The Point of Hit Points

Hit points are a basic part of most video games, and most tabletop games as well. It's an easy way to represent the complex idea of how injured a person is. However, I'm starting to think that they are an unnecessary crutch in modern video games.

I've been playing Dungeon World, a hack of the tabletop game Apocalypse World, both of which focus on narrative story-building and repercussions rather than mechanics. Hit points are used for both players and monsters, but monsters also have tags that describe their behaviour. My favourite is called Messy, and it means just what it sounds like: this thing does not dish out razor-sharp cuts. With a fun (read: cruel) Game Master, this means that a failed roll when fighting a dragon may mean you lose a hand, or an eye, to it's big teeth. As the scars build up (if you survive), your character becomes much more fleshed out: The deafness caused by an acid-burned ear impacts your hearing (or at least, that's the narrative excuse for the failed roll to keep watch during the night), and the clanging of every other step reminds you of a debt you need to collect from a certain ogre.

This kind of flavour is much more fun, and it gives the player character a much greater sense of being real. It occurs to me that modern games are now capable of giving the same sort of experience, with the vast processing power at their disposal. Fallout already has this sort of thing with VATS and the limb system: if a body part is crippled, your character is affected until you fix it. But why not try and take it in-depth for the player, and give some lasting effects that really matter?

Imagine Spec Ops: The Line where, instead of having a bit of blood splashed on your face until you hide behind a chest-high wall for a couple of seconds, you suffer a series of minor wounds that makes you limp, makes you a little slower to react, makes your aim a little unsteady, makes you feel like Walker has been through hell, and it's your fault. Imagine Dark Souls where the boss doesn't flatten you outright because their damage is higher than some arbitrary number, but instead sends you flying across the dungeon, forcing you to flee while cradling the stump where your arm used to be, only to return with a new metal arm many hours later on a mission of vengeance and find the monster using your humerus as a toothpick.

We (people on the Escapist, and gamers in general) are always talking about games with choice and consequence, and most of the biggest choices and consequences that guide our real lives have to do with preserving our meaty shells. Not all games need to have a "Narrative Damage" system, but I think that the majority of RPGs, among others, would be vastly improved by giving us characters that are more human and fleshed out, and that means letting us lose flesh here or there.

P.S. This system could/should be extended to enemies as well, at least the big ones. Maybe you were underprepared to fight the Super Mutant leader in Fallout 5 the first time around, and barely escaped with your life. However, when you stroll back into that cave and see the augmetics it's used to repair the jaw that you blew away, you can't help but smile right before you open fire.

The problem with that is that it would take an obscene amount of time to actually model all of the different injuries and status effects that those would create.

And having your character be permanently crippled would significantly detract from the fun of playing the game.

I like the idea but yeah, it might be a lot of work if you want to implement it to a huge game like Fallout and might be a little irritating if you have to limp everywhere at a snails pace for the rest of the game. Maybe it could work in the hardcore modes but implementing it game-wide might lose a few customers.

I have thought about health systems myself in the past and wondered why some games (like Skyrim) have to have an MP, HP and stamina bar. What if they were all the same thing? You take a hit from an enemy and lose a bit of stamina, lose too much and you are knocked out. It would add a bit more strategy to spellcasting, use too many spells in rapid succesion and you leave yourself with low energy. Swinging wildly with your weapon rather than using controlled attacks would leave you tired and vulnerable, so more skill is required to suceed.

Physical damage could be more permanent but heal slightly over time rather than the quick fixes that have become the norm, so you will need to take some time out from adventuring or be a little more careful to avoid taking more damage. Limbs could be crippled like with the VATS system too.

I'll give you that it definitely would add to the "realism" for RPGs that are tring to be "real" (i.e. Fallout and Elder Scrolls). But as Jimmy said, I think most players would grow tired of that mechanic very quickly. Yes, it'd be need to see your character hopping on one leg till you find a peg to replace the one that troll ripped off, but in looking at the inevitable outcome by the end of the game, your character wouldn't be your character any more. I'd be a Darth Vader "He's more machine now than man", basically a head attached to a barrel with two sticks poking out of his arm sockets while walking around on a couple 2x4's. Your entire body would become nothing but a series of prosthetics by the time you hobble your ass in for the final boss fight, only to find that your awkward movement isn't capable of dodging his attacks.

