Saturday, March 30, 2013

Learning Arma III alpha

Arma III - 1st person, closeup

I just couldn't resist Arma III. Now, I've never played any of the other Arma games, and I'm not into military sims. I can't tell one gun from another, and I don't care enough to try. And I don't, normally, play multiplayer games.

But this game is just so neat that I had to get it. Even though it's not really my thing, even though I don't have friends who play computer games (Arma III would clearly be great to play with friends), even though I knew I'd be terrible at it,... it's still so impressive that I just had to buy it. :)

And right now, while it's still in alpha, it's only about $33. The game is very playable, even this early in development, and you'll get the beta version, and then the final version of the game, when they're released, too.

Frankly, it's hard to imagine that this game is just in alpha, since there's so much to it. But I guess that island of Stratis, which seems so huge when you're traveling around on it, is just a tiny part of what will become available in the game later.

Arma III in 3rd person

Anyway, if you've never heard of Arma III (you might want to check out some YouTube videos, here, for example, or here), it's a very detailed military simulation, which can be played as a single-player game, but is really designed for multiplayer - either team-based player-vs-player or co-op games against the computer AI.

(How detailed, how realistic, is this military sim? Two employees of the game developer were arrested by Greece for military espionage. They were imprisoned for four months before even being allowed to post bail.)

I'd seen videos of the previous game, Arma II, and I was tempted by that one, too, but mostly because of the Day Z zombie apocalypse mod. (And here's a video of that, if you're wondering. Yeah, it did look like fun.) The base game seemed very clunky, but it was also mod-friendly. And so is this new game. Already, most of the multiplayer games online seem to be of player-created mods.

In fact, the whole point of the game seems to be that fans will create, if not complete mods, then single-player scenarios and multiplayer missions, alike. The game gives you the tools and the setting, but it's mostly a wide-open sandbox, where you can play whatever you - or someone else - dreams up.

Arma III speedboat

As I say, check out those YouTube 'Let's Plays' if you're curious about the gameplay. Here, I want to tell you how you can play this game if, like me, you haven't played the previous Arma games and you're trying to figure this out from scratch. (There might be a tutorial in the full game, but this is still in alpha, so the instructions are rather sketchy right now.)

When I got the game, there were four "showcases" to play - basically just single-player scenarios to show off various parts of the game. The Infantry Showcase was fine (indeed, you might want to dive right in and try it out, as I did), but it's really hard to figure out what you're doing when you're being shot at. And the game doesn't wait for you, not even when you open a map or a help file.

Luckily, I stumbled across this video. Mostly, that explains how to adjust your video settings, if you're having problems or if you're just interested in that sort of thing. But the game works fine for me on the default settings. What I needed was the information at the very beginning of that, which I'll explain to you now:

When you start the game, instead of clicking on "Play," select "Editor." Then you'll have a chance to choose which map, but since there's only one map in this alpha version of the game, just click "Continue."

At the map, double-click somewhere (pretty much anywhere on land), which will let you insert a unit into that world. Don't bother reading your options, for now. Just clicking "OK" will give you a rifleman, which is fine. Then click on "Preview," at the top of the screen, and that will put you into the game as that rifleman.

Well, it will put you on the island of Stratis, at least. There won't actually be a "game" there, exactly, since the island will be empty except for you. But it will let you practice movement and shooting all you want (until you run out of ammunition, at least), without worrying about anything else.

It's still in alpha, so expect some bugs

Movement is much like any other game (w, a, s, d), but there are a lot of options for taking cover. When you start the game, your character will be standing up. Press 'x' and you'll crouch. Press 'x' again and you'll stand back up.

Press 'z' and you'll lie down in a prone position. If you press 'z' again, you'll stand up (not something you usually want to do in combat), but if you press 'x' you'll rise up into a crouch, instead. But that's only the beginning. From a crouch, press Ctrl-w (hold the Ctrl key and press 'w') to stand up a bit straighter (to see over a rock, for example, or out a window, or press Ctrl-s to crouch down even further.

