(Note: Long rant followed below. Basic premise: making ArmA less brutally realistic and more player-friendly and fun is a good thing, yes no?)
Hello fellow mission-makers!
Hopefully the controversial topic there drew some of you over here for a little discussion (that's what this forum is for, right?), since it's something I've been mulling about for a little while. I think it's something BIS was thinking about as well when they designed their campaign (and possible the whole game), yet it's something that, going by what I read on the official forums, most people are in fact generally opposed to! Making Armed Assault more into a game, less into a simulator.
Let me explain.
In this context, "Gamey" means "like a game" (not "suggestive of sexual impropriety"
). I'm not one to suggest what elements can be contained in a "game" (or a computer/video game in this case), since the list can be endless, but I believe one of the more central ones is that it's fun and hopefully entertaining. I am going to make the claim that ArmA isn't very gamey at all.
In today's world, being gamey usually means "dumbed down", since for the game to be entertaining it needs to aim for the lowest common denominator. ArmA however is clearly not designed for the common lowest denominator, much like OFP. No bunny-jumping, 100 HP, fifteen-weapon toting superheroes running down corridors blasting armies to smithereens. ArmA's gameplay is unique. Many people go as far as claiming ArmA doesn't really have gameplay; it's a simulator. It simulates combat.
As a simulator, ArmA is exempt from its requirement to be fun and entertaining - "gamey" - and is instead expected to be ultra-realistic (I am aware not everyone shares this view). Note the most common mods and addons used and developed are those who can stake a claim to the highest level of realism. ArmA is being pushed into a category where every nut and bolt of every addon, every script, and every mission is expected to fit into this constrained category of "realistic". Check out for instance the discussion towards pages 40-> of RH's weapons: RH Weapons (BIS forums)
, or this "discussion" in the User Missions board about List of things that make a good mission
It is understandable that people strive for realism, and this is the perfect game to pursue that. A certain brand of people buy and play games such as ArmA and OFP, and most of them are (I dare say) hardcore realism freaks, who enjoy the "simulation" aspects of ArmA as much as they enjoy the open moddability and easy to use mission editor. They don't want to see a quick hack job
, they want the real thing! A somewhat frightening prospect, I believe, for some members of this community.
Now, this is all very fine for the people who create addons, and to an extent those who create scripts such as OFPEC ILS; yet what it all boils down to people, is how much these fantastically realistic and lovingly created addons are used in missions! OFP had this problem, probably still has it: all those addons, all those scripts, all those amazing things created for what? Usually not too much.
I would like to interject here that I am going to talk about SP missions primarily from here onwards: in MP you can place down two opposing sides, one on each side of town, and call it "team Death Match" and people will have endless hours of fun. Cf. "Hexxenkessel" etc. I am aware ArmA is living the golden age of Multiplayer Coops, and that that's where the money is. But I am going to ignore that for the moment (as previously stated: with a good group online, you don't need more than fifteen minutes in the editor to create hours of fun in MP).
I have played a lot of missions in both ArmA and OFP. As a whole, they still follow the basic guidelines given to use by BIS back in OFP. Some have more elaboration, some have less. In general you're in an infantry squad, and you're killing something (a Shilka, a town, a base, your ambushers etc). The only tools you are given are ones that you can be expected to have with a minimum of scripting and hassle: maybe a radio command to call in Bravo, or if you're lucky a Stryker or even artillery. The moments of triumph and success are usually few and far between: you just sniped 90% of the town's AI defenders from a hill outside of their engagement ranges, and now you're moving in for the gruelling save/load clean-up. Or you've found the Shilka (naturally ridiculously overdefended) and now it's blown up and you're performing your predictable exfil. It's the gameplay we've come to expect of OFP and ArmA. The challenge, in short, comes entirely from dodging bullets and killing an enemy that generally vastly outnumbers you.
But does it have to be like this? In defence of the OFP CWC/Resistance campaigns (apologizes to those who haven't played OFP), it's all fine and dandy in a campaign environment, : although most of CWC's missions were fairly basic, the storyline and the professionalism with which the missions were made allowed for it. Most importantly, the players WANTED to finish the mission to get to see how the story unfolded. And generally, the makers of the campaign wanted the player to finish the mission so they could get on with the campaign.
