When playing games, health is among some of the most important information given to you. Since it’s such a vital piece of so many games, it’s only natural that the way one handles their health system is not to be taken lightly. Here are a couple of tips to help you make the most out of how you implement and monitor player health!
Re-Evaluate the Purpose of Health Systems
The idea behind a simple health system is that once your health reaches zero game over. That’s it the game goes to a black screen and says game over while we load another quarter in the machine. That might not actually happen anymore, but the same idea is still relevant- the game goes to it’s loss or end state and we restart, whether it be from a save or the title screen. Most games allow different ways to regain health and lives through pick ups. Sometimes this occurs when a certain score is reached, others times health might simply be given at the beginning of each level or even regenerate over time.
In some games, live and health might be tied to each other. If your health reaches zero, a game might take a life away, but if you have multiple lives the player can continue playing without hitting the game over screen. This dual system can be good because it gets the player back to the game as quick as possible. The lives system might partially break immersion, but it gives players a much needed break to mentally analyze what has happened and what they could do to prevent losing the game or another life.
These mechanics can be tied to every genre from fighting to even racing games. Now, you might be asking how in the world does a racing game have a health system? In certain games, when you crash your car against the wall you’re doing damage to your car’s health. In these games too much health loss may lead to your car blowing up or the car not operating at max performance. Health is not always visible to the player, but still might be occurring in the code.
From bars to numbers and beyond, how you present health on the screen can literally be the difference between life and death in a game. If your health system isn’t displayed properly for the player to understand, it can cause unnecessary frustration and difficulty. There’s a multitude of ways to communicate this information, but here are a couple of tried and tested methods.
The bar visual has been around for ages. Bars are a great way to indicate health because it gives player a visual representation of their remaining health. Some bars use color to indicate what position on the bar you are. For example full health maybe green, medium health could be yellow, and extremely dangerous low health could be red.
Colors can give feedback to the player even faster. Certain colors mentally stimulate us. For example red is the color of blood, importance, passion and danger. Having your health bar fade from green to red or red to black shows a loss of health and promotes the idea of danger and importance causing the player to think and play differently.
The con to using this method is that although it can be visually appealing, it might never give the player an actual number for their health. This can be troubling for some due to a phenomena known as “the magic pixel.” The legacy of the magic pixel comes from how inaccurate it can be to appropriately read health bars at times. In fighting games for instance, magic pixel shenanigans can lead to confusion and frustration.
Numbers, unlike bars, are an absolute. You know exactly how much health you have, how much was lost and how much a health item can give you back. You’re never out of the loop of how much health you have. This method can be applied to all games, but I wouldn’t recommend it for every game. Unfortunately this method can be unappealing to some. You could use colors just like in the bar example, however numbers aren’t always as immediately recognizable. In some games, having 100 health can be plenty, while in other games it means you are close to death. Numbers need context, and sometimes just colors alone aren’t enough to fully provide that context.
Health Is What You Make It
At this point you’re probably wondering if there’s a sure fire way to please everyone? Unfortunately, there is not. We all like different things and among those things there are different ways they are presented to us. For example kids don’t like their vegetables, even if it may be healthy and essential to growth, to them it’s just a small green tree that’s bitter. However, if you present it as a plane making a landing, it gives the food a new context. The way we perceive things shape how we experience them, good and bad. Context is key, Keep that in mind during health system design and game design in general.
There are many other ways to present health and this probably won’t be the last time I write about the subject. I hope you have enjoyed this article and make sure to comment below for any questions or methods you have tried, created, or just like to play with. As always have a great day and thanks for reading.
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