What Makes a Perfect FPS Map?

I have returned, from the throws of a nasty cold and I have in mind for today a post spurned by watching a video on YouTube over the weekend. WatchMojo.com – a site that produces lots of Top 10 countdown videos on YouTube across all sorts of topics. Over last week they released one that intrigued me right away – the Top 10 FPS multiplayer maps. Normally I watch them for entertainment, but of course, this is my area of interest – I watched this one with a bit more intent. So, in the mind of fairness – here is their top 10 countdown:

Now instead of just offering up my top 10 and calling it a day, which would be rather simple, I thought I’d look more at a top level here. Rather, let’s look at what exactly goes into what we could consider a perfect FPS multiplayer map.

Blood Gulch

Let’s begin with our set-up. If you really break it down, the maps ultimately boil down to one of two set-ups: Symmetrical, or not. Generally, that focus helps determine if the map will perform well both as an objective map or as a free-for-all/deathmatch style one. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to define how the map will play – for example, Crash (from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare) – it’s an asymmetrical map, but it still manages to work in any game mode. Same with Blood Gulch (from Halo) – it’s symmetrical, but yet still works well for slayer games too. So the top down, overall arrangement is the first step – but it’s also got to be fitting for the scale of your player count. A big symmetrical map in a game that based more around close range encounters doesn’t make any sense and in the end won’t be a good map. It’s the problem with a map like Wasteland (Modern Warfare 2) – it’s a fine map, assuming you play it in Ground War, anything else feels too sparsely populated. So the next major factor to look into is size – large maps work as long as you’re building a game that works for large player count. Look at Titanfall – all the maps are large to accommodate the Titans, and even though the player count is small (only 6) the population of A.I. helps make them still work. But if you remove the Titans, and the maps don’t work, same with if you had small maps with Titans.
Facing Worlds
So, if we look at the final major factor, we can really get a feel for what our map will be. That final factor is the flow – all the extra little details that you put into the maps to direct players around it. Staircases for vertical play, objects for cover in firefights and routing for multiple paths all help give our map personality. The actual setting for the map really doesn’t necessarily matter – as long as it fits in with the setting of your game, that’s fine. If you took, let’s say, Facing Worlds from Unreal Tournament, and used the same design philosophy, but designed it with Call of Duty aesthetics and it could work – as long as you make sure that the flow still works.
Modern Warfare Crash
It’s not an easy thing to do – look at all your favorite games and I’m sure that you’ll find a couple maps that you just don’t like. For me right now, it’s been BioLab in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – I find the flow just doesn’t really work with the gameplay. Instead of having hotpoints to focus around, it just feels like the map is a constantly rotating set of hotpoints around the spawn zones. That’s really part of the issue across the whole Call of Duty series – so many maps across the games are great looking, well built maps that are saddled with the issue of spawning. But that’s the fun of games like this – one map that’s a miss can fuel the desire for the next game’s batch, and that could mean a classic one.
Advertisements

First Person Shooters: My Journey as a Virtual Soldier

Advanced Warfare CoverThis might be the best 6 months for the FPS genre I can ever remember seeing. Between Destiny in September, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Halo: Master Chief Collection in the next two weeks; followed by Far Cry 4 and Evolve in the Spring, and Battlefield Hardline next spring as well, the genre is stacked with incredible games. That’s discounting Titanfall from this past spring, which I think really provided a major boost to the genre. With all of these great games on the horizon, I got to thinking about my history with FPSes. I thought it would be pretty cool to put down my thoughts here.

I got started with shooters back in the glory days of PC shooters – the first one I ever played was Quake II. Gamers today think of CoD Vs Halo when they think of shooters, but really the first duality of games was Quake Vs Unreal. I was more of a Quake fan, preferring Quake II over the story-based Unreal games. When I started playing online I came on at the perfect time – Quake III and Unreal Tournament were just coming into their own. The style of shooter has really changed drastically over these last 20 or so years, arcade style shooters are essentially all but gone from the market. But the skills that I learned with those games are still incredibly important, even with all the new advancements. Playing the Crucible in Destiny has really helped bring those different aspects of my particular game into focus. From the old guard, movement was so important, with jumping in particular being a key part of the game. Which really boils down to the fact that the Rocket Launcher was king back in those days, and jumping helped to mitigate as much of the splash damage. That tactic has remained in my skill-set ever since.

