Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Doom 3 Sucked

Considering that the process of designing video games these days seems to be “Find out something that’s selling well and copy it or make a sequel”, I thought I’d give my thoughts, as a lifelong gamer, as to how to make a great First Person Shooter.

Notice I say ‘great’ FPS, because today, they’re very rare. There’s lots of ‘good’ FPS’s out there, but very few make me go back and play them again once I’ve beaten them.

Anyway, are you sitting comfortably, game designers? Then I’ll begin.

1) Story

Story is something that’s continually overlooked. Every game should have a good story, because a good story keeps you playing because you want to see what happens next. To be precise here, by ‘story’ I mean a fairly complex plot, well written and rounded characters, lots of conflict and a few twists thrown in for good measure. For example, I’ll definitely be buying ‘Half-Life : Episode 3’ just to see how the story turns out.

To often the ‘story’ in a First Person Shooter is nothing more than a rationale for why you’re killing all that stuff. ‘You’re a space marine and your ship has been attacked by aliens’ or ‘It’s World War 2 and you have to kill Nazis’.

If your story synopsis is just a sentence long, you don’t have a story, you just have an idea that has to be made into a story.

2) We want to play a cool character.

Half-Life? Gordon Freeman, MIT graduate turned world-renowned badass. The ‘Right Man in the Wrong Place’. Big bowl of awesome.

Halo? The Master Chief… Say no more, except ‘Hell yes!’.

Doom 3? Uhhhh…ummm… a nameless, faceless marine with zero backstory and no distinguishing features?

You know when you’re playing Half-Life, walk into an area and see all the friendly NPC’s have a ‘Holy shit! It’s Gordon Freeman!’ moment? That’s awesome. Playing a character who’s nothing more than a vehicle to walk around and shoot things in…it’s not as much fun.

3) Give our character a ‘personal’ stake.

Saving the world is always fun, but you get a much more intense, visceral experience when your character has more of a personal stake in the proceedings.

Fighting a faceless two-dimensional bad guy isn’t nearly as interesting as fighting a fleshed out bad guy who’s personally ‘wronged you’ in some way. Dr. Breem’s self-serving attitude and smugness make it so you can’t wait to finally get him alone. Watching Alyx Vance get stabbed by hunters makes you want to slaughter them.

Again, Doom 3? Oh, it’s the Devil. A great big scary monster who wants to take over the universe…yawn.

4) Weapons.

By now, weapons should be a no-brainer, but it’s amazing just how often this gets fucked up (I’m looking at you again, Doom 3).

The shotgun in Doom 3 looked fairly good, but it was too weak, the shot spread out like it had a half-inch barrel and fired with a very weak ‘pop’. The pistol was useless. The plasma gun sounded weak. The BFG was so overpowered that you only ever had enough ammo to fire it a handful of times…apart from the final boss-battle which made it seem like just a regular weapon.

The only weapon I didn’t particularly like in Half-Life was the crossbow, for the simple reason it didn’t make sense as a long range sniping weapon.

Here’s the thing. Too many FPS’s fall into the trap of supplying the player with a weak weapon and then parceling out more and more powerful ones as the game goes on. You start with a pistol and never touch it again when you get a shotgun. You never touch the shotgun again when you get a machine gun and so on and so on.

Instead the player should have a selection of weapons that remain useful throughout the whole game depending on the situation. You still use the pistol in Half-Life for headcrabs. It’s still useful as a backup against combine soldiers later in the game. The shotgun is a great all-round weapon. The SMG is good for medium distance shooting. Rockets for gunships, etc, etc.

Lastly, if I’m firing a semi-auto weapon, I should be able to fire it as fast as I can click my mouse.

5) Give us something new.

Basically, all FPS’s follow the same formula. You run around a maze and shoot bad guys. This can get old really, really quickly, no matter how pretty the graphics are.

Again, Half-Life had the gravity gun and physics puzzles. Bioshock had ‘plasmids’ that added a whole new dimension of gameplay (Set a bad guy on fire, they’d run and dive into the nearest water, which would allow you to electrocute them).

