Recently published an interview with a few members of Tripwire Interactive, the developers of games like Killing Floor and Red Orchestra. In the interview the guys at Tripwire spent a good portion of their time criticizing the Call of Duty franchise and the gamers who enjoy it. I took some serious issues with what the guys at Tripwire were saying. I’ve responded to the interview paragraph by paragraph below with my responses being the text in blue.

PCG: How do you feel about the state of FPSes?

John Gibson, President: I think that single-player shooters are getting better. I think they’re finally coming out from under the shadow of the Hollywood movie, overblown “I’m on a rail” linear shooter. I’m talking about Call of Duty-style shooters. In the late ‘90s, you had the original Deus Ex, which was an RPG-shooter. And those kind of games almost took an eight year hiatus. And I’m so excited to see them coming back with interesting gameplay. Like the Fallout games, even though their shooting mechanics could really use some improvement, just mixing a really cool story, but not a linear story, one that you create yourself. The melding of RPG elements and shooter elements has been great. I’ve seen this reflected in a lot of the reviews, it’s like, “Okay guys, we’re tired of this on-rails experience.”

The increase in some developers including RPG elements in shooters is no doubt a good thing. It’s nice to have a variety of shooting experiences to choose from, but I don’t think people are necessarily tired of linear shooters. Having just finished Spec Ops I can say confidently that while it’s certainly a linear game, it told one of the best stories I’ve ever experienced. Linear games are often able to provide a much more focused and polished experience than open world, non-linear games. That’s not to say that one is better than the other, but the term “on-rails shooter” is very loaded and carries a very negative connotation, which is both unfair and largely untrue.

On the flip side, I’m really discouraged by the current state of multiplayer shooters. I think that, and I hate to mention names, because it sounds like ‘I’m just jealous of their success,’ but I’m really, I feel like Call of Duty has almost ruined a generation of FPS players. I know that’s a bold statement, but I won’t just throw stones without backing it up. When I was developing Action Mode [for RO2], I got a group of people that I know that are pretty hardcore Call of Duty players. And my goal was to create something that was accessible enough for them to enjoy the game—not turn it into Call of Duty, but try to make something that I thought was casual enough but with the Red Orchestra gameplay style that they would enjoy. And we iterated on it a lot. And just listening to all the niggling, pedantic things that they would complain about, that made them not want to play the game, I just thought, “I give up. Call of Duty has ruined this whole generation of gamers.”

Call of Duty games are almost always some of the most polished games on the market. Millions of dollars and some of the best developers in the industry ensure that every Call of Duty game, with the exception of the Vita CoD game obviously, plays really damn well, and it’s players have become accustomed to that. If you give another shooter to hardcore Call of Duty players and ask them to nitpick they’re going to nitpick.

What did they complain about?

Gibson: It’s the gameplay mechanics that they become used to. The way that players instantly accelerate when they move, they don’t build up speed. “The weapons really don’t have a lot of power” [in RO2]. They’re all very weak. The way they handle… They’re like: “I hate Red Orchestra, I can’t play it.” Well, why? “Because the guy doesn’t move like he does in Call of Duty. Call of Duty has great movement.” Why is it great? “Because it just is, I just like the way it works.” So you don’t like the momentum system in Red Orchestra? “Yeah, it sucks, it’s clunky, it’s terrible.” Well, why? “It’s just because I’m used to this.”

Not everyone will have the same opinion on gameplay mechanics and controls, and just because someone prefers the mechanics and controls of one game to another simply boils down to personal preference. I personally think the movement in Call of Duty is great; it’s fast, responsive, and fluid. While I absolutely love the feel of the movement in Call of Duty, it doesn’t prevent me from enjoying other shooters that control differently. Call of Duty developing systems people enjoy and prefer to other shooters doesn’t equate to it ruining gamers at all.

