Game Philosophy: Shooters

Grab your nerd pants and glasses again, I’m really starting to form a whole nerd outfit aren’t I?

God, what could I possibly add to perfect it from last entry?
Ah yes, Timmy Turner style teeth.

Anyway, welcome to another:

Today’s topic:

Alright, tell me what you see in these two pictures:

If you answered “Two levels of the same game” then you’re wrong. It’s two different games.
The first is from the Battlefield series and the second is from the Call of Duty series.

Now why did I just give this little test?

To prove my point. Shooters are WAY too alike these days.
(PS, if you actually guessed from first glance that they’re two different games and are going to point out every single little difference, you sadden me.)

What is up with shooters these days?

I remember a time when I could play as a scientist in a supersuit killing facehugger-wannabes.
I remember a time when I could play as a guy with futuristic guns evaporating velociraptors.
I remember a time when I could control TIME with guns.

Why the heck are there so many shooters about the friggin World War 2?

I’d even appreciate it if they at least showed the Vietcong nowadays instead of fighting Germans all the time, or is that too damaging to your little ego, America?

Let me make one little thing clear, I don’t hate Call of Duty and Battlefield. I’d be lying to myself if I said I didn’t enjoy playing them here and there.

But for the love of god, I’d like to have some VARIETY.

Yes, variety, remember that word Game Developers?

Give me a shooter game that is NOT about the World War 2.

And instead you give me ANOTHER overused theme of shooters, the space marines.
Hell, there’s actually a game coming out literally called:

I’m guessing you guys understand what I’m going for right now.
Shooters just need to take more risks in terms of their gameplay and themes.

Shooters have something special in their genre, mainly that they are more direct compared to other games.

A beat-em-up game has you pressing random buttons and the character will do awesome choreographed moves.
An RPG has you choosing an action and your character would do a choreographed move.
A platforming game gives you different obstacles and tools to jump from one platform to another.

A shooter instead is very simple. You aim, you fire.

And that’s good, a good game starts off simple and gets more complex the later you get in the game.

But that’s the problem with today’s shooters.

It IS simple, and it STAYS simple.

I’m going to give an example of a simple concept getting more and more complex. And it’s an example from one of my favorite franchises: Sonic the Hedgehog (pulls up Flame Shield)

First off, here is the level layout of the first level of the game:
Level Layout: Green Hill Zone
It’s a very simple level. 3 different paths to take with a few careful jumps here and there. It’s simple and it works.

Now, here’s the last level of the game:
Level Layout: Scrap Brain Zone
Looks a lot more friggin complex, doesn’t it? It’s almost a friggin maze.

But that’s the thing, it starts off simple, and gets more and more complex, which is good.

They don’t give you a super easy level and then throw you into the most difficult one, they ease you into it.

Shooters these days don’t do that.

It’s starts up with you shooting a German guy or Alien, and it ends with you shooting a German guy or Alien, only with a different haircut or color.

You can go tell me “oh, but that’s realistic” and yeah, it is.

You know what else would be realistic? This:

You see, games have the ability to NOT be realistic.

That’s their charm, that’s their speciality.

Is it about a plumber saving a princess from a spiked turtle? Sure, why not? It’s friggin fun to kick turtle shells.
Is it about a blue hedgehog running at the speed of sound twarting the evil plans of a fat scientist? Why not?
Is it about a boy that fights with a huge key and teams up with Disney characters? Hell yeah!
Is it about a ninja that flips out and kills people? … Okay actually that IS a realistic case of a ninja…

What I’m saying is that a game is usually fun BECAUSE it’s unrealistic.

Sure, lots of good games are realistic by nature, probably because they expect some kind of oscar or something and expect to be taken seriously. But a game in it’s core is still about entertainment.

Shooters these days don’t use it. It’s just an American dude gunning down Germans.

Though in that case, Space Marines kinda have it a bit better, since they actually take liberties to mix things up due to their futuristic states.

But that brings us to another problem: Guns.

Why are guns so generic these days?

Oh yeah, you can call it a “Multi-propelled Accel Bullet Fire 2000” but it still functions like a Machine gun!
Call it a “Duo-barrel Demon Shot X-69” but it’s still a Shotgun!

I know they’re the standard kinds of guns to have, but give us something new too, PLEASE.

It really says something when the weapon I like the most in Modern Warfare 2 is the friggin KNIFE!

This is a problem which is still there even with modern Space Marine shooters.

The guns in their games are nothing but Call of Duty guns but modified.

I’m going to list a few things that shooters should focus on, plus a game that did it right.

1: Innovative Gun:

Give us a gun which we can play around in.
Portal did it with the Portal gun, which has a very simple concept. You shoot one portal in one place, and another portal in another place. And now you can run into one portal and go out the other portal.
Simple and effective. It gives us a lot of stuff to play around in.
It’s not realistic, and that’s what makes it fun.
Give us guns that do something special, like a gun that shoots airpressure or something that effectively makes you fly, or a gun that shoots bouncing bullets which you can use to hit enemies from a corner.
Give us something FUN.

