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  • The Academic Word: Ten Maxims Every FPS Should Follow

    - Patrick Congdon
  •  Why are so many first person shooters poor, repetitive, linear, and formulaic? This question came up during a conversation with a friend, and he and I came up with some ideas that we noted were present in what we considered great first person games. From that and succeeding conversations, I came up the ten maxims that every FPS should follow.

    1. Get into the action early

    Draw the player into the world by force; use that initial confrontation to set the tone. This first impression must be followed up by developing the tone.

    Example: Call of Duty. The speech of the commissars at the beginning of the Russian campaign, mixed with the planes, explosions, and machine gun nests is dangerous, intense, and doesn’t go on forever.

    Don’t allow the player to play the game half-heartedly, which is a dangerous stumbling block at any point of the game.

    Example: Half-Life 2. While the introduction presenting the environment of City 17 was much more effectively than the tram sequence of Black Mesa from the game's predecessor, the sheer length of time between point insertion and getting the crowbar would never have worked in any other game.


    Half Life 2

    2. Create a world that invites, encourages, and rewards smart thinking

    Combining fallback points, fortified positions, and stretches of exposed ground intelligently allows the player to choose when to make a run for safety or to take a stand.

    Example: Far Cry. The mixed terrain and objects gave the world a “real” feeling, allowing stealth or brute force to move Jack through the game.

    Always running in circles or darting around the same corner to pick off one enemy at a time is boring, and forcing the player to figure out the “trick” is an exercise in frustration (not challenge) if done poorly or too often.

    Example: Painkiller. Despite featuring a wide array of locales and enemies (and lots of them) every level managed to be the same combination of jumping in circles as enemies appeared from every side.



    3. The game world is the real world

    There should almost never be just one way from one place to another; the player should never feel constrained in their options.

    Example: Halo 2. The open city environments allows Master Chief different ways to complete his objectives, adding replay value to the game by rewarding the player for doing nothing more than exploring their environment.

    Highly linear game play quickly becomes repetitive and predictable; using false paths to provide the illusion of free choice only serves to make players angry.

    Example: Quake 4. Every objective that Kane is given is straightforward and straight forward. The rationale behind each one is obvious: in order to delve deeper into Stroggos, the various companies need enemies cleared out. Throwing the player into a tank offers little variety; each mission is either an arena or a tunnel through the various installments.

    4. No one lives forever

    While playing, there must be a sense of urgency and empowerment; there must be a meaningful reward for timeliness and effectiveness (even if not immediately so).

    Example: Call of Duty 2. Sitting still is not an option, and trying to fight the war alone is a suicide mission. Furthermore, the player’s participation is not optional; there are no invincible allies that can clear the room while you hang back.

    Failing this, the immortality or immediate mortality of allies or enemies that hinges upon whether the player is present makes the player useless as a hero; they are relegated to the role of mute witness.

    Example: F.E.A.R. The Point Man has the amazing ability to be one room over or one second too late when anyone that can help him is in danger.




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