Self Similar self similar’s personal gaming nonsense blog

26Mar/090

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. πŸ˜‰
  • 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.

6Feb/090

America’s Army 3.0

America's Army 3.0 was announced a couple of weeks back. This really isn't major news to anyone following America's Army as they've been talking about this 3.0 version here and there for a year or so now though I suppose this is the first official announcement along with the launch of an official website and dump of new information.

America's Army 3.0, or just AA3 as it is being called (for some odd reason since AA1 and AA2 were technically the same game) is a complete rewrite of America's Army. When America's Army launched in 2002 it was one of the first games to use Unreal Engine 2, it was later upgraded to Unreal 2.5, and now with 3.0 it'll be upgraded to... Yes, you guessed it... Unreal 3.0! That's not the biggest deal for America's Army fans though - Like I said, it'll be a complete rewrite. This means new totally new and reworked features including major ones like an overhauled ballistics system, a new UI, a totally reworked honor/experience system, all new maps, etc. This is a great opportunity for new players to join the game as, depending on how drastic some of these changes are, everyone will be starting over from the ground floor. Now, a lot of what is changing in AA3 has yet to be leaked so there's only so much we can dwell on the subject without entering fantasy land but suffice to say it is pretty exciting to fans of the previous game and of the Tactical FPS genre in general I'd imagine.

The AKS-74U... an indigenous forces' best friend.
"The AKS-74U... an indigenous forces' best friend."

I know America's Army isn't everyone's couple of tea to put it mildly. It really is quite a challenging game and its brutal, online only gameplay makes it very intimidating to learn and become good at. Then there's the whole "Army propaganda" stigma that keeps a lot of people from even considering trying it in the first place. If you're one of those people, believe me, I was skeptical myself as well but America's Army is a great, high quality, completely free, online tactical FPS game. The propaganda isn't shoved down your throat nor will a military recruiter suddenly appear on your doorstep if you start rocking the leader boards. Give it a shot! I could go into much more detail about the game's mechanics and what makes it unique but suffice to say I've had my share of time with it.

I first got into America's Army back when I was still playing Planetside with an old guild I was in, The Praetorian Guard. A few TPG members decided to give it a shot, being free and all, during some off hours just for fun. A few guys from work had also tried it, again, thanks to it being free. I really couldn't get my head wrapped around it though. The game felt challenging enough with its precision ballistics, brutal damage, and methodical movement without you being forced to play online in Counter-strike style "one life per round" team based matches where being the last one alive meant your teammates were most likely observing your every move, commenting about what an idiotic noob you are, and plotting to vote kick your worthless ass off the server. It was just far too intimidating of an environment for me to try to learn the game in... and you definitely need to "learn the game" considering the objective based gameplay and often complex maps.

Watching a corner in the darkness.
"Watching a corner in the darkness."

One of the times that TPG had a little resurgence in interest and there was actually a good amount of us participating I decided to say screw trying to find good public servers and to just rent our own to fuck around with for a bit. The server was a pretty big success - our own little sandbox to screw around with. We were able to play whatever maps we wanted privately, play around with cheats to experiment with all of the different weapons available, and most importantly of all I was able to develop a much better appreciation of the game without the pressure of actually having to, you know, not suck! TPG eventually formed their own AA division and I eventually joined it. We set up a real server and even participated in tournaments and the like before I finally got sick of the game and moved on. I'll talk more about my TPG days in future "Ancient History" entries.

I later went on to start my own clan focused specifically on the Tactical FPS genre. It fizzled out pretty quickly for various reasons. Again, massive tangent there that I plan to talk more in later posts. Suffices to say that my clan has been more or less on hiatus for the last 2+ years while I waited around for another tactical FPS to come along that fit the mold I was looking for. With my prior experience with (and appreciation for) the previous game and some plenty of old contacts from the America's Army scene it may very well be the game that brings my clan back out of the mothballs. I've made several posts about the idea on the clans forms and chatted with some of my ex clan members about the idea. The response has been great so far and a few of us have even reinstalled the current version of America's Army to casually get ourselves warmed back up a bit.

No objective bravo for you!
"No objective bravo for you!"

I find the whole idea both extremely exciting and a little daunting as well. While I miss the heart racing, adrenaline rushing intensity of clan matches I can't help but remember that the stress of organizing and playing said matches was one of the reasons I quit playing hardcore originally. Another being the community filled with unsporting, anti-social idiots that a free FPS game like this naturally tends to attract. It is also, in some ways, an even bigger commitment than an MMORPG. Still, it has been quite a while and I think I'm up for the challenge again.

These screenshots are from the latest, pre 3.0 version of America's Army, 2.8.4. They're of me schooling noobs* just the other day and not of my clan or any of my past teams in action. (*) By schooling some noobs I actually mean doing pretty fucking horribly.

