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How to Make Your Shooter Combat Better

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

By: Tony Huynh

I was asked the question, “how could Bioshock’s combat be improved?” I thought about it for a while and I am going to propose some possible fixes for the shortcomings of Bioshock in this area. While this is geared towards Bioshock, it can just as easily apply to other games featuring first or third person combat. Some of these solutions may be drastic and change the tone of the game, but I wanted to put them out on the table to promote discussion. The root of the problem with Bioshock’s combat is the lack of necessary tactical decisions for the player. The aim of this article is to see why this is the case in the areas of weapon, AI, level and system design and present some possible solutions to add a greater variety of necessary tactical decision-making for the player as well as offer other improvements to Bioshock’s combat.

1) Balance weapons and plasmids around a Paper / Rock / Scissor system

A weapon in a Paper / Rock / Scissor system is balanced around the idea that weapons have strengths and weakness and that each weapon plays a defined role during combat. For instance a sniper rifle is strong at long range, but weak at medium and short-range, while a shotgun should be strong at short-range and weak at medium and long-range. If a player enters into a long-range engagement armed with a shotgun, they will be at a gross disadvantage against an opponent with a sniper rifle. The player must then choose whether to close the distance to take away the opponent’s advantage or switch to a different weapon. The weapon’s strengths and weaknesses can be affected by any number of circumstances and not just range. An example is in Halo, ballistic weapons do more damage against flesh targets and energy weapons do more damage against shielded opponents on top of their PRS range-based system. Obviously a balanced PRS system precludes any one weapon that is the best in all situations.

The current state of Bioshock:
In Bioshock, the Paper / Rock / Scissor system is not clearly defined. 99% of the engagements in Bioshock occur at short and medium-range and most of the weapons and plasmids are good at both ranges. Despite Bioshock’s shotgun being only usable at short-range, it does little damage at short-range and the rate of fire is extremely poor making it a non-viable weapon later in the game. While Bioshock presents a lot of options to the player, the player is never enticed to use these other tactics because every encounter can be handled with the Electrobolt stun to gun combo. This combo is one of the safest and most effective ways to dispatch every type of enemy in any situation in the game. There are no weaknesses to this combo as none of the AI are resistant to it and it can hit at both medium-range and short-range.

Another key component of the PRS system is that there are tradeoffs to which weapon the player chooses to carry with them. Even if Bioshock’s weapons followed a PRS design, the player in Bioshock always has access to all the weapons introduced up to that point in the game. This removes an additional layer of tactical decision-making because the player is always carrying the perfect weapon for the situation in their inventory.

Proposed solutions:
1. Define the roles of the weapons and plasmids in Bioshock to fit into a clearly communicated three category closed-loop (PRS) system, whether it is ranges or some other system.

2. If the solution is ranges (short, medium and long) it will be necessary to change level databases to intersperse long range engagements.
a. This is extremely risky because it will affect the atmosphere and feel of the game. The benefit would be that it will add some variety to the combat.

3. Limit the player’s weapon choice down to fewer weapons and plasmids. My suggestion is two of each. By giving the player only two weapons and two plasmids the player will always be weak in at least one of these three categories and they will have to make a choice on which weapons and plasmids to carry.
a. This will have the side-effect of alleviating some of the problems with the clumsy weapon and plasmid selection I mentioned in my last article as the player can now comfortably alternate between two instead of eight selections.

4. There are Gene Banks to swap out genes; how about Weapon Banks to swap out weapons? Create Weapon Banks and place both Gene Banks and Weapon Banks liberally through the levels to allow the player to swap out weapons and plasmids frequently.

2) More Enemy AI Variety
Introducing new enemy AI that have different personalities, behaviors, strengths and weaknesses changes the dynamic of combat and greatly benefits a game’s pacing. When faced with a new AI players must experiment and discover the strengths and weaknesses of the new enemy. The player must then adjust their tactics to deal with the new threat. The new enemy AI offers scenario designers the opportunity to mix in the new enemy type with the already introduced AI thereby creating new variations on old encounters.

The current state of Bioshock:
The wholly inadequate number of enemy variations in Bioshock are all frontloaded into the beginning of the game. By the middle of the title the player’s have been introduced to every enemy type and as a result the rest of the game’s combat pacing suffers.

