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Epic's Bleszinski: 30 Perfect Seconds Make A Shooter
Epic's Bleszinski: 30 Perfect Seconds Make A Shooter
May 13, 2010 | By Christian Nutt

May 13, 2010 | By Christian Nutt
More: Console/PC

Talking to Gamasutra as part of a wideranging new interview, Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski "gets on his soapbox" to discuss why "those 30 seconds that you do over and over" make a great FPS.

During an interview that took place while he was in San Francisco to promote Epic Games studio People Can Fly and EA Partners' new FPS Bulletstorm [YouTube trailer], Bleszinski discussed the key to developing a shooter -- a key he thinks the team has unlocked with the game.

"The fact of the matter is if you're going to make a shooter, you better make sure that those 30 seconds that you do over and over again are more fun than anything else in the game," says Bleszinski, discussing the new project from the Polish, Epic-owned Painkiller developers that he is contributing to.

"Like, you could take Halo, right, open up with the grenade, soften him up with bullets, melee -- that is fun, and you can just do that over and over again, right? And we are getting to the point where we're nailing that with Bulletstorm, with kicking a guy, sliding, leashing, and shooting him, things like that," says Bleszinski, by way of example.

However, it's not always that way, and that's a failure of developers working in the genre, he says. "I've played a lot of shooters that just want to be a shooter, but don't really ever nail that. It's like, okay, well, I should want to be the rat with the feeder pellet who's addicted to that one little thing in your game."

"The sound needs to be perfect, and, you know, to give the Bungie guys props, their grenade sound is still one of my favorite ones in all of games, because it has that little high-pitch pshew at the beginning, and I just want to throw a grenade just to hear that sound."

You look at the Gears headshot, you look at the heads exploding in Bulletstorm, the sound of the thump in the leash. 'Oh, I want to do that again.' That's good sound game design, that a lot of people miss."

The full feature-length interview, which takes in Bleszinski's working relationship with both People Can Fly and EA, as well as discussions of Epic Games design practice and comments on the Infinity Ward/Activision situation, is live today on Gamasutra.

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driver 01z
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This makes me think of fond memories I still have with my first FPS - Turok on N64. I could run past a lake, shoot some explosive arrows at a large Purr-linn (sp?) enemy with a satisfying blue explosion, then run away when he's charging me and jump in the lake and swim underwater. And I remember seeing an ad for it where it showed a 2-second clip of shooting at the T-rex, strafing to dodge a few lasers from him and meanwhile shooting him with my own lasers from the Alien weapon - seeing the lasers travelling parallel past each other - then I did this when I played through and it was fun. Here's hoping the great potential of Turok is re-realized at some point...

Alan Youngblood
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Cliff, you may have helped me figure out why your games aren't quite my cup of tea: it's 30 seconds of fun over and over. And I can also see why other people like it: because you make those 30 seconds really great and worth playing over and over (to a certain point, which is less for me than others).

@driver 01z: The N64 Turok was ahead of its time. And still is. The weapons are awesome and the dinosaur-slaying is a scenario that hasn't been successfully explored before or since with the exceptions of the dino crisis games. Even the newer Turok games have failed to capture that magic.

It would be nice to see games with more than a recycling of 30 seconds of gameplay, like perhaps 1.5-3 minutes and different varieties so that after 10+ hours I don't feel like I'm playing stale gameplay. Let's take notes from Resonance of Fate. It will probably rank lower and sell less than anything you ever make Cliff, but I like it's charm. The battle system and gameplay is great. The way the bezels cost you for going in gungho without a plan is really cool. Basically the battles play out such that the actions you take at the beginning affect your play later in the battle, so it blends turnbased and realtime action in a battle that takes minutes and plays out differently each time based on the lay of the land and the player's equipment and enemy configurations. RoF's gameplay shines past its other notable flaws and is something we can all take some notes from.

The best gameplay in my opinion is something like Deus Ex where the gameplay is deeply tied to every other moment of gameplay within the context of the game. Similar gameplay cycles through, just like the 30sec approach, but decisions made echo in consequence throughout the entire game. I'm sad we as an industry haven't made more exciting interactions in our gameplay since a decade ago. Maybe that's not Epic's market, but someone should do it.

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Cliff---My hero. Love your game design philosophy. It's why I love Gears.

Taure Anthony
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Cliff I always admire your deep mechanical game design knowledge (and your games).

@Alan thats interesting and I understand your point I think the real magic in recycling the 30sec philosophy is to cleverly mix it into the "break-up". Meaning in between these constant gameplay scenarios its masked to not exactly "click" in the players head the first their first play-through. If this technique is mastered then the player wouldn't at all mind every 30sec of "exact" awesomeness.

Craig Henderson
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I can still remember the first time I played Gears several years ago. I loaded up the game and got to the difficulty selection screen. I don't necessarily remember what the difficulty levels were, but I do know there was a description beside each one. The hardest difficulty had a description somewhere along the lines of "You know how to pull off a head shot," and I thought to myself "I DO know how to pull off a head shot, let's go!" So the game starts, I play through the opening sequence and get in to my first real fire fight. I killed the baddies and thought to myself "wow, that took a lot of bullets, guess I should start going for those head shots." So the next fire fight I found myself in I lined up a baddie and popped him in the forehead... and then he shot back at me. So I lined him up again, and popped another bullet in his forehead... and he shot back at me.

