Friday, November 12, 2010

There's a Soldier in All of Us

That's the tagline for Call of Duty: Black Ops' ad campaign, accompanying a pretty epic commercial featuring, among many others, Kobe Bryant and Jimmy Kimmel. It seems Activision wants to market its FPS based on our inner desire to be a badass.

My only beef is that Black Ops is only one of many FPS games that have flooded the market. Inherently, they're all pretty similar. It doesn't matter if you're playing Modern Warfare 2, Medal of Honor, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, or even Halo: Reach. The premise is the same - you have a gun, go kill some people, and do badass things.

What I really want, however, is an FPS with a persistent, online world. I want to be able to play with potentially millions of players at a time. I want character customization and progression. I want to feel like a soldier, kicking ass and taking names. That's right, I want an MMOFPS.

Multiplayer has been a crucial aspect of the FPS genre ever since GoldenEye, and with the advent of online gaming, it's only spread even further. But whenever I dive into any of these online matches, I always feel like a little something is missing. Most of the time, you've usually got approximately 16 players in a match, usually a confined map, and you all just kill each other to rack up points. Some developers have put some twists on this formula, but it basically remains the same,

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 sort of wet my appetite, with its large-scale matches, objective-driven Rush mode, and expansive (mind the pun) battlefields. The character progression, unlocking weapons and special perks (which, to be fair, is present in almost every Call of Duty game since Modern Warfare) added a sense of persistence. But it still wasn't enough.

A persistent online world would be a huge step in innovation for the FPS genre. I want to emphasize that I don't think a blending of traditional MMO elements with the FPS would work. Nobody would like stats, skills, health bars, and other "under-the-hood" nonsense. If I fire a shotgun at a tango, I want whether or not I kill him to be determined by my skill alone. I don't want the computer rolling dice in the background to figure out if I've done 6 or 12 damage to him.

Imagine an FPS where you're plopped into the shoes of your character, your soldier, and you're treated to the sight of  a huge world. In the distance you see mountains, maybe rivers, and jungles. You see the outlines of buildings and military outposts. A convoy of armored vehicles, some driven by players, drives up a road while an ambush, consisting of other players, waits in the underbrush. Then, as you're getting your hands on a weapon, the base is suddenly attacked by a platoon of enemy troops. The possibilities are endless.

It would be a sandbox world for players and FPS aficionados to play in. Player vs. player would naturally be encouraged, but there would also be AI enemies scattered across the world. They'll be guarding outposts and weapon caches. There might even be armored patrols and organized attacks on player-controlled zones. Attacking AI-controlled bases will net players cash that they can then trade in for ammo, new weapons, aesthetic items, like a special tactical vest or helmet, and vehicles. Yes, that's right. Vehicles. How else are you going to get from one place to another if not in a machine gun-armed Jeep? Or if you have the money, a helicopter?

The player's character will be highly customizable, allowing them to really put themselves into the game. Players would be able to change how they look, what they wear, and what kind of weapon load-out they want to start with. Progression would be along the lines of the rank systems you can find in Call of Duty or Battlefield. As the player earns experience, they earn perks that can be used to add to or change their style of play. Some perks might let a player sprint faster or recover stamina quicker. The higher level perks might even give the player a unique edge, such as quieter movement or the ability to carry more ammo. This system would replace the traditional levels because after all, what would a level even mean in a game based on skill?

Of course, this begs the question, what kind of setting would be viable for a game like this? My answer: Africa would be perfect. I don't know if you've played Far Cry 2, but it's shift in location to a war-torn African state was one of the best parts about it. The chaos and lack of any order would fit just right for a game where warfare and constant conflict is the norm. And Africa also sports diverse geography - there are plains, jungles, cities, deserts, and mountains. Drop the players into a fictional African country in the middle of a civil war? Sounds like a good idea to me.

Like Far Cry 2, the players would take control of mercenaries in the conflict. As a gun-for-hire, players will choose whose side they want to fight for. Perhaps there are three factions - the government, the rebels, and the UN Peacekeeping Forces. Why three? Because two is boring; with three factions, the balance can shift quickly. If one faction starts to dominate, the other two can temporarily work together to bring it down.

In addition to the factions, players would be able to form their own companies, much like guilds or clans in the traditional MMO. Like corporations in EVE Online, the companies would be the big boys on the block. In addition to having a roster of squad members on hand at all times, company members could pool money to purchase entire armored platoons of tanks or helicopters. On a smaller scale, players can form fireteams, because sometimes, it's nice not to have to lone wolf everything.

A sandbox world where the players' actions shape the environment would be the frosting on the cake. Sure, there'll be missions, or Contracts, to motivate players to attack certain areas or defend designated positions, but the conflict should be shaped by the players. If a company raids a supply line, disrupting the flow of ammo to soldiers of an enemy faction, players in that faction will feel the heat via inflated ammo prices.

An MMOFPS of this magnitude is undoubtedly an enormously ambitious project. The technical aspect of it alone boggles my mind. Would it be possible to have a game filled with thousands of players, shooting and blowing each other up? What about lag and latency issues? What about balance? There's a lot of unanswered questions, but if a developer would be willing to tackle a project like this, I think they would stumble upon gaming gold.

Here's the trailer that started this all:


  1. Quite honestly i don't like the whole premise here. Not yours blake, the MMOFPS could be fun. I don't like the main stream media glorifying the soldier/badass persona. Rarely are games accurate (and why should they be they're games) in their depictions of war. The overall appeal here is be a badass. However for most soldiers life is anything but that. It's being a scared 19 year old kid being shot at by another 19 year old kid while you try to cope with the deaths of those around you while still trying to maintain your sanity. I have the upmost respect for veterans of the armed services but I mean come on. if we're gonna glorify war we might at well glorify rape, murder, torture, the drug trade, and human rights violations while we're at it. In closing my beef is not with the game. I am sure it's fun and does give some accuracy in what it is like being a soldier. I don't agree with the philosophy of insinuating that it is at all cool to commit murderous acts.

  2. I appreciate your comments and opinions dave. The soldier persona is very glorified by the media. Maybe the MMOFPS should feature an unforgiving death system where if you die, you die. like, your Xbox shoots you. That way people know that when they play video games, it's for real, man.

  3. ARMA 2, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, and Planetside all personify most of the elements you've brought forth here.

    Planetside is a bit dated though, but that's the true MMOFPS of the above.