird problems, and people try to tack on weird systems on top of it to fix those problems.  (Like Aggro systems, which aren't needed as much in a system where running past and exposing your back to someone with a sword is a bad idea instead of a minor nuisance)

 

Anyway, these are game dependent of course, but semi generic. 

 

Wounds:

Someone hits the player, they can receive a wound of varying severity, depending how successful the attack was.   [Light, Moderate, Serious]  For every light wound, the player gets a small penalty to their actions / defense /etc.  But other than that, they can have an unlimited amount of small wounds.  Moderate wounds cause greater penalties, and the player can only have X of them, Serious wounds are deadly serious, incurring major penalties, and the player can only have one, if another is incurred, they are knocked out / dead.

Now you'll notice, this is basically hit points, but it's bucketed.   You can still whittle someone, but they won't die from taking 1 damage.  They will die because all the whittling will have incurred a bunch of stacking penalties, allowing someone to get a serious blow through.

 

You can also do things like go into more detail (Light Head Wound), Have bucketed healing (resting after the end of battle auto heals all light wounds). 

 

For Vehicular combat, I'd like to see more warthunder like combat systems.  Damage components and internals, armor penetration over hit points.

 

 

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Is the purpose of the thread to discuss existing alternatives to hit points, or to brainstorm new ones?

 

Some strategy games like the Advance Wars series, or Civilization series, use hit points, but not in the same way most games do. Units in these games can have 0 to 10 HP, and this is the percentage strength of the unit. So, a unit with 5 HP is fighting at only 50% of its full strength, barring terrain bonuses, etc.

 

No matter how the game decides to represent health, though, even if it is with some system like limbs/components or wounds, there's still arbitrary numbers (essentially HP) going on behind the scenes, like you said. So are you wondering why games don't depict this in other ways? Or how games don't realistically alter the character's abilities at lower health (Mario jumps just as high at 1 health as he does at full in Super Mario Sunshine)?

 

Do you think you could elaborate on your complaints with the whole idea of hit points a bit more? You say it has problems, is basic and that it's overused, but that's not much to go on (someone could say that about any commonly used aspect of video games - graphics, sounds, etc.). It seems like you're unhappy with the way most games have the player being able to perform the same stuff whether they're perfectly healthy or almost dead, but is that it?

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Bushido Blade has a "points" system that I appreciated greatly. It's a fighting game with weapons. But instead of an energy bar or hit points, you had limbs. If someone hit the right limb it went limp. If someone went for a killshot and succeeded you were dead on the spot.

[spoiler]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFZSzjSkaiE[/spoiler]

Though personally in an action or adventure game the idea of visual cues or capping abilities (ex: as previously mentioned, not jumping at high, if not all when injured) can be good.

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Fallout 3 has a cool hp tracking system. Where you can have crippled limbs which need to be treated separately from your hp pool. The limbs effect how well your aim is and how fast you move and such.

Fight Night has damage that accumulates during the fights on different parts of the body making the player take more damage/stamina depending on where your hitting them and if there is an injury there or not.

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Two types of combat-like systems that would not use HP at all:

 

(1) One surrogate for HP can be positioning.  That is, there is no HP, but relative success and failure in a battle is represented positionally.

 

Picture, for example, a sumo match; it's not that you're whittling away your opponent's "points", you're just trying to get them into a disadvantageous position.  Dinofarm's Auro works this way; if I remember correctly none of the characters has HP, you're just trying to avoid falling off the level into the water.  Various board games work this way (since it would be tedious to keep track of "HP" for each piece).

 

Actually, HP is in some ways a subsystem of positioning in many games.  Most games are using positioning as the medium-term goal anyway -- get to the throne room, find the sword in the forest, get to the top of the mountain, etc. -- and use positioning as the medium-term setback as well (lose your HP, die, respawn at a point further away from your goal).  So, rather than use HP/death/checkpoints to set the player back, it would be possible for enemy attacks to *literally* set the player back.  (For example, you can imagine a Zelda-type game where you're trying to get somewhere, and where neither Link nor the enemies have HP, and no one can remove anyone else from play, but *all* attacks knock units back or otherwise change their position to a less advantageous position.)

