Report article RSS Feed Dev Blog #3 - A History of Game-Play

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.

Old level 7 sight view - Crimson Crow 0.5

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.

Why it failed:

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.

Plan 2: RTS-FPS

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.

Old RTS view - Crimson Crow 0.5

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.

Why it failed:

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.

Plan 3: Freeroaming

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.

Over-view of the Chicago map to get a rough idea of how the system would work

We were very happy with this idea. TGEA was able to handle the large area and polys and there was plenty to explore.

Why it failed:

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.

Plan 4: "Conquest" Mode

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.

The "Conquest" idea displayed. Crimson Crow is based is a much more fictionalized version of Earth, but the US made for a great example on different climates and map areas. Each square being a map area.

This idea could have potentially turned out very well. Ultimately one side had to just conquer more land to win.

Why it failed:

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.

Plan 5: Survival

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.

Player sneaking about - Crimson Crow 0.6

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.

Why it failed:

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.

Plan 6: Co-op Counter-op

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.

Original storyline map - Older concept by Ninjadave

Why it failed:

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.

Plan 7: Co-op

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.

Example map - Crimson Crow 0.8

Why it failed:

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!

Scene from the 8th comic of the Crimson Crow series

Post comment Comments
enablerbr Jul 27 2009, 2:33am says:

i think your idea of mixing FPS and RPG can work. the game Borderlines is taking, what i think is, the correct approach. you keep the normal FPS skill twitch action gameplay. so if the player aims and shoots say a headshot. they get the credit for that. for the RPG part of the relationship. you make the damage dealt by the weapon based on RPG skill for that class of weapon. so inorder to do more damage with a rifle. you need to put more points into a rifle skill.

same RPG elements can be used to determine how much damage a player takes when hit. give the player resist skills. you can also make it so player needs points in a class of armor in order to get better protection from using it.

plus you can still have the standard points for health, speed, strength etc. so FPS/RPG is possible.

+2 votes     reply to comment
Dragonlord Jul 27 2009, 11:18am replied:

Another example is PoA ( Plan of Attack ). The RPG system is rather simple basing solely on experience points and levels with each level improving things like accuracy, damage resistance or running speed. Simple but effective.

+1 vote     reply to comment
ninjadave Jul 27 2009, 12:20pm replied:

Honestly, either one of those options could have worked.

Gun damage an damage resistance didn't go into the stat system since guns and armor were unlocked over time. In fact, they were purchased. (Rough buying system)
To make buying a new weapon worthwhile, we stepped away from making gun damage and resistance included in the stat system.

We considered accuracy, recoil, and even reload speed as stats that were affected by progressing, but once again we felt this should be more skill based than stat based.

Another large contributing factor was the ability system. Unlocking certain abilities (Iron sights, cover system, dual wielding) put a large spike on how much more powerful players could get as they progressed.

If we re-geared it, we could easily make the system work. It was just simple 'noobish' mistakes that ultimately killed the idea.

+2 votes     reply to comment
Herr_Alien Jul 27 2009, 3:20am says:

For all it's worth, I admire your persistence. You experienced a lot of approaches, and didn't givr up. It will pay off at one point. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you guys!

+3 votes     reply to comment
holyknight Jul 27 2009, 4:30am says:

I'm just glad you didn't just give up the whole project when so many projects failed.

+3 votes     reply to comment
rebel28 Jul 27 2009, 7:01am says:

About the RTS Commander, in Battlefield 2 the commander can call in Airstrikes and Supplies. That's the advantage of joining the game first.

0 votes     reply to comment
ninjadave Jul 27 2009, 11:56am replied:

Unfortunately most BF2 games I played, the power to do so was often abused. I usually saw the commander calling in supply drops for himself and using artillery to take out a single sniper that was bothering him.

Of course this situation is a little bit different, but I'm just trying to make a point.

Thats why we insisted on giving more power to the players so that a team can still win. With or without the help of the RTS commander.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Highmist Jul 29 2009, 9:03am replied:

You could always limit the commander to call in air-strikes and arty until someone requests, but that might take some scripting.

+1 vote     reply to comment
ninjadave Aug 1 2009, 12:44am replied:

I'm the coder! Scripting is what I do.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Kyogreex Jul 27 2009, 10:22am says:

It is interesting to see what experiences your team has had. Most teams generally get an idea and stick with it; by experimenting, you have had the opportunity to see what options are out there and why it might not work (I'm sure some of it could work, but only after a great deal of extra work that would not be worth the end result, as you indicated in the part about all of the co-op work for just 15 minutes of gameplay).

Good luck; I hope your team can finish this without too many more hurdles.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Cjslayer16 Jul 27 2009, 1:14pm says:

when you say about how players were always just bunking up in some hole somewheres when the creatures were out and about you ahve to think about all play styles theres always players that say comon team lets get out there and kick some monster *** :) me being one of those players if you guys had it so that the creatures were poping outta nowheres soetimes to offer thrills that coulda be awsome gameplay,

Just a thought Good luck with ideas anyways guys! dont give up get a good story going and make it great :)

+1 vote     reply to comment
ninjadave Jul 27 2009, 1:36pm replied:

Your right, we didn't take into account those certain players that rush out and fight stuff.
In our play-tests, we usually only have 2-3 devs at a time, so hiding was one of the best options.
But on that note, we never mentioned how many infested or how powerful these infested actually are. (Old tests and old model in TGE, 25-40 FPS)

I don't want to tease at anything, but I personally have a lot of plans for the Infested.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Cjslayer16 Jul 28 2009, 9:30pm replied:

Good I Love creepy alien mutated creatures :) no matter how strong the stronger they are the bigger the rush :) also the faster the jump outta nowheres and scare the crap out of you the bigger the rush :) anyone that does what I do knows whati mean :)

+1 vote     reply to comment
enablerbr Jul 27 2009, 2:13pm says:

i guess game mode /game play descision comes down to what type of gamer your trying to attract. once you know who you want playing. focus on creating an original flavour of that game mode.

i think if you try to include various types of gamer. the experience gets either watereddown or complicated to impliment.

+1 vote     reply to comment
SgtBox Jul 27 2009, 2:33pm says:

Wow I just read all that. I know how stuff is when your trying to make a game. I am a one man team working on projects that I have. People who play games don't actually know all the hard work that goes in them. All the game modes\types you listed up there seem like good ideas but hard work I know. About the leveling system I think it could still work if you go about the right way in doing it. There is simple ways about making complex things. I'm tracking this looks like it will great when it comes out!

+1 vote     reply to comment
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