Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My problem with the FPS genre

If there's one game genre I feel hasn't come close to reaching it's potential, it is the first-person shooter genre.

I don't play too many FPS, mainly because they don't show any potential of actually taking the critical leap forward from 10 years ago. With modern technology, so much is possible. A lot of great graphical execution happens in many modern FPS, but it's mainly all in the background. What annoys me the most about the FPS genre, is that it has the most potential to be a true "experience", but it never plays on these capabilities.

Two things come to mind when I think of moments in FPS that could be considered elements of an "experience": one is how the player could see Samus's eyes in the reflection of her visor in the Metroid Prime games, and the second is at the end of Halo: Reach when your helmet cracked and the character throws the helmet off. These two instances are there to remind the player that they are looking out of the eyes of a character in the game rather than just a moving screen with gun pointed out.

But why are the elements so simple? Why not have the helmet cracking when taking damage to the head occur throughout the game, and then give the player the option to continue to play with the helmet cracked or throw it off and leave them subject to more damage? Why not bring that whole armor damage system to all parts of the armor? When armor takes to much damage it'll over-heat, and the player will experience more damage if they don't get the armor off before it explodes, and getting the armor off can be executed through a short QTE sequence. All of this sounds a bit tedious, but it's all for the sake of bringing the player into the gaming experience.

It's fine if a game is simple like a Mario game, but there's so much potential to make a game an "experience", to really suck the player into it, and make the player forget they're just pressing buttons, but actually shooting, running, and jumping.

I thought the Metroid Prime series had the most potential for this FPS immersion. After seeing Samus' eyes in the first Prime game, I was hoping for more in future games in the series. Stuff like seeing Samus' hair move in front of the field of view when taking a hard hit, her visor cracking after getting into critical damage, hearing her breath heavily when in critical damage or running for an extended period of time, and having more realistic reactions to damage and jumps. I loved it when Samus would put her hand in front her face when taking heavy damage, but I wanted to see that taken to the next level, such as Samus actually getting knocked to the ground, and pulling herself up (all seen in first-person view of course). Even more visceral elements, such as Samus' helmet taking such a blow that the visor completely breaks, and blood dyes a part of the screen red, thus reflecting Samus' head bleeding. This visceral experience brings the player not only closer to the action, but closer to the character of Samus herself. That is immersion, that is "experience".

Little elements like that are what changes a videogame from simply being a game into a full-on experience. Something the FPS genre is truly capable of. With the FPS, the identity of the player is lost because all the player sees is what the character sees, and soon, the game just becomes a big screen rather than looking through an actual character, but if the character makes themselves known to the player, then the immersion goes up. It feels less like the player is looking through a TV screen, and more like the player is experiencing this character's adventure through their eyes. It's relative to how there are books told through an omnipotent narrator, and books told through the first-person. It completely changes the tone and experience of the story, and it would do the same for a videogame; I guarantee it.

I may wish for all this, but I am ignorant. I don't know how games are made. What I want to see may never come to fruition because it isn't possible, but I still hope I live to see a game like this one day.


  1. I can tell that your suggestions about how to enhance the experience of playing as Samus would be easy to implement by any game developer: it's only a matter of adding some animations and visual effects.
    I haven't played many FPS myself and don't know if such a level of immersion achieved through realistic little details has been made up till now, but I believe it would definitely appeal to players who like to witness a character's growth and change and connect with them.

    On another more or less related note, so many main playable characters nowadays, particularly in western games, are blank slates. Their lack of a personality and background is supposed to enhance immersion by allowing the players to project their own personality into them, but that is a concept I am personally incapable of experiencing. It does appeal to some gamers, so by no means can it be considered a bad design choice, but as you've said in another post it's all about execution. I think that if the main design idea is for the player to be given full control over the playable character's personality and/or behavior, then this control should never be taken away from them, even if that means scripted scenes and outcomes could all be altered.

    1. What you say is true. Many games go out of their way to make the main playable character as blank a slate as possible to to let the player "become" the playable character as much as possible. That is perhaps the biggest opponent to the growth of the FPS genre.

      Bioshock Infinite did a few nice things for the FPS genre, but not nearly as much as it could have, imo.