Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Elements of an FPS

Elements of an FPS (as presentend in numerous "good" shooters such as Bioshock and Half-Life)

The "Safe-Impress the player" Introduction
Start off the game with the player in an impressive enviroment making them amazed at what they just saw. (e.g. the train ride in Half-Life 2 and the opening of City 17, or the reveal of Rapture in Bioshock) You can show danger in this part, but you can't let the player die, otherwise he would get angry and quit the game. (So, that's why I was a little bored in Bioshock. Even though they scared me with enemies on the outside, I knew they couldn't touch me because that would violate the safety rule. Boringness ensues.)

Suggestion: I know I can't die in the beginning because dying that early would be unfair to the player. That removes all sense of suspense and danger. How about keeping the reality of danger there, but make it easy to escape it. For example, after the resonance cascade in Half-Life 1, everything was destroyed. Head-crabs would pop out of nowhere which WOULD ATTACK you, hurting you. But they did hardly any damage and you could outrun them fast. It's better to have that, than just to have nothing and voices screaming at you in the shadows.

Show the Enemy
This is a very simple trick popularized by Half-Life 1. Before confronting the player with a potentially scary or dangerous enemy, first show the player the enemy from a distance where the player is safe, and has a chance to observe the enemy. This is done in the Bioshock Demo multiple times and in Half-Life for most of the enemies. In Half-Life 1, when introducing a new stronger enemy type, they had the enemy contained in a glass pod. To proceed through the game, you had to break the pod, but you had as long as you wanted to to observe the enemy before attacking him.
The seemingly only exception to this rule is when you want to surprise or scare the player with a zombie-like enemy who will leap out of nowhere leaving the player shocked at this new enemy.
(Once again, I wasn't afraid of the giant monster enemies in Bioshock because I knew they were letting me observe them in a controlled enviroment. Safety and lack of supsense ensued.)

Scripted Sequences

A pipe breaks next to you as you walk by; a plane flies by overhead and explodes in mid-air; a wall suddenly explodes and hordes of monsters come through; these are all scripted sequences that will catch the player off-guard (usually) and increase the atmosphere and tension. The only thing they serve is the "cool" factor and they usually trigger when they player walks onto a certain tile. Rarely do they provide any signfigance to the gameplay. There were several moments like this in Bioshock and I was like, "That's great, it looks kind of cool, but I know it has nothing to do with anything."

Scripted sequences are fun when you actually have an impact on them. In the Bioshock demo, there was an enemy below me pounding on a door, trying to get the occupant to open it. I wanted to see what would happen so I didn't shoot him. Nothing actually happened. I think it would be cool if different things happened if you shot him or not, but that wasn't the case here.

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