Now, for a game like Dark Souls, I can see something like this being introduced for "near misses". You get in a fight with a gang of skeletons and one manages to lop your arm off before you kill the last one. Now you're wandering around without an arm until the next time you die, at which point you respawn fully intact. Used this way, your suggestion could be actually fun in seeing just how far you can survive while getting more and more messed up. But that's only because death and respawning in DS is a rather quick process. You get killed very easily, you come back just as easily. With more standard RPGs like Fallout, you get your ass kicked early on and suddenly you're minus a hand for the rest of that character's game. It'd make it more realistic, as I said, but I'd wager that most would find it more annoying than anything else, and just save more often so if worse comes to worse they can reload to before they became an amputee.

Jimmy T. Malice:
The problem with that is that it would take an obscene amount of time to actually model all of the different injuries and status effects that those would create.

And having your character be permanently crippled would significantly detract from the fun of playing the game.

As far as consoles and PCs go, I agree that to program such a thing and have it be functional would cost so much as to be completely ludicrous. For this aspect, this is one of many reasons I enjoy card and table games - the limits are not set by what computations and graphics can be achieved, rather the only limitations are what you cannot think of.

As for permanent disabilities, I think that if they are able to be offset later on in a game, then you might find enjoyment in it. Take the OPs example: if a character loses a limb, it might be able to be replaced with something new or radically different. If a mage loses an arm completely, but is able to cast a spell along the lines of making a new arm, one of a chosen element (let's take the classic choice of fire here) then the possibilities become endless. Hell, you could even take the Full Metal Alchemist approach to it, and I daresay people would find that particular set of choices to be highly entertaining and fun!

As someone who has crawled for a couple real life hours in DayZ because I didn't have morphine to fix a broken leg... I say novelty yes, regularity hell no.

Yeah, it would just get way too complicated too quickly for even the most modern of PCs.
Lots of Roguelikes implement this though. Limbs fly off a plenty in Dwarf Fortress, for example, and I remember a game called "Ivan" where through the use of magic, potions, and of course, various slashing weapons, limbs, torsos, and even heads could be removed and replaced by... pretty much any material.

That's great for fleshing out what could be a very impersonal experience for tabletop games, everything is a dice roll so having your character lose an eye is a good way to explain why my master ranger elf missed a shot with his bow. It only works because it doesn't affect the mechanics, your success is still determined by your dice roll.

If you implement that in a video game it does alter the mechanics. Someone already pointed out DayZ here. Breaking your leg, while it's a cool feature in theory it can basically ruin your game. If you're in the middle of nowhere and someone breaks your leg but you end up dropping them and you survive the encounter, only to find you have no morphine, you have to crawl for what could be tens of kilometres to get to a hospital to get some. And the Morphine then magically heals your broken leg and is just as unrealistic as regenerating your health, which makes the realism of having your leg broken redundant.

Basically, while I would love for what you described to happen it basically wouldn't work. You lose a leg in a fight with a Thresher Maw and you're probably dead or gimped for the rest of the game. At the very least your character would have to spend months in hospital, having re-constructive surgery and physiotherapy.

I do think an idea like this would help for multiplayer games, especially shooter games. Imagine Battlefield or COD with realistic battle damage, where if you shoot an enemy in the leg their motion actually slows, shoot them enough times and they fall to the ground and begin bleeding out, shoot them in the arm and they have trouble shouldering their rifle, etc.

Realistic battle damage, rather than mere hit points, could add a layer of depth to certain games, but it's not something I'd want to see made standard. Or at the very least they could add it to games but make it optional or make the changes something easily reversed, like if you get a scar you don't like on your character you can get plastic surgery.

HP are an abstraction of the idea of injury. Yes, that came out of necessity back in the day - in a tabletop game, you simply cannot meaningfully model the behaviour of combat. Well, not in a simple and straightforward way that won't make combat take bloody ages (although Dark Heresy has a cool take on that[1]). This is where HP come - does the attack hit - yes/no, if yes, how seriously did it injure you - are you dead - yes/no. Repeat. Simple and effective. In fact it's an amazingly elegant solution that few people actually think over and appreciate - it condenses so much actual data in just this one mechanic - a warrior gaining more HP is not any much tougher than before. Not by much, anyway - that represents his ability to evade, parry, and otherwise defend themselves better in combat. It's untied to the defence mechanics, since the latter are about negating damage completely, however if the fighter does take a hit, they are capable of mitigating some of the damage - twist their body a bit, take a hit in a more non-vital spot and so on. Also, increased pain threshold. In effect, they die as easy as before were it a real life thing), however they are just capable of protecting themselves enough so that a single stab is not necessarily lethal.