Halo Master Chief Collection

Which brings me to the next major game in my journey – Halo. That game sold me on the Xbox, convincing me to go out and pick up Microsoft’s first console. But beyond that, Halo may be responsible for shaping how I approach online shooters more than any other game. Strafing was so incredibly important in the first game, especially against other good players armed with that awesome pistol, that if you played Halo in any competitive way, you were all but guaranteed to get great at it. For better or worse, my first instinct in games now in firefights is to start strafing, using the same basic ideas I did way back in 2001. I also reload after every single gunfight, thanks to Halo, where you needed as many shots as possible. That’s gotten me killed more than I’d like in recent games where it’s not quite as important – especially in Call of Duty, where you only need a couple shots to kill; but it’s been ingrained in my game since then. That said, the most important skill I took from Halo was map knowledge. It’s a complex skill that has a simple tag – when I say map knowledge, I don’t just mean knowing the layout of the maps, I intend a much deeper meaning. With Halo in particular, it was key to know when power weapons would be spawning, along with the power-ups, so you needed to keep timing in your head, along with their spawn locations. Now that weapon drops are basically a thing of the past, map knowledge really boils down to map flow. I pride myself on learning quickly how players go about approaching each map – especially off the initial spawn – and using that knowledge to help keep me higher up on the leaderboard.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Which is a great segue to start talking about Call of Duty. I’ve seen a few articles this week talking about the decline of the franchise’s sales, and that they might continue through this year. I’ll talk about that a bit more on Friday during the news recap, but I really think that’s totally overblown – the series is actually I think in a pretty good spot to be. But it is a series in flux – Titanfall really helped illustrate that gamers were open to a change. Destiny, for all it’s flaws, provides players with a real unique option for competitive play. Where Call of Duty really stands out is in Pro/MLG – Destiny and Titanfall really don’t function well as a truly MLG option. There’s such a close tie with CoD and Halo with MLG that I think both will have strong upcoming rotations. As for lessons that you can learn from the Call of Duty franchise, it’s a little hard to pinpoint them. The series is so diverse from game to game, but there are a few important things to keep in mind. Map knowledge continues to be incredibly important, but what I’ve found more so is communication. In the other games I’ve pointed out, it’s pretty easy to excel while being a lone wolf. While it’s still possible to do that in CoD, especially in Team Deathmatch – playing any objective game, it’s much more important to have at least a couple teammates that you can talk with. It gets you more kills, less deaths, and a much better chance to win the game’s objective.

One of the things that I’ve always liked about shooters is that they allow me to play exactly how I want. Over the course of the last 18 years or so, since I’ve really been playing them, I’ve been able to determine what exactly that playstyle is for me. What I’ve learned is that I am a fast-paced, close range, reckless guy online. I play the objective, I like being in the thick of things. And I like to think that I’ve learned a lot over the years playing these games. They’re fun games, that tend to dominate sales every year; but still get flak online for being “fluff.” Chill out and enjoy the firefights – it’s a really wonderful time to get into shooters after all.

The Modern FPS Genre – The Trendiest of Genres

Call of Duty: Modern WarfareI’ve been a fan of First Person Shooters for a long time, going way back Quake II on the PC. As I’ve gotten more cognizant of how the industry works over the years though, I’ve come to notice something about the genre that goes back almost to those early days. It’s easy to look at the games in the genre and say that they all look alike. The basic form and function of the genre really hasn’t changed much since Wolfenstein 3D all those years ago. What really defines the whole genre is the trends the games follow, which tend to come in waves. With the new console generation, this is actually a great time to look at the genre, since we’re getting a whole bunch of new shooters; they may be all different games and tones, but they all have the same basic new trend behind them.

Looking back first though, I think that the major trend of the last wave of shooters really can be difficult to pinpoint. There was a big influx of 3rd Person Shooters that were really popular with the Gears of War series and the Mass Effect games. With those games, it was incredibly important to have a good cover system in place. That idea sneaked into FPS games as well, especially in the Call of Duty and Battlefield games. As those games added in the ability for weapons to penetrate certain materials, picking and choosing cover became a part of the game; as was recognizing what cover you could be behind and be protected, but also shoot over (head-glitching). That said though, I think the major trend really can be traced to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, both in multiplayer and single player capacities. That was the game that really started the trend of huge set pieces during the campaign – something that has become sort of a calling card for the franchise now. In the multiplayer though, it was the first game to have the custom class system. It gave players the ability to tweak how they would play the game – they weren’t reliant on weapon spawns on the map, or forced into playing a specific class. It was super popular, and it wasn’t long before we saw that system creep into other major shooters too. Halo adopted it with Halo: Reach, letting players set up their grenades, weapons and armor abilities, which would continue in Halo 4. And while Battlefield 3 still had the traditional class system that was present in the series since day one, it did allow for a bit more customization within those classes, which is definitely more prevalent in Battlefield 4. Because of the degree of flexibility that the custom classes offer shooters, I really don’t see this leaving the genre, even though there has been a bit of a demand for a return to a more classic arcade/arena style shooter.

