Chicken-o-meter.
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You probably know what this is. It’s a health bar: an energy meter; or life gauge. Whatever you call it, they’re everywhere. An essential part of video games, and their
language of design. It’s a simple, elementary thing… …but they haven’t been around forever. Back in the golden era of arcade games, things
were a bit simpler: either you were alive, or dead – there was no in-between. If you touch a ghost in Pac-Man or an alien
laser in Space Invaders, that was it – life lost, maybe game over. However, by the mid 1980s – things became
more forgiving. In Beat ’em ups like Final Fight and the earlier
Renegade you could take a few punches – indicated by the now-familiar health bar at the top
of the screen. It’s an easy way to convey player health – bar
charts aren’t exactly uncommon, nor are they particularly hard to implement, even on basic
hardware. One of the earliest examples is probably Nintendo’s
1983 arcade game Punch Out!! – which has a similar configuration to later fighting games
like Street Fighter II. It’s more of a stamina bar than a vitality
one, but it works as you’d expect – when it’s empty, it’s a knockout. But as we go further back the very concept
of health starts to change – and we begin to see what would be more accurately described
as ‘energy bars’. Instead of just losing health when you get
hit, these examples continuously decayed – acting more as a timer. And, given the popularity of space ships and
jet packs, they were sometimes labelled as ‘fuel’ or ‘air’ supplies, such as in Manic
Miner or Lunar Jetman. 1979’s Astro Fighter – Data East’s first release
– is the earliest example I could find. I’m not sure if fuel exactly fits the definition
of a health bar, but they are part of the same lineage, and stretch back to the earliest
days of the Arcade – just a year after Space Invaders. So the humble health bar has an origin, and
only really became common from 1984 or so. What’s most interesting is that during these
early years – before the bar was codified as an absolute standard – there were some
alternatives. Sometimes, health was displayed as a numerical
value – such as in Gauntlet, or Rogue – this method of tracking hit points can be traced
to pen and paper games like DnD. Another style from the transitional era is
two-stage health: the most famous example being Mario and Super Mushrooms, where you
can ‘power up’ and survive a hit without dying. Ghosts and Goblins does something similar:
take a hit and you lose your armour, take another in a state of undress – and you’re
dead. Sometimes, health meters would emulate an
electrocardiogram – such as in ‘Nodes of Yesod’, where its heartbeat indicator decreases in
vigour as you sustain damage. This style isn’t common but has been surprisingly
persistent: it turns up in later titles such as Shadow of the Beast, System Shock – and
quite notably in Resident Evil. There’s another particular type of health
meter that’s a little unusual – and kind of rare – but it’s definitely my favourite. I call it the chicken-o-meter. Now, essentially, it’s just a fancy health
bar – but instead of being a boring rectangle, instead it’s a visual representation of your
vitality. The first game to feature one is Atic Atac,
by Ultimate Play The Game – the studio later known as Rare. Your health is represented by the image of
a roast chicken – slowly decaying with time, or when you take hits. With each portion lost, it reveals the bones
which constitute the chicken – flesh slowly deplenished until eventually you lose a life,
and the chicken resets. It is, quite frankly, vulgar. A bar would have sufficed, but instead we
get this colossal indicator that dominates the screen and no doubt takes up plenty of
RAM. I think they did it for two main reasons: The first is the restricted size of the playfield.
In order to keep screen updates snappy, the action only occupies a portion of the screen
– giving the HUD plenty of space to fill with vital info. Secondly, I think Ultimate were showing off.
Atic Atac released in 1983, when even basic health bars weren’t particularly common – so
having this ornate piece of poultry on screen demonstrates that you don’t have to forgo
fancy graphics in a game full of fast action. Essentially, proof that you can both have
your chicken and eat it. Anyway, Atic Atac turned out to be a best
seller – deservedly so, as it was a great game – and as game conventions were still
