A New Scale of Warfare
January 13, 2009 – There are many popular FPS games around today that have made their mark among gamers-all for different reasons. Zipper Interactive wants to accomplish the same goal with its upcoming PS3 exclusive MAG, a game that supports 256-player online battles and brings a whole new scale to the FPS genre.
Just last week, from January 4 to January 10, gamers were invited to participate in MAG’s open beta phase of development. The open beta featured all three playable factions (Raven, Valor, and SVER), the full class/weapon unlock system, clan support, and two of the three game modes.
The first game mode players will play through is called Sabotage, an objective-based match that requires one faction to defend two separate objectives on the map, while the other must attack them. If the attackers can take and hold both objectives at the same time, the third and final objective is unlocked. Sabotage supports the smallest number of players compared to the others at 64, which is hardly a “small” number when compared to other console FPS games.
Once a player achieved level 10 in the beta, they were able to participate in Domination, the game mode featuring two, 128-player teams fighting over many objectives at once. Domination, unlike Sabotage, also features vehicles and leader abilities, such as air strikes. Considering the scale of this game mode, overall performance was adequate, although there were moments when my frame rate would drop enough to be noticeable. However, it is important to note that the frame rate was never consistently low enough to make MAG unplayable or even frustrating.
Not everything was available to play during the open beta, such as the Acquisition game mode, which features 128-player battles between two factions. Despite that this game mode wasn’t playable; there are some basics that are known. For example, this mode requires the attacking faction to assault the enemy’s base, acquire two vehicle targets, and get them back to the evacuation point within a time limit. While Acquisition isn’t exactly a novel idea, much in the same way Sabotage and Domination, it does provide a unique and large scale, a twist that may surprise gamers.
MAG is identified as being a “classless,” game, meaning players don’t pick specific roles such as medic, engineer, etc. Instead, the game features a progression system based on skill points, which players obtain by leveling up. During the games, players earn experience points for helping the faction complete its objective, whether that means simply killing enemy players, healing and resuscitating downed brothers in arms, or repairing bunkers is entirely up to the player.
Each time a player levels, one skill point is awarded, which you can spend on whatever you like. The progression system, while remaining classless, is broken into linear categories, such as assault, marksman, support, athleticism, etc. The categories provide some focus to how players advance. For example, the marksman category contains mostly upgrades, attachments, and weapons associated with sniping, but players aren’t restricted by category either, thus the “classless” system. Perhaps you want to upgrade your sniper rifle, but also want to outfit your character with a repair tool. The way the system is setup allows players to create their own “classes,” based on their own gamestyle and preferences, without being restricted to only the nuances of a particular role.
The progression system is also split into tiers. Each tier is unlocked by spending enough points in the preceding tier, so a player’s level has little to do with which tiers are available. Nevertheless, it is possible for a player to advance to the next tier while skipping some of the upgrades in the previous tier, allowing you to decide whether you really want to spend skill points to something or not. And, while players may unlock a variety of items and skills, they are limited in what they can use at any given time by defining loadouts.
Players are allowed to have three separate loadouts, versions of their character based on what they have equipped and how they look. Zipper also created a weight system in MAG, which means every weapon, item, attachment, and armor type weighs something, and the player is bound by how much they can carry. Basically, even if a player unlocks a medical kit, a fully attached assault rifle, a rocket launcher, advanced grenades, and a repair kit, it would be impossible to carry all of it at once, so you have to create your loadout accordingly.
Aside from large-scale gameplay, MAG also brings forced team play. Unlike other FPS games that simply give the player the option to join squads within their team such as Battlefield 2142, MAG places players within squads automatically, with no option of leaving. While this may seem restrictive, success is dependent on communication and organization, especially when there are at least 64 players involved. Once in a squad, players are able to communicate via VOIP with only those within their squad. However, squad leaders are able to communicate with other squad leaders by switching channels. One downside to the current squad system is the inability to switch squads midgame, a problem that can impact a player’s experience, especially when there are multiple squads that have less than half the max complement.
After a week’s worth of gameplay and server testing, MAG seems ready to make a name for itself later this month. Aside from some balance issues, bugs, occasional lag, the core gameplay design is solid. As long as Zipper can continue to improve the game before and after its release, MAG may very well end up being one of the best online shooters available, even if it never achieves the same level of popular success as games like Modern Warfare 2. MAG is set to release on January 26.
Funny Title with HUGE Potential
May 20, 2009 – War is the most brutal aspect of life that has been recreated in video games. Whether it is futuristic, an alternate timeline, or hitting a little closer to real life, the shooter genre thrives on combat and recreating the chaotic essence of war in online battles. However, there is one thing that is absent from all of them: chaos.
