Steve Sucks At Games chronicles my ineptitude of my multiplayer gaming and my attempts to get better using any means possible, up to and including human sacrifice.
Even nearly 20 years after its release, id Software’s Doom contains a vital message. An insistence on adherence to the two most important lessons in all first-person shooters: Know the Map and Know the Weapons.
Let’s take a trip back in time. Back to the old-school. Back to 1993*. It was a simpler world back then. There was no World Wide Web so only super-nerds had internet access. The PlayStation was still a year from even existing. Arcades were just getting Mortal Kombat 2 machines, and just about every PC Gamer was playing a little game called “Doom.”
While most gamers only experienced Doom’s single-player and were satisfied with the jaw-dropping (for the time) graphics, gameplay, and gore; there was a multiplayer component to the game. For many older gamer cats, it was the first taste of competitive multiplayer. There were big differences between then and now: 1990’s gamers had to either play over a telephone, or you had to physically drag two computers together and hook ‘em up for a LAN party. As primitive as it was, Doom’s multiplayer effectively set the tone for the next 20 years of multiplayer gaming.
Rather than dust off my 20 year old Acer and trying to run ancient DOS discs, I downloaded Doom for Xbox 360 Live. Amazingly, enough people are still playing Doom on the 360 that you can get a pickup game together on Live, at least you can on a Saturday afternoon. Not a huge game or anything, but enough to actually experience Doom multiplayer.
Doom is the perfect starter FPS. Most of the trappings of modern shooters had yet to be invented when Doom was released. There are no grenades. There is no cover system. There is no regenerating health or shields. There are no game types except Deathmatch. There are no weapon load outs. You can’t even look or aim vertically. All that’s left is a distilled shooter experience. You run around a map and shoot other people. That’s it. It’s simple, but the no-frills cleanliness of Doom is a perfect starting point for getting better at multiplayer as it highlights two simple rules of multiplayer that are so vital to success and survival, I shall describe them as the Two Commandments. They are as follows:
Commandment 1: Know Thee Thy Map
If you want to even be semi-competitive playing a FPS, you’ve got to know the map. It’s that simple. You have to understand where the weapons spawn, where high-traffic areas are, where you can hide, and the general lay of the land.
Unlike almost all modern shooters, Doom does not have designated competitive maps. Instead, you’ll battle on single-player maps cleared of monsters** so it’s not exactly like a “modern” FPS experience, but the very unwieldy nature of Doom’s maps serves to highlight the importance of map reading in general. They're huge and annoying when fighting one or two other people because you can’t even freakin’ find anyone half the time.
You could probably figure out the choke points and likely places to ambush people on looks alone, without even playing this map. These kinds of locations exist on just about every map in just about every game, to one extent or another, and modern shooters even let you look over where kills happened in specific games, after they’re over in order to figure out how the map works. Once you’re aware of high death areas on maps, stay away from them to avoid dying – it’s simple. Even in Doom, I was amazed at people just walking into places where I others were poised to shoot them.
Because it lacks a vertical element, Doom doesn’t really offer high and low vantage points, so that’s one less thing to worry about… for now.
Doom (and most subsequent games) offers subtle and not-subtle contextual clues as to the location of your opponents. You’ll be able to hear where they’re firing from, as well as key into the sound of doors opening. If you really know you’re map, you’ll be able to mentally picture where an opponent is based on the sound of doors opening far away. Of course, this would indicate an unhealthy obsession with Doom, too. I mean, why not move up to the modern age, ya caveman?
The most important reason to know the map in any multiplayer game, though, is a simple one: You’ve got to know where the weapons are. Being able to quickly and easily locate powerful guns, spare ammo, health, and other power-ups is essential to survival.
Commandment 2: Know Thee Thy Weapons
In Doom, there is a huge disparity in power between weapons. Unlike some games, where different armaments have balanced strengths and weaknesses, and subtly and play style can play a big part in success. You’re pretty much going to be sticking with a basic array of weapons, and looking for the one that explodes the hardest. Now that you know where to get that shiny new rocket, you just need to know when to let it rip.
Doom’s most powerful tool, judging from my playtime, is the rocket launcher. This weapon does the most damage, although it has some serious drawbacks as well. The explosion it creates is much bigger than you’d expect, and the rockets travel relatively slowly. To be effective with a rocket launcher, you have to be very aware of your surrounding. Fire one in too small of a space, and you’ll blow yourself up; too large a space, and your opponent can dodge your shots.
Fighting an opponent with a rocket launcher might seem a hopeless task, but if you know your map, you can lead him/her into an area with lots of small corridors and render his rocket launcher useless. Then, if you know your weapons, you would know that a shotgun is the perfect “tool” to take someone out in a tight corridor.
While knowing the intricacies of specific weapons in Doom isn’t all that useful for playing any other game, the general rules still apply such as knowing what each of your weapons does in order to be successful with it. Sure, you’ll occasionally see people no-scope shooting with a sniper rifle, or otherwise not using weapons as intended, but this is cheesy and unless you’re really annoying (or really good) you’ll generally want to use your shotgun up close, assault rifle and machine guns for mid-range, rocket launcher for mid and far shooting and pistol for… taking pot-shots at birds or opening locks.
Doom has some “exotic” weapons with their own pluses and minuses, but as far as basic guns, these specific rules vary from game-to-game. The bare bones of basic guns really haven’t changed much since Doom… except, of course, for the advent of the Sniper Rifle… but we’ll talk about that another time.
Now you know the two most basic rules of multiplayer, but make no mistakes about this: I still totally suck at Doom. Even after hours spent playing, learning these rules through painstaking trial and error, I remain a terrible bullet-sponge. And so my quest continues…
Next month: Fashion and gaming. Can what you wear affect your ability?
** There were lots of user-created map mods that added multiplayer arenas, but Xbox Live doesn’t seem to include them.