The History of Cover Systems
Originally posted: October 2015
Generally cover systems allow the player to avoid taking damage or hide from enemies and is commonly seen in shooters. I’m not talking about the kind of cover that you can just stand behind a wall until you get your health back, what I’m referring to requires some sort of interaction with the player and cover object in some way which is most commonly seen in many AAA games in the past few years but it took a while to refine this system.
The bare bones of this system was first seen in the 1975 arcade game Gunfight and a year later in Space Invaders. Basically the player was able to hide behind destructible cover to protect themselves from enemy fire.
Up until 1996 cover systems were only used in 2D games primarily side scrollers like Rolling Thunder; Time Crisis changed that being the first 3D game to implement a cover system. The game was first person arcade shooter and made use of a pedal that the player would press to enter cover. When they released it they could then get out of cover and shoot. This was very basic and doesn’t offer much by todays standards but it was enough to set itself apart from other virtual shooters, giving the players a new experience.
In 1998’s Metal Gear Solid added to the mechanic by allowing the player to see around corners when Snake would snap to a wall.
Then in Winback (1999) the player was granted the ability to pop out and shoot, while the cover system looked and functioned just like Metal Gear Solid they were used for different reasons. Metal Gear’s was used for stealth while Winback’s purpose was strictly to help the player survive. Later on Winback would go on to inspire the cover mechanics for Metal Gear Solid 2 and Kill Switch.
2000’s Police 911 introduced something interesting to cover based games, it was an arcade cabinet that used a similar cover system as other games but it used motion sensors so that the player would physically have to duck for cover when being shot at.
Up until 2003 cover systems created defensive game play, but with Kill Switch along came blind fire leading the developers to nickname their cover system the “ offensive cover system”. They also added a range of movement such as roll and vault over cover.
For some, those images of Kill Switch will look very familiar to other popular games maybe this is why…
Gears of War may be very familiar to some, at least for anyone with a love of fighting off enemy hoards with chainsaw guns. It was released in 2006 by Epic Games and became renown for its smooth and easy to use cover system. In fact the game itself revolves around this as one of its core mechanics. For me it was one of the first times I really learned to appreciate what a good cover system could do. Gears capitalized on Kill Switch’s cover mechanics allowing the player to move in and out of cover with the press of a button, as well as blind fire, move between cover, shoot over/ around cover, vault, and roll. Gears really is like Kill Switch 2.0 since it took everything Kill Switch did well and made it that much better with the help of Chris Esaki, who designed the Kill Switch cover system. He was specifically hired by Epic Games to design their cover system and later Bioware would do the same for Mass Effect.
Almost every 3rd person shooter that followed Gears had some sort of cover system, some good some bad. Then along then came Vanquish, the bullet hell shooter looking like it was Halo and Gears of War smashed together.
Funny enough it kind of was. The cover system worked just as the Gears of War system did allowing the player all the same freedoms. Where it differed was how easily the cover broke forcing the player to keep moving rather than stand behind a bunch of crates. There are also penalties to the players score, which appears at the end of every level, for the amount of time spend in cover. This game worked well, the mechanics being the best part about this game, and is a fine addition to the mass amount of 3rd person shooters out there and was highly underrated in my own opinion.
Check out this link for some game play of all the games I’ve talked about and more:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYCgLVokq_c (start at 4:30)
So far I’ve mainly covered 3rd person shooters being that this mechanic seems to best suit, but there have been many First Person Shooters that have implemented a cover system and honestly most of the time it’s not that great. This could be for a number of reasons, but one of the most common complain about there being cover systems in FPS’s is that the game play becomes slow and promotes camping. Also those who hide behind cover have a smaller surface area while those walking around are much more exposed.
Rainbow Six is an FPS but when the player enters cover they camera changes to 3rd person, for some this can be jarring but over all it allows for a better view of the area.
There are also several FPS’s that do not enter 3rd person when in cover such as Crysis 2 and Farcry 3.
Crysis 2 created by Crytek works well enough but often feels more like a burden to deal with at first. As per most games if you play enough you often just become accustom to the system, which is what happened to me. My biggest problem with it was that getting into cover felt weird and getting out of cover consisted of either standing up and walking away or crouching and walking away.
Farcry 3 offered a user friendly cover system, though it was not a main feature it allowed payers to either use cover for stealth or as protection. You can also easily slide into cover and vault over it to get out making the system feel smooth. The cover system in Farcry basically offers everything that most 3rd person shooters do and I was pleasantly surprised by how well it transferred into first person game play.
Rainbow Six: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uy8I8BemMtY
Crysis 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMKx6eW7TzI
Farcry 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkeH79an3Og