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Indies challenge themselves to find innovation in the tired old FPS genre
Indies challenge themselves to find innovation in the tired old FPS genre Exclusive
July 3, 2012 | By Mike Rose

"FPSes are a horribly oversaturated genre, indies can easily do amazing new stuff. Who's up for it?" tweeted Jan Willem Nijman, co-founder of indie studio Vlambeer, back in April. What started out as a random thought quickly snowballed into one of the most interesting indie development jams of recent times.

The 7 Day First Person Shooter Challenge (7DFPS) ran early in June, and aimed to create weird and wonderful first-person shooter concepts in the space of just a week, a genre that independent developers tend to avoid.

"It seemed like indies were avoiding shooters because they view those as the pinnacle of all that is wrong with triple-A," Nijman tells us. "I figured it was time to change that."

After fumbling around with how to get the jam organized, Nijman recruited the help of McPixel developer Sos Sosowski and dev and musician Sven Bergstrom. 7DFPS went on to see hundreds of entries, with the likes of Wolfire and Cryptic Sea taking part.

The issue with the FPS space, says Nijman, is that gamers have no idea of the potential innovation that can occur, and instead choose to throw money at publishers who churn out the same dreary titles over and over again.

"Most players don't know what they want, so we have to give it to them!" he says. "I wish people would look at shooters from the start, where it all started, and work from there instead of iterating on the stuff from two years ago."

"There is so much to do with shooting without going into gimmick territory. That's also what we did with Gun Godz. It's a super straightforward game, reminiscent of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom."

gun godz.pngHe argues, "If you put it next to those games and look closely you'll note that the gameplay is completely different though. I'd love seeing a triple-A game do that."

For the most part, however, FPS developers don't bother exploring potential innovation in the genre because of the big money involved, believes Nijman.

As Epic's Tim Sweeney pointed out earlier this month, Activision invests nearly $100 million each year in its Call of Duty franchise. And where there's big money involved, the number of risks involved needs to be minimal, says the Vlambeer dev.

Industry stagnation

This stagnation is not simply limited to FPS games, argues Wolfire's David Rosen.

"Every genre is converging on its own universal design," he says. "For example, almost every FPS game is a near-future squad shooter with regenerating health, two-gun-swap, offhand grenades, XP-grinding multiplayer, and an on-rails cinematic story about the greyness of morality."

He adds, "Instead of competing efficiently by experimenting with design, FPS games compete in an expensive graphical arms race. I have never worked in triple-A games, so I'm not sure why exactly this happens."

That's not to say that modern-day shooters aren't pushing the envelope at all, however. "One thing I do find exciting about these shooters is how they push technological boundaries," he notes. "For example, the audio of Battlefield 3, the texturing of Rage, the animation of Max Payne 3, and the destruction in Red Faction, to name just a few."

"It can also be inspiring to see the creative uses that the artists find for the technology -- like how the rendering of Gears of War 3 looks much better than most games through exceptional placement of textured lights, emissive billboards, screen-space god rays, and other similar techniques. Those features are used in many UE3 games, but rarely as well. I also still enjoy many multiplayer shooters -- the rules haven't changed much in 20 years, but the network performance and audiovisual presentation have improved greatly."

It's the single-play experience that really grates Rosen, as developers appear to be more interested in putting together a cinematic masterpiece than providing the player with actual entertainment.

"I try to have fun, and the game just makes me feel patronized, bored, and restricted," he adds. "It's like the project leaders never asked themselves 'What does the player do in this game? Is that something that humans enjoy doing? Do humans actually enjoy being bossed around by uncharismatic authority figures in their free time?'"

receiver.png"For new players, I'm sure there is a certain novelty to tilting a thumb-stick and effortlessly moving through the attractive levels, and to pressing the trigger and hearing a loud noise in response. Unfortunately, this wears off quickly without any layered mechanics to provide some interesting context to these actions, or consequences for their results."

The only way for the industry to push past this same old, same old within the FPS space is to create rapid prototypes and then expand on those which appear to work. Valve, for example, uses this tried-and-tested formula constantly, building on successful mods or prototypes for each of its games.

"The 7DFPS challenge seems like a great event for creating this kind of experimental game prototype," notes Rosen. "If any large company divided into teams and participated in it, they would end up with more design ideas than they know what to do with, along with immediate evidence of which ones work and which ones don't."

Wolfire itself knows this first-hand, as it released its 7DFPS game, Receiver, as a paid game after the jam had ended. Receiver explores gun handling mechanics, randomized levels, and unordered storytelling as the player attempts to uncover a variety of secrets in a dangerous building complex.

"We decided to try a new development technique this time where we split the development very cleanly to minimize bottlenecks," says Rosen of Receiver. "I worked on the coding and gameplay design, Aubrey [Serr] focused on the thematic content of the game (such as voice recording, art direction and execution), Anton [Riehl] composed layered music tracks, and Tapio [Liukkonen] recorded sound effects. In this case this technique worked pretty well -- it minimized bottlenecks and conflicts, so we achieved nearly 100 percent parallelization of development time, allowing us to complete the 7DFPS challenge fairly close to the deadline."

When it came to Receiver's design, Rosen asked himself what the very first principles of first-person shooters should be. Why are we so interested in guns and shooting? How is guplay interesting for a first-person perspective?

"I've always found guns to be fascinating in their simplicity, in contrast to their world-changing power, so a key design motif of Receiver is a focus on machines that are simple but deadly," he continues. "We expressed this by exposing every single component of each machine to the player. For example, there's a key for every possible function of the gun, from the safety to the slide lock, and players can independently disable every component of the enemy robots."

The first-person perspective, he says, is the only viewpoint that provides an unobstructed, close-up view of the player's surroundings, hence he built Receiver such that players needed careful consideration of surroundings.

"Turrets and taser-bots tend hide in corners and blind spots, so players are encouraged to carefully clear each room using 'pie slicing' tactics, and search every hiding place for loose bullets and audio-tapes," he notes.

Multiplayer advancements

Cryptic Sea's Alex Austin took a different approach to him 7DFPS entry. In Sub Rosa, two online teams look to swap cash for important documents, while a third team, armed with guns and cars, wants to roll in and cause a stir, taking both the documents and cash in the process.

After watching lots of Arma II and Day Z videos on YouTube, Austin realized that the most entertaining experiences were those which didn't involve as much shooting, and instead were all about negotiations and chatter -- from this, the concept for Sub Rosa was born.

Austin agrees with Nijman that first-person shooters have fallen into stagnant times because of the money involved. "To make a triple-A FPS is going to cost hundreds of millions, and for indies the technical challenge and art asset requirements are usually too high," he notes. "There's not very many developers in that middle-ground anymore, where they have the resources to make an FPS but can still experiment."

sub rosa.jpgHowever, he also stands by Rosen's points that there are still some interesting approaches to the genre happening here and there. "I think Arma II and Day Z both create some really interesting scenarios. What's bad about most FPS games is the same thing that's bad about most games in general: single-player is a linear story the player doesn't affect except for unpausing, and multiplayer is standard team deathmatch where you get upgrades by grinding."

He continues, "What needs to happen is gamers need to support games that try something new. Day Z's popularity and increase in Arma II sales show that players are looking for new experiences -- even though it's a mod for a fairly obtuse game, it's been the best selling game on Steam."

His own Sub Rosa has proved popular too, with a constantly near-full server. This, believes Austin, is down to the fact that the game lets players choose and tell their own story. "There's definitely potential for FPS games to tap into that desire of players to make choices," he adds.

So where does 7DFPS go from here? Will the success of the game jam show indie developers that there is room for innovation in the FPS space?

"I hope so!" answers organiser Nijman. "I must say shooters are damned hard to make, and I guess a lot of people didn't get where they wanted to be in a week.