 

(2) Another kind of setback is inability to do anything -- being stunned, losing turns, etc.  I can't think of any games of the top of my head that *only* use stunning, but it's entirely possible as a basis for a combat system.  The Grandia combat system, after all, was largely about managing the timeline; often the most valuable thing to do isn't to harm the opponent but to cancel their attack and/or send them very far "back" down the timeline so they've got a long time to wait until their next attack.  Final Fantasy X was likewise largely about manipulating turn order -- not entirely, but it was a big part of the game.

 

So I don't know of any game like this, but you can picture an RPG battle system where there's no HP, and attacks are primarily affecting time- and turn-order-related things.  Getting hurt means losing an opportunity to attack, increasing the time until the next attack, or slowing the frequency with which attacks are made.  Winning the battle means being able to do something uninterrupted, like a long spell, or one that involves your whole party acting before an opponent can.

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With the original idea, how would you make someone die from bleeding?

My understanding is that stacking small wound would increase someone's bleeding, but that the system does not allow for this to be lethal, so only major bleeding could cause death? and not over time? (there doesn't seem to be a system in place for wounds to get worse over time on their own without taking more hits here).

 

HP is hard to get rid of, but it can be hidden (Zelda: ALTTP) or used (your attack power is your attack * (current life / max life))

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With the original idea, how would you make someone die from bleeding?

My understanding is that stacking small wound would increase someone's bleeding, but that the system does not allow for this to be lethal, so only major bleeding could cause death? and not over time? (there doesn't seem to be a system in place for wounds to get worse over time on their own without taking more hits here).

 

HP is hard to get rid of, but it can be hidden (Zelda: ALTTP) or used (your attack power is your attack * (current life / max life))

 

You could have a separate category for a bleeding wound, ie a type of Moderate Wound that would become serious after X turns, it's also easy to have a system where sleeping/resting someplace not clean/safe could aggravate a wound and promote it from Moderate to Serious, and Serious to Dead/KO.  For Light Wounds, I think of them as cuts that will close on their own, bruises, etc, and while I'm sure someone could bleed out from a thousand cuts, for gameplay purposes, simplifying that case away isn't  that big of a loss in my mind.

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You said you don't like hitpoint systems, but not why - other than they are over-used. If that's your only reason, then you'd probably hate the majority of systems in games.

 

If your issue is with the reality of it, then a wound-system might make more sense, but isn't likely to be very fun except in a very narrow context. Even with a wound-system, you're using hit-points in some capacity, but instead of one easy-to-track number, you'll have a bunch. Hit points aren't a perfect system, but players expect them, they're easy to track, no-one's confused by them.

 

The slower your game's pace is, the more detailed of a system you could get away with. Most games are fast-paced so players need a quick and obvious way to determine their status, and hit-points are just about the quickest way you can do that.

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Do you think you could elaborate on your complaints with the whole idea of hit points a bit more? You say it has problems, is basic and that it's overused, but that's not much to go on (someone could say that about any commonly used aspect of video games - graphics, sounds, etc.). It seems like you're unhappy with the way most games have the player being able to perform the same stuff whether they're perfectly healthy or almost dead, but is that it?

 

Sure, fair point.   Some of my issues with hit points is the zero penalty until dead.  That tends to annoy me most with RPGs.  For example a game with casters that have to be protected, it's a fairly standard tactic to just run past the frontline units and just whack the back ones.  They'll have enough HP that they can easily take an attack from another warrior class in exchange for killing the casters.  Granted this can also be construed as a failure in the RPG to have a steep enough penalty for not facing an opponent / moving past an opponent.  But instead, most games have aggro systems and aggro abilities like Taunt as a way to try to protect the caster characters, instead of allowing positioning to actually work.  (JRPGs tend to just cheat and let the back row not get hit)

 

It's also used as artificial gating too often.  Just up the hit points on the bad guys, now it's more difficult.  (or reduce the damage done by the player)  Nothing breaks realism for me like playing a WWII game, and having to put round after round into a bad guy's skull.  And Destiny with it's bosses that are basically giant  slow moving sponges for damage are really lazy design.

