Posted on 11 Sep 2019 by Jay Shaw

Whiskey Talks: Why I Rage Quit A Game I Love

If you love a game you’re going to have fun with it, right? Most of the time, yeah. Though when that game is multiplayer and online coop focused your enjoyment can vary greatly depending on who you’re grouped up with. This is the impetus that led to me rage quitting Insurgency: Sandstorm. Let me start by saying that there are players of all skill levels and I respect that not everyone is a hand-eye coordination god. Maybe someone isn’t good because they’re still learning the game and that’s fine too. Watching a new player trying their best is at worst a good laugh and at best cool to see the mechanics click and them improve. But despite my respect for that I keep coming back to the thought that eats away at my enjoyment of Insurgency: Sandstorm‘s cooperative mode: “This game’s community has a disproportionate amount of incompetent players.” Let’s be very clear: No one is perfect, especially not me and I don’t profess to be an excellent player or always the friendliest person but I would like to think I’m at least competent.

For those who don’t know, Insurgency: Sandstorm has a levelling system where players gain ranks based on how much they’ve played. While this ranking system isn’t an indication of skill, it is an indication of experience. When you join a game with a team of level 50+ players you expect them to have the basics of the game down; shoot the enemies, don’t walk in front of the man with the big gun, don’t throw explosives or fire near teammates – the basics of a first person shooter. And yet, consistently, the Sandstorm community manages to ignore these basics and act like gaping ring-pieces. I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve been either accused of team-killing or raged at because some utter moron, probably greedy for kills, stepped through my field of fire while I’m engaging enemies only to eat half a dozen bullets to the back of the head. This kind of thing is forgiveable if, say, you’re using a suppressed weapon and it’s hard to hear or see but I can guarantee at least once a day someone will walk out in front of a PKM or MG3, both guns that sound like the almighty wrath of Zeus and have a muzzle flash that could light beacons of Gondor from a mile away.

When they said the town had a dark underbelly, I never expected to see it.

It’s not just guns either. I always call my grenade throws in an abbreviated format that’s easy to understand depending on the situation: “Flash out.” “Frag on point.” “Frag out, west.” “Incendiary, second floor.” And so on. Not everyone uses the game’s built-in compass or can quickly parse numerical headings so I’ve found this method to be largely successful at informing an average team in the milsim-lite genre. Insurgency: Sandstorm‘s community (again, not all players are idiots) seems to parse any kind of explosive call-out into “Fetch!” and go sprinting after it like an Alsatian with a tennis ball coated in meat. Shoulder-fired rockets manage to be marginally safer because they’re too fast to chase down but support abilities (called in by a commander and observer team) somehow baffle players in both their proper use and how to not stand under half a ton of flying fuck you raining from the sky.

As a rule the support abilities are highly destructive and have a large area of effect. An A-10 strafe will leather a strip of land with a hail of autocannon fire. An artillery or mortar call will drop high explosives in a roughly circular area. A rocket barrage will largely do the same. Easy to understand stuff, right? Don’t stand near the explosives. Insurgency: Sandstorm does its best at marking out incoming strikes with a plume of coloured smoke but a good commander/observer will also give a voice warning of the strike being called and where it’s coming down along with a reminder to stay clear. “Autocannon strafe on Alpha. Wait for it to finish.” Straightforward and easy to understand that the A-10 is about to drop some spicy rain on the Alpha objective. Apparently I speak a different form of English to other players though because to the incompetent masses it translates to, “Quick, go grab a souvenir before they hit the ground!”

See Yuri, when being of no head enemy cannot shoot head.

Calling in these strikes is also something other players are seemingly completely inept at. Don’t get me wrong, commander is a hard class to play well and knowing the timing and positioning to drop effective strikes is difficult but the basic mechanics of them aren’t. For example: calling in a helicopter gunship calls an AH-64 Apache which arrives on scene by emptying its rockets into whatever the commander designated. It’d be an easy mistake for a new commander to drop those rockets right on top of friendlies defending an objective but that kind of thing should be a one-time mistake – you can clearly see that the Apache targets the smoke you placed and while it’s a regrettable mistake it’s also easy to observe and draw the conclusion that targeting your own position is dangerous. Don’t do it again. Simple, right? Apparently not because while some of the community that regularly plays commander has learned to save the two helicopter calls for the final objective and its difficult defence phase they haven’t learned not to designate friendlies for a 70mm explosive gangbang.