That was also the last time I played Gears.

Maybe the series has improved since then, but if that's the best 30 seconds Cliffy can give me, I'll spend my time elsewhere thank you.

Jacek Wesolowski
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It's actually more like 60 seconds. 120, if you count non-combat parts. Then again, there's about 50% variation between titles. The main reason why metrics from various games tend to have much in common is that shooters are a somewhat stale genre. Do something different, and your patterns are going to change. For instance, "shifting front" sections of Call of Duty have a completely different pattern than Gears of War.

Also, a good game can make each instance of the loop unique without breaking the core shared by all instances. Also also, while it's easier to speak of a single gameplay loop type for the sake of brevity, there's no reason why your game can't have several (e.g. regular Locust vs. Wretches in Gears).

Oh, and don't forget Cliff is mostly a spokesperson these days.

Danny Pampel
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That's a shame Craig, you missed out by not continuing. I understand what you're saying, I played through both on the hardest modes as anything else isn't a challenge. If you wanted one shot headshot kills then you should be playing on Casual. Multiplayer has the one shot kills and it is why I played it for so long.

I get what Cliffy is saying, I think you're missing it Alan. Every game has repetition, it is how you make that repetition (or not) that makes or breaks your game. Platformers, shooters, puzzle games, etc etc. All repetitious but there are those that hook in the player and make it feel like fun and less of a chore. I never thought directly about that but that is definitely why some shooters fail with me, I notice the repetition and it starts to feel like a slog (Resistance 2 is a prime example).

Joshua Sterns
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The 30 sec of fun guideline is what makes a great MP shooter. I first heard the term when Halo2 was in development, and it has always made a ton of sense to me. Games are full of tedious task. If you make that task fun, then it seems less tedious.

Also AI gets predictable so repeating the 30 secs isn't as exhilarating as it is against human players--for me at least.

There is also the environmental factor. The setting definitely effects the 30 secs of gameplay, and aides in the reduction of repetition. In Halo, for example, my 30 secs of fun changes when I'm in a big map driving a warthog. It changes again when I enter close quarters with a sword or shotgun.

I've always felt that shooters had sound, graphics, level design, and gameplay down. It's the single player stories and character development that sucks. Something also seen in the hack n slash genre.

@Driver: Turok was awesome. I loved the nuke gun. My only issue was the heavy fog that plagued the land.

Abdu Kho
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@Alan Youngblood I agree with what you say, I am the kind of guy that may get bored after doing the same 30 second thing over and over, unless if they have a somewhat good story and have "different" ways of doing the same thing. Like Pursuit Force for PC is good, it has somewhat of a good story (didn't finish the game yet), and you drive different cars, different guns, and sometimes your just shooting or walking and shooting.Hopefully if that's how Bulletstorm is then it will make a good game. Sorry if I am not clear of what I am trying to get at.

Ian Uniacke
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Well that explains why GoW is so repetitive.

Ian Uniacke
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@Danny: Although I understand what you are saying, every game may have repetition but that's not the same as every game is repetitive. For instance, when playing a game of Civilisation I may repeat certain steps when building a new city, but I'm constantly doing different tasks, and also each task has its own unique twist to it (eg building a new city I might be surrounded by forests instead of mountains). This I think is the danger of oversimplifying an idea that the end result is "hide, shoot a guy, hide, shoot a guy, run to the next hide point, repeat". Like what is the point? You might as well have a five minute game that loops around and around. That's the way I see it anyway, obviously everyone has different tastes and lots of people seem to love GoW even if I can't see why.

Danny Pampel
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@Ian: You pointed out why Civ is repetative while slamming FPS for the same reasons. Civ is the same tasks, over and over again but the environment changes. Hello? That is the same as a FPS right there. Your task is still to shoot people but now you're in a factory, now you're on-board a ship, now you're in space. FPS have been getting way more intelligent since the days of Half-Life where enemy AI really leaped forward. In some games the battle is different every single time you try it. Sure you're still shooting guns but the enemy is doing different things each time. That's just like a god game like Civ or an RTS like Starcraft. I don't see how Civ is any less repetitive than a FPS?

Cliffy nailed it, you have to make the repetitive part fun, no matter the game. I think you can claim any game to be repetitive:

Mario - Run, jump, pound

Need for Speed - Turn, accelerate, brake

Gears of War - Run, shoot, duck

Tetris - Turn, move, drop

Civilization - Build, explore, conquer

You get the point. It is fine that people don't like games like GoW or whatever, but trying to say that your game is less repetitive is ridiculous. I think the real point is that when you're making any kind of game, look at those things you have to do repeatedly and think of ways to make them more fun (I hate the word engaging).

Shekhar Gyanwali
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"!t h@s that little h!gh-pitch pshew at the beginning, and I just want to throw a grenade just to hear that sound."

awesome, ideas also,