Tag Archives: America’s Army

Clan Down!

It amazes me to see how little I’ve actually posted about my attempted America’s Army 3.0 clan considering how much work I put into it and how much it dominated my gaming time for a little while. I intended to post an update about how that whole thing turned out but it seems I never posted much about how it even started out so I guess I’ll post the whole story, abbreviated as it may be.

Myself having just suffered a rare, humiliating death by the VIP.
“Myself having just suffered a rare, humiliating death by the VIP.”

America’s Army 3.0 (referred to as AA3 from here on out) was rumored to be a reboot of the popular online tactical FPS America’s Army. It was basically going to be a new game from the ground up. I ran a small gaming “clan” dedicated to these sorts of games with aspirations of playing them in “serious business” tournaments and the like. Since these types of games are few and far between these days I generally keep a close eye on new releases and AA3 really caught my attention – not only was I a big fan of the original game, having played it for countless hours with my old clan [TPG], but it sounded like it was going to be amazing. The more I learned about the game the more inspired I was to take my clan, <8AT>, out of the mothballed state it had been in for years and get things going again. Eventually I got into a last minute private beta of AA3 and I liked what I saw despite it still being a bit rough around the edges. After looking around a bit and not finding any existing clans that interested me I made the decision to relaunch my clan.

And so I did! It took a lot of work – I revamped our website, setup a new Ventrilo server, reserved a ranked AA3 server, and started work on a recruitment campaign, never mind revising all of our rules, policies, and hell, even the entire focus of the clan. This was going to be something slightly different then the last incarnation of the clan and I was quite pumped up to get it going. A lot of my old clan buddies who had played SWAT 4 with me in <8AT> and/or America’s Army with me in [TPG] had expressed interest in joining. Things were looking up.

Finally the release date for America’s Army 3 arrived and while the game with rife with technical issues it was still quite an awesome and fairly unique experience. There were some troubling things, such as how many of the bugs from the beta hadn’t been fixed yet, including some pretty major ones, in an apparent rush to get the game pushed out, and the news that apparently the entire civilian development staff of the game had been unceremoniously fired by the Army the day after the release to move development in-house. Still, many of my old friends joined or rejoined the clan including some I hadn’t expected to show up while sadly some I did expect (and hope) to show up never materialized. We started strong though – my old co-leader from the original America’s Army days in [TPG], 20kill, was there and took the much needed role of second in command.

For the first few weeks we spent our time suffering through bugs and bizarre issues with the game’s central authentication servers, and simply trying to figure out the many nuances of the gameplay. Much fun was had though the bugs and unpolished state were simply too much for some members to deal with and there was a small, gradual exodus of mostly old friends from the clan very early on. Recruiting didn’t go exceptionally well either – it seemed that most of the clans in AA3 pitched themselves as super serious, hardcore “realism” clans where members had to follow strict orders, call each other by rank, and all sorts of other silly things. I didn’t have any problem with such realism clans but this wasn’t what I had envisioned <8AT> as being. Unfortunately though, I quickly noticed that most of the people who were looking for a clan in AA3 were looking for that kind of an experience and the majority of those who weren’t simply weren’t looking for one in the first place. Thanks to a combination of technical problems with AA3 itself and the fact that we were mostly adults with jobs who didn’t play the game 24 hours a day, our server floated around wildly between obscurity and semi-notoriety but never really gained the full on popularity I had hoped it would, putting yet another dent in our recruiting efforts.

The state of the game improved a bit with a fair amount of mostly small patches in the first month of its release in June. Many of the changes seemed like minor fixes and band-aids which did little to comfort us in the shadow of some of the bigger issues that loomed. The communication from the devs also all but stopped during this period which was a shame considering how active it had been in the old days and even lading up to the release of the new game. Finally, after July, the patches stopped, and I had a lot of serious questions in the back of my mind about the decision to dump the previous development team and what it had meant for the future of the game itself. Was this just some sort of fumble? Had the funding been cut drastically? Was the entire project being canned? Who knew.

