Posts tagged ‘first person shooter’

October 29, 2011

5 Things My 7th Grade Self Would Notice About Today’s FPSs

Back in the day I played a little Doom here and there, but my first real experience with first person shooters came in the form of Goldeneye 64.  I remember running around the Temple level with my trusty KF7 Soviet and being blown away at this new type of video game experience; one far more real and intense than the Marios and SimCitys of my past.  So while engaged in some serious fighting last night in Battlefield 3, I wondered what that 7th grade self of mine would think if he was to play some of today’s FPSs.  What would he notice as the big differences?  Graphics are an obvious improvement, but there are some other changes that have occurred in the genre as a whole that I think would stand out to that kid from that era they call the 90s.

Split-screen multiplayer is dead

I used to be pretty damn good at Goldeneye, and Jimmy Paperboy and I constantly vied for the title of best Goldeneye/Perfect Dark player around.  One of the biggest assets in my arsenal wasn’t a weapon, but my ability to watch other player’s screens and anticipate their movements.  Sure, everyone did it to varying extents, but I worked hard to make it an art form.  But like a kid going from T-ball to kid pitch, with the advent of online FPS, I was intimidated and lost.  Without the ability to see where other people were and what weapons they had, I could no longer plan accordingly and play against other people’s weaknesses.  Screen watching was so huge to me back then that it seemed an integral part of the shooter experience.  I hopelessly clung to it as technology deemed it no longer relevant, and found myself using outdated techniques in this new era.  Where I once found comfort in being one of best, I was now in a world where I constantly died and lost.  Today some games may still offer some semblance of split-screen multiplayer, but anyone finding themselves playing a one-on-one match in Call of Duty either still uses AOL dial-up or may be a closeted Amish.  7th grade me would be shocked to see the local competition dead, succumbing to a far larger online world where you’re match sizes are no longer restrained by how many friends you can get to spend then night.

Grenades are no longer stand-alone weapons

This one is simple.  A lot of games way back when had weapons slots, and a weapon would have to occupy one of those slots.  So to throw a grenade, you would have to equip it as your main weapon, throw it, and then switch back to whatever gun you were using.  Basically, if you were to use grenades, then that would be the weapon you were using.  In other words, they hadn’t yet become the secondary thing that they are today.

In almost all games these days, there is an entirely separate button for grenades, and you toss them while your main weapon remains whatever gun you are using.  But 7th grade me would have to choose whether to use grenades, or mines, or guns.  It was an either-or option, not an addition to whatever your main weapon is, like it is today.  This came with the advent of loadouts, which leads us to:

Weapon spawning is dead

Maybe a few games still use weapon spawning today, maybe either out of nostalgia or to recreate a retro feel.  But back in the day, it was common practice for a level to have designated areas where better weapons would spawn.  You started with something terrible, and had to make a mad dash to the spot where you could upgrade.  This led to widespread camping, to protect the best weapon on the map from those with lesser guns.  7th grade me would be shocked to see that today we choose our weapons before the game starts, and typically hang on to those weapons until we die.  Weapons now are no longer simply a consideration of which one is better than the others, but instead which one is better for specific scenarios or play styles.  To revisit Goldeneye for this example, the RCP90 was typically the best gun in the map, and it was an achievement to obtain it.  Now days you can start out with that type of gun from the get go, and have to balance its weaknesses with its strengths against other considerations like the map and how you plan on playing.  Loadouts changed FPS gaming in a subtle yet substantial way.

Why go to war prepared when you can just pick up all your equipment right off the ground

