Tag Archives: simulation

Dynamic Recon Ops: Big Expansion And Big “Sequel” Mod

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I let Arma 3 back into my life despite knowing how much time it would suck away from other games like Zelda Breath of the Wild. I figured I’d almost never get the chance to go back to it if I always put newer games in front of it. Bohemia Interactive also just added a new map — “Malden 2035” that’s apparently a remake of a map from the original Operation Flashpoint. Then you’ve got that new free game Argo that’s based on the systems of Arma.

My current favorite mod, “Dynamic Recon Ops,” from modder Mark “mbrdmn” Boardman has been getting significant updates in the months since I took a break from it, and I guess it’s time to talk a little bit about them. Continue reading

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Planet-Searching In Space Engine

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Despite not really being a “game” at this stage, Space Engine has become probably one of my “most played games” of 2015 since installing it earlier this year. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve been slowly learning to use its interface to navigate its star systems, and having a lot of fun while doing so. It’s also probably the first time I’ve gotten truly involved with anything resembling those sandbox games without objectives, which are all the rage today. Continue reading

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RIDE And The Mainstream Allure of Simulator Games

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Are there other people out there who enjoy just looking at hardcore simulation games, or dipping their toes into them, despite probably never having the dedication required to fully explore all their nuances? I feel like there might be people who feel this way about Gran TurismoProject CARSArmA, or any number of flight simulators.

This intermediate attraction is what has me taking a look at RIDE from the guys who’ve been making all the MotoGP games. Apparently this is Milestone S.r.l.’s first original motorcycle simulator. I’ve actually had a slight interest in motorcycle racing simulators in particular for years now, but I don’t now when I’ll ever fully dive into one again. Continue reading

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ArmA 3’s New Tutorial: Dealing With The Learning Curve

[PC exclusives are typically] designed to be as complex and unintuitive as possible so that those dirty console-gaming peasants don’t ruin it for the glorious PC gaming master race.

–Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw

If you’ve been reading this site or know anything about ArmA, you probably know it’s not a pick-up-and-play game. It’s not supposed to be, it’s supposed to be realistic, kind of like the Gran Turismo of military shooters. It’s so deep in fact, developer Bohemia Interactive had to create not just a tutorial, but an entire tutorial campaign for ArmA III they ended up releasing around nine months after the game’s “full release.” And it still doesn’t cover everything to my liking.

This is a game where, to order a guy to get in a truck as the gunner, you have to press F2 (or whatever corresponding F key) to select him, then 4 (I think) to bring you to the vehicle-entering sub-menu, then 2 to select “gunner.” Picking this (and ArmA II) up reminded me of first picking up Ultima Underworld. It feels like that 90’s PC game design mentality where developers just stack one gameplay system on top of another to create the most deep and complex world possible with little regard for simplicity or a game’s learning curve. It creates incredibly impressive games but also very intimidating ones. It’s exactly what turns a lot of console gamers away from PC gaming. Such games actually feel much less common on the PC these days, the only other big example I can think of being Star Citizen. People on podcasts like Idle Thumbs talk about not even being able to figure out how to hop in a space ship’s cockpit and lift off in the demo for that game. You ever see that Zero Punctuation review of the first Witcher game criticizing the complexity of its UI and pinning it on the stuck-up “Glorious PC Gaming Master Race”? ArmA III is that game.

In this type of game, ArmA III in its initial state basically throws you into the campaign, or even the multiplayer, with the absolute bare minimum of assistance. Oh Bohemia gives you tool tips during the campaign as if the game is Microsoft Office, and that’s a pretty apt comparison for ArmA and big PC games of its ilk — it can often feel more like a computer application than a game. Oh and there’s the field manual too, which operates very much like the help section of Microsoft Word and contains about as much content. And Bohemia does expect you to read it.

The tutorial is in two parts — a VR-themed mode that teaches you basic actions and a mini prologue campaign that takes you through some slightly more advanced aspects of the game as well as the story.

Here you learn how to operate weapons and order people around, as well as the difference between certain AI behaviors. To its credit the tutorial focuses on a lot of the things that separate ArmA from Call of Duty or Battlefield, like how fatigue and distance affect accuracy. It even shows you how claymores work in the game in a highly illuminating manner. Most useful of all, it teaches you how to read bearings on a compass and use that in conjunction with the map to find things based on vague descriptions. It even tells you what “one click” means in case you don’t know.

In my opinion it all only really scratches at the surface. Actually I think that’s a problem fairly common with a lot of simulator games I try: their tutorials teach you the basic controls but don’t teach you anything about how to not suck at the real game.

The original Ghost Recon teaches you the basic controls but never how to actually survive firefights. It doesn’t teach you how you should approach the enemy, how you should cautiously move through terrain, or how to properly clear a building without losing your whole squad. The only non control-oriented thing it teaches is how you should always open doors from the side so as to not be targeted if there’s someone on the other side. The Total War tutorials I’ve tried also thoroughly teach the basic controls but little in how to actually win battles. I never got a grip on what formations I should use when, or what were good numbers to have in a battle. There were times I’d win a battle in Total War and have no idea why.

