Sometimes the best missions are the ones that go sideways.
I consider myself a flight simmer first and a “first person shooter” second. Well, that is not entirely accurate. I do not consider myself a “first person shooter” as that implies Battlefield whatever or Call of Duty whatever. Maybe “tactical simmer” shooter is a better term. Let’s go with that.
I am also more of an off-line flight simmer. I never really feel that I can hold my own, even in a cooperative versus AI situation, without a ton of additional practice and preparation. I joined SimHQ a long time ago, lurking in the background for years reading article after article, post after post, but even with all that I always felt too far behind the curve to get my feet more than a little wet. I always held back from becoming a regular in the multiplayer world.
When Arma3 was announced, I thought this might be the best opportunity to join a group online. Arma3 has a flight simulation component, albeit a lighter weight flight sim portion that I was hoping for but it was at a time and place where I could go through the learning curve with everyone. I mean come on, ground pounding can’t be that tough can it? Point the sharp end of the stick at the bad guys, stay with your assigned squad and try not to shoot them or do something monumentally stupid to get them all killed. And every now and then you get to take a helicopter up to insert/extract some troops or maybe get to fly some CAS for troops on the ground.
Multiplayer follow the leader with the added bonus of some flight simming in a live environment thrown in from time to time? Perfect!
What I found was … unexpected.
A good online community can be invaluable and it starts with how they treat their members, both the new and the long term members. What I found with the SimHQ Arma3 community were copious amounts of patience and perseverance. This allows you to get help without feeling guilty about it and take a supporting role and work your way along at almost your own pace – something that is more difficult to do in a pure flight sim community where flight and mission times are longer with a few, rare exceptions. Additionally, a group showing patience with long-term members means that they are willing to tolerate mistakes and work with those players to help them adapt to changes and be better.
tl;dr: All of this is to say: Get off your lazy arse and get playing online. Look for a group that shows patience with new members and, importantly, patience with long-term members. Once you have found that, invest in it and help it grow.
Recently, the SimHQ Arma3 community made the decision to improve their game-play in a more realistic direction with the addition of Task Force Radio (TFR) and Advanced Combat Environment 3 (ACE) to their mod set. This was a tough decision. The implications mean that the environments gets more confusing for everyone at the risk that the game-play (i.e.: fun) gets reduced or eliminated. This is where the patience and perseverance come into play. With the added complexity come extra responsibilities that require extra discipline. There is a learning curve that everyone needs to adapt to and losing members because of a change diminishes the game-play as a whole.
TFR is a modification that adds realistic (or semi-realistic) radios to the Arma3 base game. Radios have frequencies, line of sight, range issues and squad/team leaders need to carry and manage two of them – one to talk to their squad and one to talk between the squads. That increases the work load on practically every member of the team. Members now will need to parse the incoming audio messages (who said what on which radio and does it involve me or not), learn to talk in 3-4 different ways (local chat, short-range radio and up to two long-range radio options).
ACE is a modification that adds to the realism of the combat environment by changing the behaviours of some weapons systems, the wounding/death system and how the players interact with themselves and the world. Complicated weapons get more complicated (i.e.: AT rockets, demolition charges, etc.) and wounds taken from enemy (or friendly) fire need to be treated in various ways. The interaction changes introduced by ACE occur in two formats, ‘self’ interaction and ‘target’ interaction system. You can repack magazines that are partially emptied, treat wounds (your own wounds with ‘self’ interaction and the wounds of others with ‘target’ interaction), set or trigger explosives, vary the type of grenade throwing you do, deal with map tools, attach IR beacons to things and much, much more.
And it has taken a few weeks for us to start to adapt our game-play to take these changes into account and, in my opinion, it has lead to some of the most immersive gaming that I have ever been a part of in a multiplayer environment.
Type: Cooperative versus AI;
Objective: Locate and destroy 3 MLRS trucks hidden in a civilian town/village;
Squads: Alpha lead/Mission Commander: Near_blind, Bravo Lead: Meatshield. I was an AR gunner assigned to Alpha;
It began simply enough, though it started its turn sideways relatively early. The squads loaded up on an Mi-8 (from the Red Hammer Studio Russian forces mod) and we headed for the LZ. I had been practicing with the Mi-8 during our warm up period – the current format of which is a simple open mission to give everyone a chance to log in and work through TFAR and ACE issues before we start the main missions – so I managed to snag the pilot’s seat.
En-route we ran into a BTR/BMP covering the LZ, forcing us to divert to a more protected site; moving the mission a little sideways, but we were able to recover. Near_blind, leading the mission, had planned a path to the target area earlier and we were able to continue using this route and bypass the BTR/BMP. As we neared the target area Alpha and Bravo squads split toward two objectives. Bravo was assigned to a cluster of buildings off to the right of our avenue of advance while Alpha had to cross an relatively open area and into a walled compound. Tasks assigned, we headed out.
