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# First-person shooter design: What to save, and what to frag

May 22, 2012 | By John Polson

May 22, 2012 | By John Polson
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While the first-person shooter is one of the most popular video game genres around, it often relies on tried and true mechanics and concepts. That reliance on stale ideas can often lead to creative stagnation.

In a group interview, Gamasutra sister site IndieGames.com gathered the opinions of six independent first-person shooter developers, who discussed where the genre should innovate, and what old tropes should be revisited or retired.

But first, a bit of relevant history. The origins of FPS games have been traced to the 1970s, with titles such as Maze War and Spasim. However, modern FPS titles are often compared to the id Software titles of the 90s, such as Catacomb 3-D, Doom, and Wolfenstein 3D, or more recent titles. Those hits from the 90s were often made with small teams, similar to the size of "indie" teams today.

The genre has since diffused mechanically (even mixing with other genres) and financially (over $50 million budgets). Yet, maybe to evolve, the genre just needs more attention from teams similarly sized to those who brought it to life. Joining the interview are Alan Wilson of Tripwire Interactive (developer of Killing Floor and Red Orchestra), Kedhrin Gonzalez of Illfonic (Nexuiz), Alex Austin of Cryptic Sea (A New Zero), Michiel Beenen of Interwave (Nuclear Dawn), Oscar Jilsen of Coffee Stain Studios (Sanctum), and Mladen Bošnjak of Misfit Village (SickBrick). IndieGames: Where do you see innovation is ripe and waiting? Alan Wilson, Tripwire: We're always keen to try new elements out - like a real first-person cover system. Peripheral vision done well. All sorts of stuff like that. Those things that really make me feel immersed in a game. That is one of the key points about an FPS for me - that it gives me the most real, believable perspective on whatever the game world is. [It] doesn't have to be a "real" world - but I want to feel part of it, from the perspective and the way I interact with it. FPS games, at their best, give you the best possible chance to be "in" the world. There is also a whole debate about how we pay for games and value for money - and I would really like to see that getting explored more. I've always been on record as saying that I have yet to see a game I really believe is worth$60 up front. I want to go on enjoying my games.

Alex Austin, Cryptic Sea: There's a lot of room for innovation in FPS games, the main one I'm focused on right now is movement. Every FPS game right now uses the same movement as Quake 1 essentially, with a few hacks like prone position or moving your aiming reticule when firing a weapon.

The reason for this is there is a huge gap between simple Quake movement and realistic human movement, and if you don't make it over that gap almost everyone will hate it. The only game that I know of that ever tried to make it was Trespasser, and that was not received well. I'm currently trying to jump that gap with A New Zero. We'll see if I make it, but so far it's encouraging. I have a video of what the movement system allows.

Michiel Beenen, Interwave: In recent gaming history, titles such as Half Life 2, Deus Ex and Dark Messiah of Might and Magic have demonstrated how the 'Shooter' in FPS games is but one of the gameplay approaches that the genre permits. We'd like to see more and more games find and develop these alternative styles, where shooting is but a single component of a great, cinematic FPS adventure.

Oscar Jilsen, Coffee Stain: It's a hard question, as I have not been thinking about it a whole lot.

Most FPS games right now seem to just be repeating the same process. Ever since Halo popularized the two-weapon standard and regenerating health became the norm most recent FPS games feel similar. It is hard to answer that question because the name "First Person Shooter" kinda locks down the possibilities, it demands that you can shoot from a first person perspective.

What I would like to see from First Person Perspective games is more games like Mirror's Edge and Amnesia: to focus on interaction with the environment and to use the perspective differently. Amnesia does this well when they punish you for looking at enemies, that is a very smart and interesting twist to the genre that more games could utilize.

Mladen Bošnjak, Misfit Villager: The FPS genre is pretty straightforward, when you add elements and start innovating, it goes into different genres (add inventory and a few choices, it's already an RPG), so I don't think you can innovate the FPS genre in particular much without it stretching its "First Person Shooter" name.

Kedhrin Gonzalez, Illfonic: I think, the largest step FPS games can take at this point, is a new peripheral that gets players more involved with fewer restrictions. They've tried it with the Wii, Move and Kinect, but they're lacking precision control. Aiming at the screen to turn just doesn't work well enough! I do have an idea that can work (I think)... but I can't really discuss it. It's pretty direct...

The thing is, you can't take this entire genre, throw in new controls and expect it to immediately change. Today's day and age isn't like 1996 when Quake allowed +mlook and it changed everything. It also isn't like Halo where the thumbsticks came in with gameplay catered towards console play. Things are a lot more expansive now.

Turning is [also] one of the most important things in an FPS. It has to be smooth, easy, and controllable. Take that away and you just don't have a fun FPS. I'd love to play around with all of these ideas to further expand on what we can do with the genre. Let's face it, First Person View is the most important genre because it will lead into Virtual Reality. The people mastering its craft today will be the ones deciding VR's fate.