"Hopefully it got them thinking... I hope indies will make more shooters."

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Dominic Camus
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Wait... "the success of the game jam"? How is that being measured, exactly?

My experience of the jam was that nobody played the games and the press coverage was almost nonexistent. The level of participation from devs was good, but the message that came through strongly was that the typical game jam audience are not interested in playing shooters.

Freek Hoekstra
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press coverage was apparantly there, as it is now on Gamasutra...
I wasn't there, so I can;t say whether anyone played the games or whether they were fun but some of the ideas were atleast interesting, so to call it a failure would be a bt harsh in my opinion

Jeff Mooney
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I started an indie game developer in New Jersey. . We used Gamemakerto create a FPS that incorporates a sword mechanic in your off hand titled Sanctity of Swords. Check out our art and Game Design Documents on our website. We had a 6 month development cycle with a team of 7 people. Like us on Facebook/Twitter!

Thomas Buscaglia
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Anyone else sick of hearing the capital-I "Indie" dev community complain about a perceived lack of innovation in games and then fart out a bunch of vaguely remixed pre-existing game mechanics? "Players don't know what they want, so we have to give it to them!" Players do know what they want and they're already telling us - they do so with their money. The popular games in the genre have become franchises because people keep buying them. It's not a mystery and it's not the same copy-paste version of the same game. The Battlefield franchisee is very different from Call of Duty, but even if you don't buy that (i.e. "they're both war games hurrr"), there are games like Portal, The Ball, Amnesia, Bulletstorm, Borderlands, Super MNC, etc. that are all stretching the bounds of the first-person genre. I could cite more examples, but do I really have to? Side-note: you may notice that half of those were made by independent studios - and those games have all been successful - so I have no idea where this guy gets off postulating that indies are steering clear of the genre or that the onus is somehow on players to change their habits. It sounds like this game jam produced an awkward base-asset-management version of otherwise simple shooter mechanics and a very slight tweak on the Kane and Lynch multiplayer concept. There's nothing wrong with that, but I don't understand how it's fresh or innovative in any way. It's cool if you want to experiment with the genre, but do you really need to smear the entire industry to do so?

Sergio Rosa
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I think it's because part of the "indie way" is this urge to show how the indie guy is the only one able to innovate... and that's sad :-/

Arthur De Martino
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Because Wolfire games is know for their same-y plataformers - Oh wait!

While I agree that indies crapping out the same old stale product, the criticism over stale product in general need to happen so we can move over it.

It helps if you stop and think who is doing the criticism before banding together a large group of devs.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"Anyone else sick of hearing the capital-I "Indie" dev community complain about a perceived lack of innovation in games and then fart out a bunch of vaguely remixed pre-existing game mechanics?"

Sooort of, yeah, that definitely happens and I facepalm from time to time over it, though I do think this lovely "pretentious indie" meme going around is a knee-jerk counter attack blanket statement against a group of developers that are trying to get the medium out of the stagnation and poor working conditions that the old guard funneled it into. Yes, I think there is some truth to the complaint that innovation is being held back unnecessarily. I think it's risk aversion: there are unique games that people would enjoy playing that aren't being made because developers are scared to make something that they don't know will sell and players are scared to buy something that they don't recognize. I think overcoming this risk aversion would be a good thing for everyone: giving players more variety to choose from and giving developers more markets so not everyone is competing for second place against CoD or WoW.

I don't think it's as simple as "well that's what people buy so that's what should be made" to justify stagnation. To some extent people buy the games that they are aware of. They are aware of the games that have eight digit marketing budgets to plaster themselves on the front page of gaming websites and insert themselves in every commercial slot they can find. So yeah, CoD continuing to sell is a self-fulfilling prophecy due to the positive feedback loop of success breeding advertising breeding success, not necessarily a sign that, were all games given the chance to be known as well, CoD would still sell as well as it does. And forgive me for sounding patronizing (I have fallen for this too so I'm accusing myself as well), but just because someone buys a sequel due to this risk aversion and fallacious thinking that because they enjoyed the original the sequel will be just as good does not mean it is the game on the market that they would enjoy most, though developers exploit this tendency. We pay an opportunity cost when we choose to snuggle up with the known successes of those that came before us instead of pushing the medium forward in a meaningful way. Are companies obligated to avoid this opportunity cost? Not really. But developers that see what's going on are not obligated to stay quiet about it either.

"I think it's because part of the "indie way" is this urge to show how the indie guy is the only one able to innovate... and that's sad :-/"

I know you used quotes, but that's not true -- although I don't know if the perception flaw is the fault of the "pretentious indie" meme that spreads through envy that there are people out there with the balls to work on what they want to and the talent to make it succeed or if it lies in the fact that there are a small percentage of truly pretentious indie developers that give the whole group a bad name (though that would be a classic case of stereotyping so it is still fallacious). Either way this "pretentious indie" meme needs to stop, by the indie devs that do act pretentious cleaning up their act and the critics on the outside giving those with sincere concerns a fair chance. This needs to happen because the indie movement is not primarily about innovation (though that is a good thing in and of itself), it is about freeing talent in this industry to profit off the hard work that they have done making gaming just about the number one field of entertainment and extracting the wealthy leeches that add little to the process but take a lot out of it (and I am ready to go into detail if anyone thinks the CEOs of publishers that make millions along with their lawyers and army of marketers are helping the medium in any way, but before you comment think about how much more effort would go into the quality of games and quality of life of developers if we all agreed to create such a money flow away from the advertising arms race, the artificially inflated CEO salary, and the increasing number of childish lawsuits where only lawyers are guaranteed to win).

Thomas Buscaglia
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The notion that CoD or Battlefield games do well just because of brand recognition is ridiculous. When a sub-par CoD game comes out, it still performs better than a sup-par independent FPS because of brand recognition, sure, but that's because the vast majority of CoD games meet their audiences expectations pretty damn well. There's a reason those games are low-risk for EA and Activision - because they know how to make those games well. The harsh reality is that when an independent developer makes a good game, it absolutely does get noticed - and if nobody's playing an independent game, it's most often not due to lack of exposure.

It's one thing to say, "Nobody is really making this sort of FPS the way I want it to be made, and it's something I want to play so I want to make it." It's an entirely different thing to say, "The FPS genre is stagnant, nobody is making good FPS games anymore, indies are afraid of the genre, and it's all the fault of dumb triple-A developers who don't know how to make proper games." Setting aside the fact that every one of those statements displays a willful ignorance regarding the actual independent development community and the state of the industry, it reeks of arrogance.

Why not just make a good game? Why does it have to be revolutionary and prove big publishers wrong in some way or fix some fundamental flaw with the way people think about games? This Indie attitude of "pff big studios don't know how to make games, I'll show those idiots," is getting really old. It's not an unfair perception of the "Indie movement", it's a reality. I'm not pinning that attitude onto this article, the article is dripping with it.

I make games because I love games, not because I want to be part of some smarmy movement. To be clear, I'm not saying that this game jam failed because it wasn't innovative, I'm saying the notion that it _must_ be innovative so that indie heroes can rescue the genre is obnoxious. Some of the games look interesting. Isn't that enough?

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"The notion that CoD or Battlefield games do well just because of brand recognition is ridiculous."

I agree, that is a ridiculous notion. I personally loved MW1 and liked MW2, and I could spot incredibly well-made design decisions to justify success among a large crowd. It's a good thing I was intentionally careful not to make an extremist statement using words like "just because". What I _did_ say was "To some extent people buy the games that they are aware of." I don't mind having a debate about where along the grayscale the slider lies or should lie, but please don't misrepresent me with strawman extremist remarks.