During this lull in official activity the influx of good new recruits into the clan still hadn’t been strong enough to counter the previous departures and I found myself losing a lot of interest. Originally I had to more or less force myself to carve out a section of my free time, especially on week nights, to play AA3 and with the state of the clan and more so the game itself it began harder and harder to do so. I also changed jobs from that of a programmer to that of a network engineer and while the programming tasks I was assigned left a lot of breathing room to surf the web here and there, reading about the state of the game and keeping up with the clan, my new position was hectic and saw me putting in quite a lot of overtime. At around the same time 20kill, who had been instrumental in keeping the clan alive and active, suddenly departed. At first he returned a few times but eventually left and was never heard from again. The clan probably could have survived my reduced commitment but with 20kill now completely out of the picture and interest from the rest of our membership waning I knew the end was near.

Fighting the fog.
“Fighting the fog.”

Finally, after a month of silence, another patch was released in early September. Everyone was hoping it would improve things in big ways and breath some new life into the game but it didn’t seem to deliver and certainly didn’t help out <8AT>. I felt like the depression brought on by the state of the game was something we were all feeling across the board to different degrees. Even the official America’s Army forums seemed to have noticeably slowed in activity. Eventually the few remaining members dispersed unceremoniously. The clan was dead.

I stopped following the game and hadn’t even really played it since around this time though I did keep my eye out for patches: there weren’t any. Surprisingly there hadn’t been any patches since that September until February. Finally, another patch was released just yesterday which is what prompted me to write this post. The last two patches were large but don’t include any new maps or promised features and seemed largely unimpressive for having taken so long. It seems my original suspicions about the change in development were quite possibly correct – depressing since I did in fact enjoy the game and, even after <8AT> dissolved, hoped it would succeed and I could possibly even return to it.

I have no idea what the state of the AA3 community has been like for the last year (I picture a lot of rage posts) but I can’t imagine it had been as healthy as it was in the America’s Army days when communication from the development team was frequent and, while patches were often few and far between, they were usually also fairly major. In my opinion if a company wants their game to have “long legs” online it has to try to create and maintain a community and it needs to feed that community with at least little chunks of carrot on the end of a proverbial stick semi-often. With AA3 that online community was literally all there was to the game so it was critical to keep people playing, especially considering the goals of the project as a whole. Personally I find it to be a bit insulting when a developer asks players to commit themselves to a game yet does not offer any commitment in return, at least in the form of the occasional bug fix here and there. This was why the original incarnation of <8AT> stopped playing SWAT 4 – I loved the game but it had issues and the development team and/or publisher seemingly washed their hands of it as soon as they had our money.

Then there is me. Over the years I’ve participated in several different clans, guilds, and the like, and have often found myself quickly rising up the ranks into positions of leadership. I’m not sure if I have a natural knack of leadership and/or management or if I was just better suited to it (or maybe just to be nominated for it) then others in the particular situations I’ve been in. At times while being in these kind of “officer” positions I felt the urge to break out from beneath whatever structure or leadership was above me, frustrating me, to start over and do things my own way which is, in part, how <8AT> came about. In practice, however, I’ve consistently found myself to be much more suited to those kinds of secondary leadership roles where I’m not under quite as much pressure or commitment yet can still be useful and contribute the group. I suppose with this, what might prove to be my final run at running my own clan, I’ve finally come to terms with this.

Being out there, putting the whole operation on the line by myself was often a big bummer, even with friends backing me up, the pressure felt like it was solely on me – others could come and go as they pleased and often did. I especially disliked having to worry about recruiting and now better understand some of the attitudes I encountered when joining or watching others join past clans and guilds I was in. For me, I suppose, there is a delicate balance in the feelings of pride and accomplishment, and even control, gained from running or helping run a group, and the enjoyment I need to have in actually playing the game. When running the group saps the fun out of the entire thing, or worse, the stress bleeds over into day to day life, then the balance is too far off.

