Don't Shoot Me, I'm Wearing Your Pants!
When Quake first took the world by storm, teamplay wasn't really a factor. After all, the cooperative mode quickly bored players to tears (the monster AI had no guts), and the only way to play with teams in deathmatch was to have the server set "teamplay" on. This would put everyone wearing the same color pants on the same team (following the line of thinking that says a man's pants are a window to his soul.)
|A Brief History of Teamplay - By Dave "Fargo" Kosak
Unfortunately, for most Internet pick-up games, servers set to Teamplay were more of a nuisance than a new way to play the game. Rather than forming teams in order to perform daring point-man advances or create interlocking fields of fire, the game soon boiled down to "shoot anyone not wearing the same pants as me." Inevitably, someone would log onto the server and not realize that teamplay was in effect. You'd stand there while he pumped round after shotgun round into you, obliterating your armor while leaving you unharmed. "Hello?" You'd type. "Dude ... Teamplay is on." "Dude." "Hey, check my pants, dork." "Are you a total moron?" etc. etc. (You really have to question their intelligence when they run out of ammo and just keep whacking you with the axe.) Out of all the Internet deathmatch games I've ever played in, only one Teamplay server ever spontaneously erupted into an exciting team game. But that was only because a pack of Tards logged in and everyone ganged up against them.
Which of course was the answer -- the only way to set up a team game was to form one beforehand. Quake Clans brought a whole new dimension to gameplay, provided you were lucky enough to find one whose members didn't drive you nuts. Strategy was still limited in clan games...basically, the team who could control the rocket launcher and red armor in any particular board was most likely to walk home with the wins and grins. And many clans didn't play as a team, merely as a bunch of good individual players who made sure not to shoot one another. But as the first ClanRing tourney demonstrated, a clan of skilled players who cooperated as a team could mop the floors with any other clan, no matter how talented the indivdual opponents were. Clan wars are still popular because of this teamwork element. And thanks to some built-in features of QuakeWorld, clans can have their own uniforms -- so Quake has finally shucked the pants fixation.
Hey, is Anyone Guarding the Flag?
In my mind the Capture the Flag patch was such a tremendous boon to the game that it was as if a second version of Quake had been released for free. People were swearing off deathmatch, and after a few minutes of gameplay, it was easy to see why.
When you hopped on a Capture the Flag server, you could experience the thrill of coordinated team efforts without the necessity of joining a clan. The rules were no different than what was played in your backyard as a kid, so it was easy to catch on. And the basic strategy was relatively simple. Some people would play defense, and defend your team's flag, while the rest would go on offense, with the intent of bringing the enemy flag back home. It was pretty easy to get things together ... "I got dee," someone might declare, taking stance by the flag. Or someone playing offense might announce "Blue flag at top of steps" if a rocket prematurely aborted a flag carry. As before, a skilled clan with enough practice could raise the teamwork to an art form, flawlessly juggling a daring offense with an ironclad but flexible defense. Since the dynamics of a CTF game are relatively simple, it was possible to orchestrate winning strategies even in the midst of the furious action.
Teams: Not Just Fun and Games Anymore
A whole wave of patches are hitting the sites nowadays. And unlike the proliferation of weekend throw-away jobs that have swamped us since day one, a lot of these new mods are really looking sharp. For instance, the PainKeep deathmatch add-on offers so much for gameplay that it practically deserves a whole article in and of itself (stay tuned!). And meanwhile, projects that have been in the works for a long time -- such as Future vs. Fantasy or the QuakeWorld favorite Team Fortress -- are finally reaching fruition, having had almost a year to tweak gameplay and add great features. I think during the next few weeks we're probably going to enjoy the last great wave of patches before the next generation of games come out... When Hexen II or Quake II hit the stores I suspect that work on most of the incomplete patches will peter out.
But I've noticed an interesting trend with a couple of the new games. Let's look at the Swat Team patch or the new Urban Warfare Team Fortress Maps, for example. Both of these patches focus not just on new Deathmatch tricks, but on teamwork and unique, very structured goals.
Let's start with Swat Team. The object is for a group of players (the Swat Team, go fig) to stop another player (the fugitive) from reaching the exit of a level. It's a little hard for the fugitive, who has to scrounge around to get any decent weapons. But even though the cops start out armed like tanks, their goal isn't easy... That fugitive is a moving target, and in order to trap the guy they have to work as a group. Everyone can't camp near the exit -- that only gives the criminal a chance to stock up on weapons. The cops have to place themselves at certain chokepoints and communicate the criminal's movements to one another.
Ideally, Swat Team gets played at home, during a LAN party with five guys (and girls) or so. They can all shout to one another across the room, "Cover me!" "He's headed for the elevator!" etc. etc. What an awesome patch this is in that kind of environment! But over the Internet it doesn't seem to work as well. The bad guy moves faster than you can type -- that's his job. And how do you set up who guards what area? By the time you arranged it by typing to one another, the criminal has either blown your key officers to bits, escaped a few times, or both. In practice, it's hard to get a good game of Swat Team going on the Internet. It becomes like old teamplay deathmatch, where you merely ran around and shot anyone who wasn't wearing your pants. (Actually, I even saw people get bored and cops would shoot cops, which really drove me nuts. Hey, if you want to play a deathmatch, go to a deathmatch server! At least try to play the game, you jag-off!)
