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Written by William Jeffery

Change of Plans!

I haven’t posted on here in quite a while…. I had planned on updating this blog at least once a month after graduation. But then again, I had plenty of different plans back then. I had planned on finding a job in the gaming industry, planned on moving out of Michigan, planned on settling down somewhere with a new career and a fresh start.

Welp. Sometimes plans change. You don’t always have control over what happens in your life; sometimes you have to just go with the flow.

But for me, going with the flow has been a bit difficult. I like to have things in order. Organized. I like to have a game-plan and stick to it. But sometimes… monkey wrenches are thrown. Meddling kids and a dumb dog come along. Servers crash. Shit happens.

But change can be good right?

It certainly can. Just doesn’t always appear that way from the start.

 


 

So after multiple revisions and far too much time spent deliberating and articulating, I decided to give a tl;dr (look it up) version of the story.

Change of plans. I’m back at Michigan State University! For Grad School. Surprise!

I’m surrounded by good friends, family, and a fantastic faculty here at Sparty. They’ve been incredibly supportive of my new adventure here, without them I wouldn’t even have this opportunity to return to MSU.

I’ll be sure to detail some of these new adventures in the upcoming months, as I’m a part of quite a few interesting projects.

The Dreaded Back-Log of Games…

For the past few weeks I’ve done something I haven’t gotten to do in quite a while, sit down and play some video games.

 

Sometimes, when you’re engrossed in your own game design projects (or completing your degree), you aren’t afforded the luxury of free time. We spend countless hours working on our own projects. We look into every detail and facet of our gameplay, striving to make it better and more efficient. This means breaking it all down, studying mechanics, crunching numbers, taking a real in-depth look at the project. At the end of the day, you may want a break from games… you know, to help clear the mind. And if you do have the urge to play, you just might not have the time.

 

Recently, I started losing a bit of the passion I had when I first started making games. I was getting burnt out. When you spend all of your time working on your own projects and managing others, you may forget why you got into game design in the first place. It can become mostly work and no play, a bit of irony when you’re working with games. That had to change, and quick.

 

I had just finished up my time working at Michigan State and found myself at the start of winter vacation. I had all of the time in the world to relax over break. And just in time for the holidays, my favorite sale started, the Steam Winter Sale. I think my bank account shivers whenever I mention that phrase. I’ve already accumulated far too many games from previous Steam Sales… my dreaded back-log of games has been growing for years. It includes games that I was interested in playing but just didn’t have the time to start / finish, games that were just too cheap to pass up (I’m looking at you Braid, Hotline Miami and Just Cause 2), and those big AAA titles at heavy discounts. So with a ton of uncompleted games in my Library and ample time to complete them, I did just that.

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There is more where that came from…

 

I played the hell out of Far Cry 3, the first single player first person shooter I’ve played through in years. I was totally immersed in the game, a feeling I haven’t had in quite a while. The story, the atmosphere, the progression… everything was awesome. At one point I’d like to dive further into the game and write about the mechanics and progression of open world tactical shooters, but I’ll save that for another time. I ended up fighting the urge to 100% the game, and decided to move on and complete some more titles.

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“Did I ever tell you what the definition of insanity is?”

 

I snuck my way through Mark of the Ninja, dug myself into Terraria, beheaded traitors in Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, and did my fair share of team-killing in Magicka.

 

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This game is awesome, it’s like Splinter Cell meets Super Meat Boy, with Ninjas.

 

In the evenings I would play Awesomenauts with friends, and made some time for a few rounds of Black Ops 2 and Worms Revolution. Don’t forget about a couple hours of Hotline Miami and Braid, as well as diving right into the gritty Max Payne 3.

 

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This game is really violent.

 

After spending more time than I’d like to admit playing through these games the past few weeks… I have to say, I’m excited about game development again! I needed that break to get myself back into gaming. There are so many great titles out there produced by excellent individuals and companies. With tons of creative and innovative concepts to play around with, wonderful stories to get sucked into, and an abundance of mayhem to produce, we need to pick up our controllers and get to work (play).

