Back in times of arcade, games were difficult. They were designed to kick your ass in about 2 minutes. That’s just how business worked – play for 2 minutes, then put another quarter or let somebody else do that. Today business works differently. Today games are played for hours. There are many tricks designers use to keep you playing. Here’s one of them – damage reduction.
I saw Bioshock Infinite trailer some days ago and it made me want to come back to the Rapture once again. So I launched Bioshock but this time around I wasn’t going to play just for fun. This time around I wanted to analyze how stuff works. I started with simple balance question: “after how many hits does player die?”
Here’s a health bar from Bioshock. After I got hit about 4 times, it looked like this:
It seems like the next hit should kill me. That feels hard, but I’m playing on hard difficulty so it seems legit ;) I’m ready to take the last hit and die. So I get hit… But I’m not dead.
After 6 hits health bar looks like this:
And here it is again after 8 hits:
I finally died after 9 hits. A-ha!
In order to keep me away from frustration and to keep me playing, my damage was drastically reduced. I’ve found a great example of invisible damage reduction right at the beginning of the game. Awesome! But hey, there’s more. I reload the game. This time I kill my enemy after I got hit about 7 times. I thought I’m gonna die, but somehow I barely made it. I was able to comeback. That feels awesome!
Similar mechanics can be found in fighting games like Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. If you look closely you will notice that damage reduction is applied to long combos. This is done for following reasons:
1. Disable Touch Of Death combos – it’s really not cool when the other player is able to kill you with one successful combo
2. Gives loosing player a chance for a comeback – this is also reinforced with special comeback mechanics, like ultra meter from SF which fills when you get hit and allows you to launch devastating move to tip the scale in your favor.
3. Make the match a little bit longer.
Challenge for you
Game designers use many behind the curtain tricks to keep you playing. Next time you play a game I encourage you to try and find them. It’s like discovering magician’s secret – you’re gonna love it!