Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Hide those Numbers

I’m long done with Fable III (or done-ish, since I still mean to do a couple of post game things, such as marrying some random villager. The same way I still mean to finish Fallout: New Vegas, Portal 2, and other games that I simply fail to pick up again after a break of some sort.) I had fun, but I wouldn’t really call it a good game, nor a particularly innovative one. There was one feature in it, though, that I haven’t seen done this way before. The game completely hides numbers during combat, which made it a lot more interesting.

In a normal RPG combat situation I would take a look at depleting health bars, compare them to the amount of damage I’m taking and dealing and then calculate whether I would be able to complete the fight as it is or whether a health potion might be necessary. Fable III gives you no health bars at all. Instead your own condition is simply shown by the fact that the borders of the screen slowly start going red after you take a certain amount of damage. You’re never told just how that relates to the actual damage you took.

This lead to a lot of combat situations in which I felt threatened and either focused much more on dodging or defending or drank a health potion. For all I know I might just have had a scratch or I could have been mortally wounded. Because I didn’t know, I had to act as if red borders on the screen meant that I was about to die and play accordingly.

We often talk about death penalties as a way to make players play cautiously, but Fable III didn’t need that in my case. I was immersed enough that the fights made me feel threatened. That’s good. If I had had a health bar, all that immersion would have been gone and replaced by pure calculation.

Now, I’m a fan of calculating things and I think I might just get bored with a game that doesn’t give me numbers to work with after a while. Then again, I remember tanking on my very first warrior and trying to gauge the amount of threat (and damage, for that matter) I could do by the reaction of the mobs. Later on, I had quite a bit of fun calculating such things, but it was a different kind of fun.

I’m really not sure if a system like that of Fable III would even work in an MMO or if people would just make detailed charts of what each shade of red means exactly. What I’m sure of, though, is that is quite useful to try and hide things from your players in a single-player game. Play make-believe if you will. And don’t forget that you can rely on a certain willing suspension of disbelief to help you along the way. I know that Fable uses numbers internally and I know that I could probably char the meaning of the different reds. I was still willing to suspend that disbelief and play along because I realized that it increased my enjoyment.


  • I’ve seen that in Call of Duty before and I, too, think this is worth a very serious look for any (MMO)RPG. It’s certainly not desired by hardcore raiders, but for the rest of us it might improve the game by a lot.

    I haven’t thought this through yet and didn’t even make a post on the topic, but it could really help the player to immerse in the world, instead of engaging in statistics. Especially if the red-ness of the screen is not exactly precitable.

    The big question is: would this be frustrating?
    Nils´s last blog post ..Dissent

  • I can certainly see it being annoying. If you die because the game didn’t make it clear enough that you were, you’ll be pissed. It could be equally annoying to have to drink potions all the time because you feel close to death when you aren’t. Things candefinitely go wrong with such a system, but I feel that ir has enough of an upside to makeit worth trying.

  • If you die because the game didn’t make it clear enough that you were, you’ll be pissed.

    The solution would (and is) to make the red look harmless for the first 25% damage, then start to look extremely dangerous for 25%-75%. So that you wonder how you can still life at 75%. But somehow you still live, and since there’s not much difference between 75% and 100% you feel lucky if you somehow didn’t die at 90% damage and feel like you lost by a large margin if you take 100% damage 😉
    Nils´s last blog post ..Dissent

  • I’m playing vindictus for anti boredom between raids. and – although it has healthbars – I’m constantly in fear of dying. That’s just because – well, you take a hell of a lot damage when you get hit, even from “normal” mobs.

    Maybe I have to explain a bit.. In Vindictus you don’t really have an open world, but you travel to your missions or quests, with a boat. Once there there are 3 types of mobs, generally spoken.
    There’s trash (with even more sub categories like onehit-spiders to pretty tough but predictable hammer-gnolls) trash gets interrupted or even knocked down when you hit them, so those are pretty easy when seperated.

    You got elite-trash, those are not that easy. They got a additional name, like poisened oder burned or stoneskin. You need to use a special combo to knock them on the floor or in the air, some of them even resistant to that combo.

    And well, each level you got at least one boss. large healthpoool, massive attacks.

    The point is, you REALLY don’t want to get hit. That’s the cause of 2 things: first,
    when you hit a mob, you get a point on a counter to the right of your screen. the higher you get that counter the better is your rating and therefore the more XP and skillpoints you get when you finish the level.

    and second, elites and bosses hit like A FREAKIN TRUCK
    when you get poisened by an elite, you might well lose half of your health, that’s the case with most dots in Vindictus. Additionally there’s a chance of breaking your armor, so you’ll take even more damage on the next hit. When you get hit by a boss.. well… half to 3/4 of your health-bar gone and usually a bleeding debuff for another quarter of your HP.

    Now take in account that you can take 16 health-pots with you in any mission, each restoring 1/4 of your health if used. No healers, no other source of healing that would be worth mentioning.


    I’m really thrilled during a bossfight, despite knowing how many HP I got left. Maybe BECAUSE knowing that the next hit might kill me.

    I think knowing your HP is a good thing, but just make health something you really don’t want to use and you got the thrill.