Bring Back The Rush:
Paradigms of Weapon Design
— by Severen
Recently, the feel of First Person Shooter DM has moved into a direction, which some might argue is more cerebral, but ultimately most people agree is much less intense than in the past. Most of this can be attributed to one thing — weapon design.
It seems there are two schools of thought on weapons; those who believe that weapons should be balanced, and those who don’t. When John Romero designed the gameplay in Quake1, he used the classic design technique pioneered by great Williams game designer Eugene Jarvis — make the player fear and respect something.
In Jarvis’ legendary shooter ‘Defender’, he created a “Mutant” which would ruthlessly hunt down the player, often leading to his death. All ‘Defender’ players knew that when they saw one of those suckers, they were going to have to fight for their lives.
John Romero’s equivalent to this, is the Rocket Launcher in Quake1. Even though id Software admits that some facets of this weapon’s behaviour were unintentional (ie. rocket jumping), its principal capabilities are designed to perfection. This weapon is fast, and often instantly fatal; it is totally superior to all weapons (except the Lightning Gun at close range).
When a Q1 player sees an enemy armed with a Rocket Launcher, they know they might die any second; they can never be safe. Also, it becomes a ‘holy grail’ for each player to find and pick up the Rocket Launcher on every level. And once they hold it, they feel the fragging power it bestows upon them, as other players scramble away in fear. (This is a little over-dramatic, but I’m trying to make a point.)
In recent FPS games like Quake2 and Unreal, this feeling of fear and power is a thing of the past. Due to external pressure, game designers have adopted the paradigm of ‘balanced weapons’.
But what does this mean exactly? Theoretically, it should allow players to win confrontations with virtually any of the game’s weapons. What this equates to is that the entire weapon selection of the game becomes homogeneous; and while gamers may still develop personal favorites, there is no mutually fear-inducing weapon. Even mega cannons like the BFG are toned down by various factors (like ammo consumption) so that they can not dominate gameplay.
Now, when players turn a corridor to see a weapon lying there to pick up — they don’t really care what it is, since they are all ‘balanced’. Players rarely run in terror from a firing enemy, because the weapons are so closely ranked. No more feeling of power, no more fear. No amount of eye-candy effects can hide this fact. Soon, the game edges towards blandness.
I urge FPS developers to consider not bowing to the pressure of making all weapons balanced. Give game designers the freedom to do their job — making games fun and memorable. And for the new gamers who never had a chance to play Quake1, do yourself a favor and taste its fevered DM experience — still the most thrilling frag-fest you can have. Let’s bring the adrenalin rush and intensity back to the FPS genre!