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Keeping Things in Perspective: First Person Shooters Vs. Platform Games

Keeping Things in Perspective: First Person Shooters Vs. Platform Games



Author: David Torre
Editing: Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton
Online Layout: David Torre
Screenshots of Games: David Torre

Perhaps the single most popular type of game in the history of PC gaming is the First Person Shooter (FPS). A First Person Shooter is a game that takes place from a first person perspective, essentially putting the player in the shoes of the character. The player rarely sees the character being played; the player sees exactly as his or her character sees. Universally known for an emphasis on multiplayer network combat, First Person Shooters were some of the first types of games to be played on the Internet. Most people will acknowledge that Id Software’s Doom (1993) started the First Person Shooter craze, others point to Id’s Wolfenstein 3D (1992). For me, there were two games released around the same time that practically guaranteed the domination of First Person Shooters: 3D Realms’ Duke Nukem 3D and Id’s Quake, both released in 1996. It was during this time that the mouselook control scheme was invented, which would soon become the standard control scheme for just about every PC game. Eventually First Person Shooters would dominate PC gaming. New games like Half Life (Valve, 1998), Quake 2 (Id Software, 1997), and Unreal (Epic, 1998) continued to push the graphical envelope, and, being the most popular games around, were often used as benchmarks for the latest three-dimensional (3D) graphics cards. Adventure games and other genres would soon sink into obscurity, while others like Real Time Strategy (RTS) games and Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) would eventually provide some competition for First Person Shooters, but overall, FPS games took over.

Now, enter 2004. First Person Shooters are still some of the most popular PC games. Out of Amazon.com’s top ten best-selling PC games, four (a majority) are First Person Shooters. There have been some variations on the popular FPS formula (as accentuated by the success of Doom and Quake), such as having vehicles in games like Starsiege Tribes (Dynamix, 1998) and Battlefield 1942 (Digital Illusions, 2002), and games that attempt to simulate World War II combat like Medal of Honor (DreamWorks Interactive, 1999), Call of Duty (Infinity Ward, 2003), and Return to Castle Wolfenstein (Gray Matter Studios, 2001). Further, two heavily hyped FPS games are expected to release this year: Id Software’s Doom 3, and Valve’s Half Life 2.

Four different perspectives used in Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. In a rotating third person perspective focused on Link's right side, Link swings his sword at a giant spider. In a third person perspective with the camera focused behind Link, Link sprints through Kokiri Forest. In third person perspective with the camera focused on the front of Link, Link plays his Ocarina. Finally, in first person perspective, Link aims his slingshot at a smaller spider.
Various perspectives from
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
Many gamers like me have expressed their discontent about the current state of PC Gaming and the dominance of the First Person Shooter. Many of us have switched to consoles to get our gaming fix. This is because unlike PC games, one would be hard pressed to find a single genre that dominates console games. In addition, many console games tend to take place from a variety of perspectives, the most successful games utilizing multiple perspectives as needed. This can be best typified by Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998) for the Nintendo 64. In this game, the player navigates dungeons with the camera behind the character, fences with enemies in a rotating perspective, plays a musical instrument with the camera looking at the front of the character and occasionally switches to first person perspective to look around or aim a precision weapon such as the slingshot.

When I share my sentiment concerning First Person Shooters with most hardcore PC gamers, I am met with a variety of analogies. The most prominent analogy is that having a lot of First Person Shooters today is no different than when we had a lot of two-dimensional (2D) platform games in the late 1980s and early 1990s. By platform game, I define it as a game in which the player controls a character that moves from one obstacle to the next, usually by running or jumping.

I don't find it to be the case that the FPS dominance of today is anything like the 2D platform craze of yesterday. In fact, I find a fundamental flaw with all First Person Shooters that I feel constrains the gameplay to an overly simplistic process of repeatedly dodging and shooting.

One of the primary flaws of the first person perspective can be illustrated by using the classic platform fighting game, Technos’ Double Dragon (1988) for the NES, as an example. In Double Dragon, the character gained more and more abilities as the player progressed (a hair-pull kick, a spinning kick, and an uppercut). Naturally, most of the fun of the game was being able to see a variety of these attacks being performed. However, in a first person perspective, this same game concept is difficult to accomplish. It would be disorienting (and perhaps nauseating) if the player's viewpoint spun around while performing a spinning kick. Instead of changing the game's perspective and allowing some interesting attacks, most FPS game programmers don't even bother, limiting one’s movement only to the simplest running and shooting. In fact, most FPS shooters that do include melee combat do so in the form of a one-two punch, the Double Dragon equivalent of hitting the B button twice. Imagine if Double Dragon was programmed like this, limiting one’s moves only to the most basic attacks. Sure, the game had a variety of weapons, but without the repertoire of attacks, I'd imagine the game would be pretty dull.

Side scrolling perspective from Megaman X2 where X is on a futuristic motorcycle flying off a ramp
Megaman X2 (SNES)
Side scrolling perspective from Super Metroid; Samus is running extremely fast, breaking through a wall
Super Metroid (SNES)
Side Scrolling perspective from Contra 3 showing Mad Dog hanging from a rail over a pit of fire while firing the heat-seeking missile launcher
Contra III: The Alien Wars (SNES)
Side scrolling perspective from Bionic Commando where the player is using his bionic arm to swing from a lamppost away from an enemy
Bionic Commando (NES)
Take these four examples of platform games. In order to easily contrast these to First Person Shooters, I've chosen to include platform games that involve heavy shooting. These images are from Megaman X2, Super Metroid, Contra 3, and Bionic Commando. The scene from Megaman X2 involves X riding a futuristic motorcycle while dodging and shooting enemies. In Super Metroid, Samus is using the Speed Boots to run extremely fast and break through walls. In Contra 3, we see Mad Dog hanging from a rail while shooting. Finally, in Bionic Commando, we see the character dodging an enemy by using his bionic arm to swing from a lamppost. Although all of these games are based on shooting, they play vastly different. Megaman and Metroid share some similar elements, but the former is more action based and the latter more exploration based. Contra is a pure action shooting platformer, but contains some scenes that would be difficult to pull off in a First Person Shooter, as is obvious from the picture. Bionic Commando wouldn't easily fall into the jump-and-shoot category since it is impossible to jump in Bionic Commando.

