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Arcade Mode: A Suggestion for Modern Warfare 2
by Enrique Dryere on 11/21/09 06:41:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 offers a variety of multiplayer game styles. Players can play free-for-alls, team death matches, king-of-the-hill-like domination matches, diffuse bombs, and more. However, I believe that one mode has gone missing: an Arcade Mode.

While it's possible to play with increased weapon damage, via hardcore mode, there is no mode of play which decreases weapon damage. And you may ask yourself, "So what? Why would I want it to be harder to beat other players than it already is?" It's a valid question, and the answer I propose is one with which only players of a certain type may agree.

Arcade Mode

Before I explain the rationale behind it, let me clarify what I mean by "Arcade Mode." You might consider Arcade Mode the opposite of Hardcore Mode, in that players will be able to take significantly more damage before being defeated. This can be handled by reducing damage across the board or increasing base health.

Other key features of Arcade Mode could be fixed spawn locations (i.e. bases), increased discrepancy between the visual appearance of opposing teams (whether by color or uniform), substituting the minor damage bonuses you gain when killing enemies in rapid succession for regenerative bonuses, and modifying non-lethal weaponry (flashbangs, stun grenades) to compensate for other changes. Above all else, I would recommend increasing accuracy, both down the sight and hip-fire. Headshots should only occur when players are actually aiming at their opponent's head, not as a sort of critical. Hitting a target's head while "aiming" at their boots is a realistic possibility, due to spread and ricochets, but Arcade Mode's intent is to create a sport-like purity of gameplay. Realism is sacrificed for greater fidelity to the player's actions. Even though it may be blasphemy to the Call of Duty franchise, they might even consider letting players hip-fire while sprinting.

Of course, the best execution of this new mode would require more fine tuning. Weapons would have to be rebalanced and initial ammunition/clip capacity would have to be rethought.

Wait, you want to make people harder to kill, really?

It may seem counterintuitive to suggest that prolonging the length of combat would promote skill, but that is exactly what it does. Granted that it gives players a longer time to react, but they must still be able to outplay their opponent enough to turn the tide of battle.

So how exactly does protracting combat favor skill? It's a matter of normalization. If you've ever gambled, you've probably heard the expression "the house always wins." But it's not entirely true is it? Of course, players can beat the casino. I can walk in, put a single quarter in a slot machine, and walk out a millionaire. But it's more likely that I can I walk in with a million dollars worth of quarters and lose every cent. This is because the machines are designed to pay off less than they earn. In other words, the odds are against me. And the more I play, the more likely my results are to trend towards the odds.

Increasing the amount of bullets it takes to defeat an opponent is akin to forcing the gambler to play more of their quarters. In this case, the house is the more skillful of the competitors. Their chances of winning are greater, and so they benefit from greater normalization of results.

Where's the Flux Capacitor Perk?

Perhaps the most important reason to increase the duration of combat is latency. If two players round a corner into each other, it can be very difficult to overcome the advantage of even 50-100ms of lag, since the battle can sometimes only last a quarter of a second. It is entirely possible to be killed by an enemy before you are even aware you are being shot at or stabbed; and not because they are carefully hid or flanking, simply because they began attacking a fraction of a second ago and by the time your computer finds out, it is far too late. Add to this the camera movement and blood-splatter occlusion that occurs when you're struck by enemy fire, and it can become quite difficult to overcome an initial advantage -- reducing 90% of conflicts to "who hit their mark first."

Modern Warfare 2's net code goes a long way in remedying this difficult issue, but there is only so much that can be done with such a limited amount of health. Increasing the length of combat will go a long way in diminishing the importance of latency and the first shot.

All about Player Style

Arcade Mode is not intended to replace the current modes of play. I expect that it would only appeal to certain types of players, particularly those that like to run and gun. But if properly executed its appeal could be far wider.

You may think that "campers" and snipers would feel right at home in the current modes of play. It is, in fact, quite easy to wait for enemies to rush around a corner and mow them down with a light machine gun. However, I suspect that many will find it frustrating that someone armed with a sub-machine gun can pick off a sniper from a great distance. With increased health comes a wider breadth of discrepancy between the damage of various weapons at different ranges.

Two for One

Particularly if hip-shot accuracy is increased and allowed while sprinting, the Arcade Mode would play very differently from other modes. It may not be anything like the traditional gameplay of the Call of Duty franchise, but is that really a bad thing if it's offered as an extra? I think it would be different enough that it could feel to players like they own two separate FPSs in one.

Why hadn't anyone thought of this before?

I certainly don't think I'm the first person to suggest this mode of play, but I think there is a very good reason that it's not been included in any CoD game I've played thus far: the Pareto Principle, A.K.A. the 80-20 rule. This principle, when applied to video games, states that 80% of players will win 20% of the time, while 20% of players will win 80% of the time.

