This interview of "Vintage to Retro" is with my friend Alecandstuff. Now a Twitch live streamer, Alec was originally a Top 500 Overwatch player. We'll largely be talking about multiplayer FPS like Counter Strike and Valorant, but also MOBA hybrids. Multiplayer games tend to be live service and competitive, so we'll discuss that as well.
This series, "FPS: From Vintage to Retro," interviews FPS (first-person shooter) players and developers. In terms of vintage FPS, the series covers includes single-player "Doom clones" and Build titles; to multiplayer frag-fests like Doom deathmatch, Quake arenas, and Unreal Tournament(s); to "pure," arcade-style shooters, "looter shooters" and FPS-RPG hybrids. In terms of retro FPS, it examines Dusk, Ion Fury and Prodeus, as well as Nightdive Studios' latter-day revival of classic FPS.Click here to access the entire series and read about its research goals.
Alec, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
The rest of the interview occurs in these sections:
- MOBA (for reference)
- Multiplayer FPS
- Live Service and Competition
- Single-player FPS
This section is provided purely for reference. MOBA means Multiplayer Online Battle Arena; FPS like Valorant and Overwatch borrow from the MOBA genre all the time. MOBAs include Defense of the Ancients, League of Legends, and Heroes of the Storm. All combine top-down or isometric presentation and player-vs-player (PvP) teamwork with player-vs-environment (PvE) real-time strategy (RTS) components:
- locational strategy
- temporal strategy
Tower defense and PvE. Matches take place on maps with clearly defined territories that are up for grabs; different areas have different routes—with fodder streams that perpetually attack the defending side, and towers, walls and castles by which to repel these attack attacks. Control of these territories is important, as it grants the controlling team experience and valuable resources they can use to level up and purchase equipment with.
The catch is, they must defend of towers and castles that become easier and easier to destroy as matches continue. allows players to "farm" experience while focusing on game-winning team fights against enemy players.
Early, mid-, and endgame strategies include team levels, and triggerable map-wide events.
Deciding when and where to engage your human opponents is a core part of tactics in MOBA games. Light skirmishes, castle defense, and game-winning fights all involve various RTS abilities:
- crowd control: stun, polymorph, knockback
- special attacks: single-target auto-aim damage (re: direct damage, aka "nukes"; and DoTs, meaning damage-over-time) or AoE (area-of-effect, re: cleave, as well as straight line "Rook" attacks and cone-shaped spells); there's also projectile "skill shots" the player can technically miss
- debuffs: non-damaging abilities that weaken an opponent's RPG stats, damage, or mobility
- buffs: spells that strengthen a player or their teammates; some are "active" (re: they must be activated to work), while others are "passive (re: they are constantly in effect).
- healing: any active cooldown or "passives" that restore health
- ultimates: stronger activate variants that are single-use, or have long cooldowns, and can be combo'd for devastating effect.
RTS abilities are generally cooldown dependent; as you juggle locational and temporal strategies, you have to be able to position your character and "time" your abilities with your team's during PvP fights. There's also counter strategies to consider, and activating your abilities after your enemies do. This requires constant real-time coordination.
Alec and I will be discussing multiplayer FPS, which is a broad genre.
- team-based FPS like Rainbow Six, which focus most heavily on teamwork, coordinated attacks and mission objectives inside claustrophobic spaces
- loadout-based FPS like Counterstrike and Valorant, which focus on slower, more deliberate skirmishes fought with player-unique equipment loadouts
- "Battle Royale"-style FPS like PUBG and Apex Legends, which drop players in randomly and force them to scavenge
- twitch-shooter FPS like Quake and Call of Duty, which focus on hitscan attacks, arena combat, and fast movement speed
- and MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) hybrids like Overwatch, which borrow elements from MOBA games
Nick: Have you ever played games like Rainbow Six. If so, or if not, what influenced your decision?
Alec: Yes I have, and the motivation behind getting into them in the first place was mostly just to experience something new! Oftentimes, if there's someone out there that swears by a certain game or genre being good, I'll give it a try once to see how I like it.
Nick: Is there anything about them that appealed to you in particular?