Doom 3 had…pretty graphics?

It doesn’t have to be anything really major. Just give us something (or even a slight twist on something) that we can’t get anywhere else.

6) Keep it logical.

For years, limited technology meant that certain things just weren’t possible. You couldn’t pick up a table and throw it at your enemy, you couldn’t lob a grenade to flush the bad guys out from behind cover.

There have been huge leaps and strides to make games more realistic, but games designers are still using old techniques that just don’t make sense anymore.

Put simply, I can stack boxes to get onto a roof. I can catapult myself up onto a ledge by making a see-saw out of a barrel, plank of wood and something heavy, I can shoot a padlock off a locked gate with ease…so why am I completely stopped by a locked internal door or a chest-high wall.

It makes no sense. I have a huge selection of weapons, including grenades, C4 explosives and a rocket launcher. In real life that door would open with a medium strength kick, so why is it stopping me in the game?

7) Graphics do not make the game.

I’ve ragged on Doom 3 a lot so far, and I’m going to continue to do so.

Doom 3 only sold well because it had absolute bleeding edge graphics and was part of an extremely famous franchise. Now let me ask you a question. If Doom 3 came out today with current-gen graphics under a different name…how well do you think it would do?

The answer is: Not very well. Other than the graphics it was mediocre in pretty much every sense, and sub-standard in plenty more.

Long story short, amazing visuals will enhance a game a lot, but a gold plated turd is still a turd.

8) Playtest, playtest, playtest.

Farcry had cutting edge technology, cutting edge AI and was about a good looking as a First Person Shooter could be. Unfortunately, it also had severe balancing issues and in some places was just too damn hard. I had a hard time believing anyone actually tried actually playing this game before shipping it.

After a few levels of enjoyable gameplay, we’re suddenly introduced to mutant enemies that can leap from nowhere and kill you in two swipes. Later we’re introduced to invisible enemies that can only be seen with special goggles, but you only realize you need to wear the goggles after one of them has killed you. The final boss battle has you fighting about 10 incredibly powerful and tough enemies that all attack you at once and can kill you with a single shot. A boss battle should be about skill and working out the Boss’s weak points…not just plain perseverance.

Getting killed in a game is inevitable, but it should be fair. Walking through the woods and suddenly getting blind-sided just isn’t fun.


Saffyre said...

Come on now - isn't this a Geekology post?? *WEG*

Fred said...

Urm, hmmm, lets see, all you've done is moan there... be a typical critic and balance it out with at least some positives... I also agree with saffyre's comment... i got really really bored with your constant long-winded moaning

Paulius said...

Hey Fred!

How about you go fuck yourself?

Had a bad day and thought you'd make yourself feel better by insulting a random stranger for no reason, huh?

Oh well, I'm sure things will look up and you'll get some friends soon.

Clay said...

I think Doom3 suffered because the guys at id weren't having fun, it was a tech demo fleshed out into a series of levels and endgame.

The original Doom games were made by a few guys having the time of their lives, good chemistry and who were living in a beachhouse living off diet coke and pizza for months on end. That care-free, lets have a good time and devotion to great gaming somehow transferred over to us players.

Long live Doom!

/yep, fanboy here

josh said...

I think quite the contrary about almost everything you just said. The weapons in doom 3 are iconic, they were used in the old dooms so the fact that they are in the new one makes that shit cool already. Plus, what's wrong with the character? i would be willing to bet you didn't like predator either. Also, the plot and all that may have been a little less to make the game SCARIER. You are all alone with no one to help you and demons are attacking. This blog is an overflowing toilet full of pretentious vomit.

Paulius said...

Ha! Thanks Josh, you really made my day.

I love it when idiots wear their stupidity on their sleeves to give everyone a good laugh.

First, you're saying that straight recycling of old ideas is a good thing...and I love how you think lack of plot and characters makes things 'scarier'.

'Plot and that' is the difference between games like Half Life, with interesting characters, locations and a great story...and games like Doom 3 where you play a cardboard cutout in a generic sci-fi setting shooting at things because they're the bad guys.