Early in Star Citizen’s development, we laid out Chris Roberts’ vision for a new, more interesting system of character death. You can read all about it in Death of a Spaceman, but the gist is that our game aims to treat dying very seriously. To make Star Citizen’s world immersive and engaging, we crafted a high level design for a system that attempts to treat player death as more than just a ‘respawn and then continue playing’ moment. It’s possible to survive the destruction of your ship, to survive your battle wounds… but it’s also possible to lose your character permanently.
Until recently, Star Citizen’s death mechanic was a broad concept. Something we intended to put into play when the persistent universe launches, not something we needed to engineer for the Hangar Module or Arena Commander. With the upcoming First Person Shooter module, that changes significantly. A key portion of any FPS is the health system, which connects directly back to player death. Think back to classic FPS’ you have played. There have been countless iterations on player health and death, from picking up med kits in Wolfenstein to passing periodic regeneration chambers in Bioshock to the ‘rest and heal’ mechanic in the Call of Duty series. The challenge for the team at Illfonic became: how do we express Chris’ goals regarding player death through the FPS health system? The balancing act between realism and fun is important but what is more important is staying true to the vision. We want every firefight to matter and we want the player to feel both a sense of triumph in victory and the consequences of defeat.
In the end, the team decided to run counter to the standard FPS mechanics of regenerating health and instantly respawning on death to make every fight a calculated decision that can have ramifications that impact your character and place in the ‘Verse. What follows are the FPS health mechanics as we have implemented them; like much of Star Citizen, we’re excited to break from the norm and try something we believe to be extraordinary!
For health, we have devised a limb-based system with varying degrees of severity, permanence and reaction that we feel makes FPS combat more tactical and interesting.
Keeping in the spirit of total immersion, limb damage is a serious issue in FPS combat. All parts of the body have their own health. What this means is that there is no “overall health”; instead, ten different parts of the body (called limbs, detailed below) track their own data and impact the total for each Citizen. The amount of damage an individual limb suffers can be modified by other factors, such as armor and even environment. For instance, having armor on a particular limb will reduce the damage effect. There are 4 levels of health to each limb, each of which impacts how your character controls (what they are capable of, their response time and so on.) These are:
- Normal – You are fit and ready to fight!
- Hurt – Hurt limbs can cause problems with aiming, walking, or other functions that would require that limb. Limbs can get hurt from being too close to an electric spark, flame, outer explosion, or being hit with objects in the environment. Light Armored players can quickly be hurt.
- Damaged – Damaged limbs are useless and the player cannot use them unless they get them patched up in the field or taken to a mobile trauma system (see: Healing). This is the state right after the hurt phase, where the pain is so severe to the player, that no matter what limb is damaged, they will have a hard time being mobile. If one of their legs are damaged, they fall to the ground and crawl.
- Ruined – Limbs in this phase are essentially gone. The player will most likely bleed out at this state. This is usually something as bad as your arm being blown off. If the ruined limb is an arm then you will not be able to aim any weapons that require it. For example two handed weapons require both arms to be outside the Ruined state. Screen effects are also present to simulate the pain the player is enduring in this state. If the player is able to be healed by a player with medical equipment, the limb is completely gone and cannot be used, but the player can at least move around and continue the fight (if they have their legs, that is!)
In the current system, there are 10 Limbs that can receive isolated damage.
- Right Upper Arm
- Right Lower Arm
- Left Upper Arm
- Left Lower Arm
- Right Upper Leg
- Right Lower Leg
- Left Upper Leg
- Left Lower Leg
Limb damage is measured as a percentage, with Normal being a limb at 90% or greater, Hurt is between 90% and 50%, Damaged is 50% to 1% and Ruined is 0%. Limbs will transition between the three states of damage based on the amount of health the limb has remaining. Modifiers, such as armor or atmosphere, also impact the base health numbers.
Identifying Limb Damage
There are many ways limb damage can be identified. These are just a few.
- Visual – Damage to limbs will normally be observable by players; taking a hit will call out a damage state in much the same way as our ships.
- Helmet HUD / mobiGlas – When a Limb changes state, an icon of the limb flashes on the screen to its current state. This is only available if you have a biometric suit attachment for your mobiGlas or your armor suit has biometric monitoring.
- Gadget – Some gadgets will allow players to track their limb damage state, including medical devices or other HUD devices.
If you are not wearing the appropriate gear, you may not have a fancy status indicator keeping your character up to date with you’re the state of your health. It will be critical for you to pay attention to other signs such as shortness of breath, limping, loss of limbs, tunnel vision and other signs. If your character is bleeding out, you will fall limp, in such agony that you are unable to move. If you are wearing the appropriate gear, you might be able to track your characters status better.
These charts represent an example of how you may see your characters overall health status. Each state is more violent and color coded for easy recognition.
While you can track limb damage visually, you won’t have the specific medical information available from a dedicated scanner… but when you take a hit to your body in Star Citizen, you’re going to be able to see it! (And so will everyone else.)
For our equivalent of respawn (when permadeath is avoided) we wanted a system that makes players want to avoid dying: no simple reappearing a few meters from your body!
The concept is simple. In the world of Star Citizen it’s pretty hard to instantly kill a player, instead he’s likely to take heavy limb damage, incapacitating him until a friendly player manages to drag him to safety and apply some medical aid. If a player has his critical limb damage healed up to at least a Hurt level then he can get back up and re-enter combat. Of course if no one comes to the aid of a downed comrade and the opposing side gets there first they have the choice to make sure their enemy is out of action… Or they could be more humane and capture the wounded combatant!
It’s important to mention again, that with this system we’re avoid the current trend of hiding behind cover for blood to clear off your screen and jumping back in the fight ready for more. Aside from the realism aspect, we are really excited at the prospect that this could promote much more teamwork between your allies, since you would be much more reliant on their help if you suffer a Damaged wound as well as promoting much a more calculated approach to tactics, being careful not to spread your forces too thin.
There are also only so much healing one body can take, each time a temporary battlefield med device is used the ability to repair that limb becomes less and less. After a point, there is nothing more than can be done other than taking the fallen comrade to a proper hospital to be fully healed, or risk him dying from his wounds.
This diagram focuses on the lower right arm and it’s various states:
If you or your teammate are unable to move (limbs are ruined or close to) a teammate can help by dragging that person out of the battle or to a medical pod. This is a context sensitive action that will drag players based on grabbing them at the shoulders. While being dragged, a player will lose his input abilities. The one exception would be if your legs are ruined but you are not bleeding out, in this case you would still have control over aiming while being dragged.
A player being dragged can exit being dragged with a counter-context sensitive action in case they don’t want to be moved. After the player being dragged aborts the drag, there is a short cool down before they can be dragged again.