Proposed solutions:
1. One way to add more variety to the enemies is to arm more Splicers with different Plasmids. Imagine an Electrobolt plasmid using Splicer that was also resistant to Electrobolt attacks, but weak against the Insect Swarm plasmid. Giving specific varieties of Splicers resistances to specific plasmids and weapons would have added depth to the tactics employed by players. This would at the very least force the player to change up the aforementioned Electrobolt to gun combo technique on occasion.

2. Design and create new AI with different personalities, behaviors, strengths and weaknesses and space out their introductions throughout the course of the game.

3) Differentiate AI silhouettes to aid player planning
One of the most effective ways to convey what type of enemy the player is facing is through having drastically different silhouettes between enemies. Silhouettes assist players in being able to tell enemies apart quickly, and in turn formulate a plan on how to tackle a situation more accurately.

The current state of Bioshock:
This is an area that Bioshock does not do well. The Houdini, melee and gun wielding Splicers are all difficult to tell apart at a glance because their silhouettes are so similar. Having unique silhouettes for AI is even more important because of how dark the levels are in Bioshock.

Proposed solutions:
Now that we have a greater variety of enemies that require different tactics to defeat, we need to communicate the variety of enemies to the player quickly and effectively. Gears of War 2 does an excellent job of having easily recognizable enemy silhouettes. Scroll through their enemy list to see what I mean.

A key difference with Bioshock and Gears of War 2 is that the enemies are more human in Bioshock. While this makes the solution a bit more difficult, it is not impossible. An example of widely divergent human silhouettes can be seen Valve’s Team Fortress 2.
Team Fortress 2 Character silhouettes

4) Have pre-fight AI scripting throughout
How a player perceives an AI’s intelligence is determined by what an AI is doing before a battle as much as what they do during the fight. While this does not directly affect giving the player additional tactical choice, pre-fight AI scripting helps make the AI look smarter and this will always assist in making combat more enjoyable.

The current state of Bioshock:
This is an area that Bioshock excels at especially at the beginning of the game. AIs in Bioshock have lives outside of waiting for the player to show up. The Splicers whistle, have conversations with themselves, take their imaginary babies on strolls and even dance with each other. This is one of the best examples of a game with the illusion of a living world. This is not easy to do and requires tremendous development resources, which is why it is not often seen in games. The problem in Bioshock is that pre-fight scripting falls off dramatically in the middle through the end of the game.

Proposed solutions:
More pre-fight AI scripting is needed during the middle and late stages of the game. If this is not feasible I would suggest spacing out the densely scripted pre-fight AI in the first half and spreading these through the course of the game so that there is not such a lull in the middle to end of the game.

5) Leaders with underling breaking behavior
This is a technique that was pioneered by Total War and brought over to the first person shooter genre by Halo. Whenever a much more difficult to kill Elite in Halo was defeated, the grunts in Elite’s squad would break and scatter. This added depth and tactical choice to target selection in combat.

The current state of Bioshock:
There are no leaders in Bioshock. In fact, the AIs seem to act completely independently from each other.

Proposed solutions:
1. This could be simulated in Bioshock by having the aforementioned plasmid infused Splicers serve in the role of leaders and if they are killed, the other Splicers will break and flee or simply cower and beg for their life.

2. “Wherever possible, we try to make the vocalizations a dialogue between two or more characters, rather than an announcement by one character.” J. Orkin – States & a Plan: The AI of F.E.A.R.
a. By including communication between AI whenever possible, it will make the AI at least have the illusion of working together.

6) Raise the hit points and damage dealt by your AI
This is taken from the 2002 GDC talk The Illusion of Intelligence by Jaime Griesemer and Chris Butcher. Through playtests and surveys conducted by Bungie Studios, they discovered that tougher AI (higher hit points and higher damage dealt) created the illusion that the AI was smarter.

Halo: Combat Evolved AI Test

Combat almost always benefits from the illusion of smarter AI. If the combat is too challenging however, accessibility will suffer. So making the AI tougher can only be pushed up to a point.

The current state of Bioshock:
Through the course of Bioshock the player becomes stronger by accumulating and upgrading health, eve, weapons and plasmids. The result is the enemy AI is tough at the beginning of the game, but gradually became weaker through the course of the game. Bioshock in turn occasionally scaled up the same exact AI in difficulty to accommodate the growth in power of the player. This made for uneven difficulty in the game and by scaling the difficulty of the same AI, Bioshock nullified some of the player’s sense of advancement. Nonetheless, by the end of the game the combination of player familiarity with game mechanics and avatar upgrades made the AI too weak and in turn caused the player to be left with a lowered opinion of the AI and consequently of Bioshock’s combat.

