Hurrah for the Home Team
I was really pleased with the responses I got from my Teamplay article! Apparently I struck a nerve and got a lot of people talking. Thanks to everyone who wrote in with a response. Sorry I couldn't write everyone back, but I'll try and address as many comments as possible in this brief follow-up.
|Teamplay Feedback - By Dave "Fargo" Kosak
You Walk the Walk, Now Talk the Talk...
I was surprised to discover that voice audio has already been implemented in a commercially successful game. Here's a letter I got from Christopher Wilson:
You may or may not know it, but there is already an existing precedent for integrated voice communication in an Internet game. Warbirds, the 100+ player combat flight sim from Imagic Online (formerly ICI Games), has had this capability for about three months now.
When I first saw it, my initial reaction was that it was exactly what CTF needs. The audio quality is shoddy - very heavily compressed - and limited to 3 or 4 second bites. Furthermore, you can only send messages to a maximum of 4 other people. Even with all of these limitations, though, it really sparked a huge change in gameplay. Team cohesion skyrocketed and suddenly everyone had the ability to dynamically adapt tactics with a moments notice. It was amazing!
The guys working on Warbirds licensed the voice compression scheme from a company called Voxware.
Well strip me down and call me nekkid! Actually, the limited communication is perfect for a World-War II flight sim. Static-ridden bursts of quick transmissions to your wingmen -- I love it! Unfortunately, flight sims (as I understand it) are easier to network than games like Quake ... the information about a plane's movement can be 'guessed' by a server (by judging its heading and airspeed) a lot easier than a server can guess where Fargo is going to fire his next rocket barrage while turning 180 degrees and jumping from platform to platform. So I think flight sims can afford the extra bandwidth for quick voice bursts of speech, especially if they're only going to a max of four people. (Maybe I'm wrong about the technical side of this -- any thoughts?) Still, it's encouraging to know that in-game speech is closer to mainstream than I thought.
What if Quake Could Wreck a Nice Beach?
Here I was, writing my article, trying to think of different ways to communicate in Quake. Well, a lot of PlanetQuake's readers were quick to answer with a solution I hadn't thought of, and I feel a little silly for overlooking it. What if voice recognition software were bundled with the game client? Then you could speak aloud during the game, and the software would convert it into text. Only the text would be sent through the server, which would minimize bandwidth. (Funny nobody suggested a voice synthesizer interpreting that text clientside and spitting it back out. It could even use different voices based on the name of who is speaking. Imagine your teammates talking like the "Joshua" computer from the movie Wargames: "How ... About ... A ... Nice ... Game ... Of ... Quess?")
Anyways, voice recognition software is more complicated than a lot of people think... The problem is that the computer can't just interpret the noises you make. The human brain fills in a whole lot of information, based on the context of what's being spoken, in order to comprehend what something means. A running gag was to call these programs "Wreck a nice beach" programs, because that's how they'd inevitably interpret the phrase "recognize speech." (Say it aloud and you'll see!)
But I was amazed at the recent PCExpo when I saw a program being demonstrated called "Dragon Naturally Speaking," developed by Dragon Systems. With minimal errors, it was able to accept dictation and spit out very clear text (of course, it would never use the words "l33t" or "d00d.") You had to speak clearly, and you had to say punctuation marks aloud ("Look out comma Bob exclamation point He's got a rocket launcher exclamation point"), but you could speak very fast and still expect the text to come through. The technology has really come a long way! I'm not sure how processor-intensive these programs are, but it would be interesting to see how well they could be incorporated into games.
There are drawbacks, though. We certainly would have fixed the problem of input (no longer would you have to type), but output would still be sloppy. As it is, it's already hard to keep track of all the text scrolling by in a 32 player QuakeWorld game. And you really need to keep an eye up there, in case a teammate says something important or if you want to see if you managed to kill the camper you've been grenading around a blind corner. Now, imagine if everyone's dumb-ass small-talk was appearing at the top of your screen, as well:
Lamer2: Huh huh. This is cool.
Lamer1: I love the rocket launcher huh huh.
Lamer2: Yeah yeah. Rockets rule.
Teammate: Would someone guard the flag?
Lamer1: Huh huh He said "Wood."
Lamer2: Yeah yeah, "Wood."
Lamer1: Huh huh "Wood."
I think reader Adrian put it best when he wrote:
There will always be the "funny" guy who is always speaking nonsense, consuming bandwidth and ruining the game. It already happens with the text feature.
These Guys Have More Hardware than Black N Decker
It's always nice when you think you're writing is making a difference. Since I posted my article, so many people are playing the Canal Zone map on my favorite server that I can hardly ever get in to play! Anyways, a lot of people wrote to say they saw my article and were encouraged to try Team Fortress, which I think is great. But listen to this:
Well, you went and wrote such a cool article about TF that we had to take another look at it. We looked, we liked, we deployed possibly the fastest TF server in the world. It's a 333MHZ DEC AlphaStation with 128MB RAM on a triple T-3 backbone running TF 2.5 with Urban Warfare exclusively. You can find it at 188.8.131.52. Thanks for the tip!
That news comes to me from Saint Stephen at Nachos.net, who run some of the best (and, as you can guess, fastest) Quake servers on the net. PlanetQuake's servers aside, of course. ;)
Ve Haf Vays of Makink You Play as a Team.
I suggested that game designers should take a good look at this problem before putting together complex teamwork-based patches, and Talon here seems to agree:
Remember a Doom variant called Deathtag? I was the creator of it, so I am somewhat familiar with the problems Quake has for team play. I truly think it is nearly impossible with current technology to have a good, solid, play-by-the-rules team game with more than 4 players (2 on a side). It always degenerates into anarchy, for the very reasons you stated in your article.