The maps have changed

Well no shit the maps have changed you say to yourself.  But what I’m talking about is something more fundamental.  The maps in old FPS games were almost always indoors, in big rooms designed for optimal multiplayer goodness.  Sometimes they were based in reality, a big industrial facility or an office or something.  Sometimes they were just big complicated rooms, not really anything you would see in real life, just a room designed for people to run around and shoot at each other in.  But today we see a paradigm shift towards the outdoors.  Sure, maps today still contain indoor areas and buildings.  But the difference here is that we’ve shifted from levels to maps.  A level evokes a sense that the area was designed in a bubble, cordoned off from anything outside of it.  A map, on the other hand, is a spot in the real world.  The maps today are real areas, or at least made to look like one, where you can traverse the outside of the buildings as well as inside of them.  Sure, some FPS games of old made use of this.  Think back to the sniper level on Conker’s Bad Fur Day.  But see, that was revolutionary.  Ditches, trenches, bridges, hills and bunkers added to the variety and complexity of that map.  But levels like Stacks or Complex in Goldeneye, or the G5 Building in Perfect Dark, though some of my all time favorite levels ever, were still ultimately made for multiplayer.  What I mean is, it seems like the people who built those buildings built them specifically for people to later have shootouts in.  Today we see levels that look as though they were designed for other purposes, like what buildings in real life would be designed for, and you just happen to end up having shootouts there.  This adds to the level of realism that graphics alone can’t account for, and my old self would be pumped to be having a shootout in a map like the actual city of Paris, and not just another maze level with rooms and bridges that don’t have any outside significance.  But this shift to realism is probably influenced by outside factors that have actually taken place over the past decade or so.

What is this? Someone's basement?

The wars influence our shooters

The 90’s were a pretty peaceful time overall, especially compared to the 2000’s (still awkward to say) as far as America is concerned.  See, 7th grade me lived in a time where we weren’t involved in any wars, and so shooters were basically developed either to be historical, based on movies, or to tell stories of their own.  But after our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, our daily lives were inundated by the wars.  This inevitably influenced our national consciousnesses and had an impact on our shooter games.  Genres that had typically focused on World War 2 soon found themselves making more modern shooters, setting us in the Middle East with modern and DARPA weapons instead of historical or fictional weapons.  In an attempt to make the games somewhat fictional, they almost always involve Russians, which could be due to any number of reasons, most likely because a purely accurate and nonfictional depiction might be offensive and because developers want to make their own story, to make their game “theirs” instead of a documentary.  Regardless, with many developers now consulting with returning veterans to make these games, the feel has becomes far more hardened, gritty, and realistic.  What was once a fun, action packed genre has now evolved into an intense, violent and chaotic genre that focuses on realism and immersion more than anything else.  My time traveling self would find this new shift fascinating , as the changes in our world have had a direct impact on the games we play.

We've got Oddjob camping on the remote mines, and Boris is downstairs in the Archives.

In the end, there are tons of changes that the FPS genre has undergone over the years.  Some is based on technological advances that would have inevitably arisen, some is based upon more popular innovative ideas that other franchises have latched on to, and some is influence by the changing world around us.  I would love to play some Battlefield with my middle school self, if only to see the full extent of his amazement at what has come about.  I’m sure there would be some crazy things he would notice.  I remember playing Goldeneye for the first time, and being amazed at the technological advancement in the game at the time.  Now it is aged and old, and whats new seems the norm.  But with the fast paced advancement of gaming technology, I can’t wait to see what 36 year old me is playing in 10 years.  I’m sure it will make Battlefield 3 look outdated and cartoonish.

October 24, 2011

Why I Want MW3 More Than BF3

The Battlefield/Call of Duty debate rages on as both franchises are set to release their latest installment in a matter of hours/days, respectively.  Both companies have handled this competition respectfully and professionally, and by that I mean they have acted like children trying to one up each other in the battle for FPS dominance.  While name calling between businesses doesn’t exactly endear me to them, anything that has been said between them pales in comparison to what is debated in the forums online.  What has amazed me the most is the sheer enthusiasm of Battlefield players, and the overarching contention that Battlefield takes skill and is the epitome of realism, while Call of Duty is nothing but a haven for Ritalin-junkie prepubescents to practice their racial slurs.  For a fun example, take a look at a screengrab I got from a debate, where people are actually using their Facebook logins to debate the merits of two video games.

If you buy Call of Duty, the terrorists win

While his arguments make good use of “alternative” grammar structure, what may worry me the most is that he’s a security guard, which presumably means he carries a gun.  At least we know that he’s developing real skills to use in a war game, instead of such non-essential skills like “running and shooting”.  But I don’t want to spend my time ragging on some poor weirdo, especially because there are just so many more hilarious posts out there supporting their respective franchises.  The basic trend I’ve noticed though is that Battlefield, at least in the gaming forum community, has far more adamant supporters, spending almost as much time supporting their game as they bash Call of Duty.  And that’s fine.  If it was 1997 and people were shitting on Goldeneye because they thought Turok was better, I’d certainly be jumping into the fray to tell them how stupid they were.  But something seems different this time.