Proposed solution:
1. Create easily recognizable skins for upgraded enemies to communicate to the player that they have been upgraded.
2. Introduce new AI later in the game that is already scaled to the appropriate difficulty level of where they are introduced.
3. Maintain the frequency of player upgrades, but lower their potency.

7) Call in the reinforcements!
The way AIs are introduced can make them appear smart. AI that call for reinforcements when they see the player or if an AI is seemingly the last enemy in a scenario and calls for back up and they arrive make the AI feel intelligent.

“For example, when an A.I. realizes that he is the last surviving member of a squad, he says some variation of ‘I need reinforcements.’ We did not really implement any mechanism for the A.I. to bring in reinforcements, but as the player progresses through the level, he is sure to see more enemy A.I. soon enough.” – J. Orkin – States & a Plan: The AI of F.E.A.R.

F.E.A.R. relies on the player’s assumptions to create the illusion of intelligence, but this could just as easily be scripted in the game.

The current state of Bioshock:
I do not recall any AIs in Bioshock ever calling for back up.

Proposed solution:
Create occasional scripted moments where the player happens on a lone Splicer and she calls for help and additional Splicers come through a door or run downstairs to assist her.

8 ) Make the AI predictable
AIs need to have predictable behaviors so that players can recognize and use their patterns to outsmart them and thereby feel good about themselves.

The current state of Bioshock:
This experience came from my playthrough of the game. I had entered combat with a pistol armed Splicer, but moved away to where he could not see me, but I could observe him. He would move to the last place that he saw me to investigate, once there he would stay in his alerted state and begin a patrol. During his patrol he would stay at a constant speed (good), but would seemingly at random (bad) turn 180 degrees and start walking the opposite direction.

My goal was to sneak up behind him to use my wrench. Because he would randomly turn around 180 degrees my attempts were not always successful. Even if I manage to get to him the Splicer becomes aware of you at around 3 meters and immediately turns around to react disallowing the player the advantage of the first hit with the wrench. Let me outsmart the AI!

Bioshock AI Investigation Behavior
Proposed solution:
Bioshock AI Proposed Investigation Behavior
When an AI loses sight of the player they should move at a constant speed and never turn around 180 degrees. The AI should also not have the ability to see the player behind him (extrasensory perception) when at close range. Keeping AI actions predictable is the goal. Having predictable AI allows the player to recognize behaviors through observation and outsmart the AI.

9) The use of gameplay space and cover to create tactics
I have saved the discussion regarding cover usage and placement until now because it so fundamentally changes the way Bioshock plays and it carries the most risk. This should not be a direction that is taken lightly and without serious consideration and playtesting.

Make cover matter
Cover in shooters can be used to direct the flow of combat as well as promote tactical space analysis and decision-making by the player.

The current state of Bioshock:
Cover in Bioshock is used very little to direct battles and create fronts against enemies, the most effective way to deal with enemies I found was by standing out in the open and strafing left and right while firing.

There is very little half-cover in Bioshock, so crouching behind cover is not an option most of the time.

Proposed solution:
One of the easiest ways to promote the usage of cover for players is to have consequences for them for not doing so.

I took a look at a few other games that are praised for their combat to see what they did. I performed some tests to figure out how long it took three different games to kill the player. Each test was performed by standing the player perfectly still out in the open at medium range (my best guess at 8 meters).

In Bioshock, at the end of Smuggler’s Hideout, it took an average of 15 seconds to die from 3 pistol armed Splicers and 1 Spider Splicer on normal difficulty from a full health bar.

Halo 3
It took an average of 7 seconds to die from the very first engagement in Halo 3 on Heroic difficulty (the recommended difficulty).

Call of Duty 4
In Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare it took an average of 4 seconds for two AI to kill the player when he is standing out in the open on Normal difficulty in the second engagement of Blackout (the first mission in Act 1).

This means that in Halo 3 the player dies more than twice as fast in the very first engagement of the game and in Call of Duty 4 the player dies over three times faster when compared to Bioshock at about the one quarter mark of the game where the player is up against an unusually large number of enemies. Without the immediate threat of death the player is not as willing to seek cover in Bioshock.

