Adrian Chmielarz is one of the founders of People Can Fly and the lead designer of Painkiller, one of the greatest shooters ever created because it’s also one of the smartest shooters ever created. He has since left People Can Fly, but he was involved in the early design process for Gears of War: Judgment. In a conversation with Eurogamer, he had this to say about what he would have done differently with Judgment’s star rating system for the level unlocks, which is a pretty smart thing to do to a Gears of War game:
They still changed a couple of things I do not agree with…I wouldn’t have any headshot bonuses counting towards the three-star ratings…The reward for the headshot was supposed to be intrinsic not extrinsic. The reward was supposed to be, because the ammo was scarce, [okay] I only used one bullet instead of three. That was your reward in my version.
What a great point, Mr. Chmielarz. In a game like Gears of War, where the enemies are all huge honkin’ bullet sponges, headshots are already perfectly incentivized. They do more damage, and therefore save your ammo, and therefore keep you alive longer. In fact, they’re pretty much mandatory on the harder difficulty levels, where ammo management is arguably as important as aiming. The stars I earn should ideally be for things above and beyond the basic gameplay. Chmielarz also disagreed with stars for things like the executions, but I feel that’s a perfect system for earning stars. I see little need to do executions beyond the fact that they look cool. Why not attach a gameplay system? Which is exactly what Judgment did. I found myself actually trying to set up executions, which is something I’d never done in a Gears game. But headshots? I was already doing those, because I knew I needed to.
Besides, years of videogaming will train a guy to aim for the head. It’s such self-perpetuating gameplay that I almost always assume it’s what I’m supposed to do. I’ve come to expect some reward for headshots, whether it’s intrinsic, extrensic, achievement, or whatever. In Black Ops II, where the lethality is plenty high without worrying about the difference between three bullets and one bullet, I have to constantly remind myself to quit trying for headshots. Just put bullets on the target in the fastest and most consistently reliable way, Tom. Leave the headshots, quickscoping, and bellyflops to the power gamers who are already way better than me anyway.
But Infinity Ward smartly tied a completely independent reward system into headshots: weapon skins. You only earn the various camo schemes by racking up headshots with a weapon. Lucky for me, I don’t care one whit about weapon skins! Unlike the star scheme in Gears of War: Judgment, the developers at Infinity Ward didn’t just pile overlapping reward structures onto the same system.