Nothing can compare

First of all, in the overarching scheme of things, the games really aren’t that different.  I know I may get some flack for that, but seriously.  BF3 and MW3 are both first person shooters, set in the modern day, striving for hyper-realism and the top spot in the uber competitive e-sport category.  Because of this, they will both inevitably feature similar weapons, in similar locales, with similar physics.  Now, I realize there are some significant differences in the games, and those will ultimately determine not only which game you get, if you don’t end up getting both, and also which ends up selling better.  But I think the debate that is currently ongoing, over which franchise is actually superior, is frankly a little bit silly.  The games both cater to a very specific demographic, those that like war games and competitive online multiplayer.  That needs to be understood by everyone.  It is not like there are two different demographics that each game specifically is geared towards.  To an outsider, they would be perceived as basically the exact same game.  So the major difference is subtle preferences of those within a set and well defined demographic, and that will ultimately determine who buys what.  And for me personally, that will be Modern Warfare 3.  I had originally planned on getting both, but after playing Bad Company 2 and the BF3 Beta, as well as the sheer amount of games around the corner, I will only have one slot available for my FPS category, and that will be occupied by Call of Duty.  Allow me to explain:

The debate really boils down to whether you prefer to shoot AK47s in the desert, or if you'd rather shoot AK47s in the desert.

First, I am not in the least attempting to say that BF3 is or will be a bad game.  Not in the least.  In fact, it looks like it will be simply amazing.  But it doesn’t work for me for a number of reasons.  First, it is too realistic.  I die way too easily.  Call me a n00b all day long if you need to, but I’m 26 and for some reason I just can’t keep up with 18 year-olds with that trigger twitch anymore.  Also, I absolutely love to run and gun.  And if I get killed every time I step out into the open, I’m going to get frustrated.  In Bad Company I died constantly, it was an exercise in respawning, running towards the action, instantly dying, and then doing it all over again.  It got tiresome.  Maybe those BF3 supporters are right, and maybe it does take more skill.  But it also requires something else, something I just don’t have, and that’s patience.  I’m not a patient person, and when I’m required to hide, like real life, for a long time in order to do well, I end up just getting bored.  Not to mention that on top of all that, I’m just not a team player.  I don’t typically like other people, and I don’t typically see myself as some vital cog in the machine.  I see my online personality as a lone vigilante, and my main competitors are my teammates, stealing all those precious kills.  To force me to work together with people, after a long day at work, working together with people, is too much to ask of someone like me.  See, unlike anyone who’s ever drank the mercury that is online forum debating, which magically makes people stupid, I don’t think that because I will prefer Call of Duty that that somehow makes BF3 a bad game.  Its a great game for a certain subset of the demographic, but I’m not a part of that demographic, and I don’t think I ever will be.

Get out of my way you idiots!

I am the type of person that wants instant action, overwhelming, Mountain Dew overdosing action.  Both games have tons of action, to be sure, but I’m the type that wants to run constantly towards the action like some sort of suicidal maniac with a death wish, just wanting to take out as many people as I can before I inevitably die.  (In hindsight, maybe the poster above has a point about COD = Insurgents).  Regardless, I don’t want to die instantly.  I don’t want to have to hide and wait all day.  I want smaller maps, I want modes where I can run, gun, and say to hell with cooperation.  I was shorter matches where I don’t have to commit tons of time to just one game.  Furthermore, COD is what I’m familiar with.  I’ve been playing that franchises’ games for years.  Its what I know, its what I’m used to.  I don’t want to step out of my comfort zone, and there is nothing unusual about that, in video games or anything else.  The most important factor here is that I have fun playing COD games, and that’s why I buy video games in the first place.  See, I had a great time with Deus Ex, I raved about Rage, I can’t put down Batman, and I loved Resistance 3, but there are only two games this year that had me playing, without significant down time, for most of the year.  That was Mortal Kombat and Black Ops.  And if nothing else, I know myself, and if I bought both BF3 and MW3, I would beat both games’ campaigns, and then be forced into a position of wanting to level up my character as much as possible.  I either divide my time evenly between the two games, thus wasting half of my energy playing whichever game I inevitably find less enthralling, or I only play one games’ multiplayer in order to keep as much XP in one place as possible.  And because I’ve experienced both styles of gameplay, I can safely say that I would end up choosing COD over Battlefield.  And because of that, I personally will pass on Battlefield 3 and wait until November 8th for Modern Warfare.