Encounter space design
Spaces should be designed to accommodate as many different types of playstyles used by players as possible.

What type of playstyle do you use? Do you like to sit back in cover with your medium and long range weapons and slowly whittle down the enemies? Do you sneak around the side and flank your opponent with close range weapons? Are you Rambo and want to run out in the center with guns blazing? Maybe you just want to use cover to sneak past the enemies and avoid the encounter entirely.

“Building a successful course then becomes a matter of understanding these different demographics and designing with each of them in mind.” – What SimGolf Can Teach You about Designing the Perfect Level by Alex J. Champandard

The current state of Bioshock:
While I am not saying that all the encounters in Bioshock did not allow for different playstyles, in fact some of them did this quite well, but there were far too many coverless corridors populated with enemies where the player’s options were limited to simply strafe and fire.

Proposed solutions:
The key to accommodating a wide range of playstyles is making sure that there is “interconnectivity” in the combat spaces.

“It’s very important to make spaces that highlight the strengths of your AI. A battle in a corridor doesn’t involve much strategy so there are no intelligent things for the AI to do. An interconnected space allows the AI to flank the Player, making them seem more intelligent. It also allows the Player to flank the AI, giving him a chance to watch them react to his tactics. One weakness of an interconnected space, however, is that it tends to be chaotic. So we also needed to establish a Killing Zone, an open area between two positions with good cover. Flanking is still possible in an environment with a killing zone, but the battle is much more directed. The killing zone also allows multiple enemies to fight at once without it degenerating into chaos.” – The Illusion of Intelligence by Jaime Griesemer and Chris Butcher

This is a combat space in Fracture that I worked on.
Fracture Tony Huynh Encounter Design

I attempted to design the space to accommodate different playstyles.
• Note the cover placement to create battle lines and the killing zone to keep the battle orderly.
• The sniping spot is for those that want to sit back with a long ranged weapon like the sniper rifle.
• Battle line 1 is to allow the option of medium ranged weapons.
• Note the flanking routes to allow for the player to flank the enemies and the AI to flank the player.
• I did not accommodate a way to avoid the encounter entirely, but in hindsight maybe I should have or at least have given it some more thought.

Cover placement is very important in providing opportunities for players to tackle encounters the way that they want to. Having a mix of battles take place in open areas as well as tight confined spaces and corridors will add variety to the gameplay to keep the player from becoming bored.

10) Use large-scale cinematic scripted events in combat
Large-scale cinematic scripted events like explosions, buildings toppling and helicopters crashing add excitement and help to break up the monotony of combat. Few games do large scale scripted events in combat as well as Call of Duty 4. The real trick is to make sure that players see these events.

The current state of Bioshock:
While there are certain big moments that happen in Bioshock, the Airliner cabin crashing through the walkway tube comes to mind, there are not any that happen mid-combat.

Proposed solutions:
1. Place enemies defending the hallway where the airline cabin comes crashing through. Have them get killed by the airline cabin collision.
2. Come up with and implement additional cinematic scripted moments that occur in combat.

11) Death for a player should not be meaningless
Combat does not work without the fear of consequences. When death is meaningless, the need for the player to use tactics is diminished. Conversely if death is too harsh, players will never want to experiment with anything but tried and true methods. A balance needs to be struck.

The current state of Bioshock:
The current implementation of Vita-chambers removes any need for tactics as dying is meaningless. Each time you die, you instantly respawn nearby with half health and the enemies do not recover any health. A tactic I abused a few times is to pull a Big Daddy close to a Vita-chamber and rush him with my wrench. When I died I simply respawned and repeated my tactics with the wrench until he was dead. I have heard a lot of people complain about the Vita-chambers, but there is a trade off here. The experience may have felt cheapened for the player, but this makes it so every player can see the end of Bioshock which is very valuable.

Proposed solutions:
I know I suggested a compromise to have injured enemies regain a modest amount of health if a vita-chamber is used in my last article, but if the goal is to promote tactical combat I would go so far as to recommend removing Vita-chambers entirely and rely on a system of checkpoints. There are certainly tradeoffs here and this negatively affects accessibility of the game so this needs careful consideration before implementation.

12) Healing
The question of how the player is healed becomes much more important with the removal of Vita-Chambers from the game. Here are the pros and cons of the very common Recharging health and Bioshock’s Persistent health systems as I see it.