In hindsight, this is where the mission started to go a little sideways. Unbeknownst to Alpha the medic that was accompanying us and trailing behind the squad, and the only medic on the mission, was hit and no one noticed. With TFAR, when someone is incapacitated, like the medic was, they can not talk on the radio to let anyone know. If everyone is not paying attention, incapacitated people can be left behind to die a lonely, quiet death as they bleed out.
Alpha team encountered resistance both in the compound and from nearby concealed enemies. We pushed through and managed to secure the compound just as an enemy BTR/BMP ran up to our front. The AT trooper pulled out his weapon and gave us our second teachable moment of the mission: ACE3 and rocket back-blast. Even though another soldier called and cleared the back blast area, the AT carrier was not far enough from the building behind him and suffered from concussion damage that quickly rendered him quite beyond saving. Alpha was in the process of losing a soldier every now and then as we were unable to find and fix the opposing incoming fire. As casualties mounted and, luckily, enemy fire decreased we noticed that the Medic was not answering calls. The mission was starting to really go sideways as confusion mounted as we ran around looking for medics body and, importantly, medical supplies to get our wounded back up and fighting.
After an awfully long time I was luckily enough to find him and his. My role switched from AR gunner to ad-hoc medic and I started patching people up as calls came in from Bravo that they were pinned down and required medical assistance as well.
The atmosphere was chaotic and I did not envy Near_blind his job of trying to sort the mess out. This is where TFAR comes back into the picture: it is incredibly challenging to maintain your situational awareness as you try to pull your squad together while working out the situation of Bravo, its location, enemy picture, and state. Working the radios in this situation becomes a necessary skill.
Alpha was tasked with moving to Bravo’s position to help alleviate the pressure that they were facing and get their wounded back up. We moved out, snaking along a rock wall towards Bravo’s location. Once there, I found the incapacitated soldier and set to work.
The ACE mod adds two different levels of medical systems to Arma3. In one, you have to triage the patient and provide detailed help where it is needed. The second is a simpler system that improves vastly on the default one in Arma3 while not complicating matters too much. Moving up to a wounded soldier and using your ‘world’ interaction menu (as opposed to the self interaction menu), you look for red and yellow crosses which indicate the severity of the wound to that part of the body. I usually look for red first, trying to stop major, life threatening blood loss before moving on to diagnose the patient: an option that shows up on the ‘world’ interaction menu when you look at their head. If the person has been down for a while or if they are looking more ‘rag-doll’ I might do this first as to not waste precious medical resources on someone who is already dead. Yellow cross icons can be dealt with later.
In this instance, Bravo soldiers had already stabilized the incapacitated solder and we were just looking to get them back on their feet. Usually, this means they need a shot of morphine, followed by epinephrine (if you do that the wrong way around, the epinephrine revives them but they immediately pass out from the pain). Epinephrine (epi) did not seem to be working and when I diagnosed them, they were suffering form major blood loss. In essence, I would revive them long enough for their body to tell them “Hell no” and they would pass back out again.
We were never in this situation before. We had people who were wounded and because only our medics carry epi, we had no way to revive them. In this case, no one had thought to bring blood with us. Since we could not stay here and we couldn’t fall back for extraction, we had to try to push through to the original extraction point.
Ace allows you to deal with incapacitated casualties that you cannot revive immediately in a couple of ways. If you have vehicles nearby you can load them into the vehicle for extraction. We did not have that, meaning we have to fall into the second incapacitated casualty scenario: in our current position I could either drag them the whole way to the end of the mission or I could load them up onto my shoulders and carry them, medic pack-mule style. This does lead to a dilemma though and one I am sure professional troops face all the time: do you leave the wounded soldier behind, do you carry them along?
In addition, this presents a game play/fun factor dilemma as well: if a soldier dies, they can 1) exit the mission and either return as reinforcements (if the mission allows it) or watch the mission play out but move their camera around the battlefield freely or 2) they can sit there for the duration of the mission, unable to move their view or interact with anyone until it ends. The former allows people to at least keep themselves entertained after they become ‘combat ineffective’ while the latter means that they have to sit there with literally nothing to look at for 10, 20, 30 minutes (depending on how close to the end of the mission they were when the golden bullet found them.
With the casualty on my shoulders we pulled ourselves from Bravo’s position back to Alpha’s compound and then on deeper into the mission. Casualties mounted (the dead kind, and not the incapacitated kind) and we … I won’t ruin it for you. Below us a video of the mission from my perspective. Jump there now if you do not want the ending ruined.
You have been warned.
