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5 Ways for FPSes to Melt My Cold, Cold Heart

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By Nelson Schneider - 07/31/11 at 11:55 AM CT

It is no secret that I dislike the first-person shooter genre. It’s not just because modern FPSes are invariably pointless multi-player frag-a-thons, and it’s not just because most of them are ‘rated M for juvenile’ with paper-thin plots and settings featuring some combination of Space Marines, World War II, and/or Zombies (all things I hate in my entertainment media, be it games, movies, books, or anything else). There are a handful of FPSes that defy these genre conventions, and actually make themselves into games that I would be interested in playing… if it weren’t for the fact that the genre is mired in poor gameplay conventions that I find intolerable. So here’s a short list of gameplay mechanics that FPS developers need to put into their games in order to make me dislike them less.

5. Regenerating Health
Wow, this one has been done already! I always hated the so-called ‘classics’ of the FPS genre – things like “DOOM” and “Quake” – because it was so easy for enemies to come out of nowhere and wing the player with a lucky shot. Getting out of the way quickly and returning fire was pretty pointless because the player was too injured to survive any more surprises. Save/Load became the order of the day. It was pretty lame and completely broke the flow of the game. Regenerating health allows enemies to get a few surprise/lucky shots without interrupting the action.

4. Pointer-Based Aiming
I have always been a fan of light gun games. Unfortunately, most of those that tried to be anything more in-depth than a ‘shooting gallery’ ended up as annoying on-rails things that required the player to actually shoot incoming enemy projectiles instead of dodging them. Thanks to the Wiimote and PS Move controllers, FPSes on consoles have the opportunity to adopt the greatest aiming controls ever devised by merging light gun shooting with traditional FPS movement. Pointers completely destroy analog sticks in terms of speed and accuracy, and they are a Hell of a lot more fun to use than a mouse. Wielding a pointer feels like I’m actually shooting a (light) gun, whereas moving a mouse feels like I’m actually working on an Excel spreadsheet. Add-on the fact that analog joystick movement is far smoother than keyboard movement and the perfect controller setup for this type of game reveals itself. Nobody needs that many extra keys for macros anyway!

3. Fully Customizable Weapons
When playing a game where the main character is just a Hand with a Gun, wouldn’t it be great if players could fully customize their guns in order to become more fully invested in the character? I’m thinking of a system along the same lines as the “Armored Core” series, except for pistols and rifles instead of giant humanoid robots.

2. Randomized Maps in Multi-Player
The worst thing about multi-player in FPSes is the obsessed players who memorize the maps. Not only do these people have more practical experience than most other players, their familiarity with the lay of the land gives them an enormous, unfair advantage. Instead of offering a handful of multi-player maps with a game, developers should use random terrain generation via mathematical seeds. I remember an old PC game called “Dungeon Hack” that supposedly could create millions of different dungeons just by starting with different random numbers. If this kind of map generation was implemented correctly in FPSes, it would also be entirely possible for insane tourney whores to agree on a seed number and continue to use the same map over and over and over while playing with themselves.

1. A Button to Turn 180 Degrees
This one’s a no-brainer and the number one cause of frustration when I play FPSes. I am invariably shot in the back, either by enemies that spawn behind me or by sneaky screen-lookers in multi-player. Having a single button to whip-around makes infinitely more sense than the slow, tank-turret-style turning that is prevalent in FPSes. If a crap third-person shooter like “Resident Evil 5” can have a ‘turn-around now’ button, surely its first-person brethren can share the love… even the original “Tomb Raider” had a button for this!

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Nelson Schneider

Wrote on08/07/11 at 05:21 PM CT

Jon, I agree that randomized tracks in Kart racers are great. ModNation Racers does them quite well (unfortunately, the AI is broken).

However, the Wii wheel is NOT more fun. It doesn't actually feel like a steering wheel because it's not fixed to anything. There's a chasm between the quality of pointer-based cursor controls and tilt-based motion controls.

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Wrote on08/02/11 at 12:10 AM CT

I tend to drift back and forth between how I feel about regenerating health in FPS games. I'm a fan of the approach the original Halo took: a regenerating shield that protects a life bar which requires health packs, so something of a hybrid. I don't like purely regenerating health, because it often makes the game too easy. The games boil down to whether or not you can survive each firefight individually, instead of a series of set pieces.

But I'm not sure randomized maps are practical or really necessary. I don't think anyone would argue that obsessed players who memorize tracks in Mario Kart are much different than memorizing maps in FPS games. You could probably argue that nearly any competitive game could benefit from randomized this or that. People obsessed with Mario Kart who know every track inside and out have an enormous, unfair advantage, which I could see as being prohibitive to newcomers, especially.

Especially in something like a CTF or territory-control style of multiplayer. Those maps tend to require a lot more thought than others. Maybe randomly generated maps could work for deathmatch, but that's about it. Though, honestly... I could see the fun in random deathmatch levels. I bet random Mario Kart tracks would be a lot easier to generate than FPS maps, actually.

And sadly, I fear that competitive FPS gaming will always create a demand in the market for the mouse and keyboard due to the increased precision that comes from the mouse not moving as you click to shoot. I agree that an analog stick and light gun game would be an extremely engrossing experience, though. There will always be the hardcore holdouts in the competitive circles, though. Like people who don't play Mario Kart with the wheel, despite it being a hell of a lot more fun than using an analog stick. Using a wheel actually feels like driving a car!

I like the idea of more of a one or two gun FPS game with a gun that you're constantly modding as you play along. The trick would be designing the game so that you don't paint yourself into a corner in case, say, you've decided to mod yourself a shotgun that you aren't screwed because you have to get 30 feet from anyone you want to shoot. The game wouldn't be nearly as fun if you had to customize a certain type of gun in order to pass certain areas. I think there's promise there, though.

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