A few thoughts on designing better FPS games.
Last night when I got to work, the owner’s son was hanging out with my boss and they were talking about video games. The topic of the day was the new Modern Warfare, a shooter. Ho-hum. My friend is a huge fan of games which are multiplayer oriented. He enjoys shooters and racers, and little else. Which works out for him, because it seems the majority of games released these days fall under those genres.
My difficulty, initially, comes in understanding why someone would pay for the same thing each and every year. This is especially relevant when there is little to no difference between Call Of Duty and Battlefield. Then I remember I buy Zelda and Assassin’s Creed and promptly move on in my thought process.
I decided to sit down today to really think about what seems to get me annoyed by these games. I’d like to say it’s the moral high ground. There’s enough killing, especially in the wake of the tragedy in Paris, blah blah blah. I’d like to say it’s this. But it isn’t.
I’d like to say I just don’t like shooters. I’m not very good at them and they require twitch reflexes, something I don’t possess. But no. I’ve enjoyed very few shooters, it’s true, but there are a few I like.
When I get right down to it? When I really strip away all the superior-minded crap I wish I could espouse on the subject, and get to the heart of the matter? It’s because I feel modern shooters are unoriginal. They’re bland, tasteless and boring, existing only to continually feed the ever-gluttonous feed-bag that is the triple-A publishing industry. And nowhere is this more apparent, for now, than the new Battlefield.
The premise is you’re a cop, out to serve and protect. But you buck the rules, man. You do things your way, and damn the consequences! It already sounds like a bad 80s action film, the kind that would’ve starred Sylvester Stallone. Right down to the high-speed chases. I mean, just look at this…
I’ve watched the trailer several times, and I just can’t get as excited as my friend. It’s a mess of a cop shouting for someone to raise their hands, or freeze, all the while pulling the trigger on an assault weapon. Helicopters, motorcycles, and explosions, oh my!
This release as being touted as a divergence from the previous iterations of this IP by having you be a cop in a large US city. But as it turns out, you still have access to a massive amount of military hardware by virtue of being part of some tactical response unit.
Sure, you also have the option to carry a Taser and handcuffs, but I hesitate to say the average Battlefield player is going to really care about that option when the series has always been about running in, guns blazing.
Notably, the game seems to have taken on some sort of self-awareness in this respect. There is a line in the trailer where the player character and his partner are praised, in the manner of ye olden crime dramas, as being, “highly creative but far too loud!”
The entire trailer makes me want to head-desk.
That said, there’s still a place for shooters in the game industry. After all, they were the killer apps a few generations back. Call Of Duty was new then, as was Battlefield, and the ability to drive vehicles around a map and play online was great. But now this is all old hat, and over the years the multiplayer has been used to prop up slipshod single player campaigns.
So, how do we move forward from these samey, uninspired, conventional military shooters?
I think the answer lies in putting more thought into both the single-player and multiplayer aspects. Neither should be half-baked, especially considering who is fronting the cash for development: EA. This is a company which, for its size and scope, has no excuse for not putting the work in.
Make your characters engaging. Look into the struggle real soldiers may go through when they get back from war. The current generations of conflict are giving us all the material we need, and it’s an important lesson to learn besides.
The psyche of the soldier and how combat has affected him or her is just as important as the actual combat itself.
Pertinent questions to answer:
-What does it mean to take a life?
-Does it become easier for the character?
-How does the character rationalize it to themselves, or can they?
-Does training really prepare you for the rigours of combat?
-What’s it like to survive when a friend didn’t?
-How does this affect home life when the soldier comes back?
-Is there an opportunity to show a descent of the soldier’s frame of mind once home?
-Can the soldier become his own villain?
This can all be done through cutscenes, of course, but it works better if you’re capable of acting it out. Perhaps have the soldier in a doctor’s office, where he’s being asked to relive events of the war in an effort to help curb his PTSD.
Maybe he or she has had an incident since coming home? Maybe they’ve had a stand-off with police? Is it possible they’ve hurt someone during a psychotic break?
You could even use this as an opportunity to explore how the military handles things today, in a courtroom setting a la Rules Of Engagement.
Once you get past the typical guns-blazing action game, there’s the question of mental and physical endurance. All of which can be represented with a game engine.
DayZ does the physical aspect very well, so take some cues there. Condemned did an excellent job in having you explore your own mental state. Perhaps the best example so far of the kind of thing I’m talking about was Spec Ops: The Line. Push this series just a little bit further, incorporate the FPS perspective, and bingo.
I’m fully aware a lot of what I’ve just written about is cliché,but these are only simple suggestions. I’m also aware shooters will continue to sell on the basis of multiplayer alone. And God forbid we don’t have a zombie mode.
I just want to see more. I want to see something new. I want a new take, a new spin, a new direction. And if you like shooters? Maybe you’d like to see your hobby grow too.
Thanks very much, and take care.