Size Doesn’t Matter: The Strange Popularity of Nuketown

Today’s gaming market is all about bigger. The giants of the shooter industry are constantly looking to trump each other with bigger battlegrounds. Battlefield 3 used its massive Operation Firestorm map as a badge of honor during release and Planetside 2 has been understandably touting its incredible 2,000 player size. Still, the obsession with scale hasn’t stopped the infamously-tiny Nuketown map from Black Ops to cause news-worthy waves with a single, vague screenshot.

By description alone, Nuketown sounds like an unfinished map. All in all, it is just a little more than two houses.  There’s a street cutting between them, a smattering of cars, one bus, and two mediocre back-yards. Spawns within the map never quite overlap, but it wont’t take more than a few steps to be right in combat.

Heck, it wasn’t uncommon to die before even taking those steps. A typical match in Nuketown would often last less than a few seconds. Your character would pop into one of the few locations, often in the sights of another players as the spawning algorithm could scarcely keep up with the wild movements of enemies. Even if not, nowhere was safe.

Your next choice was pretty small; house or street. Both would most certainly have players ready for your arrival. Every corner had combat waiting around it. Flanking was almost impossible, though strategy wasn’t completely obsolete. An ill-timed reload was more precarious than running into enemy fire.

It was a claustrophobic, exhilarating mess.

Black Ops players clamored over it. A Nuketown 24/7 game mode was created. Fans even made it the most played map in Black Ops history. Now, it’s getting a second treatment with Black Ops II and while there’s been no word yet of its size, it would be betraying a namesake if it was anymore than half a suburban cul-de-sac.

The iconic status of Nuketown is a perfect example of how polarized the shooter market is, despite claims of its uniformity. While both Battlefield and Modern Warfare feature weapons taken from reality and story-lines ripped from Tom Clancy’s wet dreams, the former takes pride in its grand, vehicle heavy scale while the latter revels in the ability to kill a man without even stepping away from your spawn location.

It isn’t a emotionally deep market, but there is something for everyone.