Anyway, video games just picked it up. HP are everywhere. And with good reason - computers weren't much of a step up from various tabletop games in the beginning.

Nowadays, we do have the processing power to accurately detect and simulate if the player punched somebody in the eye or the dick. And vice versa. You can represent that in programming, in visuals, and in effects. The question is, why don't we do it, then? I mean, yeah it happens but why don't we have this in every game ever? Few main reasons

1. Time and effort: you can represent somebody missing their right hand or maybe just their small finger. That's in theory. In practice it takes additional time and effort to do it - from gameplay effects, though gameplay itself, to visuals. And depending on how detailed you want to go, time and effort climb up at a very fast pace. It's not a tradeoff everybody is willing to take - you could handle what happens if someone looses a tooth or you could not bother, use HP, which works, and focus on making the game better in other places.

2. It's not what the game is about: again, you could deal with the consequences of loosing a tooth but it's not something you actually care in, say, Counter Strike. Not every game would benefit from these details - they tend to slow down the pace, which is fine in Fallout but not so in an frantic shooter. Simply put, modelling realistic damage does not always fit with the game. I mean, you wouldn't put weather effects in a game where you spend all your time underground too - you can but it's not for that game.

3. Force of habit: this one is true as well. Some devs simply don't want to bother with "doing it properly" even if their game would benefit and they can spend some effort on using a more realistic damage system. The HP abstraction works, that's it. However, that same is also true for players - you can't force people to "move over" to your way of thinking. Sure, it may be a great system but some people simply won't like it.

4. Redo all the conventions: it ties in with the above, but I wanted to make it more clear - the HP abstraction works, it's a tried and true formula. Realistic damage has been sparsely used throughout gaming (compared to all other games, that is). A developer would have to pretty much reinvent how damage works in games and start developing combat encounters from scratch. Pretty much everybody knows what happens with "normal" damage - people will seek out medpacks, or take their healing items, or stand behind a wall while recovering, etc - but if you were to plan, say, a dungeon in a game where smashed limbs and broken bones exist, you'd be up for a right challenge. What happens after the player goes through the first room? Did they lose an arm? A leg? Would they push on in that case, or retreat? Or maybe they'll just quit because they found the experience overwhelming? Same goes for player - there is something reassuring on seeing that HP bar or number. But a broken hip? How close am I to dying with that? How about a broken jaw - does that matter? The HP abstraction is pretty well integrated into most people's minds - trying to decouple it into actual gameplay can be...weird.

[1] It's so good I cannot NOT admire it. Here is a quick explanation of how it works - DH uses a die with 100 sides for its rolls (or actually, two 10 sided dice) - when you roll for attack, say, you get 17, which is a hit (you have to get UNDER or equal to your attack stat, so with melee combat of 30 any result 1-30 hits) and then you can roll damage. But if you want to know where the hit landed, just revers the number you got, so 71, and look up what that gets you in a table. It's the right leg, for the record. The system is marvellous how it handles combat. A true gem.

Long-term damage build-up is already a feature in most plot-based RPGs. God of War's Kratos gains a new scar every time he gets his arse handed to him by a god, for instance. Or there will be a sequence where your hero loses the ability to fly, or the party's airship is stolen by the king of the goblins, or you're otherwise superman II'd back down to size for a scene.

The problem with short-term damage having specific effects is that it's kind of hard to balance game encounters if you have no idea whether the character will have lost a random ability. If you make short-term (i.e. random-encounter) damage permanent, there's easily a chance of completely destroying a character's ability to complete your content, and if you sell a game that can't be completed, you're selling a bad game. If I've invested all of my build points into piercing gazes and seeing things, and that ability tree is what I've been using to progress, then a random monster eats my eye, the game is now broken, as I'm on level 99 with the effective stats of a character of level 1.

Non-persistent local damage can be done, it just turns "running back to town to get healing" into a set of minigames instead of a single minigame. Fallout 3 did it, if a crocodile ate your leg you moved at half speed, etc. Whether this works depends entirely on whether "having to get back to town on one leg" or "trying to cap the deathclaw when your gun is all over the place due to broken arm" actually add any entertainment value. They did in Fallout, but it was entirely dependent on the transient nature of the injury. If you'd been stuck limping for the entire 80-odd hours of the game, it would be a shit game instead of a good one.