Alec: Tactical planning and execution I’d say, I’m a sucker for games that require that split-second decision making if things go wrong
Nick: Basically "everyone has a plan until they get hit"?
Alec: Precisely! I tend to think I excel at high pressure scenarios like that :)
Nick: You haven't played much Counterstrike other than a few games of GO. What about the loadout-based model has kept you from coming back more regularly?
Alec: I think it might just be a pacing issue for me, games like those just aren’t fast enough to keep me engaged in the action. For Valorant specifically I'm not as big of a fan of their ranking system or their gameplay—the game's agent designs are top-notch though!
Nick: Is camping an issue in these kinds of games?
Alec: I guess you could say that. Twitch shooters in general just aren't my thing, and compared to other genres like hero shooters I don't feel like they don't have as high of a skill ceiling
Nick: Would you say that overspecialization on just twitch shooting takes pressure off of the player so they don't need to balance twitch gun play with RTS abilities and other tactical concerns?
Alec: I think if you are mechanically good but don’t necessarily have a lot of game sense, you'll go further in games like Valorant and CS than you would in say, Overwatch.
Nick: Valorant combines the CS school with MOBA-style abilities. Is there anything about that combination that works works especially well, or does Overwatch and it's MOBA-meets-FPS approach do it better? If so, why?
Alec: I think Overwatch works better simply because the ultimate economy plays out differently in matches; you get them more often, and most of them are designed in a way that help end team fights faster (even down to the cooldown abilities). Valorant is more designed in a way to keep the ultimates as something you get every once in a while; they don't have as big of an impact as something like Zarya's graviton or Pharah's barrage.
Nick: For "Battle Royale" games you've played some Fortnite, tons of Apex Legends, and most of the others. What appeals to you most about Apex Legends? Why have you played it more than any other BR game?
Alec: I've sunk the most hours into Apex Legends than any other game out of the bunch (almost 1,000!). The things that appeals to me the most about it is the movement; the gun play feels awesome, and the greater sense of agency across all of the engagements. I have so much influence over how fights go simply because of how important things like positioning, game sense, and ultimate coordination matter from fight to fight.
Nick: How do you feel about the game as it's evolved over the past eight, soon to be nine seasons? Has the new content—heroes, guns, equipment maps—made the game more fun?
Alec: Absolutely! The new map, Olympus, is my favorite map yet! The new Legend, Horizon, is so fun because she has tons of mobility and a cool space-y theme to her. Not to mention, all of the new weapons and game mechanics that have been added along the way!
Nick: Can you talk about some of the new weapons they've introduced or changed? I remember the peacekeeper being a regular drop and shotgun ammo being super common; now, it's a supply drop only? Do you mostly agree with changes like these?
Alec: Mostly, yeah. There have been some changes to existing weapons—though nowadays it's mostly about the constant supply of new weapons being added, and existing weapons getting a "gold variant" that can be customized after picking up! So if you don't like the scope that one of the gold drops gives you, it's now possible to pick up another scope later and just replace that.
All in all, I'm personally very partial to the Longbow lately.
Nick: What about the Wingman? Will it always be meta?
Alec: It's possible, haha! That gun is always a great early- to mid-game weapon—or if you're feeling lucky, even late-game!
Nick: At the higher ranks of ranked mode, will camping and 5th partying encounters (re: compound, opportunist ambushes) always be a part of the equation?
Alec: Absolutely. Engaging at higher ranks, especially late-game, introduces a lot of risk. For some people, it can work out. However, it's usually safer to bring at least one defensive legend like Gibraltar or Watson to save you from the tough spots you can find yourself in.
Nick: Every game needs a troll pick. Is there a "worst hero" right now? Or are they all pretty good in different situations?
Alec: Rampart is absolutely terrible, haha.
Nick: Why is Fortnite so popular, especially among younger gamers? Is there anything you'd especially recommend about it?
Alec: It's accessible! Just like other massively popular games, it's available on every platform, offers cross-play AND cross-save—not to mention the game itself is pretty easy to learn and understand outside of the building mechanics.
Nick: Have you tried Escape from Tarkov, or does its slower pace and "survival" gameplay regarding FPS and scavenging not appeal to you? If so, why?