This brings me to the point of this article (honest, there is one.) I'm beginning to suspect that the complex rules of team-oriented gameplay variations have outstripped the engine's ability to facilitate communication between users. In short, it's hard to play the game the way it was meant to be played because player interaction is limited.
I Can't Type That Fast!
In fact, the only way to communicate in any of these first-person shooter games is by typing. This is, from the outset, a bad communication strategy because, hey, most of us use the keyboard to move around. Pausing to type forces our character to stand still and cease firing while we say what we need. In a twitch-game, stillness = death. A lesson that lagged modem players have learned time and time again!
The alternative is keyboard macros, which I've seen used extensively when I played in the ClanRing CTF games. A clan could easily set up its own codes, especially for a game as straightforward as CTF. "Need more Dee" "Incoming!" "Incoming via water!" or "Enemy Flag Unuarded" were just a few examples. By binding these useful phrases to keys, a clanmate didn't have to take his hand from the controls for more than an instant in order to bark out a phrase.
That's great when you're in a clan and have worked out all your strategies beforehand, and it's good for CTF because so many situations are repeated over and over. But it's limited. And when you're playing Swat Team, the cops seem to need a lot more macros. You might have the foresight to program "Convict in elevator!" for instance, which would work on a few maps. But "throw some teargas into the underwater hallway" or "He's moving to the ramp at the end of the warehouse" aren't likely suspects. And there are only so many keys on the keyboard. Well, face it, keyboard macros are a kludge, and as games get more involved they won't work anymore.
But let's not give up and go back to 24-hour deathmatch just yet. Let me give you another example of a great teamwork patch, and then let's talk about possible solutions to our quandry.
Someone Give Me Recon on Command Point Four...
It didn't seem to make a big splash on the news pages, but I think that the first Urban Warfare level for Team Fortress is quite a major breakthrough for Quake gameplay. Maybe the reason it wasn't heralded more is because Team Fortress seems to be a cult thing, where people either love it or don't bother to download it. For a long time I confess I fell into that latter category. After all, when I first played Team Fortress, this was back when the classes weren't balanced and the maps were huge and horrible. I thought it was a waste of time and I didn't look at it again until shortly before the current version was released. If you're like me and never bothered to give this patch a good look, I think you ought to go ahead and give it a try. They've really worked hard to balance the mod, many of the new maps are fantastic, and the teamplay is really exciting. Go ahead, give it a try.
The new Team Fortress maps allow the map creators tremendous freedom when it comes to building goals into their maps. Every map you load can practically be a different game, as far as I can tell. Most are variations of Capture the Flag, which is all around great fun. But the new Urban Warfare level (called Canal Zone) breaks all the rules. It's a little tough to explain, but here's how it works:
There are two teams, red and blue. Each has a command center, with the expected stockpile of armor and ammunition. These headquarters are placed on opposite ends of a map featuring several different interlocking buildings (good map design helps make this mod so playable). In these buildings are "Command Points," which look like yellow pads and are the goal of the game. Your team gets points the longer you control each pad, and you win if your team manages to get control of all eight.
How do you get control of a Command Point? Well, first you have to grab a key from your command center. While carrying a key, you move at half speed and you glow. No pressure. If you can drag the key onto a Command Point, you "Capture" it for your team. Once you keep a Command Center for thirty seconds or so, it begins scoring points for your team. Of course, the other team will be trying to do the same thing. You've got to plan an attack, protect the people carrying the keys, and still somehow defend the territory you've already taken. One great feature is that each home base has a big computer screen that shows a map of the level -- you can actually see the command points change color as the tide of battle ebbs and flows. For this cool feature alone, I am not worthy.
But wait, it gets better. Enter the demolitions man (for the uninitiated, Team Fortress has a class called the "demo-man," who can set devastating packs of plastic explosives on the ground timed to blow up unsuspecting opponents). If a demo-man gets into an enemy control room and manages to detonate his detpack in there ... Then they lose all of their command centers, and they go back to neutral! That's a crippling blow. So now you've got to defend your base from pesky demolition guys while juggling everything else you've got to take care of.
Hey, Cool Map. Now What the Hell Am I Supposed to Be Doing?
You can imagine where this takes us. Hands down, I think that this new scoring system and way of playing the game is one of the coolest patches I've seen yet. It's awesome. The problem is, it's so dynamic, and the strategies are so involved, that it's nearly impossible to get a really good game of it running on the Internet. Oh, people will play. But no team can really organize a winning strategy. Instead, individual players all try and do whatever makes them happy. Demolitions guys will keep storming the enemy base, snipers will try and find a place to kill people at random, while scouts with keys run all over the map claiming any Command Center they find. Rarely do you see an organized defense trying to hold captured ground.
