Tag Archives: Editing

More fun with ArmA scripting

I spent much of my precious little free time this week playing with my chopper evacuation script again. This time, as I had planned, I cloned the escort chopper portion of the script replacing the attack chopper with a transport chopper.

Unfortunately I had quite a bit of trouble getting this part of the operation to work as smoothly as I had imagined. No matter how I got my script working it seemed that the whole rescue squad that disembarks, waits for the player to board, and then hops back on concept was destined to failure. Most likely the squad would be slaughtered while leaving the chopper and, if not, the chopper would probably be full of holes before any of them decided it might be a good idea to shoot back. I decided to simply put an infantry squad on the chopper in case it got shot down but that was it – nothing fancy. I figured the door gunners could suppress the ground a bit if enemies were around and hopefully even fire while waiting on the ground.

After doing a bit of testing with live enemies in the immediate area of the landing zone I was pretty dissatisfied with the whole thing. The Blackhawk barely returned fire at the enemies on the ground and often got shot down or, better yet, destroyed after landing on the ground. Still, it was pretty exciting, dynamic stuff. Here’s proof:

I spawned standing only a hundred feet or so from a full squad of enemies who were luckily all facing the other direction. I quickly jumped to the ground and dialed up both an escort and an evacuation choppers on my radio. Soon enough I got to see the awesome sight of both helos flying in together as if in formation over my position as I crawled behind some bushes – the Cobra coming in low over the enemy squad and the Blackhawk swinging around to make a quick landing on the nearby beach.

After a few short bursts from its miniguns the Blackhawk actually lands quickly for once so I leap up and make a mad dash towards it, circling around rocks and bushes to put some soft cover between the now very aware enemy squad an I. As I’m about 20 feet away from the Blackhawk… BOOM! A massive explosion! Most likely from an enemy RPG. It doesn’t blow the Blackhawk up but definitely disables it. The living squad and crew members immediately disembark just as I make it to the door of the chopper… Doh! The squad begins to spread out and take cover behind the unexposed side of the Blackhawk, the sound of bullets spraying its thin metal armor deafening.

The Cobra swings in a few more times over the enemy squad unleashing a small volley of rockets and then zooms off towards the enemy armor in the distance to do what it does best. The remaining enemies continue lighting up our position with automatic weapon fire as they start to slowly advance on the sight of the downed Blackhawk. As the volume of fire lessens slightly I decide to creep up through the underbrush to see what is left of the OPFOR.

I come across a couple of bodies of the friendly squad from the downed chopper and grab myself an M4 and an AT4 so that I can actually defend myself. I crawl up further and spot an enemy laying a couple of hundred feet away and hear the crack of his weapon’s report as he evidently spots me as well. I duck behind a small bush and then peep out to finish him off. Suddenly our Cobra is back although all it is doing is hovering over the enemies and not actually shooting at them… I really need to look into that. At least its letting me know there are still enemies around. As I crawl forward a bit more I see another and immediately start trading shots with him only this time I’m not having much luck actually hitting him. Luckily another friendly soldier takes a knee 15 feet or so behind me and is able to finish him off. Sensing his work is done the Cobra zooms off back to base.

Well, I’m stuck out here with a handful of soldiers I have no control over (something else to add!) and with no way home I might as well go over the hill and see what kind of damage the Cobra did to the enemy armor I had setup for earlier escort request tests. I slowly make my way over hill after hill until I can just barely make out the thick black smoke of a downed tank – I’m close. As I crest the next hill I come across an lone BMP-2 sitting in a small valley. He doesn’t see me so I sprint out, take a knee, and launch my AT4 at him – direct hit but oddly not much happens. Doh! This one has already been destroyed by our Cobra friend. I’m so out of practice…

Don't pilots get paid too much for this shit?
“Don’t pilots get paid too much for this shit?”

I again very, very slowly make my way over the next hill. This time I can see the smoldering wreckage of another BMP and a couple more wrecks as well. Strangely enough I don’t see any of the enemy soldiers that I know should be in the area. I do see what appears to be two intact BMPs although they don’t seem to be manned. I put my AT4 on my shoulder and carefully toast both vehicles and now that I’ve effectively announced my presence I see a small group of enemy soldiers make a dash out of some bushes and onto their bellies – time for some action! I start lighting them up but it quickly becomes apparent that their are way more of them than I expected never mind that I’m having serious issues with actually hitting any of them because of the distance.

After moving back and forth between bushes to attempt to conceal myself somewhat, popping out on occasion to try to take out some of my targets, I pretty much finish off the last of the guys I can see and at last stop taking firing. That was an intense little firefight! I cautiously creep forward just a bit more and suddenly hear the roaring of a tank, possibly multiple tanks, starting up. They wouldn’t be moving unless they had a good reason to – they spotted me!

