Monster header

There is always some­thing that fills me with regret when I think on it, and that is the death of a sta­ple of late 90s and ear­ly 2000s PC gam­ing — the Arena Shooter. It was a gen­re built on adren­a­line and speed; bot­tled light­ning as it were. Sadly, this kind of twitch ori­ent­ed shooter took a back­seat in the mar­ket due to the suc­cess of oth­er titles in the FPS gen­re such as Half-Life, Halo, and even ear­ly Call of Duty games. Compounded with the suc­cess of the home con­sole, and an attempt to make E-Sports a thing before the audi­ence exist­ed, ulti­mate­ly cause the gen­re to fiz­zle down into the dim can­dle we have today.

The gen­re is on life sup­port, with Quake Live being where growth in this genre’s mul­ti­play­er scene has been for the longest time. Modern titles just don’t have the same appeal they did to a niche mar­ket, as most play­ers of Arena Shooters are hap­py play­ing their old­er titles and are adverse to tak­ing risks on a new prop­er­ty. Games such as Toxikk and Reflex haven’t had an easy time enter­ing the mar­ket, and their audi­ence is dis­en­fran­chised, pin­ing for the “good old days.”

I’m not say­ing that Halo, Half-Life, or even ear­ly Call of Duty games are bad. However, they are the main rea­son why Arena Shooters are a dying breed in my view. Video games, like it or not, are a prof­it dri­ven indus­try. Half-Life is a beloved title; a bizarre look into a what-if that is high­ly praised for it’s plot, pac­ing, and over­all abil­i­ty to tell a sto­ry with­out water­ing down the game play too much. It became a gam­ing sta­ple, and the sales fig­ures from 2008 put Half-Life 1 as hav­ing sold over 9.3 Million copies.

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Blah blah blah … Mr. Freeman

Developers of Arena Shooters took notice of this mar­ket shift. id Software and Epic both adopt­ed to a focus on sto­ry in lat­er titles. Sales equals suc­cess, and it’s no longer about one’s vision and how that ties into game play when a game starts to reach a wider mar­ket. A good exam­ple of this prob­lem that I like to point to is Halo: Combat Evolved. It intro­duced the con­ven­tion of “2 Weapons, 8 grenades” that we find com­mon in a lot of mod­ern shoot­ers. By lim­it­ing a player’s inven­to­ry and their choice of weapon­ry, you do them a dis­ser­vice. This arti­fi­cial lim­it caus­es the game to slow down, and makes you to think about what weapons you’re car­ry­ing. While this is good for telling a sto­ry, and pac­ing your play­ers so that your expe­ri­ence is tai­lored, it also makes your mul­ti­play­er com­po­nent suf­fer. In a game focused on skill and aim, lim­it­ing the play­er in how they inter­act with the game is a bad design choice. Titles such as Quake 3: Arena and Unreal Tournament 2004 are a good exam­ple of how to do mul­ti­play­er games right. Give the play­er free­dom.

One of the big issues to me is that mod­ern titles are built for con­soles. With that comes lim­it­ing fac­tors of your input meth­ods, and the gen­er­al under-powered nature of con­soles when com­pared to most mid-priced PC coun­ter­parts. This also intro­duced a need for P2P net­work­ing of games as opposed to ded­i­cat­ed servers set up by play­ers, and the lim­i­ta­tions this intro­duces to a games mul­ti­play­er envi­ron­ment. Simply put, being console-centric caus­es games to depend on a net­work­ing solu­tion that is errat­ic; you intro­duce too many fac­tors to com­pen­sate for com­pli­cat­ed action with most P2P net­code.

A lot of console-based shoot­ers depend on a mechan­ic called Hitscan because of the dif­fer­ence in band­width and rout­ing errors from client con­nec­tions. Hitscan is a method by which the game engine draws a straight line from the play­er shoot­ing to the area their cur­sor is on. They can have dif­fer­ent ranges and effec­tive­ness from game to game too. With Hitscan there’s no dodg­ing, you are essen­tial­ly fir­ing invis­i­ble laser point­ers at peo­ple with maths applied to approx­i­mate things like recoil. The cal­cu­la­tion takes place so quick, that the pro­jec­tile is there “instant­ly.” This is why Call of Duty’s weapons feel all samey, because they are most­ly Hitscan based.

