Sketch for a "Realistic" Western Shooter
by Paleface

Introduction | The Game World | Interface | Movement | Weapons and Inventory | Single-Player | Multiplayer | Revision History


     While as video game genres go the first-person-shooter field has become crowded for the most part one can make certain generalizations about all the games in this category: they define themselves in relation to id's Doom or Quake games, they have a futuristic theme and they base their gameplay on making the player go through a series of pre-designed levels.
     Several recent entries to the field, Red Storm Entertainment's "Rainbow Six" and Looking Glass Studios' "Thief: The Dark Project" have begun to push beyond the first two generalizations. The third remains untried.
     This article will sketch the outlines for a game that will attempt to challenge all three. One can't completely avoid comparison to an id game but perhaps by moving away from established conventions such as supercharged weapons, powerups and circle-strafing one can stretch the comparison to a point where it becomes pointless; plenty of room remains for games to move outside of the id realm. While most games look to the fast-approaching millennium or beyond, this one will remain rooted comfortably in the previous century. And while all other games march the player through a series of pre-designed levels this sketch will try to suggest another way to go about creating a compelling first-person experience.
     I have neglected one significant exception to the the first two generalizations and with good reason: Lucasarts' "Outlaws" took a direction all its own, an Old West shooter with six-guns, well defined characters and cartoon graphics. This sketch owes much to Outlaws but is not an attempt at an "Outlaws 2." Rather, it will explore another direction in the Western milieu, striving to present a "realistic" simulation of life as a gunslinger in the mid- to late 1800s.
     Discussing "realism" in computer games can lead to slippery ground. Simply put, by "realism" I mean something corresponding to actual human experience. Of course none of us have lived in the western United States of the 1800s, so while we can try to approximate what is known of history we cannot recreate historical reality. And history and human experience, while exciting in many ways, also contain large areas of little interest to a target audience. Thus this attempt at reality will focus on the exciting, violent bits of our "historical reality," hoping in the end to form a reflection close enough to some of its aspects to serve as a compelling contrast to the tedious and dull parts of our own personal experience, or at least enough to make for some good fun on a rainy day.
     This game sketch will also owe much to the "Spaghetti Western" movies I have seen, particularly those by Sergio Leone such as "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and "Once Upon a Time in the West." For me the beauty of these movies lies in the dust, the sky, the huge vistas, the tight close-ups, the tense silences and the quick, thunderous gunfights. Hopefully the game this article sketches out will contain these elements.
     I should note here that I am not a programmer. Designer by training and game player by preference, I only know of game programming from games I have played or seen played and a little from programmers whom I have met. This sketch will pose a number of challenging engineering issues. In some cases I will try to cite other programs that have shown similar functionality but as a non-programmer I do not know whether all or any of these issues can fit into a functional game. In any case where the issue would prove impossible the reader can assume that we would leave it out or simply revert to the tried and true; unoriginal is more fun than dysfunctional. top of section

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The Game World
Header | Landscape | Buildings | Characters | Environmental Features | Sounds | Day/Night Cycle | Weather Effects

     The game takes place in an approximation of the "Old West," at least of the "Old West" we've heard of, that mythical land of vast open plains and huge canyons between small lawless towns.
     The player moves over the vast plains but the game shall handle the actual chore of traveling in an abstract sense by showing the player the beginning and the end, with a map in between. The beginning and end are the towns and the areas around the towns. These towns have familiar names but not ones we know. Gunfighters, tavern owners, farmers, sheriffs, horses, children and riffraff live in the the towns and the outlying areas around them. These towns vary in size, detail and style but remain always Old West towns, no matter where the player goes. A map and compass indicate East, West, North and South but these are merely for orientation and have no geographic importance: this mythic West extends endlessly in all directions.
     Perhaps the closest comparison I can think of is David Braben's space-trading game "Frontier: Elite II" in which the player could go anywhere throughout the galaxy: you could cross the map of space all day in any direction and still find yourself coming to unique star systems, each with their own planets and natural resources. More of Elite's influence will become apparent throughout this sketch.
     The game engine will generate this world bit by bit. For each new town the player wanders across the game will generate landscape, buildings and characters. The game world will incorporate environmental features, sounds, a day-to-night cycle and weather effects to bring the computer world closer to life. top of section

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Header | Status Displays | Controls | Model Displays | Interactive Icons | The Map Screen | Menus

     The engine will generate the world; the interface must pull the player into that world and let them interact with it. The interface should remain as innocuous as possible; ideally the player would never even consciously think about it. top of section

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Header | Acceleration and Momentum | Strafing | Head and Arm Bob | Walking and Running | Ducking | Jumping | Auto-Climb | Fatigue | Encumbrance

     Player movement in first person shooters has become an established convention. The player has keys or assigned functions to move forward and backwards, to turn left and right, to pitch their view up and down, to run, jump and duck, and to "strafe," or move left and right while still facing forward.
     This game will for the most part reflect these functions but will add several subtle adjustments to make the character's movement more similar to that of a real, albeit unusually physically fit human being. top of section

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Weapons and Inventory
Header | Economics | Encumbrance | Interface | Weapon Types | Item Types | Object Physics | Recoil | Reloading | Weapon Damage and Consequences

     This game will include many weapons and items that players can pick up and use. Economics, encumbrance and an ultimate limit of nine total weapons and items will limit what items the player can carry. These items may be purchased in stores or acquired from other players. In certain cases the player will discover weapons and items in the game that they can pick up by using the Action key. These might be items the player has been hired to collect (see the Gameplay portion of the Single-Player section) or special items placed in a multiplayer map (see the Game Setup portion of the Multiplayer section). top of section

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Header | Character Generation | Gameplay | The Continuing Game

     Most action games come with a pre-written story: the player takes on the identity of the main character in the story and plays out the rest of his or her adventure, resolving the story by the end of the game. While a well told story can immerse a player in an exciting narrative, I have always regretted reaching the end of a good tale. A set ending to a game seems like planned obsolescence: at some point the player will finish the game and put it up on the shelf, perhaps bringing it down to play through a couple more times if they really enjoyed it.
     The single-player portion of this game will play more like a simulation of gunslinger life than a small single adventure in one person's experience. Players will create their own unique character and forge their own story; their in-game decisions carrying future consequences. They will move through a dynamically generated world with no pre-defined limits in time or space; see the Game World section for a description of the game's endless Old West world. top of section

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Header | Networking Model and Application | Character Generation | Game Setup | Gameplay | Player Interaction and Interface

     The multiplayer component of the game will give gunslingers the chance to duke it out with other players in a unique style of on-line gameplay. top of section

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Revision History

     05/30/99 Added a calculation for bullet speed in the "rifle" paragraph in the Weapon Types portion of the Weapons and Inventory section. This will limit the effectiveness of snipers at very long range, thanks to Axel Goldmann for the suggestion.
     04/12/99 Altered the Object Physics, Recoil and Single-Player Character Generation sections to incorporate Strength into weapon recoil based on insights from Stadel.
     04/11/99 Changed alt-fire and sighting use in the Interface portion of the Weapons and Inventory section, made sketch available for public viewing at
     03/06/99 HTML layout and cross-indexing complete
     02/27/99 Rough HTML complete
     02/07/99 Rough text complete