Posts tagged ‘fps’

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  I hopelessly clung to it as technology deemed it no longer relevant, and found myself using outdated techniques in this new era.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 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

October 6, 2011

First Impressions of Rage


id Software basically invented the first person shooter genre, so when I heard they were coming out with a new game, I was certainly intrigued.  I had wasted countless hours as a kid, and later as a college student, playing Doom, and I had loved every second of it.  It wasn’t just a linear FPS, but involved complex levels and tons of gore, monsters and guns.  What else could you want?  Soon I heard that Rage was a little more than a FPS, it was to include some racing elements, some RPG elements, and all sorts of innovative aspects that were sure to piss off purists and sure to intrigue those not so blinded by cynicism.  I was sold, and preordered it as soon as I could.

The game features a pretty standard post-apocalyptic setting and is bound to give rise to comparisons to Borderlands and Fallout.  But when you first walk out of the room you start in, and step into the world, blinded by the sunlight, you will notice something far different.  This world is expansive, this world is beautiful, this world looks real.  Rage is the first game I’ve seen that deviates from the standard and says that a barren wasteland doesn’t have to look like shit.  No, this world is different.  It is amazing looking.  The graphics are astounding and take what I thought this generation’s hardware could to do another level.  The game has worked hard to cultivate a certain vibe, and this vibe keeps you wanting more.

In fairness, this isn't a screen from the game, but an Arizona Department of Tourism advertisement

I’ve been seeing a lot of criticism for this game in forums and comments sections following reviews.  People are complaining that this game lacks a blockbuster story.  This makes sense, considering the edge of your seat story telling they’ve come to expect from a developer who’s previous games featured a space marine fighting demons on Mars’ moon.  I mean, lets get real, people only played Doom for the story, and we as consumers can expect no less from Rage.  In all seriousness, I understand people may want a hugely story driven game, and that’s fine.  But this game never boasted that it would have an amazing story, and the developer’s pedigree has never involved such accomplishments.  You may have fought demons in Doom, but you certainly weren’t accompanied by Dante into hell.  You were accompanied by a chainsaw and a few disenfranchised kids from Colorado.  It doesn’t make it a bad game if it doesn’t meet your expectations when your expectations aren’t well founded.  I complain all the time that my bologna doesn’t taste like foie gras but that doesn’t mean Carl at the Kroger has to take me seriously (and let me tell you, he doesn’t).

But back to the main point, the game is a wildly violent first person shooter (with some auxiliary elements) and it does that very well.  My main complaint with many games is the guns are too weak.  Not weak as in how they perform against enemies, but weak sounding, weak looking, and simply underwhelming in almost all aspects.  Not so here.  In Rage, the guns kick hard, they are loud, and they certainly show their stopping power when they hit those little bastards that will run at you from every direction.  Shooting a running mutant in the leg will cause him to slide with his momentum to the ground, and then continue hobbling towards you.  The action is fast paced and certainly frantic, creating a unnerving feeling during battles.  The opponents have fantastic AI, make great use of the environment around them, and are difficult as can be to hit.  But when you do hit them, you know it counts.  That’s something so rare in games, that a gun actually acts like a gun, its sadly baffling when you do find it.

Sadly, most levels involve riots after European soccer games

The voice acting is great as well, and the first voice you are greeted by is none other than John Goodman, infamous Fred Flintstone impersonator.  And even as to the story, I don’t find it bad or even lacking.  You are in a desolate world after an asteroid strikes the earth and deal with tons of weirdos and interesting people.  The voice acting for almost everyone is well done, as are the character animations, and the sheer variety and beauty of the different environments only serve to make this game something so unique, even when featuring a somewhat overused premise, that I find it extremely difficult to put down.

And no wonder, because it also includes some simply fantastic driving mechanics and fighting systems that make Twisted Metal all but forgettable.  Borderlands had buggies to drive as well, but bumping a guardrail would slam you to a complete hault, and it was clearly an afterthought thrown in to make traveling less of a bore.  Not so here.  The driving system was clearly a focus of the developers, and adds a great amount of variety to an already compelling game.  Racing and vehicular combat work very well, and the physics of the new id Tech 5 engine make for a very fluid experience that simply works.

The game features a few RPG elements, such as collecting items from the landscape and bodies to either sell or use to craft new items.  All weapons are upgradable, as are the vehicles, which gives a great feel of customization to the game.  But don’t expect an RPG with Rage, because it certainly isn’t one.  It is not an open world sandbox game, it is not a Fallout or Borderlands clone, and I think a lot of the criticisms come from people expecting this to be the case, and then feeling that it falls short.  But it doesn’t fall short when you view Rage for what it is, an FPS.  id Software invented the genre, and have gone and added other elements from other genres that work, elements that serve to expand on the FPS system they have while staying true to what works.  And Rage certainly works well.  My only criticisms are a few texture problems that arise occasionally, such as surfaces taking a moment to load.  But when you look at the scope of what they have done graphically with this game, the achievement that is the world they’ve created, and the fact that it is an 8Gb install on the PS3, some of that fault has to lie with the six year old hardware it is using.  I would say the PC version might fare better, but I’ve heard it is a port that will give users significant problems, so I’d recommend the console if at all possible.  Overall, Rage has exceeded my own personal expectations for the game, and has set the bar a little higher when it comes to other shooters, and far higher when it comes to graphics of all genres.  I certainly wouldn’t pass this game up.