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.