Apr 22, 2011

"Weekend Warriors" - Let's Play Coop In ArmA 2

So I was playing ArmA 2 in coop with some of my e-buddies the other day, and, since we all really like writing and reading about ourselves playing games, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and write about our mutual experience. If you were not part of said experience but still managed to derive entertainment from those memoirs - good for you, I guess.
We have been playing a user-made coop scenario called "Cipher" , which has you attack a heavily guarded enemy base, kill a renegade Russian general and steal a suitcase with a macguffin vital for saving democracy or whatever. It's supposed to be played by a team of 10, but since there were only 3 of us the other 7 were replaced with bots, which we used as spare "lives", since you can take control of one of the remaining bots when you die.


The Task:

A multinational team of US Marines has been sent on an important mission - assasination of a rogue Russian general and retrieval of WMD's a suitcase with a secret cipher.

The Team:

Team Leader Sekundaari; callsign: Sniperman - "SEE YOU IN HELL, PUMPKIN!"
Corpsman Heavy Gunner bucaneer; callsign: bucaneer - "I take no orders"
Corpsman Someone; callsign: GAME - "You could have thrown the corpses out, at least"

The mission starts with a short cutscene showing us the general, surrounded by his forces, with the suitcase, in his fortified village base.

A transport chopper drops us off on a nondescript meadow, about 3 kilometers away from the target village of Orlovets. There, we are provided with a weapons cache and 3 bikes for transport. While we sort our gear out, the local civilians make an introduction: refusing to cooperate with the liberation forces, an angry driver runs over our bikes, smashing one of them irreparably, stops, gets out of the car and very sarcastically gives the Traditional Charnarussian Liberation Greeting (laying face-down on the ground, with your hands behind your head), before promptly returning into the car and driving away. The whole scene has such a stunning effect on the team that by the time Sniperman snaps out of it and delivers two warning shots into the rear of the offending car, it's too far away for them to have the desired effect.

With the bikes out of commission, we have to walk to the objective on foot. 3 kilometers.

This is not a short walk.
We run through some woods. Then through some meadows. Then through some woods again. Finally, an encounter with an enemy patrol snaps us out of the comfort of running: about 3 men notice me in the tail of the group and open fire. I go prone and try to crawl behind some trees and determine the direction of incoming fire, while my two comrades deal with the threat, and before I can figure out where the enemies are, the patrol goes down.

Not pictured: me, crapping my pants.
We loot some grenades from the corpses and move onto a hill overlooking the objective, when the proverbial hits the fan. We start firing on the enemy soldiers patrolling the village, which alerts an enemy APC and an Anti-Air vehicle, as well as a gunship circling above. Bullets dig into the ground and trees around us, as we return fire to the targets scattered all across the horizon, and the alerted gunship makes strafing runs trying to flush us out of the thicket on the hill with cannons and missile fire. Some bad news come up: First, that we didn't bring any Anti-Air weapons, and second, that I ran out of ammo and inadvertently threw out all of my extra magazines while picking up grenades.

The situation is looking grim, but we still have two Anti-Tank missile launchers, and decide to team up and take down the Shilka AA vehicle, which has been lashing our nest with it's multiple high-caliber cannons, but before I can poke out of cover and properly take aim, an APC drives up the hill to the right of our position and points it's many many guns at my exposed torso. Unfortunately for it's crew, I happen to be clutching a primed rocket launcher and they happen to be 3 meters away, which is just close enough to be impossible to miss, but not close enough to kill me with the splash damage. They go up in flames and I bag my first armor kill of the day.


Meanwhile, Sniperman takes down the Shilka, and we are left with a batallion of angry infantry and a gunship spraying our position with hot death. Having spent my rocket tube and my machinegun bullets, I'm left completely spent and virtually useless - there isn't even a melee option! I still have the damn grenades, which I throw somewhere vaguely in the direction of incoming fire.

The gunship problem is intensifying and, after it manages to land a few hits and injure us, Sniperman decides on tactical doctrine: hide and hope the bad chopper goes away, so we crawl underneath some trees and carefully listen to the sounds of rotorblades zooming past us.