One could say that the main problem with First Person Shooters is focus. In a First Person Shooter, the player can only focus on one thing at a time, namely a target. First Person Shooters are limited in the sense that the player cannot creatively interact with the environment and shoot at the same time. In a 2D third person perspective platformer, the player can see everything that is going on. If an enemy is running towards the player from behind, one can often do a back flip over the enemy’s head and shoot the enemy in the back. Such an action is impossible in modern First Person Shooters. It's a shame too, because it's darn fun to watch.

The limitations of a first person perspective are even more obvious when considering a successful 2D platform to first person translation. The game I speak of, of course, is Nintendo’s Metroid Prime (2002) for the Nintendo Gamecube. In order to successfully translate the traditional 2D adventure platformer elements of Metroid, many aspects of the game were sacrificed. Samus' signature "Screw Attack" (a flipping attack) was removed, along with the Speed Boots. In Super Metroid, there was a wall jump that allowed Samus to scale even the steepest chasms with ease. Sadly, it was necessary to remove this ability in Metroid Prime as well.

This is not to say that Metroid Prime is not a good game. It's a fantastic experience that aside from its limitations, admittedly felt like a Metroid game. My point is simply that something is lost when a game is translated into a first person perspective. Whether it's hanging from the side of a cliff, holding on with one hand and shooting at what's behind the player (Contra 3), or rolling around like a ball (Metroid), the capability in the first person is lost. The only way to keep these capabilities is to temporarily switch away from first person. There have been several games that have done this, including LucasArts’ Jedi Knight (PC, 1997) and the aforementioned Metroid Prime. Unfortunately, the majority of First Person Shooters either do not include a third person view, or include it only as a novelty that adds nothing to the gameplay experience.

First person perspective from Call of Duty, aiming a gun through a vast meadow
Call of Duty (PC)
First person perspective from Return to Castle Wolfenstein, a soldier with a gun blazing marching up a beach at night under enemy fire
Return to Castle Wolfenstein (PC)
First person perspective from Battlefield 1942 showing a man aiming a gun through a snow-filled forest at an enemy soldier
Battlefield 1942 (PC)
Look at some of these First Person Shooters. These screenshots are from Call of Duty, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and Battlefield 1942, all for the PC. Keep in mind each one of these was a commercially successful game. Yes, I'm aware that Battlefield 1942 is a hybrid game that is centered on using different vehicles in combat, but the player does spend a lot of time on foot, so I include it here. It can be argued that each game has subtle differences in gameplay, but the screenshots make it obvious that all the games have the same basic play mechanics. In these games, a player usually has access to an assortment of guns and usually one melee weapon. Often this means a knife, a pistol, a rifle, some grenades, a machine gun, a bazooka, a sniper rifle, and some sort of gimmick weapon. It is uncommon to have more than one weapon of the same type. The player usually moves with the W, A, S, D keyboard keys and aims and shoots with the mouse. Most games also have jump, crouch and crawl commands that can be used to dodge enemy fire. In a single-player mode, one sneaks around, avoiding or killing guards, while attempting to find some item or get through the area to complete a level. In multiplayer mode, there are almost always several gameplay types -- the big ones are team play, deathmatch (a free-for-all), and capture the flag. The standardization of controls, basic play mechanics, and game modes are part of the reason why most First Person Shooters play alike.

Some advocates of the first person perspective say that it's better to look through a character's eyes than look at the back of a person because it adds to the reality—the player is the character. I don't find this to be the case. Although first person games attempt to simulate being the character, most ignore things like peripheral vision and equilibrium. In real life, one can see out of the corner of one's eye, and usually sense when someone is sneaking up on them. In addition, in most of these games, limbs and body parts are not visible (except for the hand holding a weapon). If the player is climbing a ladder, hands are not visible; if the player looks down, one doesn’t see the tip of one’s nose, or one’s feet. Essentially, the reality of the game is lost when it is impossible to see the player’s own feet–creating the illusion that the player is nothing more than a floating head with a hand holding a gun.

Do platform games have a lot in common? Sure. Earlier in this article I cited examples of platform games, and reflected on the diversity of games within the sub genre of shooting platform games alone; however, shooting isn't the only sub genre of platform games. There are street fighting games, like Double Dragon. There are also games where one can kill enemies by hopping on their heads (Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. (NES, 1985), Hudson’s Bonk’s Adventure (TurboGrafx-16, 1990), Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega Genesis, 1990)). There are games that grant the player a sword or whip and have one gain abilities and fight off monsters RPG style (Konami’s Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (NES, 1988), Nintendo’s Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES, 1988)). Most notably, at the time that platform games were at their prime, there were a variety of other popular types of games. There were games that took place from an overhead view (Hudson’s Bomberman (NES, 1985), Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda (NES, 1987)), others that gave the player an isometric view (CSG Imagesoft’s Solstice (NES, 1990), Rare Ltd’s Snake, Rattle and Roll (Sega Genesis, NES, 1990)), games that provided a third person 3D view (Square’s Rad Racer (NES, 1987), Sega’s Space Harrier (Arcade, 1985) and Nintendo's Pilotwings (SNES, 1990)), and even some that used a first person perspective (Kemco’s Shadowgate (Various, 1989) and Déjà Vu (Various, 1988)).

Essentially, when the two are put in context, having many platform games is nothing like having lots of FPS games today. It's time for a new genre of games on the PC that provide a legitimate alternative to First Person Shooters. If not, the little that's left of the PC gaming crowd will eventually seek alternatives, perhaps on other systems. There are graphics cards capable of displaying millions of polygons, adding unbelievable detail to environments, and the only games out there that take advantage of this power are First Person Shooters. It's time for change. It's time to experiment with different perspectives and try some new game ideas, or reinvent some old ones. The market is ripe for originality right now, and some publisher has to take a risk or the market will shrivel up.

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Comments ...
bullet crcasey | 03 Jun : 00:22

Comments: 25

What is there to say but...

Amen.

bullet Cruxvader | 03 Jun : 00:48
Comments: 1

Registered: 03 Jun : 00:40
I agree with the points listed here, but I would say, how far do the limits go for innovativness and creativity with FPS's? After all, they are first person shooters, and limited to that classification; 'Too many' elements in would result the game being as a different genre. Granted, I believe that many games being produced/on the shelves today that are FPS's can get dull and repetitive, but is there anyway you could make it really that much better?

