Hardcore Henry and FPS Design

So this past weekend I was ordering pizzas for my family and I from Marcos Pizza. Apparently I had ordered enough pizza where I got a free movie with my order. To clarify, this Marcos Pizza is attached to a Family Video and they often do cross promotions. So I figured this would be a great opportunity to watch a movie I haven’t seen. So I picked Hardcore Henry, the action packed adventure that is from the first person perspective, that takes place in Russia.  As an avid movie goer I found this move to be ok. It wasn’t a bad action film but it also wasn’t that good either, but worth a watch non the less.

The most obvious appeal for this movie is that it looks like a first person shooter. In this regard the movie does an excellent job in making the viewer feel a part of the film. The down side is that the camera shake can be too violent at times and drew me out of the experience on occasion. Compared to most First Person Shooters the only time the camera really shakes is if there are explosions everywhere. Or a major cinematic that the game developer really wants to show off. But these were just my initial thoughts of comparing Hardcore Henry to an FPS game. It was not unit I read an article on Gamasutra, an article you should read too, that I realized that Hardcore Henry has more to offer to FPS game design.

In the article, by Josh Bycer, he talked about three things that the movie did that could be done in games. The first is “Silent doesn’t mean Soulless”. In most FPS’s the protagonist that you play as either says nothing to very little and kills everything in their path. In many cases you mostly play as a Terminator that can be hurt but can heal when taking cover. In Hardcore Henry, he may be silent but through hand motions he shows that he has a range of emotions. By figuring out other ways to convey emotion, it becomes easier for the player to be immersed when they can relate to basic human emotions.

The second point Bycer makes is “Using your Surroundings”. For a lot of FPS games the player is stuck to a predetermined path, occasionally with alternate routes to create the illusion of choice.  Or there are the designated exploding barrels next to the only destructible pillar that collapses a section of the building.  But in the end you get the same result. Now games like Metal Gear Solid 5 do a good job of allowing the player to attack any mission any way they choose. But games like MGS5 take an excruciating amount of time to make and if you are looking to make a yearly or bi yearly game then that attention to detail is out of the question.

The third point he makes is “Interesting People”. This one is fairly straight forward because most characters in FPS’s are I kill things because a thing happened to me. Or I need to save America or the world. Alternatively, all there is to an NPC is that they kill things a certain way like a sniper or Heavy Weapons Guy.  Though for this aspect I blame the fact that most FPS games don’t really focus on story, just a semi reasonable reason to fight. So if the reason to do all the killing is vague at best then we really shouldn’t expect much when it comes to characters.

Ultimately, if we really want new and exciting shooters then game developers need to be more nuanced and not just use the same formula that always works. The issue with that is the formula works and makes money. Major studios will be very hesitant to implement any of these changes in fear that they will not get a hefty return on investment. Another aspect blocking change is that even if someone made an innovative shooter the gamers who play it, being the fickle people we are, may reject it for being too different.  Though over time the new formula will become the old one and we will wonder why it took so long.

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