Jump to content
Sprony
Sprony

The Call of Duty Effect

    Teaser Paragraph:

    MapCore regular SpronyvanJohnson considers the current state of the first-person shooter genre and where it seems to be heading, highlighting developers' current fixation on following Call of Duty's highly-scripted formula rather than creating the sense of exploration and experimentation that characterised early FPS games.

Last winter, with the latest releases of Call of Duty and Medal of Honor I hit my final straw and basically stopped playing new single-player shooters. Which is really saying something for a guy that grew up with games like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake, Unreal, and Half-Life. Shooters were always the dominant genre on my playlist. But nowadays I play more RPG, strategy, and action games.

I don’t like what most shooters have become and it all has to do with something I like to name 'The Call of Duty Effect'. Hold on fan boys, put away those torches. I’m not saying that Call of Duty is bad. There are some great Call of Duty games out there. But you can’t deny the enormous impact the franchise has had on shooters, both positive and negative. Let’s have a look shall we?

 

The Golden Age

It all began with Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Scripting wasn't new in games, but the way 2015 Inc did it to create great action set pieces was. Who doesn't remember the Omaha beach landing? When most of the studio left to form Infinity Ward and to create Call of Duty they outdid themselves again. Especially the Russian campaign featured some very intense moments. As the years progressed so did the graphics, sound and set pieces. Other shooters played catch up but most of them were blown away when the first Modern Warfare was released.

For me personally, this was the highest peak in the franchise and it’s a level they haven’t achieved since. The idea of playing a Hollywood blockbuster was appealing to fans and companies alike. Shooters became more and more mainstream and the Call of Duty franchise kept breaking sales records. But somewhere along the line, the industry went overboard with this concept and it started to show in several areas.

 

Regenerating Health

Regenerating health has been around since the 1980s in which it was primarily used by action role-playing games. It was later adopted in the 1990s by some action games on the SNES and the Megadrive. But the recent trend is generally credited to Halo: Combat Evolved. Which is strange, since the game only had regenerating shields. You were still dependent on health packs to survive. Halo 2 however, did feature a form of regenerating health but it was Call of Duty 2 that really started the regenerating health system as we see so frequently today. Meaning the wounded player can simple take cover to avoid taking damage and wait until his or her character recovers.

The problem I have with this system is that it removes challenge, strategy and tension from shooters. You always have full health going into battle, making you an unstoppable force that doesn't care if he/she gets shot. There’s no real penalty for getting hit and with each battle you can simply go in guns blazing. Old shooters forced you to think about your situation and plan your tactics accordingly. If you were low on health, you had to be really careful. If you were low on ammo, you had to switch weapons and try different things. Often you would backtrack and explore your surroundings even more in the hope of finding health, ammo or even better, a secret area filled with both. Now you can often use the same weapons, with seemingly infinite ammo and gun down entire armies of respawning enemies.

 

regenerating-health.jpg

bloody screen! so real

 

Level design

The worlds in which you do this have become increasingly linear and dictated. However visually appealing they may look, exploration, with the exception of a few titles, is a thing of the past. It’s not that old shooters had huge worlds in which you could get lost. But at least they rewarded your inner explorer with hidden items and secret areas. Sometimes you could even find entire secrets levels to play through. At the very least, they gave you some room to move around in. Because good design guides you through the world without breaking immersion.

Bad design, like we see so often today, breaks immersion by using poorly placed invisible walls to block your way. Invisible walls should be used to keep games scenic and create the illusion of open space and not to demonstrate how little space we actually have. Most modern shooters seem to have forgotten this. Not being able to jump over something knee high is a prime example of a poorly placed invisible wall. That’s not bad design. That’s lazy design and clearly demonstrates the lack of control we have in shooters today.

 

level-design.gif

but I need objective markers!

Let me play the damn game!

Control, where has it gone? Everything had to be bigger and better. More action! More set pieces! This finally resulted in one scripted event after another cut scene continued with some on-rails shooting and another scripted event. Somewhere in between there’s a bit of game play hidden in which I can follow clearly marked objectives and hints towards my next cut scene or scripted event. I'm exaggerating a bit of course. But combine this with the current level design and there really isn't that much control left. Or trust for that matter.

Because modern shooters have a tendency to keep giving me hints on what to and where to go. If I choose not to listen, the environment will dictate me where to go and if I finally push on an cut scene or scripted event will eventually take over. When playing the latest Medal of Honor on the PC I could literally play with one hand even though it was on the hard difficulty setting. I was eating and just switched my left hand from keyboard to mouse and actually played quite a bit that way. How’s that for a challenge? Of course it helped that there was a ‘breach’ moment every couple of minutes in which you could only use the mouse in the first place.

