2.24.2010

Beyond Health Bars

A professor recently brought to my attention something about the amazing game Ico for the PS2 that I hadn't consciously considered before. One of the game's most unique mechanics is its health system. Whoa! Don't leave. This gets more interesting, I promise...
Any game with combat has some sort of health system that tracks the player's nearness to death. Typically, you'll see this manifest in a few different ways:

  • Health Bar: a bar in the HUD that shrinks as you take damage. No bar left, you dead.
  • Lives: the number of times you can die before you... well, before you're REALLY dead... until you select "Continue"
  • Imposing Red Doom: as you take damage, a red tint spreads in towards the center of the screen.
  • Ouch, My Colors: as you take damage, the screen gets less and less saturated until it is black and white
Ico does things differently, and essentially makes Ico's companion Yorda his health indicator. You see, enemies in Ico want Yorda. They want to take her from you and suck her into a black abyss from which they spawn. If Yorda gets sucked all the way in, Ico loses the game. So what does this mean for you? I'll tell you! It means she's you're health bar! The further she's taken, the more in danger of "dying" you are. Anyhoo, I thought that to be an brilliantly innovative idea that you don't see too often. So, just for giggles, here are a few ideas for new health systems. These are all completely serious. Completely.
  • Health Hat: you've gotten a rotten haircut, and the baddies are out to reveal your hideousness. Fortunately for you, you have a hat. Beware though, your enemies will attack your hat. If they destroy it, you die... of embarrassment.
  • Sunrise/Sunset: Much like Superman and Birdman before you, you are powered by the sun. When it is high in the sky, you are nigh invulnerable. At dawn and dusk, however, you are weak and can be felled with the weakest of blows. Your health fluctuates beyond your control!
  • Wounds: Like real life, bad wounds don't just heal themselves, or even stay static. No sir, they get worse. They get infected. Get hit, and your health starts dropping. Better get that looked at before its too late!
  • My Town: You draw power from the citizens of your hometown. Keep them safe, and you will grow more durable as they grow and prosper. However, if your city struggles or is attacked, you are weakened!
  • Neat Freak For Your Life!: Boy, do you HATE dirt. Fight bad guys to rid the world of scum like them, but beware real scum! The dirtier you get, the weaker you get. Just like in real life. Kind of.

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