I may give running a clan, guild, or some other type of community another go at some point in the future. It’s quite possible, even, that <8AT> itself will have another run some day. Hopefully if that does happen I’ll be able to concentrate on running the group and playing the game without also having the state of the game being as much of a concern as it was the last two times. For now though I think I’ll be content to let others run the show and try my hardest to resist the temptations of sweet, sweet power. 🙂

The Final Battle

My recent post about guilds dying combined with all of the recent discussion about America’s Army 3 has inspired to write about my best memory of a clan dissolving and, actually, one of my all time favorite moments in online gaming. This happened way back in 2004 so hopefully the statute of limitations on anyone taking offense to any of this has long since expired. 😉

I’m going to spend a lot more time talking about my time with The Praetorian Guard (also known as [TPG] and simply referred to as TPG from here on out) in future blogs as we gamed together for a long, long time but for now I’d rather skip all that drama and start right into the story. I had decided to leave the America’s Army division of TPG which I had been more or less running myself for some time. Unfortunately I had leaked this information quite a bit earlier than I had planned and it resulted in all sorts of disarray within our ranks. This caused several problems but the most immediate was that we had a TeamWarfare League ladder match scheduled for later in the week and all of the chaos would make playing it quite a problem.

I’m sure anyone who was in the clan can attest that I took TWL very seriously at the time, probably too seriously as I’d often stress myself out worrying about who was showing up and when, if everyone was following the correct procedures, and that no one was breaking any rules. All of that nonsense was actually one of the reasons I decided to quit the AA division of TPG in fact. So, with people leaving the clan or at least the AA part of it, and not seeing the point in participating in another one of these high stress matches when we were most likely going to call it quits anyway, we were having problems securing the six people needed to participate in the match. Since I took this shit so seriously, despite “retiring” I pledged to lend my hand this one last time.

Lying in wait...
“Lying in wait…”

I wasn’t the best America’s Army player in the clan by a long shot – I had my moments of excellence, but for the most part I was pretty mediocre. Instead my main strengths, in addition to an occasional clever strategy, were in organizing the whole thing and keeping everything (and everyone) in line. This was no easy task, mind you, as we were a pretty casual group of guys for the most part and I always got the impression that most of the clan considered these matches more of a necessary evil than a fun part of playing the game. That and the usual scheduling problems and other drama that always comes up in these clan / guild situations. I’m sure with the popularity of World of Warcraft end game raiding nowadays plenty of you know exactly what I mean by that.

So, I was onboard but I was hardly an “army of one” myself. I honestly don’t remember exactly who else ended up playing that night and the records (mostly forum posts) are pretty sporadic from around that time because of the uproar that was going on within the clan. I know my trustful and highly skilled friend Blood, who was fairly hardcore and was one of the few guys who I think actually really liked playing matches, probably didn’t even have to be asked. Also the other two leaders of the AA division of TPG, PaleHorse and 20kill were onboard as well although 20 didn’t think he could make it. Amouro, who was good but I don’t think ever particularly cared for TWL matches, reluctantly showed up as well. We were having so much trouble getting the numbers we ended up drafting Joeypants, who was a mainstay in other parts of TPG but rarely played AA with us and indeed had never played a TWL match before, into the fold at the last minute. I know I’m forgetting our sixth man but no one can seem to recall exactly who it was – possibly Ace, TheBucket or Rhonis.

We were facing a clan called the 75th Rangers. They were a relatively large “realism” clan who split themselves into several smaller units with different names which all participated in TWL at the same time though often to different degrees. They were all the same group as far as we were concerned though – and we were concerned as we had some negative experiences with them in the past. The first time we had played a part of the [75thR] they called us out on an extremely minor rule violation that had absolutely nothing to do with the game itself (a TWL setup thing…) yet still insisted we forfeit the match. They had every right within the rules to do so but they could have also just as easily let us play regardless instead of taking the free win. The whole thing seemed rather unsportsmanlike and left us all feeling pretty snubbed.

