The Frag Limit


Creating a Persona in Online FPS Games
August 8, 2012, 10:39 am
Filed under: Side Strafe | Tags: , , ,

Multiplayer FPS games have been around for some time now.  And over the years these games have done a number of different things to create different types of environments for gamers to create “online personas”.  Such things as name tags, clan tags, skins, mods and other customizations have allowed gamers to distinguish themselves in the gaming arena.  Typically, the more of this type of customization in any particular game has made gamers generally happier and more satisfied with the overall game experience of a game as this type of customization has allowed for players to say “this is me” and “this is what I can do”.  Classic games such as Return to Castle Wolfentstein and Quake 3 (among others) specifically allowed players to add a large number of different characters (such as !, $, *, :, ?) and a number of different colors to modify their names.  This, in addition to skins and mods, made these game very personal and unique for each and every player who played.

Moving along into more recent territory, FPS games now-a-days have almost altogether left behind player customization.  With the exception to a handful of games that let players buy or create their own skins, there are almost no games today that feature any kind of mod support to allow players to modify their skins as they see fit.  This is a huge change from the last generation of FPS games where modding was an important part to the overall game experience.   Likewise, games these days have almost altogether disallowed the modification of names and clan tags.  Almost all games these days force players to use a boring white text for their names and also force players to use a “standard” clan tag (for example, using only bracket’s instead of other special characters).  These things may seem relatively minor, but in comparison to the games of yesteryear, there is virtually no way to distinguish oneself inside the game world and this is very unfortunate.

Just comparing the differences between the two screenshots posted here (the screenshot above is from the new game Tribes: Ascend released in 2011 and the screenshot above that is from Return to Castle Wolfenstein released in 2001), one can immediately see the difference in naming convention and how that convention can change the “identity” of the unique individuals in each game.  While it may not seem like an incredibly important difference – and perhaps the screenshot where all the names are white may looks a little prettier – by simply allowing players more flexibility in creating their names, game designers also give players a huge amount of freedom in defining their own unique personalities.  One example is this; in the game Return to Castle Wolfenstein, players could modify their names and clan tags to reflect and adhere to an overall clan “theme”.  For example, there once was a clan called “WolfJeager” and their clan colors were mint green and black.  They used these colors because it was also the same colors that they used for their website, forum posts and other community sites.  Since WolfJeager maintained this consistency between every place they frequented, WolfJeager created a certain “online presence”.  And everywhere one saw the colors mint green and black in the world of RTCW, one immediately was aware that WolfJeager was around.  Unfortunately this type of scenario does not exist anymore do to the fact that colors and detailed name modification no longer exists in most mainstream games.

What I am getting at here is that customization is important.  What many game developers may see as “visual clutter” now-a-days was once considered an important way to support players and their unique identities.  By taking away the flexibility to customize one’s name – and even one’s appearance – games today forfeit the ability to give players a platform for individuality.  Hopefully, one day game developers will realize what has been lost and take the simple steps to remedy this unfortunate state of current affairs.



Return to Castle Wolfenstein – Review
July 27, 2012, 1:23 pm
Filed under: Limbo Screen | Tags: , , , ,

Review Score:   96 / 100

Review Stats:

  • Gameplay – 10
  • Fun Factor – 9
  • Competition Value – 10
  • Replay Value – 10
  • Intangibles – 9
  • Total Score – 48 (x2) = 96

Game Information:

  • Platform(s) – PC, Steam
  • Release Date – November 19, 2001
  • Game Modes – DM, CTF, Stopwatch

The Nitty Gritty:

Return to Castle Wolfenstein, released in 2001, was a greatly influential title that has largely been overlooked in recent years as being, for the most part, irrelevant.  This is quite unfortunate given the great popularity and importance of this game in its prime.  When RTCW came out in 2001, id software was the undisputed reigning champion of the first-person shooter genre having spawned the genre a decade earlier and having released hit after hit in the subsequent years following.  Anyone who played PC games at RTCW’s release was quite familiar with the mighty id software and their great lineage of critically acclaimed games.  Therefore, upon its debut, the game was in a perfect position to offer another great FPS experience for PC gamers.

