Why Are Networked FPS Games So Stagnate?

When Doom was released back in 1993 one of its biggest features was that it sported 4-player coop and competitive play over IPX networks.  In 1996 Quake advanced the FPS genre by moving the games over to TCP/IP and introducing the server browser.  14 years later the graphics, sound, immersion and game play have advance at mind-boggling rates.  Meanwhile the tools given to the players and administrators are still stuck in the 1990s.

My most resent passion is EA/DICE’s latest entry, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (BC2).  Released just a month or so ago I am already to the breaking point on the frustration this title has.  I play in a community which has strict game play standards.  Certain actions are verboten and when other players (especially of that community) is seen engaging in those actions players are encouraged to report them.

Except BC2 makes it insanely hard to figure out who is doing what.  You can’t tell a person’s name by looking at them.  You can hope to kill them.  But the best method, really, is to die to their hand and see the kill message.  Except in BC2 the kill message is instantly obscured by the UI.  So in the end many actions cannot be adequately reported.

Furthermore BC2 follows a long line of FPS servers which provide the server administrator with an abysmal set of tools with which to maintain their server.  Queue handling?  I have not been on the server-side of things given DICE’s draconian rules for servers but I would be surprised if anything past basic logging is available for researching the incident after the fact.

But then again, BC2 is a console port so it stands to reason that if they can’t do it with a console they aren’t going to do it on the PC.  I understand.  But this problem is not contained in BC2; it is just the latest and most egregious example.  Battlefield: 2142 (BF2142), Battlefield 2 (BF2), Team Fortress 2 (TF2), Counter-Strike: Source (CS:S) all exhibit the same problem.  I’m fairly certain the Unreal Tournament (UT) line as well as the Quake line do as well.

There are certain problems that manifest with every game.  And while early TCP/IP FPSes such as Quake, UT and Counter-Strike (based on the Half-Life engine, itself a retooled Quake engine) can be excused from addressing them on account of them being the vanguard of the genre.  They would have had to anticipate these problems.  Battlefield: 1942 (BF1942), BF2, BF2142, UT2k, Quake 3, UT2004, UT3, CS:S, TF2 all should have learned from the problems suffered by those games and addressed them in release.  Instead each one has thrown some scripting capabilities into the game and left the respective player communities to solve the problems.

What problems?

  • Cheating and proscribed actions being the most obvious.  Yet I haven’t heard of any game engine which has a visual port for admins.  To get a visual idea of what is going on they need to log into the game proper.  Which brings up the second problem…
  • Queue management.  It is completely stupid that after a decade of server limitations on slots the developers have invested absolutely no time in addressing how players connect to servers.  Every game, at base, leaves it to the player to check the server for free slots and to join.  When a free slot is seen you have to slap the join button and pray your machine is fast enough to get that slot before someone else does.  Sure, TF2 has an auto-refresh and auto-join, but that changes nothing since you still can be beaten to the slot.  Even worse, it fails on servers which leave 1-2 slots free for members.  MMOs have had queues for at least a decade now.  Why can’t FPS servers do so as well?  That way the community can address supporting members vs. pubbies in the scripts.
  • VOIP is becoming more ubiquitous but every game seems to want to reinvent the wheel.  For example, BC2′s is broken at release.  Seriously, game developers, here’s the easy solution.  If you can build in GameSpy and PunkBuster, use OGG Vorbis for sounds, license BINK for video, for the love of $deity license Ventrillo or Teamspeak or even just use the FOSS solution, Mumble! It is kinda sad that the open source VOIP option not only works, sounds great, but provides positional audio based on where the players are standing in-game!  IE, it is more advanced than the schlock you’re reinventing, use it and concentrate on other things; like queue management and decent admin tools!

I could go on but my soapbox is starting to creak.  The above points are just the major ones that honk me off about every FPS.  It’s closing in on 20 years since the first network FPS debuted on the PC.  It’s time the developers advanced the tools needed to operate that portion.  I’m not asking for the perfect shine like they’d put into the graphics engine.  But a little advancement to help the people who make those games as popular as they are would be greatly appreciated.

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One response to “Why Are Networked FPS Games So Stagnate?

  1. Pingback: Why Are Networked FPS Games So Stagnate?

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