Gaming 2

The Fall of Multiplayer Shooters

Multiplayer shooters have fallen further than most other genres. Time has really taken its toll on it. We talked about it to some degree in this article. But we felt this specific subject deserves its own article because so much has been taken away from this genre.

There are of course exceptions to the rule. Valve, Tripwire Interactive, Bohemia Interactive, and others preserve the greatness and the flexibility provided by older PC exclusive multiplayer shooters. But these exceptions are rare. In general this genre, along with RPGs, have been watered down so much that it really is baffling and depressing.

Explained

The release of Battlefield 1 and the positive reception triggered many of us at GND-Tech, kickstarting this article in the process, but the negative trends it follows are older than the game itself. The Rental Server Program, the only way to host a server, is what really got on our nerves. Details below:

As you know, Rental Servers for PS4 and Xbox One have gone through EA. Now with Rental Servers going through EA, there’s quite a lot of questions. Let’s answer some now:

How much will it cost?
PC
1 day: $2.99
7 days: $11.99
30 days: $42.99
90 days: $99.99
180 days: $149.99

PLAYSTATION® 4 / XBOX ONE
1 day: $1.99
7 days: $7.99
30 days: $26.99
90 days: $64.99
180 days: $99.99

When will the Rental Server Program Launch?
We’re excited to bring RSP to Battlefield 1 this November.

The biggest difference between yesterday’s best multiplayer shooters and today’s common multiplayer shooter can be summarized in one word: Mods. That stands for modifications. Multiplayer shooters on PC around 10 years ago not only had more content than today’s (and free added official content AKA DLC was commonplace), but they were designed to let players do whatever they want with the game due to almost unlimited modding capability thanks to official mod tools.

But this article is more inclusive than just mods. Below is a general list that summarizes the superiorities held by older PC exclusive multiplayer shooters.

  • More official content.
  • Free DLC was common.
  • Almost limitless mod support with official mod tools/SDKs, auto mod downloading for server side mods. These mods often led to some heavily modified servers running custom game modes.
  • Free dedicated servers, via a dedicated server application included with the game was the standard practice. Whereas now they are often paid and very restrictive, as shown above.
  • More configurable servers, with parameters such as ping limit, friendly fire, weapon restrictions, spawn items, and much more, just without mods. Mods would obviously add far more.
  • Deeper, more complex and tactical gameplay was present in some but not all games.
  • No annoying forced external programs like Battlelog or uPlay.
  • You never even had to question whether or not VOIP was included. It was a given, as was text chat.

Note that everything above except for modding, dedicated servers, and free DLC, was actually the standard for XBOX, Playstation 2, and very early XBOX 360 and Playstation 3 multiplayer shooters as well, so even console multiplayer shooters have fallen.

To drive this point home, we’re going to first show multiplayer shooters that simply have no modern AAA counterpart and no console counterpart. Then we will share with you some of our experiences with multiplayer shooters that simply don’t and can’t exist in the majority of MP shooters today, especially the most popular ones.

One game we refer to often is Natural Selection 2, a multiplayer FPS with RTS elements. Aliens vs Marines, five different kinds of aliens with real-time evolving into the higher tier but not all-around better ones (this game predates Evolve for your information), a currency system, jetpacks and exosuits for Marines, and each team starts off with one commander which plays an RTS rather than an FPS.

This official tutorial video explains it fairly well, although it leaves out lots of details:

Now consider that the Natural Selection franchise began as a mod for Half-Life (1998). Take that in and think about it for a moment.

A somewhat similar yet very different PC exclusive multiplayer shooter would be the Power Struggle game mode in Crysis and Crysis Wars. The goal is to wipe out the enemy base like in the Natural Selection games/mods, yet the way to get there is substantially different as shown by the tutorial videos below.