Regardless, you do not see to many 2-D games out there, but still, that is because the majority people consider it, for a lack of a better word, 'retro'... Anyway, just a few of my thoughts I'd thought I'd share.

bullet Rowdy Rob | 03 Jun : 12:51

Comments: 21

Registered: 18 Jan : 13:02
I think part of the problem with FPS's, as was very well illustrated in Mr. Torre's article, is that the First person genre is dominated by play mechanics that are more than similar; the gaming experience is often near identical, with only a few minor differences in the presentation to differentiate the games in question. It's almost like the software industry has been playing a big prank on us, and we've been playing Quake mods since the 1990's...

That having been said, I think the "immersive" aspect of the first-person perspective is very appealing, despite the limitations that Mr. Torre highlighted in his article. You do have to suspend disbelief to a certain extent to enjoy the alternate realities of these games. The article points out that 2D games offer a flexibility in gameplay that FPS's haven't matched (yet), but FPS's certainly have their own strengths that 2D games cannot match as well.

Anyhow, I greatly enjoyed the article.

bullet David Torre | 03 Jun : 16:35

Comments: 13

Cruxvader:
To address your concerns, I did briefly mention games that traverse the boundaries of what is and what is not a First Person Shooter, yet these games are still considered First Person Shooters.

In particular, I speak of games like Jedi Knight. Jedi Knight, although primarily a first-person shooter, immediately switched to third person view when you pulled out the lightsaber. I strongly believe things like this are a step in the right direction; that is, using the right perspective for the job. Pressure on developers and publishers to experiment with using different perspectives can lead to better FPS games. This pressure would not necessarily change the FPS genre, but would hopefully create a subgenre of FPS games: the "flexible FPS" or the "MPS" (Multiple Perspective Shooter).

bullet mrCustard | 03 Jun : 17:59

Comments: 24

Registered: 17 Mar : 05:32
I don't agree with some points you're making, David.

-The choice of games illustrating with you article could have been better. By choosing 3 WW-II FPS games, it makes the genre look more limited than it really is. Of course the games feature similar weapons, the games are set in WW2! You could have chosen more similar platform games as well. (remember all those identikit platformers on the genesis ?) If you want to make a comparison, play fair.
-While a lot of FPS games seem to be similar, differences in pacing, speed, and degrees of freedom in movement, really create gameplay experiences. Possibly these differences are somewhat subtle, especially if you don’t really enjoy the genre that much.
-It is very possible to creatively interact with the environment, and shoot at the same time. Unreal tournament (again, and for example) offers moves like backflips. The jetpacks in Tribes make it easy to move in 1 and shoot in another direction.
-There is a reason a lot of FPS games don’t offer a 3rd person view. It can be seen as cheating, because via the genre conventions, you’re not really allowed to see what is behind you, thus enable ppl to sneak up on you.
-You're right when you say that 2D platformers are much more diverse than FPS games. But the FPS genre is limited by design. You walk around and you shoot things.... add almost anything else, and you don't have an FPS any more.
-When you compare FPS games with scrolling shoot'em ups (which is also a limited genre) things don't look so bleak for the FPS. It's not the innovation, it's the flair with which familiar gameplay elements are brought together that makes a FPS like a scrolling shooter, enjoyable to play. Innovations in FPS games are there, but they tend to be subtle, like the energy bars in Halo.
But, the real strength of the FPS is that it's very well suited for online play. The limited field of vision is suddenly an advantage, as it not only allows you to sneak up on your opponents, but it also makes team play a necessity. Playing competition matches really makes some FPSs shine. Adding Voice Over IP communication just heightens the experience. The suitability for online play, the control scheme and the demands the games make on the hardware really makes the FPS a genre that comes into it’s own on the PC. You can’t really blame the FPS for that.
Personally I don’t like to play platformers with a keyboard, so if I had a choice I would go for the console version of a platformer anyway.

(I think complaining about the control scheme is a bit weak… What’s wrong with a control scheme that actually works? Surely not every platform title redefines the up/down/left/right, jump/fire scheme?)

(And I really don’t think double dragon is a platformer)

But, a nice article, and good for dicussion

bullet The Game Doctor | 03 Jun : 19:33
Comments: 1

Registered: 29 Mar : 13:51
Excellent issue, Bill. Disagreed with (but enjoyed) some of the stuff on David's Platform Vs FPS piece. I've always maintained that the dominance of platform games (which dominated consoles in the late 80s and early 90s to a greater degree than FPS games dominate contemporary PCs, IMO) was mandated by the Japanese-style control pads. The type of movement required in games such as Missile Command could not be duplicated with the compass-style controllers used on the NES and SMS. Also, with the left (non-dominant) hand controlling directional movement, that movement needed to be restricted to simple, compass-type directions.

The downside of the FPS, to me, is its failure to evolve significantly on console systems. Except for its lack of a single-player vs AI deathmatch mode, "Goldeneye" has yet to be significantly improved upon and that game has got to be at least half a dozen years old on a last-gen system. Also, many FPS developers have concentrated (read: obsessed) so heavily on making the visuals look photographically perfect even at a virtual distance of six inches that they have failed to integrate a lot of the gameplay components, such as the physical commands that David Torre rightfully extolls in platform games (and which do appear in some FPS). Why can't you execute a backwards leap over an adversary coming up behind you in a FPS, as David supposes? Hell, they've got enough buttons on console controllers these days that they could devote an entire bank of them to having the player-character blow their nose (not to mention the PC's keyboard full of potential command keys) how difficult would such an animation be, given today's camera-festooned engines?

So the question becomes: what, exactly, does the platform game offer that can not be duplicated in a first-person engine? An answer is not coming to me. And btw, those movement commands would be even easier to replicate in a Tomb Raider-style pseudo-FPS game.

I greatly enjoyed Mr. Custard's comments. but I disagree that the idea of going beyond a genre's limitations (limitations not of the designer's making but forced by technological barriers) is "cheating". That's just a rationalization. The grail of FPS games must be realism -- creating an environment where the gravity, the physics, the sense of virtual danger (adrenaline rush) and everything else feels correct -- even if it takes place in a fantasy or sci-fi environment. As I said earlier, too many game developers focus on the visual components at the cost of the others.

bullet Bill Loguidice | 03 Jun : 22:06

Comments: 307

Fascinating stuff guys.

