Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Time to put the Two-Weapon Limit Out of its Misery

Shamus Young | 17 Feb 2015 15:00
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These mooks are playing peek-a-boo from behind cover. I guess it's good I've got this assault rifle.

Now I'm being attacked by a small, fast-moving foe. I better switch to the submachine gun.

I see some dudes in the distance. Time to bust out the sniper rifle.

A big bruiser is rushing me for a melee attack. I'll use the shotgun.

These idiots are all clustered up, so I'll use the grenade launcher on them.

Here are some wimpy foes. I'll switch to the pistol so I don't waste more valuable ammo.

Uh oh. A boss fight is coming up. I'll switch to my expotic gun that shoots lightning / fire / physics objects / nukes / acid / whatever. Whee!

That was what shooters were like in the 90's. And to be fair, I think a lot of older guys overestimate how popular those games were, or how well they hold up with audiences today. A 90's shooter was a game where you ran at automobile speeds, carried 10 weapons, dodged projectiles by strafing, and murdered waves of foes in a cloud of particle effects. I loved it, but the market has made it pretty clear that this is a niche genre. We don't get many of these and they don't sell particularly well compared to their modern counterparts.

I love 90's shooters, but there aren't enough people like me to support a steady flow of them. Heck, it's tough funding at indie levels in this genre. The Kickstarter for the Ghostbusters Board Game ought to rake in at least a million bucks. (Kicktraq claims it's headed for two million.) Meanwhile, STRAFE is an attempt to recapture that bygone genre, and they're having trouble hitting just $186k. (As of this writing, it looks like they're going to be a little short.)

(Disclosure: STRAFE is the first Kickstarter I've ever backed.)

So the market has spoken, and the market doesn't want 90's shooters. That's a bummer, but there's no sense in crying about it.

I don't know if Bungie was the first developer to implement a two-weapon limit, but they sure were the ones to popularize it. Depending on who you ask, Halo either ruined or perfected the shooter genre. But I don't think either of those are true. What it really did was bring us a new genre of shooter. The two-weapon limit. Health regen. Enemies that played peek-a-boo from behind cover instead of rushing the player. The focus on rhythm and timing more than aim. There were so many things that Halo did differently that it really was a new thing.

And I understand most of the changes. Aiming with a thumbstick feels very different than aiming with the mouse. In a PC shooter, you just have to put that crosshair where you want the shot to go. In a console shooter, it's more about moving horizontally and pulling the trigger at the right moment. (At least, based on my own play habits and what I see other people doing. Maybe it's different in high-level PvP games.) Before Halo, console shooters felt like ports of PC games. Halo was the first time someone really thought about what sorts of play would make sense on the controller.

But in the rush to transform the shooter genre into something that makes sense on a console, I think a major mistake was made with the two-weapon limit. It's the one change that never sat right with me. Hopefully you noticed in the opening paragraph that video game guns are tools that you use to solve problems. If they keep the diverse enemies then you rarely have the right tool for the job. (Which is frustrating.) Or they can limit foe diversity so you only need two guns to solve all of your problems. (Which is boring.) This change makes the least sense and does the most damage to the gameplay.

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