How does timing work in FPS duel

Courtesy of esreality

>> I got a new arena shooter idea for you: Put noodles to microwave for 3 minutes, come back exactly 3 minutes later. Repeat.

Make it harder: put noddoles in a tupperware in the microwave for 5 mins and you have to come back exactly 3 minutes later.


Apologies if parts come off disjointed, this was written over a four week period and some thoughts simply stopped.

Timing is a confusing and complicated topic. Depending on the gametype it is a large part of the game. Players who have only recently discovered timing think of it as addition and subtraction to obtain a number. Even players who are unaware of the specifics are affected by timing – there can only be so many itemX spawn during a Yminute length game give it has a Zrespawn time. This may sound contrived but in an item driven gametype, items, and by association, timing / respwn times, dictate flow of play even if players are not consciously keeping track of pickups.

Calculating Spawn Times

When discussing calculation of spawn times we generally refers to the seconds of the game clock. Minutes are usually unimportant. If you pickup an item with 55 second time at 13:23 its going to spawn at 14:18(counting up) / 12:28 (counting down).

There are in betweens obviously. There are different ways to calculate the spawn time and different players handle different items in different ways. One size does not fit all and players might opt to time in a more exact fashion if their aim is a little weaker. Quite often the dev forums discussion treats aspects of the game as if they are in a vacuum. This is frustrating and it gives the impression that all players are amazing or all players are absolute retards. The beauty of a non-binary skill is that players can perform in different ways and at different skill levels. Reading the dev forums on gets the impression that every player there commenting on timing is perfect OR cannot time at all. In truth the ones that claim to time perfectly can calculate the spawn time, but probably do not actually act on it correctly all the time.

Here are some examples of how to calculate spawn times

Some might calculate the time +/-5 off the current time. Or -3 -20. Or +35. And so on.

Some might memorise pairs – so 1=28, 2=29, 30=57 and “know” the spawn time simply by looking at the number. This may sound excessive but is as simple as learning times tables or basic arithmetic. When asked 2 plus 7 or 3 times 5 many of us simply know the answer – this could be because they learnt the answers by rote in school but also via use over a long time period. The same happens when calculating spawn times – given enough repetition players using the first method would eventually transition at least some numbers to memory.

Some players might “feel” out when things are spawning. If a player is cycling between three items with the same spawn time they will spawn one after the other. The player then repeats this to lock down those items. An example in ut99 of this would be the jacket, pads, weapons as the belt has a separate spawn time. This can be extended to simply visiting the belt “between” jacket spawns. In this way you are locking down both items but timing nothing. This works acceptably because arriving at items before they spawn to setup is important. This chain cannot be too long otherwise you run the risk of the initial item being up before you get back to it. Adding delays before pickups allows more leeway in travel time but sacrifices how many items can be included in a cycle.

A player could count in their head – or even out loud. This may sound silly this was an ok option early days in ut99 before showscores | onrelease showscores was in everyones config or TTM/HUD clocks were introduced, and when (at least in Australia(early days) and US) as we played with belt/vials disabled, leaving ~1 armor on most maps.

You could have an analogue clock on your desk. By looking at the clock you “see” the rough spawn time – 27 seconds is approx opposite current second hand time. If you don’t like the in game clock you could use a digital external. Personally this is my go to these days, a simple clock on my tablet.

You could time with an external app on your phone/tablet.*

You can have a Xsecond long sound file and play it when a pickup occurs.*

*dubious if this would be considered legit.

Even a missed pickup can be guesstimated to the next spawn. The absolute earliest an item can spawn when missed is twice its spawn time from the previous pickup. This would allow a player to contest an item even if they missed the previous pickup completely.

And so on. There are probably other methods. The above are easily combined, time one item, have others in sync with it. An example of this on deck would be timing two items: belt and boots – jacket pickup – shock pickup. If the boots chain is performed directly after the belt pickup the player needs only time every second boot spawn as the alternate will conincide with belt.

Another example would be ammo pack pickups on ztn near mega in quakelive. Rather than timing mega I pickup an item nearby that I can use as a reference for when it is spawning. Picking up the ammo packs near the mega at the same time results in the ammo respawning 10 seconds before mega. This is an easy way to know when it is spawning soon. This is not foolproof and you do not have the spawn time to the second – but when the ammo pack spawns you can check the game clock +10 and be ready to go. This is not ideal but I have never tried to play a perfect game of ql so it is good enough.