"It's an entirely different thing to say, "The FPS genre is stagnant, nobody is making good FPS games anymore, indies are afraid of the genre, and it's all the fault of dumb triple-A developers who don't know how to make proper games.""

Without feeling obligated to wear the strawman extremist outfit you keep presenting, I will say that the FPS genre shows signs of stagnation. Just like CoD or Battlefield's successes are due in no small part to their quality, the wide-spread FPS stagnation meme is not accidental. For starters, see my comment below on ESDF. Sure WASD is the "right" choice now because of arbitrary inheritance of tradition (people want the controls of their games to be the same as what they are used to), but there are logical arguments for making ESDF the tradition. Imagine an alternate universe where Quake used ESDF instead of WASD. In that universe traditionalists would be praising ESDF for the same reason they praise WASD in this universe, but the objectivists who look at design decisions as having "right" or "wrong" answers (also known as experts) would still be arguing for ESDF based on its objective reasoning. Yet we live in the universe where WASD is the reflex control layout because of tradition. This tradition has been hyper-concentrated due to the selfish closed-minded fear-driven decisions of individuals at publishers (who often feel no pride in game development they wouldn't feel as, say, a company that makes snack food as long as the money is just as green). That is where the term "stagnation" is justified, truthful, and usefully pointing out flaws and opportunity cost from the point of view of using the artform to make the best games possible and to bring the most joy to as many people as possible that true artisans of the craft exhibit (I know, alien concept in our free market, "whatever happens is by definition the best thing because to admit otherwise would lower us to the level of communists", "if I just worry about myself and everyone else just worries about themselves then nothing can go wrong" society).

As someone who has shipped a third person shooter (close enough to FPS for sake of argument), I know firsthand what I'm talking about regarding stagnation. And this goes for all games made by the majority of developers that aren't Blizzard that work under publisher rule, as my complaints lie in other genres I've shipped under publisher dictate. The developer is castrated, the lead designer given design mandates from the marketing people and producers at the publisher. The developer promising a game in four months that ends up taking over a year and a half, with stop-gap extensions so design and programming can never really plan ahead or enter the player empathy loop necessary to make a good game and are instead always fighting fires and patching on band-aids to meet arbitrary contractual milestones in a circle jerk of fear and mistrust. Programmers crunching for decisions they fought against but had no power to stop. The publisher-driven industry is sick, sick, sick any way you slice it. Hell look at the departure of the ex Infinity Ward studio heads and the legal gymnastics surrounding it. That's Call of Duty right? That's the best-selling shooter of all time and the development environment and politics is this dysfunctional.

The publishing model is broken. It has been broken since at least the 90s. It's broken in the same way that chattel slavery was broken despite bringing great wealth to plantation owners. It is broken in the same way that capitalism is broken despite bringing little risk and great reward to the economic ruling class. It is not a live-and-let-live issue where complaining is unnecessary. It is not a situation where an independent developer can say "I don't agree with going with a publisher for reasons of moral hazard but you're fine to do what you want as it does not affect me." No. The existence of publishers affects all in the industry and all who buy from the industry. Independent developers have always had to compete with an unfair disadvantage against publisher-owned developers in terms of marketing. So why not sell out to a publisher and get that advantage yourself? Most of them did, which is why in the past there were not many successful independent developers when compared to publisher-owned (the recent indie movement is an interesting aside, but I'll leave it as an aside for now as this is going to be long enough). But this is not the right thing in the long term for the same reason allowing a steroid arms race in sports and ignoring health concerns is not the right solution. The pattern is that one team gets an advantage at the cost of long term health problems, then other teams are forced to start following suit and hurting themselves with steroids to keep up, then everyone is using steroids and everyone has damaged their health yet no one has an advantage anymore; a net loss.

Publishers are like these steroids, and independent developers are purposefully trying to fight this pattern. Publishers are parasites that promise to help developers outmarket other developers, then lay them off and promise the same thing to their competition, creating an atmosphere of fear (which is already largely present in a paradigm of competition such as when trying to compete in a finite market, so it was easy for publishers to use this fear to gain power). Instead of affecting growth and increasing the risk of cancer like steroids, publishers extract wealth and stifle freedom using their fear-mongering tactics -- work for us or lose in the market to someone who works for us. Although really with the health damage from crunching (which is only "necessary" because we've all been trained like monkeys that we have to crunch to compete with the other publishers' slave forces), I'd say the publisher-model damage is physical too. It sends talented individuals fleeing from the industry with a five year average career. It ruins marriages. It is a flagrant disregard for the sanctity of human health. It really is like the mafia, especially when considering some of the dirtier practices that publishers use to coerce the "free" (hah) market (bribing review sites positively with resort vacations and negatively by blacklist threats, playing favorites with their internal studios to put most of the risk on developers while still taking the lion's share of the reward). So frankly I take offense at anyone who tries to paint the independent movement, which should be seen as the underground railroad of our industry helping developers obtain a career that is more fulfilling, healthier, and more rewarding than the table scraps that publishers offer, as anything short of heroic. And I take offense at indie developers that give people cause to do so; there is truth in your concerns Thomas but I think you are taking them way too far in light of the true battle going on between developers and exploiters in our industry.

Thomas Buscaglia
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It's ironic that you use Quake as an example since that was when _players_ established the WASD standard by selection, not developers. That's right, the default controls in Quake were not WASD. A majority of players are unfamiliar with ESDF and many people prefer WASD over ESDF, regardless of whether or not you think one is empirically better than the other. These are facts. There are games that experiment with controls that stray from the established norms and they're almost always criticized for it when they do. Certain things become established as interface "vernacular", and WASD was one of those things. To argue that it's lazy to use established controls that people are comfortable with displays a distinct lack of understanding of basic interface design principles.

"This [WASD] tradition has been hyper-concentrated due to the selfish closed-minded fear-driven decisions of individuals at publishers (who often feel no pride in game development they wouldn't feel as, say, a company that makes snack food as long as the money is just as green)."

This is about WASD. Really? And I'm trying to put extremist comments in your mouth? This pretty much speaks for itself.

"If someone has a choice between A and... erm... nothing else... of course they will buy A."

That's my point, they do have choices. If you think there aren't any independent FPS games out there and also that you support and follow independent games, you're lying to yourself about one or the other. The well-produced independent FPS games that are out there have done well, so yes players are telling us that there's a market for unique FPS games with their dollar. It's not a status quo argument at all, it's basic economics (A.K.A. common sense).

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Quake also didn't have many extra verbs beyond moving and shooting (what, jumping and weapon select, with aiming done by the mouse? Heck even doors and switches were activated by proximity). So the pinky burden of WASD does not apply for Quake like it does with more modern games that have verbs from going prone to leaning around corners to reloading, and therefore you're not likely to hit caps (though more likely to hit it by accident as your pinky is over it. Oh and when team chatting, assuming you keep your hands on homerow when typing, you're going to have to shift back and forth). What becomes popular is not always what's right, even if people think they collectively made the right choice. In case you think I'm being "pretentious" or "arrogant" or whatever, putting other people down while patting myself on the back, let me use an example that applies to me: QWERTY. DVORAK is an objectively better layout for typing in just about any way imaginable (, yet QWERTY sticks around for tradition's sake. And I still use it because I've been too lazy to relearn typing and also too lazy to set up every computer I have to work on to recognize it. Really this is silly and I should have learned it a long time ago as I would have minimized nerve damage from repetitive stress and developed a faster and more accurate typing habit. Heck, you know what? Now that it's on my mind, I'm going to practice what I preach and learn dvorak. No need to get offended that there is a better way of doing things than I've been doing.

