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TheManchild avatar 8:16 AM on 06.13.2012  (server time)
My Dream Game: Squad Leader

Who hasn't sat there and imagined at one point in their life, what kind of game they would like to see on the market? When I was a kid, my stupid cousins and I (yes, also stupid) would imagine what kind of video games we wanted to see, and would "simulate" them using toys, lego, or simply by drawing out maps and coming up with concepts. Frankly, every single one of them was terrible, and since it would bring my family great shame and dishonor to break that losing streak, this one probably will be, too.

The fact is, I will never be a game designer, journalist, or even at a janitor at Gamespot. It isn't in the cards. I have different plans for my life, and no one would want me around the office anyways; mostly because of the smell. Regardless, I think I have some ideas for games. See how indecisive I can be? No one wants a guy around who can't decide whether or not to clean the shitter or the urinal first.

One of my past times is a brain crunchingly rule laden mess of a game called Advanced Squad Leader. It's a tabletop game meant to simulate World War II combat, created by Avalon Hill in the eighties and currently maintained by Curt Shillings company Multi-Man Publishing. Apart from Curts other favorite hobbies such as baseball and losing millions of dollars, he is also very fond of the game, to the point where he bought the license from Hasbro after Avalon Hill went under so he could keep producing things for it. Really, it is quite an amazing feat that the game still exists, but it continues to because of it's extremely detailed and accurate tactical squad based gameplay, and because of a bunch of aging grognards who are being dragged kicking and screaming, slowly, into the twenty first century.

The reason I like the game so much is because of just how goddamn cool it is. There are rules for just about every conceivable thing, and the rules have a real world logic. Russian troops for example are mostly untrained conscripts, Americans are very easy to break but rally much faster than other troops, the Japanese units morale is quite literally unbreakable, there are seasons which affect the map, altering factors such as grain fields which receive a hindrance if they are currently in season, and the list goes on practically forever. But the meat and potatoes of the game is the morale system, the emphasis on squads and leaders, and the idea that a "broken" unit, one which is unorganized or whose soldiers are cowering under heavy fire, is just as good as a dead one.

This is interesting to me because so many war games are played on a shoot to kill basis. In ASL, firepower is rarely expended on broken squads who have little chance to rally and come back into the fray, so taking that near impossible, oh shit I need to roll snake eyes to break these guys roll literally changes the outcome of games. Being unable to kill, but being able to break a unit can make the difference between victory and defeat, and just like how the "sanity meter" was such a novel concept in games like Eternal Darkness, this is one element I'd like to see hit the video game world to some degree.

So, concepts. I've briefly explained Advanced Squad Leader, so what would my game Squad Leader be like?

First of all, I want to say this right off the bat; the current reality of games has changed, and as a half-serious attempt at a decent concept, I want my game to live within those rules. The FPS market has been fairly rock steady since the nineties, and I see no better way to immerse players in the horrors of war then putting them behind the eyes of a soldier, so it would certainly be a shooter. There are lots of those right now, from Call of Duty to Red Orchestra, so it would need something to differentiate itself right off the bat, and the most popular market right now seems to be the Free to Play market, so let's call it one of those.

Of course, every free to play game has its catch.

The standard maps and deathmatch modes wouldn't be an option here. The game would be exclusively multiplayer, with the option for single player bot matches, but the entire thing would revolve around scenarios. The game would launch with three scenarios, one being playable for free, and the other two being a pay to play affair, at a reasonable cost, most likely just a few dollars. Every couple of months, an "action pack" of two or more scenarios would be released, and every second action pack would contain a new free to play scenario so that interest in the game would constantly be refreshed; think of it as a living demo for those who don't want to drop a few dollars, and this would constantly offer an opportunity to pull in new players.

