The Developer Who Will Never Make Another Shooter Again

During this generation of console gaming, easily the longest generation in recent memory, we've spent an inordinate amount of time hovering reticules over digital targets and pulling the trigger button. If you, like me, happen to feel a little tired of that mechanic -- imagine how it must feel for the men and women dedicating years of their life to developing and replicating that experience day in day out?

Charles N Cox, a developer whose resume features titles like MAG, SOCOM and SWAT has had enough. In a lengthy, extremely well-written blog, he's put down in words the reasons why he will "never work on a first-person shooter game, ever again. Period."

It's a fascinating insight into the rigours of development and how one justifies spending years of their life creating a video game with a core mechanic that involves killing other virtual human beings.

I’m not here to say there’s no room for innovation in this space, especially from its fans and enthusiasts. For a great understanding of how non-developer involvement has grown and changed in the space, see the excellent post from Rock Paper Shotgun – A People’s History of the FPS.
The problem here is that money isn’t an acceptable stand-in for ethical behavior. Just as legality doesn’t equal morality (seriously, it doesn’t, spread the word), so too does profit fail to imply ethical superiority. Great, we’re all making these games. Should we? Did we ever ask?

I think there's a general vibe and real backlash towards first-person shooters and it's been a long time coming. Shooting things is something we all still seem to enjoy doing in games, but there's an increasingly broad audience that seems to be demanding more from games or, at the very least, something a little different.

It makes sense that developers would feel that same tension and this blog post is a great representation of that. Really well worth reading.

Why I’ll Never Work on First-Person Shooters Again [Charles N. Cox Dot Com]

Via VG247 and Critical Distance

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    There’s a time and place for everything, but we do get too many games where the ONLY mechanic is shooting stuff. I think the important thing is to make the context of the game interesting enough that the shooting mechanics compliment the rest of the product and not the other way around.

    For example, if someone with a base level knowledge of games came up to you and asked you what Deus Ex was you’d normally start describing the setting and the story. If they did the same with COD you say, “it’s a shooter where you shoot enemies”.

    Both games spend 99% of the game looking down the crosshairs of a gun, but the context of what you’re doing makes it feel completely different. You're playing to progress the story, not to shoot things.

    Shooting people in the face isn't the problem. Shooting people in the face without any other context, with a stupid, wafer thin story, where the combat makes up 75%+ of the game content, is the problem.

    Bioshock, for example, points the way to contextualised, story-strong FPSing. Innovation is happening within the FPS genre; it provides combat people enjoy with integrated and strong storytelling.

      I'd argue the opposite: Bioshock Infinite especially has the problem that the core shooter gameplay and the story it tries to tell don't gel together correctly. Fair enough that you have to kill a few people along the way, but do you really need to have to murder whole armies by setting them on fire and then gunning down the stragglers?

      We need to come up with more mechanics for interacting with games than looking down the barrel of a gun at everything.

    Totally agree. I'm 40 years old and I've been a keen gamer ever since I can remember. I am just so over FPS games now. I can't even bring myself to play the blockbusters like Bioshock Infinite. I'm constantly looking for something different. FPS games are just boring me to tears.

    *Looks at my collection of console games*


    *Notices a distinct lack of first person shooters*

    Maybe it's because I mostly play shooters on my PC, but even on PC I have Bioshock/Bioshock 2, FEAR/2/3, and...that's about it. Not really a genre I play all that much these days...maybe it's the result of a lack of real innovation in the genre.

      I have a few single-player shooters, all ones which are as much story-game as shooter (Bioshock Infinite, Deus Ex, Mass Effect series, Uncharted series and so on). Multiplayer FPSs just don't interest me these days: I played Doom 2 and Quake and Duke Nukem 3D as a teenager, and these days it just seems like more of the same- except played by guys with thousands of hours more experience than me and who spout sexist and racist nonsense non-stop. No interest in subjecting myself to that.

      Ethically? Eh, I know mental health professionals who love letting off steam by jumping on the Xbox and blowing stuff up. I'm really not worried about violent video games turning people into psychopaths, whether it's Call of Duty, Mortal Kombat or whatever else.

      I'm disappointed in the lack of FPS in both my DS and Wii libraries. When playing the first FPS on each console I got so excited at how well it worked and couldn't wait for there to be more down the road. Only to end up with... maybe three or four on each of them? Shame.

    I am generalising, but I think that FPS attract younger/newer gamers and as you mature you start looking for something with a little bit more substance.

    If I buy an FPS, it's usually something pretty special. E.G. Bioshock series, Deus Ex, Borderlands series.

    The typical action FPS just has no appeal to me at this point in time.

    More games like the Myst series please?

    ... Denigrates first-person shooters for violence; Holds up PC strategy games as a saving grace...

    Is it just me or are strategy games generally even more violent, just without the bloody pixels. There's almost always war on a large scale in the strategy games I play.

      This is a case of perspective. When you're playing an RTS there's generally rules and whatnot in place for 'war'. It's rare in an RTS say, that civillians get killed. However in recent years, we've seen FPS's go the tasteless route even moreso in a big way with games like MW2 with levels like No Russian, which quite frankly didn't have a need to even exist. While I understand their 'artistic' right to create such a level, a cutscene would have sufficed. A whole level dedicated purely to committing terrorism (yes I know you have the CHOICE, but how many people seriously played that without shooting anyone? I for one on my first play through was shocked, but still shot a few, then shot the guards, then shot the cops, my second, I tried to shoot EVERYONE...) I think it's fair to say that devs should be a little less 'rock and roll' and maybe start, given the power of the tech at hand now, instilling things like true consequences in games for acts of extreme violence? That being said, you do have to take it into context for the game you're playing. That would not count for ARMA III for instance, but very well may for something like (ok its not a fps but the point stands) GTA where when you shoot something nothing permanent really happens now does it...

