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Luke Bergeron, Blogger

January 23, 2010

9 Min Read

FPS (First Person Shooter) games are getting tired. The entire genre is tired, even the more innovative games. The formula has remained mostly unchanged for years, and although they are still fun, it’s time get some real innovation going. Sure, we’ve had a little innovation in the category: Left 4 Dead, Battlefield 1942, Team Fortress, and some others. I don’t want to get too caught up with talking about old games, or even justifying why I think the FPS genre is tired. There are just so many games in the space that I feel the market can support more innovation than is currently out there. Now, like I always say, I have little patience for the presentation of problems without the presentation of solutions, so I’d like to focus this post on how to breathe some new life into the FPS genre.
I believe that one way to revamp FPS is to include elements from Real-Time Strategy. There’s already a game out that tried to do this, called Raven Squad. Raven Squad attempts to blend some RTS elements, but it doesn’t do it right. It’s just too shallow.
Raven Squad puts players in control of soldiers in two squads. The game allows players to switch between the soldiers, and also switch between an overhead RTS view and a first person FPS view. However, what the game doesn’t seem to do is integrate the most important feature of RTS: base-building.
I know that some newer RTS games, like Dawn of War 2, have abandoned traditional RTS base-building and focused more on micromanagement of units. That’s fine – RTS needs innovation also, and I can see why removing base-building seems like a logical direction, especially as units get more complicated with individual abilities that must be triggered. That type of play doesn’t leave players much time to spend back at the base, queuing up space marines and building barracks.
However, when looking at how to combine RTS and FPS, base-building is necessary, and I’ll explain why. Team Fortress and Team Fortress 2, both FPS games, allow a limited amount of base-building with the Engineer class. Engineers can build gun turrets, medicine and ammo dispensers, and teleporters to get their teammates to the front lines faster. The play style is extremely rewarding, and popular among players who don’t enjoy the twitch gameplay FPS normally encourages. Playing an Engineer is all about setup, base-building, supporting your teammates with your structures.
So, unlike Raven Squad, I think that any type of FPS and RTS combination should adopt and expand the base-building gameplay style, similar to the TF2 Engineer class. So here’s my idea, detailed in what a typical gameplay session might look like:

I’ve been watching all the Starcraft 2 trailers and information lately, getting all hot and bothered about playing that game, so I’d like to use Starcraft as a way to talk about RTS. Since my idea is about combination, not RTS innovation, using an established game makes things easier to describe. So here we go:

Imagine linking up with your friends in a lobby and beginning a Starcraft game. I have three friends I usually game with: Justin, Shawn, and Jeremy, so I’m going to pretend I’m playing this theoretical game with them, just for the sake of explanation.
So, we meet up in a lobby, greet the other team, and begin the game, me and my three friends versus four other people. Once the game begins, instead of the usual RTS overhead view, my friends and I are inside individual “hero” units, looking out from the first person perspective. We’re all playing on the same team, say, as the Blue Terrans. We have weapons and can shoot them in true FPS style (none of that Fallout 3 RPG targeting nonsense).
Our team has shared resources, just as we would if we were playing an RTS and all controlling the same team. Since we’re using Starcraft as a model for this discussion, my imaginary team shares a pool of minerals and gas, just like in Starcraft.

Each member of my team has the ability to build buildings. If we have the minerals to build a building we want, all that’s required is one of us to select the building from a HUD menu, just like in an RTS, and place it somewhere, much like the Engineer places gun turrets and dispensers in Team Fortress 2. However, this system is much more advanced – all the buildings that can be built in Starcraft can be built here.

So, my three friends and I start a game. Justin and Jeremy decide to go scout the enemy’s base, while Shawn and I focus on base building. Shawn places our first building, the Command Center, and it begins to build. With the Command Center we will be able to build SCVs, the units we’ll need to harvest more gas and minerals. However, in hopes of getting us started faster, Shawn and I begin to harvest minerals ourselves, while we wait for the Command Center to build. We don’t have to do this, we could wait for the Command Center to finish and SCVs the build, but we want to get a jump on our enemies, and that means building a strong economy as fast as possible. So, we go to the minerals and harvest them, using a collection method similar to World of Warcraft’s: a progress bar that fills up, then the item joins our inventory.