Tradition should constantly be challenged in order for progress to occur. The point isn't even "was WASD the right input combination for Quake?" necessarily; it's more like "is WASD the right input combination for modern games." Heck I even remember using WASD when I was young, ironically maybe even for Quake. Not because I put much thought into it but because it's the left-most such pattern of keys. Living in the western world, I read left to right, so I chose the first thing that came to mind. I imagine a lot of people do this. A lot of people making a decision that becomes tradition does not imply superiority. As shooters became progressively more complicated with a lot of extra controls, I quickly realized that with wasd caps lock was taking up space if I didn't use it and toggling my case if I did. Maybe the real problem is games that do not override case toggling, though that might not be allowed in windows. So I started using ESDF as hovering over A was more useful for my pinky, giving me another "primary" key (a key I did not have to stretch to reach) and also giving me a target I could easily find if for some reason my hand left the keyboard (the dimple on the F).

I am curious to hear positive justifications for wasd instead of "tradition" (example: "it allows my left hand to rest a little further from my right, which some find comfortable"), but frankly I am getting quite tired of your attitude. You clearly got on here angry about an article you didn't have to read complaining about independent developers that are _rightfully_ sick of BS in the mainstream industry, and then carried that anger into a personal attack against me ("What ever happened to "indie devs that do act pretentious cleaning up their act"?"). I admit that my weakness is the need to follow through any debate I enter, but (unsurprisingly) you made it erroneously personal and now I am debating with disgust to not leave it unfinished.

Thomas Buscaglia
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For the record, it was the combination of your proclamation that your preferred layout was "The One™" correct layout combined with your belligerent attitude towards boogeyman evil publishers and their lazy slave developers (who couldn't possibly have chosen WASD through rational thought over something you personally know to be superior *fuff fuff*) that I found pretentious. Still do.

Anyway, the WASD choice has nothing to do with tradition. People who stick with QWERTY don't do so out of some noble obligation to their trusted key layout - that's absurd. It has everything to do with familiarity. Basic design principles dictate that the more attention someone has to pay to how they are interacting with your interface, the less attention they can spend on how they're using the interface (i.e. interacting with your content, also known as "the reason most people make games").

While from an ergonomic and efficiency standpoint, DVORAK may be far superior, QWERTY is better than DVORAK from a usability standpoint simply because everyone knows QWERTY. It's not like backwards compatibility in hardware holding back the technology or something, it's simply about building an interface that your audience is familiar with so they can get down to business digging into your content.

Since you asked, I prefer WASD over ESDF because I tend to hang my pinky over the left edge of the TAB key. I've used EDSF, but during intense moments it's harder for me to find my spot without that anchor. I'm sure I could get used to it, but that would take a bit of time and effort and it would take away from the experience. I'd rather just enjoy the game I'm playing without that extra fuss. If a game I was playing defaulted to ESDF I would probably just leave it on.

Like I said before, not everyone prefers ESDF and not everyone knows about it. ESDF is not some magical standard that works the same for every game - you yourself said that how you bind your pinky keys varies from game to game. Every player who prefers ESDF knows how to rebind their keys and probably checks keybinds before starting a new FPS. Those people are in the minority. None of the players who use WASD (either by habit, preference, or just indifference) are accustomed to rebinding their keys because they never have to. If I were to release an FPS with ESDF defaults, not only would players who want WASD who are not accustomed to rebinding be forced to rebind, most ESDF players would be checking their keybinds anyway and likely still changing them subtly since it's never been a standard (with a few exceptions like T2). Why waste everyone's time?

Expanding on that, since ESDF isn't really standard, adding a WASD/ESDF toggle would likely still result in players subtly tweaking their keybinds. If they're one menu tier away from the custom keybinds anyway, why not just let the player set them quickly and be done with it?

Again, there is no universally "better" layout. Maybe there's one where you fee like you can be more efficient or whatever, but that may not be more important than comfort to someone else who's more comfortable with a crazy different layout. The best you can hope for is to set your default as something that the greatest number of people will be familiar with - and right now that's WASD.

These are all sound and reasonable arguments for keeping WASD as a default when developing an FPS and they have nothing to do with laziness and everything to do with providing the best possible experience for the largest number of people in their target audience. If the purpose of your game is maybe two-fold: to entertain with a great experience, and to get more people to use your preferred keyboard layout, then by all means go for it - but don't confuse that for superior design, because it's decidedly not.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Hey, I know I said i was done talking to you but I read this post (and the two below) and feel you aren't just trying to attack me, so here's hoping. Also I apologize for offending you, if that's what lead to the accusation of being "pretentious"; I don't intend to offend. Although I think I got a little offended at your original post putting down indie studios somewhat, so maybe I carried that with me when I replied. I really do think there are evils in this industry that the independent movement is poised to overthrow (actual evils like class-divide forcing developers to labor and crunch just to get laid off at the end), and I guess I get a little sensitive when it's under attack (even though the "movement" is nothing solidified and admittedly does contain individuals that behave poorly). Of course, WASD is not an evil, that's just an aside :).

Regarding familiarity though -- it seems like we are talking about two different "senses" of better. I actually agree that, all else being equal, the familiar choice is the proper choice for the reasons you stated (and when all else isn't equal, it might not be). However, that seems to be a self-fulfilling kind of "better" - it's best because it's there. I lean toward being progressive, so I've kind of trained myself to look for patterns like that and I guess it's just semantics -- I would say in a situation like that that it's not "better" it's just "habit" (like how one might smoke cigarettes out of habit and even say they feel bad when they try to stop, but stopping may still be "better" in terms of health and future happiness if they can overcome that initial discomfort). It seems then that "better" must be overloaded -- "better at being easy to get used to" vs "better at exposing access to more keys" (or whatever "better" you want to talk about). At that point the problem becomes discussing which "better" is better. I generally lean toward the progressive, non-traditional "better" as you can then normalize it until it becomes tradition and then have both "betters" working for you.

Anyway, I really don't care that much about WASD vs ESDF despite my keystrokes devoted toward discussing it. What concerns me is the sense of the indie movement (and apparently me) being "pretentious". I really don't feel like these types of discussions are pretentious. Even when indie developers come off as arrogant, it's generally out of frustration. Hell I used Phil Fish as an example of someone who came off as very "pretentious" after he won the IGF, and after watching Indie Game: The Movie I felt differently about him -- that he was under a lot of stress and reacts poorly to it, not that he really puts himself on such a pedestal. Also looking at some of the tweets he replied to and some of the Fish-bashing on tigsource, his responses become more understandable as being defensive instead of offensive. I still think he was wrong with a lot of what he said, and in fact I would call his behavior pretentious. However, I see that word used all the time to describe indie developers who frankly know what they are talking about and are not just complaining for attention. In other words, they aren't being pretentious, but they are labelled as such because of some desire to put them down (envy for their success while the person calling them "pretentious" is still a wage slave? I don't know).

I feel that describes me as well (being vocal and assertive but not being pretentious because I speak not to put myself on a pedestal but to expose flaws that need fixing) but perhaps you don't, which is your opinion to have and fine if you can keep it from being inflammatory :). Still, it seems like this attitude toward indies is applicable in very few cases yet used in many, so that concerns me. I really don't understand getting angry at people trying to move the medium forward and being vocal about it. It almost feels like an emotional response, born from envy or comfort with The Way Things Are. Anyway, having worked at three companies in the Game Industry Proper, I feel experienced enough to say that design decisions are often short-circuited to follow whatever the other game did and not put due diligence toward understanding why the other game made those decisions (and how it might not apply to your game). And it's not that there isn't enough time to analyze all design decisions, it's more like there isn't enough empowerment even for lead designers. To me this is lazy design, and I honestly don't think designers in our industry are to blame -- instead, they are put in situations where they kind of have to do that to appease the risk aversion of publisher pressure. Just based on my experience, and when I see cover-based-shooter-number-three-thousand I can't help but extrapolate.

