Headshot! Or, Why FPS PvP MMOs are a Bad Idea

| Monday, June 18, 2012
As I pointed out last week, my new header is a modified wallpaper from Stalker.  Because they're awesome (the game and the wallpaper, but this post is based on the game). It's an FPS, but with RPG elements such as currency, inventory, and quests, as well as taking place in a mostly open world. FPS + RPG = Awesome game.

I also think it could be a blast to play with friends. The game generates AI teams which do, approximately, what players would do: explore, search for artifacts, loot, fight bandits and mutants, and run for their lives when the Daily Everything Dies event is coming. Best daily quest ever. It's a world already designed for groups to exist, so being able to bring in friends seems like the logical next step.

Just as long as we cannot shoot each other.

I'm not suggesting that there should be no friendly fire. It's part of the challenge, when mutant dogs are darting around, to track them without hitting friendlies. But players should not be the enemy.

We've all had it happen, or at least are familiar enough that I can pretend: you're at some small level running around when seemingly out of nowhere you die. Maybe it was a rogue stealthed, a hunter far away, or a warrior whose charge-swing came so fast that you couldn't register what had happened. Whatever the specifics, the same general event happened: a much higher-level player killed you instantly, with no chance to retaliate. It's an annoying side-effect on level-based MMOs with PvP, but little more than that because it is a temporary state: merely leveling up will fix it (though gear imbalances continue the problem, those are for another day).

Imagine if that was instead the standard form of interaction. In Stalker I might take down a team of enemies in a few seconds, at long range. At the least, it would be trivial to take down one and fall back, untouched. Obviously this is fun for me, but is it any fun for other players? We don't like losing, but this is beyond losing, this is essentially random death, which you cannot out-level or out-gear. At best you can become incredibly paranoid or refuse to leave any safe areas. Not much fun.

The RPG solution is to allow you to out-level and out-gear it, so that you react to the bullets in the FPS the same way you'd react to a hunter's auto-shot, by taking damage, but almost certainly not being instantly dead. Now the sniper is trying to pull off a dozen headshots to kill someone. Now he's just wandering into a 3v1 with a minor advantage from getting the first attack, but he's not all that much better off than if he'd just wandered right up to them. All his careful sneaky hunting is a waste of time.

At least for me, part of the appeal of FPS games is the feedback. Shoot, kill. No miss table, no wondering if the enemy will survive because of armor. When a bullet hits you in the head, you die. Or more accurately, they die (from the bullet in their head). The carefully aimed first shot can be the only shot, a reward for being careful and sneaky. This is also why most FPS don't appeal to me, because so often you can put a full clip into someone's chest and they don't die, turning it into a weird punching match. TF2 is the exception because it makes no pretense of reality, embracing the absurdity of it all.

Maybe the S is the problem, and rather than First Person Shooter it should be First Person Speller, where you say words at enemies and if they can't spell them fast enough they die.  Sorry, I guess I should have gone with the less ambiguous First Person Sorcerer, where you throw spells at people's heads.  In this case, a perfectly-plausible "a wizard, that is to say, your character, did it" explanation can explain why a magic bolt to the head isn't deadly.  It may even offer more variation.  Frost magic to the feet slows their movement, to the arms slows their attack, chest slows their breathing so they get tired faster, and to the head slows their casting because of a terrible brain freeze, but without delicious ice cream.  Healing or counter-spells could require similar targeting, so a fireball into the skull of your friend isn't going to do him any good, but into his frozen legs it will get him running again.  This would mean that a dedicated healer/buffer class wouldn't be needed, since rather than making different spells for different targets, instead the spells would have different effects based on what they hit and where.

Okay then, is anyone making a First Person Sorcerer?


thrinetu said...

daam......i want to play a first person sorcerer

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