With your recent announcement that Quake III is being dropped in
favor of Quake Arena, you've made
it clear that your company's focus will be on technology and multi-player games
only...more specifically, deathmatch multi-player only. I also understand that the
"single-player" mode will actually be multi-player battle against progressively
aggressive 'bots. This so called "single-player" mode is fine and dandy,
but before you completely blow off a true single- player mode and start focusing on
deathmatch technology, let me bounce some ideas off you. Perhaps this is more of a
discussion that is relevant to Trinity than it is to Quake
Arena. Regardless, my points are valid for any upcoming 3D technology.
Here is a list of things I
think should be developed in upcoming 3D engine technology, or included in the next
generation of single-player 3D shooters. Obviously these do not all have to be
implemented at once, but can be incorporated in a manner that is both painless and
technically feasible for each.
We've seen the claims. Have any of them panned out? No. AI up to
this point has been a half-baked effort. Most companies' definition of AI is
"more" or "more accurate" or "tougher"; none of which
challenge any apt player. Computer controlled opponents should run when losing a
battle, they should pursue when winning a battle, share resources when they run out of
ammo, and call for reinforcements if needed. Opponents should not have unlimited
ammo!! Computer AI probably falls more on the shoulders of the game developer than
the technology developer, but AI will be included in Quake Arena
in the form of 'bots, so it is a relevant point. Half-Life
is the next first person shooter claiming sophisticated opponent AI. We'll see if it
lives up to its own hype.
This isn't too critical in multi-player modes. I don't think too many people
notice how attractive their surroundings are when catching a BFG-10K up side the head.
But for single-player games there is the opportunity to include improvements in
this area. "Hit points," for a better term, should be assigned to various
stuctural elements. Walls should crumble when support structures are destroyed.
Ceilings should cave in...on top of the player if they are unfortunate enough to be
standing underneath. Players should have the option of expending firepower resources
on structural damage as well as opponent damage. Actual material properties could be
scaled with geometry to derive structural "hit points."
For single player games that encompass a given timeline, day and night cycles
should be included. Random weather effects such as snow, rain, wind gusts, and
blockage of sunlight by moving clouds should be included. The impact of various
environment changes should have either a positive or negative affect on the player
depending on the situation.
A player should be able to climb at a certain risk, jump over ledges and choose to roll,
crawl along the floor or through narrow nooks, or sneak quietly around unsuspecting
opponents. Running for extended periods of time should cause exhaustion...if not
damage. Any type of mobility that enhances play for a given game should be included.
Most of these improvements could be included through the use of typical
role-playing type attributes such as classes, skill points, and experience points.
modeling. Up to
this point damage has been pretty black and white. You're either alive at some level
of health or you are dead. Damage should have physical repercussions in the form of
hit location. If I'm hit in the leg, should I not run slower? If I'm hit in
the head, shoud I not see red or blurred vision? If I'm hit in the groin, should I
not fall to my knees? If I'm hit in the arm, should my aiming accuracy not
decrease? If I'm wounded, should I not slowly bleed and lose life points until
healed? This is a major area for improvement! Opponents would be equally
affected by this increase in detail.
mode has traditionally been composed of two things. You shoot, or your buddies
shoot. Sure, you cover each others' back, and maybe get in an accidental frag once
in awhile, but co-op mode means just that...cooperation. How about sharing
ammo? Swapping weapons or gear? Your buddy should be able to bind up those
bleeding wounds so you don't take anymore damage! How about helping your immobile
buddy who's alive on the floor with leg injuries! Boost you partner up to that ledge
you can't reach alone. Throw a hand or rope down to pull him up. I don't know
how many times I've wanted to actually talk to the other players. I realize that
this is slowly becoming reality (Fireteam), but it is certainly
a must for cooperative mode gaming of any kind. Increased internet bandwidth will
also contribute to improvement in this area.
Most first person shooters have no acoustic modeling. Sure, Unreal
makes cool echoing sounds when you fire in a cavern. This is not what I'm getting
at. Opponents should have different levels of auditory sensitivity. The player
should be able to enter quiet mode, or listen at doors for sounds, or even hear the
approach of an attacking enemy. I don't know how many times I've been fragged by
someone (something) that has run up behind me and placed a rocket in the back of my head!