I make it sound like there was a combative conversation, probably because I get a little emotional when I think about it. But it was really a calm discussion of, “What don’t you like?” and “It doesn’t feel like Call of Duty.” Almost every element boiled down to “it doesn’t feel like Call of Duty.” And really, watching some of these guys play… one of the things that Call of Duty does, and it’s smart business, to a degree, is they compress the skill gap. And the way you compress the skill gap as a designer is you add a whole bunch of randomness. A whole bunch of weaponry that doesn’t require any skill to get kills. Random spawns, massive cone fire on your weapons. Lots of devices that can get kills with zero skill at all, and you know, it’s kind of smart to compress your skill gap to a degree. You don’t want the elite players to destroy the new players so bad that new players can never get into the game and enjoy it. I’m looking at you, Dota. [laughs] Sorry.

Call of Duty is the most successful first person shooter franchise ever, so it stands to reason that other FPS’ will be compared to it. If your game doesn’t stand up to that comparison, tough. I also reject the notion that Call of Duty compresses the skill gap to the point where it’s a problem. If you aren’t good at Call of Duty it’s going to show. Earning the “devices that can get kills with zero skill” is predicated on earning points in the game, most of the time without dying. I feel a genuine sense of accomplishment every time I call in attack dogs, or a stealth helicopter. To me it seems like the games way of rewarding you for playing well, as opposed to simply giving out kills to everyone. Sometimes kills in Call of Duty boil down to luck, but more often than not they come down to skill. When someone is able to almost instantly look down their scope and draw a bead on my head that takes skill. When someone can headshot me from halfway across the map while I’m moving that takes skill. I don’t exactly know what weaponry he’s referring to that can get you tons of kills with no skill, but if anyone else does please let me know because apparently I’m using the wrong loadout.

But the skill gap is so compressed, that it’s like a slot machine. You might as well just sit down at a slot machine and have a thing that pops up an says “I got a kill!” They’ve taken individual skill out of the equation so much. So you see these guys—I see it all the time, they come in to play Red Orchestra, and they’re like “This game’s just too hardcore. I’m awesome at Call of Duty, so there’s something wrong with your game. Because I’m not successful at playing this game, so it must suck. I’m not the problem, it’s your game.” And sometimes as designers, it is our game. Sometimes we screw up, sometimes we design something that’s not accessible enough, they can’t figure it out, we didn’t give them enough information to figure out where to go… but more often than not, it’s because Call of Duty compressed their skill gap so much that these guys never needed to get good at a shooter. They never needed to get good at their twitch skills with a mouse.

Once again I fundamentally disagree. It’s possible that the skills gamers develop playing Call of Duty don’t transfer well to games like Red Orchestra, but if Red Orchestra was appealing enough, and I’m not saying it’s not, gamers would stick with it and learn the skills required to be good at it.

In response to the assertion that Call of Duty gamers never needed to develop twitch skills I have to say so fucking what? Not every shooter needs to each the same skills. There are tons of games out there where skill is predicated on twitch more than anything else, so why does Call of Duty have to follow that formula too? What Gibson seems to be implying is that twitch skills are more fundamentally important, and make for better gameplay, which may be true for him and his team, but sure as hell doesn’t reflect the entire gaming community.

Players like Elliot [Cannon, Lead Designer] and I, back in the Quake and Unreal days, you know, we had to get good at aiming. These guys don’t have to anymore. The skill gap is so compressed that like, “The game makes me feel that I’m awesome.” These guys, when I actually watch them play, they’re actually very poor FPS players. And I don’t think it’s because they’re incapable of getting good, I think it’s because they never had to get good. They get enough kills in Call of Duty to feel like they’re awesome, but they never really had to develop their FPS skills beyond that.

Once again Gibson implies that twitch skills are the only skills fundamentally important to playing first person shooters. There’s nothing wrong with skill in a shooter depending on twitch, but there’s also nothing wrong with skill in a shooter not depending on twitch. They’re two different styles of shooters. Looking at CoD players through the lens of twitch games like Quake and Unreal games and then saying they suck is neither true nor fair to the gamers in question. Not all first person shooters have to be like the ones in the glory days of PC gaming.