Just a reminder, as was mentioned on the forums for those that aren't visitors of that, comments are not only made with the articles, but also on the forums. The forums are a more dynamic medium, but certainly making comments WITH the article has merit too. Anyway, for those interested, in the case of THIS article, there is a discussion going on in our forums as well that make a nice companion to what you see above: http://www.armchairarcade.com/aamain/forum_viewtopic.php?2.4222

Enjoy!

bullet Rowdy Rob | 03 Jun : 23:27

Comments: 21

Registered: 18 Jan : 13:02
GameDoc, good to see you on the board....

As for your question "why can't you execute a backwards leap... (in a FPS)" I think it just comes down to an actual limitation of the first person format itself. A Jet Li-style triple-flip spinning back kick is quite spectacular to see from a 3rd person perspective, but I imagine that Jet Li's viewpoint is a whole lot more disorienting to watch. Rather than seeing a cool series of body movements, all we'd see is an oddly-spinning camera.

A good example of some of the practical limitations (at least as it has been implimented thus far) of the 1st person perspective is the old game "4D Sports Boxing" by EA. In this game, you are able to choose from multiple camera angles, including 1st and 3rd person viewpoints. As excited as I was to experience realistic boxing from the actual viewpoint of the boxer, it turns out that it's actually quite disorienting and limiting from that viewpoint. You can't see your gloves when they're down, you can't see your opponent's gloves a lot of times also. Physical cues and sensations we take for granted in real life are limited or removed from the first person perspective. You can't see your feet, you can't accurately judge punching range, the combination of your movements and your opponents body movements is very disorienting, and so forth. Finding the game unplayable from that viewpoint, I was forced to switch to an overhead 3rd person perspective to get anywhere in that game.

While David's article touched on that issue, he also pointed out that many games switch to a 3rd person viewpoint in certain situations. While I don't rule out a change in format if it really does add to the game, I'd rather have a FPS that stays 1st person to maintain the illusion of "you are there.."

bullet Mark1970 | 04 Jun : 04:26

Comments: 114

David, great article! Well written.

From the article I gather David is not a big fan of the FPS genre as a whole, nor am I. But I do think he did overgeneralize the FPS-cases a bit too much just to make a point...

On first glance platformers look identical and a lot of them play identical. There are minor differences you've fast all reflexes-sonic type games but also slower games featuring more strategy/puzzle like gameplay. A must is Parallax multi layered scrolling but that depends largely upon the platforms graphics abilities. And of course some crazy soundtrack. If you don't particulary like this genre they indeed may look very similar.

Same goes for shmups (maybe even more so), shoot, evade and pick up powerups. The little ship you control defies al laws of aeronautics/physics and you manage to perform al sorts of sudden movements without even lulling the pilot into some sort of G-shock. Again, if you don't particulary like the shmup - seen one, you've seen them all.

Not to mention racing games....

To come back to the FPS genre, which I am also not the biggest fan of.... although they are featured among some of my favourite games. The FPS gendre does offer a big advantage over other genres. The FPS perspective does allow for a more 'total immersiion experience' not found in other types of games (apart from racing games' in car view)! But the standard FPS interface does limit the modes of interaction (shoot and run) like seen in (early) games like Doom, Quake I & II (mouselook) and Unreal.

The online shoot'n'run'jump multi player mayhem of Unreal tournament and Quake III seems almost identical to me (and doesn't appeal to me - I am just too slow I guess) but could be just as magical a multi player experience for younger post-doom gamers as the older gamer's first Doom multiplayer experience. Mostly it just remains a blast and run type gameplay. But that's not all FPS have to offer....

Teamwork in BF1942 to me is amazing. The game provides a horribly real experience of being in WWII trying to stay alive and work as a team to accomplish a military task.

There are other games that feature a deeper richer gameplay like the 'story' in halflife where you wondered about with a story unfolding with the different levels loading almost seamlessly. Same goes for N64's Goldeneye, which features an awful lot of shooting, but a great story & atmosphere. BF1942 and Halo enhance the FPS experience by the ability to operate vehicles. And I must say those two are FPS gems.

I think it is true that a lot of game publishers try to earn a 'safe' buck by spitting out yet another game that is strikingly similar to games that are already out there: racing games, EA's sports games. I do think the originality in FPS'es might have suffered from this trend more then other genres.


bullet Maagic | 04 Jun : 14:17
Comments: 3

Registered: 04 Jun : 10:18
Excellent issue, all the articles are of the highest caliber. An e-zine that talks about the serious issues facing the game industry is sorely needed.

However i have some qualms about the way this article was presented. It seems to me an attack on the overuse of 3d graphics presented in today's first person games in general, but presented in an out of context manner. Yer right, 2-d rules! but...

Games pressented from a first person standpoint have existed since the dawn of video games, many of which are not polygonal. It is simply a medium by which a game can be presented, and really has no effect on game genre or play mechanics. At this point its hard to think of a genre that hasnt been represented in the first person, shooters, rpgs, simulations, strategy, fighting, sports, and even platformers.

You say people are discontent with the state of PC games in general, but let me ask you, when was it different? Since the concept of a "multimedia" pc was invented, circa 1990, it has become a haven for games that are more suited to its unique and complex hardware. Since before the says of Doom, there were many simulations, turn-based strategy games, adventure games, and rpgs presented on PC because their control scheme was too complex for a game controller, required frequent text input, network functionality, high resolutions, etc. You ask yourself why are pc games predominantly, FPS, RTS, or MMO/RPG? The answer is because the PC, as a machine, is ideally suited to handle these genres, while consoles are not. It is also ideally suited to adventure games and simulations, but the demise of those genres are another topic entirely. I guess its just that you make it sound like the x86 PC was once home to many great sidescrollers, but it never was.

Double Dragon is definately not a plaformer, its a beat-em-up. It also doesnt involve shooting, so I dont see how it could be compared to a FPS, let alone stand next to those other shooting platformers. If you were to add guns to double dragon, and remove the hand to hand combat, it would change genres. Likewise, if you were to put more than a one-two punch into any FPS, it is no longer a shooter, and becomes a first person beat-em-up.

