We Are Still Shooting The Hinges, And It Still Sucks

We Are Still Shooting The Hinges, And It Still Sucks

It's been three years since, up to our eyeballs in snow, bullet casings and blood, we were reminded to "shoot the hinges". A seemingly insignificant part of Call of Duty: Black Ops had become, through a video capturing one act of patience, a poster child for all that was wrong - and is still wrong - with many modern blockbuster shooters.

There's an image that's often thrown up when someone wants to criticise the singleplayer portion of a game like Black Ops. Indeed, you'll find it near the top of the comments section of our original Shoot The Hinges post. Here it is.

We Are Still Shooting The Hinges, And It Still Sucks

It's designed for laughs. And often gets them. But here's the thing: it's also largely true.

The first-person shooter used to involve not just combat, but exploration. Whether it was Doom or Dark Forces, levels often felt large. Lived-in. This didn't just impact the design of levels, though, it also had an effect on the pacing of combat; if you were busy running around looking for a key or a door, you could go entire minutes without shooting something.

Today, it's rare to find a shooter that allows you any kind of exploration whatsoever. Or the peace that comes with it. Worlds have become corridors, a theme park ride where players are rushed along at breakneck speed, fingers never once leaving the trigger, pause and reflection replaced with EXPLOSIONS and EXPLOSIONS.

Don't get me wrong, it's one hell of a ride when it's done properly. Strap yourself in and maintain the illusion that you're not running down a glorified hallway and modern, linear shooters can be a blast. It's tough, for example, to find someone who played through Modern Warfare's groundbreaking campaign and didn't have their socks blown off.

Yet this illusion, of being rocketed through an 80s action movie, can only be maintained so long as the ride stays on the rails. The second you do pause to do something like look at the hinges, at a point the game explicitly does not want you to, it all falls apart.

PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN, the game will almost scream.

Let's be clear, the trend towards ushering players down an exploding corridor didn't begin in 2005. Medal of Honor had been doing it on D-Day and at Pearl Harbor years earlier. But it's Call of Duty's success on this current console generation, and the endless clones it has spawned, that have enshrined the practice.

2007's Modern Warfare didn't just forever change the multiplayer gaming space on console. It changed singleplayer combat as well. As rival publishers rushed to get a slice of Call of Duty's profits, they rushed to copy its rollercoaster design as well.

Look at EA's Battlefield series. Once a multiplayer-only title, whose entire appeal lay in the unscripted chaos of its battles, it is now saddled with a singleplayer campaign even more limited than Call of Duty's own. It is a walking, talking contradiction of itself.

Why? Because EA wanted to add a modern singleplayer shooter to the game. And that's how modern singleplayer console shooters are made.

It's the prominence of shooters so limited in scope and imagination that's so bummed me out this generation. More so when you consider that of all the genres represented this past console generation, none have been as prominent - or commercially successful - as the shooter.

More powerful hardware should have seen advances not just in visuals, but in the scope of game design as well. More shooters could have tried to do what Halo or Far Cry or even BioShock have achieved, in doing truly new, expansive and exciting things.

Instead, most shooters went backwards. They doubled down on smoke and mirrors at the expense of richer worlds and deeper experiences. They ignored the opportunity for a different shooter, deciding to simply make a louder one. And because people went along with it, voting with their wallets every time a new Linear Military Shooting Adventure hit the market, most developers went along with it too, to the point where console shooters in 2013 are in most fundamental ways indistinguishable from those you'd find in 2004.


Last-Gen Heroes is Kotaku's look back at the seventh generation of console gaming. In the weeks leading up to the launch of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, we'll be celebrating the Heroes -- and the Zeroes -- of the last eight years of console video gaming.


Comments

    As someone who enjoys games like CoD, I still feel this is probably the defining flaw of games this gen. So focused on set-pieces, so little player input. It's not even that they are linear perse - most of the levels in MGS3 and DX: HR where completed in a linear sequence, but you had options about how to approach each problem. That made those games very special.

    At the the other end of the spectrum, you have large open worlds with so many options that the whole thing starts to feel generic.

      and then theres the games with quicktime events

    Are we still drowning in a sea of endless COD clones? I think the whole concept that FPS games have saturated the market is no longer true. It used to be, but I think it has kinda simmered down but we're still talking about it as if it's still happening.