I dart 20 or 30 feet back to where I came from and dive behind a bush and a large protruding boulder. It sounds like they’re getting closer and closer – what in the hell can I do? My AT4 is empty and I’ve got nothing else that can harm a BMP let alone a T-72. Then it pops into my head – my Cobra escort made it back to base… he should be available for another mission! I quickly dial him up on my radio and try to stay calm as I listen to the loud engines and crushing tracks of the enemy armor getting closer and closer. If they see me before my air support comes, which will probably take quite a while, I’m done for.

Watching the fireworks.
“Watching the fireworks.”

Finally after what seemed like an eternity of hiding curled up in a bush making peace with my maker I hear the all too familiar sound of the Cobra’s rotor slicing through the air. It slows down drastically as it sees the enemy armor, at first I think he might even be going down, but no, he launches a couple of missles and soon mops up the remaining enemy armor on the beach. Thanks, that was intensely close!

In the commotion I saw several more enemy soldiers running around so I inch around, assault rifle dug deep into my shoulder, looking for any sign of these stragglers. An enemy machine gunner unleashes a massive spray of fire at me but totally misses and I smirk as his tracer rounds spray ridiculously far off target. I spray indiscriminately at the bush he is taking cover behind and the fire sppm stops – one down! I inch forward a bit more and squeeze off a few well aimed rounds at another enemy who is taking pot shots at me from prone position about 40 feet away. I slowly make my way forward, towards the sight of the majority of the now destroyed armor, as the Cobra circles over head.

Black smoke fills the horizon and then, suddenly, the sound of a new engine and the addition of a new, brown, puff of smoke joins the others making an obvious contrast. What the fuck? Someone just jumped into another abandoned BMP! The chopper appears to be out of ammo as he circles it harmlessly and I still have no means of taking something like this out on my own. Hoping the luck is on my side I slowly approach the body of the last enemy I shot and… eureka! He had an RPG!

Well, it might have seemed like a good place to hide...
“Well, it might have seemed like a good place to hide…”

I grab the RPG, reload it, shoulder it, peer through the sight, and squeeze the trigger resulting a direct hit to the back of the BMP before any of the crew even have a chance to notice me. MISSION COMPLETE! Man, what a tense and action packed little scenario, especially considering it all started out as such a simple little code test. Damn, I love this game! 🙂

ArmA Editing

This is a direct follow up to my earlier post here.

Right now my scripting efforts consist of a relatively small amount of changes. One of the very first thing I did was change what our player’s pilot character was going to be equipped with. Normally “pilots” come with an assault rifle which works a lot better for helicopter pilots than it does aircraft pilots. Our guy is stuck only with an M9 pistol, 4 magazines for it, a couple of smoke grenades, and the ever-trusty binoculars.

My biggest concern initially and what other than fine tuning the mission’s objectives originally inspired this whole excursion into scripting was communication. I felt the scenario would feel a bit more realistic if I could make the base/tower/controller/whoever be able to talk to our pilot while he was on the mission, particularly when around the airstrip and as objects changed. I also figured it would be nice to have our pilot respond – whole conversations in other words. Once I figured out how to do this it meant if I wanted to be fairly thorough with my communications, which I did, I’d have to do a lot of scripting to make trigger some of these messages.

Somewhere in here I developed my evacuation idea. After a few hours of working on it (which have included way too many tank-busting flight tests but I’m still trying to keep used to the flying mechanics and whatnot so I have an excuse!) here’s what I’ve got done:

We now join our script already in progress.
“We now join our script already in progress.”

First off I’ve only added the escort attack chopper routines in so far. The player radios in for an evacuation. The game then spawns a helicopter and its crew in a predetermined location. We set a waypoint for the player’s location at the time they called us and head to it in seek and destroy mode. I also set a variable around this point to denote that an mission is in progress and added in a check which disallows a call if the previous mission hasn’t ended so they can’t summon 300 helicopter (which is damn fun by the way!) When the chopper gets semi close to the waypoint it kicks off a timer. The chopper will then hang around blowing enemies up or just hovering around like an idiot until it runs out at which point we’ll set another waypoint and make it active so that it can return back to its spawn site, land and then be deleted from existence. We’ve got a lot radio messages along the way too.

My next order of business is to add in some status checks for the health of the vehicle. My decision to add in radio messages meant that, in my mind, I’d need to do some scripting in order to account for some conditions in which we might expect messages but not be able to easily send them. Specifically in this case I’m going to send a message when the chopper gets damaged and when it gets destroyed.

The damage part was pretty easy. I added a trigger to check to see if the chopper had acquired a certain amount of damage yet was still alive and if so I had the chopper send a radio message to the effect that he was taking damage. I set this to run only once, so once it triggers the first time that’ll be all we get. I threw a couple of Shilkas on my test map and after playing it enough times to have them actually manage to damage it before it blew them to hell it worked perfectly.