We were really cautious every time we played the [75thR] after that and, I dare say, a bit vengeful. I seem to recall them giving us a pass on another, different issue we had the next time we fought them which was a pleasant surprise. Regardless we beat them the next two times we played them and, at least in my mind, victory was extra sweet because of our first, negative encounter. I should go ahead and disclaim that I harbor no ill will towards any of those guys. They gave us some tough fights and, honestly, I’d rather play against a team who went by the book to a flaw than a bunch of trash talking, hack using, idiot children. When they lost they’d (very briefly) congratulate us and immediately report the score, no excuses made which is about as best as you can hope for in a competition like that one.

So, anyway, we made it to the match with the right amount of guys and, somehow, several of our best guys. The map we were playing was SF Arctic which was a relatively new map. The scenario in Arctic is that a convoy had been bombed and immobilized on a road through a snowy mountain pass. Three APCs (Strykers or BTRs depending on what side you were on) who were traveling with the convoy took up defensive positions around it. These Strykers could be entered and gunned but not moved. They had limited fields of view and their turrets moved rather slowly but because of their powerful 50 caliber machine guns were extremely effective in the right situations. An interesting balance twist was you were somewhat of vulnerable to being flanked and quickly killed by enemy RPG fire if you were operating one so using them was a bit of a gamble. Blowing up the Strykers is also one of the other team’s objects so you will be getting shot at. The rest of the map around the road was divided between being relatively open with some excellent opportunities for sniping and lots of paths through craggy, overgrown areas, which provided plenty of chokepoints as well as flanking opportunities. Interesting map.

Drop the RPG and put your hands on your head!
“Drop the RPG and put your hands on your head!”

TPG actually had a pretty good track record on the map, having played it three times previously in TWL and winning every time. 20kill and/or Itch, had originally come up with a basic strategy for the map that we, as a group, were able to test out and refine a bit. The final defense strategy worked out into a situation in which our team was spread out all over the map, laying prone and peering through our scopes at specific choke points, and listening carefully to every boot we heard crushing through the snow. Our Strykers were only manned as the situation dictated since they were so risky to jump in being that they were always, manned or not, big fat targets for enemy RPGs. The assault strategy was a little more chaotic and reactionary but worked well enough most of the time. Overall our Arctic strategy just barely worked most of the time and could easily be ruined by a slow trigger finger or a few unlucky deaths.

All that said we rarely played Artic on public servers and hadn’t played it as a group since our last match in it nearly a month previously. Indeed we hadn’t had any sort of practice for this match at all and one of our guys, Joeypants, hadn’t even ever played the map. Confidence wasn’t exactly at an all time high.

Whatever. All notions of “confidence” went out the window once we started to actually play because just about everything that could have gone wrong did as we started out on the assault side. Amouro’s ping was fluctuating wildly, bouncing from 100ms to over 3000ms, so he couldn’t really be counted on. We also had an unprecedented number of, shall we say, “friendly fire” incidents – we almost never had a single team kill in our TWL matches, never mind multiple times in multiple rounds! Blood in particular, who I mentioned before was one of the better players in the clan, somehow managed to score several TKs during the match including blasting PaleHorse to smithereens with an AT4 just as he was about to secure one of the objectives. The rest of us either played just as badly or suffered from rotten luck all the same.

All that was fine though because unlike in past TWL matches we all pretty much instantly stopped giving too much of a shit. We cackled like hyenas at the accidental TKs and joked around about our deaths. We also, however, cheered like drunken frat boys as we encountered those rare but defining America’s Army clan match moments where almost the entire team is dead, sitting around in observation mode watching our one or two last guys fight against impossible odds, Rambo style, and somehow come out on top – us cheering them on and congratulating them on their incredible feats. We threw the usual pressure of a TWL match out the window and just played. When the smoke cleared, despite all of the horrible mistakes and other problems and our much less serious attitudes, we somehow weren’t actually doing all that badly. Hmph!

