Sunday, September 27, 2009

Too Many Chiefs

One of the biggest problems for any developer is trying to predict or influence the way a team game will play out, as every player will have their own ideas as to which is the best course of action and just how much they should listen to other players' advice or requests. Similarly, a lack of decent teamwork can be immensely frustrating and can cause even the most (individually) skilled team to lose badly to inexperienced players. The amount of team play present in a game depends largely on its dominant demographic; games aimed at special interest groups or older gamers (mostly simulators, but also some of the more challenging shooters like Insurgency and Red Orchestra) are often quite full of team players. Conversely, mainstream games which offer little to no incentive to coordinate efforts (Counter-Strike, Call of Duty) don't seem far removed from free-for-all - the only difference being that you can't (or shouldn't) attack your own team. Each player goes off and does their own thing, and very rarely will they band together, even in small groups.

In my three years of playing Red Orchestra, I've seen the effects that poor teamwork can have. I've also seen some games where it seemed the players were all operating under the control of some greater entity, utilising them all with perfect efficiency and sublime results. One of my favourite gaming moments was during the final twenty minutes of a round on Kriegstadt, where we (the Axis) had to hold the final control point with our backs to the wall, so to speak. There was nowhere to fall back to, only one of our PaK-43 guns would actually fire, and within minutes there were several tanks and scores of infantry advancing across the Moltke Brigde, at the near end of which lay the final objective. The bridge formed a natural bottleneck and was extremely hazardous to cross, with too many obstacles for armoured vehicles but too little cover for infantry. At our end, it was overlooked by the Ministy of the Interior, a wedge-shaped, three-storey building; at the opposite end and some 200 yards distant, the Soviets held a long row of multi-storey apartments and hotels. A large open area of road divided these from a park, far on our right. Assorted tanks and guns were pushing up the main street towards the bridge, stopping short enough to avoid any adventurous Germans with Panzerfausts or satchel charges. Our PaK knocked a few out, but they kept coming; before too long, it was destroyed itself. With every fresh wave of reinforcements, ten, twenty or thirty Russians at a time would run from the apartments and descend upon the bridge, with their remaining comrades firing upon us from the windows and their tanks putting round after round of high explosives through our own.

For twenty minutes, we had to endure this. There was little we could do about the tanks except duck when their shells began to find their mark. Every machine-gunner we had was firing at the hordes of enemy footsoldiers, hacking them down two or three at a time. The roar of some ten MG42s was near-deafening (not least because I had the volume cranked all the way up). Without any communication at all, it seemed every man knew what to do. When an MG42 fell silent, a nearby soldier would run ammunition to it. When one was silenced, the nearest rifleman would immediately throw his rifle down and snatch up the machine gun, continuing the deadly streams of fire which rained down upon the advancing enemy. Nobody remained idle and every single player on the team picked a target, fired, and moved on to the next target as rapidly as they could.

The Soviet team never stood a chance. Despite pushing us back at a blistering pace at first, they were halted dead in their tracks once we were forced to make a last stand from a strong position. Not one of them set foot beyond the middle of the bridge (flying limbs excepted). Not one person on our team had a score below 50 points and most of us were in the hundreds. For that last twenty minutes, I really felt the team spirit. It was like I was on autopilot, doing everything that was required of me without even thinking. That seemingly telepathic link, the way some players just 'click' and absolutely destroy all and sundry that gets in their way, is my favourite thing about online gaming.

Of course, this doesn't happen all the time. In fact - even in games like RO - it's not really the norm, either. Several games have taken steps to try and increase the frequency of this happening; for one, the aforementioned displays only total score achieved through kills and objectives completed, not kills, deaths, or any other information usually associated with FPS scoring. Some games offer minor or even major advantages to players who stay close to their team, or who make a habit of resupplying, healing, or protecting others. Even the achievement systems incorporated into many newer games are sometimes used as a subtle way of encouraging players to coordinate. Sometimes, all that's needed to turn a motley group of individuals into a proper, organised team is a few simple instructions delivered forcefully - but not rudely or aggressively - by a natural leader. Sometimes, teams are just beyond help.

So please, next time you play a team-oriented gametype - be it in ArmA, Call of Duty, or even Counter-Strike - think just how much more you could achieve with a little cooperation. Even if you lose, you may just gain something a little more special than a single victory.


  1. u bad

    at postin


  2. the most fun i had in RO was pistoling friendly tanks while hiding and watching them try to find me, and me shitting my pants when they did find me

  3. Piggybacking on enemy tanks was always fun too because they couldn't do anything about it without getting out