Friday, April 27, 2007

Contrasting Real Team Shooters with Counter Strike

Last Sunday I went PaintBalling for the first time and although I should have enjoyed myself absolutely, there was something that bothered me in the back of my mind and it took me a few hours to realise that I seen issue with some of the gameplay mechanics. So inspired by
Foofly's Posting of some of his university work, I thought I would take a more academic approach to this post and contrast PaintBalling against team based multiplayer video game Counter Strike and the hybrid of the two which is LaserTag.

I choose Counter Strike for this comparison because not choosing just one video game meant that the scope of the comparison would be too broad, Counter Strike is very popular and has a very similar play style to that of PaintBalling.

Paintballing is an objective team based game where players use Paintball Guns to fire balls of coloured liquid by way of pressurised gas at opposing players. Player elimination occurs when a player is hit by an exploding paintball.

LaserTag is a team or individual based multiplayer game where players fire laser beams from rifles at eachother to score points which are recorded by computer. For this comparison I will be using the indoor variety of LaserTag as I have no experience with the outdoor variety.

Counter Strike
Counter Strike is a virtual team based multiplayer game where players use a variety of virtual weaponry moduled from real world weaponry to complete objectives.

Player Environment
Traditionally PaintBalling is played outside in wooded areas (known as woodball), however more recently themed areas and open areas filled with geometrical obstacles (known as speedball) are now commonly used.

LaserTag (the inside variety) is played inside enclosed buildings with dark, florescent lighted environments. This is done to give a futuristic feel to the game and enhance the visibility of the lasers. This means that most LaserTag venues are normally limited to only having one environment for players to play in.

Counter Strike is played infront of a computer in any virtual environment that the player feels conformable with. The game comes supplied with twenty five virtual environments called maps which are all based on real environments from Oil Rigs to Airfields, but the game includes the option to download or make new maps on anything the player desires. Counter Strike unlike PaintBall and LaserTag where there is no player limit, is limited to a maximum of thirty two players in any one game.

Game Types
PaintBall has an unlimited number of game types, but most consist of a combination of bases or start points and flags. Points are awarded for a variety of things like getting the enemy team's flag located at their start point back to your team's base or getting a flag in the centre of the game zone back to the enemy team's base. Then bonus points can be awarded for having a set number players alive at the end of a match or occupying a set position like a tower at the end of the match.

LaserTag has two types of game, deathmatch where the objective is to score points by shooting other players. And team deathmatch where the objective is for one team to score points by shooting the other team.

Counter Strike has one gametype consisting of two teams, terrorists and counter terrorists. The objectives for the terrorists is to win by either killing all the members of the counter terrorist team or by planting and detonating a bomb with a forty five second timer at one of a marked location or locations on the map. Counter terrorists can win by killing all members of the terrorist team, however if that happens and a bomb has been planted then they must also find and deactivate the bomb before it explodes, otherwise even through the terrorist team is dead, they could still win by the bomb detonating.

In PaintBalling all players are required to wear facemasks to prevent any paintballs from travelling through a player's eye and make the game relatively safe. It should be noted that in the UK there is a legal age restriction that all players be at least twelve years old to play PaintBall. All players are issued with a rifle, a belt that carries refill canisters filled with paintballs and then paintballs themselves. The number of paintballs a player has depends on how many they have purchased from the facility owners. Player are not allowed to bring their own paintballs as the organisers have to guarantee the quality of all paintballs used at their facility (this could also have insurance implications).

In LaserTag all players wear sensor packs over their chests and back. These are connected to rifles that fire a laser out of the front for a very short duration when the trigger is pulled.

To play Counter Strike a player first needs to buy a Personal Computer with all the necessary peripherals like a Keyboard, Screen, Mouse, an Internet Connection and then a copy of the game. The computer's screen is used to display the game's virtual world that the player is in from a first person perspective as if the player was actually standing in that world. The keyboard is used to control movement and buy equipment. The mouse is used to look around and aim in the virtual world. And it is recommended that the player has a set of speakers so that they can also hear what is happening in the gameworld. Optionally a player can also connect a microphone upto their computer so that they can talk to other players that are also playing the game instead of typing messages with the keyboard to communicate. All the weapons that a player might use are all included virtually in the game and in unlimited supply. It should be noted that for a player killing an opponent, staying alive at the end of a round, planting or deactivating a bomb, their team winning, they receive money which can be spent on ammunition, weapons and armor in the next round. The equipment that can be bought in Counter Strike is (not most equipment is not available to both terrorists and counter terrorists):

High Explosive Grenade
Smoke Grenade
Assault Suit
Nightvision Goggles
Magnum Sniper Rifle
Maverick M4A1 Carbine
Krieg 552
Leone YG1265 Auto Shotgun
ES C90
Clarion 5.56
Krieg 550 Commando
IDF Defender
Leone 12 Gauge Super
Schmidt Scout
K&M Sub-Machine Gun
Schmidt Machine Pistol
Ingram MAC-10
Night Hawk .50C
.40 Dual Elites
ES Five-Seven
228 Compact
K&M .45 Tactical
9x19mm Sidearm

Reloading in PaintBall is performed with the following steps:
1) Remove refill canister from ammo belt.
2) Open ammo hopper on rifle.
3) Open lid on refill cannister.
4) Tip paintballs from refill cannister into ammo hopper on rifle.
5) Close lid on hopper.
6) Close lid on now empty refill cannister.
7) Place empty refill canister back into ammo belt.