 

quicktime-event.jpg

potato masher simulator

The Downward Spiral

It looks like we're slowly moving towards on-rail shooters. Which is not exaggerating considering there's regenerating health, no exploration, and a cut scene/scripted event every 5 minutes or so. There is no challenge in that. With games becoming more and more mainstream, everything is dumbed down and aimed towards the casual player. I have nothing against casual players and this surely isn't their fault. It’s the target audience for companies because that’s where the money is. Tailoring games to people with little to no skill or knowledge might be smart business, but it’s bad for the fans.

A franchise like Halo, regardless whether you like it or not, clearly shows you can have a great shooter in rather open environments, with diverse game play and good AI that actually presents a challenge to the players, while still doing well in sales. Activision has enough capital to do the same but it seems to choose to milk every last drop of the current concept until we’re presented with an on-rail shooter in which you can only move the crosshair and push the trigger. The sad part is that a lot of companies are following that trend and gamers keep buying it.

 

halo-4.jpg

shut up and take my money

Brighter Future

Luckily, things are changing. Far Cry 3 already demonstrated that you can have open-world game play while still maintaining a linear and cinematic experience . Something the Stalker series did years before, although far less cinematic of course. Combining RPG elements with a shooter has proven to be very successful and enjoyable. Games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution offer a completely different experience than what a hardcore shooter used to be. Different experiences are exactly what the nearby future is going to bring us. The next generation of consoles is around the corner and we are seeing some interesting developments.

The biggest change is the fading line between single-player and multi player. Titanfall, by injecting a plot, character chatter and non-player characters into its matches, is already a rather unique experience. Bungie even tops that with Destiny, the first shared world shooter. Plus, great developers like DICE are listening to the critique on Battlefields 3's campaign and are also looking to bring multi player elements into Battlefield’s 4 campaign. They want to give players the freedom to choose and that’s exactly what most modern shooters are sorely lacking and what we need.

Let’s hope we’ll see this trend continue and perhaps people will eventually speak with their wallet to command and further power this change.

 

destiny.jpg

master of my fate

What do you think about where first-person shooters are going? Leave your thoughts below!



Sign in to follow this  
Sign in to follow this  


User Feedback

Recommended Comments

I honestly don't think COD is to blame so much as Half-Life and  Medal of Honor which had kicked off the linear scripted level design equation. That being said there have been plenty of open or large world games. They haven't disappeared. They just aren't as popular and hence there aren't quite so many. In 2004 the top single player shooters of the year were Half Life 2, Doom 3, and Far Cry. Mind you this is before COD even exploded with COD4 (UO had just come out). This year so far on the open level design side we got Crysis 3, Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon, Bioshock Infinite and Dead Island: Riptide. The only thing that really disappoints me about that list is their are no new IP's on it.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Good article, whilst it isn't by any means a bad thing to have a linear FPS, the "on-the-rails" ride takes away from the experience for all the reasons stated above.
 

That’s not bad design. That’s lazy design

 
It's both! There usually has to be a way of blocking the player from being able to go anywhere but invisible walls are unforgivable! It doesn't take much imagination to produce artificial barriers to block off access to places... a load of rubble/debris, vehicles, a big fallen tree... Hell what's wrong with an actual wall?!

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I honestly don't think COD is to blame so much as Half-Life and  Medal of Honor which had kicked off the linear scripted level design equation. That being said there have been plenty of open or large world games. They haven't disappeared. They just aren't as popular and hence there aren't quite so many. In 2004 the top single player shooters of the year were Half Life 2, Doom 3, and Far Cry. Mind you this is before COD even exploded with COD4 (UO had just come out). This year so far on the open level design side we got Crysis 3, Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon, Bioshock Infinite and Dead Island: Riptide. The only thing that really disappoints me about that list is their are no new IP's on it.

 

 

Not sure how to respond to that without sounding defensive because your implying things I haven't said (like that open games disappeared for instance) :)

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Totally not to plug anything here, but that's why we were so eager to get out Rise of the Triad 2013 - To bring back the old school design and move away from prseudo-on-rails shooters.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I like linear FPS games. I like open world games...in 1st or 3rd person. I like games that are 6 to 8 thrill rides with lots of scripted events. I like 40 hour RPG-esque non linear shooting experiences.

