You got your story in my shooter!

Call of Duty 4, xbox360

When Call of Duty 4 was released a lot of people I know told me I needed to play it, so I borrowed a 360copy and gave it a try. It seemed alright, but all it did was reinforce my belief that I suck at console FPSs. Actually, my thought is more along the lines of, “console FPS controls are simply terrible”. *shrug*   I gave it a go, but it just did not stick to me. So I handed the game back content not to play it, which would have made this a much shorter post.  Luckily for me the story continues…

… while cleaning out my closet this week I found that a video card I purchased last fall apparent came with a copy of CoD4 with it.  Go figure.

Call of Duty 4, PC (where it really belongs)

So on a whim I installed it, just to see if the performance on my PC was as good as the Xbox version.  That experiment led to two nights of great gaming as I sprinted through the single player campaign. At the end I was impressed, I watched the credits and was even rewarded for that effort; an extra mission.

There are few FPS, heck games, that I can say actually invoked a real emotion from me about the characters (other than anger or fury at stupid AI); yet CoD4 did. I felt pressure, excitement, success, loss, angry, and triumph, all within the course of a relatively short campaign.  More games should be doing this. They should be not only telling me story, but involving me, and connecting me to the characters.

Yes, as a player I was given zero options about overall the path of the story. Its a simple linear affair in that regard., but through the cinematography, the game play variations, and the changing locations, I never felt as though I was on a set of rails.   And within each chapter I had a sense of freedom to maneuver how I wanted, which in this game was enough.   It was almost as though I was “playing” though a military action novel, and not simply walking through a shooting gallery.

Now I don’t think the game is not perfect:

First, for I suspect Geo-Poly reasons, they had to use fictional names for most locations, and some organizations, which pulled me out of immersion bubble a bit;Â but not much.

Second, sometimes I felt a bit confused at what do to. I would hear someone tell me to “find a RPG, and take out the helos” but there were no RPGs in site. This led to me often repeating sections simply to “look around” or follow my waypoint marker. Good news here is their check point saves happened very often so I never felt overwhelmed by having a lot of content to redo.

Third, and this is the big one: Infinitely spawning enemies = TERRIBLE, and CoD4 uses this mechanic way, way to much. I lost count at the number of times, my squad and I were held up someplace clearing enemies over and over as I waited for either the area to be clear or I was given the signal to move up.    It never happened, in one section I spent 10 minutes killing guys before I just ran out into the open in frustration.

The next time I did that section I did not even fight, I simply ran from cover to cover aiming for the way point and in 1 minute I was safe. This is not a good direction, in a game where in most cases good direction is given.   Heck, this happened to me even after I realized this system was in place, it is just my natural tendency to “clear” an area before moving forward unless ordered otherwise.  Bad, infinity ward; Bad.

The good news is those complaints are so minor compared to the awesomeness of the game as a whole; one I suggest every gamer and designer play.

Emotion and story in an FPS, huh? What about RPGs?

Which leaves me with the thought that really prompted this post.

I have been playing computer games for a quarter of a century (*gulp*) and over the course of that time the design and the way RPGs tell a story has not changed much. And worse the idea and implementation of the “quest” has changed little. Sure there are a few exceptions where a team did something new and unique, but generally find, acquiring, performing, and being rewarded for a “quest” are the same in every game.   Yet in that same amount of time shooters have made great strides in how they present and tell their stories, and how players acquire, complete and are rewarded for “quests”.

Sure you might say some of that evolution has come because the technology has advanced, but I say that is no excuse for RPG makers since they to can benefit from those advances.

And, some might claim its because the customer has expectations and if you don’t work within those parameters you are doom. Lies! Sure customers think they don’t like change, but if the change is well done, polished, and balanced customers not only like it, they praise it and such games are rewarded for it.

Example; the shooter concept of “self regenerating health”.  Almost a complete 180degree flip on a standard FPS concept, one that if told ahead of time about players would have laughed and said would never work. Yet Halo did it, and did it so well that it is accepted and almost becoming a standard now.

Of course I know its a lot easier for me to get on my soapbox and yell, “designers fix it” than for them to actually do it. I do have a few suggestions, like the idea of emulating how shooters present and change orders mid-mission, and I hope at some point to be back where I can pass suggestions on directly to decision makers. 🙂

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