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Published February 9, 2013

DANGEROUSLY INCONVENIENT

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that a majority of this article’s readership have seen a war movie at one point or another. You’ve seen soldiers communicating with each other using hand signals, overcoming the enemy’s defenses with a lot of on-the-run coordination and superior tactics. I’m sure some of you may be rolling your eyes at this point thinking that I’m about to demand more realism. No, ladies and gents, I’m not. What I am about to ask for is a little more convenience for the sake of immersion - something Planetside 2 is sorely lacking in. I’m, of course, talking about the atrocity that is the waypoint system.

I despise it, I truly do. Words fail me, and not just because this is my second language. Going back to the movies we’ve all seen: how many times have you seen a platoon or squad leader run up to the corner of a building while under enemy fire, dig out a map from his back pocket and start looking around it with a magnifying glass before giving direction to his subordinates. Let me answer that question for you: you never have. And for a good reason: staring at maps in the middle of heavy, frontline combat is idiotic and liable to get you killed. Coincidentally enough, the same is true in Planetside 2.

POINTEDLY POINTLESS

Staring at maps is what you do prior to an attack, it is what generals and strategists do in preparation for structure assaults and grander offensive and defensive actions. In-game, this translates to higher-level leadership, such as platoon leaders and other command personnel, providing direction for smaller units by dropping waypoints on a map which have a simple, implicit meaning: “Go here”. But what will you be doing when you get there? Are you setting up an ambush? Are you scouting a good location for a Sunderer to deploy? Picking daisies? More importantly, are there enemies there? Where are they coming from? How big a threat are they? Are they on foot or in vehicles? Your guess is as good as mine. If you are lucky there will be more explicit directives from the command channels. If you are not you will become part of a swarming mass of players. You will be moving around the map like a school of piranhas - becoming part of the derisively termed “zerg” strategy.

The problems with waypoints in the 'big picture' of strategy become downright deadly in fast-paced combat. Squad leaders can attempt to communicate objectives to their team, but those commands are lost in all the chaos of a structure siege or the meatgrinder of a chokepoint fight. We have no way of truly communicating to our team beyond setting down a bright beam of light or popping some colored smoke canisters. Both of these actions require you to open a map and zoom in to your location, and then place the marker. Try doing that without getting killed by a sniper’s bullet or an errant grenade. And we then face the same issue as before: the waypoint has no meaning. It’s just there, shining brightly, conveying no additional information. You did all that work, and you are now also stuck trying to communicate to your team what it is that you want them to do.

Planetside 2 focuses a lot on the combat, and that’s a good thing. The problems come in when SOE provides a structure for leadership but make it so thin it’s almost irrelevant and so clumsy that you are better steering clear of it when in combat. For practical purposes I will address the system and my recommendations at two different levels: the big picture 'strategic' level, and the faster paced 'tactical' environment. At this time both layers of leadership are shallow and pointless. Waypoints are big, bright and obnoxious reminders of this.

BAT-SIGNALS BE DAMNED

At the strategic level, it’s important for platoon leaders and squad commanders to direct troop movements. The current waypoint system does a decent job of this, as does the map interface. It’s distinctive, and it can be seen from anywhere on the map, whether you are on the ground or soaring through the skies. But why not provide a bit more depth for the armchair generals: give them the options to inform their troops of potential risks or last known enemy locations. Give them the ability to place down tank icons where enemy armor has been decimating your advance. Or how about a warning waypoint, alerting aircraft to steer clear of possible enemy Anti-Air. Instead of setting down a waypoint, how about literally drawing a route on the map for your platoon’s vehicles to follow to flank your enemies or to wait in ambush - and then make it visible in the minimap of your platoon or squad members.

Perhaps staring at maps is just not your thing, and you’d rather be at the front along with your friends, pushing the line one hex at a time. That’s where I often find myself, attempting to make sense of situations and trying to get the upper hand. What the game needs is for squad leaders to be able to place waypoints and icons wherever their sights currently rest with simple button presses. My 'ideal' system would have me hold down a custom bound key, and bring up a radial menu with multiple options from which to choose. Icons such as lightning bolts to symbolize structures that need to be assaulted or eyeballs for possible enemy locations. After selecting the icon of your choice, a recorded voice-over could let your squad know of your most recent command. You could also keybind specific icons so as to limit your exposure while issuing an order. And while we are at it, why limit icon placement to squad leaders? Sure, squad leader icons could be made more prominent and bright - but why not let squad members alert you of things you may have missed. Icons could stay up for say 15 to 30 seconds, and then disappear. A limit could be placed so as to prevent spam, and a 'mute' or 'block' key could be made available so players can block squad members who are misbehaving.

THE NEW AND UNIMPROVED WHEEL

Look, none of these changes are innovative per se. Many other games have done this before. I’m not claiming to have some sort of insight on game design. I imagine there may be some challenges to implementing a system like the one I describe, but I believe the benefits far outweigh them. I’d like to hear your thoughts on my suggestion, and whether you have encountered any situations in which you think a system like this could help you get more enjoyment out of Planetside 2. If you think I’m totally crazy or have a better idea, I’d like to hear from you as well. The new roadmap program offers some interesting possibilities for the game, and I hope a better toolset for leaders is on the horizon. For now I’ll just have to make sure to duck into cover a bit more carefully while consulting my map.

 The spotlight image for this article was provided by Mapache Doom.

goodsamaritan
Notable for a collection of games that go unplayed far too often for far too long. I'm the kind of person that thinks good actions can go a long way in the cold, cold universe of EVE, and I've yet to be proven wrong.

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