Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Concerning Health Systems

Introductions.....right..... well hello whoever you may be and thank you for taking a look at my blog. A short disclaimer before I go ahead and jump into things in earnest, I am in no way affiliated directly with any part of the gaming industry, I am not a programmer, not a developer, just a gamer. As such I would recommend that any of you who have read this far take everything that I post with a grain of salt.

Alright, now that we've taken care of that, time for my inaugural post. For today, lets have a look at Health systems in video games and the ways in which they've changed over time. Most video game health systems fall into one of two categories. A finite resource system, and a self repleting system. The former is something with which I should hope we are all fairly well acquainted. Your health is represented by a set value ( be it hearts, a numeric health tracking system,or even Mario's Shrink/Grow method) , and the only way to regain lost health is through the expenditure of items, power ups, healing spells, what have you. This health system was fairly ubiquitous during the earlier years of console gaming (Think Mario, Zelda, etc.) This system lends itself very well to, say, platform or open world adventure/puzzle games, as players are usually given leave to stop or progress through levels or worlds at their own pace, as such, a regenerative health system could be easily abused. Considering the time period in which such health systems were prevalent, you can see why they worked so well, nearly every game fell into one of the above categories. However, with the advent of the 21st century, with competitive multiplayer games becoming the mainstay for many gamers, there needed to be a change. The finite resource system certainly worked when implemented into such games (think Goldeneye), but in retrospect, it was far from an ideal situation.

Now if you'll wait a moment before verbally tar and feathering me, I would like to make my case as to why I believe that the regenerating health paradigm works better (in most cases) for than a non-regenerative method for a large portion of games on the market today. There are two reasons, the first is player limit. Non-regenerative health systems may have lived longer as a viable option had had multiplayer servers not become able to support the large amount of players that they can at present. This becomes an issue because you're left with only a few options with the health pickup method, you either have to have very quickly respawning health pickups (which then become easily abusable by way of sitting right on top of their respawn points) or you leave their respawn rates untouched and simply litter the level with them liberally (this isn't a terrible idea but it not only leads to players spending almost as much time hunting health as they do completing objectives, but also leaves players reliant upon a health kit that may or not be there). Additionally there is the issue of "fairness", if you've just had an amazing 1vs1 duel and come out just barely on top, using the old paradigm, anyone could round the corner at any time and find you at low health, at that point almost regardless of how good you are at the game you're likely going to die, quite possibly to a much lesser skilled player. Replace the health with a regenerating type and so long as you manage to buy yourself a few seconds in between fights then situations like this become much less common. Mind you they can still happen, however taking cover for 5-10 seconds between fire fights seems a much better methodology than sighing and beginning the trek towards the nearest health kit, which is likely a point of conflict all by itself.
That all said, there is indeed a fairly well established method for taking the non-regenerative paradigm and applying it to todays shooters that has been shown to work, but only when very well implemented. What I'm speaking of if the idea of a class system. The complete or partial decoupling of the responsibility of a maintaining a players health from the player themselves followed by the allocation of said responsibility to another player. I will admit right now that I am biased towards this system as, if properly executed, it simply rocks. What is important I think, when developing a good healer/healee(?) infrastructure in these types of games is to ensure than your class distinctions are very clear. Support type characters need to feel like support characters and should be given the tools to do their job properly, what they do NOT need is the ability to heal other players AND the ability to compete toe to toe with say, an assault class of equal skill level. A great many developers have made the mistake of allocating too much offensive power to a class who'se primary role is to ensure that other classes stay alive long enough to perform THEIR role. Team Fortress 2 is a game that I'm currently enamoured with simply because of how well they've developed, differentiated, and allocated tools to their classes. Not only does the medic have a healing method that is at once engaging (I'm speaking of the medigun) in that you must keep it trained on the player you're healing, but they also had the foresight to add a 2 second or so buffer during which the gun will continue to heal your target even should they have just rounded the corner (allowing for players with slower connections or simply just a moderate amount of lag to still heal at a competent level).

Lets leave it at that for this week shall we? This post has already grown several times larger than I had originally intended. As you finish reading this, please realize that there is a lot more that can, and should be said about the ideas that I've explored herein, so if you feel I'm talking out of my ass, or perhaps you have something to add, please feel free to do so.


  1. Hmm.. super interesting. I play a LOAD of video games and i never really gave this any thought. Awesome ideas here! Followed

  2. I agree with you: multiplayer changed the rules for many game mechanics. I never liked pick-me-ups anyways.

  3. I wish real life had a self regenerating health bar. Then i wouldn't be scared to try to skateboard.

  4. Lol @Toasty.

    Anyways, I've thought about the health system issue as well, personally, I'd prefer the "harder/ridiculous" 'going and risking your life for a health pack. I'm not talking about left4Dead type material where the health pack isn't there sometimes, but rather the Medal of Honor health system or early COD health system, but I guess it's not really "fair" to the new generation gamer.

    Most people aren't going to grow up on the one mushroom in the beginning of the map and the middle of the map type layout, they are going to grow up in the "camp and regain health" layout.

    Very nice mention of Team Fortress 2, I'm REALLY hoping for a third one just out of the blue. I played on the 360, but I was thinking about playing on PC since you got updates that over passed the 360 by tenfold, but anyways, nice post.

    My personal quick opinion:
    Limited health/no health (contra) > Class based healers (MMO's) > Regen health (FPS/New Gen)
    It simply contains more fun and actual difficulty.

  5. Team fortress 2 is awesome man! I LOVE that game!

  6. How fun! What a great blogging idea!

  7. Hm. This actually made me think a bit. I had never considered the pros and cons of regenerative health...good article! However, I still think I'm a supporter of finite health.