      Last edited 22/04/13 4:56 pm

        In the original Command & Conquer one of the very early RTS games, there was a stage early in the Nod campaign where you go kill a large group of civilians and than blame GDI,

        I'm going to say it's 1:1 and RTS had it first.

          That's a fair point, I actually remember that stage so I do stand mistaken and corrected. In my own defense I did say it was rare but kudos to you for bringing that up and correcting my mistake :)

          So what we're essentially saying, is that it doesn't matter what GENRE it is, it can be fps, rts, it could even be a text based game, some sense of responsibility would be nice to see coming up with the games now?

          And thanks for that little mind jolt! I'm starting to remember all KINDS of horrible little NOD missions now :O

          Kane really was an sod wasn't he...

          Last edited 22/04/13 9:41 pm

    The main reason I will play FPS is for the strategic aspect. Playing in a team etc.

      Is that supposed to be a joke?

        ARMA is a seriously tense game.

          Definitely one of the best if you can find a crew willing to roleplay correctly. Basically ShackTac.

        played flashpoint? :)

    I blame COD.... FPS was a thrashed genre already and now it takes a lot to get me even looking at a shooter. Far cry 12, Crysis 14 and Medal of Honor 27... meh.

    Borderlands is the only thing I recently got excited for because they actually do things with a loot like feel to it.

      Also, I still have no idea how people can play shooters on a console. I never managed to dual wield thumb sticks, mouse/kb all the way !!!

      Why did you mention Far Cry? only been 3 actual Far Cry games in 9 years and they have all been pretty different from each other, it's not like they are just recycling, Far Cry 3 was one of the best games last year.

        Theres at few more than that. Not counting the arcade game, very similar re-releases or the upcoming game, they are at about five. Throw in re-releases and the number goes up.

        I don't find it that excessive given the original came out in 2004, although part of me almost wants to include the Crysis games given the original at least was such a close spiritual successor to Far Cry.

    He's just mad the FPS he made blew chunks & nobody bought them.

    I agree with Mr Cox, they really need to go back to making Doom again.

    ...what? I was reading in between the lines.

    Aww, I was hoping it would have been Infinity Ward or Treyarch >:

    Basically he's just posted the gaming equivalent of declaring himself a vegan and swearing "he'll never eat meat again!" because he doesn't like the fast food industry.

    Nothing wrong with people making choices like this, but his blog post came across as a bit too self-congratulatory / moral crusading for my taste.

      I'd go a step further and say it's pretty damn self-righteous. It's like John McTiernan getting up at the height of the 80's and saying he's not making any more action films because a stagehand brought their kid to the set one day. Great, good for you, when's Tony Scott's next film out?

      Look, I'm not against genre variety in video games, far from it! Just a couple of weeks ago I complained about Mass Effect's slow slide from RPG to shooter, and I mourned as much as anyone at the apparent death of the adventure and platformer game a decade ago.

      But trying to make this out as some kind of moral stance? Honestly, I don't think that's any better than those people who are always trying to ban games because of their moral objections.

    FPS's would have to be the games I play the least. I think they appeal to casual gamers mostly, and children who enjoy the simpler mechanics as you say.

    I hope platformers make a comeback for the next gen, they are always the funnest, N64 style platformers are the greatest games.

      I really did not like 3D platformers. The camera always put me off. 2D platformers on the other hand were amazing! I hope those make a comeback.

        They kind of did on the Wii, Nintendo released a few amazing ones and those new Rayman games are great.

      YES. Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64... God, I need to break out the N64 again.

      That being said, I realise I've more or less completely ignored 3D platforming for the past generation with the exception of Super Mario Galaxy. Any other good ones out there?

    My God he is pretentious and pseudo-intellectual. It's inconceivable that he could be older than 20.

    Out of the 55 games I own, only 6 are FPSes (and one of them is Deus Ex:HR). They all do tend to be very same-y (except for Borderlands 2 and FC3).

    There's nothing saying an FPS can't be designed to discourage killing people by implementing game mechanics that encourage other solutions. It's a rare achievement, but certain games have done it. While SWAT was perhaps an example of one where you didn't necessarily have to kill everyone, they could certainly go a lot further with it.

    Good on him. The more developers who decide to leave FPS's behind the more games like Journey and The Unfinished Swan we can possibly get.

      I'd like to believe that, but I honestly expect we'll get more endless runners, 2D platformers with black foregrounds as silhouettes to disguise lack of artistic talent, 2D platformers with 'novel' physics mechanics, neon bullet-hell shmups, low-budget identical roguelikes, 'dramatic/artistic' walking simulators, freemium mobile games and nostalgia remakes. I'm just as tired of those as anyone could be of FPSes.

    Article makes me think of the last panel of this PA strip:
    (The levels of development hell.)

    Probably doesn't matter WHAT you're doing, the seven year itch is going to set in sooner or later.

    That said, I hope there's more innovation and growth in FPSes. I really enjoy the mechanic and enjoy solving imaginary problems via virtual carnage. There's a certain elegance to it. Life's just simpler when viewed from down the barrel of a gun. And that's really what I'm looking for when I'm after a way to unwind after a rough day. Permission for the murderous animal within to get a bit of harmless exercise in a safe place.

    We are still animals, after all - we all have the deep-seated impulses to fuck, fight, hunt. But we lay a set of ethics and restrictions and philosophies over the top of that, based on the conclusions we've drawn by asking 'why?' It's the overriding of instinct with reason and a moral code that makes us human... not the absene of baser instincts, but the choice as to how to treat them.

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