Are shooter games stuck in the mud?
Ever since the earliest first-person shooter (FPS) games in the 1990s, the majority of shooters chained gamers to the ground. From Wolfenstein 3D up to recent AAA blockbusters, "boots on the ground" was the name of the game. But does it really have to be that way?
Way back in 1994, Descent exploded onto the scene as the world's first fully-3D shooter. While games like Doom only simulated 3D, Descent rendered a completely three-dimensional world. Its designers made use of this by encouraging the player to move in every direction- what fighter jocks call "six degrees of freedom" (6DoF).
Maps hid secret areas above and below the player's expected path. Enemies might suddenly spring out from a hole in the floor or ceiling. Hardcore shooter fans know the value of having your "head on a swivel". Descent built on that skill and dialed up the action to 11!
But it didn't last. Despite two Descent sequels and a host of 6DoF copycats, shooters went back to ground pounding by the early 2000s. Industry executives preferred to play it safe, making derivative products that didn't challenge gamers to develop their skills in new directions. Sticking to a flat game also made shooters cheaper to develop, which was good for the big publishers' bottom lines. Unfortunately, it didn't lead to a lot of great new game ideas.
For years, industry watchers have suggested that gamers, especially hardcore shooter fans, were becoming bored with "rinse-and-repeat" gameplay. Player feedback and studies by game design psychologists lent more and more credence to the idea that gamers prefer new challenges as they gain skill and proficiency at a style of game. As home to some of the most intense action in all of gaming, FPS games stand at the cutting edge of that skill curve.
Fast forward to 2017 and we're now seeing a renaissance in full-freedom games like Descent. Even giant publishers like EA have begun to dip their toes in the 6DoF pool, adding zero-gravity levels and verticality to big-name shooters like Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Mass Effect: Andromeda. From spacesuits and jump jets to starfighters and giant robots, modern gaming is blasting full-bore back into six degrees of freedom.
And the granddaddy of them all, Descent?
It's back, baby!
Kickstarted by loyal fans and now in active development with players, Descent: Underground is rebooting the franchise with all the insane action of the originals, plus modern advanced like role-based team multiplayer and support for all three of the major VR headsets.
While 6DoF games like Descent: Underground used to be solely the province of hardcore PC players, a quick look at crowds from last year's SXSW Gaming conference reveals its appeal to a diverse range of modern gamers. Also, a quick glance at the team behind the game reveals industry veterans who worked on classics like the Wing Commander series and Ultima Online.
When heavyweight indie developers and big-ticket publishers both start driving towards a particular style of gameplay, it's a sure sign that gaming is undergoing a paradigm shift. While ground pounders will likely stay with us even after real warfare moves to the stars, the future looks bright for full-freedom shooters.
So kick the mud off your boots and shake up your shooter with six degrees of freedom!