Thomas Buscaglia
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I've worked at various different studios on projects ranging from fast-paced tactical FPS games to music rhythm Facebook games and I can confirm that it's been the same for me - all too often risk-aversion, or worse, nickel and dimey monetization strategy tends to creep into design discussion. That's part of the reason I decided to go independent.

For a little context, I cut my teeth doing QA for a local independent studio and later built my game programming chops writing tutorials, demos, and frameworks that have been used in hundreds of schools worldwide to teach game development to students, as well as engine tech that for a long while was one of the only affordable options for aspiring indies and hobbyists - believe me when I say I'm not hating on independent developers.

I don't disagree with anyone who finds big-budget practices distasteful as a developer (by which I mean, I have little interest in working at a large studio), but I understand why it's necessary and that the developers working on those games, for the most part, are very passionate people who care deeply about what they're doing - at least all of the ones I know. I chose to dive into independent development so I could pursue my creative interests, but I don't feel superior to triple-A developers because of it.

In my initial comment, I used the term capital-I "Indies", which may have slipped under the radar, but that's a term for the subset of the independent development community that does act in that way: "we are superior because we are Indie, nyah nyah". I have the same reaction to that type of nonsense that you had when you thought I was talking about the independent dev community as a whole: "that doesn't represent most of us; stop making us look bad."

That's the reaction I had to the title and most of body of this article. Postulating what's going wrong in the industry that we have oh-so-few independent FPS titles, when in reality it's one of the most saturated genres and a very large chunk of those titles are independent.

For me, the main characterizing quality of an "Indie" is a combination of willful ignorance towards existing games and/or a blatant lack of respect for everything non-independent, followed by grand descriptions of "new" mechanics/ideas that are all highly derivative of everything they claim to dislike about games.

It's frustrating because it's often people who make games that I really enjoy and respect. Santiago with her famous TED talk where she called all games before hers chicken scratches, Blow is guilty of this (to a lesser extent), Fish, etc. It's extremely frustrating that it's becoming such a common attitude - especially at a time like this when independent games are getting so much press attention and gamer love.

It's really easy when you're making a very simple moody game to talk down at teams of hundreds of people for all the things they get wrong - they're doing more things, so statistically they're bound to get some things wrong. Making good games is really hard and, as was pointed out in the article, bigger budget means more risk. The problem is that the central conceit is just outright false. The genre isn't "stagnant" - there has been a constant and steady stream of both big-budget and independent entries into the FPS genre that are doing interesting new things all the time.

There's no need to bash people who are just as passionate as you, and that's what Indies are doing when they say things like "find innovation in the tired old FPS genre". It's ignoring all of the amazing independent games while simultaneously criticizing the larger studios for doing what they have to do. The fact that they're easy targets and it's hip right now to hate on big bad corporations makes it all the more despicable. I just don't understand why every "Indie" project pitch has to be the second coming and must be preceded by a thorough thrashing of everything else that's out there. Just make good games and be grateful that you can afford to take fun risks.

When I see stuff like this article all I can think is, "why can't you just have a fucking game jam and skip all the posturing." Like I said, some of the games look pretty interesting. That's not my problem, it's the attitude. There's no call for it and it reflects poorly on those of us who just want to make fun games.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"In my initial comment, I used the term capital-I "Indies", which may have slipped under the radar, but that's a term for the subset of the independent development community that does act in that way: "we are superior because we are Indie, nyah nyah". I have the same reaction to that type of nonsense that you had when you thought I was talking about the independent dev community as a whole: "that doesn't represent most of us; stop making us look bad.""

I think I took it that way, at least emotionally even though rationally I noticed the term you used. Whatever I noticed consciously, subconsciously it struck me as an attack against a movement I believe in, so undoubtedly that colored the rest of my response. I think that I don't actually experience this indie pretentiousness as much as other people, and maybe it's because I'm pretentious myself. I don't know to what extent that word has meaning anymore, there's a lot of subjectivity there. I was not aware of Santiago's TED talk (I will look it up, but that is surprising to me). I also really admire Jonathan Blow, and he gets accused of being pretentious all the time -- it is actually why I don't like the word anymore. I feel he is too blunt to be PC, but on the mark nonetheless in most of his speeches and interviews. I also try to be that way too, not tip-toeing around issues and just saying them so we can fix them and I fear that if "pretentious" becomes a common way of dismissing the things that I too want to complain about then my efforts will be more difficult. However, if I am causing negative feelings then I must reflect on how I am communicating. I will definitely think about this exchange and try to express concerns without offending others, but it's going to require practice :). Regarding Fish... no contest, he needs PR lessons (or maybe he needs to give them, as his behavior does spread his image around).

"The genre isn't "stagnant" - there has been a constant and steady stream of both big-budget and independent entries into the FPS genre that are doing interesting new things all the time."

A lot of my favorite games over the past few years are first person shooters. Though I do think the genre has more stagnation than most. I see your frustration with this article, I guess I just didn't feel it myself -- I expect articles and game jams to exaggerate for effect, and I suppose this exaggeration fit my world view so it did not offend me (particularly since I just got through working on a shooter and, though it had a lot of innovate ideas, it also had pieces that felt cliched and decisions that were made for the wrong reasons).

Yeah, sometimes the indie movement can be grating, I feel that from time to time. I want us all to stick together because, even though we're "competing" in similar markets, we all have similar goals. But as time passes I watch the capital I "Indie" group become defined as representing the whole independent movement and it feels bad to me. So I'll dial my discourse down a bit and try to avoid being pretentious myself.

David Navarro
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Are you suggesting players don't want an endless stream of "quirky", "retro" pixel art-based platformers?

Michael Rooney
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There is something to be said for major publishers actually getting games released too. Look at the list of IGF winning games, and, though they are innovative, most of them remain unplayable for anyone in the general public.

Releasing something good and innovative > releasing something good > a whole lot of stuff > not releasing something good and innovative.

@ "Are you suggesting players don't want an endless stream of "quirky", "retro" pixel art-based platformers? "

That's actually pretty funny.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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To be fair, the IGF is seen by many as a publicity injection more than a final goal post. It's not supposed to (necessarily) represent the best _completed_ indie games (though it can happen), more like the game demo that has the most promise. Unless you are referring to IGF games of the past being vapor-ware, which I admit I know nothing of the success rate of going from IGF winner to final product. I'm actually curious so I'm going to look into that, but I would find it weird to win the most prestigious festival in your camp with an unfinished project and not take that as a sign of confidence that you should finish it expected a nearly guaranteed success.

Michael Rooney
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"The exact numbers are: 147[total finalists] / 78[available at announcement of finalists] / 116[available today] / 31[unavailable]

On average only about 50% of games submitted to IGF are actually available to the public when finalists are announced [4]. That means that from 2006 through 2011 one in five IGF games is still unavailable. This is a hugely polarizing topic, but I think that’s pretty fucked up."

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Thanks for the numbers and link.

Kenneth Blaney
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I think there are a few reasons we don't see many indie FPS titles:
First, any FPS out there will immediately be compared, graphically speaking, to lots of existing titles. This sets the content bar pretty high and starts to require a good number of diversely skilled people.
Second, the structure of FPSes are SO ingrained in our collective unconscious that even minor changes to the WASD+mouse to look start to feel really weird and thus make the game off putting.
Third, I think there is a fear of people just looking at a FPS and immediately thinking they know everything there is to know about it before even playing it.