      Everyone who had the money to try and make a CoD killer has gone broke or realised it doesn't work. Just like WoW clones are dying out. They're still obnoxious and a waste of good development time but it's not like when we were getting a new Modern Warfare knock-off every month.

    They doubled down on smoke and mirrors at the expense of richer worlds and deeper experiences.

    This is where I think everyone makes a fundamental mistake. It's what it looks like on paper when you draw out the map, but Call of Duty wouldn't be better if it had a 1996 FPS design. The rooms got by on recycled content because all the content looked pretty much the same anyway. It's like reusing content on an Atari game. Making someone go get the red key from generic fire room 921 worked because the rooms lacked detail, they lacked a rich world, they lacked deeper experiences. It was just shoot shit in vaguely different corridors until you got to the button that finished the level.
    You can see it in the transitional games. Play Half Life or GoldenEye and you'll see it's big and you can move around, but you can tell they even at that low detail they had to step back from the super open stuff like Doom because in order to make the world work they had to constantly change sets.

    If you try and pull that today it won't work because the games are too detailed. You really, really feel it when you've been searching through three rooms in Rapture that are too similar. Each bar or apartment has to have two dozen things that set it apart from the others or else, regardless of how pretty you make it, Rapture starts to feel like a failed low budget cookie cutter housing estate where the only difference between the houses is the choice of kitchen tiles. The games that give you freedom either explode in cost/dev time (GTA), shrink in area (Arkham, etc), use large, mostly empty, mostly pointless spaces for padding (Just Cause) or recycle as much content as they can get away with (BioShock 2).

      Also, it's worth noting that the 1996 version of this article would have been 'getting the blue key, it sucks that there's no stories in shooters'.

      Very thoughtful expanding of the topic. Old school FPSs had really cheap mechanics to prolong the experience.

      How about we look at some examples in the in between times?

      Halo 1, Halo 2, Half-Life 2 and Serious Sam: The First Encounter (probably one of my favourite games of all time)? I think they achieve a great balance between the two polarizing problems we have here. They were expansive and intricate, yet didn't feel too recycled, and didn't sacrifice challenge for wow-factor, but still managed to immerse you.

      Although I think that was a product of the time. I personally think that the PS2 and the original Xbox were the best years gaming has ever seen, followed closely by the SNES and Gensis era - that's just me though, but still, you can't deny the quality of what we were getting out of industry back then. Perfect balance of what made traditional games good and what makes today's games good. Thus, it would be unsurprising if saw the best of what the FPS genre had to offer back then.

      Last edited 16/10/13 3:27 pm

        It wasn't the worst time, that's for sure. We were past the 'just make it in 3D, it'll sell through the roof! 2D is toxic!' point and developers had finally got a handle on camera control and movement in a 3D environment. Detail got past proof of concept level. Personally I like the XBOX 360/PS3 generation. I loved gaming back on the NES and SNES, every era had at least a little charm, but I've really enjoyed being able to hang out with my friends playing video games online all night. I get a bit nostalgic for sitting around playing games in person, but we're all adults with jobs and we hung out so much more this way. The multiplayer also plays better in a lot of ways (no more 'I own the game so obviously I'm going to win').

        I guess the question is how do you make a middle of the road game now that we almost require the highest possible level of detail? Maybe procedurally generated detail work? The map designer builds a skeleton for a ten house apartment complex and the computer populates it with detail. It works for hair but when you use it to make a 3D environment you can walk around in it starts to feel sort of hollow fast. We almost need it to almost tell a story to feel real. I think gamers in particular are trained to break the content down into similarities and differences which causes a lot of issues (think back when 'slightly different wall' meant definitely a secret door in games like Doom).
        I guess with the next gen processing power we may be able to break the back of that problem. It'd be one of those unsung heroes but it'd be important (like being able to put thousands of enemies on the screen at once was during this generation).

    its like ive been saying. On the PC at least we have had the power would allow us create an FPS with the graphics of crysis and a map the size of just cause 2 with the AI of the Stalker series .
    The things holding this back are is the trend of consoles first PC second and games being made by accountants and not developers

    Back when I played the first Medal of Honor on the PSOne and then Frontline on PS2, I was more aware of the linear nature of shooters, but it never really bothered me back then. It was good fun to play back in the late 90s. Now though, yeah, games haven't progressed at all in gameplay, instead focusing on the graphics. To find more open games, you look at Fallout 3 or New Vegas and that's when you get into the argument of 'it's a RPG, not a shooter' and I just give up.

