Tuesday, April 29

Designing to a First-Person-Shooter

Update May 01: Wii
This is an update, or extension, to the proceeding paragraphs.
My friend brought up the issue of designing an FPS for Wii, as it was not discussed in this article. Essentially, I feel designing an FPS for Wii is the same as designing an FPS for any other platform: the design must be specific. The Wii pointer is not a perfect emulation of a PC mouse, nor do the remote and nunchuck perform similarly to a keyboard. Though there are similarities, per pixel tracking in particular, designing for Wii possibly requires the most specific attention of any current platform. The Wii interface is still new, and though many an FPS has been developed for Wii, many have also failed to work well on the system. The game design industry is still experimenting and learning about Wii's capabilities. It will likely be a whiloe yet before we have the Wii interface fully figured-out. Many Wii games reviewed are labeled as "shoe-horning" in the motion functionalities of the remote or nunchuck. These are the games that are not taking advantage of the Wii interface but instead ascribing traditional controller functions to a completely different control method. As with any other platform, we need to look at what the Wii controller offers, what does it do, what does it not do, and think about how these controls will best fit a game, and how a game will best fit these controls.

Original Article
Last night, my friends and I had a long conversation about the first-person-shooter. It eventually turned into an argument, or at least a debate. Which was really nice, actually, because we discussed a very interesting topic with widely differing view points.Eventually, the topic turned to PC FPS versus Console FPS. This is a big debate for a lot of people. Some hate console first-person-shooters, some love them. Some are indifferent. My friend's basic stance was that the console controller analog stick will never match the precision of a mouse. And, therefore, the console is an inferior platform for first-person-shooters.

While I completely agree with his first sentiment, the latter point I do not.It would be naive to assume that an analog stick can match the precision of a mouse. The way analog sticks are currently configured, it is simple not possible. At least in my opinion. The mouse tracks per pixel, and the targeting reticule follows the movements of the player's hand. Analog sticks cannot emulate this. Not that they don't have their own merits. I personally find the analog stick very tacticle. In fact, the mouse of a PC can sometimes feel too accurate. Fortunately, most games offer sensitivity adjustment for both platforms.While the mouse may always be more accurate than the analog stick, that doesn't mean the analog stick is unsuited for first-person-shooters. It just means the analog stick is unsuited for the PC first-person-shooter.Do you see the difference? A first-person-shooter, like any other game, must be designed specifically for its intended platform. A PC first-person-shooter must be designed with a mouse and keyboard in mind. The mouse and keyboard is the use interface, the means by which players will interact with the game. Naturally, therefore, the first-person-shooter should be designed to implement the PC interface. The console FPS, likewise, must be designed specifically for the console controller and even more specifically designed for the exact console on which the game will be played. The console FPS must be designed differently than it would be for a PC. The fact is, players will not be interacting with the game via mouse and keyboard. Players will interact with the game with a controller.Which platform is more suited for the first-person-shooter is not the question we want to be asking. This question occurs when people begin to ascribe one platform design to the other. The PC first-person-shooter will not work as well on console. A console first-person-shooter will not work as well on a PC.

An example: Halo, when ported to the PC, was maligned for its slowness of movement in comparison to its speed of aiming. Halo was designed for the X-box. Bungie, knowing the ability of analog sticks, designed Halo to play well on console, movement was intentionally made to be slow because the analog sticks lacked the precision required for tracking the quick movements of characters in PC staples like Quake or Unreal. Hence, when Halo was ported to PC, the character movement speed remained the same, but the sensitivity of aiming was adjusted to match the per-pixel accuracy of the mouse.You cannot expect a PC first-person-shooter on a console. You cannot expect a console first-person-shooter on PC. They are two different platforms, two completely different interfaces. Therefore, you cannot design a PC FPS for consoles. And you cannot design a console FPS for PCs. True, the console controller will never be as accurate as the mouse. But that is really not the point. When designing a console FPS, the designer should know this fact and design an FPS for play with an analog stick, with all its strengths and limitations, and not for a mouse. There is a reason Halo is so good. It was designed to be played with a controller.

That said, I've come to learn that there are many people who will always prefer a PC FPS to a console FPS. They just prefer the precision, regardless of the design of any console FPS. I came to this realization when playing Mario Kart Wii, oddly enough. I played Mario Kart Wii with the Wii wheel for probably a couple of hours spread out over a couple of days. I do enjoy the unique feel the Wii wheel offers when steering karts. Its fun and works pretty well. This is because Mario Kart Wii was designed to be played with the Wii wheel as its primary interface. However, I still felt off playing the game. I just couldn't figure out the control; most problematically, I would frequently drift into walls.

Eventually, I decided to try playing with a Gamecube controller to see how it felt. As soon as I did, I immediately felt better. The game opened up and I was finally driving with some skill. Then I realized: at least for Mario Kart Wii, I will probably always prefer the GCN controller, even though the game was designed to be played with the Wii wheel. And I understood where the PC FPS players were coming from. Given that, I will probably still play with the Wii wheel because I enjoy the novelty and appreciate what the developers are attempting. I want to support the innovation; plus, its more hardcore.The console FPS can be just as good as the PC FPS. However, if the console FPS tries to be a PC FPS, it will likely fail. The console controller is equally as good as the mouse and keyboard, in that they both have inherent strengths and weaknesses. Console FPS's should not be designed to be played with the precision of a mouse; they should be designed for and to the controller, and specifically, the analog stick. The analog stick is a wonderful interface. It has plenty to offer as a means of control, as evidenced by the multitude of quality games released for consoles. Though the first-person-shooter was founded as a PC genre, the design can be adapted for the console, and has been successfully. We just need to look at the console controller and think, "what does this interface offer and what does it not? What are its strenghts, what are its pitfalls?" Then, we should approach the design of this FPS game for the console. Forget the PC first-person-shooter and design for what the console has to offer, and how the FPS form can benefit from the console interface.

Images from Kotaku, SlipperyBrick, GameSpot, TheManRoom,

1 comment:

  1. I do think there is some truth to designing for a controller vs a keyboard, but it isn't always the deciding factor in whether or not a game will port well or not. There have been a few games that have been successful on both pc and console. I remember talking to a friend at school about the original Half-Life. It was originally for PC but ported to the ps2(and maybe xbox)fairly well. Also with the upcoming mass effect port from console to pc (if it turns out as good as it sounds), then it might put some hope into the mix (now that consoles can create decent graphics, though still years behind pc, but that is off topic).

    Also I had mentioned another arguing point for the pc vs console shooter. The Keybaord. It's just as much a part of the control scheme as a mouse which definitely adds TONS of customization to a game. Game Pads limit how many different buttons can be used to do different things. This may not be a huge issue but it can add little quirks like being able to set a random button rarely used like L to spray in games(i.e. Counterstrike). Being able to set a button to last weapon used definitely helps in games , and I have never even seen that as an option in a console shooter. And with z-boards and logitech's customizable boards, there are unlimited possibilities and control schemes. It can be funny to see how different people's control scheme's can be. Just another topic to throw into this debate.