Learning From The Best: First-Person Shooters

The first-person shooter (FPS) is without a doubt one of the most popular genres today. Between the annual Call of Duty, completely new titles like Destiny, and old series remakes like Wolfenstein: The New Order, there is certainly no lack of first-person shooters to play these days. By looking at some of the better ones, we hope to provide knowledge about what goes into a shooter that not only stands out from the rest, but keeps us captivated as well.

1. A Variety of Awesome Weapons

Since your players are going to be shooting a lot, you better make sure they enjoy doing it. This requires designing weapons that look great, sound awesome, and are actually useful in a number of situations. After all, we all can think of a game or two that has more than a dozen weapons, but you always find yourself using the same two or three. If that sounds boring, that’s because it is.

An FPS series that could probably fit in any of these categories is Halo, whose games always boast an interesting arsenal of weapons. You have your shotguns for close range, sniper rifles for long range, and plenty of different guns for those close-but-not-too-close encounters. From the Needler and Spartan Laser, to Energy Sword and Plasma grenades, every weapon has its advantages and, more importantly, are very fun to kill enemies with.

2. Enemy AI That Challenge You

There’s a reason why people love multiplayer so much when it comes to FPS games: human players are smart. So how do you design computer-controlled characters that keep the player engaged without frustrating or boring them? Simply put, try making your enemies smart enough that they force players to make decisions about how to approach, which weapons to use, and so on.

An excellent example is the Left 4 Dead series, particularly the second one since it has more “special infected” characters. If you have played these games, then you know that dealing with each one of these enemies requires a specific strategy. Smokers, Spitters, and Boomers are taken out from a distance, while Tanks require the entire team to let loose without huddling too close to each other. Their different abilities and behaviors forces players to move about the maps differently, which makes each level feel exciting, even if you’re facing the same enemies each time.

3. Satisfying Multiplayer

These days an FPS can have a great single-player campaign but still be considered unworthy of your hard-earned cash simply because it lacks multiplayer modes. There’s just something about testing your skills and experience against other players who also thrive on making sure their opponents know who the better of the two is. At the same time, we all can think of a shooter or two that has multiplayer that was disappointing enough to ignore it after trying it a few times.

If you want to see what makes a multiplayer mode good, you can’t go wrong with studying the Call of Duty series. Call of Duty 4 introduced the game-changing progression system that allowed players to unlock new weapons, perks, and other elements that are still used today. Being able to customize your character with loadouts is something we now come to expect from most FPS games, including some kind of system that makes each game feel like one step toward a goal worth working toward.

4. Creative Level Design

A game can have the coolest guns, enemies, and multiplayer modes we’ve ever seen, but without inspiring maps you can expect players to become disinterested quickly. This is why even in action movies you find that memorable fights tend to take place where the environment causes each individual to think, be it on top of a moving train, a narrow bridge, or somewhere else. Your maps should do the same: help shape the way the fights take place.

Known less for its gameplay and more for its phenomenal storyline, Bioshock Infinite is still a great example of a game with maps that give players options. Players must fight on blimps, floating buildings, aircrafts, and more, all while using the Sky-Line rails to move around the map at great speeds. Not only that, players can also use Elizabeth’s abilities to change the environment itself by introducing hooks to hang on, more ammo and weapons, and objects to take cover behind. Together, the gameplay and level design allow Bioshock Infinite to give us plenty of exciting combat encounters, even if the combat itself felt like it lacked any innovation when compared to the previous entries in the series.

5. A Compelling Single-Player Adventure

It’s no surprise that gamers responded negatively when 2014’s Titanfall was initially announced to not have the traditional campaign almost all FPS games have. Even if multiplayer is the main draw for many gamers, there’s nothing quite like playing through a good first-person shooter storyline filled with unforgettable characters, worlds, and events. In fact, some of the most acclaimed FPS games of all time had a single-player story and nothing more.

There is a host of amazing titles we can name that boast superb narratives, and yet few have garnered the following that the Half-Life series has. Combining incredible character development with engrossing storytelling, both Half-Life 1 and 2 blew players away enough that each year they cross their fingers in hopes that Valve will finally announce a third entry. If you ever want to design the next big FPS game, work on crafting good gameplay without forgetting about a noteworthy single-player mode that will have players talking long after they’ve had their fill of the multiplayer portion.

Want to design and develop video games? Learn more about the School of Game Design at the New York Film Academy. Campuses in New York and Los Angeles.

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