The current game modes, both normal and hardcore, go a long way in leveling the playing field, while still allowing for more skilled players to prosper. Those who've only played CoD may disagree with this statement, but let me explain what I mean. In other FPSs, such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, the worst player on the server had virtually no chance whatsoever of ever killing the best player on the server, such was the possible difference in skill. 40+ kill streaks were fairly commonplace, and 100-1 kill death ratios were legitimate possibilities, albeit quite difficult to achieve. This is virtually impossible in a game in which a stray grenade or bullet can prove fatal.

Every dog has his day...

The prevailing theory behind CoD which has made it so popular is what I like to call the "every dog has his day" strategy. Because of the way that spawning, spray patterns, and especially kill streaks work, the top player is likely to change with every map. This doesn't mean that the top player will change every map, merely that the game mechanics promote this change. As long as you are a mid-grade player, you're likely to find your name topping the list every once in a while. However, this also means you may find it on the other end if things don't go your way.

In other words, introducing luck blurs the line between good and great players, and the quicker you can die, the more pronounced the effects of luck become. A great deal of Call of Duty's success has come from appealing to the masses through this strategy, but if you're going to offer a dozen or so modes of play, perhaps it's time to introduce an Arcade Mode as well. As with any of the other modes, I'm sure there will be players who love it and those who hate it, but regardless it would offer a fresh new style of play that is likely to increase the franchises already frighteningly large following.

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Luis Guimaraes
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To bad there's no mod support in MW2, it could be and easy one. If working as a Mutator it would be symply turn it on, and compatible with every gametype already in the game.

In the gametype subject, I have projected one in UT3 that was in alpha testing, and it proved to be very good to experience. But the programmer needed to abandon it. You may find it interesting:

Elliot Green
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Quote "Perhaps the most important reason to increase the duration of combat is latency. If two players round a corner into each other, it can be very difficult to overcome the advantage of even 50-100ms of lag, since the battle can sometimes only last a quarter of a second. It is entirely possible to be killed by an enemy before you are even aware you are being shot at or stabbed; and not because they are carefully hid or flanking, simply because they began attacking a fraction of a second ago and by the time your computer finds out, it is far too late."

Situations where players suddenly meet will always be determined by the fastest connection. Having each shot not give as much damage will not make games between players with different connections more fair.

A game where single shots give high damage means that a player who is best able to position them self will always beat another player. A game where there is low shots per damage will reward whoever reacts the fastest(who has the fastest connection).

Enrique Dryere
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@Luis, yes that's very true. Of course, MW2 has no dedicated servers and no modding. The project you were working on sounds interesting. I hope you get to finish it because I think there's quite a bit of potential there.


Positioning is crucial in nearly every FPS I've played. Even when it takes a hundred rounds to beat another player, the one that more effectively uses cover and gets the drop on their opponent would certainly prosper.

As for connection speeds and high damage / low health, let me see if I can put it another way. Say that there are two cars waiting at a light. Each of the cars has a corresponding light. As soon as it turns green, the driver will apply full acceleration. Now, without bringing numbers into all this, let's say that car A accelerates slower than car B, however, car A's light turns green a solid second before car B's. If the distance they have to cover is short, car A may still beat car B, because although car B is faster, it doesn't have the sufficient runway to make up for car A's 1 second advantage. If we elongate the race sufficiently, car B will overcome the 1 second delay and beat car A.

The distance of the race is equivalent to player's health in an FPS. Of course, if the net code is bad, then the person with the worst latency will be at a constant disadvantage. But if the net code is sufficiently robust, players with 100ms or so of discrepancy shouldn't notice a drastic difference. I can say from experience that in Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, some of the most difficult opponents I ever faced had above 150ms ping. You can't really account for drastic cases, but solid net code can make the game quite accessible for players with less than stellar connections.

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To say the game's actual combat has much to do with skill isn't entirely true. I would say 80% of any successful match is positioning and battle awareness. The remaining 20% is the aiming and shooting. If you notice most top players they have very specific spots and routes that they take to increase their odds of not catching that stray bullet and pumping the enemy full of as many "stray" bullets as possible. They also keep an eye on many other things like enemy tendencies and spawn rotations. They also don't engage in a fight they can't win, meaning they don't simply shoot at any enemy that pops up on their screen (this is a common newbie mistake).

If you see someone across the map you don't have to fight him, most of the time it is best to simply go another route and avoid some far off sniper that already has his iron sights up waiting for you to turn the corner. Most noobs will instead take on the challenge of having to be much faster at reaction than him due to him already having scope up and end up losing. In "pub" or your normal run of the mill match a chopper gunner or AP130 (i think that's what it's called") can put the person that got a lucky care package at the top of the list for KDR, but at the same time many of those killstreaks are avoidable if you simply stay in cover until they disappear which I'm sure people will catch on to and those 15 kill gunner chopper streaks will be cut down to like 2-3, if that.