And it delivered!  Return to Castle Wolfenstein was on of the first games in the burgeoning FPS market that offered a uniquely team-based, competitive environment for clans and/or competitive-minded gamers.  While id software’s previous games were primarily focused on solo player combat, RTCW, on the other hand, was specifically designed for team-based action.  In RTCW players had to play as a team to win.  Team coordination was extremely crucial as the player classes where specifically designed to fit specific roles.  The four classes (medic, lieutenant, engineer and soldier) all had specific functions necessary for the success of the team in the battlefield.  For instance, the medic had to keep his team’s health up by delivering health packs and by reviving comrades if they fell.  Lieutenants had to supply ammo and call in airstrikes.  Engineers where necessary for clearing defences and completing objectives.  And soldiers where primarily responsible assisting the team in killing enemies.

This class structure may seem simple and primitive by today’s standards as there typically are multiple roles and functions for each of the many different classes in modern games, but it worked.  And, it worked beautifully.  The simplicity of the class structure allowed players to focus on excelling in each role and in improving overall team play.  Additionally, players were also less focused on themselves and instead more focused on their contributions to the end result; which was to achieve the objective and obtain victory for their team.

The simplicity of the game design fostered a wide and rabid following upon the game’s release.  And would also help make it go down as one of the greatest multiplayer FPS experiences on the PC.

Gameplay:

The gameplay in Return to Castle Wolfenstein was second to none.  The quality of the gameplay primarily came from the simplicity of the overall product.  In addition to the simple class structure, there were also just a simple and rather small selection of weapons in the game.  This small weapon pool – which is now all to un-common in modern gaming – naturally led to an excellent balance in the gameplay.  Each weapon had a specific purpose and fulfilled it’s role very well.  There was only one main gun for three of the four classes (a Thompson for Allies and a MP-40 for Axis) and the soldier class had a wider selection of armaments, though it was still quite limited (there was a sniper rifle, a venom “mini-gun”, a flamethrower and the ever-popular Panzerfaust).  In any given battle, the two warring teams would have to use the minimal options available to achieve victory (by mainly using the Thompson, mp-40 and the Panzerfaust).

Another important aspect of the gameplay was the small selection of gamemodes.  There was simply DM, CTF and Stopwatch.  Deathmatch and Capture the Flag were hardly ever played, so this left really only one type of gamemode for all the players to enjoy; Stopwatch.  Stopwatch was basically a time-trial for the opposing teams.  In the beginning of the match, one team would first have to set the timer by achieving victory by completing all of the objectives for each given map.  Then, in the next phase, the teams would switch sides and then the opposing team had to try to “beat the timer” set by the other team.  If the second team could finish the objectives quicker than the first team, then that team won the entire match.  This simple and ingenuous gamemode was revolutionary at the time for two reasons: first, it introduced objective and team-based gameplay to the masses and second, it was so simple.  Everyone loved stopwatch and it proved to be immensely popular for both casual pubbers and hardcore competitive players alike.  Most of all, this gamemode promoted balanced gameplay and, ultimately, an environment where shear gaming skill and teamwork was more important than anything else.

Fun Factor:

Return to Castle Wolfenstein was simply a blast to play and with out a doubt is this reviewer’s most favourite game of all time.  Return to Castle Wolfenstein did so many things right its difficult to find a place to start.  Probably the most important thing about the game is that it was so well balanced.  Closely following that is the fact that there was a very thin line between the casual public gaming and the more competitive world of clan-based warfare.  From the very start of the game it was difficult, if not impossible, to tell where pubbing ended and where competitive gaming started.  This fact makes all the difference in the world when judging how “fun” the game was from a competitive point of view.  To a competitive player, the public servers where just the training grounds for potential new recruits.  And the vast amount of players who played on public servers had perfect visibility to the competitive scene as well.

