“Last night I was playing this game when…” After a long evening of binging your game of choice, everyone experiences a moment that you have to tell the world about (loudly, and probably on Twitter). Taking down a boss with a sliver of health left, shooting a falling bit of debris as it’s about to smash into your face, only just reloading in time to take down the rapidly-approaching enemy onslaught… Basically, you want everyone to know that you could be in a Michael Bay movie. Because everyone loves feeling like a hero. And developers know this oh-so well. They like to lend us gamers a helping hand, as Jennifer Scheurle (opens in new tab) found out when she crowdsourced all the ways games are tweaked make you feel like a badass. Here are some of the best (or most shocking, if you actually thought you were one gameplay clip away from being featured in the next Bay movie).
Your health bar isn’t as simple as it seems
Everyone has escaped by the skin of their teeth from a fight at least once, and if you play Assassin’s Creed: Origins (opens in new tab) or Doom (opens in new tab), there’s a good reason why. Jennifer Scheurle revealed that in both games the last section of the health bar actually has more hit points than you think. So when you see 15% left, you in fact have 30% of your health remaining. What that means is that in those really tricky fights you feel like you only just made it out alive when there’s a sliver of health remaining.
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Giving you more health isn’t the only trick developers have up their sleeves. Hiding in a corner, looking in a panic for something to heal you is the worst thing when you can hear a gazillion bullets being fired your way. Wolfenstein 3D (opens in new tab) took a rather sympathetic approach to this by using how low your health is to determine which items give you some much-needed HP. Someone’s who’s just about to knock on death’s door can heal from blood pools and dog food, whereas if you’re healthy and shooting nazis with reckless abandon, these items will be exactly what they look like: useless garbage.
Just as good as having your health last just a touch longer is becoming flat-out invincible - even if it’s just for a split second. Instead of killing you outright when you’re on incredibly low health and take a bullet from a stray splicer, BioShock (opens in new tab) makes you invulnerable for a couple of seconds. Again, to get that oh-thank-christ-I-only-just-survived-that feeling.
Shooting goes far deeper than aim assist
FPS games wouldn’t be the same without the thrill of, y’know, shooting things. Developers sure love to incite us to make the most of the dizzying range of guns available in these titles, so some of your bullets are tweaked ever so slightly to make you feel like Rambo. Gears of War (opens in new tab)’s Lee Perry says that they “found out 90% of first-time players don't play a second multiplayer match if they don't get a kill. That first game's important… So we started you off with some major advantages (like additional damage bonuses) that tapered off with your first few kills”. Gears also makes the last shot in the magazine the most powerful, which makes your odds of finishing off the monster just before you reload all the more likely. Again: cue the Rambo and wiping-sweat-off-your-brow moment.
Carefully tailoring bullet timing to create incredible action sequences is featured in another outstanding FPS you’ve probably heard of: Halo (opens in new tab). The time it takes to fire an entire magazine is measured to end up being the same time as a shield’s duration, meaning you have to resort to a melee attack to finish off your foe.
Reloading is stressful enough as it is when you can hear the thundering footsteps of your enemies getting increasingly closer. Bloodborne (opens in new tab) makes this a bit less stressful by temporarily disabling your character’s collisions while you’re reloading, meaning you didn’t get unfairly hit and have your reloading animation have to start from the beginning all over again (don’t lie, we all scream at the screen when reloading was taking 0.7 seconds longer than it should).
Enemy AI is kinder than you think
Taking down waves of enemy grunts is one of the simple pleasure of life. Yet their AI goes through multiple changes to make sure those hordes of grunts don’t swarm over you like a nest of ants. Little tricks include the fact that the first shot fired your way from one of Bioshock’s enemies always miss, according to Ken Levine. Far Cry 4 (opens in new tab) does something similar by turning down the accuracy and damage of NPCs that are closer to you, and Batman: Arkham Asylum (opens in new tab) thugs will avoid turning 180 degrees so you can get your sneak on and stealth up behind them without suddenly rotating to face you and blow your cover.
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Horror games just love having you flanked by enemies. The claustrophobia, the terror that something could grab you from behind: you can’t deny that it’s incredibly effective. Sam Barlow, the mind behind Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (opens in new tab), revealed that their nightmare chases aren’t meant to be frustrating, so every time you respawn AIs are robbed of a sense (like smell, hearing, or sight). If you still keep dying, eventually the enemy numbers are vastly reduced. Plus when you look over your shoulder the shambling creatures slow down so it always felt like they were just about to catch you… although only two AI are actually allowed to chase you directly. The rest flank you or run to any exits near you so that your periphery always looks scarily busy.
Realistically, if you were surrounded by enough enemies to make up a small army you’d probably find yourself very dead very quickly as all of them pile onto you like the deadliest mosh pit ever. Devil May Cry (opens in new tab) decides that no-one really enjoys that feeling. They make off-screen enemies slow down or completely stop their attacks so that you avoid hits from blind spots and actually stand a chance against hordes of baddies. How kind.
And there you have it: the best of the secret, sneaky ways developers help us out in games. Try not to contemplate just how devious developers could be if they used their powers for evil instead of for good.