Saturday, November 21, 2009

Arcade Mode: A Suggestion for Modern Warfare 2

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 offers a variety of multiplayer game styles. Players can play free-for-alls, team death matches, king-of-the-hill-like domination matches, diffuse bombs, and more. However, I believe that one mode has gone missing: an Arcade Mode.

While it's possible to play with increased weapon damage, via hardcore mode, there is no mode of play which decreases weapon damage. And you may ask yourself, "So what? Why would I want it to be harder to beat other players than it already is?" It's a valid question, and the answer I propose is one with which only players of a certain type may agree.

Arcade Mode

Before I explain the rationale behind it, let me clarify what I mean by "Arcade Mode." You might consider Arcade Mode the opposite of Hardcore Mode, in that players will be able to take significantly more damage before being defeated. This can be handled by reducing damage across the board or increasing base health.

Other key features of Arcade Mode could be fixed spawn locations (i.e. bases), increased discrepancy between the visual appearance of opposing teams (whether by color or uniform), substituting the minor damage bonuses you gain when killing enemies in rapid succession for regenerative bonuses, and modifying non-lethal weaponry (flashbangs, stun grenades) to compensate for other changes. Above all else, I would recommend increasing accuracy, both down the sight and hip-fire. Headshots should only occur when players are actually aiming at their opponent's head, not as a sort of critical. Hitting a target's head while "aiming" at their boots is a realistic possibility, due to spread and ricochets, but Arcade Mode's intent is to create a sport-like purity of gameplay. Realism is sacrificed for greater fidelity to the player's actions. Even though it may be blasphemy to the Call of Duty franchise, they might even consider letting players hip-fire while sprinting.

Of course, the best execution of this new mode would require more fine tuning. Weapons would have to be rebalanced and initial ammunition/clip capacity would have to be rethought.

Wait, you want to make people harder to kill, really?

It may seem counterintuitive to suggest that prolonging the length of combat would promote skill, but that is exactly what it does. Granted that it gives players a longer time to react, but they must still be able to outplay their opponent enough to turn the tide of battle.

So how exactly does protracting combat favor skill? It's a matter of normalization. If you've ever gambled, you've probably heard the expression "the house always wins." But it's not entirely true is it? Of course, players can beat the casino. I can walk in, put a single quarter in a slot machine, and walk out a millionaire. But it's more likely that I can I walk in with a million dollars worth of quarters and lose every cent. This is because the machines are designed to pay off less than they earn. In other words, the odds are against me. And the more I play, the more likely my results are to trend towards the odds.

Increasing the amount of bullets it takes to defeat an opponent is akin to forcing the gambler to play more of their quarters. In this case, the house is the more skillful of the competitors. Their chances of winning are greater, and so they benefit from greater normalization of results.

Where's the Flux Capacitor Perk?

Perhaps the most important reason to increase the duration of combat is latency. If two players round a corner into each other, it can be very difficult to overcome the advantage of even 50-100ms of lag, since the battle can sometimes only last a quarter of a second. It is entirely possible to be killed by an enemy before you are even aware you are being shot at or stabbed; and not because they are carefully hid or flanking, simply because they began attacking a fraction of a second ago and by the time your computer finds out, it is far too late. Add to this the camera movement and blood-splatter occlusion that occurs when you're struck by enemy fire, and it can become quite difficult to overcome an initial advantage -- reducing 90% of conflicts to "who hit their mark first."

Modern Warfare 2's net code goes a long way in remedying this difficult issue, but there is only so much that can be done with such a limited amount of health. Increasing the length of combat will go a long way in diminishing the importance of latency and the first shot.

All about Player Style

Arcade Mode is not intended to replace the current modes of play. I expect that it would only appeal to certain types of players, particularly those that like to run and gun. But if properly executed its appeal could be far wider.

You may think that "campers" and snipers would feel right at home in the current modes of play. It is, in fact, quite easy to wait for enemies to rush around a corner and mow them down with a light machine gun. However, I suspect that many will find it frustrating that someone armed with a sub-machine gun can pick off a sniper from a great distance. With increased health comes a wider breadth of discrepancy between the damage of various weapons at different ranges.

Two for One

Particularly if hip-shot accuracy is increased and allowed while sprinting, the Arcade Mode would play very differently from other modes. It may not be anything like the traditional gameplay of the Call of Duty franchise, but is that really a bad thing if it's offered as an extra? I think it would be different enough that it could feel to players like they own two separate FPSs in one.

Why hadn't anyone thought of this before?

I certainly don't think I'm the first person to suggest this mode of play, but I think there is a very good reason that it's not been included in any CoD game I've played thus far: the Pareto Principle, A.K.A. the 80-20 rule. This principle, when applied to video games, states that 80% of players will win 20% of the time, while 20% of players will win 80% of the time.

The current game modes, both normal and hardcore, go a long way in leveling the playing field, while still allowing for more skilled players to prosper. Those who've only played CoD may disagree with this statement, but let me explain what I mean. In other FPSs, such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, the worst player on the server had virtually no chance whatsoever of ever killing the best player on the server, such was the possible difference in skill. 40+ kill streaks were fairly commonplace, and 100-1 kill death ratios were legitimate possibilities, albeit quite difficult to achieve. This is virtually impossible in a game in which a stray grenade or bullet can prove fatal.

Every dog has his day...

The prevailing theory behind CoD which has made it so popular is what I like to call the "every dog has his day" strategy. Because of the way that spawning, spray patterns, and especially kill streaks work, the top player is likely to change with every map. This doesn't mean that the top player will change every map, merely that the game mechanics promote this change. As long as you are a mid-grade player, you're likely to find your name topping the list every once in a while. However, this also means you may find it on the other end if things don't go your way.

In other words, introducing luck blurs the line between good and great players, and the quicker you can die, the more pronounced the effects of luck become. A great deal of Call of Duty's success has come from appealing to the masses through this strategy, but if you're going to offer a dozen or so modes of play, perhaps it's time to introduce an Arcade Mode as well. As with any of the other modes, I'm sure there will be players who love it and those who hate it, but regardless it would offer a fresh new style of play that is likely to increase the franchises already frighteningly large following.

Disclaimer: CoD:MW2 is clearly not an MMO, but it is what I like to call a "PMG," Persistent Multiplayer Game, as your gains from previous matches carry over. This blog also covers PMGs.

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