This is only exac­er­bat­ed by the lack of input meth­ods avail­able to con­soles. Analog sticks are inher­ent­ly less accu­rate for more pre­cise and agile move­ments than mice for PCs which are designed for accu­rate point­ing. It’s because of this that you can­not be as accu­rate or use physics based pro­jec­tiles as well. This slows down the game play and basi­cal­ly turns it into Whack-a-Mole. This also caused iron sights to be a pri­ma­ry mechan­ic in the­se sorts of games. It caus­es the game to turn into glo­ri­fied game of Red Light, Green Light in a sense. The first per­son to get sight of their oppo­nent and pull the trig­ger usu­al­ly wins the alter­ca­tion. It’s this con­se­quence of game design that makes it feel bland and unin­spired in all the titles that use the­se mechan­ics. This is a direct bypro­duct of the suc­cess of con­soles.

But once home con­soles took off, it was an inevitable trend. Like we estab­lished ear­lier, suc­cess equals mon­ey, so the trend toward mak­ing con­sole video game expe­ri­ences is just a smart busi­ness deci­sion when they fill so many homes. There was a huge emerg­ing mar­ket, with fresh mon­ey, and this made PC ori­ent­ed expe­ri­ences a less prof­itable ven­ture. We are see­ing this again more recent­ly with mobile gam­ing, but that is a top­ic for a dif­fer­ent time.

One of the best things about Arena Shooters was the inno­va­tion they brought to the FPS gen­re at the time. Some of the first attempts at adapt­ing a pri­mar­i­ly PC based gen­re to con­soles were games like GoldenEye, and Perfect Dark. These games brought what con­soles need­ed: fast paced game play with tight con­trols. They were rev­o­lu­tion­ary for their time, and both are still regard­ed as shin­ing exam­ples of con­sole FPS titles in gen­er­al. To me, it was because they still demand­ed the skill that drove inno­va­tion in the­se games.

Something we can thank Arena Shooters for is a game mechan­ic called Strafe-Jumping. First dis­cov­ered in the Quake 1, it was an bug in code that was left in as a fea­ture. This “bug” allowed a play­er to be more agile when they held a bound straf­ing key (A or D) and moved the cam­era the same direc­tion at cer­tain angles. This caused the play­er to accel­er­ate past the walk­ing speed lim­it, and gave peo­ple an option for quick move­ment which helped up the skill ceil­ing of the title.

So you get the basic idea.

It was this unique addi­tion to the shooter gen­re that brought in a sense of abil­i­ty and chal­lenge. It sep­a­rat­ed the good play­ers from the bad, and allowed peo­ple to do the impos­si­ble. Games like Tribes 2 went full on in this need for fast paced, skill­ful game play. It also uti­lized the full pow­er of PCs at the time. Tribes 2 sup­port­ed 32 play­er games in 2001, allow­ing for com­bat on a whole new scale. With PC being the pri­ma­ry plat­form for the­se sorts of games, it drove the indus­try to take FPS games to new places. Twitch reac­tion and speed ori­ent­ed game play fueled this desire to be the best, to have unique expe­ri­ences that were, and most­ly still are, only pos­si­ble due to the free­doms of the PC plat­form. This in turned help push PC hard­ware sales.

It’s things like mul­ti­play­er free from sub­scrip­tions, dri­ven by the com­mu­ni­ty, that caused the gen­re to get so ingrained in PC gam­ing, and thus drove the devel­op­ers to inno­vate new expe­ri­ences in the FPS space. The acces­si­bil­i­ty to mul­ti­play­er is what allowed for a what was orig­i­nal­ly a niche gen­re to real­ly flour­ish and thrive as glob­al com­mu­ni­ties grew around them. It was a good way to main­tain a mar­ket, and make what the fans want­ed. It allowed devel­op­ers to push them­selves to new heights and explore new tech­ni­cal con­cepts.