Other than that, I think FPS is going towards FPS RPG being the main focus. It gives progression over repetition. It drives commitment within a game. Reward the player with lush story, but also give them hardcore gameplay. I think S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is the best example of this. Although the game had some serious flaws that prevented it from seeing its full potential, it is a star role model of things to come for FPS Games.

IndieGames: Where would you like to see the games imitate, as in what old or forgotten elements of FPSes should be revisited?

Oscar Jilsen, Coffee Stain: I personally am a big fan of the secondary fire feature that was common back in the day. It (usually) made the weapons a little deeper and invited the player to switch up their tactics.

Alan Wilson, Tripwire: I've been replaying bits of Rainbow Six: Vegas recently. I always loved the whole terrorist hunt mode in that game. [I'd like] more tactical games, that don't revolve around some Hollywood plot type of thing.

Kedhrin Gonzalez, Illfonic: FPS games have been losing the exploration factor. This is due to short attention spans. The majority of FPS fans just want non-stop, in your face action. I prefer exploring, getting into the environment. It was awesome running around Redneck Rampage and laughing at all the stuff. Duke Nukem, I mean come on. That was so fun! Games take you on a linear track because developers want constant engagement and don't want to spend resources doing some crazy event players might miss. This goes back my FPS RPG argument. They almost go hand in hand!

Mladen Bošnjak, Misfit Village: Well, I thought that Serious Sam 3 was going to bring back the old Doom-like fun of just shooting hordes of guys, but that's just not working for me anymore. I think that developers making FPS games should look back on the original Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 and see how great just shooting all of those weapons feels. I remember how I always used the ripper in UT just because it was fun to shoot, also the minigun from UT and the one from the original Serious Sam. They just don't make them like they used to.

Michiel Beenen, Interwave: Difficulty. Not every game needs to be murderously difficult, and talk of 'hardcore' switches is plain silly. However, we feel that modern FPS games place too much emphasis on coddling the player from one glorious moment of epic accomplishment to the next.

Games are starting to feel like highlight reels of these unreal, impossible heroes that it's hard to feel connected to them. Kill the player, make them fear the dark and their enemies, and don't make victory a foregone conclusion, please.

Alex Austin, Cryptic Sea: I would like to see games use some elements of pre-Quake FPS games like Ultima Underworld, System Shock or Terra Nova. All of those games had a lot of detail and complex interactions; unfortunately, everyone followed the id Software path of shoot everything. Also someone should remake Hidden and Dangerous 1 with a new engine so I can play it with my friends.

IndieGames: What elements of FPSes are overdone at this point?

Oscar Jilsen, Coffee Stain: I could go on about regenerating [health] and the two-weapon standard. But that's common knowledge. Something I think is overdone at this point is the "cinematic effect." There seems to be more watching than playing in modern FPS games; you constantly get interrupted in the middle of gameplay. If I wanted to just sit and watch, I'd be watching a movie.

Don't get me wrong, though, I don't have anything against cut scenes. Not if they're used at the right moment. But modern FPS games seem to be some kind of half movie-half game hybrids.

Alan Wilson, Tripwire: Modern warfare, bad takes on asymmetric warfare (i.e CT/COIN), immensely expensive scripted story-line pieces with dodgy voice acting. That sort of thing!

Kedhrin Gonzalez, Illfonic: Well, I do think multiplayer games have become too slow. I'm not saying those games are bad. But every FPS game? Give us back the right to really brag about being a good gamer. FPS games got slower because of how Halo dominated the console market. I think multiplayer is fun in Halo and Call of Duty, but not every game needs to mimic them.

Mladen Bošnjak, Misfit Village: Call of Duty is pretty overdone as a series. I think that Call of Duty and Battlefield are hurting their developers in a way that they're not innovating enough. There's only so much you can do in the warfare scenario. DICE did a great thing with Mirror's Edge, but they can't build on that because EA is probably pushing them to make new Battlefield franchise installments.

As for particular game elements I don't know if anything is overdone, maybe just not done enough. I'd like to see more bullet time in AAA FPS games. Fear 3 and TimeShift are the last ones that had it that I have played, and both of those games aren't really good.

Alex Austin, Cryptic Sea: Linear story. Multiplayer where you run in, shoot a guy, die, respawn and repeat. Perks. Basically, Battlefield 3.

Michiel Beenen, Interwave: Martial themes could be turned down a notch or two. These days, it's impossible to have an adventure, it seems, without being some kind of elite commando master sergeant of awesomeness who was removed from service for being too cool for the army.

Half Life's main character was a nerd with glasses, System Shock's was anything from a technician to a psi expert. Drake from Uncharted (not an FPS, but still) is a rogue adventurer. People who don't spend 29 hours a day polishing their shotgun are cool, too. They can go on adventures, as well!

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