And it’s a shame because when you do that, when you create a shooter like that, you’re very limited on the amount of depth that you can give the game. It’s all gotta be very surface level, like I’m sitting there eating cotton candy and I never get any meat and potatoes. And it’s frustrating for me as a designer to see players come in and they’re literally like “In Call of Duty it takes 0.15 seconds to go into ironsights. In RO2 it takes 0.17 seconds to go into ironsights. I hate this.”

I think there is a good amount of depth in Call of Duty’s multiplayer, especially with Black Ops 2’s Pick 10 system. The degree you can customize your character is quite extensive, more so than many other popular multiplayer shooters. Want to have two of a certain perk at the expense of a secondary grenade? You can do that? Want to completely forego a sidearm in exchange for a thermal sight on your primary firearm? You can do that. There’s such a large degree of flexibility and customization that claiming it has limited depth simply doesn’t make sense to me. If you disagree, simply play a different game. Being angry with Call of Duty for not conforming to what you want shooters to be is a bit ridiculous.

Do you think it’s a matter of patience? Have these players lost their sense of patience?

Gibson: I think that’s part of it. The game is kind of spoonfeeding them, and making them feel great when they’re not. And like I said, that’s smart business, and I don’t blame Infinity Ward for wanting to do that. They’re selling millions of games and they have lots of people enjoying it, but I think there’s a depth of enjoyment there that a lot of these players are missing out on. And when you try to get them to branch out, their knee-jerk reaction is “The training wheels have come off, I’m gonna fall!” And I hate to see that.

I have a friend who’s a big metalhead and he often says things such as “if only I could show these people what real music is, they’d be blown away” which always made me scoff because there was the pretty clear implication that his music was simply better than everyone else’s and that once they experienced it they’d realize the error of their ways, when in reality it all boils down to a matter of personal preference. This seems to be the exact attitude Gibson has on shooters.

It’s this weird dichotomy between, you know, single-player is getting much more depth, and players are just eating it up. They’re loving that. They’re buying these FPS-RPG single-player games like crazy. But multiplayer, “Ooh, don’t take my training wheels off.” I hate that. So we’re trying… we’re giving a little bit of training wheels, but we’re going to take them off occasionally in the shooters that we’re making, and hopefully we’ll get some of those people to branch out. I think for me though, I wouldn’t say I’ve completely given up on all of those players, but I’m not gonna try to make a game that tries to be Call of Duty at the expense of having fun gameplay that actually has depth.

I love FPS-RPG hybrid shooters. I played a ton of Fallout 3, New Vegas, Deus Ex, both Borderlands games and and both Bioshock games just to name a few. They’re phenomenal games, but every other game doesn’t, and more importantly shouldn’t, need to be like them. I love all of the games I mentioned above, but when you look at the raw shooting of those games, most of them wouldn’t be engaging enough to play simply for the sake of the combat like people do with games like Call of Duty and Halo, hence their lack of a decent and sustained multiplayer. The depth of a lot of those games simply wouldn’t translate well into competitive multiplayer, which in my opinion makes the comparison between FPS-RPG hybrids and Call of Duty an unfair and even slightly ridiculous one.

Elliot Cannon, Rising Storm Lead Designer: Or creating a game that feels like you might be in a war, and you might die?

Gibson: Yeah. That’s one of the things that we do in our games, and it’s fear. When you play… I know there are modes in Left 4 Dead that are more hardcore, but when you play Left 4 Dead, and I’m really friends with Valve, so I hope they don’t get mad at me, but you do get spikes of adrenaline. But eventually that wears off because you figure out, well, as long as we stick together we’re never gonna die. In Killing Floor, when the Fleshpound shows up, you could be screwed. Half your team is probably gonna die. Your heart rate goes up, you’re freaking out, like “I can actually lose this shooter.” And if there’s no fear, there’s no tension, the victory is shallow. We want there to be some fear.

