Dec 2, 2008

What makes for a good FPS game

What makes for a good FPS game (backposted from here) is holding a contest “what makes for a good e-sport title”.  I made an entry for that, and then I read some of the other blogs and I noticed a lot of the other blogs focused instead on the subject of “what makes a good game” as opposed to “what makes a good e-sports title.”  An e-sports title has to sell (much like fake pro wrestling sells) and that’s what I focused on; but I would also like to give my two cents on evaluating the merit of an FPS game on the basis of FPS games (instead of the basis of e-sports)
There are three main aspects to FPS gaming that are important to me, two of which are dictated by the game and one which is dictated by the player.  I’m just going to list them and give some examples:
1)      Tactics.  There is a distinction in military doctrine between tactics and strategy (and operations, for that matter) – tactics are the low-level day to day (minute to minute in FPS) decisions, and strategy is the overall goal, which may change during a session, but usually should not, as tactics are tailored around the strategy.  There is not much strategy to speak of in FPS (it boils down to you deciding somewhere between “I will camp” and “I will rush”), but there are many tactics to choose from (positional feints, item timing, high-ground for domination, low-ground for ninja, rush techniques, exploitation of weapons, etc.) and this is an integral part of FPS gaming.  The development of these tactics and their systematic study makes for a good FPS game.
2)      Aim.  To quote yoda: victory comes from frags, frags come from damage, damage comes from pointing and clicking.  Aim can be further broken down into degrees of freedom (and, therefore, difficulty of skill) which may then be used to judge the relative merit of a game’s aim requirements.  I first saw such an explanation by mahmood of GGL and so I want to credit him; it goes like this:
a.       Railgun.  Due to extreme damage in one shot, and the instant hit of the projectile, there are only two degrees of freedom (the 2D Cartesian plane of your monitor) and therefore this weapon can be argued to be the biggest aim-dependent skill, and games that employ it will therefore be more aim dependent.
b.      Lightning Gun/Machine Gun.  A sort of nerfed RG in auto-fire mode, this adds the third degree of freedom: the temporal dimension.  Because to deal damage comparable to a RG hit, you need to track your opponent over time, this weapon requires more “aim skill”.  The exception may be when it is enhanced by a damage powerup.
c.       Plasma Gun/Nail Guns/Rocket Launcher.  These require even more degrees of freedom to utilize, because not only do we have the X/Y aiming, and the time delay of projectile, but we also have to account for the target’s evasive maneuvers which may add any number of degrees of freedom, depending on how many times it can change direction during the projectiles flight time.  The Rocket Launcher is even cooler because there is also the skill of aiming for the feet, and bouncing your opponent, thereby not allowing him to continue dodging.
d.      Finally, and paradoxically, is the Grenade Launcher.  Traditionally, spam is considered “no skill”, but since it possesses all the qualities of a rocket launcher, and the additional degree of freedom of the grenade fuse, there is therefore even greater skill expressed in wielding this weapon.  Its high rate of fire does, however, negate somewhat the temporal degree of freedom.  To be sure, for the GL to compare to RL, the hits registered must be direct.  Then I think there is less argument as to how skillful this weapon is.  (Think underwater.)  As it is, most grenade hits are splash damage mine-fields, in which case it is no longer the crucial aspect of Aim, but a secondary aspect we might call Booby-Traps.
3)      The third and final aspect that makes for an FPS game is the player mentality.  It has been described by different monikers, such as “LAN mentality”, “nerves of steel”, “marijuana”, or my personal favorite “playing to win”.  There is room for “playing for fun”, but in order to test how good an FPS game is, it must fully support the “play to win” mentality.  To learn more about this, I can only recommend the Playing to Win set of posts by David Sirlin:
To really evaluate something, you have to understand it and that means you have to learn it inside and out.  To learn an FPS game, you have to get better at it, and here the old adage still applies: practice, practice, practice.  If you practice with the above in mind: tactics, aim, state of mind; then you will benefit more, but if you find that the game does not allow you to focus on these three aspects, everything else excluded, then it is probably not a good FPS game.

What makes a good esports title?