    As it is though, for these games you're focusing on single-player campaigns that feel more tacked on to a multiplayer game. The first Call Of Duty had a fantastic single player campaign, the latest Call Of Duty had a single player campaign where you can just sit back and watch the Michael Bay influence and in some levels, not even fire a shot.

    At the end of the day though, you say this is a 'Zero' of the last gen, but it didn't stop copies flying off the shelves and racking up the sales. Until it does, the minimalist single-player experience in shooters like COD, MOH or Battlefield are likely to stay the same

    When will publishers get it through their thick skulls that they'll never make Call of Duty sales? That series isn't even aimed at gamers anymore.

    I've pre-ordered BF4 on PS3 to make use of the cheap upgrade to BF4 on PS4. Apparently the single player mission unlocks won't carry over. Pah!
    I'll give it a shot once I've got the PS4 version. I'm sure it will look nice, I might get a few trophies and perhaps some unlocks for the main game (Multi player).
    I actually remember enjoying the single player campaigns for Bad Company and to some extend Bad Company 2 - in part due to the scripting of the conversation. It wasn't just disjointed set piece levels but there were some NON cookie cutter individuals

    I think I was one of the few who weren't overly impressed by CoD: MW3. There were some "woah! Cool!" moments in the singleplayer mode, such as when the plane blew up or when that dude got what was coming to him in the final mission, but I wasn't majorly impressed.

    I was told multiplayer was where it was all at, but I found multiplayer games tough because I was playing against people who had beaten the game, eyes closed, and knew the intricate details of the map better than me, who had been playing for only a few hours.

      So the game sucked because you didn't want to go through the learning phase of multiplayer like everybody else did?

        The game sucked (or rather, wasn't my #1 choice in the FPS genre) because the single player portion wasn't that appealing to me.

        The multiplayer portion was too unevenly matched, making it less entertaining. With GTA V, you're thrown into servers with people of the same level, so you can reasonably expect to be matched against people who can play just as well as you.

          That didn't really satisfy my question. People of all skill levels play Call of Duty. Heck your more likely to get matched with 8/10 average players, and 2 good players. You learn that way. Play with people just as bad as you, and you will never achieve much higher standards, because you will not be playing people who are better then you and learning.

          MP Games, especially shooters, are learning processes. You should never go into them expecting to be hand-held against lower levels. Go in willing to learn and practice, and it will become very rewarding. Plus they made all those extra little side-modes for people just like you. Who don't like that because a player who is level 43 and using gun 'x' is beating you, it must purely be because of gun 'x'. It may also be because he went through the process of being a low-level inexperienced player, and has learned while playing.

          *shrug* seems more like impatience then poor game design aha :P

    People forget that the large success of the consoles this generation also greatly influenced gaming. You can't just lump the blame into one tidy pile and say "it's broken, because it is". There's a reason - consoles.

    The controller view joysticks were always only good for small movements in a limited cone of vision - perfect for 'corridor shooters'. As soon as you're required to be twisting and turning 360 degrees in an open world, things start to get annoying if you're playing on a controller. Heck, some games even have a dedicated 'turn 180' button on them (Shadows of the Damned, Gears?).

    The fact is, consoles are to blame for this dumbed-down game design. This may be slightly implied in the first article (which described this series) and the name - Last-gen Heroes/Zeroes - but it's not really clear in the article. Game level design won't progress very far if the console + controller is still the first target audience. :(

      I disagree. This is the equivalent of a "good workman never blames his tools". Just because death drives a stick now doesn't mean the track has to change.
      The sole reason is that companies have seen the success of explosive movie-style games and want to buy in, and having a game that both provides action-jackson and meaningful exploration is immensely difficult.

      The basic premise is that everything should happen for a reason. Do you want to provide that rollercoaster action? Your character need to move or die. Exploration is an option? Give them space and time to do so. Can they backtrack to a previous set that was rollercoaster? Make sure there's a reward for doing so.

      The thing I dislike most is the "C'mon man, the team's in danger, we need to move!" but nothing happens if you sit down with a sandwich. And, it's all action music and explosions and crazy but then you stop and stand still, scratching your butt, and there's no penalty for it.

      I disagree too, mouse and keyboard vs controller. Each have their strengths. How are genres like fighting games or 3rd person action adventure games going to evolve if not for controllers? And I don't think the controller is the main reason for the simplification of shooters.

