The problem with character cutscene deaths

Several months ago, a member of the Giant Bombcast brought up an interesting point. He mentioned how so many game characters can soak up an insane amount of damage in game, but be taken down by a single shot when necessary for a cutscene. 
He suggested the idea of a "luck meter" replacing the health bar, and a discussion followed on the possibility of implementing such a system. 

 "Aim slightly away from our hero"
 
It's really a brilliant solution. Currently, A.I. antagonists are programmed to aim directly at the player's character model and any protagonistic NPCs. Each hit lowers the health. The luck system doesn't seem to be much harder to design.
 
Not being a game programmer, I'll explain the hand-off in compete layman's terms. Say your character's luck is 100. The A.I. are programmed to aim for (luck) number of pixels away from you, plus or minus 10. If they manage to hit 90-99 pixels away, that lowers your luck meter by the amount of the difference (e.g. if 96, subtract 4 from luck), and the cycle restarts. Each "near miss" lowers your luck until down to 10, where the enemy finally has the possibility of killing you with a single shot.
 The (usually) Indestructible Spartan
 
I've always found a sense of disconnect through that ability of characters to survive a hail of gunfire for 8 hours before being cut down by a 9mm shot to the arm. 

When, in Halo: Reach, Kat died from a sniper shot in the head I felt irony rather than sadness; I could have sworn I just saw her get hit in the head by a sniper shot about FORTY-FIVE TIMES. 

What do you think? Should game developers replace the invisible, regenerating health bar with an invisible, regenerating luck bar? Should characters be able to take 9 hits before going down, or should they be able to nearly get hit 9 times before dying from a single shot?
15 Comments
16 Comments
Posted by mlarrabee

Several months ago, a member of the Giant Bombcast brought up an interesting point. He mentioned how so many game characters can soak up an insane amount of damage in game, but be taken down by a single shot when necessary for a cutscene. 
He suggested the idea of a "luck meter" replacing the health bar, and a discussion followed on the possibility of implementing such a system. 

 "Aim slightly away from our hero"
 
It's really a brilliant solution. Currently, A.I. antagonists are programmed to aim directly at the player's character model and any protagonistic NPCs. Each hit lowers the health. The luck system doesn't seem to be much harder to design.
 
Not being a game programmer, I'll explain the hand-off in compete layman's terms. Say your character's luck is 100. The A.I. are programmed to aim for (luck) number of pixels away from you, plus or minus 10. If they manage to hit 90-99 pixels away, that lowers your luck meter by the amount of the difference (e.g. if 96, subtract 4 from luck), and the cycle restarts. Each "near miss" lowers your luck until down to 10, where the enemy finally has the possibility of killing you with a single shot.
 The (usually) Indestructible Spartan
 
I've always found a sense of disconnect through that ability of characters to survive a hail of gunfire for 8 hours before being cut down by a 9mm shot to the arm. 

When, in Halo: Reach, Kat died from a sniper shot in the head I felt irony rather than sadness; I could have sworn I just saw her get hit in the head by a sniper shot about FORTY-FIVE TIMES. 

What do you think? Should game developers replace the invisible, regenerating health bar with an invisible, regenerating luck bar? Should characters be able to take 9 hits before going down, or should they be able to nearly get hit 9 times before dying from a single shot?
Posted by benjaebe

As soon as I saw the title of the blog I immediately thought of that scene in Reach.
I think that, unfortunately, there's just not a whole lot that can be done about it. It's a gameplay and story segregation that requires a willingness to suspend disbelief.

Posted by the_OFFICIAL_jAPanese_teaBAG

if you get a "modern" fps game and made it so that one shot would make you fall to your knees i dont think that would be a fun game. 

Posted by sirdesmond

I would love to see some innovation to the health system in most FPSs nowadays. Having a static health value tied to picking up health packs and the like made considerably more sense than the regenerating health of today, although I'm sure many would argue it was not nearly as fun and led to you getting stuck in games when it has saved and you only have 2 life left and three rooms of guys between you and the next health pack.

While this "luck" system idea is certainly an interesting one, I feel like they would need to tie these near misses to some sort of visual cue akin to the red directional arrows that commonly show you have been shot and from what direction in current FPSs. If not, you would not be able to properly discern how close the shots were coming to you without some exceptional sound design and lots of tracer rounds.

Also, it would depend on the type of experience they were looking to build, something realistic or a bit more over the top.

Edited by mlarrabee

Well, it would still take the same number of shots to down you, but with this system only the last shot is registered as a killing hit. The player would have to be made aware of how much luck he had left, just as "strawberry jam" is used today to show players how much health they have. It really has the same effect as the regenerating health system, but I feel a bit more immersive.
 