The chopper seemingly loses our scent, but keeps patrolling the area above. We don't have a choice: carefully, we crouch out of the thicket and down the hill, into the enemy positions, have a few brief shootouts with the remaining infantry forces and finally get blown up by the gunship missiles.

First Attempt - Moderately successful.

Thankfully we still have 7 more "lives" in reserve, and so "possess" some of the AI troopers standing idly around the Landing Zone, get 3 more bikes spawned and gear up again. Armed with foreknowledge of the likely engagements, I pick up a sniper rifle and an AA missile launcher.

Remembering what happened the last time we dallied, Sniperman hops onto a bike and pedals to the objective, while me and bucaneer have another encounter with the civilians. Another car pulls up, and the driver gets out and starts the Traditional Liberation Greeting. Trying to avoid the mistakes of the recent past, I hop into the driver's seat and investigate the car.

It appears that a couple of local stoners have kindapped a member of the clergy, and were taking him away in an unknown direction. We briefly contemplate the picture, but ultimately decide that bikes are superior for our goal and the priest doesn't seem all that bothered by his captivity, so we leave the driver to have his withdrawal-induced violent breakdown, hop onto our bikes and try to catch up with Sniperman. I actually get a head start, but bucaneer quickly overtakes me due to my overwhelming desire to take pretty screenshots instead of watching the road, and general ineptitude unfamiliarity with the apparatus.

If Tom Clancy and Tony Hawk had a baby...

While I repeatedly smash into trees, fall off the bike and hurt myself circumvent difficult terrain, bucaneer and Sniperman assault the village. The helicopter is nowhere to be seen, and we slowly advance into the village. Without armor support, enemy troopers quickly go down and we move to take cover between some houses.

It doesn't take long for the attack chopper to return, and I propose to try and take it down with the ground-to-ground missiles on hand, before being reminded that I've been lugging an AA rocket tube on my back this whole time and trying to take aim. There is no time to figure out how to use the launcher guidance system, so I just assume it's locked on when I see a square bracket surrounding the smudge in the air, and fire away, just when it goes over a forest. At first I assume the missile got caught by the trees, but after a few seconds of intense listening, the rotorblade sound slowly dies down, earning me bragging rights for a second piece of armor successfully disposed.

Meanwhile, the remaining enemy forces attack us from behind. Me and bucaneer go prone and scan the hillock behind us. Several enemy soldiers go down when, suddenly, an enemy "light recon vehicle" (and I can't type that with a straight face) with a mounted grenade launcher shows up and slowly drives past us. I cannot have that and, after some unfortunate misses and lag compensation, manage to shoot the exposed gunner and the driver in the neck, earning me bragging rights for what can be, with some gratuitous, military-grade overexaggerating, considered to be an armor unit, with bonus points for getting rid of the crew without blowing up the vehicle, earning us a ride with a big gun.

Woo? Um, get..some?
Still, I can't take all the credit. bucaneer manages to save my skin, when a soldier, catastrophically late to the party, emerges from a house behind us and starts wildly blasting away at our unsuspecting backs. While I try to take cover and locate the source of enemy fire, bucaneer coldly turns around and blasts the unfortunate camper.

We move on to the final sweep. Sniperguy literally goes to town with the grenade launcher while I suffer an unfortunate car accident, which I won't dwell on, and am forced to respawn as another bot and drive all the way back to the objective. The stoners are gone, so I have to drive the newly-spawned bike to a nearby village, where I steal take borrow requisition another civilian car. By the time I get back, bucaneer and Sniperman have already wrapped up the cleanup, and are trying to remember what was it that we were supposed to do, aside from killing everyone in the village. The general appears to have been killed during one of the attacks, so we thoroughly search Orlovets, retrieve the macguffin, call an EVAC chopper and pose for goodbye pictures, which I will not include out of fear for the audience's bandwidth.

Well, maybe except this one:

bucaneer reasserts his stance on taking orders

And this one:

The local populace salutes it's liberators with the Traditional Greeting.


Sekundaari said...