Runner up in the most boring screenshot of the year awards, 2008.
“Runner up in the most boring screenshot of the year awards, 2008.”

The second part, checking to see if the chopper was down or not, was quite a bit harder as in the interest of more accurate radio messages I had to check if the chopper had been destroyed outright, if the chopper had been destroyed but the crew had survived, if the chopper was fine but the pilot was dead, and if the chopper was fine AND the crew was fine, but they had made an emegrency or crash landing.

To accomplish this I ended up having to add four separate triggers for the four conditions. I had considered making one simpler trigger set off a script to check the other conditions but ended up doing it this way. I also added a global variable which each of them would set on activation which they’d check so we wouldn’t get cascading messages if, say, the chopper started to crash-land, then the pilot got killed, then the chopper blew up, then the gunner died. I also used this new variable to abort the rest of the original script which meant that unneeded waypoints wouldn’t be set, invalid radio messages wouldn’t be sent, the crashed units wouldn’t be mysteriously deleted, and the “in progress” global variable I added wouldn’t be reset, therefore further evacuation requests would be unavailable.

Another BMP-2 is sacrificed to the scripting gods.
“Another BMP-2 is sacrificed to the scripting gods.”

I think the script is pretty much done now. Next I’ll need to duplicate attack chopper script for the transport helicopter and then modify the hell out of it to take into account landing, loading, the additional waypoints, and all that fun stuff.

More ArmA Stuff

For those of you that don’t know 2001’s Operation Flashpoint is a brilliant, brilliant game. It is sort of the Morrowind or Oblivion of tactical shooters. Where as the Elder Scrolls games give you a sprawling, detailed world to explore and quest in filled with odd, interesting AI encounters, its open ended freedom providing a great sense of character attachment and achievement, Operation Flashpoint gives you a spawning, detailed world in which to assault towns and partake in massive tank battles filled with odd, interesting AI encounters, providing an unsurpassed feeling of player immersion and realism. It is one of the few games where I vividly remember moments, not because of some minor, scripted event, or because of what was said during some cutscene or dialog, but because of the decisions I made and the immediate consequences they had on me and the world around me. All of this is delivered with a dose of simulation love that I’d never seen before or since in an FPS game. Operation Flashpoint in several different ways transcends existing genre definitions. At its best it’s more of an experience than a game.

A Russian T-72 rolls forward amidst a massive tank battle.
“A Russian T-72 rolls forward amidst a massive tank battle.”

Ok, enough swooning over it or I won’t have anything left to say when I write a real review some day. 😉

Armed Assault is a pseudo sequel to Operation Flashpoint. It is basically made by the same people, using the same engine which has been somewhat modernized with some new graphical effects and capabilities, a bunch of new objects with better textures and higher quality models, and a new single player campaign. In many ways it doesn’t deliver as a sequel to Operation Flashpoint although at the same time it wasn’t necessarily intended to either. We’ll have both Operation Flashpoint 2 and Armed Assault 2 later this year (apparently) to attempt to fill those shoes.

Perhaps the core component of the awesomesauce the fuels Armed Assault is the mission editor. Everything that happens in the game is done so in a relatively simple framework of units, waypoints, and triggers placed on a map. You can get a bit more complicated with the addition of more advanced waypoint and trigger functions, synchronization, and eventually scripting. Despite being fairly simple it is all pretty proprietary and how things work and why can feel pretty damned esoteric at times. Still you can actually do a surprisingly large amount with just the basics and little understanding of the rest. For example one of my first attempts in dabbling with the editor, the Operation Flashpoint: Elite version on the original Xbox, included only units going to timed waypoints. I don’t think I even used any triggers! Yet I had built a challenging scenario that involved the player outrunning an enemy assault on his camp and making it to an incoming friendly helicopter for evacuation, with all kinds of interesting, semi-dynamic elements and details.

Insurgents ambush passing US Abrams tanks.
“Insurgents ambush passing US Abrams tanks.”

The dynamics are certainly one of my favorite things about playing around in the mission editor and playing in the world of Operation Flashpoint/Armed Assault period. How the author of the mission intended it to work only makes up a small part of the equation. The way the AI, while quite far from perfect, reacts is varied and often interesting. It feels as if every tiny action the player makes factors in thus they might behave a little differently every time you face them. The human player himself, of course, has a fairly unpredictable nature in terms of game design and will often act in ways you would have never expected. This gives the whole experience, even when it is a simple enough scenario, a unique and personal feel. More often than not different players will have completely different stories of how they defeated the very same missions.

An special ops team prepares to insert via MH-6 under cover of darkness.
“An special ops team prepares to insert via MH-6 under cover of darkness.”