      Untrue.

      Far Cry 3 was available on console, and is about as far removed from CoD's linear woes as a shooter could possibly be.

    I was even noticing a similar problem in GTAV. Despite being an open world game with a billion things to do - missions were structured into "follow the yellow line" then make it from cutscene to cutscene, fail and reload until you follow the correct sequence of events to progress. It felt like Uncharted.

    It's probably why I like Dark Souls so much because you are thrown into the middle of a giant world with no help, no tutorial and are left there to make your own way however you see fit.

      Try the Online, there's some really great missions that span the whole city that allow you to approach them how you want.

        I thoroughly agree the online missions are something else entirely in terms of player freedom

          Which is a shame, the single player missions could have been just as good.

      I don't mind that style of story driven play, for years I loved JRPGs and they take linear to absurd levels, but it stands out more in action games. In GTA in particular I find that it makes the characters too realistic. Franklin isn't a psychopath so it feels weird flipping between me making him do crazy stuff and him driving the tow truck to help out some junkies. Michael is crazy, but it's a sudden bursts of rage type of crazy not a full time crazy. The game is almost directly conflicting the drama. In the cut scene the characters take crap from everybody, but when you play the game you'll beat a guy to death for looking at you.
      The same goes for most FPS games. You'll get chased by a guy with a knife in the cut scene, but the second you're in control you'll take out a fleet of war ships with a handgun. Gamers reach a point, even when they're not super skilled, where running from Nemesis just seems stupid. You're running around taking out entire platoons of enemy soldiers and then in the cut scene you get captured by a random patrol.

      I think that's one of the most under rated elements of Metroid Prime (the Arkham series does it superbly too). Samus doesn't really talk so you can assume she's thinking the way you're making her act, and on top of that she's better at the game than the player. In the cut scene she looks at the problem/enemy and either A) jumps down to fight it because even though it's a monster the size of a building she sees a vulnerability she can exploit, or B) decides that she needs a weapon upgrade to take it down and heads off to find it. You don't find yourself thinking 'why am I going to get the Ice Beam? I'm sure I could beat it with just rockets'.
      It doesn't feel nearly as on rails as it is because you don't find yourself disagreeing with her. The only time you feel like you're breaking character as Batman in Arkham Asylum is when you screw up.

    I will probably get flamed for this, but here goes.............................I enjoy linear games.

    I realise I am probably in the minority but now that I am getting older, working full time and two young children at home, I find it very difficult to find time to play video games. I like to feel like I have accomplished something in the 2hr windows I usually have to play games and do not want to spend that time "finding keys" or "exploring" in order to progress.

    Give me a long corridor, multiple bad guys and lost of bad ass explosions any day.

    Somewhat forgiveable in shooters where exploration wasn't the type of gameplay they are selling anyway (and if you took that 1993 map and took out the extraneous features, the actual path through it wouldn't look much different except in less cutscenes).

    On the other hand, when they gave the corridors 'n' cutscenes treatment to Final Fantasy XIII, you could hear the howls from the moon. And for good reason. Exploration IS a type of gameplay people expect from RPGs.

    I think shooters generally came quite a long way this generation, particularly on consoles.

    One of the biggest changes I thought of which you didn’t mention was the introduction of games which blended 1st and 3rd person shooting through a hybrid cover system. If I had to guess I’d say that was new to this generation, the first time I remember seeing it was in Perfect Dark Zero (which didn’t use it well) but I thought it added a lot to the games which did get it right.

    Traditionally FPS games have featured very little environmental interaction outside of the effects your bullets have on things or the pressing of buttons. You’re either exposed in a firefight or you’re not. Games like Rainbow 6: Vegas and Deus Ex: HR which allowed players to ‘cling’ to cover from a 3rd person perspective really opened up the potential for more strategic firefights and created an emphasis on environmental positioning over big guns and fast reflexes.

    I liked it, I think it’s a strategic change and brought a lot to the genre even though I wouldn’t want to see it in all FPS’s.
    Also COD has sucked ass for about a decade.

      Some games don't do it well, it seems to be tricky getting it to feel fluid and respond intuitively, but I'm amazed the idea isn't explored more. Gears of War is one of the few shooter engines where you can have a proper fire fight with suppressive fire and tactical movement. Flanking in FPS games used to be a scripted event, the NPCs stand behind a barn while your Captain tells you to go to the location marked on your map instead of just throwing a grenade or head shoting them, but in Gears it's an extremely effective tactic that requires great situational awareness to both perform and counter.