There is a subgenre of shooters on PC; military pseudo-simulators, the ArmA franchise. We reviewed ArmA 3, the latest in the series. These are the most content rich shooters in existence, having lengthy campaigns, expansions the size of full games, an editor that allows you to create your own scenarios (campaigns/missions, single player or multiplayer or both), more weapons and land/air/sea vehicles than you can imagine, more uniforms than you can imagine, open world maps that dwarf Fallout 4 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and most others, and gameplay complexity you can’t imagine without playing them.

ArmA 3 remains one of very few innovative elite PC multiplayer shooters. It released in 2013, and is still updated heavily in 2017, including major engine upgrades such as x64 update and a new lighting system. It has been refined and expanded on considerably over the years, evident in the Apex expansion and Zeus update, the latter giving a server admin unprecedented real-time control of the game, able to spawn and despawn things and alter the level and mission right before your eyes.

Everybody knows DayZ, one of the most impactful innovators in the last five years. A real trend starter. Still PC exclusive and it began as a mod for ArmA 2.

Survival games are simply far more common and diverse on PC, with the likes of No More Room in Hell, the Killing Floor franchise, F.E.A.R. series, Cry of Fear, and all the persistent world ones out there like DayZ.

Many remember Star Wars: Battlefront in 2015, but what many don’t realize is how it’s nothing like it’s infinitely more encompassing predecessors. Battlefront wasn’t always a clone of Battlefield clone, see this comparison or better yet see Star Wars: Battlefront 2 in action on YouTube. To this day there is nothing like it.

But let’s get more specific, recalling several experiences with these games and others from GND-Tech staff members.

Jester’s Experiences

I have caught many of my unique multiplayer experiences on video, so behold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of those ArmA 3 videos include other GND-Tech staff members, and they showcase missions created by Enad who is one of our administrators. He has spent years creating missions in all of the ArmA games, and of course playing them.

Three of those games: ArmA 3, Natural Selection 2, and No More Room in Hell are actually modern but show no signs of degradation. They are three exceptions, all of which are PC exclusive and No More Room in Hell is free. The other one, Serious Sam HD, is also PC exclusive but not entirely modern as it is a remake, but still no degradation. Dedicated server included, mod tools included, tons of server side customization even without mods.

Other experiences which I haven’t recorded include my 2-3 hour matches in both Crysis and Crysis Wars Power Struggle, back and forth complex matches where strategy actually rules the day as much as player skill. 2-3 hours was the norm for Power Struggle on large maps (which are roughly the size of large maps from Battlefield games), particularly when both teams are at an even strategic thinking and skill level. When you consider the goal is simply to destroy the enemy HQ, that illustrates how complex Power Struggle is, although the tutorials above illustrate it better.

The modded features of my modded Crysis Wars server over the base game includes:

  • New maps with auto map downloading.
  • Altered nanosuit and weapon balance.
  • Altered currency balance/prices.
  • New vehicles (air, land, and sea, including new vehicles that function as team spawn zones) which are both spawned on certain maps and sold in the appropriate vehicle factories on Power Struggle maps.
  • Additional item and vehicle spawns on every map, including vehicles on maps that previously had none.
  • Unobtrusive messages providing news from GND-Tech and contact information.
  • Modified auto team balancing: Nobody can join a team that has one player more than the other. If a team has two or more players over the other team, players are automatically moved to the smaller team to balance it out.
  • Custom anti-cheat mod made by a group/clan I was in. It is superior to PunkBuster for that game.
  • Modified official anti-cheat.
  • Auto kick players with a ping of over 200.
  • Auto punish players who reach three teamkills. These players are unable to pick up weapons, interact with items and vehicles, and cannot run or sprint. This lasts for a certain duration of time, defined by myself in a configuration file for the server (I believe I chose ten minutes).
  • Voting system, which is not in the base game at all. Part of the entire server side mod package as are most of these other features. Vote to kick, vote to change map, more.
  • Hundreds of new console commands for server admins, for spawning items/vehicles real-time, altering the map, altering mod functionality, admin God modes which I use to nullify hackers/cheaters before banning them. For example, I would teleport hackers/cheaters thousands of feet in the air and let them fall to their deaths. Or I would put them in the penalty box (the teamkiller punishment mentioned above). I would rename them to something silly, teleport to their location every second and instantly kill them every time, to the point where they quit out of frustration rather than get banned. In Crysis I would use the !trip command to force them to topple over constantly, another modded feature. And much, much more.
  • Dozens of in-game text commands available to players with unique ones for admins (see above). This is tied in with new gameplay functionality, such as typing in !flare to launch a flare which of course has tactical uses. Don’t want a certain player in your car? Enter !out. Many more.
  • Improved graphics.