As for control restrictions, I dont see that as an issue. A game that affords absolute freedom is unplayable, one needs limitations in order to achieve control. With different perspectives comes different restrictions, but in any case, are necessary. I can personally say i've flipped backwards over someone's head to shoot them in the back more than once in Unreal Tournament, the only FPS that I like. How did I know they were coming? Footsteps! It's not a limitation of the perspective, but of the majority of FPS's themselves.

Whether it is Might and Magic for the NES, or Call of Duty, the first person perspective is chosen to create an immersive environment. Morrowind is an excellent example of this. The abstraction of the main character (also present in adventure games) allows one to fill their boots without having to identify with the "main character". I agree with you on the visual limitations, I would rather play FPS games in a letterboxed view, to provide a more accurate periphery, but no games support this because people would inevitably cry, "Why can't I play without the 'black borders'?", being unfamiliar with the concept of an aspect ratio. I've been setting my FOV to about 105 degrees in FPS since quake 2. But this is a limitation of the hardware, and again, not the perspective.

2 final points:
2d sidescrollers rarely ever make a decent transition to 3d regardless of perspective, developers seem to ignore the fact that core gameplay concepts must change to accomodate new perspectives.

"The standardization of controls, basic play mechanics, and game modes are part of the reason why most First Person Shooters play alike."
I cant believe this is brought up as a negitivism. the standardization of elements in games is what defines a genre, and in my opinion, the tighter the standardization, the more longevous and accessable the genre becomes.

"an overly simplistic process of repeatedly dodging and shooting." + standardized controls??? So shmups are no good too?
What about fighting games and pinball games?
Heck, platformers themselves have a similiar number of standard elements, and although they may vary more than other genres, its still what defines them as a platformer.

Even with these problems, I got the point of your article, and I concur with it. Sorry for the rant!

-Maagic

bullet David Torre | 05 Jun : 14:47

Comments: 13

Originally posted by Maagic:
"Double Dragon is definately not a plaformer, its a beat-em-up. It also doesnt involve shooting, so I dont see how it could be compared to a FPS, let alone stand next to those other shooting platformers. If you were to add guns to double dragon, and remove the hand to hand combat, it would change genres. Likewise, if you were to put more than a one-two punch into any FPS, it is no longer a shooter, and becomes a first person beat-em-up."

I tend to use the words platform and side-scroller interchangeably. Double Dragon does fall within my definition of platformer:

"The most prominent analogy is that having a lot of First Person Shooters today is no different than when we had a lot of two-dimensional (2D) platform games in the late 1980s and early 1990s. By platform game, I define it as a game in which the player controls a character that moves from one obstacle to the next, usually by running or jumping."

So, I consider Double Dragon both a platformer AND a beat-em-up. Do you remember in the game climbing onto fences and jumping from them to cross gaps? Those are obstacles, so running or jumping from obstacles makes it a platformer in my book.

I can't think of any first person games that allowed you to perform complex karate moves as in Double Dragon. That's because the first person perspective doesn't easily let you do that. There aren't enough visual cues to let the player know what the character is doing.

Originally posted by mrCustard:
"The choice of games illustrating with you article could have been better. By choosing 3 WW-II FPS games, it makes the genre look more limited than it really is. Of course the games feature similar weapons, the games are set in WW2! You could have chosen more similar platform games as well. (remember all those identikit platformers on the genesis ?) If you want to make a comparison, play fair."

Here are the weapons I mentioned:
"In these games, a player usually has access to an assortment of guns and usually one melee weapon. Often this means a knife, a pistol, a rifle, some grenades, a machine gun, a bazooka, a sniper rifle, and some sort of gimmick weapon. It is uncommon to have more than one weapon of the same type."

Most FPS games, regardless of genre, have most of (or variants on) these weapons. It's been that way since Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. Even Starsiege Tribes had a rocket launcher (in the form of a disc launcher) and a variant on the machine gun. Duke Nukem 3D had grenades, in the form of throwable pipe bombs. Quake had a rocket launcer, machine gun (in the form of the Nail Gun), and a rifle (the shotgun). I can go on and on.

The fact that all those games are WW2 shooters is purely coincidental. I wanted to include games that were popular and recent. This is why I didn't include Counterstrike. It so happens that the games that I borrowed from friends were of the WW2 genre. I had many demos of First Person Shooters, but I wasn't going to judge a game on a demo -- that just wouldn't be fair.

bullet mrCustard | 05 Jun : 18:56

Comments: 24

Registered: 17 Mar : 05:32
Of course guns in games tend to be similar. Guns are guns after all. You press a lever at one end, and a projectile comes flying out the other. Guns, like tools, are made to do a certain job. Having the wrong tool doesn't get the job done. And as we’re talking about a genre of computer game that more often than not features a big online part, it's only fair that each weapon has its fair share of disadvantages. After all, nobody like playing against opponent with Uber weapons.

When combining factors like availability, (splash-)damage, rate of fire, range and accuracy, the results of a balanced weapon will generally be something like a pistol, a rocket launcher, a rifle, a shotgun, a grenade or whatever. Simply because these weapons fit their purpose.

But that doesn't mean a rocket launcher is the same weapon in each game. Let's look at some.

-In Doom, the rocket launcher is quite powerful. If you can find enough ammo (and there is plenty around), you can use it as your staple weapon. If you find an enemy that's a bit bigger tougher then you, just keep the fire button down and let rip. If you keep moving you're a death dealing mofo.

-In Tribes, the disc launcher is the staple weapon for light and medium armour players. But it's projectile speed and rate of fire is so slow (just 1 shot ever 2.5 seconds), you’re not a death dealing mofo at all. Instead the disc launcher used as a duelling weapon (and a most elegant one at that). It is truly easy to learn but hard to master. It actually feels good to frag someone by skipping a disc of a lake, or shooting someone while you are both in mid-air.

-In Battlefield 1942, the closest thing to a rocket launcher is the bazooka or panzerfaust. You better make your hits count because you get a whole 5 (count'em) rounds with it. And a pistol. Most of the time it takes more than one round to destroy a tank. To make it hader still, its reload time is 5 seconds. If you carry a bazooka in Battlefield you really need the support of your teammates, to accomplish anything, because alone you're dead before you can say AAARGH.

