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Give the player (and AI) options
February 20, 2011 5:48 PM   Subscribe

Basics of effective FPS encounter design (via F.E.A.R. and F.E.A.R. 2) is a detailed analysis of how to create engaging encounters in first person shooters.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn (21 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
A good read, well thought out. Thanks for the post.
posted by churl at 5:55 PM on February 20, 2011


what on earth are those graphics for
posted by nathancaswell at 6:01 PM on February 20, 2011


This is very well written, and does capitalize on what the FEAR franchise does best. It's hard for me to point to them as excellent FPS examples because, while the encounter design is fantastic, the level design is atrocious: Whether you're humping through a school, a private gulag, or main street America (post apocalypse) it won't be long before a certain artificiality takes over the environment. You'll notice that a classroom door opens into a storage area, which runs the length of the entire building, which then opens into a complete labyrinth of storage rooms.

It's like the level designers asked "What environments would we find in a school?" and got the answer "Classrooms, cafeterias, music rooms and computer labs", then got busy assembling those components higgledy piggeldy with no thought as to how they might logically be laid out in real life. Plus, each level as a whole was embarrassingly linear.

But the set pieces in FEAR? Hell, Yes. Even in the first the individual environment was laid out in a way that encouraged a variety of strategies, and playing through them wound up being pretty gratifying, regardless of whether you used the adrenaline reflex or not. Everything he wrote about cover, height and mobility was right on when it came to FEAR 2.
posted by boo_radley at 6:56 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


FEAR 2 is on my 'pick it up for $5 in a Steam sale' list.

The fact that I have such a list makes me very happy to live in 2011.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:18 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I must confess that i've never played F.E.A.R but this article sells me on it. I still remember playing Half-Life and having to strategically fight the government teams

The best game for giving the player options, IMHO, is Crackdown. it's not an FPS but you can approach any enemy in a million ways
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:32 PM on February 20, 2011


The original FEAR is $10 on steam right now, you get the first three games and I think the storytelling's tighter and the Creeping Sense Of Dread is done better as well.
posted by boo_radley at 7:42 PM on February 20, 2011


F.E.A.R. is largely terrible. As boo_radley says, its excellent encounters are undone by atrocious level design.

Personally, my most memorable combats in recent FPS have come in STALKER and ARMA II, for vastly different reasons: STALKER because its environments are so well-realized and atmospheric, and because its enemies are well-adapted to those environments; and ARMA II because each encounter has weightiness that is lacking in more traditional FPS games.

In general, though, I think the best combats are actually in another genre entirely: roguelikes. Specifically, Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. Different classes, levels, equipment, consumable resources, and enemies combine to make every challenging encounter very different... which is something that even STALKER and ARMA haven't necessarily done, and which FEAR certainly doesn't accomplish with its limited bestiary.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:45 PM on February 20, 2011


And I think the king of situational tactical shooters is always gonna be SWAT 4. There was a game, aye.
posted by boo_radley at 7:48 PM on February 20, 2011


I found the original F.E.A.R. combat too repetitive to justify playing all the way through it -- especially given that there was so little variation in the rather bland scenery. I thought F.E.A.R. 2 improved combat gameplay, amped up the story, and had all the atmosphere the first one lacked. The first post-apocalyptic street scene, with the zombie-like guy in the business attire, was breathtaking, IMO.

Myself, I really enjoy linear games -- with the exception of Fallout 3/New Vegas, I generally get bored very quickly when I'm not sure where to go or what to do next. F.E.A.R. 2 was as linear as it gets, but that was a plus for me -- it was a tense, brutal, throughly engaging playthrough that unfolded at a constant pace.
posted by treepour at 8:29 PM on February 20, 2011


I remember, in Feng Shui the role-playing game by Robin Laws, about the narrative hooks that each set-piece presents in a kung-fu setpiece like the ones which its combat system ran on. You put them in as fop for stunts, which are descriptive flourishes which have in-game effect for the player. So you put in the restaurant kitchen the boiling woks full of hot oil, and the noisy pots and pans and utensils, and the screaming Chinese chef with a big heavy ladle, so that your players can smash the wok on a mook, run on the noisy pots and pans to cover for their fellow player ninja, and then avoid the screaming chef.

As a GM for some time, and as one who's currently running a game with much dakka, boom-bang, etc etc, I must say that there's a lot to learn from this in that sort of way, what tactical narrative hooks can be put into a dakka sort of encounter. Since we duke it out on a tactical map, if I'm setting an encounter in a lab, I need to put in full-size cover in a clustered way, so cabinets hazardously next to lab benches, etc etc, and since I'm a fop for stuff like that the cabinets will have the suitable action-movie explosives in them.