EDIT: For a non-video example, Spycraft tabletop has the Table of Ouch and the injury tables in the Warhammer 40K RPG are _legendary_

I've always wanted a game like that, I've really thought about it. The thing is, you'd want it to be fairly short or have some way of healing injuries to a certain extent. Serious ones like missing limbs and acid burns would leave a permanent disability, but a bullet wound in a non-vital area or a broken bone could be healed over time with conventional methods. The problems I forsee are making sure the story doesn't require your character to do anything they physically can't do, and balancing injuries and consequences. You don't want frequent game-breakingly severe injuries, but you also want to make it believable. If you're shot in the eye, you would be blinded, but if that happens in-game you might as well restart.

HP is cheap and cheerful though.

CriticalMiss:
I like the idea but yeah, it might be a lot of work if you want to implement it to a huge game like Fallout and might be a little irritating if you have to limp everywhere at a snails pace for the rest of the game. Maybe it could work in the hardcore modes but implementing it game-wide might lose a few customers.

I have thought about health systems myself in the past and wondered why some games (like Skyrim) have to have an MP, HP and stamina bar. What if they were all the same thing? You take a hit from an enemy and lose a bit of stamina, lose too much and you are knocked out. It would add a bit more strategy to spellcasting, use too many spells in rapid succesion and you leave yourself with low energy. Swinging wildly with your weapon rather than using controlled attacks would leave you tired and vulnerable, so more skill is required to suceed.

Physical damage could be more permanent but heal slightly over time rather than the quick fixes that have become the norm, so you will need to take some time out from adventuring or be a little more careful to avoid taking more damage. Limbs could be crippled like with the VATS system too.

I was trying to say something like that; thank you for expressing it more elegantly. I don't want a game where a single bullet would mean, as Ilikemilkshake put it,

Ilikemilkshake:
...your character would have to spend months in hospital, having re-constructive surgery and physiotherapy.

Something where most damage can be repaired easily, at least early on; you swig a potion or inject some morphine and your bones reknit quickly enough that the game isn't ruined in the first encounter. However, as you progress, the game tracks all the times your leg is crippled, and it gradually begins to show: first you stumble a pace after jumping from a high ledge, then you are a little less agile, then even while walking normally your character has a bit of a limp. The effects on gameplay are fairly minor (respectively, let's say a quarter-second added to recovery time, a 5% increase in your turning radius, and a 5% decrease in maximum speed). However, they add a lot more flavour to your character, and really make you feel like it is a real person you are guiding along this quest, not one of an innumerable army of physically perfect clones.

I like that idea.
I think it would work better in a Sci Fi RPG rather than fantasy. In the future, you could replace a lost limb with a baddass prothetic.

Here's my idea:
Your character has a backpack, that (in addition to explaining your magic inventory) can use Nanotech and Holotech to plug up injuries. Got shot? the backpack plugs the hole with a mini forcefield, which uses it's battery power (HP is still here.)
But for the really bad injuries. (missing hand...) your backpack projects a temporary "Hardlight" hand over your stump. Allowing you to complete the mission after taking some time waiting behind a wall while the Growing-a-new-hand animation plays out. This new hand would function like your fleshy one, the only penalty being the time-out in battle and maybe a reduction to Max HP while your Pack focuses on maintaining the hand. However, once you get back to base, you can a simple replacement, or spend a tonne of your currency on upgrading it with something, like smoother servos that increase your DEX or reload speed.
So most of the time you're taking normal HP damage, but against certain enemies or an enemies special CQC attack, you run the risk of becomming de-limbed.

Well numbers will always be running in the background but yes having it all presented via the world alone is the holy grail that we must strive towards, which is kind of hard in this climate where most games are afraid to leave the player without prompting them for every fucking action, every fucking button and every motherfucking point of interest is light up like a fucking christmas tree in Vegas.

One must also consider not to lose functionality, because these new fancy jelly spunk shooter have thrown the old system right out the window and suddenly you find yourself bored out of your mind, because they never did think about regeneration forcing you to play less and eliminating all consequences, while health packs force you to press on and explore, also the more you fuck up the more your gameplay must adjust.

So hopefully improvements are coming down the line, hopefully we can break the shackles of casualitis and breath once more.

I've just remembered MGS3.

In the FEAR boss, I took several arrows all over my body in one play through, and wondered what would happen if I allowed the wounds to heal naturally over time instead of treating them properly.