So, three "rocket launchers", three very different weapons with different purposes. Sure, some weapons in some games are more alike (like rifles and shotguns) than other, but often, although the weapons may seem the same, the purpose they serve in the game may differ quite a lot.

And this is why I don't think the WW2 FPS-ses were the best games for your comparison, because they all feature the same weapons, and they more or less serve the same purpose as well, because they were all modelled on real weaponry. If they didn't looked the same and were used in the same way, the developers actually goofed up somewhere. (Actually, the Call of Duty guys did goof up in multiplayer by making the bazooka something like the rocket launcher in Doom)

About DD.... 2 or 3 obstacles per level don't really make a platform game IMO. In DD advance is made by beating a set number of opponents. The obstacles are really there to break the mould.

Finally, about doing complex karate moves in a FPS. Such a game is in the works right now. It's called Breakdown (published by NAMCO) and it's an XBOX exclusive. And Yes, you can make backflips, sideflips and do combos and stuff. The movies show some quick hand-to-hand combat shots. Here's the link: http://breakdown.namco.com/breakdown.php

bullet Maagic | 06 Jun : 00:59
Comments: 3

Registered: 04 Jun : 10:18
How about Maken X for Dreamcast? Its a first person hack and slash game. It has a weapon fighting game with acrobatic attacks and maneuvers. The fighting system includes combos, blocks, counterattacks, deflection, and fighting multiple enemies simultaneously. It uses a lock on system not unlike Metroid Prime to make the first person view easier to deal with. Just because it isnt done often, doesnt mean its impossible.

The FPS has stagnated because as long as there are casual gamers who will buy the same game over and over with a different paint job, there will be companies who will make it. Remember all the brightly colored animals that had their own 16 bit sidescroller after sonic first showed his head in 91? It is the same thing, All these crappy WW2 games are just ripoffs of medal of honor, its the fad of the year is all, it will pass. Oh and i sure hope you have played such pivotal fps like the Unreal series, Half Life, and Tribes. Why not use those games for your comparison? I mean i'm sure your choice of 8/16 bit sidescrollers wasn't coincidental, they are all relatively high profile titles, and good examples of their genre.

bullet David Torre | 06 Jun : 03:53

Comments: 13

I really appreciate everyone's comments here. I realize when someone takes as a controversial stance as I'm taking, that person better be ready to defend hir arguments.

mrCustard:
I looked at the screenshots of Breakdown and I agree with you -- it truely looks like something different. You've gotten me interested in this title. I'll be following it to see how it turns out. But let me point out that this is after all a Japanese console game. My article was specifically concerned with the PC First Person Shooter. My beef isn't with console FPS games but rather the hordes and hordes of PC First Person Shooters. I'm a huge fan of Metroid Prime, a game so different that Nintendo doesn't call it an FPS but an FPA (First Person Adventure).

You make some interesting points about weapons behaving differently in different games. I'll buy that argument. When I made my argument about the standardization of weapons I really was contrasting in my mind what we have today with the weapons we had in the old Build engine games like Duke Nukem 3D, Blood, and Shadow Warrior. Duke had his shrink-ray and trip mines, while Blood had probably some of the most unique weapons in a shooter: a voodoo doll and homemade flamethrower with a lighter and hairspray.

I'm aware the WW2 genre limits the variety of weaponry available, but that still doesn't explain why the majority of first person shooters have these weapons (or variants thereof), regardless of subgenre.

Maagic:
The Dreamcast title you mentioned Maken X is also a console game, not a PC game. The comments I made above for mrCustard also apply here. Sounds like an interesting game -- I'm a huge Dreamcast fan so I'll have to check it out.

You are right about the eras of cloning (Matt thought I should have gone into detail on these eras), but keep in mind that the side scrolling platformer genre did not maintain popularity as long as the First Person Shooter genre. In all seriousness, the side scrolling platformer was at its prime from about 1985 to 1994 (although the 2D fighter really took over in the last few years of platform games). Consider that First Person Shooters have been popular since about 1992 (with Wolfenstein 3D), and it's now 2004 with no end to their dominance in sight.

You mention World War II games as a fad of the year. Well, I'll remind you that if the WW2 subgenre of FPS games started with Medal of Honor in 1999, that means we've had five years of this passing fad.

Like I explained with mrCustard, the games I chose all being WW2 FPSes was purely a coincidence. I have played Starsiege Tribes, Half Life, and Unreal and I realize their impact on the genre. I would love to include these as examples, but like I said earlier, I wanted to talk about current-generation FPS games that were popular. After all, my argument is specifically targeting modern PC gaming. Those games that you mentioned are all over 5 years old. That makes them last-generation and therefore not relevant for my argument for the problems with FPS glut TODAY.

bullet mrCustard | 06 Jun : 05:47

Comments: 24

Registered: 17 Mar : 05:32
At the moment there are certainly very few decent FPS games out. Part of is due to the absolute dominance of the Battlefield series. There still are thousends of servers to be found. Titles like Painkiller, well, are instantly forgettable. Breed turned out to be a big dissapointment as well. As did Deus Ex 2.

It almost seems like everyone is waiting for Doom 3 and Halflife 2. (I know I am). Unreal Tournament 2004 is very sweet, but the twitch gameplay is not for everyone. There really is not much in UT for the casual gamer.

For the record, the last 2 FPS games I bought were Call of Duty and Far Cry. Both are very sweet single player games and both lack in the multiplayer department. Again, with Battlefield still around, it looks like developers aren't even trying.

I agree with you that many new FPS game don't really offer anything new. It's just that I don't think that it is a major problem for the genre. The FPS may be evolving slowly, but new games still can pleasantly surprise you, by letting you take part in a compelling story (like Call of Duty), or by offering beautiful graphics and very intelligent AI (Far Cry).

bullet Maagic | 06 Jun : 13:49
Comments: 3

Registered: 04 Jun : 10:18
I think the reason that both Breakdown and Maken X were mentioned was because you cited the reason for stagnation in the FPS genre as a "fundamental flaw" in the perspective (as in not being able to see around yourself at all times, and the problem with 'focus" that you mentioned.). If this is the case, then why would it have anything to do with a particular platform?