ArmA III’s tutorial will teach you how to order your men into a column formation, but never why, or in what situation you should do so. The manual has information on when certain formations are useful, but a playable tutorial could have fully illustrated this. What about standard tactics for assaulting bases? I had to learn on my own that it’s a good idea to attack from elevated positions. The main campaign has some characters give you advice but it’s pretty generalized most of the time. Basically, there’s little here to teach you actual strategy.

And I’m not even talking about the multiplayer. Bohemia actually has you covered there. The tutorial update actually includes a multiplayer coaching mode where one player can mold situations for others to follow in order to teach them things. But no, I’m just talking about not sucking at the singleplayer campaign.

And oh God, the tutorial still teaches you very little about the inventory system. It should teach you about things like carrying capacity and what side of the menu means what. ArmA II’s inventory took me forever to figure out, and ArmA III’s is only slightly less obtuse. Having such an inventory system is a great idea for a shooter, it’s just weirdly executed. Couldn’t Bohemia have at least just ripped off classic RPG equipment screens or something?

All that said, this update does include tools for fans to craft more tutorials. That’s really the story of this whole game I hear from official reviews: that ArmA III’s real value is mostly as a massive toy chest for fans to create things. It has a huge, dynamic, beautiful open world that the campaign underutilizes, and now a lot of tutorial content that leaves a lot of room for the community to fill in. Even before this update I already saw at least one fan-made helicopter tutorial. Once nice thing the update adds is an armory where you can test out every weapon and character in the game.

This whole post probably comes off as making ArmA III feel like the most intimidating shooter on Earth. It is intimidating, but you should never come in here expecting a fast-paced game built on the immediacy of most video games. In fact the tragedy of a game like ArmA III is it’s a shooter built for the gamer who prefers slow-paced, cerebral games.

Put it like this: If you can deal with the learning curve of Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea, a Shin Megami Tensei game, or better yet Gran Turismo, you can probably figure out how to play ArmA. ArmA’s base interface just isn’t quite as intuitive as most console games. Gran Turismo is probably the best comparison you can make to someone who only plays console games — it’s one of few console games that prefer the clean simulator appraoch with realism as its first priority.

If you’re wondering why I even keep playing the game after all this, you only need to look at the previous post on this blog.

BULLETS:

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Irrational Games: From Simulators To Games

Hey, I bought something on a Steam sale and was able to finish it immediately. In this case it was both episodes of BioShock Infinite: Burial At Sea. Looking at the BioShock games alongside their main predecessor has got me thinking again about this whole “game versus simulator,” difference.

Picking up System Shock 2 again, then the first BioShock, then Infinite and its DLC, I’m still trying to figure out exactly why the earliest game feels so different from the BioShock games despite their almost complete congruence in gameplay. I don’t think it’s the action-oriented focus of BioShock, but rather its fantastical level design.

The BioShock games are definitely faster-paced and more shooter-oriented than System Shock. It’s like comparing Resident Evil 4 to the original Resident Evil. In System Shock I usually slowly creep through every corridor, checking every corner for enemies and diligently checking every container for resources. In BioShock I pretty much just run through the environments blasting people while mashing keys to rummage through boxes. System Shock’s inventory definitely slows the game down by making you consider what resources you keep.

The thing is, I’ve played action-oriented shooters that still err on the “simulator” side of the pendulum. The first Crysis and GoldenEye are good examples I constantly reference. 3D Realms’ Build engine games — Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior are great candidates too. All of them are fast-paced games where you spend most of your time shooting the crap out of things, but the difference is you’re shooting the crap out of things in environments that feel logically and believably planned out. They feel as if the designers built regular places first, then built video game goals around them.

Then you’ve got 1999 Mode and 1998 Mode in Infinite and its DLC. Those hardcore difficulty modes significantly slow down the pace of Burial to something very similar to System Shock. Having barely any resources in the first part of Burial forces you to slowly creep through areas, carefully consider every shot you take, and thoughtfully search containers. Part two’s 1998 mode successfully feels like a lite version of Thief where you have to observe your environment and make economical use of your tools. Basically, those modes make BioShock feel less like an action game, but to me they still don’t feel quite like System Shock.

That’s not against BioShock at all. BioShock will always feel like BioShock because it’s designed to be a different kind of game for a wider audience. It’s a first person shooter, while System Shock is much closer to an RPG. In a way it’s apples-to-oranges, but it’s still an interesting comparison when the apple and orange have almost the same gameplay mechanics.

The huge difference I notice is in the level design between System Shock, and BioShock. Somehow, System Shock got me to almost believe I was exploring an actual space ship where people live and work. Rapture and Columbia do not feel like actual cities where people live and work, but rather game levels with set dressing.

Let’s take objectives between the games as an example. Late in part two of Burial you’re sent to grab an object you’re told is in a lab. This involves traveling through a linear chain of areas to find the object in a special location at the end of that veritable tunnel after a lot of scripted story sequences. System Shock 2 has a somewhat similar part where you have to find an object, but it’s among a bunch of similar things, and you have to identify it by its number. All you have to guide you is an audio recording telling you the number of the thing you need to find, what room it’s in, and what shelf it’s on. Basically, you have to think through that environment the same way someone would if they were really there.

