The First Person Shooter, Mechanic and Dynamic Patterns

The First Person Shooter (FPS) as a genre has undergone some interesting changes since its early days. Early on, there were Mazewar-likes - my term for single height 3D games. Catacomb 3D and Wolfenstein 3D would also fall into this category. Shortly after (in the grand scheme of things) we were given the amazing DOOM, which spawned a series of Doom clones, which for a short time, was a term used for the whole of the First Person Shooter Genre. Eventually, The First Person Shooter, by title was born. Over the entirety of these games there are a handful of patterns which have been common amongst most games in this genre.

Mechanics

  • First Person Perspective
  • Shooting
  • Weapons
  • Player vs Player (Deathmatch)
  • Objective based gameplay (CTF, Territories)
  • Powerups / Collectables
  • Movement on 2 or 3 axes: x,y or x,y,z
  • Sprinting (Faster than normal movement)
  • Flying / Jetpacking

While all of these may seem to be common sense, it is interesting to take into account how these things can be done differently within the genre. In Doom, the player would collect 9 weapons, and be able to switch between them on the fly. Halo offered the player constraints, forcing the player to carry only 2 weapons at a time that they could switch between. This particular constraint left the player a choice between high powered weapons or those with more ammunition. Today we have Overwatch in which a character has at maximum 2 weapons (Torbjorn as an example) but is then given up to 2 abilities and an ultimate ability. This gives the player tangible weapons, while having other weaponry in the form of abilities that is entirely about changing general interactions.

The implementation of weapons in most shooters tend to follow one of these patterns:

  • Physics Projectile - this may be a ballistic projectile such as grenade, or any other projectile that obeys a physics simulation
  • Hitscan / Raycast - By casting a line in a direction, we can check for collisions nearly instantly along that line. This achieves nice results for weapons for use in online shooters.
  • Non Physics Object - This is an object that does not need to obey a physics simulation, and instead acts more like the player, updating its position per frame.
  • Melee weapon utilizing a collider

Which of these patterns is selected for largely depends on what it is being used for, but also can greatly shape the gameplay for a given player as each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Dynamics The FPS genre has a few patterns which have emerged from game dynamics. I want to call these emergent dynamic patterns, however once they are acknowledged and integrated into future games by developers we may as well call them actual mechanics, though I think this is where the line blurs a lot.

  • Rocket Jumping - Achieved by firing at the ground and jumping usually while moving in a direction, this allows the players to reach new heights - provided the survive. Originally seen in games such as Doom and Quake this has become a staple feature of many shooters, of which Team Fortress 2 is one. Junkrat's mine represents a modification of this pattern.

  • Speed Strafing - This is represented by a handful of techniques, of which there is strafe40 and strafe50 in DOOM, and strafe jumping in Quake. The technical reasons for this are related to math, in the case of DOOM, it is related to the hypotenuse, in Quake it is related to not normalizing an added unit vector. This has been embraced by many quake sequels, it has yet to be seen whether it will be embraced in Quake Champions.

  • Ranged weapon collection - Using weaponry to collect other weaponry at a distance. This dynamic isn't currently in use by developers, but could become a pattern because if its potential to change the players advantage on a given map. This was common in Halo 1, as a player could retrieve weaponry with well placed grenades from most anywhere on a map with closed walls such as Hang'em High.

To close, there are a good handful of common shooter mechanics, many of which are likely to continue to be used in future games. It is likely that mobility will make a resurgence in the genre, as evidenced by DOOM 2016, Half of Overwatch's cast and even the most recent Halo and Call of Duty games (5, infinite warfare).