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Game Design Tips For First Person Shooter Games

May 23, 2008
First person shooters (FPS) are one of the standard computer game genres. After the phenomenal success of Doom, many companies made attempts at this type of game. Today there are single player FPS games, multi-player combative FPS games, multi-player cooperative FPS games and all of the above come in both plot driven and straight combat forms. Some of the first person shooters are about problem solving, some are about stealth and some are about getting the BFG-9000 to create the highest body count possible.

The tasks of a game designer in this type of game are to figure out the direction the game will take, create the setting and increasingly create the tools to let players mod the game, adding their own content or even replacing everything but the game engine with an entirely different look and feel.

The game designer must wrestle with realism. This comes in two flavors. One is the type seen in America's Army, where the goal is to replicate reality well enough to serve as a recruiting and training tool. You can't carry a zillion weapons nor can you run across an open field at a hundred enemy soldiers and kill them with impunity. The other is basically an attempt to do the slasher genre of the movies, only more so. Blood and flesh fly from bodies with each impact, leaving stains on the walls and floors. Bullet holes are stitched into the walls and drums explode when hit. It is the latter form of realism that gets the most complaints.

There are critics that attempt to link FPS games with murder, and just about any very violent action will be examined for a computer game link. Dealing with those sorts of challenges is for lawyers and scientists, rather than game designers. The game design end of the issue is to know why you are designing to serve a specific market. If the game is intended to appeal to adults who like black comedy about gruesome death, blood and flesh is likely to be needed. If you are producing a game about hunting cartoon creatures, it would be wrong.

The game designer must determine the goals of the game. Some are puzzles, where the player attempts to learn enough to solve some mystery. Some are tactical games in which battledrills are selected, practiced and used as needed. Others are about obtaining some MacGuffin.

A growing feature in FPS games in interactivity. The classic examples of the genre featured a single player who would do everything, with computer-controlled foes. Later games provided multiplayer modes where the humans fought against each other. Then it became possible to cooperate in team play, and still later reasonable computer controlled allies were available for a player to lead and influence. Now it is normal for a first person shooter to be built around online play in at least some form, with many games providing support for both single humans to play with the computer and multiplayer online games.

In many ways the FPG game designer faces one of the more difficult challenges. That's because they need to be able to take a genre with so many stereotypes and so much public opposition, and create something unique that stands out and gets noticed in the marketplace.
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