Reloading in LaserTag (if indeed the player is playing a game that requires reloading as this can be turned off) is done by going to a reloading station and shooting at a sensor on the wall.

To reload in Counter Strike the player simply runs out of ammo where the computer will automatically start reloading for the player if they have sufficient spare ammo to do so, or by default the player can press the R button on their keyboard for their virtual self to start reloading for them.

Scoring a Hit
Hitting someone in PaintBall with a paintball is fairly straight forward, a player simply paints their rifle at the opposing player and pulls the rifle's trigger. A paint ball will then be ejected from their rifle by way of compressed air and travel towards the opposing player. On contact however the paintball may or may not explode. A hit is only counted if the paintball makes contact with the opponent and explodes on impacting leaving a paint mark on the opponent's body or rifle. This can result in some confusion as players who have been hit by a paintball do not always know if the hit left a mark or not. Once shot a player should leave the battlefield as all successful shots are counted as kills, however some players can continue playing the game once being shot simply because they do not realise that they have been shot.

In LaserTag it is necessary for a player to point their rifle at an opposing player, pull the trigger on their rifle and with the laser that is emitted from their rifle hit either the front or back sensor packs on the opposing player's body. Upon a shot being registered a player who has been hit will have their pack emit a sound so they know they have been shot and have their rifle disabled for a set amount of time (usually three seconds) to prevent them immediately firing back.

In Counter Strike a player must point the centre of their viewpoint which is marked with a cross-hair at an opposing player by moving a mouse and then press the left mouse button to fire. Upon firing a virtual bullet or bullets are projected at the opponent, damage done to that player is calculated and then this is displayed on their screen by changing health stats on their display and a red triangle appearing which communicates to them that they have been hit and by which direction they have been shot from. If sufficient damage is dealt to a player, they will die and have to wait until the next round starts before they can play again.

Rule Enforcement
Rules in PaintBalling are enforced primarily by the players themselves, however all games will have several none combatant marshals who will walk around the battlefield and make sure a game is being played correctly and that no serious harm comes to any players.

A computer keeping track of all the player's scores enforces the rules in LaserTag meaning unless one player physically harms another there are no rules that the players can accidentally break.

As Counter Strike is a Video Game the rules are enforced entirely by computer. Specifically the server that all the players connect to, to participate in the same game. This server and the player's own computer will keep track of their, armor, health, money, weapons, ammo, their position in the world, where they are facing and any actions they are performing when the player performs them. Some of this information is shared with other players so that they can see who is playing, their score and where they are in the gameworld.

Cheating in PaintBall happens when a player is hit by an exploding paintball and then proceeds to wipe the paint off of themselves so that the mark as evidence of them being hit no longer remains. They then continue playing as if they hadn't been hit. If a marshal sees evidence of this they will escort that player from the game.

Cheating in LaserTag can happen if a player covers their sensor pack with something that prevents any laser light from hitting the sensor. Or if they take off their pack and place it in the environment so that it is very difficult for any other players to hit. In this case it is upto the players themselves to inform the owners of the facility, who will then deal with that player.

Computer based software hooks known as hacks can aim for the player in Counter Strike giving them a 100% hit count on opponents. These hacks can also allow a player to see through walls to where other players are. Valve (makers of Counter Strike) have attempted to prevent software hacks by developing a system called VAC which scans a computer's memory for known hacks and then reports that information back to the game server. If a hack is found the game server will disconnect (known as kick) that player from the game and report their activity to Valve who can choose to ban that player from playing multiplayer for a set period of time or permanently.

The price of PaintBalling varies dramatically depending on where you go, but a half day costs around £30 for four to six games and a fullday with about eight games can cost upto £50. One game will last a maximum of twenty minuets, but this will probably vary between venues.

LaserTag games are priced at under £5 per game, duration of a game will vary from venue to venue. And in case you where interested the outdoor variety is priced at about £10 per hour, but again this varies from venue to venue.

The cost of playing Counter Strike can be as little as little as £10 if the player already owns a computer with internet connection. However if a player does not already have a computer to play the game on then purchasing one can cost between £250 to £3000+ and an internet connection costs around £20 a month. Once a player has the game and the equipment to play Counter Strike they can play as much as they like without incurring additional costs.

Physical After effects
Being hit by a paintball does hurt a little and will leave some minor bruising. Plus the act of physically running around can result in such things as exhaustion and muscle pain later if the player is unfit.

LaserTag does not inherently cause injuries however just like with PaintBalling running around can be exhausting and unfit players will find activity of this nature harder than fit players.

As Counter Strike takes place in a virtual world players can effectively play anywhere they like as long as where they are has a computer. Most players who play Counter Strike today will do so from a desk at home. This has the advantage of being able to play in a relaxed state while having food and drink on hand. There is also growing evidence to suggest that some players will even smoke marijuana while playing.

Rule enforcement in PaintBalling is an issue as even if a player is one who wishes to not cheat as they may not realise when they have been hit. And PaintBalling is experience enough that to play with any frequency is very costly.

LaserTag benefits greatly from having a computer keep track of every players score, but having to shoot at and wear sensor packs can be awkward at times.

After the initial cost of buying a computer, Counter Strike is by far the cheapest way of playing a team shooter. However the fact that the game doesn't take place in a physical environment means that the social interaction between players that normally takes place between players and makes such games socially rewarding is abstracted, which will have a negative effect on the player to player bonding process. That is unless a player is playing with other players in the same environment which is either difficult to organise or in the case of a cybercafe sometimes difficult to find as most don't carry Counter Strike.