Alec: Yeah, it's not super appealing. For shooters I tend to gravitate more towards the competitive side. If the game doesn't have that then typically the narrative or story will pique my interest, though I don’t think Tarkov has any of those things...
Nick: Do slower-paced, more sandbox-style FPS take away the competition that uniquely comes from FPS games built on team-based combat?
Alec: I think they do, yeah. Those types of games definitely have an audience, but as someone who likes playing games for the sport of it all, they don't appeal to me as much
Nick: Are humans always the best sport? Or do you think there's a future for competitive bots, provided it isn't too difficult to balance (re: too potato, too cheap)?
Alec: Humans will always be best, yeah. Simply from a design perspective, I don't know that we'll be at a point anytime soon, or ever, where an AI will be able to directly replace an active player who has their own particular methodology for each match; every single moment is a decision that a player has to make.
This also goes without recognizing how annoying it would be to lose to an AI in a tournament bracket. I can already hear the cries of "it's too overpowered!" and all that. Those are certainly genuine concerns though, since they'd have to be designed within the scope of the game engine; there's a lot of information that an AI knows that a player might not.
Nick: This is where you and I met: playing Overwatch!
Alec: It is! My how time flies!
Nick: Overwatch is a curious hybrid because different characters represent different kinds of FPS. Widowmaker comes from the twitch-shooter school; Soldier 76 is modeled after the Call of Duty series; with his regenerating health, chip damage and fast run speed; and many other characters—most if not all of the tanks (and non-hitscan, cooldown-heavy characters like Doomfist and Moira) come from the MOBA school of thought.
The game has been notoriously hard to balance. Do you have any favorite builds of the game, or seasons? If so, why?
Alec: I think the game, as it is right now is in a very good place as far as balance is concerned! Though that could be a result of the roster not really changing over the course of the past year.
Nick: What are your favorite characters from each class (re: tank, DPS, healer) and what were your favorite builds from each?
Alec: Tank—Zarya for sure; DPS—Hanzo, as always; Healer—Ana. Zarya I loved during the Rein Zarya meta; Hanzo has always been fun (though I particularly miss scatter arrow for how cheesy it was); And Ana has always been fun to play, in my opinion!
Nick: Overwatch offers a lot of different styles, but these styles don't always synergize. So-called "throw picks" can lead to a lot of in-game tension (re: "soft-throw" Torb). You can't just play Widow and pop off; you have to pick characters that synergize with your teammates, exploit the map for advantages, and counter the enemy team. Generally certain characters will always be optimal, forcing players to adapt to picks they might otherwise despise.
Is this partly why you moved away from competitive play in Overwatch?
Alec: Not at all! Meta game is always something I believe to only matter within the higher levels of play (same for any competitive game, really). The reason I moved away from ranked Overwatch was, simply put, there's not much new to experience these days! The last new addition, Echo, was introduced over a year ago at this point. I know the team says they're hard at work on Overwatch 2, and the pandemic probably threw an unexpected wrench into their plans for that game.
It's just not as exciting to grind for ELO in a game that doesn't really reward you for it anymore. Ranked rewards in Overwatch are something I've almost always had a problem with, and for as long as I've played—that being 5+ years—I've amassed a golden weapon set for every hero I play at this point. So, for as measly of a reward as they've always been I don't even feel the need to grind for those anymore.
I still play casually though; at it's core Overwatch is one of, if not the best shooter games, ever made; and it's loads of fun to play. But without any new content or rewards to bring me back in, I've just filled my time with other competitive games until Overwatch 2 releases.
Nick: They need booty tier rewards for sweaty gamers to grind for.
Alec: Now you're talkin'!
Nick: Who is the game's greatest waifu? Is it Zarya with her guns, Widow with her buns, or Brigitte with her stuns?
Alec: Haha, I think in that sense, I'm pretty partial to Ashe.
Nick: Don't lie; it's Bob, isn't it?
Alec: To be fair, Bob is a pretty big guy!
Nick: I seem to remember new characters unbalancing the entire game (though usually this was felt more at the higher levels of play before lower rank players start to catch up however many months later). Doomfist and Sombra, could, at various points in their life cycles, be abused, spanking casuals with impunity.
