A Brief History Of FPS Mechanics; Part 2 – The Silver Age
April 23, 2013 8 Comments
From recoil to regenerating shields.
As mentioned in Part 1 weapon mechanics in the Golden Age were relatively primitive, dominated largely by fantasy weapons of high accuracy with the occasional shotgun having a Cone Of Fire.
In 1999 the FPS reached its pinnacle with Quake 3 Arena with the most refined and tight articulation of mechanics of the Golden Age. But in late 1998 the storm was already brewing and a game released to little fanfare: Half-Life. Valve might have not anticipated that their creation would become the “Quake Killer” and spell the beginning of the end of the Golden Age of FPS.
But these trends did not fully take hold until the immensely popular Counter Strike Mod in 1999 and its subsequent retail copy in 2000.
Counter Strike: Weapon Mechanics And Hitboxes
[I will be talking about version 1.6 for the purpose of illustration]
Half-Life and Counter Strike changed the pace of the FPS considerably. When in Quake players were flying over the map at ridiculous speeds, Counter Strike provided a more “authentic” experience, at least at first.
The first new addition mechanically was crouching, an element heavily utilized in Half-Life for moving through narrow spaces or ducts and essential for the completion of the game. Additionally, the game treated the players hitbox more authentically with different body-parts receiving different amounts of damage. In the Golden Age hitboxes were very basic and did not take locational damage into account, hence things like “headshots” were impossible.
With the introduction of location based damage it was now more important -where- to aim on the enemy than just to shoot in their general direction as a well placed shot to the head could spell instant death to the opponent.
Counter Strike also introduced the concept of recoil and movement-accuracy into the core of its gameplay. This meant that a weapon would get more inaccurate depending on the duration of fire, movement and even stance. A shot taken from a crouching position had an inherently higher accuracy than a shot taken while standing, and a shot taken while moving also conveyed an accuracy malus.
Since the game’s engine (GoldSrc, Goldsource) was based on the Quake engine, some mechanics were carried over from the Golden Age, most prominently the bunnyhop was still possible to perform although with a different technique (and made harder to perform in 1.6).
Bunnyhopping in Counter Strike Source
Counter Strike placed emphasis on understanding and mastering weapon mechanics as every weapon featured its own predictable and controllable recoil pattern depending on the situation.
The recoil patterns of a M4A1 Carbine in CS
Halo: The Rise Of The Console FPS
While the PC experienced the transition from the Golden Age to the Silver age, the console market was generally seen as unsuited for the FPS.
The Quake 3 Arena released on Dreamcast was a complete disaster as it pitted both console and PC players against each other with the PC player having the inherent edge of mouse-precision over controller analog stick. The Golden Age FPS was just too fast and relied too much on precise movement-tracking to translate well to a console environment. Compared to mouse and keyboard a controller was sluggish at rotating the viewport and far too slow to be of any use in this environment.
The difference of control here is apparent, an analog controller works on a vector of movement while a mouse works with actual distance traveled, irrelevant of the speed at which it is moved. Moving the mouse a set distance on the pad will move your viewport a translated distance in the game (depending on DPI). An analog stick pushed in a direction will convey an impulse of movement until the stick is released at which point the input ceases. The analogy is much stronger with the mouse as corrections are able to be performed irrelevant of the impulse or vector.
A new approach to the console FPS was needed that would not rely on the accuracy of the user, or at least grant the player a wider margin for error that would mitigate the handicap.
Halo introduced this mechanically in the form of a persistent regenerating shield, giving the player the ability to take damage without worry of an immediate permanent consequence as long as he could reach a safe spot to regenerate. This mechanic is now a staple of the console FPS and features even in modern military shooters, that do not feature a sci-fi setting, as regenerating health.
Otherwise Halo imitated the Golden Age FPS closer than the newly popular Silver Age Counter Strike and an intelligent aim-assist mechanic made sustained target tracking easier on the controller. However the locational damage was carried over creating a curious blend of Golden and Silver Age mechanics.
Silver Age Mechanics Analysis
With location based damage as well as more authentic weapons mechanics the focus of the Silver Age shifted from target tracking and strategic map control towards what would be (this time) correctly described as a “twitch shooter”.
Games like Counter Strike did not feature any health, ammo, weapon or armor pickups, so a strategic control of resources was not possible anymore. The central component rather became the shooting itself, the quick targeting of a lethal kill-shot (usually to the head) and enemy anticipation.
Location based damage meant that every weapon could conceivably become an OHK and hence the TTK of the game became much shorter than anything in Quake. While in Quake a kill could take 1-2 seconds the Silver Age FPS presented kill-shots that were either instant or, in the case of body-shots, under one second. Consequences became immediate and a recovery from being under fire was generally impossible to perform.
With this the emphasis of the Silver Age FPS became aiming-skill and positioning. The question on every players mind hence became “How do I kill the opponent without being shot”. Since hits to the head could now potentially kill instantly, and movement was largely slower and conferred an aim-penalty, new techniques needed to be invented to minimize the possibility of a headshot.
This is where the crouch-jump and the modern usage of bunnyhopping as erratic movement became invaluable tools to competitive multiplayer gameplay.
By jumping and crouching at the same time the profile of the player would become considerably smaller and the head much harder to hit. Additionally, since FPS games are centered about enemy movement anticipation, it would effectively place the players feet where his head would usually be in relation to height. Crouch-jumping around a corner would effectively present a harder target to hit, throw off the anticipated shot from the enemy and allow you to fire back at the same time.
The Silver Age was relatively short lived as the popularity of the FPS was on a rise and hence more developers tried their hand on a variety of new iterations of the Counter Strike model of authentic weapon mechanics. id Software, the industry leader of the FPS genre in the Golden Age, fell behind this trend and their subsequent releases like Doom 3 and Quake 4 relied on Golden Age mechanics but with a modern narrative philosophy lifted from Half Life.
The mechanics of the Silver Age removed the once popular strategic elements from the FPS, leading to less intricate horizontally focused maps where choke-points and “camping spots” provided the tactical opportunities. In sum this led to a wider appeal to tactics, execution and coordination rather than strategic thinking, tracking and movement anticipation. It was just so fortuitous that this focus coincided with the new wave of the console FPS as sustained aiming was not of import.
But soon, in a short burst of development, we saw games like Red Orchestra: Combined Arms (2003/4) and Vietcong (2003) take gun mechanics to the next level by introducing ironsights and the distinction between hip-fire and Aim-Down-Sights, ending the Silver Age and catapulting us into the Modern Age.
/end part 2