As half time rolls around and we swap sides to go on defense my AA client crashes and too late in the process to rejoin before the match resumes. Great, now we’re playing a man down in addition to playing with a guy who has never played the map before, a guy whose ping is wildly out of control, and a guy who is almost as lethal to us as he is to the enemy. That’s when a cunning plan is hatched: we somehow decided to man all 3 of the Strykers and man them the entire time (within reason) at that. Normally this would be considered, at least amongst the tacticians in our group, a horribly stupid idea. I already noted how dangerous they were to be in – two RPGs could take out a Stryker and the player in it and, if I correctly recall, this could often be done before the Stryker gunner could move his turret around and line up a return burst or get far enough away from the blast if he decided to haul ass away. Apparently other clans shared the same opinion though, as in all of our matches, scrimmages, and even the majority of our less silly public games on the map we’d never seen this done. That was the point though – we were counting on our opponents to be unprepared for such a strategy.

Shoot first, identify targets later. What? It's a fucking sandstorm!
“Shoot first, identify targets later. What? It’s a fucking sandstorm!”

This had actually worked fairly well and when the match was over we had tied the game, all while laughing, joking around, and taking the whole situation as lightly as possible without intentionally sabotaging ourselves. In this ladder when two teams tie they enter into a sudden death tie breaker round on a predetermined, different map. This map was SF Sandstorm.

Sandstorm was a pretty awesome little map that featured a small walled village with a second, smaller walled compound next two it. The map was fairly old and didn’t get much public play from any TPG members but most of us had put our fair share of time into it early on and we had eventually developed a pretty decent strategy for it. That said with two good teams fighting it out the map usually resulted in some extremely intense battles with very close rounds often hinging on a single player. We had played it 6 times in TWL and were 3-3 on it. Not impressive, but our last two attempts at it were relatively easy victories. At this point we all decided to get a little more serious and attempt to go out with a bang by pulling off what we would definitely consider to be an upset win. I rejoined the server and we swapped in 20kill, who ended up showing up after all, late to the party, to replace Joeypants.

It’s hard to say if we were just riding our highs, the other team was totally unprepared to play Sandstorm that night, we had unnerved them somehow, or what exactly happened but we proceeded to easily wipe the floor with [75thR] in this final round using our usual map strategy and team tactics. A very convincing, not to mention satisfying deciding round.

The victory kept us at 5th rung in our ladder which at the time had over 100 clans and put our record at a respectable 25-10. We couldn’t believe we won. TeamSpeak was full of celebration, laughing, cheering, giggling, you name it. Honestly, looking back over this post, it’s difficult to convey the utter ridiculousness of the situation and the huge amount of fun we all had in being a part of it. This was definitely one of my favorite memories of TPG and, as I said before, one of my favorite moments in online gaming period. I actually felt a little sorry for the [75thR] guys after this, I mean, who knows what the score might have been if we were at full strength and actually trying! 🙂

The much less exciting epilogue of the story is that [TPG]AA went on to fizzle out without the involvement of myself and several other key members. Blood, with some help from Rhonis, tried to take over the reigns and hold things together playing one last, losing TWL match against the number 3 team. It was obvious that the interest just wasn’t there amongst clan members and soon they were all but forced to officially dropped out of TWL. No discredit to Blood here as having enough committed players was a problem before I left and inadvertently decimated the ranks never mind afterwards. The few members who didn’t stick around for other games went their separate ways and that was all she wrote for that chapter in TPG’s history.

This post goes out to all of the [TPG]AA members and participants, particularly 20kill, PaleHorse, Blood, Amouro, and the infamous Ace. I know some of you will be reading it.

These screenshots aren’t from the match, in fact they’re from a much newer version of AA (2.8.4) and taken in offline mode using an array of funky console commands.

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.