Rugged History

Shooter Saga: From Quake to Call of Duty

by Jack Napier on May 27, 2014

In my characteristic style, and especially with my usual dose of humor directed upon myself when I run headlong into nostalgia, I installed Quake 2 a few days ago. Because I can, I had trouble locating the disk for the Atomic Edition of Duke Nukem and because reasons. I’ll say this: It was one of those days when you get just fed up with playing any modern game, and my infinite list of Steam games didn’t call out to me. So I rumbled through the old closet and found Quake 2. Only then I realized that when I assembled the PC, I forgot to connect the SATA cable to my DVD-RW drive and grumbled a little.

Fast-forwarding over the redundant actions, such as, “Jack, calm down and plug-in the DVD-RW”, I installed the game and got to the presentation video, which I saw for the first time. I, just as many other young kids before me, was eager to try the game as fast as I could, a lot of the cinematics being swiftly interrupted by the escape or spacebar keys.

And you know what? The story isn’t that bad. Until the Quake 2 logo pops up, the player hears a series of radio broadcasts and news that point out at what’s going on, suddenly followed by the collapse of your ship. As soon as I entered the game two things hit me good. First, the music of Quake is brilliant and you should buy the soundtrack. And second, the mouse sensitivity is too high. And in that moment I had the idea for this article: From Quake to Call of Duty !

“Right! What does mouse sensitivity have to do with the article anyway?” I hear someone asking. Well, in the olden days, when a game came out on PC, the player had three imperative options in any shooter. Field of view slider (FOV), a wheelbarrow of weapons that you could carry with you and boss-fights. Now what do we have? FOV usually limited to 95 or lower, console-ified games with the texture resolution of wet pasta, limited to 30 frames per second. And last but not least, my favorite: Any shooter must necessarily be a military semi-futuristic or modern game, with a Russian antagonist. This is what the article is about. How Call of Duty killed and redefined the shooters genre!

I’m not the only one saying this. Many modern-era developers complain that they can’t develop a shooter for this market dominated by CoD-ified military shooters. John Gibson, president of Tripwire even awarded an official interview to PC Gamer, decrying the fact that every game is in the shadow of CoD, and exclaiming: “Call of Duty nearly ruined this generation of gamers.”

Time Splitters is another game ended in the trash because it wasn’t similar enough to Call of Duty, and the list is big. So big that actual good games, like Rise of Triad (a brilliant arena shooter in my opinion) populated by the same players over and over. Sure, Call of Duty redefined shooters! But redefining a shooter does not necessarily make a better shooter.

Don’t get me wrong. I won’t cry for the large companies that can’t bring a good game to market anymore. I cry for our fates, as gamers. We who are forced to digest the same rehashed story, the same multiplayer gameplay with the same weapons. Sometimes, a title makes a difference. See TitanFall or FarCry 3, which manage to jump out of the pattern and afford to offer a unique experience. But these have their shortcomings. TitanFall is limited to multiplayer. And in FarCry 3 multiplayer is very weak. Eventually we end up suffering. There is no innovation in the market. There is little diversity. There is nothing that we had in the 90s when, if you stay and think about it… all the games were trying to be Doom or Quake. Gotcha, right?

In our nostalgic effort to extol good “old school” games we forget that all new titles in the past were trying to emulate previous success in the industry. That’s what got me Rise of Triad for example. And then Unreal. Shadow Warrior and Blood. And then, as now, there were few truly original games, in all aspects, genre-redefining. Halo did this. 007 Golden Eye did this. Doom did this. Quake did this. Medal of Honor did this.

Looking at it coolly, Call of Duty exists because of Medal of Honor, because Activision noticed the success MoH evoked and duplicated the recipe. It is said history is the best teacher. That’s where we must look before pointing fingers at a game which doesn’t fit our tastes and standards, as we must do for gaming in general.

If a company releases the same franchise year after year, it means there is a market for that game. Many of us buy Call of Duty or GTA because they’re popular and have a huge player base, just as we play Counter Strike because it’s equally fun and frustrating. In conclusion, those who claim someone killed a genre, should first check the roots. That’s where we can notice the problem and the lack of originality, of which the entire industry is suffering at the moment. There are very few studios willing to take a risk and say: “Look, we can something different” for such a bet can turn into an epic fiasco, and the studio might just close down.

The Gaming world, at least for developers, is uncertain and extremely fickle. Gamers vote with their wallet, proving that Diablo 3 was one of the best sold PC games. Rockstar is selling very well, which proves that Battlefield and Call of Duty are rivals. The only place we might turn for an innovative side are indie studios and mobile platforms. And YES! I’m aware that sounds like a quote from five years ago when iOS was making waves. However, the two go hand in hand.

An indie developer can use the profit that comes from iOS or Android games to sustain future projects and secure the funds to develop something more ambitious. Perhaps there is a possible future for a new Carmak or Newell. The advance of a genre is dictated equally by a brilliant mind and the market. If the market does not buy the mind does not produce, and vice versa. There must be synergy between the two elements for innovation to prevail.

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