You Are What You Eat!

24th June 2004

I have always noticed the different types of health available in FPS games. The collection of health is a necessity and some developers try to make the presentation both interesting and relevant.

health pack

The three examples that spring to mind are the Nali Seeds in Unreal, the Half-Life soft drinks dispensers and the food and drink in Return to Castle Wolfenstein. They both added something to the rather prosaic action of walking over a medbox to get a boost. In the case of the Nali seeds you had the advantage of being able to save them for when you needed them but the disadvantage of having to wait precious moments while they miraculously grew right in front of your eyes.

The soft drinks idea just added another brick into the wall-of-detail that Half-Life has become famous for. Lastly, the food and drink from RtCW was a little more in depth. You had both hot and cold meals that gave different levels of health but the wine was possibly the best idea – you got a boost that took you over your normal 100% that lasted a short period of time. Enough of the history lesson, time for some new ideas.

Alcohol and other drugs
Go back to the RtCW wine example, you get the extra boost for approximately 1 minute then your health is reduced to its previous level, this time you begin to feel the negative effects of alcohol – the slight blurring of vision, increase in reaction time and the over estimation of your abilities – (this could manifest itself in inaccurate display of HUD data).

Fine Wines

Now jump ahead to the halfway stage of the game where you have become, through regular use of he freely available alcohol, an alcoholic. At this point your vision is blurred UNTIL you have a drink! That’s one example but I’m sure there are many other possibilities.

Fat Counter
Let’s look at the issue of over-eating of health. I know this issue carries with it a concern over negative portrayal of obese people but I will try to keep things as PC as possible. Most games set a limit to the amount of health that you are able to collect but what if you could get fat?


Here’s how it could work:
You are able to collect any health you find; however anything you collect that takes your health total over 100 is added to your fat counter. This counter is separate from your normal health and could have both positive and negative effects on gameplay.

· Any damage you take from opponent’s hits is less than it would normally be.
· You are stronger and any non-ammunition weapons you use become more potent

· You character moves slower than normal.
· You may not fit through certain areas of the map (alternatives would need to be provided).
· Your max jump height/length is reduced.
· A small proportion of any health collected is automatically added to the Fat Counter.

Let’s look at a specific example:
Your health is 85 and you collect a medbox worth 25 this brings you total to 110. The HUD shows 100, while the FC shows 10. A bit later you on your health is down to 70 and you find a super health of 50 and collect it. Your normal health returns to 100 while the FC is increased to 20. After your FC reaches 25 you begin to feel the effects mentioned earlier. You’ve probably already asked yourself how will this effect gameplay in the general sense. Well, instead of collect every medbox in sight you have to be more careful, maybe in certain sections of the game it actually benefits you to be fat.
The FC is reduced slowly automatically during the game and certain actions could increase the rate at which this happens, for example running or climbing. One last point, there’s no reason why the FC has to be visible. By hiding it you could try to get the play more aware of their characters movement and abilities.

Four main food types
In the real world we have four main food types:
· Ketchup, meat, beer & crisps (Potato chips for Americans)

Apparently the above information is incorrect (news to me) and the list should read:
· Carbohydrates, proteins, fruit & vegetables and grains.


All four are necessary for the body to function properly in the long term. Why not extend this to games, where a combination of health elements have to be collect in the correct proportion? In the short term an imbalance has little or no effect on our game character but prolonged imbalances produce weak players. This of course then turns into simple side quests but the variety may prove interesting.

Survival of the smartest
This particular idea is very specific and therefore may not prove to be worth discussion. Everybody who has been taught to survive in hostile and unknown environments knows that you should never eat anything until you know more about. A berry that looks, smells and tastes delicious may have poisonous effects. What you should do is try a little bit and wait a day or so and see if there are any negative effects. Why not have certain health givers that occasionally give a bad reaction?


Not strictly on the topic as health but related are injuries. A sound that still haunts be is the one from Half-Life where you jumped or fell from a height that was just a little beyond your abilities and you fractured you leg. Unfortunately, the effects of that break were completely invisible. Why not limp around for a while? The screen could dip to one side every other step and you wouldn’t be able to run as fast.

Extending the health idea a little more, why not make it possible to catch a cold or other disease? There are lots of fun effects that could be displayed in-game. Shivering is am obvious one as is a thumping headache. I can just imagine playing the game now, with the “thump thump thump” in the background. “Need to find some medicine or another medicinal plant”.
Pre-mission briefing would of course contain valuable information regarding both poisonous and medicinal plants. Oh, at that briefing is a one-off, no looking it up during the game. If you forgot or weren’t paying attention that’s your tough luck!