28Aug/080

Warhammer Online Preview Weekend

Sometime after my last MMO laden rambling post the Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (AKA "WAR") closed beta's NDA was officially dropped.

Now, I haven't actually been all that interested in Warhammer Online despite being a long time Warhammer fan. It just didn't look too interesting to me and Age of Conan looked a lot more appealing so most of my fanatical anticipation was focused on it instead. With Age of Conan finally out and not looking so hot and more and more details of WAR being released my interest in it had finally started building. So, the NDA dropped and the usual places were absolutely flooded with details, mini-reviews, screenshots, and videos. The buzz about the game from testers was quite positive, surprisingly so for an MMO even, and the more I read about it the more awesome it sounded so, with its release imminent, I bit the bullet preordered it.

One of my preorder bonuses was access to the upcoming open beta so I began downloading and patching the client. Much to my surprise after just trying it by chance it also let me in to last weekend's "Preview Weekend" event and instantly any hope for a productive weekend went flying out the window.

Scouring various forums for reports and other tidbits it seemed as if the Order side had been vastly outnumbered in beta. This isn't too surprising as Destruction's Orcs and Chaos are exceptionally cool while the Order's races are relatively bland. Still, despite being a fan both Orcs and Chaos myself I typically root for the underdog (I played mostly Horde in WoW for instance) so I made the hard decision to go with Order.

Battling a boss in a public quest. This Dark Elf bastard refused to die.
"Battling a boss in a public quest. This Dark Elf bastard refused to die."

Next while scoping out the classes I was reminded that several of them were dropped recently, all of which I was at least semi-interested in. I was especially interested in the Orc Choppa and Dwarf Hammerer as I often lean towards melee DPS classes. This didn't leave too many interesting DPS classes left. I had kind of started leaning towards High Elves early on - now I'm not normally a big fan of Elves but I've always thought Warhammer Fantasy Battle's High Elves were quite impressive in their long mail coats and their pointy helmets and I, again going with the underdogs, figured they'd be fairly underplayed. At first I was interested in the Swordmaster class, but not being a big fan of tanks I looked elsewhere. Shadow Warriors looked very appealing but my last main (in Age of Conan) was a bow guy and I figured the stereotypical Elf + bow combo would be played out anyway. This didn't leave much else but after looking at the beta class population data I found a good candidate in the most under played class in the entire game, the High Elf White Lion.

The White Lion is actually not that interesting of a class mechanics-wise. He specializes in melee DPS utilizing medium/light armor and a big, two handed axe and that is basically all they are in Warhammer Fantasy Battle. In Warhammer Online, however, they also have pet lions. So, in a way, you can almost consider this class a weird (but again not necessarily exotic) combination of World of Warcraft's Hunter without his ranged weapon and some sort of damage dealing warrior class from another RPG. I admit I wasn't too thrilled about the lion itself - one of the appeals of Hunters in WoW was the ability to tame virtually any animal you wish and here you'd be stuck with the same fluffy white lion as everyone else but the more I thought about it the more the idea of having this second source of damage running around with you appealed to me.

White Lions can be specialized to, basically, use their lions as taunting, damage absorbing tanks while they themselves do more damage with their axes via position attacks, use their lions as damage dealing powerhouses while they tank a bit and assist with the damage, or a more balanced combination of the two which somehow results in a lot of area of effect attacks.

Enjoying the view...
"Enjoying the view..."

Onto the game itself. First of all I've got to note that my screenshots here aren't spectacular - I didn't see many graphical options in the client and really I was more anxious to play than to squander my limited time tweaking things anyway. Still, I don't have AA or many other bells and whistles I might normally have turned on.

As far as the graphics go I think they're pretty fair. The style definitely appears to be similar to World of Warcraft at first, though as many Warhammer fans have pointed out on various forums, Warcraft (and Starcraft) itself has been highly derivative of Games Workshop's works for a long, long time now so this shouldn't be any surprise. The models are a little higher poly than WoW's, the lighting is better, though the overall polish is definitely lacking a little. The draw distance seems quite short, some of the textures aren't so hot, and the animations sometimes leave a lot to be desired. It definitely (currently) lacks the high production feel of WoW and isn't anywhere close to as nice looking as Age of Conan. Anyway, the graphics are apparently locked to low right now, and they say they're going to be improving the animations so hopefully it will only get better from here.

