LAST TIME an the Metro City Reform Committee – SOME STUFF HAPPENED. Then a Recess was called.
THIS TIME on the Metro City Reform Committee – RECESS IS ADJOURNED! Let’s finish this.
When last the Committee was called to order I detailed four major problems with the rising trend of video game health regeneration, but there were still left over questions and I promised to offer some answers . . . just not right then. As it turns out, NOW is then. Or I mean, then is now. Or maybe it’s –
oh screw it! I’m getting to the point already!
The first part of this discussion received flak from some who felt it only presented one side. I disagree, as I pointed out how regeneration worked rather well in Halo (and subsequently Halo: Reach/ODST, which used the original system). But taking a council seat in Metro City means I have an oath to abide by. Part of that oath requires that I give equal time to both sides of an argument in the interests of fair play, so that’s what we’ll discuss today.
Also I realize that I may have used Wolverine (a Canadian), and Canada overall in a pejorative manner. Considering the things I love about Canada; William Shatner, Kids in the Hall, BioWare, the concept of apologizing . . . I just want to say I’m sorry.
People I am not apologizing to: Marc Guggenheim, game developers who procedurally generate levels. They know why.
Before we get to the ways health regeneration can work, I’d like to address some of the points made by some of the people who submitted feedback to the previous article –
The Counter Arguments:
1) It allows for less waiting due to fewer reloads.
Part of the double-pronged primary argument for regeneration based on time. Basically, the idea is that before regeneration players were constantly reloading quicksaves whenever even a minor mistake was made (aka “Save Scumming”), and the cumulative wait-time of hiding behind cover is less than the waiting during these reloads.
At first this seems pretty reasonable. No one likes waiting. If you’re saving the player time overall, it’s a net gain. But I call shenanigans on this “Anal-Retentive Player who is min-maxing their progression, yet has other stuff to do” defense.
Quicksaving is only a feature on some (but not all) PC games. Most console or portable games don’t have it. So this argument that “everyone” did it is specious at best, ignoring a large portion of gamers who couldn’t have been doing this. What of games with negligible load times? Regenerating health would be the cause of delaying the player, NOT the quickloads. But even if it weren’t dismissing such a large segment of the gaming population, or that it’s really quite specific to the streamer used in the game, constant quickloading is a player choice.
Even if you never realized it was a choice, it was. Formalized, the choice would read “You’ve taken damage but didn’t die, do you reload to try again for a greater margin of success, or press on hoping to recover later?”
Pure health regeneration creates incentive for the player to not make this choice, or removes it entirely. This isn’t by itself terrible, and some would say the choice was needless anyway, but I’m of the mind that any game is usually better if the player has more choices available.
A minor point, but if I want to attempt a personal challenge to restrict health items on a playthrough, it’s good to know I can make that choice.
Also consider, if the delay time between quickloading and waiting for HP to regen is equivalent, then when replaying a section over you’re actively engaged in playing the game some more! When waiting for a health bar to fill on its own, you are not. All things being equal, is it not better for the player to be active over being passive?
Overall, if you favor an active player and want to encourage experimentation this is a pretty weak point in favor of regeneration.
2) You don’t waste time scrounging around for health between fights.
Pretty self-explanatory. You aren’t hunting for items that heal you because you don’t need them, and therefore saving time by moving onto the next area more immediately.
This may be the best argument for Health Regeneration. You don’t have to spend time dallying between battles and it allows you to get back into the action more quickly. In an action game, this is usually a good thing.
You know what? I’ll concede this point. I had a whole thing about how inventory health items usually work to accomplish the same function, but it’s a bit redundant. This counter isn’t exactly amazing, but I understand folks not wanting to wait around collecting a bunch of stuff because they feel forced to.
3) It prevents impossible scenarios.
Also a simple concept. In theory, since you can’t run out of the “resource” that is the health pickup, the user never causes a “No-Win” scenario due to their own lack of skill or foresight.
This holds up pretty well . . . IF YOU:
> Disregard the fact that usually you’d have to be terrible at a game if you’re on the appropriate difficulty for your skill level (most complaints to the contrary come from those who overestimate their abilities and can’t admit it).
> Pay no mind to the idea that perhaps cheap enemy design is the greater factor in these types of situations.
> Ignore the elephant in the room: the only case this makes for regeneration is that it’s a good technique for easier difficulties, but not overall.