I think one more picture would provide my quote with some desperately needed context. Anyway, lacking voice communication actually improves the screenshots.

Second-to-last pic reminds me: Maybe the hand signals are actually added by Operation Arrowhead. That would explain the fact that you guys don't seem to see them.

And for the record, that first shot I fired in the mission? I took out one of the car's tires. Didn't appear to slow the guy down too much. And apparently bucaneer took down the entire first patrol, because my kill count sure didn't budge. Only some of my virtual skin and intestines did, but that was fixed promptly.

bucaneer said...

You missed the part where I earned the title of stealthiest operative by ringing my bike's bell all the way. Though I might have been so stealthy that nobody noticed.

I took out that patrol (if you say so; were there only 3 guys?) by noting the little red dots were moving fast enough to mean they were quite close and then shooting into the low-resolution grass until they stopped moving. I don't think I even saw them before going prone.

Sekundaari said...

By the way: I like how my indicator in the bike-screenshot shows how much I care about not leaving my subordinates behind.

Eldroid said...

Off topic but I'm interested in how you've been gone about creating this blog. I want to start a "Let's Play" post of my own on my blog and like yours I want to go the written route.

Do you record the video of your sessions and then later "transcript" them? Write as you play? Just record audio? Basically I'd like to know what your process is.

I ask because I'm not sure if my laptop will be able to handle recording video (which is also one of the reasons I'm going the written route). Any other tips/info you can provide will be much appreciated as well.

Someone said...

@Eldroid: No, I don't record anything. I just play the game for a bit, alt-tab and write down what I have been doing, together with anything humorous or interesting I've noticed while doing it.

I actually started out doing it from memory, if only because I decided to start an LP AFTER I've already started playing Baldur's Gate, but remembering everything you did in a game when you were playing it several weeks ago is hard, so once I caught up the LP with my actual gameplay progress, after Part 6, I switched to writing it "Live", as I play.

Record video? Nononono. Lord knows, if I'm too lazy to crop a few screenshots and put them on a separate file hosting, I'd never go through all the effort of recording actual video for an entirely written LP.

As for advice, I can't really tell you anything specific. You can ask bucaneer from the comments above, his own LP blog has also been inspired by mine, and already he seems to be doing a much better job of it than I ever did.

Eldroid said...

Thanks for getting back to me Someone. That's pretty much what I was thinking. Since I posted I've found out this format of LP falls under the SSLP type (Screenshot Let's Play). However from what I gather, those generally involve a LARGE amount of screenshots which can go into the hundreds, if not thousands.

Since I'm on dial-up at the moment, I've been looking for a feasible way to construct my LP and the way you've been handling yours seems to be the best way to proceed. Less screenshots and more text.

Thank you again for getting back to me and I'm really glad I ran into your blog. Keep up the good work!

P.S. I can't believe you started doing this LP out of memory! That is simply quite amazing. Having a terrible memory I would never have been able to do the same and probably would have to restart the game if I wanted to write in any detail.

bucaneer said...

For the record: I also don't record anything, just jot down some very quick notes about interesting bits on paper as I play and then fill in the details from memory or screenshots (if I manage to take any, that is). It also helps to do the writeup shortly after playing, and not getting too far ahead in the game - just enough to know what you'll write about next, but not so much that you'd mix up or forget details from earlier.

Eldroid said...

Thanks for the tips Bucaneer. How much game time on average do you guys condense into a part? Or do you just strive to reach a particular work count?

Someone said...

@Eldroid: I just keep going until I get bored or until it's 4 in the morning and I can't see the keyboard anymore.

Also, I'd probably start a new game instead of writing from memory if I weren't the laziest man ever to walk the earth.

bucaneer said...

I found out after the first few posts that 1000 words is a comfortable amount to write in one go, so I now use that as reference. It doesn't correspond to any particular length of gameplay - I might glance over uneventful stretches but write a lot about a short battle; it depends on how much you have to say about it.

Manny said...

Wow, looks like a really cool game with lots of freedom, I didn't even know it existed. Is the AI as realistic as it seems from your description - do grass and foliage actually block their view so that you can hide in the bushes? I hate these x-ray AIs that never lose track of you even if they don't have the slightest chance of seeing you (i'm looking at you, Far Cry).