Most of those things applied to my Crysis server as well, but I also ran a custom game mode in Crysis which was Team Action (Team Deathmatch). This wasn’t necessary in Crysis Wars which has it officially.

Here is a blog I wrote to show off my server here on GND-Tech back when the game was still alive. That blog is very old and outdated now of course.

This level of server side modification and customization was common practice in PC gaming 10 years ago, and is now extremely rare. Furthermore you can count on one hand the amount of PvP shooters in the same tactical/strategic league as Power Struggle in Crysis/Crysis Wars.

People often take multiplayer shooters too seriously. That isn’t to say I never took them seriously, but often times I would play outright silly in Crysis and Crysis Wars. In other servers (not mine) this would involve some friendly fire; not outright teamkilling, but when my teammates purchased an expensive vehicle (which takes quite a bit of time to save up for, over an hour if you aren’t a great player and those games have a steep learning curve) I enjoyed driving and detonating car bombs into said vehicles, destroying them and often times the owner and myself.

Car stunts were my thing. Cars in my server had greatly improved top speed (from 60 mph to about double that), so on large open maps (Mesa in particular) I enjoyed driving up ramps and exploiting the game’s poor vehicle physics and fly over the map, often dying upon impact. Who doesn’t enjoy ridiculous car stunts? I’d only do these things when my team is dominating or losing and is utterly hopeless. Sometimes other players would willingly get involved; once a teammate hovered his helicopter in front of a ramp, at high altitude (we were on top of a mountain essentially). The goal was for me to drive my car up the ramp and into his floating helicopter. It was a fun challenge.

One of my fondest multiplayer shooter memories is in obstacle course/platforming servers in Crysis Wars, also known as JUMP servers (the name of the series of custom maps used). These maps had no guns, the servers were not about shooting. All players started in a hub location with portals to different obstacle courses, increasing in difficulty. The visual style of these maps were not totally unlike the VR missions in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. The goal is to pass each obstacle course, and they were very challenging, involving advanced use of the Nanosuit which has a steeper learning curve than any other multiplayer shooter I’ve played besides the ArmA franchise. These maps were similar to the Hunter training custom maps made for Left 4 Dead, perhaps made by the same person or people? Nonetheless such modded servers and creative gameplay are mostly things of the past.

Or how about the story of how I became a top player in Crysis and Crysis Wars? It’s a story many can relate to I’m sure. All this entailed was joining a private server (sometimes my own) and playing with friends/clan members (“VIP” clan which included the members who created and tested the famous Server Side Mod or SSM) who were already good. We still acted silly plenty of times, it wasn’t boot camp. It was fun, especially since these friends of mine were from another country (Germany) thus introducing me to a different culture and knowledge I wouldn’t have obtained anywhere else. I also learned the skill curve and unique tricks including platforming tricks like wall jumping. Such a thing is very rare now with paid, unmoddable dedicated servers in games like the newer Battlefield titles.

To spice up deathmatch and team deathmatch in my Crysis Wars server, every map for these game modes contained a hidden “TAC Launcher” which is a portable nuclear weapon. To alert players to this, automated server messages mentioned this. I had chosen a hidden location on every map, although one map had two. Sometimes it was hidden in plain sight and people would run or drive right past it unknowingly. Other times it’d be hidden in a somewhat obvious but extremely hard to reach place, like on the map called Outpost. Other times it was just hidden in a very discreet location. Once picked up, the TAC Launcher wouldn’t respawn for a very long time, and considering how long it took people to find it, it might as well have been a one time use weapon per match. I never used it myself since that is unfair, as I’m the one who hid it on every map.