What i still dont understand is how you could have ever been pleased with the PC game industry if you arent pleased with it now? It's always been like this! It is a market that is and has always been almost solely fueled by gluts of a particular genre.

In 1980 the only well known pc game was the text based "Adventure", very shortly later there was Zork. In 1981, both Rogue and Wizardry were the first pc games to use any sort of graphics to define gameplay. pre- 1987, the most popular pc game genre was the text based adventure. After 1987, the graphical adventure replaced it. Wolfenstein 3d came in '92, was sucessful, but came nowhere near Lucasarts' success. It all starts in 93 though, so I used some references.

Electronic Games periodical, issue 13, October 1993:
This magazine mentions the recent success of Wolfenstein, its SNES port in the works, and the more recent success of doom, but are the only references to any fps in the magazine.
The reviews for pc are:
Syndicate (strategy)
The Legacy (RPG)
When Two Worlds War (strategy)
Ashes of Empire (strategy)
High Command (simulation)
Realms of Arcana (RPG)

This is a good cross section of the games available for pc prior to 1993. However, Rebel Assault quickly outsold Doom almost overnight when it was released...

Computer Game Review, issue 34, May 1994
Games reviewed:
Ultima 8: Pagan (RPG)
Verttice (puzzle)
Fleet Defender (sim)
Alone in the Dark 2 (adventure)
Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold (FPS)
Nomad (adventure)

What I'm trying to show here is that the selection of genres on pc has not changed too signifigantly in the past 10 years. Add FPS, subract the adventure genre, and you get the same thing.

In early 1994, the big one hit: Myst. This game assured the #2 spot for Doom 2 in all the top 10 seller lists i can find in my pc magazines dating up until mid-'95. The game sold over 9 million copies, it wasn't outsold until the Sims did last year (year before?). Shopping for pc games at the time required having to wade through stacks of myst clones, just to find something worth looking at. Sure, doom had clones, but it couldnt even touch myst. I think you are overestimating the popularity of the genre, given that it didnt start becoming as ravenously popular as it is now until quake 2 made online play an accessable feature to casual users in 1997.

My point is, the first line of your article is not correct:
"Perhaps the single most popular type of game in the history of PC gaming is the First Person Shooter (FPS)."
The adventure game had its reign as king for almost 2 decades, and FPS weren't able to dig themselves out of the myst clones until at least the late 90's. Yeah they're on top now, but it definately hasnt "always" been this way. If FPS' are going to be as popular as adventure games were, we have quite a few more years of this glut left. As for the constant bombardment of ww2 shooters, there weren't too many ripoffs of MOH until EA started pushing all the sequels. Everyone saw how much money EA was making, and instantly jumped on the bandwagon. So if you want to blame someone, blame EA. As for why people buy all these clones, sequels of MOH, it's because most casual gamers like this sort of stuff (and the fact that the US is/was at war didnt help). They are deathly afraid to try anything different. I worked at an EB last x-mas, I witnessed a mainstreaming of video games unlike any in years past. Most people think that if a game isnt a FPS or racing game, that its for kids or just weird. (which is the causal gamer's way of saying, "That's too japanese.") All in all, the PC game market is a tricky thing. If you want to enjoy yourself, you gotta search for the gems (recently: KOTOR), dont go playing 3 bland WW2 shooters in a row just cause they are new, that'll definately leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Just my $0.02, which reminds me, Maken X can be had for less than $5 umm.. prettymuch everywhere. I'm sure its worth every penny

bullet Yoshi-M | 09 Jun : 07:12
Comments: 4

Registered: 29 Oct : 13:03
I originally posted this in the Forum as that's how I'm used to posting my views on articles/info/etc.

It was a good article. I found myself going "yeah, but" with some points on the FPS but found that they were covered later in the article. Great hook.

As much as I like a good platformer, I think the author gives them more credit than they are due. First off I think the author overcomplicated the "sub genres" of platformers. I think this may be from a modern view point as so many things are blurred together these days it's hard to really nail down what Game XYZ is. Super Mario Bros., Bonk's Adventure, Castlevania, Sonic, etc-are all platformers. Period. To sub-categorize them by how they get the quest done is, at least to me, an attempt to somehow add more merit to these classics.

As I've been digitally archiving magazines, I've noticed things that remind me of what's going on today: a huge glut of games. I'm not talking Atari pre-crash stuff, I'm talking circa 1989/1990. Here's a few quotes from my all time fave magazine, Video Games and Computer Entertainment:

A reponse to a letter in February of 1991 touched on "why not all of these [new 16 Bit games] are cracked up to what they claim to be." VG&CE reponds with explaining how games are taking longer to make and are sometimes released before they are really finished (sound familiar and recent?) They also say "One of the biggest complaints that concerns the release of game after game with similar formats. Most players believe that the software market is getting boring. Some new titles are simply alterations of the characters and theme from previous efforts. New game concepts like 'Tetris' (boy if they only knew what the future held-lots o' Tetris clones) and 'Quarth', are, sadly, not released frequently enough for our liking." Andy Eddy said in the Letter From the Editor in the September 1990 issue that "video game companies have to be careful not to let quality slip, lest they alienate their value customers. And we wouldn't want to see a repeat of 1983, would we?"

And from February 1990 issue:

"The increased dominance of product marketing over product development at many large publishers contributed to [trends of new heights of excellence but the "high spots were less plentiful"]. This wasn't the easiest year, financially speaking, for many software companies. Video games systems competed strongly for the gaming dollar; over-ambitious shipments caused a product glut during the second quarter."

"Quite a few publishers have adopted the strategy of going for "sure things". That means slickly professional games in established niches with proven consumer appeal. Such titles seldom become platinum sellers, but they are also far less likely to fall absolutely flat. Worried publishers will do just about anything to avoid outright flops, and that definitely includes holding those trailblazing new concepts until the pressure is off the bottom line. Call 1989 the year of the B-plus game, and you won't be far wrong."

In the same issue from their arcade game section Destination Arcadia:

"It's been said that there's 'nothing new under the sun' today. Imitations and repetition seem to be the order of the day in almost all forms of entertainment. Look at the movie section of your local newspaper if you need further proof. Sequels, "pre-quels" and redux items are all the rage and the line between who's who and what's what gets fuzzier everyday."