So as long as we're suggesting different games for this to apply to, let me say that tabletop RPGs are unique in the roles which the GM and the player take: fundamentally more similar to a normal video-game as opposed to something competitive. I think that this advice for game designers will be valid on the games we play on a mat and in our heads, in other words. So my players will see more clustering in cover and differentiation of cover and circular space, and I will tell you how it works out later.
posted by curuinor at 8:36 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think that this advice for game designers will be valid on the games we play on a mat and in our heads, in other words. So my players will see more clustering in cover and differentiation of cover and circular space, and I will tell you how it works out later.
Absolutely right. While real-time (most FPS games) and turn-based (most tabletop RPGs) are two very different ways of dealing with combat, keeping the hallway example in mind will improve every game. I've always loved Star Wars: Republic Commando for exactly that reason. Using squad tactics greatly improved the arenas, which already offered numerous opportunities for tactical thinking.
posted by willhopkins at 9:45 PM on February 20, 2011


Yep, boo has it exactly. The level design in the first game was passable, in the expansions execrable, in FEAR 2 not terrible, but throughout, the combat mechanics were exemplary. I probably won't ever replay any of them (well, maybe 2) because of the map design, which is a shame, because the experience of playing them was, to re-use an overused word in gaming, visceral.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:57 PM on February 20, 2011


The free (advertising, really) "game" Duty Calls spoofs linear level layouts, among others things.
posted by Harald74 at 12:27 AM on February 21, 2011


I do enjoy critical analyses of modern games, but why oh why pick F.E.A.R of all FPS to use here? Surely it's one of the most dull FPS ever, its 'Boo! Gotcha!' encounters cut from the same cloth as Doom 3.

Something like Modern Warfare (All Ghillied Up was an essay in FPS suspense) would have been a much better choice.
posted by Sutekh at 5:21 AM on February 21, 2011


The best game for giving the player options, IMHO, is Crackdown. it's not an FPS but you can approach any enemy in a million ways

Agreed. I loved (5 year-old spoilers ahead) being able to bypass security on some of the bosses by, among other tactics, climbing the back of the lighthouse or the outside of the parking garage or running a blockade and splattering the target. The weapons selection was well-chosen and allowed a mix of sniper and run-and-gun tactics, though each boss was a grind if you didn't have a high place to drop them from or a similar shortcut.

It's too bad Crackdown 2 didn't continue this - the "decaying" city became generic and much harder to navigate, the weapons selection sucked (a sniper rifle with no zoom? unlocking a random trajectory macross-style rocket launcher before a normal RPG? lol), the Strongholds and Freak dens were just harder iterations of the same fight, the vehicles mostly sucked, and the helicopters were an open invitation to just hover up high and shoot enemies that couldn't hit back.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:36 AM on February 21, 2011


Being able to come up with tactics is awesome. Being forced into certain "strategies" by game design choices is less so. It's not a fps, but party based rpgs also need tactical thinking. In dragon age, my party has developed a pattern for sneak criticals from the archer, followed by ambushing hostiles as they chase my fleeing rogue back through a pinchpoint like a doorway. When I'm allowed to initiate the encounter, it works great. But when the game starts the boss fights off by magically transporting all party members up front to join the rogue in a tight bunched formation out in the open with no cover whilst the enemy is scripted to get first strike and the door behind swings shut and locks? Less than awesome. It's like the game has carefully removed all possibility of tactics, in favour of forcing me to make a suicide charge into a hail of arrows. Whilst intentionally cutting off the chance to retreat and gain any measure of terrain advantage.
posted by talitha_kumi at 5:59 AM on February 21, 2011


...how to create engaging encounters in first person shooters.
They left out the part where you don't bog the player down with memorizing lists of arcane, multi-button combos. That shit drove me away from gaming long ago.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:30 AM on February 21, 2011


The first F.E.A.R. made me shit myself. We don't play first person shooters any more.
posted by dougrayrankin at 8:57 AM on February 21, 2011


Oh FEAR. I got it not long after it came out and enjoyed it but got distracted somehow and never finished it. I picked it up on steam when the whole bundle was on deep discount, and have been playing through it again. And I'd never really thought about the encounter design, but I think that's part of what brought me back to it, yeah: I remember a lot of the fights, and I remember the sense of the spaces in which some of those took place despite not really being someone who thinks about the space in games where I don't really have to.

I also remembered really enjoying the heft of the guns and the feel of the shooting, which is always impressive in a game that runs on a mouse and a keyboard. Shooters are really all over the map on that front (and different feels fit different games, so that's not necessarily a problem) but popping a guy at medium-long distance with a burst from the game's scoped Steyr-Aug-ish thing just feels really solid start to finish. So while it sounds disappointing that FEAR 2 may have fucked up the arena-design aspect, I'll probably still plenty enjoy it just for the gunny-shooty it sounds like.

They left out the part where you don't bog the player down with memorizing lists of arcane, multi-button combos.

Well, that's not really particularly common in shooters. I think combos, I think brawlers (from Double Dragon on up through Arkham Asylum) and heads up fighting games (Street Fighter II through, uh, whatever the current Street Fighter title is), but shooters about the most you have to worry about is weapon selection, grenade, crouch, maybe sprint, maybe flashlight, and almost none of that is in any sense combo-driven.

There's a lot of low-fumbling game out there if that's what's keeping you away.
posted by cortex at 9:22 AM on February 21, 2011


Being able to come up with tactics is awesome. Being forced into certain "strategies" by game design choices is less so...It's like the game has carefully removed all possibility of tactics, in favour of forcing me to make a suicide charge into a hail of arrows.
Well said. Scripted boss fights are the worst. I run into the same problem in Dragon Age, an otherwise intelligently designed game. That's why I could never get into Shadow of the Colossus.
posted by willhopkins at 8:20 PM on February 21, 2011


Shooters are really all over the map on that front (and different feels fit different games, so that's not necessarily a problem) but popping a guy at medium-long distance with a burst from the game's scoped Steyr-Aug-ish thing just feels really solid start to finish.

My favorite one was the one that launched those huge bolts that would pin dudes to the wall. Ragdoll physics FTW.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:44 AM on February 22, 2011


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