More America’s Army 3 Stuff

I’ve been following America’s Army 3 pretty religiously. Indeed, I’ve already made one blog post about it over here. At this week’s GDC we’ve been getting plenty of new details about game though.

Yes kids, using lean looks as stupid as it feels.
“Yes kids, using lean looks as stupid as it feels.”

Here’s some of the new, interesting stuff I’ve learned:

  • Instead of the anonymous terrorists we killed in droves in America’s Army we’ll be fighting soldiers from an imaginary European country with similar technology to the US Army in AA3. This solves several of the realism problems we saw in the original AA – Both sides would play as American soldiers with American weapons yet would see each other as enemies using very different enemy weapons which made it difficult to reconcile the disparity between the ballistic qualities between, say, an M16 firing a 5.56 round and an AK-47 firing a 7.62 round. This also removes the balance issues introduced when those weapons were actually picked up off the field and used. It’s unclear if weapon looting will even be in AA3 though there has at least been mention of ammo pick ups. The fact that the OPFOR are military this time will also help explain why they’re behaving like American soldiers. It’s kind of odd to think about a bunch of shabby looking terrorists using modern fireteam tactics after all. 😉
  • Along with the more obvious graphical enhancements (higher poly models and environments, for instance) AA3 will feature prominent use of Illuminate Lab’s Beast advanced lighting system to produce more realistic lighting and shadows effects. Bloom from going from a dark to bright environment was noted as well.
  • Character models will also better reflect what equipment is equipped and when it has been expended – I.E. the player’s model will show exactly what grenades he has equipped and when he uses one it’s gone! Animations for little things like pulling mags from pouches during reloads will also be improved and will be fully viewable by other players rather than just from the player’s own first person view.
  • Audio is apparently being greatly, greatly improved. Not only are sound samples in general more realistic but tons of little details have been added such as sound scaling and occlusion – you’ll be able to hear the cracks and pops of distant fire, bullets whizzing by your head, etc. One article mentioned being able to tell how close you were to being hit by the sound the bullet made as it passed you and how much more intimidating this made being suppressed. This sounds like an excellent improvement to the game. Sound design strikes me an a very important though often overlooked factor in war games. As an aside it has also been mentioned the moving slower will cause you to make a lot less noise when creeping around. Past America’s Army players will know how important listening for enemy foot steps and the like is.
  • AA3 will also have integrated TeamSpeak 3 voice over IP – in fact it may be the first we see of TS3 if it manages to beat the general client/server release out of the gate. Personally I’m pretty skeptical about games with built in VOIP – in most cases people don’t use it but prefer the performance, quality, and flexibility of using a dedicated voice server. There’s various reasons for that but one of my personal biggest ones is that I don’t necessarily want to talk to random idiots on the ‘net and I have no doubt that AA3, being an FPS and a free one at that, will attract a lot of idiots.
  • One change that is sure to bum some people out while causing others to rejoice is the removal of the ability to jump. It’s a popular subject of debate amongst tactical gamers but one I personally feel is the right decision. Hopping around like an idiot is great fun in Unreal or Quake but I hate it in what are supposed to be more realistic games. Not all is lost, however, as you will still be able to climb, vault, and otherwise traverse some obstacles in the environment using a special action in this particular spots. Hopefully these locations aren’t too sparse.
  • Another minor, but definitely new change to the controls is the ability to transition smoothly from running to prone or on-knee position which apparently results in a neat and effective combat slide type maneuver.
  • We’ll also be given radial menus to make the interface a little easier to use. I’m not sure which functions will have these radial menus but communications (as in Battlefield 2) is easy to imagine as is weapon selection and modes as seen in many console shooters.
  • Kill messages have gone bye-bye. Now if you throw a grenade into a room someone might be in you won’t know if your guess was right or not until you verify it. There’s also a system for that too – you can verify a kill by going up to a body and pressing an action key which sounds similar to reporting suspects in SWAT 4. Hopefully this will cut back on the silly grenade spamming shit as well as giving the game a slower, more cautious pace, at least in theory.
  • The new in-game map will show all of the friendlies playing to reflect improvements in communication technology. This is a change over the current system in AA in which there is a complicated system of who can see who based on line of sight and chain of command related communications. I assume you’ll still be able to report enemy sightings and the like on your map as well.
  • The ballistic system has been greatly improved. Besides the obvious like more realistic, accurate shots, we’ll also be seeing realistic penetration with features such as impact dampening (the bullet slows down after passing through material and may do less damage if it still manages to hit) trajectory changes, ricochets, and the like. This should make firefights much more dangerous and dynamic.
  • Grenades have also been overhauled. Not only can the shrapnel mess you up but the concussive force of a nearby blast and do nasty things to you as well. They’ve even added a realistic “overpressure” system which causes grenades to do more damage in enclosed spaces with open doors, windows, and the like helping to mitigate the effect. Sounds neat.
  • Another thing we’ve learned about in the past and apparently people have seen at GDC is the ability to do melee attacks – specifically, rifle butt strikes and the like. It’s not clear how effective these will be nor have any other information about them been release to my knowledge but it is definitely notable as AA2 had no melee whatsoever.
  • The player damage model has been overhauled. The player will be split into 16 different sections with damage to different areas resulting in different effects. Chest and arm shots, for instance, will slow your reloading and dull your accuracy while shots to the legs and feet will slow your movement speed. Head shots are, of course, instant death.
  • Players can also become incapacitated – a state in which the player is down but not entirely out. There is a funky screen effect and they can look around but not shoot until they are revived by medic or finished off by the other team. This sounds similar to Left 4 Dead or Call of Duty 4‘s Last Stand perk without the ability to shoot back. It sounds like a cool addition. My mind is immediately filled with visions of being shot down and laying in the middle of a street, helplessly watching a massive firefight unfold all around me. This could also be a good, less questionable platform for “ghosting”.