Result: the arrows were stuck in there for good. without it being registered as a wound, I had no option to pull the arrows out. I played through the rest of the game with an arrow in the neck, eye (hehe), several in my chest and legs, and even one in the crotch facing upwards (which caused much mirth.)

Thunderous Cacophony:
Hit points are a basic part of most video games, and most tabletop games as well. It's an easy way to represent the complex idea of how injured a person is. However, I'm starting to think that they are an unnecessary crutch in modern video games.

On the contrary, I think they're a necessary crutch in video games, and we'll get into why.

This kind of flavour is much more fun, and it gives the player character a much greater sense of being real.

The beautiful thing about tabletop gaming is that you can do so without needing new mechanics, or even altering play at all. In fact, the notion's almost completely superfluous to the notion of gaming or making a character more "real."

But why not try and take it in-depth for the player, and give some lasting effects that really matter?

Predominantly, because fun.

Imagine Spec Ops: The Line where, instead of having a bit of blood splashed on your face until you hide behind a chest-high wall for a couple of seconds, you suffer a series of minor wounds that makes you limp, makes you a little slower to react, makes your aim a little unsteady, makes you feel like Walker has been through hell, and it's your fault.

Imagine how this might detract from the psychological aspects of the game, which is clearly where the design was intended to go from the start. The more you're worried about your limbs, the less you might worry about the stability of Captain Walker. Imagine if, instead of paying attention to what is considered one of the best storylines EVAH, you were focused on micromanaging boo-boos.

Imagine Dark Souls where the boss doesn't flatten you outright because their damage is higher than some arbitrary number, but instead sends you flying across the dungeon, forcing you to flee while cradling the stump where your arm used to be, only to return with a new metal arm many hours later on a mission of vengeance and find the monster using your humerus as a toothpick.

The whole point of Dark Souls is to be punishingly hard and make you repeat your steps if you screw up. It's a throwback to oldschool games that dick you over for quarters. I think, again, you're missing the point.

We (people on the Escapist, and gamers in general) are always talking about games with choice and consequence, and most of the biggest choices and consequences that guide our real lives have to do with preserving our meaty shells.

I would argue for most of us in the industrial world, those most likely to play games, our limbs or eyes are not the primary concern regarding our frail meatsuits. In fact, I'd argue most of our preservation comes from issues of food and housing and the like. So I propose we focus on making a game that adequately simulates our character's need to move his bowels and get out of debt.

Not all games need to have a "Narrative Damage" system, but I think that the majority of RPGs, among others, would be vastly improved by giving us characters that are more human and fleshed out, and that means letting us lose flesh here or there.

Unless that's not why you play RPGs.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a tabletop veteran. I've played everything from grim and gritty to cartoonishly supherhuman to far-flung space fantasy. Even within a single person, tastes may vary. But a lot of video game RPGs are based around power fantasies, and people seem to like them that way.

Jimmy T. Malice:
The problem with that is that it would take an obscene amount of time to actually model all of the different injuries and status effects that those would create.

Honestly, if you were to take a small fraction of the budget used to make games slightly shinier each time, you could afford it. You'd probably have change left over to work on core game mechanics, too.

I'm not saying it should be done, simply that it could be done.

CriticalMiss:

I have thought about health systems myself in the past and wondered why some games (like Skyrim) have to have an MP, HP and stamina bar.

they don't have to have them. They choose to, because that's the mechanic they want to put forward. They want discrete resources.

To use the tabletop example, there are games that require expenditure of health or (the equivalent of) stamina to cast magic. There are those that don't. This is clearly a choice.

DoPo:
It's not a tradeoff everybody is willing to take - you could handle what happens if someone looses a tooth or you could not bother, use HP, which works, and focus on making the game better in other places.

And the fact that HP works is a good chunk of the issue. You touch on most of what I'd want to say anyway, but yes. Pacing could be harmed, reinventing the wheel is time consuming and might not have payoff, and people are used to it. I guess my final statement on that is simply that it's not necessary, so why spend more time and effort on it?

Jim_Callahan:
Long-term damage build-up is already a feature in most plot-based RPGs. God of War's Kratos gains a new scar every time he gets his arse handed to him by a god, for instance. Or there will be a sequence where your hero loses the ability to fly, or the party's airship is stolen by the king of the goblins, or you're otherwise superman II'd back down to size for a scene.

This is plot-specific, though. It's not really the sort of thing that necessarily gets applied in a game that often. And hell, a lot of the time, it's done more because people can't handle writing a decent plot.