Enough shitting on the chunk of the community that couldn’t find their own arses with both hands and a map: Let’s take a shot at the game itself. Sandstorm is rife with glitches like technicals performing an impromptu re-enactment of the Flight of the Navigator. Spawning several feet off the ground and becoming wedged in the ceiling up to your waist, bots that spawn on players positions, animation issues, low-quality sights on technicals, hitting tab while in the spawn truck breaking all input, and falling through the map, to name a few.

In cooperative mode the AI is a constant thorn in the side of long-term players. You can easily find numerous Reddit and forum threads about the AI’s shortcomings, dozens of videos and images showing the AI acting in superhuman ways or outright cheating can be found on YouTube and elsewhere. One constant claim by the community is that there appears to be some kind of adaptive AI in play; games with low level and average players tend to go fine until a higher level player joins and the AI suddenly turns into terminators with a taste for meat. The developers have sometimes responded on posts to state that there is no adaptive AI which, for my two pence, makes the issue even worse. Right now we’ve got an AI that seemingly punishes higher level/skill players by becoming superhuman; it has been observed accurately tracking players through walls, landing single-shot kills from across the map with inaccurate weapons like the MG3, calling in multiple Apaches (screenshot below) on the first objective, and reacting faster than a human possibly can.

Security AI calling in two gunships at the same time (you should only get one per map.)

For those who don’t know: a lot of video games are smoke and mirrors. Developers use all kinds of tricks to make things look right or AI seem smart. These little tricks have been documented extensively over the years, everything from coyote time to AI targeting mechanics have been exposed in one way or another. Some of Insurgency: Sandstorm‘s AI shortcomings could be easily hidden with these kind of tricks. The one-shot long-range kills for example; have the AI drop prone and fire a 5-10 round burst instead. Even if the first bullet kills, from the player perspective they just took fire and got hit instead of sniped by a bot with a bullshit cannon. The way the AI tracks players through walls could similarly be remedied; we know the AI tracks via sound and a delay or deliberate inaccuracy on them turning could help disguise that they’re basically wallhacking (a type of hack that allows players to see through walls.) Superhuman reaction times and accuracy could also really use some tuning – hard AI isn’t the issue, bullshit AI is. Many players have experienced AI shooting them while not even looking their direction, or bullets coming out of the AI’s guns at a 45 degree angle because the AI’s reacting faster than the in-game model updates. We don’t want dumb, easy AI, we want challenging but fair AI. We want AI that lays down suppressing fire and flanks, not blind throws a molotov cocktail over two buildings to hit a moving target right in the head – a problem that New World Interactive have stated is fixed and blatantly isn’t. Programming smart AI is hard, programming passable AI isn’t. Doom managed it 25 years ago, Call Of Duty manages it year after year. Take less of a page from ArmA 2/3‘s book and more inspiration from F.E.A.R or Alien Versus Predator (yes, the good ones, before you ask.)

Listen, let me get even more personal and serious for a paragraph: Insurgency: Sandstorm could rightfully be a masterpiece of the milsim-lite genre. There’s an excellent variety of weapons and gear, and well designed maps that challenge teams consistently. And it’s all let down by a couple of major problems like the AI and visual glitches (namely, invisible AI which is being worked on at the time of writing.) Sandstorm is a game that’s easy to love, there’s an immense amount of fun to be had stealing an enemy DShK technical and turning it on the enemy or assaulting a building where every door and corner could be hiding a swift death. New World Interactive have crafted a beautiful experience when it works properly and it’s something I’d love to go back to when it’s had a major update that actually addresses the community’s concerns and fixes glaring issues but for now it’s a game I regret giving so much time to because the amount of anger it’s given in return far outweighs the time I’ve actually enjoyed it. So please, pretty please with a cherry on top, make an effort to improve the experience and listen to the fans before adding more cosmetics or maps, your long-term fans would really appreciate it.

Additional: We held this article back because a new major update was looming, we had a good idea that it wouldn’t affect most of what we talked about but in the interests of fairness we wanted to wait and see if there were surprise additions to the patch notes. There were not. What we actually got in the update is: two new assault rifle type guns (Galil and Galil SAR) for the gunner class, giving them another excuse to not play their role properly; a new map which is a remake of Sinjar that we honestly can’t complain about, what little we’ve played is well designed. We got a bunch of new issues though, in 25 minutes of play I’ve discovered that you can sprint into the truck that deploys you at the start of a mission and punt it flying, killing other players if it collides with them and two unhandled exception crashes – credit where credit’s due, Insurgency: Sandstorm is usually quite stable and has only crashed a couple of times previously in over 200 hours of play. Everything I’ve said previously still stands.

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