May 11, 2012 3:00 PM | John Polson
In the first of a two-part piece, IndieGames shares the opinions of 7 first-person shooter (FPS) developers, who discuss where the genre should innovate.
The origins of FPS games have been traced to the 1970s, with titles such as Maze War and Spasim. However, modern FPS titles are often compared to the id Software titles of the 90s, such as Catacomb 3-D, Doom, and Wolfenstein 3D, or more recent titles. These titles were often made with teams of sizes similar to "indie" teams today; you could count them with your fingers.
The genre has since spread out mechanically (even being mixed with other genres) and financially (over $50 million budgets). Yet, maybe the genre just needs more attention from teams similarly sized to those who brought it to life.
Coincidentally, the first ever 7DFPS (seven-day first-person shooter) challenge seems to have aligned with this cause, taking place from June 9-June 15. Inspired by the 7-Day Roguelike Challenge (7DRL), organizer Jan Willem Nijman of Vlambeer hopes "the pressure and timeframe will make people come up with new, original ideas. 7DFPS could do more for creativity in shooters than the past 7 years combined."
This collection of seven independent developers speaks on innovation from many FPS perspectives -- those who have squeezed characters into narrow dungeon mazes, set them loose in wide open arenas, and placed them in tower-defense and RTS settings, too.
Alan Wilson of Tripwire Interactive released the critical and commercially successful, survival horror shooter Killing Floor and tactical WWII shooter Red Orchestra. Kedhrin Gonzalez of Illfonic recently developed a re-envisioned Nexuiz for current gen systems.
Alex Austin of Cryptic Sea, developer of platformer Gish, has made the transition to FPS with A New Zero. He seeks to innovate beyond the simple movements of games like Quake. Rami Ismail of Vlambeer developed classically inspired FPS Gun Godz just for a Kickstarter promotion.
Two additional developers here have mixed the classic FPS formula successfully with other staple genres. Michiel Beenen of Interwave developed FPS/RTS title Nuclear Dawn. Oscar Jilsén of Coffee Stain Studios developed FPS/tower-defense title Sanctum.
Today, these seven FPS developers discuss where innovation is ripe and waiting in this classic genre.
Alan Wilson, Tripwire: We're always keen to try new elements out - like a real first-person cover system. Peripheral vision done well. All sorts of stuff like that. Those things that really make me feel immersed in a game. That is one of the key points about an FPS for me - that it gives me the most real/believable perspective on whatever the game world is. Doesn't have to be a "real" world - but I want to feel part of it, from the perspective and the way I interact with it. FPS games, at their best, give you the best possible chance to be "in" the world.
There is also a whole debate about how we pay for games and value for money - and I would REALLY like to see that getting explored more. I've always been on record as saying that I have yet to see a game I really believe is worth $60 up front. I want to go on enjoying my games.
Alex Austin, Cryptic Sea: There's a lot of room for innovation in FPS games, the main one I'm focused on right now is movement. Every FPS game right now uses the same movement as Quake 1 essentially, with a few hacks like prone position or moving your aiming reticule when firing a weapon.
The reason for this is there is a huge gap between simple Quake movement and realistic human movement, and if you don't make it over that gap almost everyone will hate it. The only game that I know of that ever tried to make it was Trespasser, and that was not received well. I'm currently trying to jump that gap with A New Zero. We'll see if I make it, but so far it's encouraging. I have a video of what the movement system allows.
Rami Ismail, Vlambeer: The thing with FPS'es is that most of the shooters being made right now are being made based on that set of expectations that has been evolving for the last five to ten years. Those expectations give a pretty limited area to maneouvre in - so we think innovation can be found if people start looking at the very first shooters as a foundation and move on from there, instead of basing their goals on more recent entries in the genre.
Michiel Beenen, Interwave: In recent gaming history, titles such as Half Life 2, Deus Ex and Dark Messiah of Might and Magic have demonstrated how the 'Shooter' in FPS games is but one of the gameplay approaches that the genre permits. We'd like to see more and more games find and develop these alternative styles, where shooting is but a single component of a great, cinematic FPS adventure.
Oscar Jilsén, Coffee Stain: It's a hard question, as I have not been thinking about it a whole lot.
Most FPS games right now seem to just be repeating the same process. Ever since Halo popularized the two-weapon standard and regenerating health became the norm most recent FPS games feel similar. It is hard to answer that question because the name "First Person Shooter" kinda locks down the possibilities, it demands that you can shoot from a first person perspective.
What I would like to see from First Person Perspective games is more games like Mirror's Edge and Amnesia: to focus on interaction with the environment and to use the perspective differently. Amnesia does this well when they punish you for looking at enemies, that is a very smart and interesting twist to the genre that more games could utilize.
Mladen Bošnjak, Misfit Villager: The FPS genre is pretty straightforward, when you add elements and start innovating, it goes into different genres (add inventory and a few choices, it's already an RPG :D ), so I don't think you can innovate the FPS genre in particular much without it stretching its "First Person Shooter" name.
Kedhrin Gonzalez, Illfonic: I think, the largest step FPS games can take at this point, is a new peripheral that gets players more involved with fewer restrictions. They've tried it with the Wii, Move and Kinect, but they're lacking precision control. Aiming at the screen to turn just doesn't work well enough! I do have an idea that can work (I think)... but I can't really discuss it. It's pretty direct...
The thing is, you can't take this entire genre, throw in new controls and expect it to immediately change. Today's day and age isn't like 1996 when Quake allowed +mlook and it changed everything. It also isn't like Halo where the thumbsticks came in with gameplay catered towards console play. Things are a lot more expansive now.
Turning is [also] one of the most important things in an FPS. It has to be smooth, easy, and controllable. Take that away and you just don't have a fun FPS. I'd love to play around with all of these ideas to further expand on what we can do with the genre. Let's face it, First Person View is the most important genre because it will lead into Virtual Reality. The people mastering its craft today will be the ones deciding VR's fate.
Other than that, I think FPS is going towards FPS RPG being the main focus. It gives progression over repetition. It drives commitment within a game. Reward the player with lush story, but also give them hardcore gameplay. I think S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is the best example of this. Although the game had some serious flaws that prevented it from seeing its full potential, it is a star role model of things to come for FPS Games.
[Early next week these developers will discuss old or forgotten elements of FPSes that should be revisited and those that are overdone and should be put out to pasture. (photo source)]