When Worlds Collide – The FPS/ RTS hybrid debate

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This morning I was browsing through the list of games that would be coming soon to steam, and by complete accident stumbled upon a game called Nuclear Dawn. The game was all alone on the third page, innocently twiddling its thumbs and blending into the background, however I clicked on it out of sheer curiosity; after all I’d never heard of it before. Past it’s somewhat generic post apocalyptic tough guy façade, there was something there telling me to read on, for this ambitious little company was making a bold attempt at the little explored RTS FPS hybrid. This is understandable from the company’s perspective considering that their motto is “Interwave Studios is a game development company that prides itself on crafting those games that we wished we could have been playing all along.”; and for this I applaud them.

The RTS FPS hybrid, for whatever bizarre reason, was never something that gained a lot of popularity with either developers or gamers. This is possibly because it was never a popular design concept, thus never giving gamers a chance to warm to this somewhat obscure experience. But I think it’s something worth its merit in this day and age where the vast majority of AAA tend to stick to a pretty basic handful of formulas, and rarely deviate from what they know as comfortable. So why was this genre always tucked away into the depths of obscurity? Let us cast our minds sidelong into a bit of a history of the genre, and what it has to offer.

Upon consultation of my old friend Google, it had quickly become evident that I didn’t have a lot of material to work with. Honestly I could count the games that had attempted this on the fingers of one hand, but there seemed to be an emerging pattern within these few obscure titles – the prevalence of “squad commands”. This, in my opinion is probably the most possible option, although a lot of the examples I looked at seemed to have made the mistake of presenting one of the modes as more favourable instead of tactically different. From these games I began to think about how this genre could possibly be stretched into new dimensions, and this has really gotten me thinking about the untapped potential for the games industry.

APPROACH #1 – party command
This would be the most familiar approach, in the context of established RTS/FPS since it utilises familiar principles without completely adhering to what has been said and done. This method is also a bit more general, but that’s enough preface-y waffle. Basically, you control a group of units in order to complete any missions that were required by the game. In the first person you have access to all of your personal abilities and an advanced control over your characters’ actions. HOWEVER, instead of breaking the game’s established first person rules and allowing you to control all squad/ party members yourself, you may only control your character – this would probably be the leader character for the sake of avoiding autonomy related frustration. In this RTS view, it is not only your job to lead the other NPCs, but to scout for dangers, provide strategic advantages and manage your character and game related statistics including both quests/missions and items.

APPROACH #2 – epic battle extravaganza
This approach is based predominately in the first/ third person, although combat is handled in a much more different way. In the example I concocted, time is paused, and during this time the player has the opportunity to plot a complex network of battle strategies in the form of equipping items, plotting waypoints, marking environment and enemies to be interacted with and giving player specific commands. I think this is one of my favourite ideas because it could add untold dimensions to a variety of genres beyond the squad based shooter, as well as enabling you to observe your monstrosity without the stress of constant interference. This method of doing things is really quite open to interpretation, in the example I provided, the game would play out in quite a turn based situation, except there is only one turn, and you are able to set up everything before the ensuing battle with the added possibility of purchasing further pauses with AP.

APPROACH #3 – the Evil Genius
Ok, so I was making a bit of a lame reference to an old, and somewhat crotchety game, but I think it had some interesting ideas that could be spread out into the context of a multiplayer stealth game. Say for instance that the game worked by having a mode that involved two teams. Team one has some sort of a base – labyrinth of madness and technology in which the player must lay traps, arrange guards and generally observe with malice.”But this would make it too easy for them” you wail with indignity. Well the player would only be able to see within the line of sight of various goons and security cameras, the rest of the map would be enshrouded in the fog of war. Player two is a single operative who starts in the first/ third person. This person would start in an equipment room in the back of a plane where they are able to choose whatever is appropriate for the mission, and then proceed to mark their landing zone. The way that this would work is that player 1 sets traps, and means of observations, whilst player two must use their stealth, their ingenuity and their gadgets in order to infiltrate player one’s base, steal some sort of artefact/ plant bomb, and then high tail it out of there through one of the many entrances. To mix things up a bit, there would presumably be a huge variety of map types from mountain fortresses, to deep underground bases.