What makes a good E-Sports title? (backposted from here)

There are three main things that make for a good e-sports title.I will describe them below, give some current examples, and close with some thoughts on what can be made better about the current best.
1)A successful e-sports title needs financial backing, usually in the forms of tournament sponsors and clan sponsors.Sponsors today are mostly specialized industry leaders which have a vested interest in moving the hardware scene forward by developing new products (video cards, CPUs, etc).Generic sponsors would make for an even more successful platform, as the latter would no longer be under pressure for a new game release (which would require the new hardware specialized sponsors are pushing) and therefore the scene would be more stable as professional players focused their energy on developing one particular skill-set.Another kind of sponsorship can be from spectator fees, but currently these are not as big as in other spectator sports (read: pay per view)
2)A successful e-sports title also needs history.This history is expressed in the form of tournament results, clan wars, publicized rivalries, controversy, and the like.Because there is no uniform coverage (VODs being what they are, and TV broadcast not yet fully here) a robust replay/demo recording playback and distribution system is crucial for the recording of history.This continually feeds the platform scene and keeps it alive by giving new members something to aspire to.
3)A successful e-sports title finally needs game-play longevity.The overall strategic sense should not be trivially solved (as in e.g. tic-tac-toe), new tactics should always be possible and emergent, and this usually means that the platform needs to quickly solidify the code base where it matters.Eye-candy features are always welcome development down the road, but changes in unit physics and interactions are not because they destroy previously learned basics.
I would like to present some examples from what I see and from what I play personally (unfortunately I have no console experience so my comments are PC only)
·FPS Duel – Quake series, especially Quake 3 and QuakeWorld.
oThe Quake series, particularly Quake 3 (1999) and Quake 4, have had significant financial input.Quake 4 lacked history (and probably game-play longevity) and therefore Quake 3 has made a come-back in the competitive first person shooter world.
oQuakeWorld (released in 1996, still developed) probably has as much history as any other current FPS title currently played in cash tournaments, simply due to being released first, outmatched only by Quake 3 and it’s monster tournament organizations.But it shares a similar fate as Quake 2, NetQuake, and the Doom titles of early 90’s – e-sports was simply not developed enough for financers to be interested; and after e-sports took off, they looked mostly to the top-dog of the day (Quake 3) and stuck with it.
oPainkiller was an interesting example which had tremendous financial backing, but was unable to build up a history and longevity, and was therefore eventually abandoned.
·FPS Team-play – Counter Strike
oVirtually every fps duel game has a team-play mode, but very few make it to the cash tournaments.Counter Strike is really the only team-play platform that is as old as the early Quakes, and still has an enormous player base.Of course, it has all three factors in spades: sponsorship, history, and longevity (say what you will about those camping CSers, there is a reason people still play it…)
·Real time strategy – Starcraft, Warcraft
oAgain, all of the above factors are true for these games, which have risen above their contemporaries such as C&C, despite continued competition:
oSouth Korean e-sports scene even has a television station broadcasting starcraft matches, and players have a cult following.Online voting was overwhelmed by them picking Boxer, a starcraft legend, over others voting for Quake and CS superstars.Starcraft has been more or less stable as a game, and therefore enjoys a long and rich life.
oThe only real-time strategy game that pulled me personally away from single player and into RTS multiplayer online has been Supreme Commander.It is a relatively new game, so it does not have sponsors or much of a history, but it’s game-play dynamics are like nothing else out there and this alone could prove it a successful e-sports title.It has participated in some high profile tournaments (i32, i33) but only time will tell if it will make it big.
Room for improvement:
What could the above titles have to make them and the e-sports scene even more successful?Think traditional sports.While you may see specialized sponsors such as Adidas and Nike advertising during futbol, tennis, or golf, at least half of the commercials will be generic big-name sponsors such as cars, banks, etc., which have no vested interest in changing the game (by selling anti-gravity sneakers to extend the analogy to e-sports) but are simply excited by the sport and sponsor it recognizing the diverse spectatorship thereof.
In order to attract these kinds of generic sponsors and free the platform to live by its own rules, that kind of diverse spectatorship of course is what is needed, and for this I believe a good broadcasting strategy is very important.One example to follow here would be TV broadcasts of Poker in the USA.In the 1980s they were quite boring, and never took off past the local channel; now they are on ESPN in high-definition.What was the crucial change that propelled poker into the mainstream?I will claim it were the little things, like knowledgeable broadcasts, the “hole cam”, and other such small but important innovations in broadcasting, that made this game so appealing to the general public, and eventually sponsors.Otherwise, Poker is not much different from Video Gaming – people sitting at a table trying to read each other minds (albeit with flashier graphics)

Now the question is: who can take the bull by the horns and make e-sports even more successful?It must be a group effort.
I have been playing and watching QuakeWorld since 1999, Quake 3 since 2003, attending LANs and doing play-by-play commentary since 2004, writing e-sports news articles and holding tournaments since 2006, and I generally play every big-name game that comes out for the PC.