While it doesn't cite platformers as a culprit, that genre was quite a staple at that time. We remember the landmark titles (Castlevania, Bionic Commando, Mario, etc.) but we forget the large amount of average games (Demon Sword, Kid Niki, Journey to Silius, for exampe) that filled shelves. Not unlike today, only that the sales shelves are much longer now as gaming is such a hot market right now.

The FPS, while still revolving around the "shoot or be shot" mentality tha'ts been bread n' buttah since Wolfenstein 3D, are evolving. Not unlike platformers which evolved beyond the jump n' stomp/jump n' shoot of yesteryear to more complex adventures. The the abilities to shoot around corners or lean is adding new tactical advantages. May not sound like much but if you compare them to some of the hoopla that some abilities got (like to grab a shell or pick up a bad guy) back in the in the platformer days it just as pivotal in the genre's evolution. More games are now starting to expand on that with more things happening within the first person view (Namco's Breakdown pretty much does everything from the First Person view, from fighting to drinking a soda AND I think you can see your character's feet). Others, like Metroid Prime mentioned in the article, inject a temporary third person view for such things as ledge dangling/movement (Chronicles of Riddick I believe does this).

Compared to the venerable platformers (which have pretty much been around since David Crane put Pitfall! on the map) FPS games are in their "teens", with all the potential growth and improvement the name embraces.

bullet David Torre | 10 Jun : 15:21

Comments: 13

Maagic: When I say PC, I mean the modern 386-up PC. So yes, even with all the adventure games, FPSes have still been the dominant genre.

bullet ryuhayabusa | 22 Jun : 22:05

Comments: 13

Registered: 18 Jan : 18:26
Great article, Dave. I agree wholeheartedly. Unlike when platformers were all the rage, there is little to choose from today with the unending deluge of FPS games. Like you said, at least when platformers were popular, there were so many games across the various genres to choose as well. Now, when I go to Best Buy, all I see are FPS games and the occasional strategy Age of Empires-esque strategy game.

I also agree with your view of the problems with FPS games. Limited vision, hard to judge distance due to less depth perception, etc. I said many of the same things over on the RGR forum. First-person view simply cannot give the type of visibility that third-person can. Don't get me wrong, first person view has it's place, and there are many great first-person view games. From my experience though, there are almost always some issues, particularly camera issues, that I dislike about most 3D games.

bullet Sonance | 22 Aug : 03:52

Comments: 5

Registered: 20 Aug : 02:37
I haven't read everyone else's comments in their entirety yet, so apologies in advance if I repeat anything that's been said above.

I think there's an argument to be made that the FPS genre is capable of being as diverse as the platform genre. Commercial pressure, in recent years, has unfortunately limited each developer's ability to experiment with the format, but if you consider the FPS genre as a whole, we find many very diverse types of game within it:

Quake
I'll use this game as our common frame of reference, even though there were games before it that achieved much the same thing. You proceed, sequentially, through a series of levels, encountering greater quanities of foes, until you are compelled to do battle with a boss. Defeating the boss will take you to the next batch of levels or win you the game.

The actual gameplay mechanics are pretty simple. You can walk around, jump and swim. Your progress is typically blocked by locked doors that require you to find a key or some trigger pad.

Descent
An FPS in every sense of the word, but with one major difference. Unlike the Quake style game, you have the ability to pitch and rotate through three axes, making the Y axis just as important as the X and Z axes.

While the Quake family is presented in three dimensions, most of the action is constrained within two (X and Z). While the Y axis does come into play in terms of architecture and positioning of objects within the game map, you very rarely move within the Y axis, unless you're jumping or falling off something.

Descent confused a lot of gamers at first (some people still can't get to grips with it, some 10 years after its release), who were not used to having to think in three dimensions. Some people found it disorientating and bewildering, no longer being constrained to movement along a single plane.

Descent's gameplay mechanics weren't all that far removed from Doom/Quake. You progressed through levels in a sequential fashion, blasting away enemies as you struggled to find the exit, finding your way blocked by doors that required keys to unlock.

However, by the very nature of its physics, something like Descent does play very differently to other FPS games, requiring a completely different "game brain" and skill set in order to beat it.

It's surprising that there are very few games these days that allow the player complete freedom of movement within three axes. Flight sims and space sims allow this to some extent, but most of their action still takes place within a single plane (or otherwise the developers give the player enough aids to not have to worry about becoming bewildered).

Thief
Not so much a First Person Shooter as a First Person Sneaker. Looking Glass's classic PC title completely subverted genre expectations by requiring the player to avoid contact with the enemy as much as possible.

A few gamers didn't clue into this new gameplay dynamic at first and tried to play it like a shooter, running around with weapons drawn, trying to hack down anything that moved. Once they realised that this method of gameplay resulted in a 20 second life span, they soon learnt to adopt a completely new approach to playing the game.

Thief is certainly a million miles away from Quake, even though they share the same genre. To suggest they're alike is a bit like suggesting Sonic the Hedgehog is the same thing as Super Metroid.

Thief rewarded the player with a compelling plot that actually unfolded within the game's levels itself, rather than being reduced to inter-level cut scenes. It used sound propagation as an important gameplay element. Levels were huge, sprawling and decidedly non-linear. The game rewarded the dedicated/experienced player by ensuring that the difficulty settings gave the player more/different things to do in each level rather than just present the same thing with tougher enemies.

Many games have borrowed from Thief's approach to stealthy gameplay, but few have implemented it so efficiently and compellingly.

There we go. Three radically different game types within the same genre. Naturally, the vast majority of FPS games have followed Quake's gameplay model. Descent and Thief may not have spawned many direct descendants, but thankfully many FPS games have been improved by at least borrowing from them to some degree.

With the exception of Half-Life 2, the only FPS game I'm actually looking forward to at the moment is STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl. If you've never heard of the game, check out all the available information on the game's official web site. It looks like someone out there's prepared to inject a new type of gameplay into the FPS genre. I really hope they can pull it off.

bullet David Torre | 24 Jan : 18:30

Comments: 13

Speaking of Half-Life 2, I have played and enjoyed this game tremendously. Playing it has been a breath of fresh air. It is a truely innovative game and I recommend it to everyone. It's sad that most FPS games don't feel as fresh as Half-Life 2.


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