Let’s be honest here folks. If you get stuck in an unwinnable situation that isn’t due to a bug, then the designers have probably screwed up in other ways. This may have been valid back in the days of Wolfenstein 3D where there were a lot of enemies that had unavoidable attacks, so you pretty much had to absorb hits in order to progress, but guess what? The problem was that the enemies had unavoidable attacks!
Besides, using this reasoning as an excuse to justify enemies that can auto-hit the player was my thinking behind the final point in the last article.
. . .
So where are we so far? Count?
Thanks Count. Seeing as I still need to present some definite positives, let’s move on.
When SHOULD Health Regeneration be used?
As far as I can tell, there are two main reasons HP regeneration is a preferable choice over other health systems:
A) You want a “roller coaster” experience.
Take a look at this image, which has been tossed around the internets:
It isn’t far from the truth. Levels in older FPS’s were labyrinthine affairs mostly gated by sets of color coded keys. Nowadays many FPS’s (and games in general) having been freed from the constraints of key hunting, are choosing to become railroads of explosions and set-pieces only paused with exposition that might explain why you’re blowing everything up in order to grab the next Egg MacGuffin. Exploration has become the exception, not the standard.
‘Twould be silly to assume the Guggenheim Effect is the sole cause of gaming trends toward linearity, but it has occurred at roughly the same time, and is probably a factor. The two “features” often come hand in hand, and work very well together considering both are synonymous with pushing the player forward with little time wasted.
Personally, I don’t prefer this type of level design as I’d rather be a rat in a maze than a horse pulling a cart. But that doesn’t mean it’s “wrong”, just different. So for those who prefer this style of level design in your games, go ahead and enjoy the gecko’s advantage of regeneration, as long as you can accept the blinders of a workhorse.
B) You don’t know who your audience is.
If there were ever a mechanic that screams “I have no idea who I’m targeting this to”, it’s health regeneration.
If you make a fighting game for example, you know what the standard conventions are: decreasing health bars that fill between rounds. Should you go out of your way to subvert convention, you must make an effort to surprise fans cynical of your changes, or endeavor to improve on an older system. If your changes are ill thought or arbitrary then they’ll be considered self defeating at worst, or interchangeable at best.
Point is, many genres have conventions and expectations based on the demographic they appeal to. Ideally, you tailor design decisions to work with or against these expectations for any given audience. When you don’t know who exactly that is though, or you’re trying to expand your audience, using health regeneration can be a good decision since it’s both forgiving and most gamers understand its principles by now.
For example: Mass Effect 2. In the first game, BioWare was appealing to their normal playerbase of RPG aficionados, albeit with a game that emphasized action. For health recovery this meant using a healing potion system, in the form of futuristic “medi-gel”. With the sequel they obviously went for a wider audience and focused more on refining the action elements; tossing in a CoD-like regeneration mechanic was a safe choice since they knew that many action game fans would be familiar with it.
There is nothing wrong with a developer or publisher wanting to expand their player base, and we shouldn’t poo poo those who try to do so. Gaming is a business after all.
. . . and that’s the best I can do on the “Pro” side of this issue. I still feel that the cons more than outweigh the benefits, but though I may not like it (see previous), I do understand that regeneration isn’t going anywhere now its established. This being said, the mechanic can be implemented in a better fashion than it is overall, so let’s look at how that can be (or already has been) achieved.
Thus we enter:
If you ARE using Health Regeneration, how do you ensure it doesn’t suck?
Let’s look at Mass Effect 2‘s system for a second longer. It’s not exactly a great implementation of regeneration. Why? Well, there’s the fact that it segments the health bar into “health” and “shields” ala Halo but as both regenerate at the same rate this accomplishes nothing, but that’s not really the problem.
You may have noticed a general trend in this regeneration investigation – I find the Call of Duty system of “Pure” regeneration to be the rankest form of the mechanic.
It does nothing to assuage any of the problems already mentioned: lack of scratch damage, annoying bloody screen, promoting cowardice and lazy design overall. But I get its use in CoD seeing as it’s a roller coaster trying to appeal to an incredibly wide audience. But Mass Effect 2 is (in theory) also an RPG, a genre that usually promotes player choices, customization and exploration over linearity.
Basic CoD regeneration makes the best sense if you’re never capable of stopping for breath as the game moves along, but Mass Effect has plenty of moments where the player is spending time doing other things: wandering your ship, exploring cities, shopping . . . all times when the player could obtain healing items naturally. Ignoring any other issues, such a simple implementation of the mechanic just seems at odds with the other elements of the game.