 

So if you’re feeling a bit burnt out, take a break, crack open your own dreaded back-log  of games and have some fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Person Shooters: What’s in it for me?

So in an effort to keep this new blog updated (maybe every week or two) I’m going to put my best foot forward and try to hit the ground running. Not sure how well two foot-related metaphors work together, but we’re going to go with it anyway.

I’ve been playing First Person Shooters for a long time, starting way back with Wolfenstein 3D and later on with America’s Army for the online multiplayer. I also had my console FPS phase, playing hundreds of hours of Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, and spending some time on Xbox Live with Halo 2 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. First Person Shooters are a genre I thoroughly enjoy. Before you get the wrong idea and start avoiding eye contact with me, it isn’t about the violence. It’s about the strategy and overall control you have over yourself, your weapon, and how your survival largely depends on your individual skill.

Now this entry isn’t going to be about the games I’ve played over the years and what I liked about them, that’s been done to death. Instead, I want to dive into some of the reasons why we play First Person Shooters, more specifically, what drives us to play again and again. I’ve played a large number of shooters over the years, and I’ve noticed different reasons to keep coming back and booting up games time and time again. The first game I want to look at is a Half Life modification, a game created by the modding community and delivered for free to the loyal Half Life fans.

The first Half Life mod I played extensively was a little game called “The Specialists”. Basically this game was a built around pure “Deathmatch” mechanics where players were pitted against each other to get as many kills as possible. The Specialists was heavily influenced by the movie “The Matrix”, including concepts like bullet time, stunt dives, massive kung-fu fights, becoming “The One”, and even a map modeled after the Lobby scene from the film.  The Specialists was a great game to play both alone and with a group of friends. It didn’t include any leveling systems, experience rewards or character upgrades; it was centered on the pure enjoyment of the mechanics. Dive off a ledge, slow down time, shoot two bad guys in the face, pick up their weapons and wall jump up to another building. Sound awesome? Yeah, it was. The reward in the Specialists was the enjoyment of the gameplay, getting to the top of the scoreboard and pulling off the best stunts and kills. Having other players fear you when you joined a server, that was the reward. I played this game for years, and my enjoyment of it never faltered. I didn’t need a reward system, a level attached to my character or weapon unlocks to keep me coming back for more. I was addicted to the gameplay, not a reward system. Would a game like The Specialists thrive today? I’m not entirely sure.

The Specialists Gameplay

The reward system is a more modern / recent addition to FPS’s, in some respects. Older games that I’ve played had stat tracking and real basic rewards… like the “honor system” in America’s Army. You know, numbers attached to your name that didn’t really make much of a difference to the gameplay, they just added some prestige to your account (showed how little of a life you had). I might be slightly encouraged to play to get that number higher, but generally I was drawn to the game for the gameplay itself, playing was the reward. I don’t really consider things like kill/death ratios and level systems a reward, not when compared to what is included in more modern games.

America’s Army Honor System

 

Speaking of modern games, I’ve been playing a lot of Call of Duty Black Ops 2 recently. Before you close out of my blog immediately, hear me out. The game is actually good. Yeah, I said it. Try to look past the AAA title and the fact that every year brings us a new Call of Duty game, this one is actually an enjoyable and well-crafted experience when it comes to online multiplayer. One of the reasons it’s well-crafted, at least in my opinion, is that it doesn’t rely completely on a reward system to keep bringing players back; it builds upon the foundation of solid gameplay. Playing a round of Kill Confirmed or Domination is an enjoyable experience at early levels with limited load outs as well as late levels with more weapons and skills unlocked; the gameplay is made to be enjoyable throughout the entire experience. The rewards just help the player come back, knowing that next level unlocks a perk you can’t wait to use, or in two levels a new weapon will be at your fingertips. Most modern shooters that I’ve played or that I see advertised have adopted this type of reward system, a system that is attempting to reward the player with the feeling of progression, a return on their investment of time if you will. Personally, I think it’s a great idea to reward players to keep them coming back, but have we been spoiled by these systems? When we play games without these rewards, games like “The Specialists”, do we enjoy them as much? Do we get as invested, do we spend nearly as much time playing these games as more modern titles with rewards? I’m not so sure anymore, and I may have a good example as to why…