 
However, it obviously wouldn't work for multiplayer shooters, because human players will of course aim directly at the other characters. 
 
EDIT: I routinely miss the ol' health pack system. Except when I remember those times in Wolfenstein 3D where I had 12% health and had to run the gauntlet of 16 SS guys to reach the elevator.

Posted by TheFreeMan

I think that Amy Hennig once said that Drake's strange ability to regenerate from being shot in the face was really just luck - the screen going all black and white was his luck running out and it really only took one bullet to kill him. I very much dug that idea. I don't have a problem with regenerating health, but I definitely prefer when there's a logical story reason behind it, like the shields recharging in Halo or somesuch. For MW I'd like if they used this "luck" idea, but I don't think it would make much difference to gameplay from's a player's perspective - having bullets fly close to them and actually getting shot can be hard to distinguish from a FPS perspective, and it could also raise the problems of having bullets fly by you when you're in cover but still having your luck run out. I don't remember this discussion from the Bombcast, so maybe they already said everything I just did.

Edited by mlarrabee

I'll have to go back and replay Uncharted. I think in a case like that it really comes down to sound design. I don't recall, but I THINK the sounds of Drake's "luck damage" sound like bullet hits, and he grunts as though he is hit. I think if you could hear the bullets whizzing by, and hear the character breathe more and more shakily as his luck runs out, it would make for a more tense, realistic experience. 
 
As far as cover goes, that would stay the same as any current FPS. A bullet that would take away health is instead stopped by the cover, and in this case a bullet that falls into the range of luck damage would be checked for an environmental hit. If it hits a piece of cover the player is behind, luck damage remains unchanged. 
 
EDIT: Keep in mind that I have no idea what I'm talking about. :D I've never coded in anything harder than QBASIC, so what this luck system would entail could be next to impossible to actually implement.

Posted by xaLieNxGrEyx

I've never had an issue with this....
Edited by Ghostiet
@mlarrabee said:

Several months ago, a member of the Giant Bombcast brought up an interesting point. He mentioned how so many game characters can soak up an insane amount of damage in game, but be taken down by a single shot when necessary for a cutscene. 
He suggested the idea of a "luck meter" replacing the health bar, and a discussion followed on the possibility of implementing such a system.
   

This is actually the way Uncharted devs explain regenerating health in the games. The final bullet that kills Drake is also the first that actually hit him. It explains, for example, the ending of the train sequence in 2, where he gets shot in the gut and survives that probably through sheer determination.

EDIT: Motherfucker, someone one-upped me.

Edited by valrog

So in the end that would basically make everyone miss you? But you would still be downing an enormous amount of enemies... That reminds me of those action movies where 30 trained soldiers shoot at the protagonist and they all miss but at the same time he manages to land nearly impossible shots. Hmm, not sure which is the lesser of two evils.

Posted by EpicBenjamin

Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway had a "luck meter".

Posted by mlarrabee
@valrog said:
So in the end that would basically make everyone miss you? But you would still be downing an enormous amount of enemies... That reminds me of those action movies where 30 trained soldiers shoot at the protagonist and they all miss but at the same time he manages to land nearly impossible shots. Hmm, not sure which is the lesser of two evils.
True, that. Hadn't really thought about that aspect.
 
I guess it comes down to a case of "my one shot killed them, but their identical eight shots only slightly hurt me", or  "everybody else's aim is rotten while mine is spot-on". 
 
Yeah, I'm not sure which is worse, either...
Edited by SteamPunkJin

I always wondered why they didn't just throw that bitch a Phoenix Down, worked great for hours up till that point.
 
Edit: I'm not talking about Halo

Edited by FireBurger
Posted by dabe

You brind up a good point, the disconnect between narrative, gameplay and story/plot are so ridiculous I find myself laughing at cutscenes most of the time.
 
GTA IV is a prevelent example, albeit instead of surviving massive, oft fatal wounds, Niko Bellic is a mass-murderer who we're meant to care for by the game's cliff-hanger end. The Yakuza series also uses this trope, whereby  main protagonist Kazuma Kiryu battles through bullets, baseball bat hits and hundreds of Yakuza before being shot in a cutscene for dramatic effect.
 
Limbo:

Anyways, to my point, game developers often don't marry gameplay with cutscenes and you get an abortive mess narratively because of it. See Heavy Rain...
Posted by mlarrabee
@FireBurger: That's pretty much exactly what I imagine it to be like. I can't say I like the way they convey the risk level to the player, as that red fade looks kind of bad, in my opinion. But even in that '07 game build, they managed to make the visible bullet paths look pretty good, and that's another way to show your luck running out.