Gameplay Mechanics: Regenerating Health

Health packs!Every shooter in the history of the genre has had some form of health system. As you get hurt, your health decreases, and you die when it hits zero. This is very cut-and-dry throughout most games. Of course, there must be some way of recovering that health though. There are some variations, though it’s one area that I think some good mechanics can still be created for. Many games have had different ways of recovering health, but the form we’ve seen the most often is that it regenerates automatically with no action from the player. It’s become very popular in most shooters and other genres and I’ve seen it implemented in several mods for Doom, Quake and other games. However, many don’t seem to realize all the different effects this has on different aspects of gameplay. Now, there are a few misconceptions regarding what regenerating health actually does because it’s so often paired with a few other mechanics: namely cover mechanics, slow movement speed, dominantly hitscan attacks, checkpoints and reloading weapons. There are several games that feature some or even all of the mechanics at the same time, and each one brings their own set of considerations. Because they’re so often featured with regenerating health, it’s very easy to associate the effects of one with the other mechanics. In this article, I’ll write about health recovery systems specifically, and will try to avoid consequences that these other systems introduce.
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Definition of Terms

A friend suggested I define some terms or concepts that I use, so people don’t have to wonder what I’m talking about, they can actually check. A lot of them will be common-sense for those who have been playing games, and if they are for you then just skip it. I’ll keep adding onto this as I run into terms I should define.

First-person: The view in-game is from the perspective of the player; through his eyes, etc.

Third-person: The view in-game isn’t necessarily through the player’s eyes. Usually it’s over his shoulder.

Mechanics: Some distinct element of the game, usually a set of them define a genre of game. Some examples include upgrade systems, a first-person view, or even reloading on weapons.

Shooters: Genre of game where you have a gun and you shoot things, usually centering around action. I wish it was as cut and dry as that, but later will throw in comparisons to set them apart.

Role-Playing Games: The role-playing games are classically defined as a game where you choose a role and play as that. They are usually accompanied by a set of mechanics, such as creating and designing a player character from scratch, acquiring experience points to progress in power (leveling up), or performing tasks and missions (quests) for neutral people (non-player characters). Some games use some of these classic RPG mechanics, but aren’t actually RPGs.

Monster: Kind of basic, but it’s the generic term for some enemy in shooters, RPGs and other games. For example, I’ve used it to describe enemies in Binary Domain, which are just robots.

Open World: Usually used more in role-playing games, but used in some shooters as well. Open-world games usually give you objectives, but don’t really care how you accomplish them, and in some cases don’t care about the order in which you accomplish them. The first half of Crysis 1, Red Faction: Guerrilla and Fallout 3 are good examples.

First-person shooters with RPG mechanics vs first-person RPGs: Some people have got on me about the difference between first-person RPGs and FPSs with RPG mechanics. For example, I say I’m not talking about RPGs, but I mention Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The primary difference between these two genres is how quickly things die when you shoot at them. In Deus Ex, if you shoot something with an assault rifle it’s going to die pretty quickly, but in Fallout 3, you can sometimes shoot things in the head several times before they die. The other difference is how central the RPG mechanics are to the game. For example, in Fallout 3, the game revolves around getting new, better equipment and leveling up individual stats, and even your weapon skills revolve around those stats.

Old-School: I keep hearing this term used as though it means “limited and crappy,” but whenever I use it, I mean it as a game of a particular style that was more popular years ago. For example, Quake is “old-school” compared to Rage because it’s of a style that was more popular back in ’96 than it is now. Nothing to do with whether or not it’s more fun or better, just using it to refer to style.