APPROACH #4 – War?
This approach is arguably the most difficult to define and describe because there are so many alternatives, and so many things that could go wrong. I actually gave this some thought a while ago in the line of the hypothetical scenario “What if Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars was an FPS/RTS hybrid”, and this is the conclusion I drew. If a team was to be played by a single human player, than squad command would be a redundant scenario. In acknowledgement of this, I still think being able to control everything in RTS view is an imperative, however, since you will not be constantly presiding over EVERTHING that happens on the map, a great deal of liberties have been taken with the AI, allowing it to make intelligent choices based upon current goals, and previous tactics employed by the player. Meanwhile, in first person town, the player would always assume the role of the squad “commander”, irrespective of the characters’ actual status. From here the player is able to do a variety of cool things from a context menu. Within this menu, the player is able to quickly switch between units they are commanding (the unit they have assumed being the default subject of command), and from here, the player is able to enter target mode and direct units around their direct vicinity within the context of kill, move or defend. Another feature that is important to the flow of the battlefield is a feature I pretty well stole from Battlefield 2: Modern Combat – the hotswapping thing. I imagine being able to hotswap would be tremendously useful, however the initial problem of having to memorise the control scheme for every class and vehicle may be initially be problematic.

So what have we learnt? The RTS slash other not so obvious genre is definitely possible, the most likely reason for its lack of publicity is really just a fear of how radical innovation will be tolerated by the content, dozing masses. I personally think this fear is really just a fear of change; the knowledge that the game industry will have to start thinking again and take some criticism in order to grow. This change doesn’t necessarily have to come in one huge earth shattering swoop, but through smaller growths and innovations within the industry that will eventually result in the birth of a new, spectacular genre, and a solid triumph for the industry.

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5 Responses to “When Worlds Collide – The FPS/ RTS hybrid debate”

  1. Sam C. Says:

    Men of War would seem to include some of the elements you’re talking about, sort of a combination of Approach 1 and 4. It’s not first person, but you can take individual control of a unit, aiming, firing and moving, while temporarily giving up control of the rest of your army. Approach 4 sounds almost like the original Ghost Recon, with the ability to give simple orders to the units in your vicinity and hotswap between soldiers, with the ability to give soldiers waypoints. It’s certainly not wildly popular, but there are AAA titles that are and have been including these kind of elements. I’d love to see more, but I don’t think they’ve been quite as rare as you’d think.

  2. The Machination Says:

    Hey, thanks for the reply! My curiosity of Men of War has been growing lately since they’ve done a few articles on it over at Rock Paper Shotgun. The prospect of a much more intimate RTS where you actually care for the well being of your units is always worth investigating, especially if this is something that can be achieved through clever gameplay. Other than that, it’s nice to hear from somebody else who has similar interests in the games industry.

  3. Sam C. Says:

    RPS sold Men of War to me, it’s worth picking up. So many hats! There are some touches that make you care about the units – they each have individual names, so that you know Viktor Ivanov destroyed that Panzer as opposed to Faceless Grunt #2.
    But what would be nice is if you had a persistent squad of soldiers that could earn decorations and promotions, sort of like the ranks in X-Com, that you had to use throughout the campaign. There’s always more emotion there if you’ve invested more time and have more shared experiences than one mission.
    And it’s nice to read a blog by someone with similar interests!

  4. Will Says:

    Great post! At the moment I’m also in the same fruitless Google quest for a RTS/FPS hybrid game. It seems that if was pulled off properly it could create a great game. For example: Halo meets Halo Wars. An older game that I found to be the best example was Battlezone I and II. Also the MMO game Savage 2 is of a similar style. Have you found any recent games that are considered FPS/RTS or any reason to why they aren’t made? My dream game would be a combination of Mechwarrior Living Legends and Neveron or Invasion3042.

  5. The Machination Says:

    Hey, thanks for your comment, but this is our old blog. ie the one we no longer update. Which I can see why it could be mistaken for our actual blog. Hah. Anyway, check us out here http://themachination.net and maybe you’ll see something you like.

    I’ve also heard of the Battlezone games but I’ve never been man enough to actually check them out.

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