Recharging health
• Promotes the use of cover (as it is the only place to regain health during combat.)
• It is easier for designers to tune difficulty for individual engagements because they will always know the player will have a certain amount of health before each encounter.
• It is easier to create a consistent difficulty curve for the game because each encounter can be tuned to be more difficult in relation to the last without worrying about how much health the player currently has.

• If there are permanent health upgrades they are exponentially more powerful.
• Players do not have to search for health packs.

Persistent health (Bioshock’s health system)
• The player must worry about every hit, because all damage is permanent.
• Players must search for health packs.

• Careful attention needs to be paid to a player that gets stuck in a low health situation right before a tough encounter.
• Cover can sometimes be ignored because players can stand in the open and regain health with a press of a button.

• Designers can ensure a proper amount of health for the player by placing health pickups preceding an encounter.

Proposed solutions:
Having listed out the pros and cons of the two systems as I see it, I do not know which system I prefer. The main issues of contention are the exponential power increase of health upgrades for the recharging health system and the difficulty of balancing each encounter for the player in the persistent health model. If I had to choose between the two, I would go with the persistent health system because it promotes the player searching for powerups.

The system I propose is a hybrid bucketed health system where the player has a number of buckets of health. Each bucket replenishes itself as long as it is not completely depleted. The bucketed health system maintains the need to have the player search for health and simultaneously encourages cover usage during combat to replenish health. Permanent health upgrades could come in the form of additional buckets of health.

This article is meant to offer suggestions to enhance the tactical decision-making of the player in Bioshock’s combat. Many of proposed solutions have large tradeoffs and affect the game negatively outside of combat. Since the goal was to improve combat and spawn discussion points, I largely ignored these problems. To read a less combat-oriented and more balanced list of suggestions at improving Bioshock read my last article, Bioshock: The Most Important Game of the Generation.

See my other related articles:
Become a Video Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know Part 1
Roger Ebert is Right: Games are Not High Art…Yet
Top 5 Greatest Moments in Competitive Gaming (eSports)
What Video Games Taught Me About Life
Low Skill Cap and Luck (RNG) in World of Warcraft PVP
Best Games of All Time by Genre Part 1
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 1
What’s Bad About Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Multiplayer Mode?
Call of Duty: World at War Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Dead Space Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Gears of War 2 Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
8 of the Most Underrated or Overlooked Video Games of All Time
Best MMA Fights & Genki Sudo: Real Life Video Game Character

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Top 5 Greatest Moments in Competitive Gaming (eSports)

Monday, January 5th, 2009

Here are the top 5 greatest moments in tournament gaming. To qualify these moments had to occur in a tournament witnessed by others and of course it had to be recorded. Enjoy!

5. Condition Zero: 3D Dave “Moto” Geffon versus 4 SK-Gaming at WCG 2004 Finals

4. Quake III: Fatal1ty is down 0-8 in this match against AIM at QuakeCon 2002
What will he do? Pay attention to the ridiculous rail shot at 1:36.

3. Halo: Combat Evolved: Saiyan takes down the The Dream Team (TDT) at AGP 4
Pay attention to the top-left quarter of the 4-way split screen. “Oh my god! Someone stop him!”

2. StarCraft: SlayerS_’BoxeR’ SCV Rush
The most famous rush in StarCraft history occurred when Boxer brings his Space Construction Vehicles in an all or nothing early rush against [NC] Yellow in this Korean tournament finals match.

1. Street Fighter III 3rd Strike: Daigo Umehara versus Justin Wong at EVO 2004
This is a famous video, but damn is it still amazing and the crowd reaction is the best.

More Random Game Videos for Your Entertainment

Ridiculous Halo 3 grenade stick

Ogre1 goes 41-0 in Halo 2
Listen to the opposing team’s voice chat for some real gems.

Ikaruga skills.

See my other related articles:
Become a Video Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know Part 1
Low Skill Cap and Luck (RNG) in World of Warcraft PVP
What Video Games Taught Me About Life
Best Games of All Time by Genre Part 1
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 1
Roger Ebert is Right: Games are Not High Art…Yet
What’s Bad About Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Multiplayer Mode?
Call of Duty: World at War Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Dead Space Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Gears of War 2 Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
8 of the Most Underrated or Overlooked Video Games of All Time
Best MMA Fights & Genki Sudo: Real Life Video Game Character

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Best Games of All Time by Genre Part 1

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

These are the video games that have defined their genre. They are the standard by which all other games in their category are judged.