Perhaps these are too far removed from health to be relevant here but maybe they would simply be categorized as mental health. How about vertigo? You get to a high ledge and suddenly you world begins to spin and control of you character becomes that little bit harder. Claustrophobia is another option. You experience a panic attack if you have to hide in a small place for too long. It would be interesting to see how developers try to communicate a phobia. My thoughts include shaking and the view jumping around (as if you are involuntarily looking around. Another idea is to make movement slightly unpredictable, when you move forward perhaps there is a minor movement to the lefy or right. On a ledge this might be a real problem. Anyway, you get the idea.


Waste Removal
This may be too delicate for some of you more sensitive types. Have you ever seen a game where you had to relieve yourself? I haven’t but there might be one. Within the context of smarter AI, careful choice of where to “go” may make the difference between detection and staying unobserved. Now, I’m not actually suggesting that players have a bar that indicates “it’s time to go” and the player stops to have a shit, but we do already have a crouch button! Of course pissing against a wall and leaving a trail could also be used to the player’s advantage if the map is maze like.

The aim of presenting these ideas is to stimulate discussion on an often over looked area of game design. I think that creative thinking in the area of health collection and use can bring real dividends to gameplay and players’ perceptions of the game. As readers of my previous posts may know I am only interested in FPS games and as such some ideas may only be relevant for that genre.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts and ideas.

This piece was also posted on the IDGA Forums and at Ten Four.


  1. Joseph

    I am one of the few former sys admins, web designers, computer networking engineers who has never played a computer game. I connect the playing of such games with a emasculated new gender, perhaps a “homersexual” (as in Homer Simpon) or a cybersexual. Why am I connecting the unidirectional entertainment process between machine and human as a sexual issue or even gender?

    My opinion is that the time alloted to computer games and sports voyarism absorbes several cognative functions and psychological (bio-chemical) which resemble those while having sex. Given the millions of hours that gamers and sports fans obsess with thier processes and statistics, I see that “sex” has been replaced with another obsession.

    I am writing a book called “HOMERSEXUALS: a gender of watchers” to expose the almost “homoerotic” quality of those who spend over 2-3 hours a day engaged in “watching others play with balls”. For gamers who’s proclivities might include a wide range of games I suggest that a similar process occurs when they divert thier creative and sexual energy into this insular “psuedo-interactive” world. It concerns me that the predominanlty “Northern Eurpoean” gamers will allow themselves to be subsumed into the machine, loose all thier chicks, and become “cyber bitches” who are still locked into some “erotic kindergarten of virtual excitement”.

    I really feel sorry for you guys, but especially for your girls. They are definately looking elsewhere for “reality stimulous”.


  2. Joe

    Ok, so first the above post seems a bit homer-phobic almost especially given the amount of research into how gaming improves life. I also find it odd that you don’t consider the fact girls play games. My girlfriend, a former frag-doll for ubisoft, would be one of the first to set you straight. It doesn’t occur to you perhaps that it is simply a social activity and actually nothing to do with sex? I’ve not seen anything ever to suggest that Half-life 2 is akin to sleeping with my girlfriend…

    I’d also like to point out that as you say: “My opinion is that the time alloted to computer games and sports voyarism absorbes several cognative functions and psychological (bio-chemical) which resemble those while having sex”. Isn’t that just an opinion? I’m a writer too and I suggest you get some facts before you try to get a publisher. I’d also ask how you have such strong opinions (and odd ones) when you say you’ve never played a game? You say you connect it with certain feelings but that seems a subjective an personal connection. In sum, you remind me a bit of my sister who (as well as being able to own my ass at Half-Life MP) says she won’t eat onions in anything because they taste horrid. Shes never tried one or considered the taste can be altered by the process of cooking.

    Also, Philip, a game you might like for this idea is Fable. Its an RPG, not FPS admittedly, but it has you being able to grow fat from overeating and tattoo yourself and become drunk etc. Another game like this is Boiling Point but that game is crap and filled with bugs. I like the idea of the phobias and I think they originally planned this for Fallout. In the data files theres info about char. traits that were never implemented such as “Axe Psycho” where you have to murder so many innocent people a day with a melee weapon or suffer withdrawl, you could also get fat and become addicted to drugs, fizzy drinks, alchohol, gambling and sex as well as carnage. Originally phobias would cut off certain paths for the PC so that you would not be able for example to cross a bridge if you had vertigo but would have to take amore dangerous route around it.

    1. homer-phobic?! ROFLMAO! I love it…

Leave a Reply

Comment Formatting Guide

Well formatted comments are much easier to read. Please copy and paste the HTML Tags to use in your comment

  • HEADER: <div class="fix"></div><div class="sbe3">TEXT HERE</div>
  • BOLD: <strong>TEXT HERE</strong>
  • ITALIC: <em>TEXT HERE</em>
  • SPOILER: <span class="spoiler">TEXT HERE</span>