[SPOILERS] For me, this was the best mission that we have ever failed. It was tough, we lost a lot of people along the way and I might have a different view had I been one of the ones that had to watch from the outside or be carried on someone’s back all the way to the end but the challenge given to us by TFAR and ACE made it one of the most compelling moments of online game play that I have ever experienced. It was survivable. It was chaotic. It was challenging to switch roles but we could work together to pull through or we could give up and let the mission end. Sometimes you have to do that; as Spock says in the Wrath of Kahn: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” and sometimes, game-play needs to take priority over 1 or 2 guys just trying to survive. It’s a tough call.
Please ignore that ‘Hard Landing’ with the Mi-8. My excuse is that I was using the advanced physics/flight model earlier in the day and I had switched back to the easier model (when other peoples lives are in your virtual hands, go with what you trust) and was having a problem getting the speed and altitude down before I ended up cresting the ridge. Ya. Really.
Type: Cooperative versus AI;
Objective: Patrol along a road known to be used by insurgent forces;
Squads: Mission Commander: Meatshield, Alpha lead: Near_Blind, Bravo Lead: Tankerwade, Charlie lead: Klarsnow, I was an AT trooper assigned to Bravo;
Patrol missions, move to contact missions, can be wildly divergent in how they play out. It all depends on where you take enemy contact and how you respond to that contact.
As part of Bravo Squad, our job was to move down the road while Alpha and Charlie flanked us on the left and right, respectively. I am not a fan of being in the middle position as it gives us limited ability to move against whatever shows up on our front. If either Alpha or Charlie take contact, we still have a challenging set of choices as, being on or immediately near a roadway offers little in the way of cover and, in the case of this stretch of road, limited concealment to move and help the engaged team out. In essence our basic task would be to make or draw contact and then try our best to go firm, hold contact and survive long enough for Alpha or Charlie teams to bail us out.
I like being either the pointy end of the stick or a support element and not part of the group that needs to ‘tank’ the enemy. I do not like having to soak up damage :smile:.
TFR and ACE do an amazing thing in these instances: it forces the squad to stay closer together in order to support each other. The wounding system and the inability to communicate have pulled the squads closer together, into more functional units, than they were without those systems. If a squad member gets out on their own, they end up being left on their own to deal with whatever situation they get involved in. If they get knocked out no one is going to notice and come to their aid.
As this mission started to unfold, this became apparent and you could see how the squads and players were adapting to this reality and sticking closer together than they were before. Additionally, getting to cover and concealment was more important as players realized that if they were not in cover it was harder, or impossible, for someone to come and get them.
Initial contact came, I was unluckily and unable to see any enemy to directly shoot at. Alpha was engaged with something on the left and we were taking sporadic fire in the centre. We moved up and into a sparse stand of trees and I started to throw limited fire toward the expected enemy positions. It is important in these situations that even if you cannot see the enemy, if you know where they are you can help keep their heads down while others try to take them out.
Out team lead was taken out when he found his magic bullet early in the mission, leaving Saghen to take command, collect the long range radio and re-establish contact with the mission commander. During that time, since Saghen was busy, Prof and I attempted to keep up suppression fire on the houses towards which Alpha was moving under fire.
Soon enough, orders came that we were to push forward, take and hold an intersection up ahead but we were not more than a dozen steps from our previous tree stand, with Charlie moving up toward houses on our right, that we came under fire again. Saghen’s command was … brief … leaving me to collect the cursed long-range radio of death. Luckily, once establishing contact with the mission commander, we were far enough under-strength to not be a useful fighting squad on our own – we were rolled into Charlie Squad under Klarsnow. I decided to keep the long-range radio in case Klarsnow ran into trouble.
Prof and I were able to make use of the ACE ‘Join Team’ feature and become part of Charlie and we re-tuned our short-range radios to Charlie’s channel. Moving in tandem with Alpha along the patrol route we again came under fire from contacts ahead of us in the trees but Klarsnow was able to put them under effective fire with half the team while maneuvering with the other half to close with and kill the enemy.
With one squad merging in with another TFR and ACE were keeping the squads close to their leaders, closer than we would have been weeks before when we were not operating under their more restrictive and complex systems. Yet those systems, restrictive and complicated as they are, were promoting and reinforcing the effectiveness of the teamwork.
The rest of the mission followed this pattern right up until the end.
TFR and ACE are amazing add-ons. They make multiplayer game-play a little more complex, a little more restrictive and require learning a few additional systems but they make up for that, making missions more immersive, with tighter team work and interesting support options.
More importantly—multiplayer cooperative gaming—it has its steep learning curve and its moments of feeling intimidated by the complex systems available in today’s simulations but with teamwork, the emergent game-play becomes something so compelling. A mission designer can spend a ton of time trying to get you a similar experience, they have the capabilities to do that and that effort should be ignored or passed over, but the fact is that experience is scripted. In multiplayer gaming, these events are often spontaneous, unscripted and surprise you.