In a single mission however, there has to be something else to convince the player to play to the finish. One way is to make the single mission into a campaign of sorts, à la Punishment Battallion
, with a storyline and multiple objectives. However hardly everyone has the will to develop such a massive mission, especially if the goal is a couple of hours of fun. Everyone has already seen the "destroy Shilka as spec op/attack city as squad leader/destroy convoy as Cobra pilot" scenarios, and I personally usually don't have the patience to finish these missions unless there's -something- there that gives me a little kick, something that's even a little different. Hell - it can be me being the squad's Designated Marksman carrying an SVD Dragunov, or us working in tandem with a AH-6 hover overhead in the same squad, or giving me a particularly eclectic choice of starting equipment (tank attack incoming, but no AT, only mines and satchels, say).
Here's where the wall of realism hits.
You can't send specops out on missions without NV goggles and binoculars and satchel charges and silenced weapons (if you do, it's just sloppy mission design!).
You can't mix up unit types just for gameplay purposes!
In real-life scenarios, that's what you DO! You take over enemy strongholds and destroy their vital assets! There's nothing more to it! And you'll get killed more often than not! And there're no other rewards for you than seeing the "You won, congratulations." text at the end of it!
I got the Orange Box for christmas - and man was it a blast. What piqued me though was the "developer's comments" that came with Episode 2 and Portal : the ability to play through levels you had already passed, and get to hear the developer's thoughts and reasonings behind certain solutions in the game. It was somewhat eye-opening in many places: I had never even realized as I played through it how very very "gamey" it was indeed. They had a constant balance between "fun" and "challenging" - in my opinion, they leaned slightly more towards fun than challenge, but the fact remains: they wanted the player to overcome, and when s/he did, they rewarded him. Which is something I think many mission designers for ArmA and OFP lack (myself included, quite often). Yes - HL2 is more like a campaign than a single mission, but there's something to be learned here.
Let me take an example from OFP. There was a much-lauded campaign, Retaliation
(leads to ad-filled ofp.info, beware) made by a team of Russians which basically showed the other side of the original CWC conflict. They understood the concept of playability quite well. There was one mission in particular, where you were supposed to take over as the artillery spotter in face of an overpowering US onslaught. The artillery was very powerful, and almost immediate (not very realistic, then), but man was it fun thinking fast and working out the locations of the incoming forces - tanks, infantry and all - based on local landmarks showing on the map. I played it with the FFUR/SLX mod, which added bullets flying everywhere and the screams of the dead and dying. Yes - it was a hard mission - but the satisfaction of working out how to survive long enough to effectively use the artillery, and then making it work with amazing results was well worth the trouble. And the fact you didn't need to shoot a single bullet for the whole duration was also a welcome change of pace.
And finally, two good examples from ArmA: Blood, Sweat & Tears, and that A-10 mission. Some of you might not have played them, but rest assured they were both quite well received indeed (receiving comments such as "this is what ArmA should have been from the start"). In BS&T, there are several gamey elements: shooting the SLA soldiers only in the head so as to preserve their uniforms. Getting an SPR as a sort of "reward" for completing this first section. Being allowed to choose between units (in a flashy dialog, no less). The attack on the city was pretty standard, as was the attack on the airfield if you went with the infantry fellow; the SF soldier had a much more interesting time. In the climactic end, you first got to sit behind the minigun of a Blackhawk and strafe the base at Ixel (the waypoints and height adjustments worked perfectly), after which you were shot down and you had to defend yourself and the surviving pilot against SLA hunting you.
In the A-10 mission on the other hand, there was a running bet between you and your wingman: who could score 10 kills before landing. It even featured a custom resource which showed your kills as you got them. Furthermore, as the mission progressed, you would be given new orders : such as destroying a building in which the SLA were barricaded in, or aiding in the destruction of an APC in a village to the side. All the while dodging (unnecessarily accurate) fire from the ground.
