Tuesday, November 27, 2012

FPS - Where's the Strategy

  Maybe I just come from a different generation of gamer. My little brother is 8 years younger than me and was big into using cheat codes in games. With the exception of Contra (up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-start) there weren't any games I was enthralled with using cheat codes with for more than about 30 minutes. But he seemed to love them. He even had a Game Shark with added tons of cheat codes to Super Nintendo games. I just never saw the point.
  Also, he has always been big into First Person Shooters (FPS). I've played my fair share of FPS games. I was into Wolfenstein 3-D when it came out, played plenty of Doom. We had LAN parties of Unreal Tournament, played Quake 2 in college, and have enjoyed the strategy of Counterstrike. I remember spending many hours with friends in high school playing Goldeneye 007 on the Nintendo 64. But never have these games been my main play.
  Meanwhile, my little brother has gone through the Call of Duty, Left for Dead, Battlefield, and the Halo series as his main games for the past 10 years. Most recently he's started playing Planetside 2. I remember enjoying Planetside when it first came out. The massive FPS scale was fantastically interesting. Seeing 50+ teammates running to invade a base only to be blown apart by an enemy tank was fascinating and challenging. So like always happens when a new Free to Play game comes out, I sign up.

  Initially I was enthralled with Planetside 2. Much of the jerkiness of the original was gone. The graphics and anti lag engine had been updated significantly. They now include a certification process for getting new weapons and guns and the like that was significantly interesting and complex. Bases had also been upgraded to be less monotonous. Overall things seemed great. But after two days of playing it my interest started to fade. For one particular reason, spawn times.
  Combat is so fast paced in the game that you can often times die almost instantly after spawning. I found an enemy Sunderer which is a vehicle that acts as a spawn point. I just sat there and blasted it with my tank raking up a significant number of kills. But it wasn't the ease of killing people that deterred me. It was that within 8 seconds, they (or I) could return to the battlefield. I was able to be blasted away by my opponent on the stairs, only to respawn and immediately return fire. At one point there was an opponent hiding in a loft of a base who killed me a couple of times before I found his location. Upon my next spawn I just haphazardly tossed a grenade into the loft before he could see me.
  Blast 'em seems to best describe this type of game. It's not a game where there's a significant penalty for dying. It's not a game of heavy strategy, it seems to be more predicated on momentary skill. Avoiding the tank shot, clicking faster than the other guy, and never ever stop moving. I'm not saying that the game doesn't have strategy. But I'm not sure I'm as fond of it's type of strategy as a game such as League of Legends where dying can cause a 75 second gap in your team's numbers which can be capitalized on to make a difference over the course of the game. In a usual hour session I probably die 20-30 times. That's every 2-3 minutes. Now this is partially because I'm not great at the game. But it's also the nature of the game that doesn't punish me for dying.
  The game also allows for you to switch character classes at a spawning point or at several weapons depots located throughout the map. This means that I can instantaneously switch from my medic to and engineer to heal the spawn vehicle that is under attack to a heavy assault to take out the tank that is shooting at it. And again. If I die, I'll just switch characters then, and 8 seconds later I'm back in the action, unless they destroy my Sunderer. Then I have to run back to the location.  

  Penny Arcade's review of Planetside 2 brings up a number of very interesting points and issues with this style of game. One big thing it mentions is the lack of a story. While this isn't always a driving force, it's clear that there are 3 factions that want to kill each other. Not much else is relevant. But the battle is perpetual and unending. It's not a deathmatch scenario where the team with the most kills or flag captures wins at the end of the match. All goals are only temporary and tomorrow you'll be looking to take back the same bases you conquered last night.

  I reflect back to Counterstrike where dying was just as easy but it left you out of the match for the next 3-5 minutes. This was a significant penalty to death and therefore caution and strategy became far more important. You also made your weapon purchase decisions at the beginning of each match which would dictate the role you'd be playing for the next 5-10 minutes. I'd suggest that maybe there's a significant age difference between me at 32 and my little brother at 24 which accounts for this discrepancy. I'm open to that idea. But for now, this immediate "Blast 'em" kind of game isn't exactly what I'm looking for. Not for the maybe hour a day I have to play. I want to accomplish more with my time.


  1. This is not meant to be a rebuttal, but a contribution of my view point, the little brother.

    While it is true I have played many of the Call of Duty, Halo, and Valve games of the recent years, it is important to look at what games I routinely return to: Tom Clancy Ghost Recon and Tom Clancy Rainbow Six. I still play these with my friends on super hard difficulty, to see if we can get through all the levels with the bots having near perfect aim. What makes these games fun isn't blasting away terrorists, but working cooperatively and tactically. This is why Planetside 2 has been tickling my fancy.

    I agree Planetside 2 is far from perfect, and that cost of death is fairly low. However, if you look at it as a squad based game, it makes more sense. An individual death only has a 10 second punishment, but only if your squad has a spawn point near the action. The real deaths occur when you, as a squad of 4-13 other players, destroy the other team's spawn point. This prevents them from instantly coming back into the action. Suddenly, the enemy will have to spawn back at a point maybe a 5 minute run, or a minute in a vehicle, but it will give you time to regroup, and take up defensive positions. Sure you can sit by a spawn point, and just spawn camp. This is the kind of thing you do in MMORPGs when you are grinding to get to a higher level, or better loot. I always cringe when I see someone spawn camping in Planetside 2, as I know the camper isn't having much fun, and those he is killing aren't either. An easy solution to this would be to make someone who just spawned worth less points to kill than someone who has been alive for a little longer.

    While I may disagree with the quick spawn times, I understand why the developers did this. If it were to take 5 mins for someone to respawn, the punishment would be high, but the battles would be less populated. I think the reasoning is to give the feeling of the epic battle, even if fewer people are playing. Developers compensated for this by making vehicles have more weighted lives. If I spawn a tank, and it gets blown up in 3 mins, I can't spawn another for another 12 mins.

    I am not sure how to fix the lives system without dramatically altering the game. One possible solution would be to have lives be a resource, just as with ground and air vehicles. Only let a Sunnder spawn 50 units before it requires a resupply, etc. Another option is to increase the wait time between spawns dynamically. The fewer people in a territory, the quicker the wait time, punishing highly populated territories with high wait times (The spawn units can only handle so many spawns). Or force you to queue at spawn locations and wait 2-5 seconds between each individual spawn.

    Finally, I think it is true that younger generations are used to less punishment in games (easier puzzles, quicker spawn times, more achievements, etc.). However, grind and individual challenge isn't why I play games. I play games to cooperatively tackle challenges with friends and Planetside 2 presents a great platform for doing so.

  2. I love some of your ideas to fix the issues faced in Planetside 2. I think the location based spawn queue would definitely be a plus, especially for mobile locations. Then you could pick between a 3 minute spawn time or a greater distance location. More strategy.

    Perhaps a big difference is the focus not being on individual challenge. I pretty much consider this a staple of every game I want to play. Even if it is a collaborative challenge I still want to face more individual challenge. It's why games like League of Legends appeal to me so much, very individual challenging as well as cooperative.