I actually came to these conclusions while working on a hobby project with people from the NYC IGDA. We are using UDK to help out on the graphics front, but there is still a ton of art work to do. Lots of animations, static meshes, etc. We were originally 3 guys, but the task is just too huge and we have since swelled the ranks. As to the second point, we had reload set temporarily to right click and, lacking a reload animation or sound at the time, it felt really weird not reloading with 'R'. Finally, to combat the third point, the game is just superficially similar to a FPS. In terms of player motivation it is more like an arcade game, and in terms of art design it is more like a grindhouse B-movie than a military shooter. (Also there are killer clowns... so its got that going for it also.)

Michael K
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I took part to have fun creating it.
I've experimented with stupid stuff, some went right, some went wrong, I still plan to polish and bugfix what we got. overall it was fun :approved:.
I have a doozen ideas already for the next 7dfps, just as my co-programmer has.

I think the reason that FPS games are not made by indies is that there is way more tech involved that the usual casual games, that are far more defined by content, than by tech.

I also did not see that much mind blowing innovations, yet it was fun to play-test some games. Some have really nice art direction, some have interesting multiplayer, some crash.

go on the side, pick a random one, test it. you might be surprised.

Eric Geer
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When I watched the Reciever gameplay....All I could think is "Wow that game looks like a pain in the ass! why can't I just hit "R" to reload? It seemed like QWOP for people into gun porn.

As for busting up machines peice by peice--ie taking out the gun and leaving the scanner/ or taking out the scanner and leaving the machine to fly---I think we have seen these things else where.

Eric Geer
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"This is the issue, you "watched" the gameplay. Reciever is about immersion, which you won't experience if you don't play it."

I know enough about my tastes in gaming to know that I would dislike this game immensely because of the gun mechanics. I'm not bitter, I'm just stating an opinion.

Carlo Delallana
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What got me interested in Receiver is that the weapon itself becomes a character in the game. Your interaction with the tool becomes more intimate, you become more aware of it as you check for a chambered round, see bullets being loaded into the magazine, etc. It's kind of a brilliant take on one of the most basic elements of the genre and what the spirit of innovation is all about. You take something that has become cliche, something that has a universally accepted definition and then changing up its story.

Sergio Rosa
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I watched the video and I like the concept. I think this gun mechanic could work in certain types of games (like survival horror) where you don't have weapons training and want to add that "anxiety" of not being able to reload the damn thing (I'm sure that if I was handed a gun to reload it, it would take me a lot more than what it takes me to hit the R key because I've never used a gun).

My biggest question is if the game will be developed further or what, because many jam games can be played for free but then they are charging 5 bucks to play a prototype that I don't know if will be developed any further (because, you know, those 5 bucks can get you far more polished indie games).

Luis Guimaraes
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"I think this gun mechanic could work in certain types of games (like survival horror)"

Shhhh! Don't say it loud!

John Flush
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The only innovation the FPS genre needs right now, across the whole board (CoD, Portal, Amnesia, etc), is the admittance that all the keys should move over one to the right. WASD is for people that never learned to type, or don't realize that you have more options if you just slide your fingers over one to the right to the home row. ESDF is what it should be - and it would be really great if PC games started having an option for 'Home row' players so I don't have to re-setup every game out of the box.

Darcy Nelson
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Don't most all games that utilize a keyboard offer customizable controls?

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"ESDF is what it should be" <<<< this.

I almost forgot, but I was thinking about the proliferation of WASD, which is objectively inferior to ESDF (not just 'in my opinion', I will get to that in a second), as evidence that deferring design responsibility to the free-market is suboptimal. But WASD is used as the default more often than not because the games of last year used it, and the games of last year used it because the games of 2010 used it, and the games of 2010 used it because the games of 2009 used it, and so on until you get to the Quake era or so where shooters were simpler and did not need a lot of extra keys so WASD was used because you don't need to worry what your pinky is doing. This to me is stark evidence of laziness in design in this industry, and I've seen it first hand -- instead of solving your own unique problems, just ask "What would call of duty do?" "What would Gears of War do?" Keep this up and the near-present military shooter or dark gray third person shooter with cover mechanics becomes represented larger than the market really wants simply due to developers lacking creative ability to provide their own solutions (or more likely having said ability but lacking creative freedom to do so, as their publisher contact really just wants you to copy CoD).

Now, how is ESDF objectively better than WASD? Your fingers are on "home row" for one thing, so if you type a lot (and I assume most FPS players do) this should be a natural position you have developed muscle memory for. Many keyboards have bumps on the F key for this reason, so it is easier to find. Your pinky rests over 'A' and not 'caps lock', so when you quit your game you don't have to go through that 50/50 chance when writing an email that you're going to be writing in all caps because you used it as an extra action in your FPS. And if you want your pinky to be able to do a split with your ring finger and hit a key to its left, caps is still there as an option. If you're using WASD and your pinky is over caps already, this option is not there. The reason for using letter keys instead of arrow keys is so your fingers are closer to extra keys for all the verbs added to the genre, so having the key that your pinky naturally rests over mapped to an action so your other fingers aren't overloaded makes a lot of sense. ESDF is closer to the middle of the keyboard so you can slide it over a liiittle farther away from your mouse if you're right handed (which most people are). Heck I used to use numpad instead of WASD or ESDF for this reason, so my mouse had more breathing room from the keyboard -- though numpad doesn't have as many neighboring keys for extra actions.

"Don't most all games that utilize a keyboard offer customizable controls?"

I think John means a toggle, hitting a check box to convert to ESDF instead of having to explicitly change four keys, or perhaps even having it stored independent of the game (in a Steam profile or something?) so you set it once and then future games read it in and default to ESDF. I agree with him. The fact that ESDF is ignored even to the extent that there's no special alt control toggle for it is a shame and evidence of lazy "follow the herd" design in the industry.

Thomas Buscaglia
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Yes, WASD is popular because games have used WASD for a long time. They're only still used predominantly as defaults because they're still the most popular with players. Go ahead and explain how using the most popular controls as your default layout is lazy. Once you're done with that, you can move on to explaining how a UI that is, by necessity, as cluttered as a "customize controls" panel would be somehow better with more buttons on it and how not cluttering it further is also lazy.

What ever happened to "indie devs that do act pretentious cleaning up their act"?

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"Go ahead and explain how using the most popular controls as your default layout is lazy."

Interestingly enough, I did in an above post (probably while you were typing this). Quick copy and paste: "Imagine an alternate universe where Quake used ESDF instead of WASD. In that universe traditionalists would be praising ESDF for the same reason they praise WASD in this universe, but the objectivists who look at design decisions as having "right" or "wrong" answers (also known as experts) would still be arguing for ESDF based on its objective reasoning." Now how is ESDF "right" and WASD "wrong"? That's in the post you are responding to.

"Once you're done with that, you can move on to explaining how a UI that is, by necessity, as cluttered as a "customize controls" panel would be somehow better with more buttons on it and how not cluttering it further is also lazy."

Regarding the implicit complaint of further cluttering a cluttered UI: It's about presenting layers of volition to the user. The higher layers have less options but can be accessed quickly. These options are more common. So people will go to this first level and select an option that they are likely to want as the pareto principal applies to user preferences. Then if they don't see the option they want, they can go to a deeper level that is more cluttered, such as a free form list of all controls being editable. Although really I only mentioned a special ESDF option because John mentioned it, and the more I think about it the more it sounds like he's suggesting a centralized cookie of some sort that all games can read so, even though most people like WASD, I don't have to pay a setup tax for being in the minority every time I buy a new game. I like that idea as it doesn't add clutter, but it would require developers working together a little more instead of focusing solely on their own games.

Regarding this being lazy: it's lazy in the same way that not catering to the colorblind is lazy. There are enough people who use ESDF for it to be a worthy alternative option with a quick toggle that the fact that this does not even occur to people seems lazy. More importantly than specifically "putting an explicit toggle option for ESDF in games so the (let's low-ball it) thousands of gamers who prefer ESDF don't have to spend as much time setting up their controls", what I am calling "lazy" is the implied ignorance of this preference. I will say it is likely a systematic laziness and not a laziness shared by all individuals.