Come on BioWare. Other developers have tried to make the mechanic more involved, or tailored the mechanic to work better within all the elements of their games. Using such a simple method is mundane and ill-suited to your purposes. Perhaps consider seeking a new way to use regeneration next time?
So let’s propose a bill in the hopes that even if a developer does go with regeneration, it doesn’t need to be as problematic as Call of Duty‘s version. Or to remind developers that they CAN in fact adjust the concept to fit their needs. Thus I present:
The Better Healthcare in Gaming Initiative of 2011
( a.k.a The Commander Shepard Inapt Design Crimes Prevention Act)
In concordance with the by-laws of the Metro City Council, the following is a list of actions developers can undertake in order to improve the gameplay health mechanic wherein the Player Character recovers hit points automatically after not receiving damage over a period of time, otherwise known as “Health Regeneration”. All of these actions have been previously implemented in other games (sources cited).
As the primary goal of this initiative is to prevent mismatched implementation with overall design by providing options, it is strongly recommended that a developer using “Health Regeneration” commit one of the following:
- Include another system of recovery along with regeneration.
Ideally grants players more control over their health, and promotes varied tactics. If no other system of recovery is present, then fewer subsequent options are available.
- Use two disparate health bars/states.
As long as each recovers health in a noticeably different manner or rate. Please note: if BOTH bars regenerate, and do so at roughly the same speed, then this implementation is moot.
Examples – Halo: Reach (Shields/Health), Gears of War (Standing/Crawling)
- Segment the health bar more than once.
Segmenting the health bar into sections that regenerate individually, but require other mechanics to regain lost segments allows for cumulative (Scratch) damage to remain a threat, ensuring a disincentive to avoid minor injury.
- Regeneration only refills a segment of total health bar.
Cumulative Damage is relevant without being too punishing, regeneration still has benefits. A solid compromise.
- Include standard regeneration, but status effects to prevent it as well.
Can be used to increase impact on specific threats, or create tension.
- Include standard regeneration, but reduce maximum health with damage.
Cumulative Damage is present and accentuates overtime whilst maintaining higher effectiveness overall. Perfect compromise?
Examples – Ninja Gaiden 2, Dragon Age 2
- Healing not regenerative, but draws from other resource which is.
Allows player control of when to refill health, increasing interactivity. Cumulative damage technically present, but likely not common.
- Finally, if using regeneration, do not implement a “bloody screen” effect.
Seriously. This has to stop.
Examples – Red Dead Redemption (Medicine), inFAMOUS (Electricity)
Examples – Transformers: War for Cybertron, Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, Resistance: The Fall of Man.
Examples – F.E.A.R., [PROTOTYPE]
Examples – S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl (Radiation), Metal Gear Solid (Bleeding)
Examples – OddWorld: Stranger’s Wrath, Second Sight
If you are using one of the above systems, then conglaturations! You have prooved the justice of our culture! Now go and rest our heroes!
Though developers are free to ignore the preceding, it is not recommended, as to do so would cause Metro City Mayor, Mike Haggar, to become sad.
However, it is well documented that “A sad Haggar is soon a mad Haggar” and this is not a preferable state (see Mad Gear Incident).
From the council members of Metro City, U.S.A.
Enforced by Presidential Decree 1989-Ld a.k.a. the “The Lead Pipe Initiative”
Though they’re probably more angles to be examined, I hereby consider this matter closed, and would like to thank you for your time. If there are any dissenting opinions, be sure to inform your Congressman by commenting below.
Oh and do be careful. Gaming trends to the contrary, hiding behind a wall for a few seconds is NOT a cure-all to your injuries, and we don’t have magic potions available for purchase at your local grocer. Or at least not in America anyway . . .
As one of the unfortunate few born with three first names, Adam endured years of taunting on the mean streets of Los Angeles in order to become the cynical malcontent he is today. A gamer since the age of four, he has attempted to remain diverse in his awareness of the arts, and remain active in current theater, film, literary and musical trends when not otherwise writing or acting himself. He now offers his knowledge in these areas up to the “California Literary Review,” who still haven’t decided what exactly they want to do with him yet. He prefers to be disagreed with in a traditional “Missile Command” high score contest, and can be challenged this way via his Xbox LIVE Gamertag of AtomGone, and if you want to “follow” him on twitter, look for Adam Robert Thomas