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.

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