The ARMA series is an amazing feat of software engineering. Much more than just a game, ARMA (Also known as Operation Flashpoint and Armed Assault in previous iterations) is a full-blown platform for military simulation with a massive scope.
Based on an engine that is actually used by military training facilities all over the globe, ARMA allows players to engage in combined arms operations on a massive scale, at a level of realism that is currently unparalleled in the gaming-industry.
By now it should come as no surprise that I’m a fan of the series. I have logged over 200 hours in ARMA3, and that number is dwarfed by the ridiculous amount of time I spent playing ARMA2. I won’t expound on that, as it may result in someone calling social protective services, suffice to say I’m very familiar with the series, its strengths, and its weaknesses.
ARMA’s number one strength is its community. Bohemia Interactive, the developers of ARMA, have always supported its community, and especially the modders among them. Modding ARMA is fun, relatively easy, and fully encouraged. This is why I describe the ARMA series as platforms rather than games. They allow for continuous additions and changes. New content, much of it of amazing quality, is added daily. All of it for free, and all of it easily added to the game. I myself have created two missions that have proven to be relatively popular.
This openness, combined with the massive scope, brings with it the greatest downside of the series; it’s stability. The game has massive flaws in both engine stability and optimization. Graphically it looks amazing, but it is a massive hog on CPU, and even with an uncharacteristically powerful machine, you may experience terrible performance.
ARMA isn’t a game, it’s a simulation. This means you can get great experiences when working together in a tight-knit group, when the procedural battlefield throws you an amazing experience, and when everything just falls together perfectly and you get into a groove.
But for a lot of the time, you will be sitting around, driving around, running around, shooting around, missing all the action, and dying repeatedly without any real identifiable cause.
Playing ARMA will give you some of the best gaming moments in your life, but you will have to patiently wait for them. With the way the community is these days (see below), you are basically forced to join a clan, team or other organized group that enforces certain teamwork-rules.
The following is a short description of what happened to the ARMA community due to the release of DayZ:
During Armed Assault and the early days of ARMA2, the player-base consisted only of a small community of military simulation enthusiasts. Servers were not numerous, but all were relatively populated, and great places to be. People worked together, formed squads that actually moved and performed tasks as such. Using the in-game Voice over Internet Protocol or external TeamSpeak was the norm, and pretty much a requirement, as ARMA is brutal without proper team-play.
All this changed with DayZ. A free mod, like all the others. I would even go as far as to say it was of lower quality than the average released mod. But what it did add was an interesting new dynamic. One that worked well with the “serious” gamers that ARMA was catering to, but looked accessible to new players. It went viral, for the most part due to “Let’s Play” videos on YouTube, a format of videos which was simultaneously also going viral. What happened next was both amazing and disastrous for the ARMA community.
In DayZ’s first week of release, 106% more new users played the game each day. In the month that followed, that number moved up to a 1343% increase each day. ARMA2 sales skyrocketed, more copies of the game were being sold just for that one crappy mod than had ever been sold for the core game.
I was present for all of this, and at first was pleasantly surprised. Bohemia Interactive had been dragging its feet development-wise, releasing some DLC in order to fund their development of ARMA3. ARMA had always been a niche product, and with such a large scope, I assumed the profit margin would be minimal. This increase in sales was bound to bring in necessary funds.
What I had not anticipated was the way this tidal-wave of new players would change the community. Servers started popping up from everywhere. Tens of thousands of them. All running nothing but DayZ. It became nearly impossible to find a “normal” server. But worse, the “normal” version of the game was being invaded by gamers that had no business being there. People that bought the game for DayZ, had grown bored, and seen what they actually spent $50 on buying for a mediocre mod in Alpha state. And these gamers were not amused. Unsurprisingly so, the “game” they were playing wasn’t meant for them.
ARMA is a simulation, not a game. It can take up to 15 minutes of organizing, planning, and transportation before you even see action. And the action itself is much more subdued, there is no running and gunning. The idea is to move from cover to cover, help your squad members advance, and suppress the enemy.
These new players however, were from the Call of Duty and Battlefield tact of gaming. They wanted running and gunning, had never heard of teamwork, and certainly were not familiar with the concept of roles. Each player wanted to grab a helicopter and fly to a task, only to jump out and start shooting “bad guys”, leaving the vehicle abandoned and useless. Gone were the concepts of a dedicated transport heli pilot, a player who, through hours of training, was intimately familiar with the particular flight-characteristics of the vehicle, and could land on a dime. Again, ARMA is a simulation, so flying is not as simple as hitting the throttle and pointing in the right direction. Collective, Pitch, Torque, and Anti-Torque all realistically interact, and combined with the damage-system in the vehicle, makes flying a real challenge.
Bored players can do one of two things: Leave to go play something else, or start trolling. And let’s face it, it’s very easy to troll a military simulation enthusiast…
And thus the authentic ARMA2 experience was ruined. And unfortunately, due to the name-recognition that ARMA now has, the state of the ARMA3 community hasn’t returned to that of the wonderful early years of ARMA2’s community.