A lot of players take for granted the concept of damage feedback in gaming, an essential feature that has been addressed in often very creative ways.
A lot of gamers take a lot of the most important features of a game for granted–you rarely notice when it’s there, but when it’s gone, it can severely hamper the entire experience. From save games to options menus and collision detection, there are so many basic functions that can make or break a game that developers have to carefully fine-tune to reach the bare minimum of a playable game. Wouldn’t it be tedious if someone was in a massive firefight against multiple opponents, but the player couldn’t tell if they were even hurting the enemy or if they were getting hurt themselves?
Visual and auditory indicators of damage are essential, especially in video games where the player has to fight against multiple opponents. Even as early as Super Mario Bros., with its flattening of Goombas and shrinking Mario sprites, many games have struggled to make sure the player would know when they are affecting their target and when they are actually being hurt. Damage feedback is nigh-universal in gaming, taking utmost importance in games with heavy amounts of combat like action-platformers and first-person shooters.
Most games try to indicate damage to both a player and an enemy with a visible health bar, but when a player is too preoccupied with the action overlooking some numbers, it’s hard to know they’re being hurt at all until it’s too late. Some games are particularly creative in showcasing damage without needing a health bar, or at the very least, getting them to pay attention to their health with a violent wake-up call. Early 2D games like Mega Man and Castlevania popularized the use of the “knockback” system, illustrating the effect of carelessly touching an enemy visibly and clearly while granting them invincibility frames to let the player get back on track.
The Metroid series is an early example that showcases particularly detailed and robust damage feedback. This franchise has inspired many staple gameplay features like interconnected maps and visual storytelling. In the 2D games, on top of featuring the classic knockback, the player knows if Samus’ beams affect an enemy with the targeted opponent briefly flashing white with every direct hit and bosses turning a darker shade of red the closer they are to death. The 3D Metroid Prime games emphasize immersion, so on top of having health bars, enemies flash red and flinch when damaged, whereas Samus’ visor frequently flashes or is struck by static when she’s hit.
By their very nature, first-person shooters emphasize hyper-violence and immersion; while the player might have a health bar, enemies typically do not. Because of this, many developers get around this limitation by providing other indicators such as blood or stunlocks. Halo does this very well, with the Elites having energy shields that flash and change color when struck and recharge on their own, making it easy for a player to tell whether or not their shield is down. When an Elite’s shield is depleted and they are mortally wounded, they will invariably shout out a death cry before charging defiantly at the player. This simple action is enough to tell players that their opponent’s health is low, and one or two melee strikes will be enough to finish them.
Enemies do not necessarily have to be organic to show weaknesses and signs of damage. Horizon Zero Dawn provides several Machine enemies with specific weak points for Aloy to shoot. The various Machines have different weaknesses to different weapons, but once their weak points are struck, not only does their health bar drop more quickly, but their combat effectiveness is also significantly reduced. This is often indicated by various metal pieces and gears falling off of their chassis, some of which Aloy can grab for scrap as the Machine slowly begins to smoke and sputter.
Similar to Horizon, the newest DOOM entries have some of the best damage indicators in recent memory, though with considerably more meaty gore and copious amounts of blood. While many games usually feature excessive gore as a finisher or for scripted sequences, both DOOM and DOOM Eternal have gore that acts as a health bar of its own. The more chunks of flesh ripped off from a Cacodemon or an Imp, the closer that demon is to their untimely demise. An enemy on the brink of death will flash and glow, indicating that they are open for a glory kill finisher that restores the player’s health while rewarding them with a violent coup de grace.
Not all forms of damage feedback are created equal, though. MachineGames’ Wolfenstein: The New Colossus lacks some of the most basic indicators of damage feedback. BJ Blazcowicz doesn’t even flinch or start seeing red when he’s struck by a bullet, something that most first-person shooters do by default. This lack of damage feedback is one of the biggest criticisms of what would otherwise be a stellar shooter, proving the importance of such a basic function in all games. Damage feedback is one of gaming’s most important features and something every dev needs to keep in mind when creating games.
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About The Author
Vladimir Olivares (148 Articles Published)
Vladimir Olivares is a writer, illustrator, and short film-maker based in the United States. Fond of comic books, manga, movies, video games, and TV shows of various different genres, he is knowledgable in classic comic book history and is well-versed in other forms of graphic novel media of varying genres, ranging from fantasy, noir, and science fiction, both from Western authors to that of Japanese manga. Vladimir is currently working as a freelance writer for Valnet, Inc., covering Comic Book Resources. Follow him on Twitter at @valolivares123. and check out his art page on Artstation.