I think the problem with some of the Quake mods is the same as a lot of games coming out now . They get to thinking ...hey..this would be cool, or that would be kickass, and forget about the gameplay. Something I made sure of with Deathtag was that you COULD NOT play it any other way. Period. No one seems to be doing that with the Quake mods I've seen. The thinking seems to be that the more cool stuff you throw in, the better it will be. I mean, how many macros / bindings do I have to juggle to play the freaking thing? Personally, I won't do it, because it isn't worth it.
A cool teamplay mod needs to be very simple to learn, show scoring in the game (in the map or on screen), and keep everyone honest. Why don't I write one? I had to get a real job :).
Sorry to hear about your job, Talon. The world is a worse place because of it.
Where the Hell is Everybody?
Speaking of maps, Jens Wessling raised an interesting point:
We are all used to not having a map any more, but it would be a real boon to know where everyone is and what team they are on. (Maybe only locally, or when in observer mode.) This would, if nothing else, allow a player to see where he/she was needed before running off to do something.
That's interesting. I never liked the map in Descent because the 3D architecture was too complex ... it was too hard to see what was going on. But this is an idea -- instead of a genuine map of the level rendered in 3D, maybe the level files could each come with an abstract 2D representation. It would only work in levels, like the Canal Zone, that are divided into buildings and areas. I would be able to glance at the map, and I'd see that my teammate was in the library -- I wouldn't know which floor of the library, but at least I'd have an idea. I'm not sure how this could be implemented. It seems to me that we couldn't do it with the Quake engine, but perhaps someone could work it into the teamplay variants of Quake 2.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Grum was thinking along the same lines.
Why not make a TF version where one of the players on each team acts as a commander-in-the-sky? He/she isn't actually part of the game, except that they have an overhead map (satellite view?) that shows players on both teams as moving dots with numbers. It could be a lagged image (2 seconds), so that surprise attacks would still be surprises initially. Also attached to this map, at the bottom would be a list of the teammates, their corresponding number, and a click box. To communicate with one or more members of your team, you click on the boxes corresponding to their image/number/name/class, and type in the message. It would then be sent out to only those people selected. In response, there could be message-macros of "Roger." "Message missed. Repeat." "No can do." "Under attack." "Retreating" "Pressing attack" or whatever each player wanted to program.
This sort of built-in solution is great. Again, I don't think it can be done with Quake C in the current release, but Quake2 promises to allow us to play with the interface a lot more.
Anyway, this gives me an opportunity to talk about a phenomena I've noticed while playing the Canal Zone a lot recently. (Uhh ... "Research," yes, research, that's what I was doing. I dreaded every minute of it.) I've started to see people take on the role of "Captain," just as Grum here described. Someone will stand in front of the big map and give orders to teammates, not bothering to move at all. "We need a runner to area 4," the captain would ask. Or, "Someone needs to reclaim area 5. It's the fountain." The best captains would heap on the praise after a good capture. "Nice work on 4." "Good job defending the fountain, guys." etc. etc. You'd be surprised how much this improves a team's performance. Eventually they'd all send status reports back to the captain. "I'm guarding 4." "We're under attack at 6!" Even with the primitive map on Canal Zone, this is a lot of fun. (Or perhaps the lack of map detail is a positive thing?)
The Big Picture
An interesting letter courtesy of Mike Shanahan presents us with a question:
Considering the many reincarnations of deathmatch since Doom, along with the fact that technology is moving much too fast to make simple deathmatch the only multiplayer option, teamplay and other "smart" variations on the game are needed. Sure, deathmatch is always fun with 8 people you don't know on some remote server, but when you want a real satisfying win, you want to know that your smarts and pure wit won the game. Do you think that this is the new direction of the industry, and that instead of building a game around deathmatch, companies will begin to build more complex multiplayer mods around the game?
I would hope so! But I think that the heart and soul of these games will still be a deathmatch situation. The competition is what keeps guys (and a small but vocal female audience) into these games. The idea of skillfully killing another player who's trying to do the same to you is a big part of the satisfaction of gaming, and in it's purest form, that's deathmatch. Besides, a lot of people just don't get into the teamplay stuff. "I don't want to have to think that hard," PlanetQuake's own Loonyboi told me once, when I asked him about TeamFortress. Hopefully, though, I think that software companies will begin to bundle other teamplay variants onto the games on top of straightforward deathmatch. In my opinion, it would be a strong selling point (albeit the first to be dropped if the product is behind schedule.)
A Parting Note
So many letters, so little time. Some helpful folk wrote in to talk about the other teamplay modifications they've seen. Check out the LavaBall game, which is testing right now and almost ready for a full release. Also, I failed to mention some of the TeamFortress variants that have helped to make it more than just 'Capture the Flag with classes.' There's The Rock, for example. It keeps the themes of the movie and has an awesome layout, and best of all it presents an interactive environment (such as searchlights that turn on when an enemy is near) that facilitates teamplay. Another TF variation is "The Hunted President," which created three teams: The red bodyguards, the yellow assassins, and the leader of the free world (who wears blue.) The red guys have to protect the blue guy, who is armed only with an axe (clearly a Democrat.) If the president can make it to the exit alive he scores big points. But even though the red guys outnumber the yellow, it's practically impossible. Better duck, Mr. President.
Finally, here's a note I received from PlanetQuake's own TerMy in response to my article:
Yeah, yeah ... But you still can't have my Bud Light.
What can I say - I am in tears. You said it all. I love you man.
P.S. Wanna keep the discussion rolling? Start a thread in the PlanetQuake Forums. And Keep on Quakin'!
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