That all said, I’d love to hear your thoughts on BF3, those of you getting it tomorrow.  Let me know what you think in the comments below!

October 10, 2011

Health in First Person Shooters

There are really only two ways in which a first person shooter game deals with health; it either replenishes or it doesn’t.  Games like Goldeneye 64, Perfect Dark, Doom, and Borderlands don’t automatically replenish your health over time, and thus you either have to find a health pack or die in order to get it back up there.  Games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Rage have an automatic replenishing system where, if you can get in cover or away from the fire, you’ll automatically be healed after a set amount of time.  Lets be honest, neither is a realistic system.  In games where your health never replenishes, you take painkillers and suddenly you’re healed?  In real life you’d still be a gunshot victim with a new penchant for prescription fraud.  And under the replenishing paradigm, your bullet wounds wouldn’t just heal up as long as you jumped behind a sandbag wall for a minute or two like it never happened.  But I doubt anyone wants 100% perfect realism, or at least I wouldn’t.  I don’t want to die of trench foot while hiding behind cover, and I don’t want one bullet from some crap gun like the Skorpion killing me instantly.  So which is the better system?  Of course its subjective, but so is everything worth debating.

For the last time Grandma, I'm not gonna keep playing Mortal Kombat with you if you keep using Smoke! He's cheap, and so are you!

This is a contentious subject among gamers, known for their asperger-like devotion to every minute detail they can argue about.  The most prominent arguments for non-regeneration of health is that it is the original method used in most FPS games of old, it takes more strategy, and only casual Wii bowling players will opt for regeneration.  At the other end of the spectrum, people argue for regeneration in that pausing to get into a menu, selecting your medkits, and then going back into the fight fully healed takes you out of the action, can make games annoyingly difficult, and is not conductive to an e-sports type of competitive gaming like Call of Duty or Battlefield.  Both sides make good points, and I have played games of both types that I have enjoyed immensely.  But is there one system that simply works better, or is there a new type of system that could placate the two sides into agreement?

Doctor, I don't know what it is, I've just been feeling about 59% lately...

It got me to thinking.  I love some Call of Duty firefights where bullets are flying at you, you’re hiding beneath an open window, explosions in the distance.  Your screen is outlined in red, you’re close to death, and you need to wait it out before you get back into the action.  But do I love it because that’s a fun game, and a fun situation with others, despite the regeneration of health?  I think indeed, I do love it despite that flawed system.  Its just so unrealistic, I believe the gameplay could be improved by altering the healing system (to take longer to fully heal) or to have some sort of health pack system thrown in.  The current trend in FPS games since about 2001 is to have health regenerate automatically, but I’m wondering if this is a situation that helps newcomers, and thus helps sales, to the detriment of the overall experience.

There is a good article detailing someone’s first hand experience involving Half Life, explaining why the regeneration system may take away from the gameplay experience, which you can read here.  A lot of the time I find myself in regen games simply waiting for my health to come back, and not actively looking for ways to boost my health.  Actively looking for health means I must progress and not just wait around.  I must explore, I must search for ways to help myself, and this adds in a more desperate, frantic feel to a first person shooter, a feeling that should be present instead of sitting around until my screen gets less red.  Of course, I’m speaking mostly towards singleplayer gameplay at this point, but I believe it could translate well to multiplayer also, even if concessions were made, where health could regenerate but at a much slower pace.  None of this is to say that games that let you regenerate health aren’t fun; hell, that would be saying that most games over the past 10 years haven’t been fun.  But there might be a system, discarded in the early days of FPSs, that could use revisiting and could possibly add to the experience.  Goldeneye 64 did not have a regeneration system for health, and that multiplayer is among the most epic out there.  I don’t think FPS multiplayer was thus improved in the years since, when that system was discarded in favor of a red screen and the impulse to hide for a while.  I believe a better system would be a set health system, where you have to actively gain more health, and not passively as so many games tend to do.  But for God’s sake, don’t make the health packs be painkillers.  We have to do something more realistic than that.

Just regenerating my health, be out in a second