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Teamkilling as a Mechanic
by Eric Salmon on 02/28/13 01:45:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


If you're an online FPS player, you're probably familiar with teamkillers--people generally regarded to destroy the experience for everyone else by working against team objectives and, well, killing their teammates. In recent years, most such games have disincentivized this with ever-increasing penalties for killing your own teammates, particularly those which contribute to a permanent scorecard. As such, it's become much rarer, and the game's engagement much more precise. However, I argue that it's also lost something valuable, and have a suggestion for regaining it without losing that precision.

Last night, a group of friends from highschool got together for some gaming, but something funny happened--we'd all sold our FPS games and hadn't bought any new ones. Granted, we all had less time to play as we'd gotten older and busier, but we did all still buy games. So what happened?

As we started reliving some of our favorite moments, I realized that we were the people you probably hated. In Battlefield: Bad Company we destroyed our own gold crates, filled our own snipers with tracers that lit them up like Christmas trees while they were distracted aiming down scope, and crashed our own choppers full of teammates. We were terrible; we ruined game experiences, and I do apologize if yours happened to be wrecked.

However, in many of these matches, an interesting thing happened. Not only was it more fun for us, but it was also more fun for our victims, many of whom abandoned the game to seek revenge (I actually got a lot of friend requests this way, oddly enough). It spoke to something missing in shooters for a lot of people. As games got even harsher on penalties, we quit playing. I'm sure for everyone out there who hated teamkillers and teamkilling, that's fantastic, and I'm happy for you--but even when I played legitimately there was at least one guy every session doing it, so for many others, you might share that loss.

Maybe what I'm looking for already exists, and if so I'd love for you to share, but if not, I do have a solution. Something dull I noticed about these games is the similarity of game modes. Shoot the other people, blow something up, keep your stuff from getting blown up. Well, I suggest an Mode. Teams have a randomly determined spy (or two) who appears to be an ally, but actually gets points (which must be hidden until the end of the round to all other players) for killing or otherwise hindering his own team.

There are few points to consider here:

  • Spies should probably be randomly chosen once someone dies to keep everyone guessing and prevent spawn camping, but there should always be a possibility of being chosen twice (or more) in successsion--no one is "safe." I'd definitely consider playing with that to see if having the previous spy as a safe agent the team can trust enhanced the experience, though.

  • Kills should be rewarded differently based on the interest they create, as someone hiding and knifing teammates occasionally is a lot less interesting and risky than someone causing havoc by destroying the team's vehicles, for instance. Encouraging creativity here will increase the fun factor for everyone; the entire game mode is diversionary, after all.
  • Spies should be punished for acting against their true team, and for failing to prevent the opposing team for progressing, but rewarded big for acting in their favor to prevent loyalty from holding them back.
  • Team scoring wouldn't work for constantly changing allegiances, therefore team objectives should instead contribute to individual scores as they already do in most games (for instance, if you capture a flag, points should be added to your score and any assisters and detracted from spies) but must be kept hidden from other players until the end of the match to prevent deducing the spy from point movement. You should always be able to see your own score though, and it might be worth at least having a leaderboard without exact scores if it's hard enough to guess who the spy is. K/D should be fine considering once you've made a kill you'll be outed immediately.
  • Team objectives need to far outweigh individual ones since the easiest way to prevent being betrayed is to be solitary; the exception being for the scoring of spies (who should also be rewarded big for their true team's accomplishments).
  • Spies should have a way of temporary broadcasting their true colors and location (which should be visible to both teams). This would allow a few things--that frustrating moment where a teammate killed his own spy on the opposite team (while alleviating that frustration a bit in many situations where the spy could save himself with a broadcast), tactical location revealing by the spy at the risk of being outed, and possibly enhancing scores for revealed spies to encourage fun, but risky taunting.
  • This game mode should automatically balance for less skilled players, particularly if the game rewards creativity in kills. Who needs a noob-tube if you can become a spy disguised right next to your targets (and earn a decent standing for one well-timed C4 on a transport, for example).

It's a great dynamic, particularly when playing without a clan in these shooters is such a solitary experience anyway. I know most do have a Free-For-All mode, but it's quite different because it's still you against them. What's chiefly missing is the suspicion and interest created when the team's best player is suddenly against you, or when your teammate betrays you for points. This is devastating to regular game modes where teamwork is already so hard to come by, but perfect in a dedicated game mode where everyone already agreed on the rules (I saw TK games quite a bit in games with lobby creation, for instance, but they didn't quite work). More than anything, the dynamic created by never knowing who you can trust as spies fluctuate throughout a match would be extremely entertaining, I think.

Any thoughts? 

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Jannis Froese
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I think the idea would need some work and testing, but it sounds promising. Perhaps someone will make it as a custom game mode in shootmania?

Eric Salmon
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It would definitely need a lot of testing, particularly for balance. I knew about making your own maps, but I hadn't heard about custom game modes with shootmania. That sounds like a fantastic idea.

Luke ParkesHaskell
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You should look towards traditional board games. Many of them encourage team work, but there can only ever be one winner - which encourages backstabbing. It's fairly solid mechanic that keeps thing political; and that political conflict is just as important as any immediate conflict presented by the gameplay itself.

Games like Civilisation incorporate but don't really capitalise on these mechanics.

Eric Salmon
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That's a great point. One that comes to mind is The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game. It's not sold in the U.S. that I know of, but it's pretty fantastic. Everyone takes odds at the beginning of the race, and betting is done in secret; but often someone won't bet on themselves when other people have and throw the race at the end. It's a lot of fun. I believe there are others in the "Really Nasty" series that are similar for other types of sport as well.

Maurício Gomes
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I remember one epic battlefield vietnam moment...

Basically, I am a Paladin, orderly, lawful good, and I hate teamkilling or even goofing off instead of doing what you should do...

Also in vietnam I liked to be heli rescue, specially when water was involved (we all know what happen if you TOUCH water with a helicoper, it is like if water was a magned! thus helicoper pilots that could handle water was rare).

One guy (That was a known troll, but also a known very good player) asked me to switch places with him, I leave him in the transport heli, and I join infantary... I guessed he was up to something, but alright...

After about 5 minutes, something crazy happened, the infantary of both teams decided to cross the same place, it was a valley, where the slope on each side had a forest, and the middle was grassland, both teams were approaching from the forests, and seemly people felt a urge to go medieval.

There you go, almost all players rushing down from the slope on their respective sides, certain that probably only one player would survive the ownslaught on the valley.

Then everyone was on the valley and bullets were flying everywhere, everything explodes and EVERYONE dies. And I mean EVERYONE, you could press the scorecard button and see that everyone was respawning.

Then the troll dude yells (this was in a Lan house): "EAT MAH HELICOPTAH!!!"

damnit, he did not resisted the urge of trolling and threw the big transport helicopter (with him still inside) in the middle of the battle.

Marvelous... the entire Lan house burst out in laughter (after some seconds of everyone looking enraged and frustated).

Eric Salmon
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Hah! These are exactly the moments I mean; that one was particularly hilarious, though.

Steven Christian
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HAHA that is gold!