Probably the worst example, though, was Brigitte. Originally introduced by the devs to counter dive meta, she felt far too easy to play and gradually allowed the GOATs strategy to cultivate. This caused professional play to stagnate, and casual players to climb ranked without trouble. Rein players were bashed into oblivion.
Was this something you just viewed as part of the experience and learned to roll with, or was there ever a point where playing Orisa was one step too far?
Alec: I've always thought that competitive games, no matter how much they may market or try to appear to be, will never be balanced in an even way. Overwatch is especially hard to do this with considering the more fast-paced environment.
For Brigitte, I do think she was was and still is a lower skill hero. Every hero on the roster is going to have a different rating for just how high their skill ceiling goes and hers just happens to be one of the lowest. I think the problem people have had with her is that she got a lot of value out of that. It's frustrating for sure—especially if you're used to seeing heroes that aren't built that way—but as someone who plays the game for the sport of it, it's just another piece of the game to have to learn. Is it annoying? Kinda, but back in those days Doomfist was annoying and Widowmaker was and is still annoying. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Try as they might, people among the lower rankings (what I would consider Diamond and lower), will try to tell you this or that about balance, when it really just boils down to game sense. If you go into a fight knowing what you want to do, what the enemy has to stop you, and how to best navigate that, you're golden. I know that's more easily said than done (as most of that knowledge comes from experience), but it goes a long way!
Nick: Why does 2CP suck so much? Why appeals to you more about single control or payload maps, if anything?
Alec: 2CP's problem is that it is very skewed towards the defending team. Tons of fights, and even entire, can be won off of a single fight, and it's overall not a great experience. I'm personally happy to know that the dev team recognizes these pain points and CP2 will not be present as a ranked mode in Overwatch 2!
Live Service and Competition
Multiplayer FPS tend to monetize through a live service model, and through viewership of competitive gameplay. I'd like to talk about how this affects FPS gameplay itself.
Dead Games; Money!
Nick: Videogames are a business, and the pursuit of wealth by developers and game companies can lead to "dead" games. Game death can take different forms. For example, an FPS is "dead" when it fails to meet the company's desired profit margin, disappearing from the wider mainstream (despite the fact that a smaller, dedicated fanbase are still playing the game).
I consider a game is "dead" when it's no longer fun—when developers "balance" and FPS into the ground, leading to a mass player exodus. You're a streamer and one-time competitive player. In your mind, what "kills" a game?
Alec: I don't really know when that would be to be honest. Everyone has different definitions of what makes a "dead" game, but even games that are widely considered to be "dead" still have very active, passionate cult followings. Team Fortress 2 is one of the first games that comes to mind in that regard.
Nick: FPS are balanced for various reasons, but generally revolve around "meta." "Meta" means a game's most optimized gameplay strategies. These are incredibly important in the competitive scene, as they all but guarantee success at the highest levels of play. The problem is, the highest levels of play are monetized: Exciting competitive play puts eyeballs on a game, but repetitive meta can quickly stagnate viewership, costing companies money.
Balance occurs through competition as a corporate money-maker. In other words, game sales are less important in the long run than televised gameplay. The problem is, casual and competitive players are not indiscrete; changes that affect one group—the money-makers at the top—trickle down to effect casual players, too. Unfortunately the changes made will make no sense to casual players, as they don't employ the meta strategies being balanced by the game's developers.
As a casual player, how does it make you feel when a game is balanced from the top down?
Alec: I think, as someone who has seen both sides of it, it definitely makes more sense to balance for higher tier gameplay rather than the opposite. Although, I do believe it to be equally as important to monitor common complaints or pain points amongst the general population as sometimes things players can find annoying don’t have anything to do with balance at all. Hence how some characters can be buffed or nerfed, and sometimes simply "tweaked." The latter being an in-between term, not necessarily a buff or a nerf but more so just a change
Nick: Is balancing generally done in respect to company profits? In other words, does live service balancing changes occur for the purposes of making the company money?
If this is something that casual players aren't generally going to care about—is there are a way to return to a model that satisfies companies and players? For example, can streaming games purely "for fun" allow for lucrative viewership comparable to pro leagues?