Your writing is also really good, I enjoyed this post in particular. And I'm glad you took the writing route. I prefer reading stuff at my own pace rather than sitting through a video.

Sekundaari said...

Oh hi!

I'm not completely certain of how well the foliage blocks the AI's view, I recall the viewblock was a bit simpler in shape than the visual object in the previous game, ArmA. Don't remember how it was in Flashpoint, either.

It certainly does hinder the AI's view to some extent, no x-ray vision. They will eventually forget you, though they might go for a grenade.

I'm not exactly sure how much our low difficulty and AI skill setting affects the behavior of the AI. We only have three people, my not-too-good self included, and normal AI skill tends to make a sharpshooter out of every ragtag rebel, so we set it lower.

Seriously cool game, though. Check it out on Youtube, plenty of awesome stuff there.

bucaneer said...

Also, it has a demo, check that out too.

And do I smell another recruit? I don't recall any serious connection or lag issues in our last couple of sessions, so we could probably welcome a fourth player, if nobody minds.

Sekundaari said...

More henchm- subordinat- guys sometimes doing what I say are always welcome. Manny's location shouldn't bring unbearable connection troubles either.

It does make crewing a normal 3-crew tank together a bit tricky, but we'll probably manage.

Someone said...

@Sekundaari: But we could man APCs with maximum efficiency. TWO Machinegunners! Imagine the possibilities!

@Manny: Joooiiiinnn Uuussss! It's fun.

There are lots of freedom in ArmA. Everything happens on a single, persistent map (Chernarus), and the only constraints are your objectives and available equipment. If you manage to get your hands on a tank or an attack chopper, nothing is stopping you from steamrolling enemy positions (or enemies from blowing you up with rocket launchers). On a different session, one which I couldn't be arsed to write about, we played a different mission. At one point, we laid mines to blow up an enemy APC, but they weren't enough to destroy it, busting up the tracks and immobilizing it instead. After we dealt with the crew, Sekundaari decided to use it as a stationary cannon - the turret was fully operational and the armor was still in place, to protect from small arms fire. bucaneer and I rode into enemy positions on a hummvee, made some noise and drove back to the damaged APC and when the alerted infantry gave chase, they were greeted by their own APC's cannons.

The AI's view does seem to be hindered by the same obstacles as the player's is. It's actually kind of funny: during one of the skirmishes with the enemy in that same play session I described above, I've noticed enemy soldiers trying to cross an open field to the right of our position, running around erratically in the woods and otherwise displaying strange behavior. Back then, I thought it was a manifestation of pathfinding imperfections, but thinking back I realized - they couldn't SEE us!. Following my experience with other shooters, I just naturally assumed they will all know exactly were we are the moment we start shooting, but their movement and targeting patterns were much the same as ours were when we came under fire from an unknown direction, and were trying to determine who the hell is shooting us and where he is.

Manny said...

Thanks for the warm welcome! I tried the demo and my first good impression was confirmed.

Moreover it's only 6€ on Steam right now due to midweek madness, so it seems that it's pretty much my destiny.

And only a fool would try to fight his destiny.

Sekundaari said...


Words of warning: 1.Game is (still) glitchy/buggy. Open-ended, massive scale, yadda yadda.

2.We are communicating by chat, because I can't get a microphone to work. Don't know why. As I said above, I think this adds to the screenshots.

We all got our games from Gamersgate, but the Steam version should be compatible in multiplayer, afaik. I noticed that Operation Arrowhead is discounted too, you might want to consider buying it (though only if it's still possible to play vanilla Arma 2 afterwards with Steam), it's quite good stuff and many mods and missions need it. No rush, of course. My secret plan is to pester these guys into buying it in the next Gamersgate sale anyway.

@Someone: Your sales pitch is awesome.

Sekundaari said...

Hey Manny, unless you are really keen on using your Stopen Van Hamertijd e-mail address these days, you might want to send us a mail to get in touch. Expect links to user-made co-op missions and other stuff to follow.