Best Flight Combat Game of All Time

Wing Commander 3 (1994)

Platform: PC
Developer: Origin Systems
Publisher: Origin Systems

Wing Commander 3 Box Art

The popular vote here is of course Tie Fighter. While great, Tie Fighter did not measure up to Wing Commander 3. Keep reading because I am going to convince you why.

Wing Commander 3’s impact on games is still felt very clearly even today. Wing Commander 3 is what I like to call the Star Wars of video games. This goes a lot further than just having Mark Hamill star as the protagonist. Like Star Wars did for movies, Wing Commander 3 literally invented the big-budget blockbluster style of games. Costing a then unheard of 4 million dollars to create and packed into 4 CD-ROMs (when CD-ROMs had just come out), Wing Commander was unabashedly pushing the envelope and spared no expense in doing so. Marketed as the world’s first interactive movie, Wing Commander 3 broke new ground by using an enormous amount of full motion videos to tell a branching story through and included the use of CGI backgrounds and greenscreens. This was technology that was not even broadly in use for films at the time.

Behind the ground-breaking wrapper of Wing Commander 3 there was an amazing core game. Wing Commander 3 brought the Wing Commander series into polygonal 3D for the first time. The game was among the first to use full motion video to not only tell the story, but in-game as well. Right out the gate, Wing Commander 3 blew minds its technology by having your wingman communicate and respond to orders through full video on the bottom of your HUD. During the game the other crewmembers’ disposition towards you and the mission selection were influenced by conversation trees as well as how well you performed on previous missions.

To sum up Wing Commander 3, it married great mission design, the ability to select your fighter, select your armaments, select your wingman, branching missions and a branching storyline told through hours of full motion video into one of the most insanely fun packages ever put onto a disc. This game from top to bottom was every gamer’s wet dream.

Best Turn Based Tactical Game of All Time
X-COM: UFO Defense (1993)
Platform: PC
Developer: Mythos Games
Publisher: Microprose

X-COM Box Art

Incredibly deep, X-COM has still never been matched as a strategy role-playing game. X-COM’s two distinct gameplay phases placed you in charge of Earth’s defense against an alien invasion.

The first phase was the world map. This is where the player first chooses a spot for their base and where the player would manage their funding to recruit, research technology and equip their soldiers. Financial resources came through successfully repelling aliens and earning the approval of a ten-nation league. If the player is not active or effective in combating the alien threat funding would dry up and even result in some of the nations signing treaties with the invaders and completely yanking any financial support for the player.

Each member of your squad could be named, leveled up and equipped like an RPG and this really helped you grow attached to them. Interceptor planes could be placed on patrol to defend the skies and shoot down alien craft. Alien ships could also land and it was up to you to send out small squads of soldiers to kill the aliens at these sites and bring back their artifacts and bodies for the research. Research of these alien artifacts unlocked new equipment and weapons to give you an edge on your next encounter. Once the player landed their squad at the crash or landing sites the game would shift to the second phase.

The second phase consisted of turn-based tactical squad gameplay. This gameplay phase was incredibly well executed and introduced such tactical staples as line-of-sight and opportunity attacks. Even the time of day would be taken into account and affect your soldiers’ vision. One of the greatest moments in gaming history was moving your solider around a corner and having an alien pop into view right in front of you and not having the action points to respond.

X-COM is a game with so such depth and when taken as a whole is so much more than a sum of its parts. It is the title that invented the modern turn-based tactical game and has yet to be equaled since.

Best MMO of All Time
World of Warcraft (2004)
Platform: PC, Mac
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment

WoW Box Art

When the topic of MMOs comes up, what game immediately pops up?

World of Warcraft was created from the ground up using what Blizzard calls the “donut design.” This is where outside of the donut consists of the casual players while the center is where the hardcore players reside. WoW is a game built for casual players with enough depth to draw in the hardcore players. This philosophy is easier said than done. Through expert design choices and more layers of polish than the MMO space had ever seen before, WoW revolutionized the MMO genre. The more than 10 million active players speaks to the successful execution of Blizzard’s donut design.