 

I also hate the clutter of displaying a health bar and/or hit points on every character, and the change in focus that games with hit points and health bars have.  You end up playing the watch the health bar game and the try to make the damage numbers get bigger game.  Borderlands for example, I'm not really convinced it needs to have the RPG trappings that it does.  It could have procedurally generated guns with different characteristics, and scrap the levels and hitpoint scaling, and it would be just as much fun, perhaps more so, as you'd never out level content accidentally or encounter something over your level, or get stuck not being able to play with a friend because the level spread is too great between the two of you.

 

 

There are definitely places where degradation of character traits is detrimental to gameplay.   Mario is a good example, in that you certainly couldn't reduce the jump amount.   However, they do shrink you and take away your fireball throwing ability if you get hit, which is certainly more interesting than if they just gave a HP bar over mario or gave him little heart icons in the upper left.

 

RE: Sir Weeble:  Plenty of fast games don't have hit points.  Sonic, Mario both don't have traditional hit point systems.

 

And I agree everything is a hit point system.  Even mario's system is hit points, but it doesn't mean we all have to use the same exact implementation of hit points that we see from RPGs.  I want to see more creativity, and more reflection on why someone chooses to use the standard hit point system, and see if maybe they can use something else, or put a different spin on it.  I agree we have to be careful not to make a system that is too complicated to grok easily, but I'm kind of tired of seeing large numbers fly out of everything I shoot in action games.

Edited by ferrous

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You already kinda named it.


C) Independent limbs having health (Vagrant Story / Deus Ex)

But I love the way Dwarf Fortress is doing it. Limbs do not have health but there is a chance armor get pierced and a limb gets damaged in a certain way (bruced, muscle torn, bone broke, severed, etc). It all depends on the type of impact (slashing, piercing, bashing) and the quality of the material.

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Some of my issues with hit points is the zero penalty until dead.

If I recall correctly Jagged Alliance games had such penalties. Your soldiers moved slower and shot worse the more damage they took. However I can see a reason why most of games don't implement such mechanic.

To keep a game challenging you have to tune it for certain player skill. Now if you cripple in-game character on damage taken you have second variable to factor. Now if you tune for full health character, any penalty will rump up difficulty so taking even light wound could mean failed level or battle. On the other side if you tune for example to 75% heath, then full health character will roll through the level.

 

This is in my opinion anti-pattern because it make a game easier for better players and harder for worse players while it should be the other way around.

 

That said I prefer games that instead of exact HP meters (be it numeric, percentage or bar) rather hint on player's status. For example screen blurs slightly and covers with red stains so you know you have to back off and heal or you die soon.

Edited by Deflinek

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You could have a separate category for a bleeding wound, ie a type of Moderate Wound that would become serious after X turns, it's also easy to have a system where sleeping/resting someplace not clean/safe could aggravate a wound and promote it from Moderate to Serious, and Serious to Dead/KO.  For Light Wounds, I think of them as cuts that will close on their own, bruises, etc, and while I'm sure someone could bleed out from a thousand cuts, for gameplay purposes, simplifying that case away isn't  that big of a loss in my mind.

 

The abstraction of the life point has great value: it allows the players to quickly understand how it works. If wounds are a set of exceptions and complex situations, this draws a lot of attention to itself, and requires more "design space" (that won't be available to other features).

If you have a combat system that is very simple and can generate non-random injury outcomes, it could work, but under most circumstances I believe the complexity of such a system would make a game hard to get into.

 

Old turn-based tactics games used a similar system (I believe Wages of War did this) where a bullet would be fired by an enemy and hit a specific part of the body, determining the effect.

- Headshot = lethal

- Arm = decreases aiming capabilities

- Legs = Move slower (or can't move, or need to crouch to move, etc.)

etc.

You could also patch wounds...

 

The pro of this system is that the rest of the combat was relatively simple and allowed for such focus on survivability.

The con is that these outcomes were fairly random (you could not focus a shot on a leg for example, for a better chance to hit than say going for the headshot) which made this a lot less interesting than it could've been.

 

Is this all theoretical talk or do you have an applied project in mind?

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...

