Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Design Theory: Shooter Weapons and Combat

In first person shooters, there is really two gameplay requirements upon which the entire genre is built around:
  1. Firing the weapons is fun
  2. Moving through the world is easy and engaging
It doesn't matter what other features you have in a shooter, third or first person, if your basic, "through the barrel" experience is lacking, the rest of the game won't matter to the player. The best games are the ones where both of these are achieved invisibly.

One can certainly make point 1 or 2 more interesting or compelling, thereby increasing the efficacy of the gameplay experience for the shooter enthusiast. Without the two points above, you don't have a "fun" shooter game.

Borderlands 2
The recent title from Gearbox places a unique spin on point 1 to make up for the relatively straight-forward approach to point 2.  Embracing classic titles like Diablo II, the guns are generated by the game as 'loot', determining type, abilities, etc., providing a virtually endless supply of unique weapon experiences.  By providing a variety of increasing varied, but still useful, gameplay from the weapons and their intended targets, Borderlands 2 finds a happy medium in its approach to the 'through the barrel' experience, and the sales certainly reflect the success in this department.

Movement is also smooth and easy, though, a bit floaty.  This reinforces the science fiction aesthetic and background of the game, but it also increases the forgivability of falls and other events that may cause accessibility issues for players who trend toward the Diablo II "loot fest" style game and play few shooters.  Here, the implied design requirements for accessibility to inexperienced players was leveraged into the overall gameplay design aesthetic.

Team Fortress 2
TF2 embraces its old-school roots with gusto.  Each weapon is unique, based on the character class selected, and creates a wide variety of gameplay experience with each weapon.  The mini-gun of the Heavy Weapons Guy has a different feel and gameplay mechanic and aesthetic than the Soldier's Rocket Launcher or the Sniper's Rifle.  While this slightly increases the learning curve of the game, it also allows players to discover the character class that suits their style of play.

Movement is straightforward, while simultaneously embracing organic movement abilities discovered and exploited in previous titles in the same genre.  Players can "crouch jump" to increase jump height incrementally, based on the game Half-Life and derived from its engine.  Some classes can use their weapons to throw themselves high into the air, using a "rocket jump" first used in Quake multiplayer

Spec Ops: The Line
I've only recently purchased the title, and have played several hours into the campaign, but my first impression of the weapon behaviors is "meh".  There is nothing to attract me to the combat behaviors, and while certain weapons provide differing abilities, such as the M4 having a silencer, the AK47 having a fire select, for example, these abilities are not immediately obvious and, in rare circumstances, provide a significant change in gameplay.  Further, the behavior of your targets are, at times, both criminally stupid and brutally accurate.

Further, movement in the game is hampered by a rather dubious control scheme.  I find myself having to think about which binding to press for sprinting, even as I completed the game.  I was also given a short tutorial about how to move my squadmates and give them orders, but the on-screen prompt lasted less than 5 seconds and didn't wait for me to actually give the command before it disappeared.  It feels like a system that wasn't completely realized, and subsequently shoe-horned into the game.

While the atmosphere of the game is excellent (but, can we find another everyman besides Nolan North?  Please?), and the writing a new standard, the gameplay thus far is ho-hum, if not mildly frustrating.

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