The next life

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You’re in a fire­fight. Bul­lets zing past your head, so you duck be­hind a pil­lar. Mil­lisec­onds later, a per­fectly cooked grenade drops at your feet, det­o­nates, and your rag­doll form flies through the air. It’s a sce­nario typ­i­cal of the mod­ern mul­ti­player shooter, but what hap­pens next is cru­cial. COD

Tre­yarch’s David Vonderhaar once laid out the maker’s phi­los­o­phy: it should never take long to get back into the ac­tion, but nor should you be at risk of death within three sec­onds of spawn­ing. Games built on in­ter­ac­tions with other people quickly lose their sheen if fights are briefer than the wait be­tween them, yet in­fu­ri­ate if your feet are con­tin­u­ally swept from un­der you. COD’s so­lu­tion to this prob­lem is twofold: to boost walk speeds to ever-more-un­re­al­is­tic lev­els and to keep the map de­sign tight. As COD has pro­gressed, it has be­come faster and smaller, but Ghosts’ spawn is­sues il­lus­trate that it has lost sight of its own rules.

Plants Vs Zom­bies: Gar­den War­fare (p116) also di­min­ishes its gun­play be­cause it fails to ob­serve Vonderhaar’s wis­dom. You spawn far from the ac­tion, the wait length­ened by char­ac­ters’ pa­tient gaits. It may sprout a few novel ideas, but in this hy­per­ac­tive genre, it just can­not keep up.

Ti­tan­fall (p102), how­ever, sees Respawn at­tempt­ing to recre­ate COD4’ s gen­er­a­tion-defin­ing suc­cess. It, too, faces a pre­car­i­ous bal­ance is­sue: its maps must be large to ac­com­mo­date the lanes and build­ing-sized cover that hulk­ing ro­bot suits need, yet quick to cross on foot. Its fix is a beau­ti­fully re­fined evo­lu­tion of age-old game ideas: with dou­ble jumps and wall runs, its Pi­lots can rapidly tra­verse large spa­ces, and AI creeps en­sure your trig­ger fin­ger will be busy within sec­onds of each new spawn. A decade of twitch mul­ti­player has taught us that re­al­ism is sec­ondary to plen­ti­ful re­ac­tion tests, a les­son Respawn has learned well.

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