To keep a game challenging you have to tune it for certain player skill. Now if you cripple in-game character on damage taken you have second variable to factor. Now if you tune for full health character, any penalty will rump up difficulty so taking even light wound could mean failed level or battle. On the other side if you tune for example to 75% heath, then full health character will roll through the level.

 

This is in my opinion anti-pattern because it make a game easier for better players and harder for worse players while it should be the other way around.

...

 

This is a very important point. From a realism and variety standpoint degraded performance is attractive, but I think the most important consideration has to be what's fun. Accrued advantage is the common criticism of Monopoly and Risk: you play for a small edge in the beginning of the game and then slowly grind out the inevitable win for hours. In general, once victory is more or less assured, you want the game to end as quickly as possible. Injuries can work, but they're difficult to get right.

 

I think Bushido Blade handled injuries well, as Alpha_ProgDes brought up. You could be injured and disadvantaged, but a single hit could kill so you were never out of it. On the other hand, if you have injuries and a slow hp style grinding to death, the player with a lead is going to be very hard to upset.

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Theoretical talk since it came up in another thread about health bars and I didn't want to derail that conversation too much.

 

That said, my latest project is a turn based tank game, with no hitpoints.  I look at where shots land, check the armor thickness at that spot, adjusted by the angle, compare that to the penetration, then if there is additional penetration leftover, I turn that into a distance.  I then let the shot continue penetrating and see what it hits inside the tank, as the basic internals are modeled and given collision.  If a crew member is hit, they can be wounded or KOd, if it's the engine is hit, it can be knocked out, a fire can start, the treads can be hit, rendering the tank immobile, etc.  It's still early in development, in the end all those components may end up with some hitpoints, but I see no reason to display those numbers to the user, and I could keep it as just percentage chance each time a shell hits a location.

 

That said, I understand I can get away without hitpoints more in my game, than say, World of Tanks.  In World of Tanks, you have but one tank, and many times you will get shot by someone you don't see, and it might not be that fun to get one-shotted and the game ends.  War Thunder Ground Forces is very similar to WoT, but doesn't have hitpoints, but lets you respawn.  In my game, since multiple vehicles are being controlled by one player, a single total loss or mobility loss isn't going to be nearly as catastrophic.  (And I also recognize that games that feature people, component damage can get weird and detailed in confusing ways.  Though hitpoints have their own weirdness, they at least are fairly simple)

 

And I had another project where a took the hit points out of a Tower Defense game, the creep path was raised up, and the player had to knock the creeps off the path to kill them -- this goes towards the sumo style positioning.  It had some interesting gameplay elements, as ice could be used to make things slippery for example, instead of the traditional slowing of enemies that TD games tend to use as an ice effect.  You're right in that it took up a lot of design space, pretty much the whole game was recentered around the change away from hitpoints.  

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Wounds:
Someone hits the player, they can receive a wound of varying severity, depending how successful the attack was.   [Light, Moderate, Serious]  For every light wound, the player gets a small penalty to their actions / defense /etc.  But other than that, they can have an unlimited amount of small wounds.  Moderate wounds cause greater penalties, and the player can only have X of them, Serious wounds are deadly serious, incurring major penalties, and the player can only have one, if another is incurred, they are knocked out / dead.
Now you'll notice, this is basically hit points, but it's bucketed.   You can still whittle someone, but they won't die from taking 1 damage.  They will die because all the whittling will have incurred a bunch of stacking penalties, allowing someone to get a serious blow through.


There are plenty of games (at least pen-n-paper) that do this. You've almost perfectly described my homebrew game system, for instance. (I don't allow infinite small wounds and I have a little more variation in the effects of Moderate and Serious/Critical wounds, but otherwise, spot on.)

The approach is also vaguely similar to the Wound system in Warhammer Roleplay, or White Wolf's Storyteller system, or at least half a dozen variant rules for D&D, etc.