As with most MMO’s they continue to evolve and World of Warcraft is no exception. Not content with the donut, Blizzard has created a new category of user, dubbed the casual-hardcore. With the introduction of the arena system and invention of separate branches of gear optimized specifically for Player-Versus-Player (PVP) as well as for Player-Versus-Environment (PVE), Blizzard has separated their users and allowed the creation a new audience entirely in the casual-hardcore player. This is a player who wishes to only play PVP and not be hamstrung by the need for gear obtainable only through PVE raiding. The PVP gear is entirely optimized for PVP while the PVE gear is optimized for PVE. For the PVP specialist (myself counted in their number), who can climb the arena ratings ladder, they have the ability to maintain the best (or near best) PVP gear in the game by only devoting a few hours a week to WoW.

Blizzard has been so successful; many believe (including myself) that it is stifling the entire genre as newer titles in this category continue to fail to break through World of Warcraft’s stranglehold on this market. Can a game be too successful?

Best 2D Fighter of All Time
Guilty Gear XX Accent Core (2007)
Platform: Arcade, PS2, Wii
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Sammy Studios

Guilty Gear AC Box Art

The most balanced 2D fighter in existence. Nearly every character can be played at a tournament level and has a chance of winning.

Let’s run through this game’s new and creative mechanics that developer Arc System Works has introduced. The gameplay is incredibly fast. Most of the characters can, double jump, dash in the air or run along the ground. Low air dash attacking is a common strategy. This makes for lots of action and a frantic pace.

Custom Combos: An endless variety of custom combos can be created by a mechanic called the Roman Cancel, which ends the animation frame of an attack as soon as you press the button, allowing you to chain any move you wish.

A Tension Gauge limits the use of Roman Cancels. This bar fills up as you move towards the enemy, inflict damage or receive damage. A Roman Cancel would take 50% of the Tension bar and an exactly timed False Roman Cancels on specific attacks take 25% of the tension bar.

Fortress Defense: An impenetrable defense that uses up the Tension Gauge to block both high and low attacks and nullifies special move blocking damage.

Burst Gauge: This bar fills up as you receive or inflict damage and serves two uses. If being attacked, it can be used to break out of any combo or it can be used offensively to refill the Tension Gauge.

Guard Gauge: Another common problem with fighting games is the turtle (ultra-defensive) strategy, which leads to boredom and little action. Guilty Gear has largely alleviated this issue and keeps the game’s frantic pace by introducing a penalty for employing this strategy in the form of the Guard Gauge. The Guard Gauge begins a fight half-filled. As the player blocks, the Guard Gauge increases and as you takes damage the gauge empties. If the player neither blocks nor takes damage, the gauge returns to the middle. The emptier the gauge is, the less damage you take. Therefore, if you continue to turtle you will take more damage when you do get hit. Also if the player refuses to attack, they are warned and then hit with a complete reduction of their tension gauge, a 20 percent fill-rate of tension for 10 seconds and suffer an increased likelihood of becoming dizzy when hit.

Since the number of hits received drains your Guard Gauge, attacks had a built in diminishing damage return. So the subsequent hits in a combo do less damage than the previous hit. This forces combo creators to frontload the heaviest damaging attacks at the beginning of the combo string for maximum efficiency.

When you look at all the innovative fighting systems in place coupled with really crazy character design and finely balanced characters, Guilty Gear is the pinnacle of all 2D fighting.

Best Survival Horror of All Time
Silent Hill 2 (2001)
Platform: PS2, Xbox, PC
Developer: Team Silent
Publisher: Konami

Silent Hill 2 Box Art

Despite my review of Dead Space, on the topic of survival horror games, I simply do not feel qualified. It is simply a genre that I do not seek out. While I have played quite a few survival horrors, I have too many holes in my experience and missed too many of the widely lauded titles to feel comfortable giving an answer to this one. If pressed I would give it to Resident Evil 4. However, I will defer to my good friend and survival horror specialist Jared King.

On the subject of Survival Horrors, I have to go with Silent Hill 2. Basically, my theory of how good a survival horror is depends on the level of fear or anxiety you have while playing the game. SH2 creates this feeling in several ways.

One, limited save points. Obviously the more you are afraid of dying and going all the way back to a save point, the more anxious or fearful you will feel.

Two, limited visibility. There is a fog in all of the open areas of the game (attributed mostly to the PS2’s limitations), which obfuscates everything. The things that you can seem especially when you travel to the otherworld, are freaky as fuck.