Also, Kratos' scars is a cool example and all, but I'll point out Fable 2 did scars as a way to make actions and death have "consequence," and almost nobody cared.

look at STALKER (i cant be asked with the .'s) the first one had armour and wepons that degraded and could not be fixed. this lead to you saving the best guns and armour you had and using lesser gear. i liked it made it feel real and it was not just find the best gear you can and then never look back. others however did not like it and a mob came out that let you fix your gear.

then in the 3rd version they made the gear fixing part of the game (dont know about #2 never played that) so somewhere down the line they got enough complaints/feedback to take the non-fixable stuff out of the game.

it might make the game alot more immersive but a lot of people would find it very annoying espically if you are in the middle of somewhere and you get crippled, its one thing for your gun to degrade or your armour falls apart they can be scattered throughout levels you take a step down in gear but you are still going. if you lose a foot or hand or whatever then its going to be a real pain you either have to go all the way back to town to find someone to fix you up or carry on and finish the whole thing at a big disadvantage. having a roaving doctor or cleric in the middle of every dungeon would break all the immersion you gain by having this feature.

it might be fun to have in a game try playing something differnt but i doubt it would go down well with the masses and these days of focus groups and lowest common denomonator i dont see a company taking the risk of pissing off most of the people who would buy their game.

As has already been mentioned here, there is a game that already does this; Dwarf Fortress. Dwarf Fortress models damage down to individual limbs, digits, layers of skin, internal organs, and even teeth. Yes, characters in this game can be shot by a crossbow bolt and have exactly one of their teeth knocked out as a result. Whilst the results of this damage system are often hilarious, it can often be completely impenetrable and there will always be glitches that make the damage system still feel like a loose abstraction - see dwarf child walking around with intestines outside of body -- disembowelment mostly not fatal.

Every single game that attempts this has this sort of weird behaviour in it, see J C Denton's ability to get all his limbs shot off and still flop around as a torso for another example, so an abstraction of the real world is always necessary. Just as with voice acting and character animation, there's an uncanny valley for wounds as well. Hitpoints work because they're an obvious abstraction that just about fits with how we understand human injuries. Locational damage works slightly less well because it's closer to how we understand human injuries, but not quite close enough, so all the weird inaccuracies shine through even more.

I'm not saying that people shouldn't attempt to climb out of the other side of the uncanny valley, of course, the examples you gave would certainly make for some interesting gameplay, just that hitpoints are always there on the unrealistic side of it, and give us an abstraction of wellbeing which we know isn't accurate, but is still close enough for us to run with.

I could probably work in a few games but it just sounds really annoying, in MGS3 that had a first aid system beyond grab pick up it ended up just being an annoying mini game that delayed progress in the actual game and that's how I feel it would end up in most games as a annoying tacked on experience that detracts from the real game.

For Tabletop, hitpoints are just there to make GMs' lives easier. Personally, I haven't used them in several years. A good GM doesn't need them. Videogames are a whole other story though. Because of the inherent lack of freedom presented in video games, the player doesn't have the options and resources open to them to circumvent injured limbs and body parts that they do in a tabletop RPG, where your imagination is the limit. Some games do use limb hit detection and dismemberment. Die by the Sword, an old PC game, did this to great effect. Each body part did have it's own HP total though. And some more cinematic games like Heavy Rain seem to be able to pull it off. It's frustrating to have control of your character hindered or gimped in videogames for a long list of reasons that any veteran gamer would know. More than I feel like listing and explaining. It's common knowledge to programmers that the vast majority of player's like consistency in their controls and hate any loss there of.

Zachary Amaranth:

Thunderous Cacophony:
Hit points are a basic part of most video games, and most tabletop games as well. It's an easy way to represent the complex idea of how injured a person is. However, I'm starting to think that they are an unnecessary crutch in modern video games.

On the contrary, I think they're a necessary crutch in video games, and we'll get into why.

This kind of flavour is much more fun, and it gives the player character a much greater sense of being real.

The beautiful thing about tabletop gaming is that you can do so without needing new mechanics, or even altering play at all. In fact, the notion's almost completely superfluous to the notion of gaming or making a character more "real."

But why not try and take it in-depth for the player, and give some lasting effects that really matter?

Predominantly, because fun.

Imagine Spec Ops: The Line where, instead of having a bit of blood splashed on your face until you hide behind a chest-high wall for a couple of seconds, you suffer a series of minor wounds that makes you limp, makes you a little slower to react, makes your aim a little unsteady, makes you feel like Walker has been through hell, and it's your fault.

