Saturday, April 18, 2015

Exemplary Bad Multiplayer: PS2 Sniping

Once upon a time, I used to play World of Warcraft. As per my usual high-fantasy preferences, I was an elven druid herbalist. I liked exploring. I'd often find myself out in the middle of nowhere, overlooking grandiose swaths of persistent world filled with a myriad players and interactable resources, monsters, NPCs, etc, most of which were sadly out of render distance. A crafty gnome I knew mailed me a gift one day: a telescope! Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! I scrambled up a cliffside by Maraudon caverns with as wide a view as possible over the desolate scrubland terrain imagining myself spotting rare monsters and encroaching orc parties and relaying their movements to my faction. Hero of the Alliance I'd be, brave wilderness scout extraordinaire, yessiree. I lifted the telescope to my eye (okay, fine, I clicked the damn thing in my inventory) only to find that it did indeed magnify... terrain. Everything else was still out of render distance. What a frikkin waste of development time.

Before that I'd played Counterstrike when it came out as the mod to beat TFC before it was out-done by Natural Selection and Day of Defeat and though I normally shun internets slang, sometimes it's apt. I loathed AWP-whores. You could fit a one-shot-kill weapon into the game, arguably. You could fit long-range weapons into the game, sure. However, a gun which out-damaged and out-ranged everything in the game with pinpoint accuracy was simply blatantly, idiotically, inexcusably overpowered... and at the same time useless. AWP-whores sat back and did nothing to help anyone else, leeching killing blows on enemies I'd flush out of hiding but never providing actual backup and never bothering to actually attack/defend the team objective. This was my first exposure to the parasitic sniper mentality which has now become so entrenched in team FPS games. Of course if you really want to make AWP-whores even more idiotically overpowered you'd give them invisibility as well.

The first Planetside included some sniper rifles, but these were only one of many long-range gimmicks like player-guided MIRV warheads, high-altitude bombers and indirect artillery fire. Planetside 2 unfortunately picked up on the new industry standard, the perceived necessity to pander to idiotic parasites by including a playable class which can kill one-on-one with impunity. Brain-dead gamers demand ways to win 1v1 in team games without actually playing for the team. As in most games these days, that... well, I can't call it "role" in context since by definition it lacks synergy, but it's filled by the rogue archetype, in PS2's case termed Infiltrators. They get one-shot kills, they get ridiculous range, they get invisibility. They are utter wastes of space who contribute nothing to the control-point push around which the game revolves, but in terms of moronic dick-measuring they're manna from heaven. Boom, headshot! Just watch your K/D ratio rise.

There is nothing wrong with the disparate elements here. Range, killing and invisibility are all excellent game devices and topics which have been talked to death online since there were games online. There are proper ways to implement them. PS2 even includes some true utility for infiltrators in the form of sensor darts which reveal enemies on the minimap and "hacking" which gives access to enemy equipment and vehicle purchase terminals. Both valid roles for a thief class... except that hacking is melee-range and sniper rifles vastly outrange sensor darts, which means most players who like playing infiltrators never make use of these team-friendly abilities, but merely sit back on hilltops and leech killing blows off the edges of fights. A PS2 sniper is an utter parasite using his teammates as bait, refusing to put himself in danger. Instead of having a teammate nearby with whom to share the risk, you get an opportunistic leech who will cloak and run as soon as an enemy appears allowing you to be focus-fired. I'd love to see some PS2 session stats on the number of snipers a faction has and the likelihood of it winning an alert. I'm betting on an inverse correlation.
There is no room for that kind of stupidity in a team game.

Again, the MMO rogue archetype is made idiot-friendly by the emphasis on damage-dealing. Infiltration adds a great deal to multiplayer games when divorced from the instant gratification of assassination. In Planetside 1, infiltrating an enemy base meant finding some quiet spot to place a teleportation beacon through which a horde of friendly infantry could pour behind enemy lines. You could hand your faction victory over a base, break an hour-long siege, without ever firing a shot. It was elegant, dangerous and above all, team-friendly. It was the best of James Bond, as opposed to the bloodthirsty caveman American Sniper craze of today.

Or take the question of range, for instance. There is a place in team games for dealing large amounts of damage from outside your enemy's range. It's called artillery. PS1's Flail vehicle could shoot halfway across continents in a lovely ballistic arc for massive AoE damage. It required a spotter at the front line, anyone, to mark intended targets and therefore required some willing cooperation from other players. Unlike opportunistic sniping, the flail was not a way to rack up kills but mostly suppressive fire limiting enemy movements, and a deployed Flail was an easy mark for enemy aircraft unlike PS2 cloakers. It both required and provided synergy with other gameplay elements. PS2's greatest flaw is that it avoids such devices in favor of opportunism. There is some artillery fire in PS2 via tank cannons but it's completely divorced from whatever anyone else on your faction is doing, disorganized potshots.

Instead of pandering to imbeciles who take up space on crowded continents without contributing anything to their faction by handing out sniper rifles, put infiltrators in their proper place as spotters. Here's me today, watching one flank of a large fight from a nearby base:

That thing I'm looking at is an enemy AMS, a mobile spawn location for infantry (a priority target if there ever was one) plus it happens to be flanking my team's defenses to boot, sneaking in below that hillside out of sight. Now, the sniper routine is to wait for enemies to start spawning from it and take some potshots, maybe get a kill or two, set them back by fifteen seconds each over a few minutes' time. Spawn-killing. Big e-peen boost for me, pnz0ring sitting ducks who have no chance of hitting me, but almost entirely meaningless in terms of the faction conflict. I could also spot the vehicle and the players spawning from it, but that only lasts a few seconds and since I can take the chance of killing them instead, the game actively de-incentivizes me from taking the time to do so. Only so many buttons I can mash at a time. My ability to spot that enemy target is actually less relevant to my faction than if I were playing a gunner in a vehicle and had a free finger for not having to use my movement keys.

So fuck snipers. They're worthless, brainless parasites who add nothing to the game and though they help keep players moving by making it dangerous to stand still, that's a cheap way of making the game seem intense and fast-paced. Fuck snipers and their rifles. Instead of sniper rifles, give infiltrators tagging rifles instead. Return the Liberator to its high-flying carpet-bomber role, re-institute long-range indirect fire a la Flail bombing, and tie these into team-oriented targeting via infiltrators. Allow me to fulfill that wilderness scout role I so wanted as a WoW druid a decade ago.
Give me a rifle which marks enemy targets for twice or three times or five times as long as the normal spotting which any class can do.
Give me a rifle which acts as an automatic rangefinder for friendly ground-based artillery or long-range beacon for friendly bombers up in the clouds.
Give me EMP bullets for disabling enemy vehicles without doing damage to them.
Give me an "infectious" spotting rifle which marks the first enemy it hits and spreads the effect to his nearby teammates.

Hell, give me, anything, anything at all, instead of the imbecilic "BOOM, HEADSHOT!" routine. Take away those worthless retarded AWP-whores' dick-measuring and turn infiltrators into team players, then see how many people will actually play the class. You'll lose all the right customers. We don't need their stupidity cluttering team games.

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