There are three steps both above and below the default crouch. The lowest 'crouch' will find your character sitting on the ground in a stable firing position. You can't actually move from that position, but you can press 'x' to go back into crouch again or Ctrl-w to straighten up slightly (staying crouched as far as you can go while still being able to move).

As you can tell, there's a lot to this. But you can experiment with everything while in the Editor, without people trying to kill you as you're learning. :)

Push the 'Enter' key on your numpad to toggle third person view. Sometimes (like when you're hiding behind a rock), that will let you see who's shooting at you without making a target of yourself. When practicing, it will also let you see what your key presses are doing.

Experiment with shooting, too. Try throwing a grenade (the 'g' key). Roll your mouse wheel to see other options. In this particular case, as a rifleman, you can switch to a pistol (use the spacebar to choose a selection). But when you've had enough of that rifleman ('Esc' will always get you back to where you were), try different soldiers in that initial window where you insert a unit onto the map.

In particular, try a grenadier, then push 'f' twice to get the grenade-launcher attachment on his rifle. Those are tricky to aim. You have to press '[' or ']' to adjust the range first. Try it out. That's one of the options in that Infantry Showcase, too, but it's easier to experiment in the Editor.

Arma III quadbike

Or, instead of a man, choose a vehicle. Try a quadbike. It will come with a driver, too, and if that's the first unit you place on the map, that will be your character. Click on "Preview" and go for a ride. It's a big island, isn't it? If you want to exit the bike - I recommend stopping first - roll your mouse wheel and press the spacebar on that option. To mount it again, walk up to the bike and roll your mouse wheel again. Many things in the game are like that.

At any point, you can hit 'Esc' and select the Field Manual to read the help documents. There's a lot to learn, and you won't remember it all, not at first. But you can learn the basics first, and then more details later. As I say, it's a lot easier to do this when people aren't shooting at you!

Whenever you want, exit the Editor and click 'Play.' Try the showcases, first. Infantry is most of the game, so you definitely want to learn that. (I still can't figure out how to fly a helicopter, but I suppose I just need to practice that in the Editor, too.)

You can download single-player scenarios (here, for example, or at the forum). There's not much available yet, and sometimes you'll have the wrong version of the game (many people play the developmental version, not the one Steam installs by default). Note that there are two Co-op missions which come with the game. They're in the multiplayer section, but you can play them by yourself, if you want.

This is really a multiplayer game, and there's already a thriving community of gamers, most of whom were active with Arma II as well. But for me, it's been really hard to find a co-op game that's not highly modded, password-protected, and/or completely unsuitable for beginners.

Honestly, this is the kind of game you really want to play with friends. At my age, I don't know anyone who plays computer games - not this kind, at least - and I haven't had much luck in finding good co-op games at random. But that's OK. Frankly, I never expected otherwise. As I say, I just couldn't resist buying Arma III.

I'm not particularly interested in wargames (or in the military at all), and I normally prefer single-player games. But I'm fascinated by the potential of sandbox games, where players can write their own stories. In so many ways, this is not really my kind of game. But in that one respect, it is.

Note: Check here for my comments on other games.


AJ said...

Thank you! This is just what I needed. I was so frustrated and lost and gave up too quickly because I kept getting killed. My video settings were all whacked, too. Thank you, again.

WCG said...

Thanks, Ann. I was in the same boat. There are so many commands that I struggled to learn the basics. And I'd see videos where players would do something unexpected, and I wouldn't have a clue how they did it.

In fact, I'm still discovering those things. For example, Ctrl + right mouse button will toggle the optics mode on a rifle, from that red laser dot to the scope. I just found that out.

You don't have to know everything in order to play the game, but it's really hard to get started when you don't know anything. :)

PS. It's too bad you can't play multiplayer with that Lite version of Arma III. That's where the game really shines, especially when you're playing with friends. And they make it very easy to do that.