In most games of the genre, this chaotic element is reduced to nothing more than an annoying player that decides to turn on his own people. It has all become formulaic; until now. Zipper Interactive has taken a huge task of recreating real life elements of war. The most prominent example of this will be the 256 player capability, but in this market of comfortable shooters, is there room for a title that explodes the limit of players? Will it suck you into the throws of war?
MAG takes place twenty years in the future. The world’s resources are diminished and there is a revolt against taxes used to pay for overseas military activities. This results in governments not being able to afford standing military groups overseas to protect their interests. Nations now have to turn to private military corporations to do the jobs that need to be done. Three military factions have risen with one goal: supremacy. As a result of their nature, each faction competes for the high dollar contracts. Due to their competitive nature, the three factions will stop at nothing to be the best and this in turn creates the Shadow War. By eliminating the stigma of nation vs. nation or human vs. whatever, Zipper Interactive has the way war is presented in video games in the past.
The three factions’ differences also seem to cater to a broader audience as well. There have only been two of the three revealed thus far, but the two they have don’t leave you begging to know the last faction right now. The Raven faction may be the one most will want to align themselves with due to their nature. They operate with more futuristic weapons, similar to those found in Resistance, and they wear sleek, black polished gear. Another advantage Raven has is their superiorly trained soldiers. According to Zipper, Raven sports the most highly trained soldiers on the planet. Sver, pronounced sever, are practically the complete opposite of Raven. They don’t have the futuristic weapons, the training, or the sleek black outfits, but they do have something Raven does not: experience. It doesn’t matter how much you train for something, without experience you can crack and fail under pressure. Most of the soldiers in Sver are from war-torn nations. They have grown up surrounded by war. For all intents and purposes, they are the living embodiments of war.
We will have to choose which faction we side with before we start the game, however, that does not mean we can only be aligned with one faction forever. Zipper says that players will even be able to change their allegiance as the game progresses. This will help with your customization of your soldier, since you will be able to customize their face, voice, and attire before going into battle. One thing MAG is doing differently than traditional war-themed games is the removal of the class system. Instead, players will have a better control on how their character evolves. Using a free-form kit method allows players to change the way they play the game. For example, each player carries one primary weapon, sidearm, three gear perks, and a melee weapon. The perks can range from medic packs to rocket launchers. Players will obtain access to these perks and better weapons as they rank up.
Another interesting feature in this massive online-only game is how it is broken down to eliminate total chaos during play. Instead of just throwing people in and saying fight to the death, Zipper took a page from the military’s command structure. There will be eight player squads, four of those squads will make up a platoon, and four platoons will comprise the company. Now, in order to run a good company, you are going to need leaders, and Zipper has this covered as well. Once players reach veteran status, they will be able to enlist in the leadership tree. The squad leader is the lowest leadership position, followed by officer status for platoon and even Officer in Charge to lead the entire company. Another way to allow better relay of information, officers will be able to use a separate communications channel in order to confer with the other officers about tactics to succeed in the war.
All of these things would be nothing without gameplay, and Zipper is making strides in this department as well. Obviously, the 256 multiplayer Domination mode of the game is what has most people intrigued. Initially, I have to admit, I was not that intrigued by the prospect of this many players in one battlefield, due mostly to the way most games have spawn points drastically far away from your objective. While starting out on the outskirts of the map, if you are the attackers, doesn’t sound appealing considering how massive the maps are going to have to be, there will be ways to alleviate this. One way will be transport vehicles. Everyone may not be able to hop on one of these transport vehicles, but having the option opens it up for more contact. Instead of your squad rushing to the center and this being the only spot the action takes place, players will have to take out the outer defenses first before advancing. By doing this, your company will create forward spawn points in the game.
The forward spawn points not only allow you closer access to achieving your goal, but they will also give you new objectives as well. For example, there will be spots that will help your team to take out the defending company’s radar. With this taken out, you have a better chance of infiltrating the enemy compound. This also will cause the defenders to have to scramble to repair their radar, because no one wants to be blind in battle. Having these variations in the Domination mode not only makes it more accessible but seemingly will allow the experience to be more enjoyable. There will be other modes to keep players coming back to the game as well. Two of the three other modes contribute to the Shadow War; however, all tone down on the number of players involved in battle. Acquisition is a 128-player escort mode where attackers have to steal two armored transports and make it to the extraction point before time runs out. In Sabotage, 64 players compete in objective-based missions where the attackers must retain control of two control points simultaneously in order to have the final demolition objective revealed. The final mode doesn’t contribute to the Shadow War, instead it is more like a team deathmatch with 64 players competing in a Faction Exercise.
Any way you slice it, this game appears impressive. With Zipper Interactive putting everything they have into the game, Massive Action Game is poised to deliver on its title. In shear volume alone, MAG represents the functions of war that have been missing from the genre. If everything holds together and MAG truly captures the essence of war, this could be the only game I turn to when I need to align myself and prepare for war. Hoo-Rah!