The Meaning of FPS, and What’s Next



I personally started playing FPS games after Counter-Strike became a phenomenon. Before that, I was just following others’ steps, playing some games that someone else was crazy about. But after I found Counter-Strike in 2000, I knew I found the game genre that belongs to me. So I went backwards to explore more of them. I searched every famous FPS game I can find at that time. Very soon, I played Half-Life (including all expansions), Quake III, Return to the Castle Wolfenstein, System Shock, etc.
FPS games really amazed me so much that I never missed a single FPS hit from that time on.


FPS fans are the largest group of players in the world. But if you ask them why they like FPS, many of them can’t really answer the question. As player, they just enjoy the game, but no need to care about why.
On the other hand, if you ask Non-FPS player why they don’t like FPS, most of them will say the same thing: It’s too simple.
Surprisingly, even some game designer talks about FPS games like just a child’s play, because “the gameplay is so simple, not enought. I can see through it right way.”
Really? Really someone can understand a FPS game right way?

The answer is obvious. If some people say they can see through a FPS right way, the only thing I can understand right way is they never takes FPS games seriously, and of course, they totally don’t understand how a FPS works.

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” — Albert Einstein

In terms of simple, yes, the whole design directive of a FPS is as simple as the statement itself: “Simple, but deep.” which is all games should be. The core gameplay of FPS genre is so simple. Basically, the only thing player has to do is to move your mouse at the target, then click left mouse button. Everybody can master this in a minute. That’s also a main reason why FPS is the most popular game around the world. Simple is a virtue. But what really makes FPS thrive and prosper are those small gameplays scattered all over the corners of the map. So in my opinion, can someone really see through a FPS right way? Definitely can’t. But I have to admit it’s quite easy to make a mediocre FPS, but extremely hard to make a brilliant one. Probably that’s one reason some people think FPS games are generally superficial. 

So what kind of small gameplays am I talking about? There are so many! It could be puzzle focused, team tactics focused, strategy focused, or just different weapons, environments, and vehicles. Even for every game in this genre, it still could be unique to each other because of these gameplays. 

Generally, I consider the angles FPS can tackle are 1.Weapon 2.Vehicle 3.Environment 4.Level Layout 5.Player Interaction (Coop/PVP) 6.Hybrid


Weapon is what you must have in a FPS game. Weapon doesn’t mean guns only. When brainstorming, it could be sword, paint gun, or even toothbrush and portal gun! And the bullet doesn’t have to be bullet. For example, Tag: The Power of Paint is a game that allows player shoot different color on objects in the scene, so that the property of the object can be altered. And Portal is another obvious example.

Also, when the first time Call of Duty introduced AC-130 Gunship into the game, it was mind-blowing. Technically AC-130 is a vehicle. But it’s also a powerful weapon. Usually a new vehicle means a new way of shooting. The whole world has never seen a playable gunship before. It added a nice touch to a traditional FPS. The gunship only appeared in one level, but I believe that moment was most memorable to many of us. So using new weapons is an easy trick, and often gets good feedbacks.


Vehicle here doesn’t only mean tanks, aircraft and ships. The meaning of vehicle is that it brings a new way of moving (and shooting) into the game. Sometimes, it is so crucial that it could be a game changer. Titanfall is a good example here. The propel device changed the pattern how player moves, furthermore the Titan falling from the sky changes the gameplay in a more significant way. And did you try to parachute from the mountain with your friends in Battlefield 3? This small detail was one of the most exciting moment in many players’ memory.


Obviously, players behave differently when in land, water, air, and space. So some game tried to alter the gravity of the virtual world, or just exaggerate the power or speed of the player, like Quake, and Serious Sam. And recently, Call of Duty tried a gun fight in space, although not very successful, it’s a right direction to explore.


Level layout is a very big topic to talk about, and it’s also completely different when it comes to singleplayer and multiplayer.
Usually this topic needs a whole book to discuss, but generally, in singleplayer mode, the layout should serve the purpose of indirect control and the gameplay. It should stand out the place that designer wants player to go, and also needs to give player more choices/strategies to carry on. For example, the level design of Half Life always gives player at least two ways to tackle the problem, and the options are meaningful and entirely different.

