(I was too lazy to find pictures, and now ME3 is in my possession… so yeah. Wall of text ho! (I might add some images later. Imagine a Precure. Right here. Yeah. That’s cool.)
Today I want to talk about the ever-popular FPS genre of game. It is my opinion that more recent games from this genre miss some of the more important things that made older games enjoyable, so I’m going to rant for a while and see what comes out.
It’s probably important to note that the base position here is talking about single player, with implications for multiplayer to be discussed somewhat separately.
Now, this is probably the biggest and most annoying of modern FPS trends. Almost every modern FPS has a system where you have a smallish health bar (which is often so small that it’s invisible, or relies on cute things like the screen turning red or desaturated or something) that refills after spending some time in cover or not being shot. Now, the advantage of this system comes from the fact that you can send endless waves of enemies at the player, and only have to worry about them running out of ammo.
One consequence of this is that generally speaking, when the player makes a mistake, they go back to the last checkpoint, and try again, as they don’t have much health to take more than a handful of shots before dying. Generally speaking this is not a good thing when you’re trying to convince your players to keep playing. While I can’t speak for everyone, but I tend to end my gaming sessions after a death or at the end of a level (and with a trend towards Half Life style ‘transparent’ level boundaries, that doesn’t even work so well).
Similarly, giving the player another resource to manage allows you to give them more options, and gives rewards good (skillful) play by letting them keep that resource longer. Additionally, it allows more interesting encounters, as players will likely use different strategies depending on how much health they have available.
That being said, the placement of health-packs and other items (armor bonuses, for example), needs to be intelligent as well. If you fully restore the player’s health and ammo after every encounter, then the player still only has to think about every single encounter as exclusive units of gameplay (which might fit the design). However, if you only give some (or no) health back after an encounter, then the player will start to not only think about the current encounter, but about the next encounter, or the one after that.
As an alternate idea, what about giving infinite ammo (perhaps infinite clips, so reloading is still a thing), and making health the primary resource. There are some problems with this ( ‘strong’ weapons are dangerous with this sort of system, as once the player gets the Big Gun, they are probably not going to use anything else). Left 4 Dead uses a system not dissimilar to this, where the players have infinite ammo for their pistol/s, and limited ammo for the stronger (generally speaking) secondary weapons. Similarly, health is generally the main resource worried about in Left 4 Dead.
In Multiplayer, regenerating health is actually an interesting mechanic. Ignoring the games that have lethality so high that you never really exploit it, having the player’s health regenerate after a few seconds of not being hit is a big game changer. By removing health pickups, you’ll find that players will tend not to camp them (strange, I know, you’d think that players would continue to camp items that don’t exist), as they don’t need to rely on them to be at ‘full’ strength, nor can you rely on injured players making a beeline for them.
Knowing my opinions on camping (it’s boring both to do and to have done to you), this is a somewhat positive mechanical change. That being said, it’s a hard thing to balance. How long does it take for health to start coming back? How fast does it regenerate? These are the important questions to ask here. While I am loathe to be too nice to the Halo series (they do a lot of things I dislike, haha), I must admit that they do a good job of the regenerating health in multiplayer. Specifically talking about Reach, they’ve managed to mix regenerating shields (which are weaker than their counterparts in Halo 2/3)
with a static health system (although it regenerates to one of 3 wounded levels as well), and not have lethality so high that you instantly die to things before you get a chance to react (hello CoD games!).
I really hate that pretty much every game these days only lets you hold two guns at once. Some games even limit it to one ‘primary weapon’ and one ‘secondary weapon’. Generally speaking, I want to be able to carry EVERY GUN. Also a ton of rockets and 200 points of armor and all that crap. It’s just more fun that way. And in case you were not aware, games are all about having fun.
In Multiplayer this isn’t quite so horrible. Depending on your playstyle you probably only want to use two guns anyway. However, I really dislike the trend of games where you spawn with certain guns (henceforth a ‘kit’) and to unlock more choices you have to play a bunch of games with inferior or less fun gear. Now you can take the weapons of your fallen enemies, but it’s still kinda an annoying system. Admittedly, this fits more in the ‘inconvenience’ zone, but it’s still a pain in the ass to have to play eight million rounds before I can have certain weapons.
Some games offset this by making the unlocks completely random, and balancing most weapons so that in many cases the default kit is just as good, some games offset this by exclusively offering cosmetic upgrades, some games have unlock systems that are suffering incarnate. (BF:BC2 was a pain, I basically just stole everyone else’s kit from their corpses because without leveling my medic kit a few times, I couldn’t do shit. (Also because kit-stealing is a pretty cool mechanic, and also because I find it kinda hilarious)).
I both love and hate secret areas. On one hand, they’re cool and stuff, and I like exploring. On the other hand, sometimes they’re just “activate/shoot random wall segment for no reason” and that feels kinda cheap. In a game with ‘persistent’ health (and armor), these are good places to stash extra health (including items like megahealths or gold armor), or big stashes of ammo or grant access to big guns a bit early.
While modern FPSs still have these, they almost invariably have to do with achievements. I am fairly pro-achievements, but as far as achievements go, “looking up the location of these 80 secret items” is a boring achievement, and also most ‘secret areas’ don’t really hold anything great (apart from 1/80 of your probably-pointless achievement (I’ll still get it though, because 100% completion is a thing that I tend to do occasionally (nested brackets are nested))).
Also “Just around that corner that you don’t need to walk down but can if you want” is a shitty place to hide a secret. At least make more than a casual walk around a corner a requirement for finding these things.
It’s probably important to say that modern FPSs can be fun. That being said, I prefer the old FPS tropes over the modern FPS tropes of regenerating health and two guns and STUPIDLY HIGH LETHALITY. While ragging on about MANLY HONORABLE MAN BATTLES WITH GUNS ON THE FIELD OF VALOR is far from my thing, I’d prefer dueling someone with rocket launchers where we can both soak up a few (indirect, at least) hits over LOL SNIPER RIFLES PEWPEW ONESHOT IN THE FOOT. I mean, I sunk a good ~20 hours into CoD: Black Ops last year (which, really, isn’t that much), and I still play TF2 on occasion, and I still play the occasional new FPS for single player (either I’m so good the games are largely trivial now, or more likely, they’ve been slowly getting easier for the most part).
Super scripted scenes are really stupid. Remember how that one guy did the whole first level of CoD: Black Ops only firing his gun twice? Yeah, that’s dumb. Really really dumb.