Three: The enemies, especially the invincible Pyramidhead, are difficult and your weapons limited.

Four, for a lot of the game, you must protect your female companion from harm, always difficult.

Five, and most importantly, the game is FUCKING FREAKY. It is psychological horror at it’s best. The endings and meaning of the game have been written on in the form of a psychological analysis. I personally, had several moments when I figured out what was going on and said OMGWTFBBQ!!!!11!!.

Anyhoo, this thing is kinda rambling, so I’ll sum up with this: SH2 is (so far) the pinnacle of the survival horror genre. And until I play Dead Space, it doesn’t seem like anything has come close. Because I know you’re wondering, Resident Evil was a different animal. I don’t know if my soft spot for the original RE has more to do with zombies or because it was a good game that came along at a very impressionable point in my life. However, even despite the advantages RE has, SH2 is STILL a better survival horror game.

Best Mech Game of All Time
MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat (1995)
Platform: PC
Developer: Activision
Publisher: Activision

MechWarrior 2 Box Art

MechWarrior 2 is one of, if not my favorite game of all time and going back to play it today reinforces why. It is a great game that holds up incredibly well. Being of the first CD-ROM games ever made, MechWarrior changed what I thought games were capable of. It featured two full campaigns as either Clan Wolf or Clan Jade Falcon, which followed along faithfully an epic storyline written by Michael A. Stackpole.

The game was deep and complex. The controls promoted fast reflexes and the ability to pay attention to a lot of things happening simultaneously. MechWarrior 2 had dozens of mechs to choose from and they could be completely customized from their armaments, engine, armor and ammo. Location based damage rewarded skill and even influenced the player to allocated weapons and ammo on hard to hit areas on the mech’s chassis to prevent damage to them.

Activision nailed what it is to be a mech pilot. MechWarrior 2 realized what every BattleTech tabletop player ever dreamed piloting a mech could be. The BattleMechs had real weight to them. The audio was perfect. The necessity to juggle different weapons to manage heat was the exact mechanic described in all of the novelizations of the series.

MechWarrior 2 was also one of the first games to ever have a CD audio soundtrack. The soundtrack featured Jeehun Hwang’s electronic music, which is so good I still occasionally listen to it.

There are few things more fun than marching your fully-customized mech around to an amazing soundtrack. I just had this grin from ear to ear plastered across my face the entire time I played this game.

Best FPS of All Time
Halo: Combat Evolved 2001
Platform: Xbox
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft

Halo Box Art

If I let my game designer in me write this section, I would have given the honor to the brilliant Half-Life 2. The only problem is that when I analyze this category from a personal-had-fun-playing-the-game standpoint, Halo wins out over Half-Life 2, no contest.

Say what you will about Halo, but when this game came out it changed the FPS genre forever. It popularized the “Halo” control scheme, invented the 2 weapon limit, recharging shield, split screen co-op, vehicles, a dedicated button for grenades, had insanely good multiplayer and was blessed with AI that was smart, but more importantly made the player feel smarter for outwitting them. Halo came along at a time when I had forgotten what the magic of games could do. Halo came together and was just fun. Simple as that. Luke Smith said that Halo was his Mario. That line to me summed up Halo. It is that, when you are kid on Christmas day feeling. The Gregorian chanting when the game boots up still sends chills down my spine. That’s how good this game is.

Without this title it is my belief that the Xbox would not have been able to survive, Xbox Live would never come to be and the Xbox 360 would never have been created. Microsoft would not even be in the console game space anymore. The gaming landscape has been changed forever because of Halo: Combat Evolved.

I hope you enjoyed part 1 of this list.

Click here to see part 2 of this list.

See my other related articles also:
Become a Video Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know Part 1
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 1
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 2
Top 5 Greatest Moments in Competitive Gaming (eSports)
What Video Games Taught Me About Life
Low Skill Cap and Luck (RNG) in World of Warcraft PVP
Roger Ebert is Right: Games are Not High Art…Yet
What’s Bad About Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Multiplayer Mode?
Dead Space Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Call of Duty: World at War Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
8 of the Most Underrated or Overlooked Video Games of All Time
Pimps at Sea err I mean Age of Booty & Gen 13 Cosplay
My Student Films 2: EverQuest Documentary and Guilty Gear Isuka Trailer
Best MMA Fights & Genki Sudo: Real Life Video Game Character

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