Gaming: The 1 Hit Point Problem

Health is a tricky concept to put into game systems. There is a whole spectrum of health systems that have propagated over the years, the most prominent at the moment is the fast regeneration, popularised by the Halo series.

The reason regen is popular is simple – it makes the game easier for the designers, and to some extent, the players. In the old days of medkits, if you were a good player, you would get the the climatic boss fight with 100HP remaining. However, if you had screwed up the early stages of the level, you would be fighting it with 15HP. This meant that the level designers had to either put large amounts of health and ammo directly before the boss fight, telegraphing what was about to come, or they could try to balance the boss fight for players with different HP. The second option requires excessive testing, and is expensive, and hard to do. (A good example of this is in Half-Life 2 – when you have lower HP, the Combine get less accurate. Most people don’t notice it, therefore it is a good example.) But with regen, you know how powerful the player will be, meaning it is easier for the designer, and the game requires less testing.

Unfortunately, this also means that weapons now have to do more damage, in order to compensate for people being able to go back to full health after 3 second’s hiding. This is why Call of Duty multiplayer is so fast-paced – the regeneration speed, and resulting increased weapon damage, means that whomever gets the drop wins. Contrast this with, say, Team Fortess 2, where it is a lot slower – you can empty a full clip into somebody, and they still might not die, depending on the characters you are playing. This means that there is a more tactical play, as reflexes are no longer the be-all and end-all.


The other way, with fixed-health, as the titular 1HP problem. This is prominent in D&D, and goes a little like this;

I have full health, and can walk, run, climb, swim, fight, whatever. The world is my oyster.
Now I have 1HP, and can do everything I can do at full HP with no penalties, even though I have multiple stab wound, been recently electrocuted, suffered massive blunt-force trauma and am on fire.
Then I take stub my toe, take 1 point of damage, fall over and die. (or bleed out, or whatever)

Perfectly realistic.

The 2 easiest ways to combat this problem is to have  a sliding scale of damage, and the associated penalties.

Sliding scales are always tricky, as they can feel a bit arbitrary, or they can have only quite minor penalties. As someone gets more and more hurt, they get slower, hit lighter, and can’t run as far. In the end, a long-running battle would end up moving at glacial speeds. Locational damage is a good compromise, but is trickier to implement, though Deus Ex did it well. Your body was split into six sections – left arm, right arm, left leg, right leg, torso and head. Each had it’s own health-bar. If you lose one arm, your aim goes shonky and your reloading speed is slow. Lose both, and it’s spray-and-pray with a long reload time. Lose a leg, and you’re hobbled. Lose both, and you are shuffling along the floor at crotch-height. However, if your torso or head goes, you’re dead. As Deus Ex was a shooter, it was relatively easy to assign damage – where you we hit, you took damage. However, other than called shots or random hit tables, it is much harder to implement in tabletop games. (Unless the thing you are attacking is huge – then you can call it simply by which way it is facing, and where you are when you attack it.)

However, due to the advantages of regeneration, and the fact that it is the current status quo, then a way to combine it and static HP is for slow regeneration – you still have 100HP, but you regenerate at 1HP/second, after not being shot at for 15 seconds. This means that when you move from room to room, you will have max health, but in a hectic fire-fight you cannot rely on ducking behind cover for 5 seconds and wiping the jam off your eyes. Medkits are now a combat item, and bullets do not have to be the insta-kills they are in faster-paced games. It’s a nice middle of the road for people who prefer the older style of gaming, but with the convenience of the newer games.

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