The biggest problem with HP in my opinion is that people forget what it's supposed to be, and what it's supposed to be doesn't work for most video games anyway. ALL wounds in an HP system are automatically supposed to be minor, and HP represents less your ability to physically whittle down an enemy and more the enemy's decreasing stamina and ability to successfully dodge/parry your attacks. I like to use the John McClane anology. At the end of Die Hard, McClane was bleeding quite a bit, had pulled glass shards out of his feet, etc. but was still a badass. He had low HP, but wasn't "almost dead." He just had a really hard night. He was still effective, but couldn't have kept that up much longer. That's what HP is _supposed_ to model. Unfortunately, video games are all about showing hard hitting mega attacks (which should one-shot any reasonable creature), and even pen-n-paper games seem to want to describe every critical hit as "you stab the guy in the gut" independent of how worn down the enemy actually is.

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Fallout 3 has a cool hp tracking system. Where you can have crippled limbs which need to be treated separately from your hp pool. The limbs effect how well your aim is and how fast you move and such.

I also think this works very well. When playing, being crippled is rarely more than an inconvenience as you can heal crippled limbs by using a stimpak or doctors bag on them, or properly resting. If you have no stimpaks and are in a protracted battle with no escape it goes from inconvenience to a major problem...

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Some of my issues with hit points is the zero penalty until dead.

 

Fair enough objection, but you can have different penalties depending on your damage level and still have hit points.

 

I considered doing something like you're talking about on a game I'm working on, but in the end opted to use the standard "perfectly fine until you're dead" method. My main reasons for keeping the standard method:

 

#1 - wounded animations would have required doubling my animation assets (2d game so 2x sprite count)

#2 - it's already standard so none would blink an eye at the lack of the feature

#3 - moving slower or jumping less when wounded would change how you traverse the world too much

#4 - being wounded means you're not playing very well already, so reducing your speed/accuracy/etc would just add insult to injury.

 

In the end 2-4 were just rationalizations to support #1. I'm hoping to have 4 character classes and various armors for them all, so in the end the choice was to knock out the classes, armors, or wounded animations/effects. Just a pragmatic solution overall. Classes and armor would add more fun to the game than wounded animations and a penalty system.

 

From a design standpoint, a wound system is a fine thing - if you've got the time/budget to generate the assets, or the style of game that doesn't require much in the way of assets. There's a lot of features that could be in games, but end up being cut due to number of assets required to implement it.

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Yeah, the Resident Evils could get away with no health bar and just a set of wounded animations, and I think maybe only the last 'almost dead' one was actually penalizing movement.  Obviously modelling 4+ sets of  walking animations is not feasible if you have a limited art budget, though I think attempting to do a blend on the character with a red or black color can get rid of looking at a separate lifebar and remove the need to have numbers fly out of the air.  

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You already kinda named it.

 

 


C) Independent limbs having health (Vagrant Story / Deus Ex)

But I love the way Dwarf Fortress is doing it. Limbs do not have health but there is a chance armor get pierced and a limb gets damaged in a certain way (bruced, muscle torn, bone broke, severed, etc). It all depends on the type of impact (slashing, piercing, bashing) and the quality of the material.

I was going to post the same type of idea.  So this gets my vote for a light weight but more complete system.

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sounds like your issue isn't with HP per se, but rather with overly simplistic damage modeling, unrealistic contrived damage systems, and/or lack of full modeling of damage effects.

 

any damage system worth its salt should have hit location, critical hits, system malfunctions due to damage, damage effects on speed, maneuverability, encumbrance, weapons accuracy, etc. etc. IE the whole 9 yards. and it should only give realistic indicators of damage (blood on screen), not hard numbers. needless to say, computer games have a long way to go in this respect.   

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Does not everything have a set of hit points visible or not?

 

That is my take on games like Robocraft or War Thunder where while you do not see a health bar, each component gets a color state and a predetermined amout of hits before it breaks.  This is more obvious with Robocraft when you look at the stats of each block that clearly show you the amount of health they have, but actually playing the game you never see the individual meters drop when they are hit.

 

There is a bit of frustration in watching a target get away with 3 hp or in the case of World of Tanks, getting hit in the treads and only the treads slowing knocking down your entire health pool makes no real sense and can be aggravating.

