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Feb 26, 2006

When the producer of a first-person shooter starts saying the genre is “getting stale, dry and boring, and nothing [is] exciting,” it makes one wonder what’s coming next. Was the producer including his own game in the mix? Was he throwing down the gauntlet for all other FPS developers, some of whom have made a living by tweaking the genre? Either way, such a statement is bound to cause waves. Especially if it’s coming from a developer that’s never created a first-person shooter.
Known best for its Burnout racing games, Criterion is about to release BLACK, the studio’s first venture into the FPS genre. Jeremy Chubb, producer for BLACK, is eager not just to point out what he feels are the genre’s shortcomings, but to hoist them above his head, poke them with a stick and generally mock them as only a malcontent gamer can. But maybe that’s what needs to happen to take first-person shooters to the next level.
BLACK screenshot
“We stood up in all of the world’s press, and we found that we were making wild claims about the FPS genre,” says Chubb. “These were extravagant claims for someone who’d never done an FPS before. [But] we’re loud and obnoxious. So, we wanted to make BLACK just like we are.”
“Loud and obnoxious.” Those two words, if nothing else, describe what Criterion is trying to achieve with BLACK. In Chubb’s mind, the biggest shortcoming with the FPS genre is that developers have forgotten the aspects of the genre that set it apart, instead choosing to focus on diluted stories and multiplayer features. Yet in forgetting about gunplay, ammunition and shooting, the genre, Chubb believes, has forgotten its main character: the gun. Criterion’s Craig Sullivan agrees.
BLACK screenshot
“Half-Life 2 is a first-person shooter, but it’s about the journey that you go on more than the shooting. Same thing with Halo,” says Sullivan. “What was annoying me with first-person shooters was that the guns weren’t the star of the game. In an FPS, the thing you’re looking at is the gun, so that’s an important thing. So, [with BLACK], we made a game about the gun and about people using that gun to blow things up. We had to get people to quit being afraid to shoot. The player should be able to explore the world with bullets, and that’s something that FPSes haven’t done before.”
BLACK isn’t just about shooting mindlessly, but shooting with a purpose. In the game, players are part of a black-ops unit fighting enemies in real-life scenarios such as terrorism threats. Much like the developer’s Burnout games, in which the destructive elements were just as much fun as the racing ones, neither of the two parts in BLACK (story and shooting) can stand on its own. In stead, they work together to immerse players in a world where the gunplay is fun but is also required for gamers to see their role in the bigger story.
BLACK screenshot
To find a balance between action and plot, Criterion looked to Hollywood films for inspiration. It just so happened that Hollywood’s obsession with “loud and obnoxious” gunfights was amazingly convenient. While researching and shooting machine guns for its latest Burnout games, “we realized that nothing we’d played really captured the feeling of actually shooting these guns,” says Chubb. So Criterion started to build a game that did that, soon discovering that they wanted to study how Hollywood did special effects and gun effects to create an exciting feeling of shooting. “We wanted to give you that big-budget, big production feel,” Chubb says. True Lies, Terminator, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and Black Hawk Down were just a few of the team’s inspirational sources.
Like these movies, BLACK is largely about the experiences of a single hero. And, by extension, it provides only a single-player experience. Will that be a downfall for the game? Chubb doesn’t think so. Yet he also admits that, considering his team’s bravado in saying the FPS genre was stale, “if we didn’t focus on giving you the best shooting you’ve ever had in single-player and the best shooting experience on this generation of hardware, we’d have failed.”
BLACK screenshot
To avoid such a failure, Criterion assembled a development team of nearly 100 people, the largest team to work on a single game at the studio. “Our whole attitude was, ‘either we’re the worst people to do a first-person game, because we don’t have any sort of history with the genre, or we’re the best, because we don’t have any baggage, any ailing franchises. We’re fresh,'” says Chubb.
Sullivan isn’t quite as modest. “Do I think we’ve set out to make shooting in first-person shooters better? Absolutely,” he says. “And that’s what we’ve done to a certain extent, and that’s something we can bring to the genre.”
This week, gamers will find out whether Criterion’s grand experiment, and its producers’ grandiose statements, have hit their mark.
— Jonas Allen

By Sara

My name is Sara Anslee, I live in Colorado. I am very fond of gaming, writing, and blogging. I share the latest news and tips about sports games, video games, gaming movies, gaming devices, and accessories. I also love watching movies and traveling.