Level Design Compare: FPS vs TPS Games

FPS and TPS share common ground as shooting games, focusing on aiming and target selection as core gameplay. These form the basis for player engagement and strategy, setting the stage for further exploration of their differences.

Obvious Difference: Player Camera

The most obvious difference between FPS and TPS games lies in player camera’s focal length and position.

Focal length: FPS game cameras often have a wider angle, providing a broader perspective, thus, accentuating difference in distance. Consequently, a distance between the camera and a target might be appropriate in TPS games, but it could be too far in FPS. This also leads to difference in walking pace. When player characters move at the same speed, FPS will be felt slightly faster. This directly influences the metrics (metrics are decided by multiple elements, so will not be discussed in this article).

Left: the same scene with different focal length. Right: angles of focal length. (picture from 《摄影笔记》by 宁思潇潇)

Camera position: FPS games’ player camera is positioned at the character’s eye level, immersing players directly into the action. This enhances the sense of realism and intensity but comes with limitations in visibility. TPS games, on the other hand, offer a camera view behind and slightly above the avatar, enabling players to see both their character and the surrounding environment. This can be advantageous for navigating complex environments and maintaining situational awareness.

Camera Cause Difference in Gameplay Loop

The difference in camera directly influences the initiation of combat. In FPS games, it is closely tied to visibility, often triggering combat when encountering enemies. Conversely, TPS combats are usually initiated by players, as they can see enemies without being seen, such as when taking cover. Combat starts when a player exposes themselves or initiates an attack. So, TPS players have enough opportunity to observe, plan and then fight.

Gameplay loop of shooters

FPS loop: one observe, and then several navigate and fight

TPS loop: higher observe percentage

So, the gameplay loop varies: in FPS games, ‘observe’ mainly exists within the macro loop, whereas in TPS games, it occurs almost in every micro loop. This means that FPS gameplay relies more on spontaneous reactions, while TPS emphasizes strategy.

Level Design Difference

Division of beats: FPS’s spontaneous reactions means that player should deal with problems within current view. Because of the limitations of visibility, it is handy to divide beats by sights, and it usually includes the events in the current space. However, without the sight limitation, TPS players can understand the environment more easily. They have enough time and information to imagine the relative space. So a beat can include a series of related space, even when some parts cannot be seen.

Difficulty of strategic elements: Strategy typically lies in target selection. For instance, in the story mode of Call of Duty (FPS), target selection usually focuses on factors such as shape, position and orientation. In the level Clean House (COD16), there is a room where enemies facing different directions, yet the sequence eliminating them remains largely unchanged. Rarely do enemies have difference in activity, such as pretending to surrender (but the game provides enough time for player to observe and react, and it is usually in a pivotal beat). If COD is a TPS, target selection could be more complex. For example, enemies of varying types and activities could be present within the same encounter. As a result, player would need to carefully consider their approach, plan the order or engagement, and then initiate the fight.

Functional Details

The influences of the factors mentioned below may be minimal or may not be applicable in the current gaming experience, but they can provide new ideas, and it is never excessive to get into details.

One significant element is the environment, e.g., covers. Because of the visual limitations, it is relatively difficult for FPS players to estimate their relations with covers. For them, reaching a collision, which stop them from moving forward, means that they have taken cover. But actually, clinging to cover can lead to easier exposure. This is necessary to be considered when implementing covers in FPS games, like, enemies should only enter attack mode when they detect the player character’s head and torso.

In TPS games, however, the player-cover relationship is explicit. But due to the player camera position, the immersion is weaker, making it difficult for players to find their character’s status in real time. So, situations may arise where players enter low cover but forget to crouch, and only realizing this after getting shot. In this regard, Tom Clancy’s The Division offers a solution: when nearby, player can press a key to take cover, and the avatar automatically crouches when entering low covers.

There are also other environmental elements to play around with when making shooters. In FPS, light and sound can be taken into consideration. For example, players can destroy lights and move in the darkness to conceal themselves. In the darkness, enemies may quickly toggle the gun light to impair players’ vision for a while like using a flash bomb. When shooting near a moving train, sound can be drowned, making exposure less likely. Environmental element can also be used in TPS, though in a different manner. Limitations can be imposed to advise players against skyline themselves or staying in front of objects that expose their outlines. Players should also be mindful of their shadows, as they can be detected by enemies. Additionally, these elements can expose enemies as well. Such mechanics are suitable for TPS due to its environment awareness, but it may not be suitable for FPS, as they could cause information asymmetry.

Some Counter Examples

The discussion above just provides analysis of most shooters that exist, but it does not imply that all the TPS games need be strategic or that all the FPS games must prioritize speed of response. While they do not adhere to the analysis presented in this article, they do follow the same principles and share common key elements.


Valorant, a good example of tactical FPS

To make a tactical FPS, Valorant innovates in two key areas: restrict spontaneous reaction and manipulating visual limitations.

To hinder spontaneous reactions, Valorant introduces slower movement speeds for player characters. It encourages a methodical approach, allowing players chance to strategize. Additionally, gun recoils randomly, dividing gameplay into distinct phases of navigation and fight, thereby minimizing operational disparities.

In terms of player abilities, Valorant capitalizes on visual mechanics. These abilities often manipulate sightlines, providing opportunities for increased visibility and offensive operation, while also obstructing the vision of opposing players. For example, Sage has the ability to build a wall. It can block sightline, provide cover, and create elevated vantage points.

Imaginative example: making an otaku mobile shooter

Sometimes, determining whether a game is an FPS or TPS is not solely based on gameplay. For instance, in creating a character-centric shooter, like those from miHoYo, TPS may be more advantageous than FPS. This is because the appeal of the characters often outweighs weapons, particularly for their target players, who values the appearance of anime characters over shooting mechanics, making TPS a more marketable choice.

However, these target players may not necessarily enjoy gameplay that emphasizes strategy, considering their relatively shallow gaming experience (potentially having never played any shooters before). Additionally, miHoYo’s games are usually available on mobiles, where controls are less precise and handy compared to PCs and consoles. Moreover, playing games on mobiles may involve interruptions due to the variation of environments, and that makes the game difficult to play with complex and precise controls. Therefore, in this imaginary scenario, creating a TPS game that does not heavily focus on strategy or controls becomes a strict requirement.

Practical shooting, FPS?

Practical shooting match (picture from IDPA official website)

Another counter example of shooters that do not follow the conclusion is practical shooting matches (e.g., IDPA, IPSC). IDPA stands for International Defensive Pistol Association. It is a shooting sport that simulates self defense scenarios and real time encounters. IDPA matches involve shooters navigating through various stages where they engage targets while adhering to specific rules and procedures designed to simulate realistic defensive situations. The focus is on practical shooting skills, including accuracy, speed, and tactical decision making.

Such matches can be FPS, but they rely on the familiarity of using guns instead of spontaneous reactions. There is seldom situation that requires quick reaction. At most, for example, a shooter needs to shoot twice at a target, and if one of the shots misses, he must quickly react to make up with one more shot and adjust the ammunition usage strategy. Running fast and deal with gun malfunction during a match may be considered as quick reactions. However, they are more closely linked to the players’ explosive power and familiarity with guns rather than reaction, which is a mental aspect.

Tactical decision making, however, plays a more important role. Let’s mention a stage in a real match.

Top-down view diagram of the stage.

Players need to shoot the four targets in sequence. Some may choose route A to prioritize accuracy. But some prefer route B, as it requires less running and gets rid of turns that could result in fouls. Both is okay, and the choice is made according to players’ own ability and their understanding to themselves, which somehow more complex than pure reaction and I think is the most interesting aspect of practical shooting.

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