I have played a lot of StarCraft in the past. In fact, writing that sentence has made me decide I want to go back and replay some. There’s something that feels really good about playing an RTS (or Real Time Strategy game, for the uninitiated), something that leaves you satisfied.
It’s like a massive game of chess. You and your opponent are trying to utilize a variety of resources to defeat each other. Your primary resources are your combat units. Infantry, archers, grenadiers, cavalry, tanks, space tanks. You can either roll them together in one giant death ball, or spread them out for surgical strikes to take your opponent apart at the seams.
Needless to say, there’s something visceral about RTS’s that feels good to me. You know what else feels viscerally good to me? A nice, deep FPS.
An FPS (First Person Shooter, although I’d be surprised if you didn’t already know that) is about as far from an RTS as possible. It’s not a one-on-one duel, it’s a large, lead filled brawl. You’re not an invisible hand in the sky, you’re a boot on the ground.
Most of the time there’ll be some token objective in an FPS. Capture the point, or collect dog-tags or something like that. Whatever it is, it’s usually secondary to the overall goalof killing the hell out of the other team. The objective might be very important, and it might be the principle way to win. But most players to gauge themselves based on how well they sat on a hill. They want that sweet, sweet KDR. (That’s Kill/Death Ration. I did not anticipate this article’s volume of abreviations)
Some of you may remember a little game for the PS3 called MAG (Massive Action Game. I’ve pretty much given up by this point) that tried to do an FPS on a scale we haven’t seen before. While most games were only half as big, there were game modes that allowed up to 256 people to play in a single game.
If you haven’t heard of MAG that’s because, well, it was pretty awful. But the core idea was pretty cool. The teams were subdivided into squads, which were further organized into platoons. A single squad member was the squad leader, one squad leader was the platoon leader, and one platoon leader was the overall general. A series of chat lobbies allowed officers and squads to communicate.
All of this is a longwinded lead-in to this weeks gaming concept I would love to see. I’m talking about an FPS/RTS hybrid. It would essentially be two games in one. You’d have a really large player count, divided into squads, with a hierarchy of leadership able to give orders and place objectives.
Now yes, on the surface this sounds an awful lot like MAG, but there’re a few really important differences. The squad commands would be more in depth. There would be an intentional emphasis on precision and teamwork. This wouldn’t be a game where you go running off on your own to be a super soldier. You’d have to work with your squad.
Mics and communication would be a must. The squad leader has to be able to direct people with precision. If they need two specific people to breach a building at a specific angle, it needs to happen quickly.
This level of coordination would extend up the chain of command. Squad leaders would order their squad to complete objectives given to them by their platoon leaders, but would otherwise focus on fighting. Platoon leaders might deligate squad command to a subordinate so they can focus on the environment and information from other squads. The general of the entire team would give broad orders, organizing the entire fight just like an FPS player.
These are large, sweeping ideas, and none of them are terribly complicated. The success or failure of the game would lie in the details. There’re three in particular I think would be important: meaningful objectives, balanced respawning, and persistent statistics.
The first and most important of these is meaningful objectives. Team deathmatch honestly shouldn’t even be on the radar. It’s not a game mode that lends itself to the game I’m talking about. Every game mode has to have objectives, some of them with mechanical value and some with intrinsic value.
Obviously the game mode might jut call for your team to capture and hold as many objectives as possible. That’s great, nothing wrong with that. It works. But the thing that’ll really help set the game apart is objects that have a tangible mechanical value.
For example, imagine there being an objective in an artillery emplacement. Maybe you score points for holding it, maybe not. Either way, the artillery pieces here are fully functional. If you’re team is holding this objective, they can use the artillery to help them fight.
So supposed a squad is entrenched in a building and they’re getting overrun. The squad leader could call up the chain for support. He doesn’t know what he’s going to get but he knows he needs help. Fortunately his platoon leader just got word from a separate squad that an artillery emplacement just got captured. The platoon leader gets coordinates from the entrenched squad and feeds them to the artillery squad, who then aims and fires the artillery. If everything goes well, the chain of command flows smoothly. The artillery hits the mark and the entrenched squad lives.
Now tell me that doesn’t sound absolutely awesome?
The second important factor is balanced respawning. I’ll be the first to admit this is a little tricky. In a lot of FPS’s respawn happens in seconds. In this hybrid game that leaves you with a problem. If you can respawn on your squad then fights could easily spiral endlessly, with both sides endlessly regenerating. If you don’t spawn on your squad however, you’re left a very far distance from your core teammates.
I feel the solution to this would be to have only squad spawning, but with longer respawn timers that pause during combat. When two squads fight and people die, they stay dead until their squad exits combat and then something like fifteen seconds pass. If the whole squad dies, an officer up the chain can redeploy them somewhere farther back. This keeps the balance of the game at a good place, and emphasizes teamwork. Lone wolfing gets you killed, and being dead sucks. If you want to live you have to work together.
Finally we have persistent statistics. This is a little ambiguous but I mean two things by it. Firstly player and squad stats need to be tracked, with players getting a skill ranking based on that. This might not be visible to other squaddies but will be visible to officers. If a squad leader needs something important done, they need to be able to rely on people. A numerical indicator of a player’s skill just makes sense.
The same thing a step up is squad stats. If players are able to organize with a group of friends and form a squad (or platoon, if they have enough friends) those squads should receive a skill value in the same way. If a platoon leader really wants that artillery or that drone control station, they’ll put their best squad on it. As callous as it sounds, if they just need a road bump they might throw their weakest squad into the fray.
Player upgrades should be a factor too. This isn’t complicated or new. It’s present in basically every modern FPS. As a player levels up they unlock new content. This could be abilities and stat increases or new weapons and gear. It’s a great incentive and the variety will help set people and squads apart. An entire squad might decide to carry rockets and explosives, marking their squad as a demo team. Their officers will know this, and can allocate them accordingly.
So there we have it. An FPS/RTS hybrid. It’s a beast of a game, I’ll be the first to admit. It would be a massive undertaking to craft it, and there’s no certainty it would work. But good lord, if it did work?
I’d buy it.