Call of Duty Beat Chart Comparison
A few weeks ago, as I was doing my daily browse of Gamasutra, I came across this fascinating Article about charting the pacing of a game. I immediately decided to put it to use and see what king of information I could gleam from not only the results, but the process.
So while playing the multiplayer in Modern Warfare 3, I decided to run through it’s campaign with the intent of logging the pacing (maybe grab some intel I hadn’t found yet as well).
When Modern Warfare 3 first launched, I balked at how little they had changed, it was just the same game. It had long rail-shooter sections, tons of unplayable cutscenes, and what seemed like very little actual gameplay. Was my initial impression correct? Lets take a look at the chart:
Each cell is one minute of gameplay.
(These are only about half the levels in each game, in the interest of time.)
I gotta say, I was surprised at the results. The game is not as scripted as I originally thought. Aside from Turbulence, which is essentially an interactive cutscene, the game is fairly good at keeping you engaged. Combat is kept to a brisk 5-6 minutes and lengthy cinematics are followed by long bouts of gameplay. Rail sections are kept mercifully short, and seem to be mostly used to punctuate the combat or to engage you during a cutscene.
What is really interesting to me, is how consistent the levels are in length. Each is around ten minutes. The whole pace of the game is very brisk and keeps things moving.
NOTE: The last three blocks in Persona Non Grate should have a rail section in between the cinematics. I had labeled it a cinematic initially, but after some thought, a rail section is more fitting. So, cinematic, rail, cinematic.
So, with that, I decided to see how Black Ops stacks up. It’s developed by a different studio (Treyarch) so there are bound to be some differences. Treyarch was always recognized as sort of the B-Team in Call of Duty. They make good games, but not quite as good as Infinity Ward was putting out. So let’s go to the chart and see what the differences are:
Oh Black Ops. Playing through these levels again after playing MW3 really put one thing into perspective: Black Ops is a slower game. Levels are around 15-20 minutes, often indulging in lengthy cutscenes and combat sections.
I wanna talk about the Pentagon level for a second.
It’s four minutes of you not doing anything. You just watch your character walk around the Pentagon, and then talk to the President (MW3 did this as well with Turbulence, but at least there was some gameplay in that level). Some of it is not even viewed from your point of view, there are complete cutscenes that show your character from a third-person.
Maybe this is a personal thing, but a great aspect of CoD has always been that you are in these insane situations. This is why the game makes you view all the cutscenes from a first-person, that is why it’s so scripted. Placing you outside of that character just doesn’t make any sense.
One last thing about Black Ops, I labeled those sections in Baikonur ’stealth’. I should note they are only labeled that way because if you fire your gun, the mission ends. That is the only reason they are not cinematics, the segment right after has you walking around in enemy disguises but the game won’t even let you shoot sooooo…there it is.
OKAY, so comparison of the two games:
Black Ops consistently has 2-3 minute cutscenes (some without ANY player interaction), whereas MW3 sticks to a one minute max. Black Ops also tends to start the levels with lengthy cutscenes.
MW3 has shorter fights, while Black Ops can get a bit overindulgent with its combat with a section of nothing but combat for seven minutes.
Both games like to use these ‘half-gameplay’ sections to punctuate their cutscenes and combat scenarios. Luckily both keep it short, with Black Ops using them more frequently.
This is a big one. Modern Warfare initially implemented these stealth segments in CoD4. It worked really well, and gave a nice slow valley to accentuate the peaks of the insane combat. It allowed the game to breathe a little bit, which was welcome.
In MW3, the stealth segment is almost 5 minutes long, but it is consistently demanding things of the player. It can be failed at any time, but instead of ending the mission, it turns into a combat scenario.
In Black Ops, I had to mark most of the stealth section as a cinematic. It just didn’t involve any player involvement, and if you strayed from the path in the few sections it gave you control, it would instantly fail the mission. Instead of being a refreshing slow-paced gameplay section, it’s a playable cutscene.
I felt that Black Ops dragged. It just would bog you down in these lengthy cutscenes and combat sections without any breaks to offset it. It’s important for a game like Call of Duty, that is so much about the setpieces, to keep the player progressing. They’re there for the insane shit. Not to stare at Reznov’s (russian character from Black Ops) face for 3 minutes.
So, takeaway, this illustrates how important it is to keep the player engaged with different things to do. Altering up the gameplay to avoid repetition. No matter how good your gameplay is, doing the same thing for upwards of 10 minutes will lead to the brain wandering. Cater the pace to the kind of game you are making and revolve it around the core mechanic. Present it in different ways, even the rail shooting sections in CoD involve you shooting.