With that being said, a lot of mod­ern “made-for-console” shoot­ers focus pure­ly on the sto­ry and mass mar­ket mul­ti­play­er, and not the ele­ments that make a lot of old­er FPS games games great; game play, mechan­ics, and user expe­ri­ence. It’s why map design has become lit­tle more than straight lines in which you trig­ger dra­mat­ic cut sce­nes with a C tier Hollywood plot, and then walk in anoth­er straight line until the same thing hap­pens again and again until cred­its roll.

It’s fun­ny because it’s not far from the truth.

This has caused mul­ti­play­er in video games to suf­fer due to the changes in design need­ed for mass con­sole releas­es. Artificial lim­its cause mul­ti­play­er FPS titles feel lim­it­ed and very ster­ile. Almost as if the sin­gle play­er expe­ri­ence just had some net­code added to it. It’s not excit­ing, and doesn’t let you feel as if you real­ly worked for your vic­to­ry. Just have the right load­out and sneak up on peo­ple first, or hope you pull the trig­ger quick enough to not die. This were only made worse by games such as Gears of War. While it had an inter­est­ing third per­son view, things such as the take downs and the Chainsaw bay­o­net brought more of the smoke and mir­rors of sin­gle play­er to the mul­ti­play­er. You saw your char­ac­ter do some­thing badass, but it doesn’t feel as if you real­ly earned it, cheap­en­ing your vic­to­ry even fur­ther. It also slows the game play down even more, which makes it bor­ing to watch.

This kind of touch­es on a con­se­quence of watered down game play . Watching peo­ple play the­se shoot­ers is bor­ing. E-Sports wasn’t much of a thing peo­ple took seri­ous­ly back in the hey­day of games like Quake 3: Arena. E-Sports was a bit of a joke when the twitched based shoot­ers were king, and net­works such as G4 attempt­ing to force this into being a larg­er thing too ear­ly caused it to burnt out as being a gen­re peo­ple want­ed to watch. There wasn’t a mar­ket yet for that kind of con­tent. People still regard­ed video games as a fringe hob­by, some­thing losers did in their mom’s base­ment after down­load­ing porn ille­gal­ly.

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This is what peo­ple think gamers used to live like then. Apparently.

Outside of South Korea, the idea that any­body would want to watch com­pet­i­tive play of what was still regard­ed as “toys for chil­dren” was laugh­able to most. The ear­ly broad­cast­ed “MLG” cov­er­age was cringe wor­thy because of arti­fi­cial hype. It left a bad taste in many people’s mouths, and caused the mul­ti­play­er scene of Arena Shooters to slow­ly fade away to what we see today.

The faith­ful still play on to this day, play­ing their favorites of the gen­re, unwill­ing to risk their mon­ey and time on an untest­ed pro­duct. It sad­dens me that this is the way one of my favorite gen­res died. Not with a bang, nor even a whim­per, but iso­lat­ed in a weird sort of pur­ga­to­ry. I hope some day the gen­re will go back to being the pow­er­house it once was, but sad­ly the fore­cast looks grim. I just hope that one day I can go back to being fast and accu­rate in new ways that chal­lenge myself as a gamer and make me strive to be bet­ter. TofuEditorialPCPC RetrospectiveArena Shooters,PC RetrospectiveThere is always some­thing that fills me with regret when I think on it, and that is the death of a sta­ple of late 90s and ear­ly 2000s PC gam­ing — the Arena Shooter. It was a gen­re built on adren­a­line and speed; bot­tled light­ning as it were. Sadly,…
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Killer Tofu
Killer Tofu is the only accept­able form of tofu out there. When not writ­ing about games and inter­net cul­ture he enjoys long walks on the beach with your mom. But he won’t call her after­wards.
Killer Tofu

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