on Feb 10, 2006
Here is an interesting bit from Tales of the Rampant Coyote that talks about “Casual” vs. “Hardcore” games. On the subject of learning to play first-person shooters, the author says this:
I have a LAN at the house and over the years I’ve introduced a lot of people to the world of first-person shooters. I can say with certainty that most gamers fail to grasp just how steep the learning curve is on these games. Jay Barnson, the author of the above, points out that just understanding what they are seeing is a challenge for a true newbie. I rode this curve as it developed, so I never had to go through the brutal initiation that newbies do today. Here is how things evolved for me:
- Wolfenstein taught me the basics: Point at stuff and press the fire button. Use the strafe keys to get out of the way of stuff heading for me
- When DOOM came along I started using the mouse to aim. This was tricky at first, but allowed for a lot more precision and faster targeting. This led to another skill: Circle strafing, where you run around a foe in a tight circle while shooting them.
- Duke Nukem brought vertical combat (looking up and down), jumping.
- Quake: This was a major step. Using the mouse to aim up and down. Also, the game featured a more robust array of weapons, including grenades that bounce and can (to the experienced player) be dropped over ledges and angled around corners.
- Unreal: An even larger, more varied list of weapons, all of which now have TWO firing modes.
- Unreal Tounament: A collection of maps designed for the express purpose of player-vs-player combat. Areas are complex and multilayered. Weapons and items are spread out to encourage players to keep moving. Powerful items are placed in dangerous or hard-to-reach areas. Maps have traps. Tricks. There is a great deal of strategy involved in choosing a weapon based on wherever you happen to be fighting.
I spent about eight years getting from the first item to the last one on the list. The gameplay is now highly refined and very deep. (The practice of calling these games “mindless shooters” comes from people who know nothing about the game, or from people who know the games so well they don’t realize just how much thought is involved in learning to play.) Now I try to imagine what it must be like for a new player to try to absorb all of this at once. Oh yeah: while you’re trying to learn, enemies are killing you repeatedly. Unlike Neo, you can’t just download all of that knowledge into your brain. There is no fast way to learn this. There is no shortcut. If you want to play this game your only choice is to let it slaughter you a few hundred times until moving is more or less second nature to you. THEN you can start learning about how to truly use all these crazy weapons, which will take almost as long. THEN you can start learning the strategy of the game, how to use audio clues to figure out where your foes are, how to monopolize and control key items, and how to force encounters on your own terms. Even with dedication this would take months.
Which makes me wonder: Will these games stagnate in the coming years? Will new players steer clear of Deathmatch and all of its many forms and go for a more accessible experience? I wonder.
I doubt the market for these games would actually shrink, but as the world of electronic gaming grows they may be a smaller and smaller part of it. I don’t have any numbers on this, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn this was happening already.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.