Seems odd that I've covered 16 of these Design Genres without covering the noble FPS, possibly the most popular (and most populous) of the genres aimed for the Western market. The appeal is immediately apparent: FPS puts you directly in control, point-of-view and everything, of the game's protagonist - giving you an unparalleled level of immersion. The commonly high amount of violent content also helps sales somewhat. Milestone games include Castle Wolfenstein 3D, the Doom series, the Half-Life series and server-inundated online FPSes such as Team Fortress and the incomparable Counter-Strike.
There's two reasons I've given this genre a wide berth in this blog until now. The first is that I don't much care for it on the whole. While the games mentioned above are classic staples of any gamer's library (god knows I've played and owned most of them) there are many, many examples of the genre out there, most of which are mindlessly derivative and not all that great, frankly. Which brings me onto the second reason: there's such a huge market of these things that innovation is hard to come by and, thus, harder still to come up with without some important technological breakthroughs (Half-Life 2 wouldn't have mattered so much without its iconic Gravity Gun, for instance).
Now, the difficult decision when coming up with an FPS game idea is whether to take the simple route or the complex route. A reason why the FPS genre is so strong is its relative simplicity: you simply point at a bad guy and press a button until he goes away. As such, it's almost a form of relaxation for some people: a way to blow off steam for a few minutes either against the combined forces of evil in one-player mode or a bunch of friends on multiplayer. So making it simple would appear to be the best course of action, perhaps even shortening the range of weapons and enemies you might meet to minimize confusion. Games like Halo pride themselves on their microscopic range and lack of innovation - choosing to focus instead on the bare essentials and multiplayer, thus becoming the beloved of all casual gamers the world over.
On the other end of the spectrum, players don't feel challenged unless there's a new gimmick or, perish the thought, some sort of thought process required. Games like Rainbow Six give you a somewhat realistic level of health (that is, one round in the chest or head and you're done for) and so some amount of strategy and forethought is needed in order to come out unscathed. Games like Gears of War will kill you quickly and mercilessly unless you regularly take advantage of cover. Mass Effect, a game I very much enjoyed recently, even bases an RPG system around the combat, allowing you greater control with your weapons upon levelling up and even providing psionic attacks (called Biotech in the game) and various clever less-hazardous methods to take out the enemy (like short-circuiting a robotic enemy). Bioshock, Deus Ex and the System Shock series are all examples of an "intelligent" FPS game.
I'll quickly outline two game ideas that respectively adhere to the philosophies above. In other words, an idea for a brainless slugfest and an idea for a complex shooter with more going on than meets the eye.
IDEA #1: Now, the main feature of a game idea like this is to simply make it fun and highly playable, something which is usually provided with sharp and accurate programming. On the design side of things, all a designer needs to do is make sure the levels aren't too complex, don't require a lot of backtracking for keys and the like while configuring the amount of content to keep it a minimalist paradise. At the same time, they need to direct most of the action, keeping the game constantly exciting with a series of action set pieces and a plot that never waivers too much or gets too complex at any given point.
What this pre-idea prattle all means is that it is hard to simply come up with an idea for a game such as this without writing the entire game's story and claiming that as the game idea. In this blog I always tend to concentrate on elements I would feature or a trend or gimmick I would employ, rather than create an entire game world and story from scratch. So for Idea #1 for this genre I'll outline some kickass scenarios an FPS game could follow:
A) You're a space marine who.. wait
B) You're a regular marine who has to fight off an alien incursi.. wait
C) You're a regular marine who doesn't fight aliens at all, but instead has to fight the undea.. wait
D) You're a regular marine who doesn't fight any kind of fictional fantasy creature, but instead must take on Nazis in Normand.. wait
E) Vietcong? ..No?
E) No aliens, undead, Nazis, the VC, ninjas, conspirators against the presidency, pirates, scientists, mercenaries or evil penguins. Instead, you're in this underwater city that.. oh damn it all, I give up.
IDEA #2: Here we are, gimmick county USA. Right at home. For this idea we'll imagine that there's some novel scenario that we're following. The gimmick is that one of your weapons can disintegrate tiny objects if you shoot them with it. While mostly useless in busy firefights, where firepower and running around like a crazyman until everything else is dead is the objective to success, it becomes useful at certain points in long-drawn out battles or pre-battle sneakery. For instance, a giant robot would have several smaller parts that it requires for movement and blasting at you. A tiny cog in the right section gets disintegrated and ol' Devastator is in a heap of trouble. Likewise, dissolving the correct piece of minor machinery in an automatic lock would allow you to get past. It works on organic creatures too. Can't get past the body armor? Disintegrate one of the dude's eyes. That should keep him distracted for a few moments.
This weapon, though powerful at the right moment, would require such precision timing and aiming to be effectively useless in most situations. But the situations where it can be used.. oh me, oh my.
Another gimmick, preferably in a game where you can slowly regenerate, is realistic body part damage. If you manage to fuck up your foot in a mine trap, your speed is lowered. Bust your arm and your aim goes down. Bust up one hand bad enough and you may need to switch weapons, also lowering aim (if you don't happen to be ambidextrous). I have a feeling there are games that have done this in the past and were a complete pain, especially if you had to limp slowly to the nearest health pack. Hence the insistence of a regeneration feature.
A third and final gimmick is one where the gravity suddenly cuts out (so presumably this is in space, then) and you're suddenly drifting. Shooting anything, if sleeping through Physics has taught me anything, would propel one backwards from the force, since the recoil would be sufficient enough force to move a large mass (such as an armored trooper) in zero-G. Your first priority in that situation would be to either turn the gravity back on or find some way to stop floating around like a loon. Again, something like this has probably already been done, though I don't know if that game turned it into such a fun little "how the hell do I stop floating around?" puzzle to figure out first.