After years of experimentation of game play and game modes, we've found what does not work, and why.
Posted by ninjadave on Jul 26th, 2009
Game-modes are obviously an essential part of a game. No matter how clean cut a project looks, a faulty game-mode can send months of work crashing down. In the scale of things, the game-mode isn't a difficult thing to make. However, for us, it was a large struggle to get something worthwhile. Why? Well I'd like to explain exactly why.
First off, in the world of FPS games, doing something that stands out or doing it very well is what makes the project different. If a project fails at either of those, it gets washed away with a lot of look a-likes. We felt it was necessary to create something so out-of-the-box original or else the project would quickly die. I guess this is the fear of being normal. As we've learned, and many others as well, something new and original does not mean its better. We tried to be so completely different, that we ran into 'a lot' of game play issues. To be specific, we'd like to show you the original screen shots and our ideas as they've progressed:
Anyone remember when we first joined ModDB, this was our exact intentions. (I was clueless at how much work that was at the time). How it worked is a very simple. Players would gain experience from matches, a match being a large group of players being led by an RTS commander. Naturally everything was First-person. Hence the 'FPS'. Players simply shot each other up till one side ran out of points. The idea was pretty simple.
Overall, I was fairly happy with the design. We immediately worked at the FPS design and did some work on the RTS. No one wanted to start working on the RPG stats, because no one really knew how they would work.
An FPS is based towards skill, creating it more like an RPG means you'll have to rely on leveling up to be good. So even though its an FPS, you might need to go through hours of killing to start learning how to aim properly. (Iron sights were unlocked at level 7.) To avoid this, we decided to make the skills that could be leveled up 'not' accuracy, or any other skill that required...well. Skill. This way the player would level up other helpful attributes.
After it was all said and done, we realised a fancy exp system that levels up things not-related to skill was a waste of time. The things you would have levelling up were sprinting and reload speed. Which sounds nice, but overall, that's a waste of time for having to do so much stat and experience coding.
So we decided to take out the stats. We then started to plan some ideas we had for an RTS commander. The idea was to have a single player on each team become a commander using a UAV to fly in and order troops around.
We all felt this was something that would work, but we soon realized the RTS commander couldn't do a whole lot. At all. In fact, other than toss some smoke grenades to show an area in need of help, it was essentially useless.
So I wrote down every idea I could get to make the RTS commander very useful. The team liked some of the ideas, but felt we were making the commander too powerful. With the ability to call in Air-strikes, pin-pointed artillery strikes, drop in supplies, call in more troops, and way more, we suddenly felt we needed to hand more control over to the troops themselves.
This is something that could have easily succeeded but didn't. Overall we couldn't find a good balance for the RTS commander. Actually 'commanding' players was nearly useless because players won't always listen. All the artillery strikes and supply drops were tools given to select squad leaders because we felt the RTS commander would have difficulty helping all the troops at the same time.
If the commander can't command anything...why was he there? We didn't throw this idea away yet. The RTS commander idea lingered on until we could get a good use for it.
With RTS on the hold, we needed something original or at least different to make the game-play unique. (As said before, different isn't always better). So we came up with a sort of "Freeroaming" mode. Instead of simply shooting each other up, players could 'free-roam with their squads in a large area to explore and conquer their enemies. The dots on the map were 'points of interest' that needed to be captured to ensure your team wins.
We were very happy with this idea. TGEA was able to handle the large area and polys and there was plenty to explore.
It was during a play-testing match the mapper admitted walking around for hours was 'not' fun.
As the picture above shows: The little blue dot is my character, to scale, compared to the size of the map. Vehicle game-play was nowhere to be found because of certain level limitations. We scrapped the idea, and decided to make the maps smaller.
At this time, one of the team came up with a sort of map 'conquest' mode. The idea was to have a large map in which the commander would move groups of players to certain areas. If another group (On the opposing side) collided with them, they would fight in that area.
This idea could have potentially turned out very well. Ultimately one side had to just conquer more land to win.
This gets very complicated with why it failed, but generally its a logic issue. Why have the Conquest mode in the first place when the commander would charge the enemy anyways? There was no penalties or bonuses for map areas. (The idea interfered with the general rule about the project requiring skill, not bonuses, to win). We began to get into defense modifier areas, and while we ran into client/server issues, the fact remained the teams would rush almost every time.
We eventually made the map a string of maps, so instead of choosing an area it was more towards tug-of-war. This failed because, like tug-of-war, teams stay in the middle for a long time or one side entirely dominates.
This is around when we had a member on the team who insisted we have a survival game mode.
Where teams would try to survive against the onslaught of infested creatures to eventually win against the other team.
This basically is a good idea, and would have worked for many projects, but we ran into a problem.
'Survival' spelled 'camping'. In order to survive, teams had to stay put in a locked down area and kill waves of enemies.
We offered an incentive of items to pick up during the mission to keep players moving and interested. But who was interested in a med-pack when we had a medic class, and who wanted a energy boost when your character's energy refilled anyways?
We then turned towards making each team turn against each other, with the infested creatures sort of caught in the middle. Once again, this spelled out for teams to take shelter in a building and camp. Hoping the other team would die off first. Solutions and ideas began to rise, but we ran into more and more complications with the logic of it. This did, however, prove the infested were useful.
Around this time, a certain John Doe on our team told us our FPS needed a story. If you've read past articles, you'll know which John Doe I'm referring to. So I wrote up a neat idea of both teams having a separate storyline that would collide with the other team's storyline. For example, one team would try to capture a power plant, while the other team would try to defend it, and the objectives would change depending on if a certain team would win or lose the objective.
It doesn't take a genius to realize the immense amount of mission areas and very precise map planning was needed. Not to mention several storyline characters and quite a lot of dialogue.
It sounds great on paper, but is awful when it really gets to it.
This idea lasted only for a short while, and the only example I could find that is remotely similar was the original Episode 1 concept.
This was an interesting idea. We decided to go with a co-op approach with storyline elements. Unlike our previous idea (co-op counter-op), this was centralized objectives that were more like tug-of-war.
Only, as we learned before, instead of being able to fight over the same area for a long time, once an objective was taken, it could not be take back. The biggest change was it was no longer team versus team, it was simply one team versus NPC characters.
In many respects, this didn't "fail" like previous ideas. The problem was a storyline is a lot of work.
With main characters, dialogue, enemy NPCs, Sequence scripts... All this for a single map and for about 15 minutes of game-play.
This is were the fear of being normal came in. We couldn't accept a simple storyline with players simply killing AI. We had an urge to be out of the box original with a deep storyline and twisting plot elements.
In retrospect, many of these game modes could have easily worked. All it would have took was some refining and re-thinking to get any of them working. The worst part is, if we stuck to something like classic team deathmatch, we could have a release years ago. The "fear of the normal", or that is generic, really hit us time and time again.
Very recently me and the mapper, Warlord_evil, had a long discussion about game modes. For hours we talked about previous ideas and finally came upon an idea we think might actually work. Honestly, it sounds silly to describe it. So instead, I feel its better if everyone just play it, before its even shown.
I have to apologize for the lack of updates, and the deleting of all the old screen shots. We plan to add some brand new ones in as soon as the mapper finishes the look of the map, and we also plan to have something very neat soon enough as well. With that said, we've moved onto Plan 8. I hope I can write an article about how it succeeded.
Thanks for reading!