So it went like this; if you were new to multiplayer gaming, it wasn’t too difficult at all to see that there was more to the game than just what you found on the public servers.  Clans often recruited players on these servers and getting picked up by a team wasn’t difficult for most everyone.  Therefore, if you bought the game thinking that you were just getting a simple singlepayer shooter, not only were you surprised that there was a great multiplayer aspect as well, but that this multiplayer aspect was incredibly deep, exciting and challenging – depending on how far you wanted to take it.  This sequence of events – of revelations – made the game incredibly fun, fresh and exciting for months on end.  And, of course, being a part of the thriving and widely-popular competitive scene was exhilarating as well.

Competition Value:

If the point hasn’t been driven home by now as to the competition value of this game… let me just say that it was great!  At one point in time (probably around mid-2002), Return to Castle Wolfenstein had an incredible number of clans actively playing and competing for internet glory and cash prizes.  Both Teamwarfare league (still around) and the Cyber-athletic Amateur League (now defunct) had a thriving and incredibly popular scene for RTCW players.  As I recall, probably about 200+ teams were signed up at both TWL and CAL and were actively playing in ladders, leagues and tournaments.  The most popular way to play, of course, was the leagues – which were divided by season and by location (East, West and Central).  Both TWL and CAL had separate divisions dividing clans according to skill and overall performance for each location.  If you were a new clan, you started off in the “Open” bracket and had to prove your worthiness by winning some matches.  If you had success in the Open bracket you could graduate to the “Main” bracket were more challenging matches awaited.  For the best of the best, there was the “Invite” bracket for those teams who proved to be the most lethal in the clan-game.  And finally, for those teams that were the top of the “Invite” bracket, live tournaments were scattered throughout North America and Europe where select teams could fight it out for cash prizes.

Replay Value:

The desire to replay this game over and over again is very high.  This desire comes from comes from a of couple things.  First of all, upon Return to Castle Wolfenstein’s release, it was one of the first team-based games that became that became very popular and well-known.  Of course, other games that featured such things as deathmatch had been around for a few years but none of those games prior to RTCW’s release truly focused all of their attention on team-based gameplay.  The feeling of playing a multiplayer game in a totally new and interesting way was a great way to lure people back time and again.  People wanted to learn as much as they could about this new way of playing as a team.  Being dependant on one another and requiring one another for one’s own success in the game was truly compelling.

The other big factor for replayability came from the strong competitive angle of the game.  As noted in the previous section, Return to Castle Wolfenstein was a game that was very involved with competitive gameplay.  This gameplay enticed many, many players to become better by honing their individual skills and team-based communication/actions.  Casual players who once would have just played the game for several weeks now had a whole new world of opportunities open up to them in the form of clan ladders, leagues and tournaments.   Many found the potential glory of internet fame to be too much to resist and they set out on a course to become as good as they could possibly be.

Intangibles:

The intangibles of Return to Castle Wolfenstein primarily come from its unique positioning upon its release.  Having been one of the first popular games to feature team-based multiplayer FPS action, this game opened up a whole new world of experiences for gamers.  No longer did gamers have to just be satisfied with shallow deathmatch experiences or simple free-for-all matches, instead gamers now had to work cooperatively together in order to achieve victory on the battlefield.  This team and objective-based gameplay proved to be overwhelming compelling as gamers sought the next stage in the evolution of online team-based multiplayer gaming; clan warfare.

As noted above, the world of clanning made Return to Castle Wolfenstein great.  The game revolved around clans.  It didn’t necessarily matter how great a player you were on your own, but instead it matter on how great the clan was that you belonged to.  The status quo for gaming glory shifted from the individual to the clan.  And one’s name was no longer as important as it once was, but instead the clan tag was the almighty indicator of prestige and glory.  This “meta-game” of clan warfare and striving to become the best clan player you could be and joining the best clan you could find elevated the entire experience of RTCW to a whole new level.  Indeed, Return to Castle Wolfenstein was elevated to that special place where only a few other games in the genre could compete; the master class.