I have no problem with other games trying to be linear scripted as long as what they are scripting is really good and that linear path is actually interesting, uses 3D space well. I really like how the HL games, while basically very linear, had you often revisit old areas from different perspectives.

Linearity, done right, is excellent. Linearity, done wrong, is boring.

Openness, done right, is excellent. Openness, done wrong, is tedious and frustrating.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Pretty thoughtful analysis of all the specific reasons the Call of Duty series has taken a left turn into blahville, boring boring boring. I think you nailed the way that simple design decisions taken to an extreme created a domino effect of really bad gameplay.

 

Great article and even greater response, props on that viewcount yo!

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not sure how to respond to that without sounding defensive because your implying things I haven't said (like that open games disappeared for instance) :)

 

It seemed to me the article was implying that COD's popularity was hindering level design in main stream games. Maybe I got the wrong vibe and that wasn't your intent but that's just how it struck me.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Pretty thoughtful analysis of all the specific reasons the Call of Duty series has taken a left turn into blahville, boring boring boring. I think you nailed the way that simple design decisions taken to an extreme created a domino effect of really bad gameplay.

 

Great article and even greater response, props on that viewcount yo!

 

Thank you very much!

 

 

Not sure how to respond to that without sounding defensive because your implying things I haven't said (like that open games disappeared for instance) :)

 

It seemed to me the article was implying that COD's popularity was hindering level design in main stream games. Maybe I got the wrong vibe and that wasn't your intent but that's just how it struck me.

 

 

Fair enough!

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is a pretty insightful article, I'd add these observations:

 

I definitely feel like the COD franchise is showing how "Too much of a good thing," ultimately leads to bad places. Game experiences today are crafted with much more attention to detail than in the past, the unfortunate consequence of this being the tendency mentioned in the article to cater to the lowest common denominator demographic (or at least, whatever that is perceived to be).

 

The thing about the Call of Duty experience is that the singleplayer component of a COD game is in many ways only tangentially relevant to the core audience which purchases COD primarily for the multiplayer/competitive component. Whether COD is too simplified and on-rails is a side issue because the popularity of the franchise as a multiplayer game drives its further success. The COD series' more recent entries are a great example of how to draw the wrong conclusions from a limited set of data, pushing the series singleplayer component into the realm of humorless self-parody and poor design.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm not sure, but that direction (the COD effect) could be related to poor AI and oversimplified physics. Let's pick up doom as an example, the enemies pretty much only track player and attack him straigh. In F.E.A.R. enemies could take advantage of level design to surprise the player. In modern COD... scripted sequence dictates the "movie feel". I suppose that the enemy could have an intelligent AI capable of changing the course of things, but that is either too heavy in current hardware or too hard / too expensive to program.

Life regen, or should I say "Rambo effect" :D. Don't know what to say. Maybe they are focusing on "fast food, consumer tactics", in contrast to "take your time, experience".

Doom was single floor, no ramps up or down. F.E.A.R. had realistic level design but limited to closed encounters. If I think about something along the lines "AI blocks the player's path by using different objects available in the map. The player, in turn, drives a truck to break through a barricade built on the fly by the AI". It's complicated. Building a linear sequence of events, with optional two way paths along the way, sounds much easier for me. And, easier to not get lost in an open environment too. A good example of a balance between non linear and linear leveldesign is Jedi Knight II, no invisible walls out of nowhere :)

Discussing AI, physics and leveldesign a bit further, comes how hard the game is meant to be. Doom was pretty much straigh, game is harder by spawning more enemies. In modern game such as COD, an AI that reacts to everything and can come up with tactics on the fly sounds unfesiable. Outnumbering the player as in doom, boring. Level design as in F.E.A.R., a way to go. Adding physics (destructible environments, fluids) to the equation, challenging, both in concept and in hardware.

Quicktime events. I suppose there is still a big challenge to have not only natural motion but natural motion combined with brains. Or they could be just a way to force to player to see things as the original author meant them to be; no plan B.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Two more things, rather subjective to say, that I think affect leveldesign: one, the graphics curve of games going up; two, the time a player spends in the single player campaign.

With the graphics bar being pushed towards photorealism, the associated costs to produce high quality assets raise. One way to compensate for that would be by effectively reducing the game world "openness". It's a trade off, higher quality assets vs narrower world. Increased asset's complexity demands more work in optimizing both workflows and the engines.

The second thing: time spent playing the campaign. Short campaigns means that there is less time to explore. The player himself doesn't have time or doesn't wan't to explore side areas.
 

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites


Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now


×