Imagine how this might detract from the psychological aspects of the game, which is clearly where the design was intended to go from the start. The more you're worried about your limbs, the less you might worry about the stability of Captain Walker. Imagine if, instead of paying attention to what is considered one of the best storylines EVAH, you were focused on micromanaging boo-boos.

Imagine Dark Souls where the boss doesn't flatten you outright because their damage is higher than some arbitrary number, but instead sends you flying across the dungeon, forcing you to flee while cradling the stump where your arm used to be, only to return with a new metal arm many hours later on a mission of vengeance and find the monster using your humerus as a toothpick.

The whole point of Dark Souls is to be punishingly hard and make you repeat your steps if you screw up. It's a throwback to oldschool games that dick you over for quarters. I think, again, you're missing the point.

We (people on the Escapist, and gamers in general) are always talking about games with choice and consequence, and most of the biggest choices and consequences that guide our real lives have to do with preserving our meaty shells.

I would argue for most of us in the industrial world, those most likely to play games, our limbs or eyes are not the primary concern regarding our frail meatsuits. In fact, I'd argue most of our preservation comes from issues of food and housing and the like. So I propose we focus on making a game that adequately simulates our character's need to move his bowels and get out of debt.

Not all games need to have a "Narrative Damage" system, but I think that the majority of RPGs, among others, would be vastly improved by giving us characters that are more human and fleshed out, and that means letting us lose flesh here or there.

Unless that's not why you play RPGs.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a tabletop veteran. I've played everything from grim and gritty to cartoonishly supherhuman to far-flung space fantasy. Even within a single person, tastes may vary. But a lot of video game RPGs are based around power fantasies, and people seem to like them that way.

Jimmy T. Malice:
The problem with that is that it would take an obscene amount of time to actually model all of the different injuries and status effects that those would create.

Honestly, if you were to take a small fraction of the budget used to make games slightly shinier each time, you could afford it. You'd probably have change left over to work on core game mechanics, too.

I'm not saying it should be done, simply that it could be done.

CriticalMiss:

I have thought about health systems myself in the past and wondered why some games (like Skyrim) have to have an MP, HP and stamina bar.

they don't have to have them. They choose to, because that's the mechanic they want to put forward. They want discrete resources.

To use the tabletop example, there are games that require expenditure of health or (the equivalent of) stamina to cast magic. There are those that don't. This is clearly a choice.

DoPo:
It's not a tradeoff everybody is willing to take - you could handle what happens if someone looses a tooth or you could not bother, use HP, which works, and focus on making the game better in other places.

And the fact that HP works is a good chunk of the issue. You touch on most of what I'd want to say anyway, but yes. Pacing could be harmed, reinventing the wheel is time consuming and might not have payoff, and people are used to it. I guess my final statement on that is simply that it's not necessary, so why spend more time and effort on it?

Jim_Callahan:
Long-term damage build-up is already a feature in most plot-based RPGs. God of War's Kratos gains a new scar every time he gets his arse handed to him by a god, for instance. Or there will be a sequence where your hero loses the ability to fly, or the party's airship is stolen by the king of the goblins, or you're otherwise superman II'd back down to size for a scene.

This is plot-specific, though. It's not really the sort of thing that necessarily gets applied in a game that often. And hell, a lot of the time, it's done more because people can't handle writing a decent plot.

Also, Kratos' scars is a cool example and all, but I'll point out Fable 2 did scars as a way to make actions and death have "consequence," and almost nobody cared.

Can't you just write paragraphs in response? It's not that hard, and it's much easier to read.

hazabaza1:
Yeah, it would just get way too complicated too quickly for even the most modern of PCs.
Lots of Roguelikes implement this though. Limbs fly off a plenty in Dwarf Fortress, for example, and I remember a game called "Ivan" where through the use of magic, potions, and of course, various slashing weapons, limbs, torsos, and even heads could be removed and replaced by... pretty much any material.

I was about to mention IVAN. It's locational damage system is excellent in that it's simple to understand and has logical effects, but ends up adding a lot of depth to the game. It's implemented fantastically, and should be done in more games.

Leaving aside the problem of the sheer cost it would take to model and animate various injuries the general problem is that in any game with locational damage and persistent injuries is that they tend to either break the flow of gameplay or just be generally irritating.