2. USE the fact it’s First Person

The thing about First Person is that you are immediately immersed in the character. Because his/her eyes effectively becomes yours.
That is a great asset to make a horror game, don’t you think?
FEAR uses that and turns what would be a game that’s a little scary into a game that’s terrifying.
Lots of times it makes you look at a window, make you turn around to activate something, only to have you turn back and see a scary girl looking back at you from the window you just looked at.
This of course isn’t something that’s exclusive to horror. A lot of stuff could be useful from the fact that it’s First Person. Why not give us regular enemies whom have several weakspots to shoot to defeat them instead of simply loading them with bullets.
Why not  have the environments visibly change when you look at it? Or heck, tell a better story which uses the fact you can’t see the player character’s face.
If you make a First Person game which could easily be converted to a 3rd Person game, that’s when you’re not doing it right.

3. Don’t be LIMITED to guns.

Way too many times was I playing a shooter game and wonder “why the hell can’t I just use that stick right there to beat those bugs to safe precious ammo?”.
While Aliens vs Predators does make me wonder why I can’t rip out a pipe to stab the Aliens with it, at least it gives me not only melee attacks for the Marines which are actually USEFUL, but also the ability to play as the Alien and the Predator.
As the Alien I could run on walls and jump to the ceiling and use it’s tail.
As the Predator I can jump from treetop to treetop and turn invisible. Also Predators have weapons which are CREATIVE but I already covered that.
The point is, don’t make guns the only answer to every situation.
Let me use a knife to cut a rope which releases a box hanging over someone’s head.
Give me a hoverboard which I can use to jump off people’s faces and do backflips if I want to.
Give me fighting moves which REAL Marines are trained to use when, oh I don’t know, don’t have access to guns!
Yes people, that friggin exists. USE IT!

4. Get rid of the Brown Filter over the graphics:

Okay, I’m cheating a bit with this one, considering Mirror’s Edge is actually a First Person Platforming game, but hey, you shoot every now and then.
Shooter games these days tend to have a brown filter over it, as in all the colors are washed up and have a bit of a brown hue to it.
The reason for it is so it gets a gritty feeling, makes it seem more serious and “realistic”.
Mirror’s Edge gave that the finger and had everything in the pure colors of White, Red, Blue and Yellow.
What we got was something beautiful and stylish, which games REALLY should be focusing on nowadays.
I’m not saying games shouldn’t be serious every now and then, but  that people should stop and think for a second about other ways to give a tone rather than gritty.
This kinda blends with my request of games stopping with World War 2 themes lately, considering Brown Filters seem to be given to each of those games by law it seems.

5. Give us a different main character other than soldiers
Xbox 360 Alan Wake Front Cover
Again I’m cheating a bit since the game, like the cover says, is actually a Psychological Action Thriller game. But the gameplay is based on a gun and flashlight, so yeah.
There is only so much someone can write about soldiers, and it’s really starting to get overused, especially in shooter games.
“Oh god, war is terrible…” “I am only a shell of my former self” “I do this for my country!” “I’m only doing this for the money.” WE GET IT!
Listen, you know who my favorite soldier character is?

That’s right, Solid Snake. My favorite soldier character is a character that uses guns to a MINIMUM.
What am I trying to say? That everything about soldiers is already covered by that one character.
To get me interested in shooters these days, I’m looking for characters who are MORE than just a piece of Solid Snake.
Enter Alan Wake. Instead of it being about a soldier, it’s about a writer stuck in a story he himself has written.
He has no giant body armor, no huge muscles, no giant oversized guns which are probably there for overcompensating.
It’s just him, a simple gun, a flashlight and the knowledge that monsters are weak against light.
I want to be able to relate to a character other than a cliche soldier.
How about a magician that tries to control the element of water?
Or an accountant that got stuck in an Alien invasion?
Or a robot that is sent to the Prehistoric times?

For gods sake, people, if I can think all these stuff up, why can’t  professional Game Designers do it these days?

Published by Huy Minh Le

Huy Minh Le is a Video Game Enthusiast, Movie Lover, Writer, Content Marketeer and regular TvTropes reader! His studies in Game Design, Art, and Writing has led to a very creative, yet analytical mind.

2 thoughts on “Game Philosophy: Shooters

  1. You know, maybe it’s just the screenshots, but those two shooters don’t look that great. :P

    But anyway, yeah, I’m not a huge fan of shooters, but if I were to choose a shooter, it would be Star Wars: Battlefront II. It’s a Third Person Shooter that allows First Person, it’s gets more creative with the genre (not enough in the long run, but it was a good step in the right direction), it gives a decent story, there’s lots of cool environments, and it lets you fly spaceships! :D

    Oh, and it lets you play as Jedi. That’s cool too.

    But it also makes the game more evolved. It’s still not there yet, but it’s getting there. Or was. Or still is. Or they haven’t decided if it will or not despite being the best-selling Star Wars game. But anyway.

    Shooters need to evolve, and some are taking steps to, but only slightly. Making your screen go red is not a step in the right direction; it’s just a step in the “Red means death so you should hate it” direction. So yeah, more steps in the right direction are needed to make shooters really good and memorable.


  2. first image is battlefield because there’s a guy using the turret of the tank, that’s not possible in call of duty.
    Second image is call of duty because the most right soldier is holding this huge rocket launcher which is easily recognized as that huge rocket launcher you can use in call of duty: modern warfare 2.

    And DICE needs to start working on Mirror’s Edge 2…


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