Also, in Gears of War, it cleverly utilized covers in the level, and made this game focus on cover-based combat. cover-based combat is not a new concept. I believe Rainbow Six: Vegas and Tom Clancy’s Advanced Warfighter also use this mechanism as a part of gameplay, but GoW purely focused on it and made it significant as a mark of this franchise, which is another example proves that many times, simple equals better.

However in multiplayer mode, the layout design is less about indirect control, and more about balance and clarity, because in pvp setting, everything happens fast. Now the first priority of map design is fair, and also to let player easily form up a strategy in a first glance of the map. I did say easy to form up a strategy, but it’s not necessarily the best. As a matter of fact, the map shouldn’t have a dominant strategy, the only thing here is when to choose what strategy. In order to do that, the map layout itself should avoid ambiguity, so the choices should be clear, and also the chokepoints/alternatives design is the key to balance. 

The promotion of battlefield 4 was all over the place before it’s coming online. However, the player’s feedback didn’t follow the step of successful marketing efforts. Despite a few technical issues, the level layout design is one serious problem that was underestimated by fans. In order to create a sandbox battleground, as well as to diminish superhero lone wolf, DICE designed a very complicated map layout in BF4, that no one can master even after thorough study, because it’s big and there are too many tactical options. It makes sense that in this way, the game forces players to work as a whole team, and also relies on Commander to relay SITREP. But as one soldier fighting in this battleground, player often gets lost or confused, because no one can see the big picture, and nowhere is safe. Too many options only leads to overwhelming. Player just shuts down and randomly chooses one. Fortunately, DICE improved the design in the subsequent DLCs.

PVP is a traditional mode among FPS games, but I haven’t seen many coop FPS games yet. Gears of War used co-op a lot both in Campain and Multiplayer mode, which was extremely fun to play with friends. Battlefield 3 also has co-op mode as side missions, which have been proven very successful.

However, co-op in general is still rare in FPS games. An obvious reason is co-op mode needs a lot more effort to make. So BF3 just made independent side missions for it, and totally canceled co-op in BF4. GoW is easier to incoorperate co-op just because it has npc team members all the way with player. They can just replace one npc with a real player. But still, this is an angle we can think about.

Even in PVP mode, we still can come up with some new ideas. For example, the rush mode in battlefield is quite interesting. So basically, the battleground shifts according to the progress of the battle. If your team seized all enemy strategy points, the enemy team falls back to their new base, the map shifts to new area and then your team keeps pushing on. This mode gives player a more realistic and dynamic feeling of the battleground. Also the gameplay and the tactics may change dramatically along the progress, since new area could have new terrain and also the new base may bring new vehicles and other support.

Combining the elements from other genres to FPS is always a way to go. As a matter of fact, there are rarely pure FPS still exist. RPG element is a good fit to FPS games, which effectively prolong the playtime, since it means unlocking items progressively.

Maybe we can also combine Inventory System or Tech Tree as well. There’s no dominant gameplay in FPS games. The small details keep the game alive. So taking a small gameplay from other genres and utilize it often in a FPS game could be a way to innovate. For example last time I heard some game wants to make a FPS focusing on reloading, which is a very interesting idea.

FPS is not moving forward for years. Simple is an advantage to FPS, but right now it seems that it also hinders the evolution of FPS genre.

As I said, it’s easy to make a mediocre FPS, but extremely difficult to make a brilliant one, because FPS game is all about details. Other than gameplay itself, it also requires a good graphic, sound effects and animation to bring out the atmosphere, which means most likely, the future of FPS relies on AAA companies.

I still believe we should keep FPS simple, and then carefully add more gameplay. The Destiny from Bungie, and The Division from Ubisoft seems did a good job. They basically reduced the skill requirement to the player, and added more MMO style exploration to the game. It’s a bit of casual, and potentially can bring FPS to more audience, which could be a breakthrough point to revive this genre.

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