Enough With the Cherry Jam

One of the current gaming generation’s trends that I dislike the most is when the screen get’s all distorted when you’ve taken a lot of damage, but recently I’ve been thinking about it a lot.  Something came to me – I haven’t met anyone who actually prefers it to a standard life bar or some other health indicator.

Now before I get started I’m not talking about regenerating health, just the visual representation of how much life you have remaining.  Regenerating health is a whole other discussion.

I know the main reason for making the screen red (or desaturated) and spraying it with cherry jam – to make it more apparent to people who can’t be bothered to spend a split second to look at the corner of the screen.  Like so much else this gen though (loading screen hints, tutorials, etc.), do developers really have to go that far?  And why does every freaking game do it now?

Generally speaking, it looks tacky.  Mass Effect 2 for instance has a very ugly critical health indicator.  Blood at least makes some sense if you’re going to do this, but red veins covering up half the screen?!  I can understand removing HUD elements to make the UI look cleaner, but most of the time distorting the whole screen just reverses the process.  In some games it also makes it harder to see at a time when you need to be more perceptive.

I just can’t figure out what force in the industry allowed this to become the standard.  The game I think popularized regenerating health – Halo, actually had shield and health bars as well as audio indicators.  The first big game I remember transplanting the feature and using the bloody screen was Call of Duty 2 (a whole console generation later strangely), and back then people like IGN even complained about having regenerating health in World War II.  I still haven’t seen a person actually say they like games that do this.  I guess nobody could figure out a better tool.

I like how Dead Space handles this along with its entire HUD – displaying it on the character himself.  It’d be nice if that feature became more common in futuristic third person games.  I don’t see why games like Mass Effect can’t just use health bars and make them flash like the original game.

Resident Evil always had changing character animations to signal when you should check the status screen.  That’s why Revelations looks doubly stupid for keeping that system along with the bloody screen.  Since your health doesn’t regenerate in that game you might have to deal with that distorted screen for extended periods of time if you’re out of herbs.

One game that I think uses a good variation of the bloody screen is Gears of War.  The increasingly visible skull cog symbol in the center of the screen is an instantly identifiable sign of danger you can’t miss but doesn’t really distort your vision.

Like a lot of things, this is just one more example of how homogenous mainstream console games are getting these days.  It might be a good feature for the one or two games where it actually makes sense, but I just think there’s something wrong when almost every game I play does it.



2 thoughts on “Enough With the Cherry Jam

  1. I think they want to distort and obscure the screen to signify that ‘it’s all gone wrong, hell, even the screen is broken’. You’re right though. This once subtle effect, used to create tension and fear, simply annoys and hinders when done wrong.

  2. Chanchai says:

    I agree that I don’t like some of the implementations of the “Cherry Jam.’ Especially on Call of Duty and some similar shooters.

    However, I do like the functional application of distortion on shooters and I’ll list some cases and why I like how it was implemented:

    * Quake 3; was the first time I saw this type of interface and it was a highlighted new feature at the time (it is my impression that Quake 3 started this but it could have been a Quake 2 or Half-Life mod for all I know). It wasn’t blood all over your screen, but it was a red effect (for danger or maybe it was for blood) flashing on the edge of your screen whenever you got hit. Which side was flashing was determined by which side you were getting hit. Most multiplayer FPS games use this now, but they’ve “bloodied” it up. If your character was shot and hit on the right side of the body, the indicator would go off on the right edge of the screen.

    * Battlefield 3: I think Battlefield 3 does the “cherry jam” just about right. It’s not so excessive and it still serves as that indicator of where you’re getting hit from. What Battlefield 3 has added to screen distortion is “Suppression” and i really like this gameplay feature. If bullets are barely missing you in multiplayer, your screen gets a little distorted and your aim gets messed up a bit (not too much). It allows “Suppressive Fire” to be used tactically in the game and I think it’s great. Having the bloody hit indicator combined with the distorting suppression can really put the pressure on you, but it’s a pressure that you can handle better with experience.

    * Gears of War: You mentioned Gears of War so….

    * Uncharted: Maybe it’s for the PG-13… but Uncharted basically has the same scheme as Gears of War except that your screen whites out. Are you turning into a ghost? No idea, but the screen is clear yet the message is fully received and understood–you’re dying.

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