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If You Prick Us, Do We Not Bleed?

Enough with the hearts and health-bars. Make me hurt. Damage models for video game heroes? That's how it is done.

anjin anhut, Blogger

May 2, 2010

4 Min Read

Fed up with hearts, life bars and numbers? Some examples to make player character damage visibly hurt. Be heartless and bring the pain.

Most video games have a graphical indicator of the player characters damage or health in some form of sober UI element, like a collection of dost, sometimes heart symbols, a life-bar, health-bar, energy-bar or a plain numeric indicator. Functional, granted. But kinda boring also.

Olskool games

ID Soft's Wolfenstein or its successor Doom did manage to ramp up the tension and pressure, in addition to their clean numeric health-meter, by showing us the mug of our shot, bitten, burned and beaten hero. In Doom it also got especially satisfying when we see the space marine's face go into berserker mode and that evil grin we see, when we find the chainsaw.

I also stumbled upon some DOS games that solely use a representation of the player character in the UI to indicated damage or imminent death. Check out the peeling skull of the T-100 and poor John Connor from Terninator 2 or the weird cyborg head that gets revealed when you skin John Rambo's head in Rambo 3. Especially strange, kinda macabre and totally improper for the license is the slowly dissolving Peter Parker in the Amazing Spider-Man for DOS here. But it is of course also kinda awesome, in a Marvel Zombies kind of way.

On the PSOne a samurai fighting game made quite a name for itself by featuring no health-bar at all, but showing cuts on the player models, making them limb, when hit a the leg and allowing for sudden death kills. Bushido Blade it was, by Squaresoft. It was not particularly gruesome but it made its mark with its unconventional damage system.


Modern games like Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe or X-Men Origins: Wolverine get extra credit for showing actual damage on the player character model in addition to life-bars in the press and online. Rightfully so.

Modern Warfare 2 even goes as far as making your own blood, spurting into your eyes, obscuring your view, a handicap in combat to put even more pressure on the player when he gets hurt.

In Batman: Arkham Asylum, we not only see Batsy's costume getting more and more torn up, we also see him growing stubble on his chin over the course of the game, nice.

Visceral Games totally wanted to skip on screen UI for Dead Space and transfered all UI elements into the in-game graphics. Everything from health, air supply, additional energy and even ammo is not only visible but clearly readable on the player model. immersion for the win.

So far, in all previews and screen shots I saw from the upcoming Splatterhouse, there was no such things as a UI. But there was a very very complex, sophisticated and detailed damage model, showing various forms of brutal mutilation and deep wounds the player would have to endure. I'm really looking forward to see some unedited gameplay footage to get a sense how they profit from the elaborate damage model here.

There is a lot of cool, funny and tense stuff to excite the player with, when designers incorporate player models, illustrative UI elements and screen overlays in the way they communicate physical and psychological damage, instead of resorting just to generic graphic or numeric indicators.

check out this nice article by Dave Hasle on the UI of Condemned 2.

Image of damaged Hulk Hogan is © TNA Wrestling.

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