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Damage Numbers and Health Bars ….Why?!

An in-depth look at the way damage numbers and health bars help with decision making.

An in-depth look at the way damage numbers and health bars help with decision making.

Until we got this work-in-progress video out, I had no idea there’s a group of people who truly despise damage numbers and health bars.

I kind of get it. These are external, non-diegetic elements of a game. They must ruin the immersion, right?

But …so should, say, game music. It’s also external and non-diegetic. It’s not like there’s an orchestra following you around in the world of Skyrim.

The very idea of a movie soundtrack was nicely parodied in 1993’s under-appreciated comedy Fatal Instinct. A smooth jazz music plays during the conversation between the detective and the femme fatale, but when the detective opens the door, it turns out that all this time it was literally a guy with a saxophone.

I said it about six times already, there are health bars and damage numbers in Dark Souls and Bloodborne, and somehow no one claims these games lack immersion.

Health bars, health bars everywhere.

The other thing I already said multiple times is that Witchfire offers a customizable HUD, and you will be able to turn the health bars and damage numbers off.

Problem solved? Maybe, but here are five reasons why you might want to keep them on.

Hit Confirmation

(You might want to turn on HD, full screen and sound for these GIFs below)

One might think that no indication of a hit is necessary. After all, the player knows where the crosshair was at the moment of firing a shot, right?

Correct, but only if you’re fighting a single slow enemy. In the heat of a frantic battle, when juggling multiple targets quickly, things become much less obvious.

Game developers use many techniques to emphasize a good shot: extra particle effect, crosshair change, hit sounds – but they’re all not enough often enough. The effect might get lost among dozens of others (and shooters are usually full of smoke and fire). The crosshair change is too fast and, by the very nature of crosshairs being non-obstructive, hard to notice. The hit sound usually gets buried under more impactful sounds like the shot sound itself.

Some games play hit animations instantly when you damage the enemy and that is a very good indicator, but it’s possible only in rare cases (e.g. only human enemies with generally low HP pool). For most games it won’t work, because fast-firing weapons would immediately stun-lock the enemy and thus make the game devoid of any challenge. Imagine Dark Souls without the poise system.

Critical versus Normal Damage

Some games, Witchfire amongst them, differentiate between regular hits (aka body shots) and special, more damaging hits (aka headshots, Critical Hits, Precision Shots – these go by many names). Differently colored damage numbers let you know immediately if you did pull it off.

This reduces the frustration. Imagine you fight a “two headshots one body shot” enemy. You fire two headshots, then follow up with a body shot and quickly turn around to fight a new threat …only to be killed from behind by the same guy, because one of the headshots was actually a body shot.

Weapon Range

This is actually one of the most important things in Witchfire. Our damage/range model is much closer to Monster Hunter than to most shooters. Meaning there’s a very steep damage fall off and you need to have mastered the range of your weapon in order to properly apocalypse with it.

Take a look at this chart:

The blue line is Destiny 2. From 0 to Start distance, that your Effective Range, meaning the weapon does full damage. From Start to End that’s Damage Fall Off, meaning you start losing damage. From End distance to infinity, the weapon now does 50% damage.

An example would be a Hand Cannon that does 88 damage up to 25 meters, then gradually starts losing damage between 25 and 50 meters, and then from 50 meters plus it does 44 damage.

The red line is Witchfire. There’s your Effective Range, when the weapon does maximum damage, but then it loses damage quickly, and a couple of meters later it does only 1 damage (just to let you know that yes, you did hit the enemy, but you’re outside of the usable range of your weapon).

So here’s how it works in our case.

Please note, though, that the game is still under development, so who knows what we’ll end up with. But we’re playing with this solution for years now and we believe it’s the right one, as it raises the skill floor for more powerful, shorter range weapons.

Damage Boosts Feedback

Another important feature of Witchfire is the escalation of damage.

One of our Hand Cannons has this inherent perk that charges the bullets in the reserves with more power with each Critical Hit from the current clip. In this example, I execute one Critical Hit, and so one bullet in the reserves gets charged. I reload, and so the charged bullet is now in my chamber. I fire it, and boom – instead of the regular 132 damage, I do 165. Nice.

Sure, the charged bullets  will have a different sound and possibly a different hit effect, but I have already explained why that might not be enough. And anyway that’s just the first level of escalation, these numbers can get significantly higher. Having the values clearly displayed helps a lot in understanding which level of Escalation the players have reached.

But that’s damage number, what about the health bars?

Health Bars

Well, these are important, too. In this example, I fire two headshots, then dash. Imagine I dash in order to avoid a projectile, e.g. an enemy archer fired his crossbow. But because I noticed that my two shots left the current enemy with just a sliver of health, I quickly finish him off with hip-fired body shot, shaving off a few milliseconds otherwise wasted on aiming down sights for a clean headshot.

And these milliseconds will occasionally matter in Witchfire.

Another example would be an enemy sniper, charging his rifle to headshot me. As soon as my crosshair is near him, I see his health bar. It’s low. If it was full, I’d dash away at the right moment to avoid his shot, because I know I wouldn’t be able to kill him before he fires. But because it’s low, I risk it and headshot him, not only preventing me from getting damage this one time but also eliminating a threat from the battlefield, allowing me to focus on the remaining enemies.

Add variety of enemies and different stages of damage (enemies you damaged with spells or bullets but never finished), and suddenly the health bar is a great help with your decision making.

Finally, the twist.

Damage numbers and health bars are super useful. They’re here to help you, not to make the game look cooler or deeper or something. I hope I made my case.

But having said that …we don’t know what we’ll end up with (for the default setting, as I said it already, you’ll be able to customize the HUD anyway). There’s still a lot of work ahead of us, and it’s only when we have a significant amount of playable content that we will be able to determine what’s really needed and what’s fluff. For example, it may turn out that health bars are enough. Or it may turn out not only we need damage numbers but we need them bigger. Only time will tell!

(boomarking this post for any next time someone complains about damage numbers and health bars)

Question of the Week

A reminder we’re hesitant to call Witchfire a shlooter. Anyway: yes, but sometimes the choice is not that simple. For example, if you have a sniper rifle with two rolls: 1) four bullets in a clip and a slow reload, 2) three bullets in the clip and a 30% faster reload — which would you choose? Because I can make a case for either one…

More importantly, we had the “inventory space” issue for a long time. Last week, we solved it (which is exactly why I chose this tweet). No more juggling hundreds of weapons, number inflated by the “maybe it’ll be useful one day” rolls. Will talk about it more when we’re ready.

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