Simple enough model, and of course paying players would receive extra perks such as the ability to play exclusively with other paying customers, avoiding the rabble of the free to play crowd. Ranked matches would be available, but in order to keep older scenarios from stagnating and being unplayed, three scenarios would be featured every month, and it tournament ladders etc. would only be tracked on these "live" scenarios. So for the hardcores, there would be a focus on a few, but old ones would constantly be pushed into the rotation in order to give every scenario as much equal time as possible. There would also be a voting system in place to allow players to vote for the next three maps they want to see in the rotation out of six available to vote for.

No pay to win bullshit, but no high initial price tag. You don't pay for the game, you just pay for the scenarios. That being said, how does the actual game play?

Squad Leader would be a squad based FPS, with the number of players on each side depending on the scenario. A scenario would be a simple objective on either side; hold a building until the end of the match, disable an AT gun, drive the enemy out of a territory, etc. It would be somewhat class based in that there would be slots filling up for available roles, broken into several sections per squad.

First you would have your leaders, voted or randomly determined in the free game, and determined by rank and availability in ranked ladder matches. Leaders would be responsible for determining the deployment of support weapons and vehicles on the field before the start of the game, and with a simple hud based system, would offer instructions to their unit simply by clicking on the available roles and selecting points on a grid based map with simple co-ordinates. The players in these roles would hear the instructions on their end, and be expected to follow orders and go to those locations. Leaders would also have a role in maintaining morale; under heavy artillery or machinegun fire, or other oppressive combat situations, players have a morale bar that fills up the closer they are to deadly combat, and once it fills, they will automatically cower, taking some time to recover. When a leader is present, he can boost the other players morale, and occasionally and randomly will grant "hero" status to a random player in the area, who will then gain a kind of powerup where he becomes slightly faster, and is unable to break for the duration of the match. Leaders can also engage in combat, but the loss of a leader would be a devastating loss, so it would be in the units best interest to protect them when able.

Squads would take on different roles depending on the availability in the scenario. Most will likely be riflemen with smoke grenades or other regular kit, while some might be in charge of light or medium machine-guns, artillery, or vehicle ordinance, such as tanks. Mandatory training sessions would be required for the most complex roles, though there will always be infantry exclusive scenarios available in the ladder rotation so that new players will never be left out. There has to be a balance between realism and simplicity for this all to work, but having to do things such as set up a medium or heavy machinegun would be essential; an anti-rambo agenda would be in full bore here, with careless players who leave their squad or go wandering about the place being voted out, and leaders who do this more egregiously, having the ability to be banned from the role altogether in the pay to play section of the game, similar to how MOBA games punish players who leave matches early.

Once a player dies in a match (matches would be a maximum of about ten minutes each) he will have the option to spectate, or to simply go back to the main menu. Once that match is over, the results will pop up in the corner of the screen, and if in the lobby still, he can choose to queue up for the next match in that room. That will eliminate the long waits for people who die early on, but will still give them an option to know the results, and stay in the game if they so choose.

The maps would be destructible, with the ability to dig trenches, blast through walls, and even destroy buildings. All maps would take place in an outdoors location with several buildings, and some scenarios might take place in a different section of the same map, with certain areas being blocked off, and a warning area given if the player strays too far from the combat area before he is automatically killed off. Because of this, squads would be encouraged to stick together, the lack of respawn also playing a large role in that regard. Squads would be made up of five men each, with every game having a minimum of two squads per side, not counting leaders, so sticking together, moving together would be essential, and this would be done at the leaders direction until his death when the next senior soldier would take over.

I guess what I really want is the immersive, realistic feeling of a game like ArmA without the massive learning curve. The idea of being tactical, sticking together, with an emphasis on team, leader oriented gameplay would be nice. For a game like that you'd need to have a big player base off the bat, which is why the modulated, pay-by-scenario gameplay would work. Call of Duty is the ruling contender for everything multiplayer, and rightfully so; but I'd like to see something with a bigger scale, something where organization really is key; a competitive, MOBA like environment for the FPS generation.

It will never get made of course, and I'm cool with that. But a man can dream right?

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