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Why Regenerating Health Sucks

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 15 Mar 2011 16:00
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If you're so concerned about keeping your combat arenas nice and tidy that you can't stomach the thought of cluttering them up with health potions and first aid kits, game developers, then let's consider the alternatives.

Health by station - the Half-Life / Chronicles of Riddick approach, health stations are fixed objects that bestow health as many times as you like until it runs out, avoiding the frustration that comes from picking up a 50-health pack while at 99%. Players will have to make crucial strategic decisions, that is, whether it's wise to continue into the fray after a hard battle or backtrack to the health station two rooms ago just for the extra insurance, perhaps kicking the bodies of their previous victims on the way.

Health by murder - the practice of gaining health from defeated enemies, either by picking up restoratives that they drop (much more common in previous eras of gaming) or using some kind of special move to siphon health from them, a la Splatterhouse. This motivates the player to some kind of action if they want to survive, but I suppose there's a fairly vast logical flaw in encouraging players to seek regeneration from the very source that caused them injury in the first place.

Health by environment - gaining health from things that are pretty much just lying around everywhere, which does make healing easy but at least requires some action on your part. Both Infamous and Prototype used this - the former let you suck up healing electricity from anything that was connected to the mains, and in the latter you just ate civilians, which there never seemed to be any shortage of. You'd think they'd learn to stay indoors, or at least endeavour to not taste so nice.

Health by sort yourself out for god's sake - one health system I've always rather admired is Sonic the Hedgehog's ring business, in which the amount of health you actually lose from a single attack is dependent entirely on how much of your wits you have about you. Or how close you happened to be standing to bottomless pits. It's so elegant in its simplicity, it makes me wonder why I don't see it used more often. It doesn't translate well to 3D gameplay, but then that's Sonic in a nutshell, isn't it.

Health by walking it off - alright, if you really desperately don't want to have to add any more art assets or serious programming, how about this: you only gain health when you're moving, or jumping, or doing a little dance. Yes, you could exploit this just by running around in circles in cover, but at least that's something. At least that's not just sitting on your fat arse getting high off cordite fumes.

I guess my position is that, when you give health for free, you're taking something away from us. Ironically. It's like living in a nanny state. When our responsibility for our own wellbeing is taken away, we lose interest, we lose self-confidence and we lose part of the sense of who we really are. And that's also why Australia should introduce the fucking R18 certificate, already.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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