Due to the GameSpy shutdown, mods are needed to have a server browser in Crysis and Crysis Wars (Crysis Wars Expanded plus an additional mod, or CryServ client). I am always ready and willing to launch my Crysis Wars server again. So, feel free to post here on GND-Tech and invite friends if you want to have a unique, incredibly fun multiplayer experience. Power Struggle preferred!

 

Charcharo’s Experiences

Everything below, until the next page, was written by GND-Tech staff member and game reviewer Charcharo.

A server for Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory hosted some custom made puzzle maps where the 2 teams (US and Germany) had to complete puzzles in time. Fun game mode, cooperative and competitive and nothing like the base game.

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory is usually a well made arcade shooter, but another server existed to turn it into a hardcore shooter with very high damage weapons. It had other custom rules and new weapons as well as an entirely new campaign (5 multiplayer maps) of USSR vs Germany. There was also a US vs Japan map, but that was in testing. Extremely fun, fast paced slaughter. Then there were the ET Survival and Zombie servers, with weapons from Return to Castle Wolfenstein added.

While it’s not a shooter, I can’t help but mention it. Remember Warcraft 3? DOTA (yes, the precursor to Dota 2) was the most popular custom modded map, true, but Warcraft 3 had and still does have an absolutely monumental amount of user created maps. From tower defense modes to survival and siege maps to recreations of movies even! Story-based missions and one of the crowning achievements—an entire Warcraft 3 book made into a not so mini campaign (took me 10 hours to beat). This campaign can also be played with up to two friends!

Tremulous is basically a mod itself, so talking about its many maps and custom servers and stuff is pointless. In this regard it is like Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, it is many games in one due to mods. Medieval themed maps, ancient Egypt, aliens, custom weapon mods and sounds… it is really pointless and endless. You can kick whoever you want, make whatever rules you wanted. People could play as the developers intended or go full on stupid mode. There were strategy empire maps where the two teams mostly just have builders and try to out-compete one another in size of empire and resources!

There is some glimmer of hope nowadays… problem is that it is mostly in the strategy genre. Starcraft 2 has a very powerful editor and custom servers and rules, it is just a tad more closed off than Warcraft 3 but it is still completely within reason (Blizzard monitors modders to a point).

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Left 4 Dead 2, Team Fortress 2, are all accepting of custom servers and rules and mods! CS:GO has a few hiccups due to Valve meddling with the code, same for TF2 and L4D 2, but it is never on purpose and modders just fix it. The custom server browser in all three works wonders.

Garry’s Mod obviously goes above and beyond. There are role-playing servers, building servers, action servers… the thing is a mod, it shows positively. Endless potential and gameplay variety, like so many different games in one. Synergy is another phenomenal example.

Conclusion

The amount of great PC multiplayer shooters, which are inherently far greater than console shooters due to the flexibility of the PC platform (server side mods, client side mods), has reduced significantly. Included dedicated server applications with the games, extensive modding, actual worthwhile DLC, and dozens of maps and tons of items/equipment by default used to be the norm on PC, but now mainstream multiplayer shooters on PC (excluding Valve) are no different than their console counterparts. Atrocious money grabs, extremely limited and repetitive games designed for children.

But these great multiplayer shooters haven’t died out completely. It is true that not many people play the older greats, despite many of them still being perfectly obtainable and playable to this day (something that can’t be said for the vast majority of console games predating PS4/XBOX One), but some great modern multiplayer shooters still exist, such as ArmA 3, Natural Selection 2, Rising Storm, Killing Floor and Killing Floor 2, No More Room in Hell, Garry’s Mod, Insurgency, Valve’s games, and others as well. PC gamers will never let true PC games die out completely.

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