It's just so damn hard to set up an interesting strategy! By the time you finish typing, "Rogers, Find a Perkins and a Felix the Sniper and establish control of Command Center seven. Put Felix up on that little balcony next to the bookshelf and have him cover Command Center four while you and Perkins get another key and claim it as ours," the other team has fifty crummy scouts wrecking havoc with the map you're so carefully trying to defend. The tactical situation changes way to fast.
As a side note, are any Team Fortress clans planning to come to QuakeCon? I'd love to set up two groups of computers in separate rooms, divide people into teams, and let them fight this game out the way it was meant to be played. Each team would have a commander who wouldn't actually play, but he'd bark orders to all his troops while he walked around and watched all their monitors and updated a big map on the wall. People could shout things to each other in the room, and the strategies would come to life. If your clan is willing to participate in this little experiment, mail me and I'll see if there's enough interest to pull it off. We'll see if this patch isn't the coolest thing to happen to Quake since +mlook.
But in the meantime, I'm still stuck with Internet play. And I still can't type fast enough to make this game live up to its potential, even assuming I stayed in observer mode and did nothing but type orders to my team. Back to the issue at hand...
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream "Defend the Base, Dammit!"
So typing isn't a solution, and we can't all have LAN parties all the time. The obvious answer is voice-through-modem. John Carmack talked about this briefly in a recent .plan update:
I have intentions to do three more things with the sound engine [of Quake II], but the realistic odds are that they won't all make it in:
Voice over network. I definitely don't have time to do a super-compressed version, but I can probably hack something in that the T1 players would have fun with...
Even though I play on a T1, I'm not getting my hopes up ... the other two things he mentioned (Streaming sound from disk and a radiousity sound system) were more practical and far cooler to a lot more people, so I imagine he'll work on them, instead. The problem with voice-over-network is the same one that makes net-play so difficult to begin with -- bandwidth. There's just not enough room on those old wires to carry all the game information AND a voice line to most households. And howabout practical considerations, like avoiding feedback? The solutions to these problems are probably quite a ways away. I've seen advertisements for modems that allow voice during gameplay, but I don't think they've caught on.
(These modems are called DSVD (Digital Simultaneous Voice and Data) modems. They only allow voice when two DSVD modems are connected together, like in an old-fashioned Doom Deathmatch. Not only that, but they are\were also pretty expensive and when you talked the data bandwith decreased by as much as one half. This was a neat little toy during the Doom\Duke days, but it's pretty much useless now. -Frags)
So how else can people communicate? Team Fortress gave us a hint at another solution: building sound cues into the game itself. Anyone who plays TF is now familiar with the sound of a teammate politely asking, "Excuse me, I'm in need of medical assistance" right in the heat of battle. The sound file is bundled with the patch and you can activate it by binding a key to the right command. Even more useful, when you call for help, medics on your team will see you flash and a line will be drawn toward you, so that they can see who needs the help. That's great. It's a real in-game situation and it promotes teamplay without disrupting the pace of the action. And nobody has to type anything.
I could imagine that more sound-cues could be built into the game, but it's just as limiting as keyboard macros, really. While perfect for many situations (like calling for a medic or crying for help), in the end they won't help with strategy too much.
The only thing left to do is call upon designers to make communication a priority when they come up with ideas for new games and patches. Think about these issues, and possible ways to solve them! One thing that really helps the Urban Warfare patch is that giant map on the wall of the control room. It not only adds to the feel of the game, it really provides important feedback to help people play the game the way it was meant to be played. Ramirez, the author of Canal Zone, said he ran into some entity size limit problems when compiling his map that forced him to limit the number of messages sent to players when things happened. Otherwise I'm sure the environment could have been even more interactive, with players getting even more details that would help them with strategy ("enemy has breached zone three," etc.) Of course, a balance has to be found between complexity and detail, but that's what game design is all about, eh?
Finally, I guess people should realize that if a game can't be played properly using the text-typing interface or built-in macros ... it won't be played. And a lot of effort put into making a great game might be wasted. Now, that's not to say that there's anything stopping you from programming a great game and saying, "This really only works at LAN parties, where you can talk to people in the room." If that's what your designing for, then that's what you're designing for. And some really great teamplay mods might fall only into this category. Just be conscious of these problems when you build your game, and we'll all have a great time. Regardless of what color pants we're wearing.
On That Note...
Hey, this was just an opinion piece, an opinion about an issue that I haven't seen discussed yet. But I'm sure everyone out there has some thoughts, as well. Keep this discussion alive! That's what's so great about the Quake Community -- It's like the largest, most exciting game development house in the world, all collaborating on a great project, and id Software is the grandaddy of it all. Send your comments to PlanetQuake and we'll post the interesting ones in our mailbag section. Or mail me. Or start a thread over at TC Magazine.
In the meantime, I've got a few Command Centers begging for my attention. I'll see you in the Canal Zone.
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