Hit points are a weird leftover from 80s games

Even in new releases like Darkfall, hit points still decide when you die

Why is it that after 25 years, the enduring mechanic for modelling player damage in computer games is the hit point? We have virtually photo-realistic graphics and animation now, but injury or lack of same is always represented as a single number. A homogeneous pool of life or health or hit points where any number greater than zero represents total combat effectiveness and zero means instant death.

We have games that separately track damage to each of your weapons and armour, games that allow you to rip off an NPC opponent's arm or leg and club him to death with it and games that allow for complex and imaginatively named combo moves to be chained together. But in the end, victory just comes down to whittling his number down to zero before yours.

Darkfall went live yesterday. An MMO that caters unashamedly to the hardcore PvP crowd. No levels, full looting of player corpses, no auto targeting, ranged weapons that can be dodged. But it still has hit points.

Hit points treat us all as marshmallows, with no internal structure or vital organs. Hit points make it impossible for a single arrow to be routinely lethal. Hit points mean that even if you sneak up on the guard, you still need to noisily clash swords for 30 seconds, while the guards down the corridor pretend not to notice.

Obviously, all games are intentionally simplified versions of life. A game that accurately modelled the realities of medieval warfare wouldn't be very fun because the first decent wound would put you out of action and if you didn't bleed to death, you'd probably die of septicaemia. But I think there is room for a bit more realism. Even just separate hit points for different zones of the body would be a start. Or a mechanism to track progressive blood loss.

There would still be magical and improbable healing so adventurers wouldn't be forced to retire after a single flesh wound. But combat would seem more immediate, more perilous. The paradigm of the tank cheerfully acting as a meat shield would be replaced with something more tactical. And solo-ing Onyxia, wouldn't just be a question of watching her claws bounce off your armour for 45 minutes while you chip away at her two million health.