 

There is no logical sense to a single HP box number that would describe the targets overall condition.  The target should be crippled, bleeding out, passing out, in shock, or just out right dead or dying.  Which means you would have to spend a great deal of time on the damage model of a target, it can't be one big hitbox, and everything down to the fingers maybe needs to be modeled out if you want that level of design.

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Someone suggested having attacks alter the enemy's position. Similar to this might be having attacks alter the opponent's state (or rather, giving the opponent a small set of new states from which to choose), with the goal being to render the opponent open to a single fatal attack. Each defence produces certain vulnerabilities--parrying on one side might leave one open on the other, for example, and repeated parries might incur longer delays in recovering from the parry. Conversely, each attack might flow only into certain other attacks. Combat thus becomes a tactical affair in which each of the two combatants attempts to out-manoeuvre the other, until one makes a mistake and leaves themselves open to an attack available at that moment to their foe, and the other takes the opening.

 

For example, a lunge might prompt the enemy to either parry or dodge. They parry, leaving them open to an attack on the other side. The lunge, however, only flows into a swing on the parried side, or into a repeated lunge, both of which the enemy could defend against from their position. The player swings, which the enemy avoids by twisting aside, once again leaving them open on the other side. But the swing flows into an overhead attack--which could also be defended against--and into an attack on the open side--which couldn't. The player chooses the latter, and the enemy falls.

 


any damage system worth its salt should have hit location, critical hits, system malfunctions due to damage, damage effects on speed, maneuverability, encumbrance, weapons accuracy, etc. etc. IE the whole 9 yards. and it should only give realistic indicators of damage (blood on screen), not hard numbers. needless to say, computer games have a long way to go in this respect.

I'm inclined to disagree: as I believe has been pointed out elsewhere in the thread, while I daresay that such a system would likely work well for some games, for others it might add nothing, or even make the game significantly less enjoyable.

 

Consider the case of a hypothetical top-down action-RPG that involves carving one's way through huge hoards of enemies: with so many enemies, individual foes might fall to only one or two attacks, and the fun might come from choosing one's actions tactically in order to avoid being swamped by sheer numbers. In this game, a complex damage system might never be noticed by the player--after all, if it takes only one or two hits to kill, then the system will hardly ever register any damage below "massively lethal". As a result, the system would be superfluous.

 

As to damage to the player, I feel that damage-based player status effects simply aren't always fun, and aren't fun for all players. I recall that I've tended to find them more frustrating than immersive: while I imagine that there may be exceptions, I find that I'm generally happier with simple health than with my character being crippled--let alone experiencing sudden death due to a lucky headshot by a single enemy. Additionally, (as I believe has been said elsewhere in the thread) debilitation due to damage tends to make the game harder for poorer players and easier for better players, which in many games may be somewhat backwards.

 

I won't say that such realism has no place--not at all. Rather, my argument is against the claim that any damage system should include such features.

Edited by Thaumaturge

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I'm inclined to disagree: as I believe has been pointed out elsewhere in the thread, while I daresay that such a system would likely work well for some games, for others it might add nothing, or even make the game significantly less enjoyable.

 

I'll go even further and say that it's usually a bad choice. Design is mainly a question of whittling away the unnecessary, not adding more and more.

 

In a fighting game, what benefit is there to making me memorize every damage frame, so I can tell at a glance who's ahead to tune my strategy? Why not just give me that information in a bar?

 

In a strategy game, what added fun is there to clicking through 50 tanks to figure out which one is moving slowly, which one has a damaged barrel, which one has an operator who slept poorly last night? I need information to make tactical decisions, uniquely degraded performance makes that information unmanagable in larger groups.

 

In an rpg where I might have 10,000 attacks in the course of a game, all randomly generated anyways, why should I care if this particular sword slice was to his left elbow? Could the aggregate time I spent reading about broken hips have been better spent reading about the history of dragonkind?

 

In most games the player wants to know the score: how close they are to victory or failure. And as designers, we want to give our players a quota of mistakes, neither allowing them to blunder straight to victory or demanding perfection at every turn. We want to control the length of engagements with enemies. Simle hp systems accomplish all that in a prett minimal package. You can add more to that base, but I'd argue you should only do so with a very clear idea of why it's more fun in conjunction with the rest of your system.

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