Questing feels quite a lot like WoW although I admit I didn't read much of the quest fluff as I'm saving it for when the game goes live. A lot of people seem to think its well written though. I don’t think I ran into any very grindy kill or collection quests nor any massively long FedEx quests though which is a good thing. Where the interesting PvE aspect of the game comes in is with Public Quests. Public Quests are kind of like repeatable quests that are tied to a specific area in a zone. The idea being that anyone can quit and join a public quest whenever they want by simply strolling into the area. These quests usually have multiple stages and typically culminate in some kind of a boss fight. At the end of the PQ contribution is calculated and added to a random dice roll to dole out loot. I've read quite a lot of whining on forums from who I'm assuming are greedy bastards about how unfair the loot system is but, personally, I think the extreme randomness of it really fits in fine with the casual, come and go as you please nature of participation. Loot aside, you also earn influence which earns you special items and you only need to run a few public quests to max out you influence per area, never mind that you gain plenty of experience points and the loot that drops normally during the course of the quest.

The Tome of Knowledge is pretty damn cool though I didn't read much of it for the same reason I didn't read much of the quest text. I do really like the fact that it keeps all kinds of bizarre stats and achievements and, of course, I love the unlockable titles associated with many of them. I definitely plan make full use of this feature in retail.

Fighting another public quest bo... Holy crap, laser eyes!
"Fighting another public quest bo... Holy crap, laser eyes!"

While I did mostly enjoy my White Lion unfortunately the lion's AI was severely busted. It would usually run off in strange directions, ignore my commands, and attack enemies that had already died the few times that it did actually attack. Apparently it had been working more or less fine shortly before the preview weekend and they've since said they know about it and it will be fixed. Still, it was pretty frustrating in PVP when I felt like I was ~30% dps off of what I should have been doing because of it. The mobs weren't much better and I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people will be shocked with how much more challenging the game will be when the mobs are acting a little bit more intelligently.

One negative observation I've got to make is the lack of distinctive gear. Gear for the most part seems to be restricted to one particular class and, at least in the first two tiers, there doesn't seem to be a huge variety in it nor how it looks. On one hand this goes a long way in making sure player characters look like the type of characters they're supposed to represent which Mythic may feel is important given that they're representing someone else's intellectual property. That doesn't bother me... In fact, I love the fact that I haven't seen any mismatched, stupid looking clown suits in this game thus far. On the other hand, however, the lack of diversity means that virtually everyone looks the same. Collecting cool looking loot and customizing your character is a big part of most online games these days and I suspect this will be a big deal for many MMO fanatics. Still, rumor has it that the variety is quite a bit better in higher tiers and there's nothing to stop them from adding more models and textures in later patches.

PvP (or "RvR" which I don't find to be all that accurate in Warhammer Online's case either) was interesting. I only got to play in one PvP zone and it was a pretty uneven affair. At first I didn't see another soul, though I soon wandered up to a fight in progress via the minimap battle markers and joined an open group. Open groups, by the way, are another awesome concept owing to the same kind of thought process that spawned Public Quests. Anyway, at first we dominated. As noted before my lion was fucking useless but my axe is a nice, slow, powerful weapon and absolutely murders casters and other squishy classes. There were other times, however, when the PvP degenerated into huge lines of skirmish with most people on either side being too afraid to directly engage, with the occasional unfortunate individual who did cross the line being mobbed to death quickly. It is definitely very easy to be singled out and drawn away from your group thanks to the character collision system. This is something I'm not sure I'd ever experienced in a game before this. The zone I played in didn't feature the keep siege warfare though I did visit one of those zones and it did look quite cool. I didn't get to partake in any "scenarios" (AKA Battlegrounds WoW players) as I sat in queue for one for what must have been an hour. I'm not sure what was up with that!

This time it is someone else's lion acting stupid.
"This time it is someone else's lion acting stupid."

A little later inspired by my lion's continued uselessness and perhaps by my observation of the possible utility of ranged combat in PVP I decided to give the Shadow Warrior class a spin. Once I developed some basic ability rotation techniques it actually surpassed my expectations and was a very fun class to play. I felt like having to switch between long distance and close combat stances felt natural and fun, but the addition of the "skirmish" stance complicated the flow of combat quite a lot and I never did get a hang of using it to kite mobs around effectively. Still, I thought melee combat with my Shadow Warrior was surprisingly effective so I didn't put as much effort into it as I probably should have. I didn't get to PVP with the Shadow Warrior but I strongly suspect that I'll end up making an SW alt in retail.

That about wrapped up my participation in the Preview Weekend. I did eventually acquire the legendary 10/6 PvP gear but I never got to actually test it out in PvP thanks to some things that came up in my schedule and although I played around with other classes/races in the character creator I didn't get to test any others out. I believe I'll probably spend the official open beta on trying out some of the other numerous classes just in case something else ends up hooking me and I'll leave the White Lion and Shadow Warrior alone save for testing the (hopefully) improved lion's AI. One thing is for sure: I'm really, really looking forward to the launch of this game and having to wait two weeks for open beta is already killing me. πŸ™‚