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During Baron, Varyar, and my discussion of the talking points we wanted to hit on the our first Youtube video of "The Good, the Bad, and What If" talking about The Division, we talked a lot about the things the game just missed the mark on. Sadly one of the points we could not fit into the video was a lack of mission variety. It is quite difficult to compress nearly two hours of discussion into a seven minute video. That particular point of lack of mission variety had me thinking on how other shooters did their missions, which led me to another thought: is it me, or does it feel like for many years now, many of the shooters released have been stuck in a mission progression rut?

For example, how many missions from different shooters does this following basic description describe? You start off, get some dialogue telling you what to do, which leads you run to the first area of the mission. Once you get there, you proceed to shoot up a couple of waves of bad guys. Once that task is complete, you get a prompt to either to continue on to the next area of the mission, or some dialogue saying you need to interact with a particular piece of the game environment. So you press the 'X' button (or 'E' if you are part of the PC master race) which leads to more waves of bad guys that you have to kill. Rinse and repeat a couple times till the end of the mission.

It is easy to understand how many shooter games have falling into this rut. For developers, it is much simpler to design missions in subsections of encounters with distinct beginnings and ends versus the mission being one giant encounter. Consider all the assets, ranging from A.I. to the game mechanics that are needed to make a single mission in a game. A change in one of those assets can cause ripples that affect how the others assets are used. Additionally, the game is mainly structured around shooting mechanics (otherwise it would not, by definition, be a shooter, or it would be a terrible shooter game). When the player's only means of interacting with the game are shooting things and using prearranged triggers put into the mission, it is easy to fall into the rut we see now.

So now that we have identified the problem and some of its causes, what can be done to get out of the rut? Well, I have some thoughts.

1) We could just accept the issues and problems, but just hide the fact that the player is just running to box encounter to box encounter. You do this be giving better context and reason for this type of progression. The example that comes to mind is the second mission from Halo: Combat Evolved.

Wow. 2001. Has it been that long? I'm getting old...

In that mission, you were trying find and rescue your fellow shipmates after abandoning your ship to crash land and the titular alien structure. With that, it made a kind of sense that you would run to encounter to encounter and the enemies would come in waves, because their dropships could only carry so many troops. So the illusion is maintained and the player has a good time due to the background context for the mission being achieved. It is sad that some developers do not take that lesson from Halo.
Really sad

2) We need more interaction with the gaming environment through non standard means. A good example of this being done would be another old shooter, Half-Life 2.

I don't know if I should make another age joke or to do the Half-Life 3 confirmed joke.

Everyone remembers the gravity gun and how the physics engine was a welcome change to shooters at the time. There are several points to the game where you would have to complete a "puzzle" involving the use of the physics engine. During the airboat section, you had to create a ramp to continue on to the next area. Thus after you created you ramp by manipulating several objects in gaming environment you were allowed to move on. Some of the puzzles were gimmicky, although as I pointed out in my first point, having the "puzzles" fit into the context of the mission would, I think, mitigate the gimmickiness.

3) My final point would be to blur the encounter boxes together. Sadly I can not think of a game that has done this to give as example. What I imagine this to look like would be where one encounter bleeds into the next. There would not be any transitory "hallways" where nothing happens besides you going through to reach the next encounter. This of course would not be easy to pull off, and in some cases impossible to do. But does not mean developers could not do it when it benefits the game and where it is possible.

So where do we go from here? In truth I do not know. This rut does not seem to make many gamers mind that much. I mean look at the Call of Duty or the Battlefield series. The mission progressions in those two series has not changed in many, many years. Oh well. If nothing else, it allows me to nitpick games with my articles.
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