Alec: I think—in a sense of serving the players so that they're happy to stick around and play the game for longer—is a good way of looking at it. Your casual audience is always going to be the biggest part of an audience, and keeping them playing your game for longer is always a plus.
There are some creators out there who are very skilled at streaming these types of games for fun, and attracting viewership that way. Though understandably, the top channels in these categories usually belong to the more skilled players. People want to watch what the higher tier players are doing!
Nick: Sometimes developers make their FPS be free-to-play from the start. This provides easy access, but also emboldens cheaters and bot users. Combating cheaters in free-to-play FPS is incredibly difficult because they simply make new accounts whenever they're caught. In the meantime, high performance and so-called "Reddit gameplay" is generally rewarded (re: attention, views, and sponsorships) if a streaming channel takes off.
Do you think the free-to-play model promotes cheaters, whose presence is more lucrative than not? And do companies like EA tolerate their existence if it keeps eyes on the game, but also promotes the sale of cosmetics? Also, does this create a toxic relationship between dirty players chasing streamer clout, and companies whose primary business goal is to sell cosmetics to anyone and everyone?
Alec: I don't there's ever going to be a perfect way to combat cheaters unless there are equal amounts of strides made in fighting against them as there is developing them. Even in a game like Overwatch, which isn't among the top-played FPS games anymore, it's really hard to tell when someone is cheating or not. Of course, in the more obvious examples bots can aim with perfect accuracy, so I think for them it's a balancing act—of developing bots to be good enough at the game to get them to a high rank while also not being obvious enough to get mass reported in every game, thus resulting in a ban. For as good as they've gotten over the years at mimicking human error, real and classically-trained skill will always be better (as much like I mentioned earlier, there are some things that an AI just can't do).
Nick: A while back, HoTS had its wider live service discontinued; this meant that apart from basic stability patches, new content was completely discontinued: "content" in MOBA is generally the same as FPS games: skins, characters, and maps.
Does this well and truly kill a game, or is it not over until the servers are decommissioned? How can consumers defend a game in its present state, or advocate for future content, when developers can change content whenever they want, or discontinue service according to wider corporate interests?
Alec: It depends on the player base. Some games die when support stops, while others thrive off of their already existing, passionate audience regardless of that. As far as strategies for keeping a game running, I don't know if there will ever be a day where money isn't the biggest motivator for a developer or publisher to keep a live service running—but advocating for it wouldn't be out of the question! Where certainly depends, that be through Twitter campaigns, petitions, etc.
Nick: In terms of single-player FPS, you've played classic Doom and Doom 64, as well as Fallout 3 and a small bit of New Vegas.
A lot of your FPS experience seems to stem from multiplayer FPS games. What made you try single player "boomer shooters" and how do they shape up comparatively speaking to the multiplayer FPS we've talked about?
Alec: I actually grew up with those prior to getting into the competitive scene! Out of the three I mentioned, Fallout has always had a special place in my heart. I've poured hours into Fallout 3 and even more into Fallout 4 (we don't talk about Fallout 76).
I love single-player FPS for what they are: a narrative-driven, sometimes choice-heavy single-player, immersive adventure! I don't think there's a need to draw comparisons between the two as they both are built and developed for different things.
Nick: Have you ever played TPS (third-person shooters) like Resident Evil or Metroid?
Alec: Absolutely! I have more experience with Resident Evil, believe it or not, but I'm fond of both!
Nick: Do you have any favorites when it comes to Resident Evil? If so, which and why?
Alec: My favorite so far has been RE7, actually, since it's scared me the most! Though currently I am super stoked for Village. As a matter of fact, I'm getting the demo ready and installed right now to stream when it goes live later tonight!
Nick: Big vampire mama 'n all that.
Alec: TRUE THAT, BROTHER!
Nick: Out of curiosity, what do you think is the appeal of Lady Dimitrescu among gamer culture, especially younger (or older) male gamers? I mean, horniness is obvious enough; but why might male gamers seek to be dominated by a 9-foot tale vampire matriarch?
Nick: Awesome. And thanks for doing this with me. I enjoyed it!
Alec: Anytime, it’s fun talking about games and stuff with a friend!
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