"What ever happened to "indie devs that do act pretentious cleaning up their act"?"


Here is the first definition I found for 'pretentious' on Google, so if you do not agree to it bring your own and I will answer again with your definition in mind: pre·ten·tious "Attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed." I am not attempting to impress you or anyone. I am merely attempting to explain and fight problems. And yes, discourse is a tool for progress and fixing problems. And if I was trying to impress you? If Buscaglia's opinion of me kept me up at night? I still wouldn't be pretentious because, as my detailed supporting arguments show, I am not debating outside my talent.

This is the problem with the word "pretentious". Nowadays someone throws that out carelessly whenever anyone shows any sort of issue with game development. It's meaningless from overuse and misuse. It's the slightly more adult form of calling someone a "faggot" because you want to attack the person and not the message. I don't think you or most people who use it know what it means anymore, it's just a blanket attack because... I really don't know.

I'm not standing up in front of a Japanese developer and telling him that all of his country's games suck with no further advice, or saying that the IGF finally means something now that I've won like a certain indie developer. This is what I picture when I (properly) use the word pretentious. Yes, Phil Fish is pretentious. They are out there. Jonathan Blow is not. He backs up his claims with experience and reasoning. But Jonathan Blow gets called pretentious just as readily as Phil Fish, because apparently the new definition of "pretentious" is "disagreeing with me."

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"What about us lefties?"

Interestingly this got me thinking about the clutter issue that Thomas brought up. Imagine an interface regarding changing controls that looks like a keyboard. On the left are a list of verbs. The verbs for moving appear grouped into a t-block shape facing up (like wasd makes) over the keyboard. You can move this shape around and stamp it over any keys you want that would fit it. wasd, esdf, rdfg, ijkl. If you prefer a layout that does not fit this shape, you can still go down a layer into the group of movement inputs and assign keys individually. Maybe you're a person who likes standing-up t shapes, like qwes would make. Then you can move the individual keys around and this is your new stamp pattern so if you decided to move it over one after playing and feeling you'd prefer werd, you could do that in one step by sliding the newly shaped stamp over.

I still think esdf is better than wasd for left handed players as it moves away from caps lock (unless left-handed keyboards have a different layout than what I'm used to). But I am curious to know what you do use? I imagine wasd or esdf will push your keyboard off to the side quite a bit, like what I experienced when playing Quake 3 with numpad, and that had some problems regarding making sure my desk had enough free surface area.

Glenn Sturgeon
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Being a lefty i feel lucky to be able to "re-setup" a game controls. Nothing kills a game like an unintuitive control setup that cant be changed. Ask yourself how many people who use a mouse in thier left hand and the arrow keys to move will realy be able to affectively use F1-F8 or the basic numbers (often not supporting the Num pad) they often force to swap weps. If i buy a game i think i should be able to config the controls any way i choose. If a game lets me use the keys i want it takes about 20-30 seconds to reconfig everything and that to me is nothing.

Luis Guimaraes
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I prefer most commands to work with "hold" instead of "toggle" (damn you DeusEx:HR!).
Where do you bind duck (crtl), sprint (capslock), sneak(shift) when playing from ESDF?

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"Where do you bind duck (crtl), sprint (capslock), sneak(shift) when playing from ESDF?"

I guess it depends on the game, but I generally don't have three speed states (default, sprint, sneak). So I use shift for sneak (or sprint if there is no option for autorun). I suppose you could still use caps lock for one of those as it is a pinky-ring finger split away and (at least for me) can be held comfortably while keeping my other fingers on esdf. I would use 'a' for hold crouch, maybe even for toggle crouch but if there's something more urgent for a primary key I would put that there instead (maybe some sort of special move that I would need to do quickly) and put crouch on z. Really when it comes to non-movement verbs it depends on which ones I'm using most.

Interestingly enough I have DE:HR and haven't played it yet, so I'm going to need to be making those decisions soon. I remember the original Deus Ex having a lot of verbs and choosing ESDF for that reason.

I want to take this time to add that I don't _really_ care about wasd vs esdf as much as I've been talking about it, I just feel like I have skin in the game now so I kind of have to keep going :P. I do think it is better for modern games with a lot of verbs and if we all had our memories wiped we would pick ESDF to stay away from caps lock and to give us a few more finger-split options to the left, but I don't begrudge people who use WASD and sometimes use it in games that don't have a lot of verbs simply so I don't have to change the controls (another example of admitted laziness; we're all lazy in certain things, I'm really not trying to be pretentious).

Thomas Buscaglia
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"I don't think you or most people who use it know what it means anymore, it's just a blanket attack because... I really don't know. "

I know what it means. You're the one who used it. I quoted you because it applied perfectly.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Admitted ad hominem, doubling down when I provide evidence that it is not true (showing an affinity for attack rather than truth). I'm out. I'll reply to anyone else looking for it but you are a waste of time.

Thomas Buscaglia
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I was pointing out that you were doing exactly what you said indies shouldn't do. I could've been more specific I guess, but I saw that you already looked up pretentious so I didn't feel the need to clarify.

Thomas Buscaglia
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Also, it's not ad hominem to say that you're contradicting yourself by acting pretentious when your statement was literally that indies should act less pretentious. I'm not attempting to deny the truth in your statement by attacking you personally, I'm agreeing with you and pointing out that it applies to you as well.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"Also, it's not ad hominem to say that you're contradicting yourself by acting pretentious when your statement was literally that indies should act less pretentious."

To which I would say... but I wasn't being pretentious. I've seen the "label the guy complaining about how things are as pretentious" pattern happen so much that _everything I type_ online I am constantly trying not to come off as pretentious. But it seems that the word "pretentious" really is evolving as a reflex response to "having an opinion I disagree with". I suppose to some extent whether I am "pretentious" or not is a matter of opinion.

Anyway, I do not deign to be a hypocrite, so if anything I said on this page is "pretentious" then I will retract my stance that indie developers need to be less "pretentious". Apparently that word is overused anyway, and what happens when words are overused is that they lose their impact. And as such if indie developers being less pretentious means self-censoring their concerns about the many many flaws in our field, then I absolutely don't think that should happen. Maybe instead listeners should grow thicker skin.

I still think Fish's behavior after winning the IGF was in poor taste in a way that I would like to call "pretentious", but the application of that word to me and other indie developers seems to be watering it down so I'll just ignore it from here on out.

John Flush
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While an interesting discussion, sorry it took me so long to get back to this, I'm not saying you have to change the default layout, but I would like to have a quick picklist of the most common key setups. 1. WASD; 2. ESDF; 3. Lefties, etc. Instead I have to customize each key binding - every game.

Now where do you toggle 'duck' and other other actions typically used as Ctrl, Alt, Shift, or caps? How about a, z, or q, or any of the others around it? Yeah I know you only get it hit 3 keys at the same time before PC input starts to choke, but who is going to be holding that many keys at once anyhow? Maybe it is me that doesn't know how to play and all but I find the toggles work great, and if they don't I don't end up hitting E and (S or F) much anyhow while also needing to crouch or sprint so I never have the problem.

The only reason I even trained myself to use ESDF was because I played Descent and Duke Nukem 3D, and Thief back in the day and to have quick access to all the options I needed quick access to every key my left hand typically can find - which is a lot more if you are in the home row. My problem is now every time I install a new game the first place I have to stop is the 'fix the lame keyboard layout' screen.