      I'm not the greatest player in the world, but using cover I've had some brilliant highs. Nothing beats the feeling when the dust settles and you realise you've just held an Annex on your own while you killed the entire enemy team twice, and while luck played and weapons factor you still know it still came down to you knowing how to use cover as effectively as any of the guns. If that was all we got out of console gaming this generation it'd be worth it.
      As much as I love Battlefield it definitely needs more cover than just kneeling or getting out of the way.

    In many ways I agree, they have gone backwards, but it's not like they haven't progressed - and that's beyond the graphics. How about the freedom? Old school FPS couldn't even allow you to look in all degrees, and now you can. Many now offer vehicle sections, this wasn't possible before either. And many now offer stories, which wasn't at all possible either. And look at games like Halo and Bioshock - they do things which were not possible or even considered, and there are always developers looking to push the envelope. Indies as well - are doing some amazing things, check out Super Hot.

      I would say that stuff like vehicle sections and looking in all degrees were things before the Call of Duty revolution. That stuff was already around for many years before Modern Warfare's success.

      In fact, I would say that we see LESS stuff like vehicle sections and engaging, non-cliche stories back in 2000-2005 than what we have now. We had progressed but since 2005, we've taken a lot of steps backward in terms of single-player FPS.

      Indies, of course, are an outlier here - indie games today tend to stand as a critique of the triple A condition.

      Last edited 16/10/13 3:32 pm

        @beardshamans

        By the way, I love your name.

        I agree mostly on principle. And yet I am still seeing improvements from developers both big and small. No one considered using controllable pets, drones etc for shooters back in the day. No one considered using a tactical view and commanding orders. These are innovations that have largely come only in the last ten years. And it's only been in the last 5 we've seen things like scenery destruction, rpg elements (levelling up, etc) in multiplayer, and even multiple system play (PC vs Xbox 360 for instance).

        The innovations may be coming to a crawl now, but it is a business and additionally, so many things are now known about what works, what doesn't, and what has already been achieved. I remember being amazed at being able to pick up a enemy grenade and being able to toss it back. A seemingly small innovation, but one that has become part and parcel of the experience for shooters today.

        And I stand before on my belief that there are developers out there trying new things. XCOM was a first person shooter that tried something new before becoming Bureau Declassified, Bioshock went through many iterations before it settled on it's final design, and even Halo tries something new with each installment.

        And where does one begin with things like Portal, or even Half Life 2? Borderlands? Heck, even RAGE had a few interesting ideas, even if it felt particularly derivative.

          Aww yiss, somebody likes my name. c:

          A lot of those things you mentioned, while they are great and innovative, are not fundamental. Those are little features. Stuff like controlling pets, drones etc., throwing an enemy's grenade back, again don't make up for the fact that level design, challenge and actual game theory is going backward and being almost bastardized in these games. They are being simplified into linear levels that take you along on a roller coaster ride, they push aside all need for wit, and the challenge has gone in favour for appeasing players to make them feel powerful (a common complaint I have with modern games like Prototype and Saints Row).

          Remember as well that we are talking about single player FPS here, not so much multiplayer. I think multiplayer has definitely come along away in these past few years, particularly with games like Battlefield 3 and Team Fortress 2.

          Of course, not every game is victim to this, but as I said in regards to the indie titles, every game that isn't this is probably going to be an anti-thesis to it. Games like Portal and Left 4 Dead 2 might as well be indie games, because hey, they're not Call of Duty.

          In regards to "FPS with RPG elements," games like Borderlands, Bioshock and RAGE, they tend to be a thing of their own now. I guess you could call this expansion of the genre, but it still doesn't change the fact that we're seeing less of Doom, Quake, Half-Life (1 and 2 - sounds crazy, but Half-Life 2 came out 2004, back in what I consider the peak of the FPS genre), Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, and again, seeing more of Call of Duty and cheap knock-offs like Homeland.

          You are most definitely right though - it isn't like creative ideas and innovations aren't being thought up, it's just that the dev teams and publishers are thinking them up in the wrong places. Putting an environmentally destructible cherry with RPG elements on top of a fundamentally flawed, half designed cake isn't going to make Half-Life 3. Or something like that.

          Last edited 17/10/13 12:05 pm

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