You might be thinking that I'm "simply" calling for more originality in missionmaking, but it is in fact more than that. As mentioned above, there's a certain realism-hysteria over the whole ArmA/OFP community. A hysteria which I think impacts quite negatively on the creativity of most mission makers: I myself have often felt constrained by the demands of reality.
So why not simply make realistic, but original, missions? The examples above, albeit gamey, -could- still be considered realistic enough. The reason for this in most cases is the same reason why I didn't notice the immediate gameyness of Half Life 2 : because it was so skillfully done.
Originality is not as easy as it seems, and when constrained by some kind of expectation of a "simulation", originality seems to become nigh impossible. This is, I think, why so many people were disappointed in the ArmA campaign. There were plenty of missions there that were indeed gamey: they let the player be the hero, while letting him overcome certain obstacles in his path (and often introducing one of the new features/landmarks/weapons/vehicles of the game). Sadly, the campaign was rushed, and the gameyness did not come through as well as it should have, leaving us with several missions that were no different from your average "blow up these tanks alone" missions that we've all had quite enough of. Others - like the one where you were supposed to protect the engineers setting up a camp behind the lines, and you could see the camp getting built as you placed your men in defensive positions was a good example of gameyness. Another was the mission where you were supposed to pursue two Urals with two hummers - one hummer necessarily surviving - driving through enemy territory.
Sadly, both missions were at the start marred by both unfriendly AI and bad vehicle pathfinding, but the idea was solidly there. This is why I believe BIS wanted ArmA to be more gamey - in short, more fun and rewarding, even if that means sacrificing a bit of "realism" (realism meaning having that average lifespan of 15 seconds or somesuch that most soldiers seem to have). I am however also aware of BIS' adage that "war isn't fun". It's not - but playing war is!
So what I am calling for is in fact some more gameyness. I believe that designing a brutally realistic mission where everything is set up according to specs will sadly turn out in most cases to be a brutally difficult and amazingly unrewarding mission in the end. Setting up that same mission, except with a different approach which appeals more to the gamers we are at heart than to the soldiers, will I think garner more joy. Why do you think military movies like Blackhawk Down or Saving Private Ryan - despite having nigh any connection to reality - are still stock for realism freaks and gamer geeks alike?
How can this be done?
Well, this isn't supposed to be just a monologue, I'm wanting to start a discussion here. Do -you- believe having a different approach to mission making could be a success? Or is the "conquer village. Call in airstrike" gameplay really the only kind available to us? Or the "lead SF team behind enemy lines - avoid patrols".
I really enjoyed the concept of the "no frills" missions. What I want is not only a "no frills" mission, but a "let's play a game!" mission. Of course, this usually demands more time and effort from us, but I don't think it demands endless time and effort! The important thing is, I believe, less to be incredibly original in the mission goals and objectives, and more in the WAY you do it - even if it leads to gameyness, fun is more important than realism in most cases.
Some random stuff from Mandoble that might be useful in changing the way things work in ArmA:Mando Tractor
(for those towing missions!)Mando Heliroute
(when you want impressive helicopter scenes)Mando Gun
(when you want a lotta bullets in the air at the same time)Mando Chaser Mando Brush
(well, okay, not very useful in an immediate sense...but it has potential to be reworked)Mando Move
(lots of potential for this)Mando 3D text
(could be interesting)
And of course from others:LCD's brute force hacking
(although LCD likes to use it in like every single one of his missions
(potential, potential! And very smartly scripted)Hotwire script by Rumsfield
(or those GTA missions)ArmaTec's Airlift script
(imagination, and use thereof, much suggested!)
And outside of OFPEC:UAVDAC 2.0
And I'm sure there're tons more. Anyway...what do y'all think? How about some gamey, no-frills missions where you do stuff you might not always normally do in ArmA? It's probably physically impossible to turn ArmA into COD, even if we wanted to (which I'm assuming we don't, since otherwise we'd be playing COD), but what if, just for once, we'd try to aim for fun, entertainment and playability?
This was a very, very, very long post. Good luck if you manage it all the way down here!