Meanwhile, while Shawn and I are harvesting minerals and waiting for the Command Center to build, Jeremy and Justin have moved across the map and spotted the enemy base. The enemy is playing Terran also, but their color is red. Only three of the players are there. Justin and Jeremy assume that the fourth must be out scouting. All three players are furiously harvesting minerals, and not paying attention to what’s around them. Jeremy and Justin decide to have a little fun. Both pull out their weapons and start shooting up the camp. The three enemies respond by halting their mineral harvest and rushing out of their base to counterattack. Justin and Jeremy, caught in a two on three firefight, decide to slowly withdraw, firing the entire time. They don’t manage to kill any of the enemies, but they’ve helped our team by halting the enemy’s economy.
Back at the base, Justin and Jeremy show up just and the Command Center is finished. Shawn and I have harvested a decent amount of minerals in that time, enough for three SCVs and a Barracks. While those things build, Jeremy and Justin help Shawn and I harvest.

Once the SCVs are done, we set them to harvesting the minerals and begin to build a harvester platform over our gas mine. Controlling non-player units (NPUs) can be done in one of two ways:

a)    Using an in-game menu that brings up the typical RTS-view for the player. However, this should seem as immersive as possible, so it should be done almost like the Pip-boy in Fallout 3, the player in the game brings up a menu that is built into his wrist, or equipment somehow, rather than just a HUD (Head’s Up Display). The menu allows the player to direct NPUs to their tasks.

b)    Directly interacting with the NPU by engaging in some sort of conversation with it. This means physical proximity. The player walks up to the unit and tells it to harvest minerals, much like in RTS, by clicking on the unit and then clicking on the minerals. This would simply take place from a FPS view, instead of an RTS view. Of course, line of sight of the NPU and the objective would be required for this method.

I’m not sure which way would be more fun, but there’s no reason why both can’t be implemented. However, if using option A, physical proximity should still be required, simply to balance the methods.

Once the SCVs are harvesting both gas and minerals, the barracks is also ready. We’re set to start building our first combat units, Space Marines. Now, combat units can be handled in several different ways:

They can use FPS style squad mechanics, must like Tom Clancy-style FPS games, giving the combat NPUs commands like FOLLOW ME, HOLD THIS POSTION, ATTACK, and so on. That’s one option.

Another option is to use the RTS map built into the player’s gear. However, this option would be cumbersome in a firefight, so I don’t like it, unless it could be accessed fast, and without much disorientation as the player switched menus. The user interface needs to be good to make this type of game work – that’s a point I can’t stress enough.

A third option is a DOTA style attack mode. DOTA is a Warcraft 3 map. In it, NPUs (called “creep” in that game) are continuously sent at enemy bases, in a continuous stream. I don’t think the FPSSt should provide a continuous stream of enemies, but, but it could provide a pathing between bases that was similar. It would work like this: once a combat NPU was built, players could send it to ATTACK. Then NPU would now follow a path to the enemy base and attack. Players could join the attack if they wished. I like this method for simplicity’s sake. I also like that it allows a 4-player team to focus entirely on base-building if they so choose, but I don’t like that it nullifies most of the micromanagement tactics that make RTS good, since running blindly to an enemy base and attacking would probably just get the NPU killed without doing any damage.

As the game goes on we continue to build structures, contribute to the battle by commanding units and fighting personally. Similar to Starcraft, building different types of structures allows us to create new units, upgrade units, and create new equipment. In the FPS RTS hybrid, building “store” structures should also allow the players (that’s me and my friends) to purchase equipment upgrades that allow us to remain powerful, both offensively and defensivly. These equipment upgrades can be equipped in a style similar to Warcraft 3 or World of Warcraft. Drops from enemy units are also a possibility.

As is RTS style, base-building and combat continue until the other team is eliminated, surrenders, or another objective is reached.

Anyway, so that’s the general idea of a good way to mix FPS and RTS. The most important thing to remember is that base-building is necessary component in order to mix the two genres effectively. That aspect cannot be overlooked.

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