Nothing says polish in a game than having to customize it first time it boots up. Which even with the other option I would have to do, but I would like the to minimize moving every key that is important to the game over one every time. I've been content all these years just toughing it out - it isn't going to kill me to keep doing it - I just figured for all the elitist PC gamers out there that some of them might actually use the home row like a real PC user would - and maybe that was worth programming in by default in some capacity.

Nick Harris
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RDFG has the advantage of providing a tactile cue that you are centred with your middle finger on the F key, ready to retreat from combat at a moment's notice. However, the 360 gamepad is better as it doesn't cause cramp and can be used just fine with PCs and Macs with a Microsoft Wireless Gaming Reciever.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"This is something that highschool boys would argue about..."

And yet, here you are, though I suppose you could still be in high school.


"highschool boys"

Come. On. People. Give your opinion, give your facts, and leave off the insults. Please.

To address "caps and shift being larger keys", once your finger is over a key it doesn't matter how large it is (beyond a certain minimum size where you're not fat-thumbing the neighboring keys) because your finger is already there. You can still hit shift from ESDF very easily - ever type with capital letters? You can still hit caps if you need to, though as mentioned I prefer not to have my system case toggled randomly when leaving games. I am curious about hitting ctrl with the side of your palm, I am trying that and it is very uncomfortable (do you have a keyboard with a raised ctrl or something?). Anyway I hit control with my pinky, and while it is harder from esdf, z is easier and can replace control.

"You know what why not use the damn options menu."

Why why why why why why WHY WHY WHY is it that when ANYONE online brings up an issue about ANYTHING, the knee-jerk response is "why not do BLAH", when most likely they do, and are also bringing up an issue with it. You can do both. WHY is this overlooked? It's possible to complain about something on the one hand because it comes up in conversation but also deal with it. In other words, yes -- people who prefer esdf use the options menu to change the controls without your patronizing advice.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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@Nick I've considered rdfg (or tfgh) as the logical extension of moving away from caps and getting more keys surrounding you. Do you use it for this reason and if so do you map other actions to qwaszx?

I don't think I could replace my FPS controls with a 360 controller. I just can't aim as well with a thumbstick as with a mouse, though other aspects (having an actual trigger-like button for firing) feel better.

John Flush
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@Nick but with RDFG you once again limit the keys on a split keyboard seeming 6, t, g, and b aren't next to anything. That and the tactile feeling of 'f' is where I would instinctively position my index finger.

Luis Guimaraes
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Hold and Toggle are very different when you need total control of your character actions.

Yet despite using WASD I customize keys on every game anyway, as most of their defaults are usually bad for usability anyway.

John Tynes
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Interesting article, but leading off with Gun Godz -- a game that is not actually available for purchase or download except to people who backed a recent Kickstarter that is now complete -- is kind of a downer.

Nathaniel Marlow
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I really wanna play Gun Godz and the fact that only the ~1700 backers even have access to it makes me sad

Christer Kaitila
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I had tons of fun participating in this jam. I made "Super Snowball Fight" complete with snow forts. Total dev time, 10-12 hours. Does everything have to be groundbreaking? A MASTERPIECE OF DISRUPTING HIPSTERDOM? Mass marketable? Of course not. Lighten up, people!

How about just fun to make? If the qualifier for whether or not 7DFPS was a great idea is to have had a blast participating, then it was a resounding success. =)

Super Snowball Fight gameplay video and download zip:

Jeremy Alessi
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I had a great time putting Swap Fire together and because of the 7DFPS Challenge (which I completed my original goals for) I have the makings of a nice full game.

Servers are pretty scarce but...

Glenn Sturgeon
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Wanna bet most if not all the people who complain about inovation in the FPS genre haven't even played what i found to be the most creative FPS from the current and last gen. The now defunct Chromehounds (360) or the better example Shadow tower abyss(ps2). Both games are by From software & if you know From soft, you know thier games are generaly more about design than top end graphics. The fall of chromehounds (360) IMO shows theres only so much room for inovation before the design goes over the general fps players head or intrest in depth. I'm not a COD fan or realy any of the slow army (super ops soldier) games, but i do realise its what people want and thats why it sells.

wes bogdan
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Imho the reason f.p.s has become tired is that all the way back to doom 3d was built and refined on shooters so it became the template for 3d graphics benchmarking.

Only when eliments like vehicles,rpg leveling or a fleshed out story like uncharted are added do we veer away from doom xxxxiiivvv gameplay.

That's another problem uncharted,batman,blue dragon are all 3rd person perspective while first person games concentrate on level design,multi-player and weapon balance no f.p.s has ever tried to have a deep story they put the player in the boots and let you fill it in as you play.

Matthew Downey
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I have finally perused every single comment (read: every one debate [ jk ]).

Btw, that "perused" is the correct definition of "to examine thoroughly." I didn't want to write two different tenses of "read" and confuse people.

If you want to innovate on shooters, why not start with the guns and the classes. Team Fortress 2 has been excellent at releasing a lot of replayability through all the different choices the player can make. If you want replayability in a single-player game, then the multiplayer has to be good (if it exists), thus I'll stick to improve-the-gunplay argument.

The only innovations I've noticed in multiplayer throughout the years is the nazi zombies weapons chest, which has yet to be reproduced elsewhere, and silhouettes of important objects (see Brink, Ghost Recon Future Soldier, and Portal). Personally, I think players shouldn't be able to have all of the customizations they want on their character because players just optimize. Battlefield 3 Players use colorblind options regardless of colorblindness just to get a tactical edge, in shooters players look at Denkirson stats to find which sniper rifles can get the easiest one-hit-kills or which machine guns give the best damage-per-second at a modest range without impaired mobility. Multiplayer games still have weapon spawns (see Halo or Quake) rather than staking players fighting one against another for weapons dictated by random chance (which would create a multiplayer "story" that I've seen Leigh Alexander write about at least once). Personally I would feel good if I got dealt a bad hand in a first person shooter, because for every time I died a horrible, painful death, there might be one where I come out ahead Deagle in hand, adrenaline pumping.

There are easy ways to stop spawnkilling through allowing the player to pick where they spawn (check my blogs if you are interested) and finally it's possible to make the level design loop at the edges so there is no wasted space (the edges connect through the fourth dimension, which I haven't written about but I made a video here: To clarify, because people often don't get what I'm saying (it's my, the designers, fault): This is a 4D level design where you can walk infinitely in one direction and always be constrained within the map.

With respect to all that stuff, it's not hard to innovate if you can perceive the problem. The hard step is always finding the broken system, the easy part is: "ok, the player is leaving the map, so why don't I teleport him to the other side and tile the map once in each direction and then put in some fog so the player can never see the jump."

Creativity has always been about keeping an open mind. A lot of the world is luck, AAA companies got lucky at some point during their startup. Big games rarely innovate on "fun." Very few businesses are evil, however, even if they are money-driven (but that is to be expected). Kindness pays off in the long-term. If you are nice to your customers, your company will last, if you take them for granted they will eventually stop trusting you (unless you are a monopoly).

The legal stuff I dislike:

Corporations can buy other corporations =(

How I view it: Even if Google's the one buying, I dislike this part. As with programming, companies imo work better together when their composition is that of many moving parts, not few. The smaller the teams being managed, the better.

The original owner has no liability for failure, which tends to invoke risk (both good and bad).

How I view it: If this seems dumb and overly idealistic, it probably is (with respect to America's constitutional republic at least). I do think that when people feel responsible for their own actions they are more moral in their decision.

Luis Guimaraes
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Must not forget to add this:

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Jeremy Holla
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How about capitalizing on that moment where you see another player and wonder, "ok is this guy friendly, is he going to shoot me?" rather than having a FPS with designated teams.

Potentially add sandbox elements to these games, advance the genre just a little further down the line towards mmorpg's.