quite malleable, a few imitated this rather idiosyncratic feature. Pyjamarama has a pint of milk that represents
your ‘snooze power’ – wake up by depleting it and you lose a life. Agent X has a particularly ornate HUD – with
each life lost, you take another step closer to the grave: and the president’s brain slowly
switches from thinking ‘peace’ to ‘war’ instead. Sweevo’s World has a reactive face that starts
off happy and gradually becomes increasingly worried – before becoming a skull. Star Paws can best be described as ‘Wile E.
Coyote and the Road Runner’ – but in space, and it features an authentic chicken-o-meter
in all its glory. It was a creative time. Games were often made by individuals: there
was little editorial oversight; and we had some truly weird games as a result. Some became classics, many more have been
entirely forgotten. On rare occasions, video games can even influence
television – and this was the case with a British children’s show from 1987 called Knightmare. It was simplified D&D filmed with a bluescreen
– but the health indicator they used is effectively a chicken-o-meter variant, featuring a face
that slowly decays. First the armour peels away, then flesh fragments
– revealing a skull as the player’s condition became more and more perilous. In the final moments, all that remained were
a pair of eyeballs. It was grotesque. It was brilliant! By the end of the 80s, the 16-bit machines
were just starting to gain traction – and residual 8-bit influence meant the chicken-o-meter
made the transition to the likes of the Amiga. UbiSoft’s 1989 title Sir Fred depicts player
health as a few apples in the lower part of the screen – each represents a life, and is
eaten to the core when you take damage. 1989’s Batman movie tie-in has a portrait
in the centre of the HUD which represents your health, and as you’re damaged Batman
is slowly replaced by the Joker. Robocop 2 is similar, featuring a drinks can
that gets progressively crushed. Sadly, by the time of Street Fighter II, almost
everyone was familiar with conventional health bars, and screen real estate was far too precious
to waste on anything so frivolous. But there was one exception. 3D (and psuedo-3D) games of the era had to
strike a balance between frame rate and viewable area, so often the action would be confined
to a small portion of the screen. With the release of Dungeon Master in 1987,
role playing games had started to make the transition to a first-person perspective. However, seeing the world through your character’s
eyes means you lose some sense of characterisation – so with games like Eye of the Beholder,
the logical addition of character portraits became the standard for dungeon crawling. These were used to indicate character status,
to an extent at least – if a member of your party dies they’re replaced by a skull. There was another, more action focused, RPG
series that made the transition to a first-person perspective around this time. It was called Catacomb. It was essentially
a Gauntlet clone for the PC – with a similar-looking sequel, called ‘The Catacomb’. The third in the series would be called Catacomb
3-D, and like the other RPGs that made a similar leap, the HUD would feature a character portrait
– a portrait that slowly transitions to a skull as you take hits. It’s a chicken-o-meter! I mean, it’s not a
chicken – but the idea remains the same. So, what’s the big deal? Well, Catacomb 3-D
was developed by a company called Id Software. Shortly after, they would bring out a game
called Wolfenstein 3D. The character portrait remained, except this
time it was animated – with the portrait becoming increasingly bloodied as you took damage. The same feature endured in Doom. Quake, too. Doomguy is the chicken-o-meter’s long-lost
cousin. Id could have plumped for a health bar – it
would have been the sensible choice. But they didn’t! Instead, they drew eight different poses for
five different stages of health (plus a couple of extras) – and placed it centre stage. Why? Because it was cool. There’s more to it than that, though – I think
the reason I like these odd examples is because they defy convention, and when we see clone
after clone it’s nice to have something that dares to be different. Conventions exist for a reason, and there’s
a danger that breaking them leads only to gimmickry – but what innovation came without
a touch of bravery? So here’s to the chicken-o-meter: a neat evolutionary offshoot; a rejection of convention; and, quite frankly, a bit of an oddball. Thanks for watching – and until next time,
farewell.