Titanfall

As the next batch of shooters gets closer and closer this fall, I think it’s become pretty apparent what the trend will be for these “next-gen” experience shooters. It started with Titanfall and now that we know more about Advanced Warfare, Destiny, Evolve and even Sunset Overdrive, I think it’s pretty easy to see that this trend is pretty solidly set in. It looks like the name of the game with shooters this gen will be movement. Titanfall added it to increase the vertical nature of the combat, mainly to ensure pilots had a chance against the Titans. Wallrunning and double jumping all over the map really adds a dynamic to the action that was missing in previous shooters. As the game did well early in the year, I was waiting to see if the other shooters were going to follow suit, and sure enough, in their own different ways, they have. Advanced Warfare uses the Exo-Skeleton suit to add in a quick dash to jumps, in any direction, as well as a double jump, bring verticality into the Call of Duty formula. I’m sure that there will still be some amount of traditional cover combat in the game, but I really hope that the general flow of combat is much more fluid and involves more dynamic combat. Destiny has movement tied directly into the leveling of your Guardian. Each class has a different manner of adding in a double jump, with different mechanics as to how they actually work. That ability to get up above the enemy is important not only in the PvE story, but will definitely impact how matches flow in the Crucible. Even with Evolve being delayed till next year, we’ve seen plenty of gameplay footage showing off all sorts of different aspects of the action. Both the Monster and the hunters look to have plenty of aerial options to not only move around the huge maps, but also for combating the other side. Finally, even though Sunset Overdrive is a 3rd person game, and not exactly a traditional style shooter, they’ve taken the idea of movement and motion to heart. Wallrunning, jumping, sliding and grinding all play into not only how you move around the world, but also the action as well.

Shooters tend to be generally the most popular games every year, and while this year isn’t as much about Call of Duty VS. Halo VS. Battlefield, it’s still a stacked lineup of shooters this fall. It’s still really early in this generation of games, way too early to tell if this emphasis on movement will stick around the whole generation, but it definitely has infused a sense of energy into the genre, which I think kicks the fun level up a couple notches.

Mapping Out December: Part One – A Trip Down Memory Lane

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was thinking about doing a piece on the best multiplayer FPS maps. Well, I decided to go a little bit bigger than just that. Welcome to Mapping Out December – where for the next few weeks I’ll be talking about all sorts of the best and worst maps for FPS games. My thinking going into this was to celebrate all of the best maps in all sorts of games, not just the big three out now. So with that in mind, let’s rewind the clock a bit and take a look at some of the best maps from older shooters.

Q3DM17 The Longest Yard

We begin our journey with one of the first multiplayer games I ever played – Quake III. First up, one of the early maps in the game’s progression – Q3DM6, aka The Camping Grounds. It’s a relatively large map, but really can be divided into two major areas – the Quad Damage pit and and the towers around the map. Since this map has both the Rocket Launcher and the Rail Gun in it, the pace of the game goes real quick, meaning the players have to learn how to run the map, grab the health and armors and pick up the the weapons and always keep moving. Next up, the classic Q3DM17, aka The Longest Yard. One of the most popular maps, going all the way back to the Quake III demo, this map is simple, with a lot of open space and great movement lines. This is the map that turned me into a good shot online – in order to do well on this map, you need to be efficient with the Rail Gun, and real quick on your shots and movement. If you’re looking for a quick way to increase your fundamentals in online shooters, this would be the map to play for sure.

Facing Worlds

Switching gears to Quake III‘s main competitor back in the day, let’s look at Unreal Tournament‘s best maps. I always felt that what UT did better than Quake was the objective modes, in particular Capture the Flag. The addition of the Translocator, which lets you teleport around the maps really change up the way CTF gets played. Which brings us to one of the all around best CTF maps ever – Facing Worlds. There’s a reason this map has been in every UT game. It’s beauty is in the simplicity of the map – two identical bases, separated by wide open paths with no real cover to speak of. It’s a map that demands teamwork, and at least one good sniper. Good Translocator work can get you across the map safely, or even into the lower sniper perches or the Redeemer platform, but getting back really requires some real good sniper cover. It’s the kind of map that can end in a 1-0 score because it takes so long to get a cap.

Complex

Let’s finish up today with a quick look at the first really successful console shooter – GoldenEye 007 for the N64. It was one of the first experiences I had with playing multiplayer at the same time as my friends – in the same room. My play with Quake and UT was more against randoms, but this was with my friends, so the trash talk was an important part of the experience. The map we played the most was Complex, and it’s a map that I think still holds up. It’s hectic, with different distances, hidden doors and perches and paths; and would totally do well with a larger lobby size than just four. If you’re looking for a second map from GoldenEye to play, I would definitely pick Facility as a close second – lots of corners, a few long sight lines and small rooms make for a crazy match.

With that, we come to the end of the first leg of our journey through the best maps in multiplayer shooters. Next week, we’ll take a look at the best Battlefield maps over the course of the series. Stay Tuned!