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Making death fun: something Medal of Honor needs to fix for launch.

The average gamer playing competitive FPS games dies--a lot. So death has to be fun, informative, and skill-building. DICE, though, has a lot of room for improvement, especially since EA needs this to put a dent in Modern Warfare 2's market share.

Something the Modern Warfare series does right. Source.

The average gamer (myself included) playing competitive FPS games dies--a lot. So death has to be fun, informative, and contribute to skill building.

Frequent readers know I have no particular love for the Modern Warfare series, especially its current incarnation, when compared to games like DICE's Battlefield: Bad Company 2. That said, the absolute gold standard in accomplishing these items began with Call of Duty 4 and continued with Modern Warfare 2. The "killcam" featured above is an awesome way to teach new players the often steep curve of class-based multiplayer games. You just got hosed--how'd they do it? Sometimes, especially with the balancing issues that have occasionally plagued MW2, it's actually quite frustrating to see your death by a dual-wielded shotgun from 50+ yards, but normally I watch the full 5 second or so clip to learn what I did wrong and analyze the loadout of my competition.

The second game even ups the fun of death by adding "deathstreaks" to the reward formula. In a lobby full of experts and you're a n00b? Infinity Ward has your back with a few nice perks to make a bad day better--especially the 'copycat' perk, which allows you to steal the loadout that just smoked your a**.

Ragdoll physics done right. Source: Bungie.net.

 

Another way dying can be fun is totally over the top death animations. My particular favorite has been the Halo series, especially Halo 3. An otherwise balanced and realistic internally consistent sci-fi shooter, the totally over the top ways your character gets killed add some much needed humor to the frequent frustration of getting totally pwned by people who spend a ton of time with the game. I'm decent (on a previous Live account I reached 25/50 levels) but I still die-- a lot. And seeing a sweet animation that I can upload to my File Share makes that death a little less painful.

Always nice to see your killer's face. Photo: David Hughes.

Something a little closer to the point for a military FPS like Medal of Honor would be the way DICE itself conveys information with its Battlefield: Bad Company 2. It doesn't show how you died--which is one nice piece of info, but it does show who killed you, where they are on the map, and their current loadout. That's nice in and of itself, but then this screen pops up--which is easily one of my favorite features in BC2:

Now you can plot your revenge. Photo: David Hughes

BC2 has a very tactical aspect to its multiplayer, allowing you to choose (depending on the game mode) a general re-spawn area OR a re-spawn right on top (often quite literally) of a squad-mate's current position. This is a great way to analyze your loadoat (is it really the best for your current objective?) and see the battlefield from a bird's-eye perspective.

So far, from what I've seen in the Medal of Honor beta, DICE is trying to forge a hybrid between the two worlds. My first impressions talked about this somewhat, but let's focus in on the act of dying in MoH. Something which, if the beta is any indication, you will do a lot. The re-spawn timer is almost non-existent, but you get a class loadout selection screen similar (but absent the same detailed ability to choose spawn location we saw above) to BC2:

I can still plot my revenge, just not where it starts. Photo: David Hughes.

The problem is that death comes very quickly. In fact, health seems significantly less than BC2 and much less than MW2, making snipers and shotguns very overpowered right now. Also, death can be quite frustrating, because while you're told who killed you and with what weapon, all you really see is a very unexciting ragdoll animation of your character crumpling to the ground. Realistic, yes, but not terribly fun when you can easily rack up 15+ deaths in a match.

The best picture I could manage--it's over that quickly. Photo: David Hughes

Crumpling to the ground, and having fewer options to take revenge--not to mention having little clue where the attack came from--adds to realism, but it doesn't make the game terribly fun. This is a major weakness of the game as it stands and after sinking well over 5 days (and counting) into DICE's most recent product, I'm expecting a big improvement for launch.

There are two other problems with Medal of Honor that should be easy fixes and result from it being an unfinished code base rather than a design problem:

  • The timing of sound and the death animation very rarely lines up. Frequently I have either died before I heard the bullet impact that killed me (which is hard to miss when DICE has a really sweet screaming sound effect for sniper rounds) or I have died while shooting my weapon and the sound of my weapon firing continues for several seconds after death. This should be an easy fix.
  • The report of who your killer is and what weapon they used shown in the bottom right corner of the shot above doesn't always come up. Which makes my death totally uninformative for ascending the learning curve. I'm a little less confident about this being fixed, though, because it's something that crops up in BC2 with noticeable frequency.

The biggest problem, though, is the design. I know companies don't want to blatantly copy each other, but Medal of Honor is clearly lacking here against its main competitor. People who enjoy the tactical layout of BC2 will likely stay on, unless more modes are shown in the full game.EA and DICE are clearly gunning for Modern Warfare 2 with everything from sound and art design to their control layout, but they have a lot of catch up to do from beta to launch.

Played the beta? Add your thoughts below!

Haven't played the beta? Pre-order everywhere, including your local Gamestop today! The PS3 and PC betas were originally scheduled to run until the 18th. The Xbox 360 beta was delayed, and I haven't been able to ascertain whether it's live or still MIA. If you know, put it in the comments!

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