  • Speaking of being incapacitated it seems as if you’ll be punished if you choose to simply finish off a downed opponents. Such kills are not the army way, after all, and will negatively effect your score. Instead you’re supposed to secure downed enemies which, again, sounds a little SWAT 4 (definitely not a complaint!)
  • As far as healing your squad mates goes it seems that all players will have basic Combat Life Saving training which they can use to revive incapacitated comrades once a match. The actual act of healing seems to have been changed greatly to be more complicated than the typical “run up to a downed opponent, press use key” system that the original AA had. Instead you’ll need to check the injury, use the correct method to heal that injury out of several, then heal them a second time after they’re back on their feet.
  • We also know we’re getting the Combat Medic MOS in AA3’s first expansion. It’s unclear how the Combat Medic’s abilities will differ from normal soldiers though I’d imagine the once per round thing will be gone or at least less limited.
  • In addition to the Combat Medic MOS other MOSes will be available in future expansions as well. I’ve heard the term “unlock” used to describe acquiring these secondary MOSes but it’s unclear exactly what that means. Will they be unlocked after a brief training session and test such as in the original AA or will they tie into the new character advancement system? I also wonder if you can assign your character all available secondary MOSes or if you can only specialize in one at a time. The fact that we can apparently have more than one character per account and specialize them different makes me think you’ll have a limited upgrade path which could be painful considering the slow rollout of additional MOSes likely over AA3’s lifespan. Rumored but all but confirmed future MOSes include the Combat Engineer and the Raven UAV pilot.
  • Regarding the character advancement system it has been completely and utterly overhauled to what sounds to me like a cross between Battlefield 2 and Call of Duty 4’s systems. You’ll have the ability to earn achievements, badges and ribbons (which may or may not be all one in the same) and unlock new weapon upgrades and skills. An example of new skills mentioned on the official AA forums by a dev was different, faster styles of magazine swapping when reloading.
  • We’ll also be able to track our statistics (such as kill/death ratio) throughout our character’s career right in game instead of having to rely on third party sites like AA Tracker. They’ll also be some more nifty statistics available to us such as our effectiveness with certain types of weapons and breakdowns of what locations we hit and get hit the most which could potentially help individuals improve their play.
  • Actual character advancement seems to have changed from the old “honor” system of the original America’s Army. Now you’ll be advancing different categories, one per each of the Army’s seven core values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. You’ll reportedly advance these different categories in different ways. I read how not leaving an incapacitated man could can net you Loyalty points, for example.
  • Along with the ability to customize your character goes beyond character advancement. You’ll be able to customize your weapon with attachments like you can with the M4 SOPMOD added to the original America’s Army with the addition of Special Forces as standard though it sounds like the ability to use certain attachments is linked to the unlock system. You’ll also be able to decide if you want to carry a light, medium, or heavy load out which relates to how much ammunition and how many grenades you can carry though an encumbrance system has also been added – the heavier you go the slower you move and the less you can sprint. It’s unknown whether or not this might also effect body armor such as in SWAT 4 but I’ve got my hopes up.
  • An odd new feature is the pre-mission planning screen. This will give players a top down view of the map for 15-30 seconds or so to plan out tactics in advance, marking out paths to take and choosing where to spawn based on pre-determined points. The spawning thing sounds like an enhancement to the way the original AA placed different fire teams in different locations in most maps. I wonder if everyone will be able to participate in this or only squad and fire team leaders? While I really like the sound of this feature I’m also pretty skeptical about it’s use. Player’s on public servers are likely to ignore or not even use this feature, only working together the minimum amount possible while still being on the same team, and clans will likely have more advanced strategies than this screen will allow for since it reportedly is only intended to represent the first bit of the mission since everything tends to go out the window once the shooting starts anyway.
  • The game will apparently only ship with 5 maps which seems minuscule compared to the amount currently available in America’s Army. It should be noted that those were slowly added to over the years though which is likely to happen with AA3. Personally I prefer to have less maps in order to get a better feel for and give more attention to all of them as in America’s Army now there are several maps that are almost never played and starting fresh, trying to “learn” each map would be a daunting task in an already fairly intimidating game. These maps will apparently scale depending on the number of players on a server in a similar was as what we’ve seen in Battlefield 2. They’ll also be at least 3 types of games / mission objectives for each map which is another big departure from previous AA design where each map only had one static objective and game mechanic. The maps we know about so far are an urbanized remake of Bridge, a very faithful looking remake of Pipeline, a small European city called Impact, and a wide open farm reminiscent of JRTC FARP Raid from the first game called Ranch. They’d also mentioned one called Alley in the past that looked a lot like Impact but who knows if that is number 5 or not at this point. More of these AA2 remakes are likely in future updates in my opinion – here’s hoping for a remake of “CSAR”!
  • The game will be released via what I would assume would be a new version of the current Deploy Client as well as Valve’s Steam service. Both of these options, I hope, will allow for automatic patching which may be the biggest justification for this change in distribution methods. The more patches the merrier! Steam also has the advantage of all its additional features such as in-game friends list, IMs, and chats. I also think that putting AA3 on Steam may result in many people who wouldn’t normally considering playing it giving it a try.

I cannot wait for this. I’d been working on and more or less finished a new website for my clan (but it won’t go in until the clan officially goes live again) and counting the days until this is released. All of these new tidbits have me salivating.

In all likelihood this first release will have more than a few rough spots – it took the original version of AA quite a while to end up as solid as it is these days. I can only hope they’ve learned from the past. In any case thanks probably mostly to our tax dollars AA’s developers put even the best traditional FPS developer’s post release support to shame with patches and new content so things will improve over time providing the government doesn’t kill the program.

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