The top players are usually the top players each map, so it isn't just luck. I know I'm usually top or near top, and I usually win highest KDR ratio, most kills, and least deaths with a few KDR of 10 awards each match.

As for your car racing example, here is the problem. It assumes the two players will willfully participate in the race. The gunners in an FPS don't have to participate in any fight that they don't want to, and here is where increased health makes positioning not really matter. If I can take too much damage I will almost always be able to retreat if the fight isn't going my way. Instead of rewarding me or penalizing me for good or bad positioning there is no consequence, and much less thinking, instead of thinking about all the stuff I usually think about while playing I'll just be running through until I see somebody then aim and pull the trigger. Would it be fun? Maybe, but it would drastically change the game.

Hardcore mode doesn't drastically change the game because you already die fairly quick. The biggest change hardcore mode adds is it allows for certain loadouts without taking a penalty. For instance, I can't live without stopping power perk in normal matches, but in hardcore it is useless so I can add something else. If a new mode that changes the game as much as arcade mode would if it was added then it has the potential to divide the community and the game also runs the risk of losing its identity. That is the main reason for not adding arcade mode in my opinion.

As a P.S.: Try Resistance 2 multiplayer or Halo, that is what MW2 would turn into with higher health. I also consistently could get top place in that game as well, but it was never as fun as MW2. Unreal Tournament is another game that would be like MW2 if it had arcade mode. What did those games turn into? Mindless running around and killing, where the positioning had to do with controlling the 1 hit kill guns. If done correctly, you are at a huge advantage compared to your opponent, and your whole skillful combat display theory goes out the window anyway because the top player is killing everyone in 1 hit. So what would MW2 turn into? Most people would be using explosives probably or a 1 hit sniper if it existed. Maybe gun w/ grenade launcher with scavenger perk and frag/claymores? Or similar loadout would be the name of the game.

Rob Mhead
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Call of Duty 4 has an often overlooked "Old School Free-for-All" mode. Players spawn with doubled health and increased jump height. No health regeneration. You start with a Skorpion and no perks, but glowing pickups are scattered across the map.

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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Enrique Dryere
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@ BN

I agree with pretty much everything you said. To answer your question "Would it be fun?" I would say "yes, for certain kinds of players." It would drastically change the game, but I guess that is the point. I make this suggestion because it's obvious that they want to provide a wide variety of game modes -- particularly because they don't support modding. I don't propose to replace the existing style of the CoD franchise; I enjoy it and it's wildly successful. This suggestion is merely meant to offer players an alternative game style, much like a mod would.

As for the shortcomings of other games in this style, these are problems that can be overcome with good design. If explosives are too powerful, tone them down. This applies to any weapon. The point is to achieve some sort of balance, but to at all costs avoid the "one build" or handful of builds that everyone has to use in order to remain competitive.

@ John

I fail to see what you fail to see. ;) You are right to point out that the Arcade Mode would play more like an Unreal Tournament (although I don't know if it would be taken to that extreme). I think it would play more like a Return to Castle Wolfenstein. And since this addition doesn't damage or modify the current game in any way, the benefits should be rather obvious. It's like being able to add the towing power of a truck to a Ferrari without it losing any of its speed, maneuverability, or style.

The reason I'd like to see this in MW2, rather than just going to play another pre-existing game, is because I really enjoy the framework, the weapons, perks, etc. And I think that any Arcade Mode that IW would come up with would be a nice blend of the two styles of game (Unreal VS CoD). I think that could be a lot of fun to play, but like I said, it would only appeal to players with a certain preference.

Alexander Jhin
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I agree that MW2 deatmatch is NOT a good competitive game. If we define competition at its highest level as "win at all costs using the optimal strategy" MW2 DM would devolve into a bunch of LPBs (low ping bastards) camping and nobody getting any kills. MW2 is all about strategic positioning and the disadvantage of firing while moving. Skill with a weapon will rarely tip the scales to win a fight so the best strategy is to find the best position and simply to not move.

In other words, there is a degenerative "best" strategy which is a major sin for competitive games.

While your suggestions serve as a valuable exercise for analyzing what makes good "competitive" game design, I would argue they miss the point. MW2 DM is not designed as a competitive game per se. Its more rooted in 1) feeling slightly realistic 2) finding creative, if not necessarily efficient or optimal, ways of killing the opponent. Hence the emphasis on somewhat ridiculous weapons (Akimbo pistols? When is that a good idea either realistically or as an optimal strategy?)

Finally, check out some of the non-death match modes. Those modes are much more "competitive" as they somewhat fix the degenerative optimal strategy of camping like crazy as camping will often fail to achieve necessary goals.

Great article though. It really got me thinking about luck, what skills we value in competitive gaming and how to design a game where ping doesn't affect the winner as much.