100 thoughts on “Chicken-o-meter.

  1. Why did I expect this to be something from vegans with a bar with how much meat/chicken is left in the world (yes I know that doesn't make any sense).

  2. I swear every video you get closer to videos you love and enjoying it with putting your own opinions into your video. If without your enjoyment of the chickenometrer, I would have never seen this

  3. The closest thing we have to something original in modern gaming is the Dead Space meter. It's still a health bar, but at least is not a boring GUI.

  4. I miss Rambo III 's chiken-o.meter. In which Rambo's face is slowly transforming into skull. And a mention on those games whose health bar is replenished by eating chiken, like Tekken. Anyways, as usual, this is another top quality YouTube video by Ahoy.

  5. I never would have guessed that this was going to be a video based around the evolution of health bars. Wish I watched it sooner!

  6. One chicken-o-meter I remember from when I was a kid was the Cookies used in Ape Escape. A beautiful example of the chicken-o-meter.

  7. HOW DID I NOT EVER KNOW ABOUT KNIGHTMARE! Time to go feel nostalgic about a show I never watched by binging it now.

  8. I am enjoying Atic Atac on Rare replay 😀 liked & subbed EDIT: Please do a video for Shadow Caster or Scorched Earth!

  9. I think it's obvious where this came from, the game of Hangman where you slowly draw in the hanged man as people ask for the wrong letter. It's not exactly some kinda computer game invention.

  10. Your excellent videos don't come often as I wish they would, but I don't care since their quality never disappoints.

  11. DOOM Guy's face was placed close to your weapon, limiting how far you had to look. His reaction also told you ***where*** the hit was coming from, valuable information if being attacked from behind or the sides in the days before feedback controllers. Health metres at the top force you to look away from what you should be focusing on. Super Mario Bros.'s metre was Mario himself eliminating distraction.

  12. I remember when Don't Starve did something similar. They had 3 meters; health, sanity, and hunger. Their icons (heart, brain, and stomach respectively) would shrink/break depending on how low they were.

  13. I don't mean this in any disrespectful way, but what happened to the bass in your voice Stu? I feel a little lost without it.

  14. I love your videos <3 ! I'm coming back after having been a fan of your call of duty weapons reviews and having watched your various weapon & various gaming themed video. I love them all and hope to see more!

  15. Ornate piece of poultry Thank you for your blessed sentence, im going to go find out how to use this now.

  16. Nobody is going to talk about Minecraft? It has probably the purest chicken-o-meter of all modern games; Higher food = Faster health regen.

  17. Other good examples are the ones in the Max Payne, Gears Of War and Uncharted games. In Max Payne, a bar gets filled when you take damage. If it is full, you die. You heal yourself with painkillers, so it could be said that Max dies of pain. In Gears Of War, the Crimson Omen in the middle of the screen gets more and more defined the more damage you take. In Uncharted, the colors on the screen get more and more pale and then grey. It doesn't even have blood all over the screen, the colors just get less vivid.

  18. I got 2 more: Warlock is basically the same as Nightmare where his head gradually turns into a bloody skull but no numbers to indicate. Also Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure where he gets closer into the jaws of a crocodile, oh yeah also Aladdin for Genesis uses lamp smoke.

  19. I dont think that because games took on a simple health bar ruined anything. Its straight forward [basic health bar] and you cant really argue it. you can really gauge how much health you have over a guess from a bloody face or partially eaten apple. Are you at 40% health or bruised cheek?

  20. Not all games use a health bar as of today! Resident Evil still uses the electrocardiograph and most shooters display health in the form of blood splatters on screen

  21. 3:03 Not gonna take this opportunity to touch on all the OTHER games that strip your clothes off when you take damage?
    NUH? COME ON MAN
    "Take another in this state of undress and you're dead"
    REALLY DEPENDS WHAT GAME YOU'RE PLAYING

  22. There's an old game called guimO that has a similar health feature to the chicken-o-meter. But instead of a chicken it was a pair of eyes that gets red as you receive damage.

  23. Bro, you are in the wrong profession! You should definitely be doing voice work! Seriously! Only YOU could make such mundane and unimportant topics so interesting.

  24. I'm making a game right now with a health pie, that is like a health bar but it's a large circle that starts fully red and empties clockwise, where low health shows as just a sliver of the circle remaining, a black void left where it had been. Everything has the health pie except bosses with bars and one joke fight with a rotation triangle. I wanted to make it weird, honestly.

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