Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On First Person Shooters

I stumbled across this today: Doomed to Invent Our Mistakes

The most interesting thing about it, to me, is that the comments by readers are spectacularly bad, short-sighted, and petty. It makes me glad I've never been noticed by those kinds of armchair experts.

The basic idea of Saltsman's essay is that modern shooters have focused on a few specific bits of gameplay to the point where they leave off the parts that are fun. In particular, Saltsman dislikes pixel-precise aiming, hiding, reload minigames, and strafing. He prefers those kinds of things to be looser and more forgiving so that we can focus on the parts of the game that are fun.

I largely agree. As games have gone ever more hardcore, we see them becoming very skill-based, but the skills in question do not sit well with me. I'm not a big fan of the reaction-speed skills that most modern FPS games focus on. I don't think all games should ignore those skills, but I would like to see some that focus on other things.

Because I prefer tactical, strategic, and exploration challenges. And I don't play FPS games much any more because they don't bother thinking in those terms any more. You can argue that, say, Gears of War or Halo have strategic or tactical elements, but the truth is that they take back seat to the ability to aim at a tiny, rapidly moving block of pixels while simultaneously strafing at high speeds. Even if you are a tactical god, you're not going to win if you don't have teenager-on-Mountain-Dew reflexes.

I never did, even when I was a teenager on Mountain Dew. But I could hold my own in the FPS games that existed back then, because they had a much larger tactical component. You could think your way through Quake deathmatches.

Anyhow, I agree with Saltsman, and I think that majority of the replies are by people who are so self-absorbed that they react violently to anyone who doesn't have the exact same preferences as they do. Obviously, many FPS fans are going to like FPS games the way they are... that's why they're FPS fans. But some of us stopped being FPS fans for the same reason.


PJammaGod said...

http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19/ (the link is NSFW)

I once again humbly direct people towards John Gabriel's Internet Theory. Most of what comes out of Gamasutra is right on mark and after that tasty link, my beliefs are yet again affirmed. Adam was right on the ball in terms of mechanics taking second-fiddle to the importance of user gameplay and that elusive element called "fun".

Of course reading the... let's be nice and call them informed responses, of the readership left me in stiches. I'm guessing high-school level application of logic and essay skills isn't something easily achieved...

And the way Adam doesn't rise to the flamebait is worth reading alone. The readership becomes more shrill while he remains in Chili Palmer mode (from the movie Be Cool)

Craig Perko said...

Yeah, I agree.

Don't really have anything to add, just agreeing.

Textual Harassment said...

I'm on the side of the rabble. Shooting without aiming is just clicking. It feels *good* to aim at something and hit it. Conversely it feels cheap to obviously miss, but get rewarded anyway.

Strafing is just a way of letting you aim and move without tearing your hair out. And it's a concession to the fact that human movement is more versatile than steering a box around, which is what you're doing.

A lot of the other stuff (reloading, cover) is just catering to realism without really thinking through the impact the mechanic will have on the experience. It's not a bad thing, but it should be used purposefully.

Very few FPSs (single player, especially) reward strategic and tactical thinking, and it's a shame. Probably the thinking is that they'd have to make the enemies more deadly(to require tactics to succeed), but then players who fail to use tactics will complain that the game was too hard.

Craig Perko said...

They're not rabble because they like FPS games, they're rabble because they're close minded, defensive, and even more obnoxious than I am.

There are a couple of points. One is the difference between aiming and not aiming. It's not some binary setting. How carefully you have to aim is a sliding scale, and currently it's set at the very high end. Some modern FPS games (or near-FPS games such as Dead Space) are literally ALL about super-precise aiming.

It's not that you didn't have to aim in Doom. It's just that it wasn't as challenging to aim.

On the other hand, I feel differently about strafing. I like strafing as a way of moving, but I hate strafing as a way to dodge and fire simultaneously. Strafing as a defensive measure bothers me, because it's silly, and it's only effective because of the super-precise-aiming that's required by both you and your enemies.

If super precise aiming weren't required, I wouldn't mind strafing.

I think you're right on all your other points, especially that people will complain that the game is too hard.

Like I complain now.

What skill challenges do you prefer? What skill challenges does the game proffer? If they don't match, you'll probably find the game quite difficult. If it caters to the unskilled, then the skilled find it boring...

It's a difficult situation.

Craig Perko said...

Let me clarify: Strafing is irritating to me because if you don't do it, you die... but if you DO do it, it makes the already extremely challenging pixel-perfect aiming even more challenging.

Textual Harassment said...

I never really thought about strafing in combat vs. strafing just to move. I guess it's so natural to me I think about it holistically.

"Let me clarify: Strafing is irritating to me because if you don't do it, you die"

That's funny to me because I'm used to debates with "bunny hopping" or "grenade jumping" or whatever in place of simply strafing.

"If super precise aiming weren't required, I wouldn't mind strafing."

If super precise aiming (and timing) weren't required, we wouldn't *need* strafing.

Anyway, I, too, would like to see some more games where the challenge is getting to the right place at the right time, not just making the right moves when you get there.

Craig Perko said...

Well, it doesn't sound like we disagree a huge amount, save for our personal preferences. I definitely think that strafing for noncombat purposes is flat-out different than strafing for combat purposes, because any kind of movement for combat purposes should be a desperate scuttle and a dive, perhaps while wildly firing in their general direction to keep their heads down.

Humans do move in, well, not in a strafe, but their head points in a different direction than they are going. However, they don't generally move much at all when firing a weapon, not if they're actually trying to hit someone.