Acoustic modeling could be accomplished by sound pressure levels, environment
geometry, and material properties...sound propogates faster through water and reflects
more cleanly of smooth surfaces. Support for true 3D sound or surround sound would
also make a game a more realistic experience.
More polygons does
not = a better game.
Many people are hung up on polygons. We need more polygons! We need
more polygon crunching cards! No. The number of polygons does not make the
game. No one notices the amount of polygons required to construct a baddie in Quake
II when they are running around fragging their hearts out. I believe
there will be one more iteration on the polygon count area. Trinity
may be the pinnacle of the polygons...you could probably answer that better than me.
How smooth do we need our characters? And at what cost? If we ever
approach the point where 3D modelled characters start looking like real humans, that is
the point it ceases being a game. Part of what makes a game a "game" is
the cartoon quality of the environment. The development time and resources required
to make near human looking models that are rendered in real time would be extremely
prohibitive in today's cutthroat gaming business environment.
This is a biggie, and applies to both modes of play. This is more a function of your
local connection or internet congestion. As the speed of the web increases the
playability of internet based games should improve. Hopefully the code that
comprises the internet play will not spiral ahead of the upcoming increase in internet
speed. If it does, then online multi-player games will never make it into the
mainstream. At some point bandwidth must exceed load for online gaming to become
not a game make.
I'm probably going to get slammed for this one. I think it is underestimated how
many people out there buy the games for the single-player experience. Up to this
point there has only been one company that has been able to pull off not one, but two
successful single player 3D shooters. I'm speaking, of course, of LucasArts (Dark Forces,
Jedi Knight). The reasons: 1) They know what they're
doing. 2) They've got the ultimate license vehicle in Star Wars.
Whether or not a person has ever played a 3D shooter, they can identify with the story.
For a lot of people, deathmatch is not a viable option due to their slow internet
connection (see above). I play Quake II deathmatch
exclusively on a LAN these days...at least until I get my ADSL line installed next
month. I was getting sick and tired of playing an awesome game on a pathetic
connection. Deathmatch appeals to the hardcore gamer. Single play and co-op
appeals to the traditional gamer. Now ask yourself: what is the ratio of
hardcore to traditional gamers? I'm taking a stab that it is something greater than
1:3. Just look at all the copies of Myst and Microsoft
Arcade that have been sold. If you want to maximize your sales, you
have to market to the traditional gamer.
What's this going to
cost? It's hard to say...but I'll take another stab. It's probably going
to cost a lot of processing power, development time, and money. Processing power is
the one problem that will probably be the easiest to solve thanks to Moore's Law and
increasing competition in the processor industry. The rest are intangibles that are
difficult to predict until the gaming industry hits the elevated level of development that
it will surely encounter.
I realize that inclusion of
many of the elements listed above will cause a major paradigm shift in the way games are
designed, scripted, and how project leads manage development resources...but that's a
topic for another column. Single player 3D shooters will no longer be the linear
"enter, blow stuff up, and find the exit" games they are now. Hopefully
they will be story rich, interactive pieces of fiction where the player controls the
Anyone can do
deathmatch! Don't get me wrong. Deathmatch and single player can exist side by
side, but probably not in the same game. If both are included in a game, there is a
sacrifice to each. So I applaude your decision to focus on a deathmatch only version
of Quake...but remind you to keep these topics tucked in the
back of your mind while developing the Trinity engine.
Are there any upcoming games
that showcase both modes of play successfully? Nope, doesn't look like it. Half-life
looks promising, as does Requiem. Unreal
is beautiful to look at, but has some serious multi-player problems and is a typical
single-player experience: "blow stuff up." Who will be the champion
of single-player 3D shooters? Hard to say at this point, but it looks like Quake
II and the upcoming Quake Arena will be the kings
of deathmatch...which is fantastic.
The challenge now is to make
more realistic and challenging single player and co-op games with gripping story lines and
characters. I can't wait...because the sky's the limit.
I hope this letter finds you
well, and I wish you luck and success with Quake Arena! I
appreciate your time and look forward to your comments.
~ Neal Ulen
Drop me an e-mail and let
me know what you like and/or dislike about gaming, a particular title, or the industry in
general. As always, all (non-belligerent) criticism welcome!
The Undertow Copyright (c) 1998-99
Neal E. Ulen and