As we can see working out the spawn time is simple, for anyone who has basic math skills it is easy. Deliberate memorisation or memorisation via repetition in play is easy.

These are some examples of techniques players use to know or estimate when items are spawning, however timing is more than simply knowing when an item is spawning – if it was item driven gametypes would be amazingly boring. Basic math to dominate opponents is boring. Memorisation of number sets is boring. If timing was simply knowing when an item is going to spawn then item driven game types would be no more interesting or dynamic than others.

If thats all it was then item driven FPS would be dead. I guess a better way to look at the above are ways of “knowing when an item is spawning”. The techniques that involve having numbers (A B C)***) by themselves are uninteresting. I dislike the term “timing” and its connotations on the dev forums, mainly because a lot of weight seems to be given to the number itself, when this is probably the least important aspect of “timing” and item driven gametypes in general.

It is important to know but the method of knowing a number it is unimportant. How you go about discovering the number in game is key. What you do with it after is important. The number itself? Not much.

I feel this is where discussion on the dev forums (and in ut circles it seems) veers away from what it should concentrate on (how items/times drive the game) and latches on/assumes obtaining the number is important. The same happens in quakelive to a degree. The goal here is to show that 1) how you get the work out the spawn time is not important 2) how to make this process easier for new players as this seems to be a big thing on the dev forums. It will feed into other articles that aim to improve the ut franchise and create a richer more diverse game. Coming back from quake circles after the ut4 announcement I was somewhat surprised by how hard the community has latched on to the spawn time.

Another point that is thoroughly beaten into the ground on the dev forums is delaying pickups.

How important items influence and drive game dynamics

To understand timing more we need to look at how items drive games and how players interact with items and thus with each other. In this way we paint a broader picture than a simple numbers. This discussion will be very duel centric, firstly because I personally have more experience in this area and it is simpler (or at least less chaotic and easier to illustrate a point) than TDM.

The simplest way of putting this is that Items drive the game. Players meet at items, they plan around items, they go from a weak position to a strong position, because of items. They can opt to leave items up to chase for kills or let the enemy get away to secure a pickup. This is the beauty of an item driven game – the objectives keep moving, importance and goals shift regularly and creates a rich and dynamic gaming experience. This is hard to balance – on one hand if things are too dynamic there is no structure to the game and the resulting gameplay feels like free for all or simply +forward aim spam. On the other hand having a single item that is important in duel is boring, makes control switches difficult, depending how it works may be super defensive and possibly too lopsided – or it may give the out of control player one option for comeback, damage.

In duel there are typically three positions. Balanced, in control and out of control. ut99 and ut4 duel tends to skew this towards in/out of control play imo at all times as belt is quite dominant – not specifically because of value but how it allows players access to the jacket as well. ql can run in some sort of “even” state for some time.

Item driven duel the player with the better items is usually constrained by having to run pickups. Because of this they become predictable to the lesser stacked player who can either avoid completely or opt to deal damage at predictable intervals when they are picking items.

The trade off is predictability vs surviveability.

Lets look at how players play with items, spawn time and where timing comes in.

Off spawn players are split – some spawns will give them item A and some spawns will give them item B. Obviously ut changed this in later iterations and delays spawn on armors/mega, however for now we will roll with items spawning at the start of the game. This example is non-game specific. It could be quake or it could be unreal. It could be hldm. It doesn’t really matter.

Players will sweep up items they spawn near, armors and health. On a well designed map each will get some starting items, depending on how the game works and how the map is designed each player may get one item and a third is contested. Maybe one gets two and the other gets one. At this point there is generally no strong in/out of control situation. Both players have some stack, both players know when some items or possibly all items are spawning. For the items they picked up they can work out times/pickup orders, for items their opponent got they may have heard pickup sounds or because the first 1-2 pickups have “standard” times that generally occur at the start of a game.

From here players can opt for stack more, get weapons, setup for next set of spawns, try to ambush their opponent and so on. For this example it is not really important what they do. However at some point one player will be either mauled and have no stack left or will die (player-). At this point the player that dealt the damage (player+) would not be considered “in control”. If player+ sweeps majority of the items after killing/damaging off their opponent they are then considered “in control”. Depending on where and how the damage/kill happens and where player- spawns/runs to it is entirely possible that the damage dealer is not in control.