It is easy enough to open the editor, load a map, pick a spot that looks interesting, and plop a few enemy units down. Next you give them a few waypoints so that they move around a bit and then you’re ready to jump in the game and attempt to defeat them all. Given the slow, tactical, deadly nature of the engagements this can be a lot more fun and entertaining than it sounds providing you’re into that sort of thing. That is all I was intending to do when I started working on my A-10 mission. After all, that is about all that happens in most flight sim scenarios – you take off, fly to point A, bomb some targets, fly to point B, bomb some more, and then fly back to base. The problem is that ArmA is capable of so much more than blowing up static, armored targets. Our targets can move! Our targets can be unmanned but become manned as our aircraft is detected. Ours can shoot us down and… If we eject, they can hunt us down and finished the job once we’re on foot!

US Army soldiers fan out to investigate possible enemy activity.
“US Army soldiers fan out to investigate possible enemy activity.”

You see, one interesting thing about flying in games that have an infantry aspect, such as this, the Battlefield series, and other, similar games, is that once you get shot down the game isn’t over. In ArmA trying to make it back to safety while avoiding patrols and possibly having to defend yourself with only the limited small arms of a pilot is an adventure unto itself! I decided I need to add in some more interesting features to compensate for this.

First and foremost, we’d need to add OPFOR units that are neither targets nor there strictly for atmosphere. If there’s a group of guys sitting around a camp fire next to a parked tank that you’re about to destroy they’re potential victims and not much else. If one of them has a Stinger surface-to-air missile, however, they’re now an actual threat. If one of them can make a made dash to a Shilka hidden in the brush 50 feet away, they’re an even bigger problem! We also need to add in patrols of infantry and light armor, maybe even the odd chopper, to the surrounding country side. These will help give the world more atmosphere, targets of opportunity, and most importantly provide downed pilots with some potential risk as already mentioned.

An OPFOR soldier tracks an AH-64 Apache assaulting his position. The situation doesn't look good.
“An OPFOR soldier tracks an AH-64 Apache assaulting his position. The situation doesn’t look good.”

We’ve still not mentioned anything we can’t do all that easily. We could, however, make it much more complicated. We could, for instance, only have those patrols active when the player has been detected in the area but not in his aircraft. We could take that concept a step further, and send out patrols specifically to the area he was shot down in order to attempt to locate him. We could even spawn an enemy helicopter to fly to and drop some troops off in the area. Ugh… Talk about lowering the odds. 🙂

We don’t just need to do things to hinder our player however. This scenario is supposed to take place in modern times, maybe even near future. Surely our pilot would have a radio, some kind of a rescue beacon, maybe even a GPS? Why does he need to limp his sorry as all the way home? He doesn’t, of course!

Two Russian BMP-2s rush past an exploding Russian T-72 during a tank on tank engagement.
“Two Russian BMP-2s rush past an exploding Russian T-72 during a tank on tank engagement.”

This is what I’m currently developing – a script to allow a pilot to request to be evacuated. It is interesting to design a system while learning the capabilities of the engine and attempting to work around them simultaneously I’ve got to say. My plan is to allow the pilot to use his radio to call back to his HQ for an evac which will spawn an attack helicopter and a transport helicopter. The attack chopper will act as an escort coming in first, engaging any enemy vehicles in the area hopefully. The transport helicopter will show up soon after, land, unload a squad of troops, and wait for the player to get in. Once he does the squad will mount back up and the chopper will return the player to base. Sounds fairly straight forward right?

Not so much. First of all, little of what I’ve described can be accomplished with waypoints and triggers alone. For one, how in the world do I make it so the friendly choppers arrive at/near the players location? I thought of an alternative, one that I might still use for some missions in the future, and that is to have the rescues available at multiple predetermined locations marked on the map and the player can select which one he’d prefer to use. This would be much easier to pull off, as I could set the waypoints on the map and have much of what needs to happen done with zero scripting. It would also add an element of adventure as the player has to hike to the pick up location. On the downside, the landmasses available in ArmA are huge and 2 or 3 available pick up points might not be adequate.

A US Army sniper, having just eliminated his targets, prepares to exfiltrate the scene.
“A US Army sniper, having just eliminated his targets, prepares to exfiltrate the scene.”

We’ve also got to worry about a ton of little details. Can the player call these in more than once at a time? No? How about more than once per mission? Will the transport helicopter wait forever for the pilot to arrive or eventually depart with out him? What happens if one of the helicopters gets destroyed or disabled? Do the helicopters just appear or do they already exist and take off from some predetermined base? If they already exist, what happens if they destroyed before they’re called in? There’s quite a lot to think about indeed…

Note: I took all of the above screenshots ingame at the settings I normally play at and none of them have been modified although many do include user created addons.