Can there be a video game shooter that can be won without the player firing a shot? Can there be a multiplayer game that doesn't invoke anger when an opposing online player mows you down? Is there a computer game you can play where the most common thing you will hear from other players is "thank you"?
British game developer Paul Wedgwood has a four-word answer built on one of the oldest, time-tested series in first-person shooters. He points to "Enemy Territory: Quake Wars," which was released Tuesday (October 2) for PC and is coming later for the Xbox 360 and PS3. This game, he said, can do all of the above. And it's fun.
The game is based on the conflict between the Global Defense Force and the evil alien Strogg first depicted in 1997's "Quake II." The new title was developed by Wedgwood's London-based Splash Damage with oversight from id Software. It allows up to 24 online-connected players join one of the two sides; adopt roles like medic, soldier or infiltrator; and execute a range of missions. One team might be hacking a shield generator and trying to blow up a refinery, while the other team strictly plays defense. It's played in first-person, and there is ample opportunity for players on the game's front lines to use the kind of kill-or-be-killed skills honed in games such as "Quake II" or even "Halo," but that's not the only way to be a successful player.
"At the end of a contemporary multiplayer combat game, you have a scoreboard and it's almost always sorted by frags," Wedgwood told GameFile during a trans-Atlantic call late last week. "That seems to be the only thing games give people kudos for: how many people did they kill." His game's mission-clearing board will reward the player with the most kills, but it will also call attention to the best medic, the best engineer and other successes. "It's not that violence is something that is necessarily good or bad, it's just that that isn't the goal of the game," he continued. "The goal of the game is to coordinate with your team to achieve the objective."
So a player might keep busy as an engineer far from the front lines, laying down mines, setting up defense turrets, building a guard tower and then taking missions — generated as the battle progresses — to repair broken vehicles or build bridges for an onrushing attack. All such tasks are worth points. It can make a player a winner without firing a shot. Someone else can be a medic, running around healing downed allies and calling in supply drops. "Something you'll find if you play medic and you run up and revive people is you'll keep getting people saying, 'Thanks,' and it just makes you feel really good," Wedgwood said. "People keep going, 'Thanks, dude. Thanks, thanks, thanks.' "
Games such as 1996's "Team Fortress" and 2001's "Return to Castle Wolfenstein" popularized class-based multiplayer shooters. This might come as a surprise to today's "Halo 3"-conditioned console FPS player who is used to taking on the sole available warrior role and matching guns with like-minded adversaries. Wedgwood thinks that "Halo" design — also seen in "Quake" and "Unreal Tournament" — can be off-putting to all but the most elite players. "What tends to happen is if the player doesn't have the necessary twitch skills even in the first week they're put off," he said. "If they come into the game two or three months in, then they really would be put off because everybody has developed those skills and has become really elite at those hard-core multiplayer combat abilities."
So instead of aiming to strictly please the "Halo"/ "Quake"/ "UT" crowd, Wedgwood would like to please his dad. His father is 70 and a gamer of a very specific sort. In the late '90s Wedgwood made him try a bunch of games, and his father took to the real-time strategy game series "Command & Conquer." He's gotten good at it. "He can have seven or eight enemy opponents on their toughest level and take them out all on his own." But his dad doesn't play first-person shooters. So Wedgwood has reserved a weekend on his calendar, during which his dad will come up to the house, sit down with a copy of "Enemy Territory: Quake Wars" and play offline — against computer opponents — while his son watches. Wedgwood assumes his dad will take the role of engineer, keeping clear of the front lines while doing things that fully support his allies. What Wedgwood will test for is assurance that Splash Damage didn't just create a successful spiritual sequel to its earlier "Wolfenstein Enemy Territory" game, but that it serves what he thinks is an underserved appetite: a competitive first-person shooter for the thinking man.
Where did the desire to do this come from? At the turn of the century Wedgwood was not yet a full-time game developer. He was the captain of a top "Quake" and "Team Fortress" clan, the EarthQuakers. Wedgwood would spend time chatting with his fellow players about the high-level strategies they would use to conquer their online enemies, then log into games and carry them out. He wanted to create a game that would allow new gamers to feel like they'd been in those chat rooms with him. "If we could get them to play as a coordinated team, they would have that same buzz, that real satisfaction," he said.
As a result, "Enemy Territory" players know that there's a way to compete in, say, the world of "Quake" (which could be the world of "UT" or "Halo") and do great just by handing out medical packs or building bridges. They know that gunplay isn't everything, that, as Wedgwood put it, "doing something else is equally heroic and equally important to the scene, and isn't of greater or lesser value than the guy on the front lines pulling off perfect head shots."
They know that the online life is about more than just the frag.
"Enemy Territory: Quake Wars" is available on PC this week. The PS3 and Xbox 360 release dates have yet to be announced.
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