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First Person Shooter Design: Skyspawn and Heartrate
by Matthew Downey on 09/17/11 04:15:00 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.


[Matt Downey is a game designer and programmer working on a science fiction first-person shooter in Unity3d.  A hopeful indie, he strives to have a working version of his game by E3 2013.]

Player behavior can make a game more fun (helping teammates) or less fun (infinite combos).

The advantages reaped by infinite combos, camping, or spawnkilling are often perceived as unfair, but can be used and abused equally by both parties.  Does the mutual access to these unfair mechanics make them fair?  The answer is subjective.

Today, I present to you solutions to the perceived problem of spawnkilling and camping in the arena of first person shooters.

Spawn Kill: In a multiplayer combat game (particularly a First Person Shooter) to kill another player as they spawn.


The current convention is for players to respawn in preset spots, generally far from the action, which are determined randomly, algorithmically, or though player choice (by convention, limited to a few choices).

Examples of Convention

Team Fortress 2--the player has no control over spawning.  The computer places the player in a protected zone that cannot be entered by enemies.  Some spawns have one exit, others have up to four.

Battlefield 2142--the player has a choice.  The player can spawn at any of the locations his team has control of, on a squad leader, or on a squad beacon.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare--the player has no role in spawning.  The computer determines which of many spawnpoints a player will spawn in based on an algorithm that will put the player in a statistically low-danger area.

Problems with Convention

If the computer determines where the player respawns, when "spawnkilled" a player will feel that dying was outside his/her locus of control.

Players often respawn far from the action.

Fixed spawns allow ruthless players to trap enemies in their own spawns, often unable to exit. 

In random or algorithmically determined spawning, the player cannot possibly know where they will spawn, resulting in initial vertigo.


By introducing a bird's eye view minimap, a designer can supply the player with the information to grasp level geometry, and the player, based on knowledge of enemy positions, could at any time tell the designer exactly where he wants to be by simply pointing his finger.  Enter skyspawn.

What if, upon death, the player could look at an in game minimap (with the positions/directions of teammates and potentially even enemies) and click exactly where he wanted to spawn?  The player then falls from the sky (in a drop pod), invulnerable to damage until the instant (s)he hits the ground.  Smart enemies might look up and spot trouble, whereas the player can familiarize him/herself with his/her settings before it's too late.  

Required Programming

In order to create skyspawn, you need an accurate minimap.  Three possible implementations are:

  1. An accurate, custom-drawn minimap texture.
  2. An orthographic camera snapshot
  3. A low field of view, high altitude camera snapshot
Next, the player must be able to click within a viewport that directly corresponds to the minimap texture/snapshot.

Logging where the mouse clicks within the viewport, the computer calculates (based on the ratio of viewport pixels to map length/width) where the player will spawn.

Last, the player must be placed a set altitude above the map at his/her desired x, z coordinates with a swift negative velocity in the y-direction and no velocity in the x or z directions. 


Camping: when a player hides in a single location that serves as a tactical advantage over the opposing player(s) for long periods of time.


Game rules that (arguably) contribute to camping in first-person shooters:

  1. Aiming Down Sights (ADS)--a weapon stance that takes time to enter, almost always under four tenths of a second, but still very significant in determining the winner of a fight.  In some close range fights, aiming down sights is not necessary or even detrimental, but the majority of the time it is strongly recommended.  Campers often lie in wait while aiming down sights.
  2. Sprinting--an animation that temporarily increases a player's move speed at the cost of being unable to use one's gun during the animation.  The exit animation tends to be under a third of a second.  Sprinting players have less time to deal damage to campers.
  3. Slow move speed--if the player moves slowly, the benefits of staying put often outweigh the benefits of moving.
  4. Short jump height, inability to shoot in midair, jump block, slow movespeed post-landing--jumping around corners and aiming down sights can save a lot of time and keep the player in motion.
  5. Quick time to kill--when the player can take very few bullets before dying, campers will often kill unaware opponents before seen or reacted to.
  6. Lack of grenades--when a player knows the location of a camper but can't smoke them out, camping becomes more effective.
  7. Convoluted map design--when there are many hiding spots dispersed across the map, finding a camper can become a guessing game, where one wrong turn could leave the player dead.  Convoluted maps are also useful to campers since the most unlikely spot could be the best place to set up.
  8. Dim lighting--games with dim lighting tend to have more campers since motion attracts the eye and thus gunfire.  Players standing still in dim lighting can be very hard to see, especially since our eyes's cones, responsible for color vision, are in the center of the eye, where attention is focused, whereas campers gravitate towards spots that are not the center of attention.
  9. Few (useful) branched paths across the map--campers tend to find spots where they cannot be shot in the back, and where the player will likely need to pass by.
  10. Verticality--controlling the high grounds tends to be a good tactic when camping.
  11. Lack of cover when moving through open areas--safe spots help non-campers to get from one place to another with less risk from campers.
  12. No regeneration/No healthpacks--if attracting attention to oneself is not recoverable, the player will suffer immensely by trying to get from point A to point B, especially if they are careless.  Campers tend to punish risky behaviors, leading to slower and sometimes more linear fighting.
  13. No incentive to move--if there is no incentive for area control (ie powerups, power weapons), the player will reap less benefit from moving, promoting camping.  Furthermore if there are too few powerups or power weapons, campers will often watch one of them, forcing the enemy to come to them.
  14. No objectives--if there is no reason for both teams to move, they will likely stay put.
  15. Long game times--if players need two minutes to complete the objective in your average game, giving them five minutes will often result in three minutes of camping.


  1. High kill:death ratios are in high demand, thus players gravitate towards easy kills.
  2. Camping is seen as a nuisance by players who just want to run around. 


While some say camping adds a layer of strategy to the game, I would argue it detracts from escapism, since an idle player is more likely to be aware of what he is doing if he isn't preoccupied.

Camping: Pros

  1. Adds depth to strategy
  2. Lets the player recharge when overstimulated.
  3. Allows the player to rethink their actions
  4. Helps the player regenerate before their next fight
  5. Grants the player additional safety while reloading his/her gun
  6. Provides a team with the chance to launch a coordinated rush with zero dead players.
  7. Changes the game dynamic, for instance in fencing, a common strategy is to lead your opponent to believe you are getting tired only to surprise them with a quick lunge or parry/repost. 

Camping: Cons

  1. Often perceived as boring.
  2. Often perceived as unfair.


The addition of heartrate into a first person shooter allows designers to tweak the advantages and disadvantages reaped by having a high or low heartrate.

High Heartrate Advantages

  1. Faster move speed
  2. High jump height
  3. Lower gun recoil or faster recenter speed

Low Heartrate Advantages

  1. Lower gun/idle sway
  2. Louder footsteps
  3. Faster regeneration

Required Task

Making a believable in-game heart is a must.  Players must be able to intuitively grasp the rate at which their heartrate increases and also not feel punished for aggressive behaviors (in the case of high heartrate) or necessary behaviors (in the case of low heartrate).  Furthermore, the heart must not have a fast acceleration, for that would defeat the point.


Some player behavior is best restricted by embedded rules.  A competitive game does not rely on player morality, specific rules are put in place to restrict player actions.  In the same way, in online multiplayer the metagame should not be left to the players, as that can result in less interesting game dynamics and predominant (and sometimes painstakingly repetitive) strategies.

By placing more rules in the game, you can reward the behavior that the community deems more "fun".  As subjective as "fun" is, a designer should know when a gamer is having a good time.  Sure first person shooters are repetitive, but a lot of "fun" can be had when the rules of repetition are broken, and the player either surprises himself or is surprised by the enemy.

Feel free to comment or send me a specific question on twitter @MattDWNY.

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Giuseppe Navarria
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it's basically the system used by both Sector 8 games.

