Author's note: This article may be a bit scatter-brained and poorly arranged. I've never written anything like this before. kthxbye.
I wonder if health packs can fix cancer. They seem to be able to fix anything else: nasty falls, punches, burns, bites, stab wounds, electrocutions, suffocations, swarms of bees, getting hit by cars, getting shot. In the face. At point-blank range. It’s a wonder anyone in the world of video games dies ever; they’re theoretically immortal, short of falling into a bottomless pit.
I should probably mention, right now, that I realize video games are not realistic, nor should they be. But, I’m sure most gamers can acknowledge that the concept of a health pack, and really the whole concept of “health” in general, is very contrived.
In recent years, the shooter genre has been adopting a slightly different paradigm from the health pack: regenerating health. This leads to some interesting gameplay changes as players no longer have to frantically search for hidden health items. Now, they search for places to hide. Personally, I find this system to be better, in most cases. It promotes immersion, because players get rewarded for examining and utilizing the environment around them, rather than for trying to figure out where the sneaky developer has hidden the good stuff. The only problem with it is that it’s just as unrealistic and gamey as the system it’s replacing. I’d hate to get into a shootout with a guy whom I can shoot directly in the face only to have him duck behind some cover for 5 seconds and be perfectly fine.
So, how do other narrative forms answer this question? Well, most of America’s popular stories seem to be based on the idea that “The Bad Guys Can’t Aim.” Take, for example, the A-Team. This burley bunch of gentlemen can only make it to the end of an episode because, apparently, ten criminals with machineguns can only hit dirt. If the laws of reality applied to them, chances are they’d all be in closed caskets before the end of the first season. It’s not realistic and the audience accepts it—though it isn’t likely that the A-Team could be so good at not being hit by bullets, they aren’t doing anything impossible. Now, if Mr. T, instead of never being hit, took bullets in places all over his body and still kept standing, that would upset and confuse the audience. After all, the A-Team is never introduced to the viewer as having superpowers.
This brings me to my idea. What if games were to take the same approach as film to explain why a character can survive against overpowering odds? What if, instead of being some bullet-consuming deity, the player character was just exceptionally lucky
? Books, movies, and television show us that people are more willing to believe that someone is hard to hit than that someone is able to absorb crazy amounts of damage.
I’ll be the first to say this solution is just as contrived as one involving health, but I will argue that it is more “realistic,” and, at the least, novel.
So let’s say that, instead of the ability to get shot up multiple times, your character had a “luck meter.” How could this work? Well let’s say that our hero is being shot at by a group of guards. Some bullets the AI guards shoot at the player are not well aimed will totally miss him—these do not subtract from the luck meter. However, some of those bullets were well-aimed and, following the laws of physics, will hit him—instead of the player dying, the path of the bullet is recalculated and set to some other path in the AI’s gun’s “cone of fire,” a path that barely misses the player. Points are subtracted from the luck meter, and the bullets that would’ve hit him in any game using health now forcefully crash into objects nearby. The amount of points subtracted from the luck meter would be based off of variables that affect the probability of someone getting shot, like ‘distance from shooter’, ‘type of gun’, ‘speed of player’, and others. One the player is out of luck, a good hit will bring him down. I call this theoretical system of trajectory recalculation “Probaballistics
.” Why? Because everything should have a silly name.
His shirt is a shamrock because he is lucky. I am the master of both art and symbolism.
Of course, there is a lot of balance to be done with a system like this. Questions come up like “how do we display a player's luck to him?”, “do we even need to display their luck?”, “how is luck replenished”, “what happens if the player takes up an entire enemy’s cone of fire? Do we make the gun jam, or is he just dead?”, and so on. I can think of a lot of ways to play with luck and Probaballistics; I’m not sure what would be best.
Probaballistics and a luck meter, while still being very contrived, could feel less gamey than the current health-based systems. Health meters are an abstract, arbitrary construction that models something that really exists: pain, injury, death. Luck meters are an abstract, arbitrary construction that models something abstract: luck, probability. At least this way, we aren’t forced to deal with a clash of the real and the abstract. Everyone’s heard “my luck has run out” in everyday life, but “my health has run out” isn’t something someone spits out along with their last breath. We’re already used to the idea of luck being a “meter” of sorts.
Should every game adopt this system? No. Not at all. I can see this system being especially problematic with multiplayer games, where the feedback of a clean hit is necessary for the player to develop confidence and skill. Probaballistics only works when it’s just applied to the enemy’s gunfire, not the player’s
I can’t predict completely how such a system will play. Hopefully I can implement a basic version of it in a Sourcemod this summer and find out. I’m sure Probaballistics is doable from a processing standpoint. It’s strange to visualize this concept being adopted widely, but, then again, the regenerating shield in Halo was weird to me when I first played it—and now it’s everywhere.
Comments? Criticisms? Thoughts?