Some of my best gaming memories are when me and a couple of close friends would play through Left 4 Dead together on some of the harder difficulty settings. There are times when we’d all be in the red without a health pack in sight, and only be half way to the next safe house. There was a real sense of fear when situations like that would occur. I can’t think of a single shooter I’ve ever played where I wasn’t afraid of losing, unless I decided to simply breeze though it on easy.

What do you consider your tools for expressing fear?

Gibson: Vulnerability is a big part of it, lethality. The ability to lose. There has to be… it’s kind of like, you know, if you’re gambling. If you go to the penny slots, you’re like, “Okay, yeah, whatever, I lost a penny.” But you go to the Roulette table, you throw down a thousand bucks, and you spin the wheel—you’re nervous at that point.

So, having the players have to take risks. Risk versus reward. They risk more, but the reward is greater. There’s more depth, there’s a bit more of a learning curve, but when you get that kill at long range with that bolt-action rifle, while the artillery’s flying around your head, and mortar shells are falling and guys are Banzai-charging you in the face, and your guy’s shaking, but you still kill him anyway. That’s an experience. You had some risk there, but you got a bigger reward. The kill wasn’t just handed to you. It wasn’t like “I called in the helicopter and it flew into the level and mowed down half the enemy team while I wasn’t even doing anything.”

The inclusion of killstreaks and scorestreaks Call of Duty’s multiplayer has given the game a sense of risk that few multiplayer games have matched. Being one kill away from earning, yes that’s right I said earning, a powerful weapon that will give your team a massive advantage and knowing a single mistake can take that from you is incredibly risky and incredibly stressful. When I’m close to a powerful reward I get really anxious. I round every corner with immense caution, listen for every sound, stick with teammates, and scan my minimap constantly. The implication that there’s no fear in Call of Duty and that it just hands you rewards that kill half the other team is absolutely ludicrous.

The amount of hate the Call of Duty franchise has garnered astounds me. It may not have the most cerebral plot or the deepest gameplay mechanics, but at the end of the day they’re fun games. Not every game needs to have a complex and intricate storyline. After I finished games like Spec Ops or Mass Effect 3 I felt emotionally exhausted. They were both grim, intense, and mentally taxing games and sometimes I’m not in the mood for that. Sometimes I want something that’s simply fun. Not every game needs ridiculously deep gameplay mechanics. I recently sat down with the Dust 514 beta and had to spend a good deal of time digging through menus and trying to decipher what everything was, and sometimes I don’t want that. Sometimes it’s nice to have some of the most complex attributes of shooters streamlined, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If every single shooter was like Call of Duty than the complains from the guys at Tripwire would be valid, however they’re not. There are a plethora of shooters out there that satisfy almost every niche of gaming, so just find yours and run with it. There’s no need to demand other shooters conform to your standards, and there’s no need to look down on people for liking what you don’t.

The glory days of PC gaming are over. The demands of PC gamers no longer take precedence over all other platforms. I don’t want to be the one who has to say it because I’ll inevitably piss off a small but very vocal minority of gamers sitting in front of obscenely expensive gaming rigs that still want to feel relevant and justify the large quantities of money they drop on their rig. That doesn’t mean that PC is an inferior way to play games because it’s absolutely not, it just means that in the time since the PC was king games and gamers have changed and evolved. A lot of gamers simply don’t want twitch shooters anymore. That being said there’s still a market for more “hardcore” shooters. Just look at Counter Strike, and how it’s maintained an audience for years upon years. Sure the market isn’t as big as the one for Call of Duty, but once again, tough. A developer’s goal should be to make the best game they can. To my knowledge that doesn’t include bitching about how games and gamers have changed, insulting millions of shooter fans, acting like an elitist dick, and demanding everyone like what you like and hate what you hate. At the end of the day if your shooter is good, people will play it.