This pre-kill play is in my mind the most interesting part of the game and when players are even it can go for a decent length of time. Hoonymode in cpma is great because of this, the whole game in the first frag.

Once player+ has established control the game changes from fighting over spawning items to one player trying not to die while the other takes armor and health. The dynamic here is important. This is key to duel/TDM in item driven FPS work and armor/health systems in general. At this point player- will attempt to stack up on the non-major items that player+ has access to. Knowing when items are spawning is important for both players, even player- who will not want to try to take major items but knowing when they are spawning is good as it allows them to plan their movements around the map to avoid player+.

Player+ knows when items are spawning as he is taking them. He can use the previously discussed methods to know when they are spawning after he picks the up. This player is constrained by the items he is controlling and because of this becomes more predictable for player-

Player- on the other hand is not taking major items. This player may or may not know when items are spawning. In the short term (30-60seconds) after they are heavily damaged or killed they will know when the items they took or can easily extrapolate when these are spawning. After that their spawn knowledge will have gaps unless they actively try to obtain the info. When is the big health spawning? When is the armor spawning?

To fill these gaps they have some options. They need to obtain the spawn times in order to be able to effectively challenge for the items or deal damage on their opponent when the other player is taking items.

1) Hang around the physical location until the item spawns and challenge for it. This is dangerous and against a prepared opponent (stack, knows spawn time so does not need to linger) will get player- killed. Leans heavily on execution from a position of weakness. This may be a reasonable route to take after player- first death, depending on their damage output when they died.

2) Hang around the physical location until the item spawns and see when it is picked up. This is dangerous because player+ will turn up when it is due to respawn. Similar to point 1 but without the engaging.

3) Get visual on the item from a distance and wait for the pickup. This is safer than 1 or 2. May not always be possible due to the map. For instance getting a visual on the belt on liandri was not really a good idea as it was heavily enclosed.

4) Get within range to hear the pickup sound. This is the optimum method. Player+ takes the item, player- notes the next spawn time then leaves to stack up on smaller items. player- can come back to setup for the next spawn.

This is how duel in item driven gametypes work. Players need to obtain pickup times and extrapolate spawn times. This then drives player interaction and the game forward in a structured manner. Once player- has a spawn time they can try to stack up a little during the next cycle and then challenge at the next spawn.

When players know spawn times they can position and time aggressive play*. For example, the belt is taken in ut99. Should the player that took the belt push the jacket player as soon as possible? My call on this would be no – the belt player should generally wait a little until the alternative jacket spawn is coming up. They can position themselves for the next jacket spawn (don’t have to worry about belt right?) and can fall back onto it if they take damage. Positioning for this sort of thing might be as simple as knowing where your opponent is and placing yourself between the item and them. If you take damage, fall back.

*You have to know when to be aggressive and when not to be aggressive.

In control

The in control player should be constrained by the fact they are running items. They should not be free to stack up and then go looking to kill the other player without either giving up an item or timing things very well. Timing in this case does not mean the item time or even going to the item to contest it, but choosing to go hunting when items are not spawning soon. Knowing when this is in relation to items and when to push the down player is important. At the same time knowing when you can leave an item up and pressure the other player is also important, and when the two overlap (pressure at the right time between spawns + leave an item up) you can really put the pressure on the out of control player. However knowing when this is takes a decent amount of knowledge.

Because the in control player must cycle between items to keep resources away from the other player they are predictable. This is the trade off when in control. Predictability and restriction of movement for survivability.

Out of control

The out of control player has to stay away from important spawns until he is capable of challenging for them. Quite often he will not know when items are spawning and when he does will probably not have stack to challenge directly for it. What he can do instead is stack up at other places on the map while the incontrol player is busy taking things. The out of control player is constrained by their lack of stack. This might sound obvious but it is important. They must choose when to pressure and deal efficient damage, not wasting the limited resources they have available. They may want to deal damage on pickups where possible to keep the in control players stack under the thumb. Ideally this damage is efficient, dealing some damage but not risking their own (usually lesser and slower built) stack.

And during all this both players should try to remember spawn times, remember to visit them again when the items are going to pop and keep an eye out for overlaps so as to avoid giving away freebies to their opponent.

Why else does the spawn time matter?