Knowing the enemy location can be an advantage that needs to be used well too, often players will communicate via voice chat, and a minimap can lead to the unwanted (?) behavior of one player telling the living ones where the enemies are

Matthew Downey
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So it is. I've seen Sector 8 before too, surprised I never saw the spawning. I'll write another article later that will distinguish my system a little. It's a system I call looping maps that makes it so that neither player can spawn on the enemy's side of the map. My favorite analogy uses a sheet of paper. Draw a map on one side of the paper, turn it around and trace all of the lines from the map while looking at the paper through a light. Once you've done this, label one side as your spawn, the other, near-symmetric side is then the enemy's spawn. You can spawn anywhere on your side, but not on the enemy side. When you walk to the edge of your map, instead of falling off the map, flip the paper over and continue walking. This idea is reminiscent of the game "Psychonauts".

I plan on cutting communication with teammates after death until the player picks his spawn. If I can do it, I'd like to supply a live feed of the positions/rotations of teammates superimposed on the minimap and the position (no rotation) of all enemies (or only the ones with high heartrate) at the precise moment of the player's death. To make the determination of whether or not enemies are on the minimap or not even fairer, I could roll a percent chance based on the player's heartrate (ie 35heartrate = 0% chance, 195heartrate = 100% chance, 115heartrate = 50% chance).

The heartrate system as applied to the first person shooter is from what I can tell still unique. I've heard of it applied to horror in different ways, but the name is where the similarities end.

Luis Guimaraes
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It depends on the game you want to make. You wan't people to strategize, to run and gun, or make a mix of both in which different classes play the game in different ways?

I'd go differently on all those problems, for a respawning multiplayer FPS. First give team bases defensive advantage to make a deep into enemy base not a viable strategy:

1. A radar tower that shows enemy positions if they're in range. (i.e. close to base)

2. A mounted mortar launcher that players can use to take care of pushers.

3. A consistent explanation as to why soldiers are bullet sponges (regenarating health): a shield generating tower at team bases, that give players in range (defensive position), that extra regenerating shield that fill up if you avoid direct fire for a while (I'd double CoD/Halo delays).

4. A system in whice players can delay respawning to come back up with stronger equipment/abilities. (5 secs for default soldier/ 10 for heavy soldier/ 20 for light mech robot, etc...)

5. And of course, level design to give respawned options as where to go into combat.

But that's just my opinion.

A couple questions: is your game Interestellar Marines? and how is it going with Unity3D for multiplayer FPS?

Matthew Downey
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Lol, not interstellar marines. If I was giving away sensitive information like that on an upcoming game I'd be hung out to dry.

I've looked into the Unity3d FPS's out there. I played a IM demo and another realistic one. I also saw a Quake-style one, and Subvert (shout out) looks very interesting, if only because it reminds me of my game. I'm sure in some respects it would be better to go with Unreal Engine, but I am hoping to mobilize an active community and introduce many user-updates. Also I was thinking that on release I might post out the source code to my game, and I'm sure some active contributors would love to help with coding or fixing code.

I am far from release, but if you really want to see something, here is a video of what I've made so far.

I'm one coder/designer, but I think I can get a lot done.

A final note, the Unity3d asset store and (mixamo?) and so on might help me out if I want to avoid crunch time on final art assets, which might be a problem. I've seen some assets that are similar to what I want. Also allegorithmic is particularly useful for another feature in my game, blood thermometer, which I probably should have integrated into my health discussion.

Matthew Downey
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I was thinking that my next blog would be looping maps, but now I am 100% convinced it must be Immersion and Minimalism. I get too excited over these sorts of things. XD

Michael Stevens
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Re: Camping.

I think raising health regeneration rates for "low heartrate" camping characters would be problematic, even though it is a logical and interesting extension of a character being at rest.

In my experiences camping is most disruptive in game modes with regenerative health, small team size in relation to map size, and a low emphasis on teamwork/communication. Generally, the headstart the camper gets by being in ADS is enough that they will win 1v1 encounters consistently. This can cause particular trouble on sparsely populated maps because it's less likely the camper will have to deal with skirmishes between health refills. The value of non-fatal damage diminishes as the encounter rate diminishes or the regen rate increases.

Part of what I like about your solution is that it approaches what is usually seen as a map or weapon design problem without constraining variety in either.