Health (game terminology)
Health or hit points is an attribute in tabletop role-playing games and video games that determines the maximum amount of damage that a character or object can take. If the amount of health is fully depleted, the character dies or loses consciousness. Such a character can be the player character, a mob or a boss. Health can also be attributed to destructible elements of the game environment or inanimate objects such as vehicles and their individual parts. In video games, health is often represented by visual elements such as a numerical fraction, a health bar or a series of small icons, though it may also be represented acoustically, such as through a character's heartbeat.
The term "hit points" was first coined by Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Dave Arneson. While developing Dungeons & Dragons with Gary Gygax based on the latter's previous game Chainmail, Arneson noticed that it was more interesting for players to manage small squads than a large army. This also allowed them to act out the role of each squad member. However, this approach had one drawback: according to the rules of Chainmail, the player rolls the dice during each battle, and depending on the number rolled, the character either kills the enemy or is killed. Because players did not want to lose the characters they had become accustomed to, Arneson created a "hit point" system based on similar mechanics previously used in Don't Give Up the Ship and Ironclads. According to this system, each character has a certain number of hit points, which decreases with each blow dealt to them. This allows the character to survive several hits from an enemy.
Some of the first computer games to use hit points are Rogue (1980), in which health is represented by a fraction, and Dungeons of Daggorath (1982), which includes an audible heartbeat influenced by the player character's condition. One of the first games to use a graphical indicator for health points is Nintendo's 1983 arcade title Punch-Out!!. The game includes a "stamina" scale that replenishes every time the player successfully strikes the opponent and decreases if the player fails to dodge the opponent's blow. If the scale is fully depleted, the player character loses consciousness. Namco's 1984 title Dragon Buster is considered the first game to have popularized the use of a health bar. Before the introduction of health points, video games used a life system in which the player could only take damage once, but could continue the game at the expense of a life. The introduction of health mechanics granted players the right to make mistakes and allowed game developers to influence a game's difficulty by adjusting the damage an enemy character inflicts.
In video games, as in tabletop role-playing games, an object usually loses health points as a result of being attacked. Protection points or armor help them to reduce the damage taken. Characters acting as tanks usually have more health and armor. In many games, particularly role-playing video games, the player starts with a small amount of health and defense points, but can increase them by gaining the required amount of experience points and raising the character's level.
In game design, it is considered important to clearly show that the player's character (or other object that they control) is losing health points. In his book Level Up!: The Guide to Great Video Game Design, game designer Scott Rogers wrote that "health should deplete in an obvious manner, because with every hit, a player is closer to losing their life". As examples of visualizing health loss, Rogers cited Arthur of Ghosts 'n Goblins, who loses a piece of armor with each sustained hit, as well as the cars in the Grand Theft Auto series, in which smoke begins to flow from the hood after the car takes a significant amount of damage.
The use of health points simplifies the game development process (since developers do not need to create complex damage systems), allows computers to simplify calculations associated with the game, and makes it easier for the player to understand the game. However, more complex and realistic damage systems are used in a number of games. In Dwarf Fortress, instead of health points, dwarves have separate body parts, each of which can be damaged. The Fallout games use health points, but allow characters to inflict damage to different parts of the enemy's body, which affects gameplay. For example, if a leg is injured, the character can get a fracture, which will reduce their movement speed, and if their arm is injured, the character can drop their weapon. Health points can also serve as a plot element. In Assassin's Creed, if the protagonist takes too much damage, thus departing from the "correct" route, the game ends and returns the player to the nearest checkpoint.
In some games such as The Legend of Zelda and Monster Hunter, only the player's health points are visible. This is done so that the player does not know how many blows still need to be delivered, which makes the game less predictable. Contrariwise, other games such as the Street Fighter series have both the player's and the opponent's health points clearly visible, which allows the player to understand how successful their combat strategy is and how many remaining blows need to be inflicted on the enemy.
Players can often restore a character's health points by using various items such as potions, food or first-aid kits. In role-playing video games, the player can also restore a character's health by visiting a doctor or resting at an inn. A number of games incorporate a mechanic known as "life steal" or "life leech", which allows a character to restore health by siphoning it from an enemy. Methods for replenishing health points differ from each other and are dependant on the game's genre. In more dynamic action games, it is important to quickly restore a character's health, while role-playing games feature slower-paced methods of health restoration to achieve realism.
A number of games incorporate a regeneration system that automatically replenishes health points if the character does not take damage. This makes the game easier to play by giving the player the opportunity to restore the character's health after a difficult battle. However, this system can make the game too easy, allowing the player to safely run through dangerous parts of the game without consequence. The earliest games to use the regeneration mechanic were Hydlide (1984) and the Ys series, in which the character's health points are restored when the character does not move. Halo: Combat Evolved (2001) is credited with popularizing the use of regeneration in first-person shooters. However, according to GamesRadar+'s Jeff Dunn, regeneration in its current form was introduced in The Getaway (2002), as Halo: Combat Evolved only used shield regeneration.
The health point indicator can be represented in various ways. The most basic forms are fractions and health bars, as well as various icons such as hearts or shields. The indicator can be combined with other elements of the game interface. Doom uses a character portrait located at the bottom of the screen as such an indicator. If the hero takes damage, his face will be covered with blood. The health point indicator can also be part of the character. In Dead Space, it is located on the main character's costume. In Trespasser, it is represented as a tattoo on the main character's chest. The character's condition can be conveyed through sound. In Dungeons of Daggorath, the frequency of the player character's audible heartbeat is dependant on how much damage has been received. Silent Hill uses a similar system, but transmits the heartbeat via vibrations from the DualShock controller.
The player character's health point indicator often occupies a significant position in the game's heads-up display. In The Legend of Zelda, it occupies one third of the entire display. However, a number of games do without such an indicator. In the Super Mario series, the player character initially only has one health point, and the character's appearance is used to signify the amount of health points; if the character collects a Super Mushroom, they grow in size and gain an additional health point. In a number of first-person shooters, such as Call of Duty or Halo, the numerical value of the character's health points is hidden from the player. However, when the player character receives a large amount of damage, the game screen (or the part of the screen to which damage was dealt) is painted red, often including drops of blood, which simulates the effect of real-life injury. As health is restored, these effects gradually disappear.
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