The next life
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.