A few blog posts ago, I looked into the qualities of Shoot ’em Up level design. I talked about how a successful SHMUP carries the player and shapes their experience from beginning to end. In GAM111, the class has been moving into First-Person Shooter territory, designing and implementing typical FPS gameplay features. It’s given insight into how we approach Artificial Intelligence (See my previous post) and gameplay principles like implementing explosions which deal varying amounts of damage. Working in an FPS finally lets me apply the rules I’ve learned in my Level Development class. I find myself asking: What is actually different from SHMUP to an FPS?

Half-Life 2: Episode Two

The most obvious difference is the change in perspective. In a SHMUP, the player observes a portrait game window, where their ship flies around the bottom, and enemies crawl from the top. A SHMUP’s background scenery crawls down even slower, to inform the game’s perspective and depth. Naturally, First-Person Shooters are very different, operating from the eyeballs of a person, as the game operates in a 3D area. The ability to see and not see enemies and objects means that guiding the player’s eye relies on clever architecture and design tactics so the player receives the intended experience. A well designed level ensures that the player retains their freedom of movement, while having the least possible chance to miss important action. SHMUPs don’t have these constraints because their perspective is static, and all gameplay-objects are visible to the camera. Both genres rely on perspective and graphics to inform the context for a level. For example, a SHMUP like Ikaruga will employ varying environment designs over the course of the game, to establish context, and inform the player that this level is “different”, where they may learn something new. First-Person Shooters rely on the same tactics, only they are used further to imply a story. Decals such as blood splatters and bullet holes tell a subtle story of the environment before the player entered, while serving to establish or remove context from the level prior. A change in perspective introduces new gameplay dynamics, giving rise to new gameplay restrictions and level design tactics to convey the right experience to players.


Like most media, First-Person Shooters and SHMUPs share a relationship with pacing. Pacing is the moderation of the intensity of a game, in the interest of maintaining the engagement of the user. A well paced game will escalate the tension, provide a suitable climax, and bring the tension back down, and the user’s excitement levels will follow suit. Movies, music and games have a need for good pacing. As I covered in my “What makes a good SHMUP” post from a few weeks ago, we know that SHMUPS follow the following pattern:

  • 1: “Begin with an interesting, but not too challenging wave, to introduce the player to the theme of the level.”
  • 2: “From there, keep building with more enemies and different twists to that same mechanic.”
  • 3: “Around mid-level, the player will have a good understanding of the mechanic and theme. That’s the right moment to use a mid-boss, as a climax to reward the user for mastering the new gameplay element.”
  • 4: “In the final phase, try to go slower and give the player an interesting challenge”
  • 5: “The final boss should feel like a summary of everything you learned up to that point”

FPS games will follow suit, each level is an opportunity to begin and reinforce a new mechanic which may be useful further on, such as a new weapon or a new enemy. This pacing pattern also maintains an appropriate stress curve, so players won’t be exhausted from being highly alert for too long, and not being bored either.

The final design cornerstone that separates SHMUPS and FPS games is enemy design. Enemies must present a realistic challenge to players, and rely on different implementation based on the genre they take place in. For example, a game like Ikaruga which is highly temporal will rely on complex enemy and bullet compositions, because its gameplay necessitates precise movement for player who can see the entire battlefield. In a first person shooter, enemy AI must be adaptably realistic to players, and in most games will seek cover, and flush players out of their cover. The verticality in a 3D space means for FPS games that enemies and players can achieve a tactical advantage based on height, and the variety of weapons and defensive capabilities allows for many gameplay dynamics. The gameplay differenced between the two genres means that they share little in the way of artificial intelligence and enemy compositions, both calling for specific styles of play which are mutually exclusive.

Far Cry 2

The two genres couldn’t be more different. As my GAM111 class moves from SHMUPs into First-Person Shooters, we need to shift into another design paradigm. In moving from the temporal design of SHMUPs, we need to work within the architectural limits that are presented in First-Person Shooters. As we construct and experiment with FPS gameplay dynamics and AI, it’s good to understand what makes these levels tick, and why these genres can be engaging to different audiences.

Works Cited:

Carotenuto, A. (2015). Designing smart, meaningful SHMUPsGamasutra. Retrieved 23 June 2016, from http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/AttilioCarotenuto/20150930/254963/Designing_smart_meaningful_SHMUPs.php



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s