In most multiplayer shooters, weapons and equipment are a major factor for how players can influence the odds of victory in their favor. Certainly map design, player reflexes, and oftentimes even the “gear” the players use outside the game (headsets, high res displays, etc) play a large role in determining winners and losers, but the way a player decides to equip themselves makes a huge difference. In some multiplayer shooters, like the early Halo games, every player has the same equipment to begin, and must use their wits (and possibly a well placed rocket launcher) to succeed. These games tend to focus on player skill as the deciding factor, and excel in providing a fantastic free-for-all experience. However, many other multiplayer shooters are more concerned with providing a customizable, team based style of gameplay, with the Call of Duty (CoD) franchise often leading the way. In early iterations of the multiplayer modes, players could select from a variety of options for weapons and equipment, including various types of weapons, and even “perks”, which provided various boosts to skills for the player’s avatar. However, these options were limited to toggling options within a predefined class – each player would still begin with one main weapon, a sidearm, two forms of grenade, and three different “perks” (skills). This style of equipment selection was first debuted in CoD4: Modern Warfare, and was seen as quite revolutionary. However, as sequels began to pile up, the formula began to get a bit stale. A more open, versatile, and customizable system was needed to keep things fresh, while still maintaining balance. That system finally arrived with the introduction of the “Pick 10” system in CoD: Black Ops 2.
In Black Ops 2, the developers elected to make one critical change to the previously mentioned class system – players now had an allotment of 10 points to spend to fill out their class. Now, instead of a requirement to have one of every slot in the class filled, players could pick and choose what they wanted to carry into battle. Each piece of gear was now worth one point, out of the pool of 10 total. If a player chose gear that was equivalent to filling out a class from the previous iterations, they would spend exactly 10 points. So players who were perfectly happy with just choosing options as before are completely able to do so, with almost no change. The game’s default setup for a class even helps to support this sort of player, as each class begins with a 10 point gear set that replicates the older style. However, adventurous players now have more freedom than ever before to truly customize their load-out to their style of play. Players who enjoy rapid movement across the battlefield may decide to bring only a sidearm, freeing up the points their primary weapon would have taken up to bring additional grenades. Players who like sniping may decide to spend more points on defensive explosives like mines, at the cost of a perk or two.
In order to facilitate additional interesting combinations, as well as keep things balanced, the developers also added in a new tier of perks, called wildcards, which allow for some different sorts of interactions. These “game changers” cost one additional point, which balances the fact that they can break some of the established conventions of the system. For instance, one wildcard allows players to bring an additional attachment for their primary weapon, like a scope or stabilizing grip (beyond the normally allowed two attachments). Another wildcard allows the player to bring additional explosives, including grenades or mines. These wildcards allow players to experiment and customize their class even further, allowing for intense focus on unique and different play styles.
The combination of limited restrictions on what gear can be brought with wildcards balances out some of the more powerful choices, and allows for a more customizable experience on the part of the player. There are nearly infinite ways to prepare one’s load out, leading to a deep level of experimentation as players try to find the optimal system for them. This also facilitates greater levels of team play, as each team member can customize every facet of their equipment to compliment that of their allies. The customization also helps players become more attached to their character, as this person is carrying and using the gear that they feel best represents them to other players. This can be a point of pride for players, as their specific gear choices will reflect on the way that they play, and will be featured in the “kill-cam” that a victim sees when defeated by an aggressor.
One additional point to note is that the designers have continued to employ an unlock hierarchy for gear. As the player participates in more and more multiplayer matches, they will earn levels and rankings. After each level is earned, certain gear items are unlocked for purchase by the player using tokens, which are awarded at each level attained. This progressive unlock system allows the developers to balance the items and weapons a little more, by reserving some of the more exotic and powerful types for more experienced players. This also gives the player something to work towards, as they cannot experience all weapons and items from the start.
Overall, the Pick 10 system allows greater freedom and flexibility for players in terms of their gear load-out by increasing the number of choices available to the player tenfold. No longer limited by a restrictive template of fields to fill out, players can chose to bring only that which they find useful, and remove anything extraneous, making room for additional useful items. The investment by players in their gear is now much greater, so players may feel more attached to their character. This system really changed how multiplayer shooter equipment can be distributed by players, and breathed new life into a system that was becoming aged.