January 10, 2007

I’m still playing Joint Operations! (and good coop technology)

I know, the game is, what? 3 years old now? But it’s still good. Let me tell you why.

Now, i know i dedicated this blog to cooperative gaming, and Deathmatch is the ultimate opposite of cooperative gaming, but slaughtering your friends online can be such fun! And Novalogic, in their last patch finally fixed a stupid bug that allows players to cut open, fill with holes, blow up, and also squash your friends and foes alike (i’m still not sure on whether this was on purpose or not, but i’m going ahead with the dumb mistake theory, and leaving behind the “this is an exclusively team-based game” theory).

Now that I’ve let that go off of my chest, let’s think about two things that make this game still enjoyable (related to online cooperative gaming).

1) This game runs on most PCs now (except for those that are stuck with those bad+evil+crappy+work only Intel GPUs). If you have a newer machine, you can push up the graphics and the game still looks believable.

2) Bandwidth demands are fine for cooperative gaming: few of us are playing, and the game behaves just fine under that small pressure. Anyone can be a server, and anyone can join and play (I haven’t tried 56K modems, and I don’t want to, ok?) Newer games demand more bandwidth. This game works fine as is.

3) Coop maps are widely available. There are more maps out there than I will ever play, and more to come. Thanks to www.dfbarracks.com for their much appreciated efforts to make those available to the rest of us, and great big thanks to the mappers for sharing their creations.

4) Coop gaming remains fun! The objectives are fairly clear (when the mappers know what they’re doing, and those are more common as the game is getting older), blowing stuff up and shooting bad guys remains fun. It’s all good!

Things that have to get better for cooperative gaming:

One thing I’ve really enjoyed in Battlefield 2 was the ease of creating small teams (“squads”), and how the game encouraged and actually gave an edge to teams that would use the capabilities offered to the small teams. It was almost magical to me when I would join an online game and one of those teams, and the team would actually work together! It allowed a true team spirit to arise, and common goals could be clearly specified (by the one guy that had created the squad): go there, destroy something over there,

And a new position came out: The Commander. He can do useful stuff for the small teams, and keep a good strategic eye on the whole map of the game. I thought this really was an outstanding feature… that was undervalued by most.

“Houston, we have a teamplay problem”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: lack of cooperative gaming often comes from the lack of cooperative players. Let me tell you how it goes in Battlefield 2, a game where one big team faces another big team, in order to capture some key locations (and shoot the bad guys). It’s not a cooperative game, since we are fighting other humans (I think, but I can be easily fooled), but it does demand quite some cooperation within each team, and the game has BRILLIANT features to enhance the life of the teams within the team.

A widely descript phenomena happened with Battlefield 2: People would just NOT join the small teams. Everybody (lots of people) wanted to play on their own, even when teamplay was clearly needed to achieve the goals that the game offered (capturing key locations). Some secondary, far away, key locations could indeed be captured alone, but the central key locations, that usually offered the best rewards (superior vehicles, strategic positions and such), were normally impossible to capture when the “lone wolf” wanted to do it on his own. Yet, lone wolves abounded. How is that possible? Why is that possible? Hypothesis abound, and this my list:

  1. I don’t want no boss to boss me around. I want to be free as a bird.” So, what are you doing here exactly? Don’t you know this is a team based game? (Just as Joint Operations –originally, as I’ve explained- Battlefield 2 does not offer single player, and Deathmatch is not available. So let me rephrase that question: Why don’t you go and play some other game instead of disrupting our beautiful ballet of coordinations? This game will let you create a team, and let you boss around people if you want to, you know, so feel free to create the ultimate team that achieves the über-super missions that you have set for yourself (and your team) if you want to. Just don’t go it alone: it doesn’t make sense. But there comes another question worth asking: do you have what it takes to set mission goals, react to enemy moves and reformulate strategy and tactics according to the flow of battle, and let your team know and react in real time? Can you learn it in time? Can you even keep people around you enough time for it to happen?
  2. I want to do my own thing, and just that.” Autistic persons do grow into the teens and adulthood, sometimes unnoticed. But games can really help make that disorder come back and shine for all to see, big time: “Common goals? Just because we are two teams in this whole game?” Sad, but far too common. Please go back and play single player, use your bandwidth to download stuff, and stay there!
  3. I don’t trust teams. Teams are bad for my score.” OK, but, like, hum, team based game has to mean something, right? Plus, if the game has a deathmatch option, just hang in with the guys that are playing that.
  4. I’m just learning this thing, ok?” The Noob. He doesn’t know the game, doesn’t know the keys, didn’t take time to get comfortable with the objectives. Why did he come? Why didn’t he practice more? Why does he want that helicopter that is way to complex for him to handle, let alone understand how to use it strategically? It’s ok to learn, but the whole point (in this game) of the single player part of the game is to prepare yourself for the ‘online with real people’ experience. It’s different, but not that different, so please practice before coming. Asking questions is ok, trying things at home on your own is ok, and following the lead of the more experienced people is REALLY ok too, you know? Interestingly, America’s Army (the game) solved that issue by demanding that players complete a training sequence BEFORE being able to play online. Some people call it tutorials, some people call it “Read the F*** manual”, I just call it “make sure you know what you’re getting into”. As long as you don’t succeed at the training (offline, on your own) component, you can’t play online. Another way to achieve this could be the “pilot school”: if you want to use a tool, you must have practiced it for X amount of time offline, on your own. This should be especially true with the most powerful/most difficult to handle elements of the game. Too much work? My friends just want to get on with it already? OK, but get ready to answer too many questions to enjoy the game, and too much whining from those that don’t understand why they keep losing. At least when I loose, I know why!

Anyway, Battlefield 2 was a huge leap ahead in terms of actively encouraging teamplay, and I want to thank the creators of those –simple- mechanisms. I really really hope that every game of this type (Armed Assault, Quake Wars, and the rest) from now on will include those mechanisms.

13 comments:

Roy Tate said...

I'm still playing Joint Ops too. I play COOP with a few friends in the same room each christmas, and we play over Hamachi when we can't get together. It is fun.

Beaty said...

LOL - your rant did make me rant - as it's the same rant my friends and I have had countless times about BF2...

You have, also, made me want to dust off that copy of 'Joint Operations' I have - just to see what it was like.

JO was the first game I played as part of a real team ( - [BIG] - clan) and although I had been playing Classic Ghost Recon on the MACINTOSH, it was always with a 'loose' team of whoever I met on 'Game Ranger', and co-op was often patchy...

Ventrilo was a big revelation to me - and Joint Operations seemed so much better than it probably was because my friends and I could co-ordinate properly using comms.

Later, these same friends and I played BF2 competitively - but it was more instinctively knowing how each of us played best that worked for us than constant chatter on comms...

True co-op, as in when I played Ghost Recon, is not something a lot of my friends were interested in. The real challenge always seemed to be from 'thinking' humans...

But I enjoyed the mission based 'puzzle' aspect of co-op against the AI - and later branched off again to play GRAW2...

Now I am back with my old clan playing 'Call of Duty 4'. But I still often yearn for the simpler times I enjoyed when playing 'Joint Operations'...

Things were still new, unfamiliar and exciting then. :)

Beth said...

Anyone that is interested in playing LAN let me know I got tons of coop maps. Me and a few others play lan. Msg/add me on XFIRE and I'll set u guys up. nickname: unrtgoddess And yes I'm a girl who loves playing JO :)

Johny Blues said...

Hi Beth, how do i contact you? my gmail is -unsurprisingly- johnyblues ot gmail dot you know what... let me know! Hamachi is fine with me.

Beth said...

You can get a hold of me either through xfire (free download) or email waltbeth90@verizon.net I can get you hooked up and we all can play together. Can't wait!

Beth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beth said...

my nickname for xfire www.xfire.com is unrtgoddess

Johny Blues said...

Gotcha Beth, will connect whenever i have some time to spare. And will update my Hamachi meanwhile ;)

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