 

Black Ops 2 Class Customization

 

A game called “Natural Selection 2” came out somewhat recently, an Indie title that managed to finally come to market after a roller-coaster ride of development. NS2 is the sequel to the original Half-Life mod Natural Selection, a game where Aliens and Marines battle each other in a genre crossover between FPS and RTS. It’s an excellent game, an interesting and unique experience with an incredibly high skill cap that rewards players who put in the time and dedication to learn the ropes. But one thing the game doesn’t have is a modern reward system. NS2 is modeled after the games of old, like its predecessor Natural Selection-original flavor. Now this doesn’t mean that NS2 isn’t enjoyable, quite the contrary. It’s just a different type of enjoyment, a different reward than what modern titles bring to the table. I started realizing this after a late night of playing NS2 with a good friend of mine.

We had started off as marines and operated as a two-man unit. We slowly made our way through dimly lit hallways with assault rifles drawn, ready to take out any alien in our path as we tried to find resources for our commander. With precision fire and good communication (and an assload of luck most likely) we were unstoppable. After taking out 10 aliens a piece and controlling an important resource quadrant, we felt like an integral part of the team. The rest of the 50 minute round was filled with highs and lows, tense moments where our individual contributions swayed the tide of battle. One more death could have spelt disaster for our team, but we held the frontlines and overcame the alien scourge! Ahem. It was a hard fought and hard earned victory, a victory that took almost an entire hour to accomplish. At that very moment there was a large feeling of accomplishment, a feeling of pride and reward that came along with our names at the top of the score sheet. We knew that our contributions lead our team to victory. It was a feeling greater than those I receive when playing and winning rounds of Black Ops 2. But then something happened… a new round started. The server loaded a new level, and there we were as lowly grunts at the bottom of the score sheet with nothing to show for our efforts in a previous battle.

 

Natural Selection 2 Gameplay

 

At that moment I knew I had been spoiled by more modern games. I knew that 5, maybe 6 years ago this would have been just fine. But because of games like Call of Duty and Borderlands, I wanted a reward. I wanted character progression; I wanted some sort of unlock… character experience… a new shiny and more powerful weapon! A return on my investment of time and energy. Does this make me a bad gamer? I don’t know, maybe. But I’ve been trained by these modern games to play a certain way, I’ve grown accustomed to this new structure and it’s difficult to go back. This feeling made me wonder if a game like Natural Selection 2 should include some character progression. Should it become a bit more modern with its structure, should it reward players to keep playing? The answer is a definite maybe. The community seems to be a bit split too; there are purists on the forums that believe the game is perfect as is. On the other hand, there are newer players that love the game but are left wanting more, they need more reasons to come back. Neither group is wrong per se, both have valid points.

As a game designer, these are some of the things I like to think about. I tend to design my games around purely fun mechanics, focusing mostly on gameplay above all else. But I also know that I need players to keep coming back. In order to draw them in for another gaming session, I might need to rely on a little bit more than an enjoyable experience.

I’d love to hear other opinions though, what do you think about the state of modern shooters? Do you think we’ve been spoiled by rewards in games? Are we just bratty little children waiting for a handout, or are their legitimate (and psychological) reasons to change the way we design games and enhance replay-ability?

 

Work in Progress…

I figured it was about time to update my portfolio, you know, from the land of mediocre wordpress to the vast and expansive fields of web hosting and premium themes! Everything is still under construction, but hopefully I’ll finish it up in by the end of next week.

I’d like to start blogging again too, I suppose this is a great time to start!