Double Damage in Videogames

Double Damage is not your friend

So I meet a lot of designers these days – from seasoned designers who have shipped more games than me to designers whose first game is the one I’m working on them with. One weird thing that they all have in common, they all suggest giving Double Damage as a mode, attribute, attack, etc for the player or an enemy, boss, etc.

What is Double Damage

Double Damage – the concept of an attack doing twice the damage compared to normal. For Example – if an attack does 5 points, then with this ‘AWESOME!’ attribute – the attack does 10 points!! Note: Double Damage always comes with 2 exclamation points, that’s how double it is.

So why bother writing up something about this? Well I for one think that it’s a terrible idea 90% of the time. I’ll go into details about that here in a minute, but the main reason why I hate it is because it’s a very ‘designery’ solution. It deals with knowing how the details work and playing around with the numbers. It’s not something that is easily understood nor appreciated by the player.

Double Damage is almost always the first thing thought of when a power up is activated, a mode is turned on, etc. Let’s break down a little bit as to why I hate it so much.

Why Double Damage Is Bad

In most games these days – enemies don’t have health bars. Because enemies don’t have health bars, the player really doesn’t know how much damage they are doing with their base attacks. Because they don’t know how much damage their base attacks are doing, how in the world are they ever going to know they are doing Double Damage?

Let’s break it down by math a little. Let’s say an enemy has 35 points of health. Each attack from the player does 5 points, so it takes 7 attacks to kill one enemy. We now double that to 10 – so now it’s 4 hits to kill the enemy. Is that really all that noticeable to the player?

Using the same math example from above – what usually happens is that the player gets surrounded by a group of guys. No one is remembering how many hits they have dished out so far. Let’s be honest – most people are just mashing on buttons and don’t notice that 1 guy died faster than normal out of a big group.

The other down side to Double Damage is when meeting new enemies for the first time. The player has no idea how much health they have or how much damage the attack’s from this new enemy does.

When Double Damage Is Good

Like I said before, I hate it 90% of the time. So what is the 10% of the time I like it?

I think it makes a shitty power-up on its own. I do like it when it gets coupled with something else. Such as adding effects to the weapon and now the enemies explode when killed. Something that is more obvious to the player that something ‘cool’ is happening.

Obviously in situations where the player does know information – such as how much damage their attacks do or how much health the enemy has. This usually works out well in RPG’s since this information gets conveyed more often than in modern day action / adventure games.

Double Damage can be a good thing but it needs to be used properly. Don’t treat it as something ‘cool’ that the player can have and that’s it. If you are going to use it – then really use it. We used it a lot in God of War – but never as a sole attribute. We bundled it along with 900 other things that the player could appreciate: Fire Particles, Super Armor, whole new set of animations, blah blah.