Maybe it’s because of the nature of each place. It’s fairly easy to imagine what kinds of places a ship like the one in System Shock would contain: crew quarters, medical, engineering, etc. It’s probably not extremely difficult to plan those kinds of places out to feel real. Rapture and Columbia on the other hand are inherently fantastical concepts — a city at the bottom of the ocean and a city in the sky respectively. They lend themselves immediately to abstract level design.

If you ask me, I think Rapture and Columbia would have lent themselves well to full-blown open world RPG design. Ultima Underworld is actually a pretty good example of an alternative possibility for BioShock. The game that influenced the whole “Shock” series puts you in the buried ruins of a failed utopia as well, but just about every character in it can be interacted with in some way. With clear differentiations between “normal,” “upset,” or “hostile,” people, it feels like a place full of people, and more importantly rival communities you have to navigate through exploration and conversation. I guess Fallout New Vegas is quite similar as a modern example. An approach like this could have made Rapture and Columbia far more “live” as settings, even with fast-paced shooting, but that’s just my opinion.

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The Moment I Discovered Why People Play Gran Turismo

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I am nowhere close to being a gaerhead or other kind of car nut. I’m pretty sure I care about cars far less than most men. To me they just get me from point A to point B with varying degrees of luxury. That doesn’t mean I don’t play racing games at all (which I left out of my GOTY category post last week) — I can find a few games to enjoy in pretty much any genre, but I don’t get deep enough into racing to justify buying a Gran Turismo game. That said, during a rental of Gran Turismo 6 last month I glimpsed but for a brief moment what that game is all about, and maybe you can too regardless of how “into racing simulators” you are.

I don’t know if this is normal for hardcore racing games, but GT6 starts you out racing in regular consumer cars — the kind of car you or I might actually own, like a Honda Fit for instance. This might be a bit boring in contrast with letting you immediately crash a Ferrari and letting you learn from there, but it has an affect that’s two fold.

Most obviously, racing more modest cars is probably easier, thus making the game more approachable for newcomers. This way, by the time you do end up in a supercar you at least have a decent grasp on the fundamentals of race car driving and can at least keep that Ferrari on the road. The other effect though is that it creates contrast between the feel of each class of car, letting you actually appreciate the difference between driving your Honda Civic and driving a BMW Z8.

You see, after doing some novice races, GT6 invites you to an event where you get at taste of some sports cars on a time trial course. After driving that Honda fit the difference was immediate and shocking, particularly with the KTM X-Bow.

The first time I hit the gas and heard the engine I said “oh shit,” as I thought this car was gonna eat me alive. The immediacy with which it sped off and responded to my controls felt like being strapped onto the back of an unruly beast. I spent my whole first run just trying to stay on the road, with actually posting a time a distant second objective. After a few more runs though, I eventually started to learn, if even only a little bit.

I eventually learned that in order to tame these things you gotta respect them, but to post good times and see their potential, you also can’t be afraid of them. Oh I left the driving line assist on, but I stopped treating it as gospel and used it as more of a guide. As I began to take more risks on turns I realized the driving line drastically underestimates the turning ability of what you might be driving. Pretty soon I was barreling around corners, barely tapping the breaks and actively trying to get over my fear of pushing it to the edge.

Usually I hate the kind of game where I end up trying the exact same task repeatedly, but for some reason I tried that track probably dozens of times trying to beat the CPU-set best time. I couldn’t get it but I did get within half a second of it. The reason I kept trying was because I’d started to enjoy the feel of that car compared to what I’d been driving in the beginner races.

While Forza 5 pushes forward its “Drivatar” and other features meant to enhance the experience of racing, GT6 really does want to primarily be more about simulating driving than simulating racing. It’s about accurately recreating the feel of hundreds of different cars because let’s face it, the chances of me ever driving an actual X-Bow on a race track are pretty slim.

After that little aside I’d earned enough in-game credits to try to buy a faster car for upcoming races. The recommended cars section is a great addition but I found it to be a bit limited compared to what I already had, so I checked the general dealership section and was floored by the massive selection. Maybe GT6 could use a search feature based on PP (I don’t want what that stands for but it’s pretty important), price, and horsepower? Anyway, that’s where I reached my limit for GT6.

Taking that experience and putting it up against the absolute mountain of content I know is in GT6 reveals just how much time I could end up spending on this game if I ever decided to devote myself to it. If I had the time and not so many other games on my plate I could possibly see myself buying GT6 and a steering wheel, or some other racing sim.

BULLETS:

  • Man. Look at the top 10 paid games on Japan’s Apple App Store. http://t.co/OAiAyuGvus Now compare that to ones in a western territory. The former is made up of considerably more premium games.
  • http://t.co/Ux2xwrBkaD
  • The guy who illustrated the Sonic 2 box art and many others has passed away.
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