Game Development Reference
Writing for First-Person Shooters
Lucien Soulban and Haris Orkin
6.1 Introduction: FPS and the Nature of the Beast
Welcome to first-person shooters (or FPS), a style of game that parks you behind the
main character's eyes. All games let you control and manipulate your environment
to varying degrees, but almost no other genre of video game drops you closer to the
action than an FPS. Conversely, you also share the limitations of your character. You
can't see down the next corridor, can't see what's coming up behind you unless you
turn your character around.
FPS is more than putting the player into the head of the protagonist; it's all
about the direct corollaries. Your adrenaline is the character's adrenaline, your racing
heart is the character's racing heart. And sometimes, even the reverse is true. You
get startled, the character misses his shot, thank you very much F. E . A . R . You s e e a l l y
soldiers in distress, you run to save them, thank you Halo and Medal of Honor series.
The motivations are primal, the goals visceral. We are, after all, inside the character's
head in a cinematic experience that plays in surround sight and sound.
The first-person shooter is a schizophrenic medium that makes narrative all the
more challenging. For certain, it is the most cinematic of the genres, all the gory
details played out before our eyes, the technology stretched closer and closer to the
boundaries of realism. Perhaps for this reason, story can often get lost in the stampede
to push the technology or gameplay, what Marshall McLuhan once pinpointed as,
“The medium is the message.” In other words, for most FPSs, the story is often the
advancement of technology or the realization of interesting gameplay.
But that's changing, and with it, the importance of the first-person narrative.
While companies will always push the technology or gameplay of the FPS first, there
is a greater drive for improving its narrative structure as well. So, welcome to the
front lines of writing for FPSs—a first-person experience of a different kind.