Having crippled legs in Fallout and having to crawl at a snail's pace is realistic but really not fun, extremely annoying and completely destroys any sense of flow.

Many games like fairly minimalist roguelikes can do this and get away with it because roguelikes and turn based RPG's in general play in such a way that the mechanic can be easily inserted without shattering flow or being annoying. I can't see it working particularly well in a more action-oriented game without said game being more survival-focused.

Your game generally has to be built around a mechanic like that to some degree for it to function well, just slapping it in any game of a certain kind wouldn't work.

TL;DR, works in certain genres and can indeed enhance the experience in certain genres. Absolutely inappropriate for usage everywhere, most games would not benefit from such a system.

the problem with realism, as always, is. In medieval time getting a cut wasn´t cause for a limp, more often then not you would get an infection and straight up die

ccdohl:

Can't you just write paragraphs in response? It's not that hard, and it's much easier to read.

Can't you not quote a lengthy post verbatim and tack on a single line response? It's not hard, and it's much easier to read.

Look, we all make choices in terms of how we post. But please don't use your method of posting to correct my method of posting.

If you have anything to discuss, I'd be glad to read it, but deconstruction of one's posting style accomplishes nothing.

Zachary Amaranth:

Look, we all make choices

Indeed we do.

in terms of how we post.

Yes in those terms indeed.

But please don't use your method of posting

Why not? My method of posting is fine.

to correct my method of posting.

Why not?

If you have anything to discuss,

I do.

I'd be glad to read it,

Thanks!

but deconstruction

Hold on, I have to look that word up. According to the dictionary, I was actually criticizing, not deconstructing.

of one's posting style accomplishes nothing.

Sure it does. It expressed how I hate disjointed, difficult to read responses.

I'm pretty sure Yahtzee did an article on this, games should be realistic up to the point it serves immersion and gameplay.

There are situations (hardcore survival games) where realistic damage could be interesting. And modern shooters prefer to have Red Screen Fever kill you rather than a hit point bar, but a system that swapped that out for realistic modelling would be much harder and more intrusive to keep track of in a battle.

And also think about this, the closer you are to death, the harder it is to get out of a situation, because you're losing your immobility. So really we've got a certain threshold after which death is almost certain but dragged out, meaning it's basically a long game over screen. Most game mechanics should work the other way, the closer to death you are the more ability you have to escape from it, because it gives people a genuine chance to recover from critical moments with genuine skill and ramps up the excitement by increasing the skin of the teeth moments.

But there are definitely places where it could be interesting.

How about this idea. Way back on the N64, there was a Star Wars game. In it, you flew a ship and as you got hit, parts of the ship on the bottom of the screen would go from green to yellow to red and then black. Let's do the same with guys in the FPS with legs slowing down movement, arms making the gun sway, and head/chest leading to death. It's a compromise between hit points and narrative damage. Just let it have a way to heal back in story games. (Stimpacks like in Fallout?)

We can even add changes of it to the difficulty levels:
Easy: Auto regen and an adrenalin boost near death speeding up reloads and stuff.
Normal: Slow regen with decent hit points per limb
Hard: No regen, no adrenalin boost, enemies take the same damage you do.

Gormech:
How about this idea. Way back on the N64, there was a Star Wars game. In it, you flew a ship and as you got hit, parts of the ship on the bottom of the screen would go from green to yellow to red and then black. Let's do the same with guys in the FPS with legs slowing down movement, arms making the gun sway, and head/chest leading to death. It's a compromise between hit points and narrative damage. Just let it have a way to heal back in story games. (Stimpacks like in Fallout?)

We can even add changes of it to the difficulty levels:
Easy: Auto regen and an adrenalin boost near death speeding up reloads and stuff.
Normal: Slow regen with decent hit points per limb
Hard: No regen, no adrenalin boost, enemies take the same damage you do.

THat sounds like a good idea; I especially like the ramping difficulty.

Thunderous Cacophony:
Hit points are a basic part of mo SNIP

Just saw your comment in the "bring the pain" article. One of the points of the old CP2020 RPG was limb loss, quite common to be injured beyond the point you can't use it or have one mangled beyond repair. Assuming you survived you then had to hope you had enough cash for a metal replacement, or if you were really rich have a clone one grown, if not maybe you could get a spare one that someone else "no longer needed". But you were hopping/one armed until you got a doc to fit you up with a replacement. As per the article, getting injured also severely hampered your abilities. Might well be pulled over into 2077.

 

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