Obtaining the spawn time as above is fine and dandy but beyond the above obvious uses what else do players use with it and why it it important?

Item timers

And so we finally end up on a topic that has been raging on the dev forums for well over a month. Timers on item bases. Give the above it is obvious that this implementation is a step away from what the pre-existing methodology is. Rather than player- needing to setup and discover item pickups they can simply visit the items spawn base at any time when the other player is not around.

Personally I like the sneaky aspect of out of control play. The planning and thought that goes into converting a kill is satisfying. However at the same time I think that the calculation for the item spawn time is unimportant, boring for new players and at the end of the day totally unneeded.

The suggested implementation of timers on weapon bases does not teach players how to time. If the goal is to prepare them to play at a higher level (who will no doubt disable these features) then timing on bases does not teach them anything useful beyond “this is important”, which is fairly obvious anyway. Nothing I have outlined above will be added to their game by simply giving them a rough idea of when things are spawning if they are close enough.

The goal with the follow suggestion would be to preserve the in control/out of control dynamic that is outlined above, because it is good, while giving players the numbers they need while at the same time teaching them to time properly.

When a player picks up an item of importance their game clock displays when it is spawning next for a short period of time. With a 20 second spawn item, clock counting up we have the following

11:34 – Itemname 54

When the player is not taking the items this information is only presented when they are either within line of sight of the pickup or hear the audio queue. In this way the out of control gameplay is preserved.

The number is unimportant. Giving a player the number at pickup time does not break the game. It removes an aspect that is considered boring by many, calculating the number.

Having the spawn time displayed on the item is a step away from the existing duel dynamic and one I hope epic do not end up shipping. Instead a mechanic akin to the above that empowers players with the information they require while keeping the integrity of duel intact would be a much better step to take. Players would learn how to play. They still have to remember the numbers, they still have to act on them in intelligent ways. It just removes the part that most players can do easily but find horribly boring.

One of the counter argument to giving players the spawn time is that “it is hard to calculate the spawn time in the heat of combat at a contested pickup. Thats cool and I agree it could make it harder. However remembering the pickup time is not hard. If a player cannot do the math or memorisation on the fly the solution is to simply remember the pickup time. When there is a lull they can work out when the item is spawning. Easy.

Timing assistance for the in control player

The “down” player is typically pointed to when discussing pickup timers. Timers will make their life easier. Timers will allow them to get back into the game. One aspect that is glossed over is how it effects the in control player. The player with the stack. Pickup timers will benefit this player too. Players are not perfect (no matter what the dev forum seems to think) and missing pickups and mistiming is common, especially at non-high levels of duel. In fact mistiming at lower levels is common. Not timing perfectly is common. Using a chain of items (see above) makes this easier but the addition of pickup timer makes this method even more effective.

In many ways the idea is good but also bad.

One final point that needs addressing is delaying items. This seems to be a point of contention on the forums. One camp considers it the height of strategy and the other considers it lame. Rather than trying to add timers to items to address this “problem” the camp that dislikes it should be looking at the heath/armor system, values and spawn times. ut could do with some big fixes in this area.

The following seem to be goals of adding item timers to items :

1) Introduce players to timing and teach them how to play.
2) Build a better experience using existing proven dynamics by allowing players to more readily play the “correct” way.

The proposed system of pickup times does neither. It does not teach players to time and it does not use the existing dynamics that are in place to create a better game.

Finally by adding timers to items the entire game is significantly changed. Instead of what existed previously (wait for pickup -> find time -> act on time next spawn) it becomes (visit at any point -> get rough spawn time -> act on next spawn). This cuts down forced player overlap to when the item is spawning only. Player interaction outside of spawns is “luck”. I think the ut99 item set could do with some tweaking to create a better duel game and in/out of control experience in general without adding timers, but that is not what this article is intended to address.

In Closing

The hope is you now have a better understanding of what constitutes timing and a little better understanding of how items drive gameplay.

The “math” part of timing is a non-skill. Working out number is trivial and if players are caught up on this being the difficult part then they simply don’t understand the game. This is a separate issue to players disagreeing with this style of gametype in general, which is reasonable. Go for it and create something else. Personally TDM/duel work decently the way they are (in general, specific games have issues but I am planning articles to look at those), have plenty of depth and offer many options for different play styles. Tweaking at a per gametype is required but is outside the purview of this article.


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