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Understanding how military tactics work in the game world is what the pre-campaign maneuvers are all about. The soldier sim clans will school their troops in orientation, put them on firing ranges to practices with rifles and drill complex activities such as getting in and out of helicopters in the field. "Some teams will try to work like particular military units from the real world," says my contact. "My lot use some specific British military tactics, such as where our numbers are like the numbers of a clock face when we're in defended position. A commander knows exactly who is where, and you know who you're relying on to cover you."
The conflicts themselves are usually large cooperative games of up to 30 players operating against a series of events scripted by one of their own number. "Most clans will have a couple of players who create missions or even linked campaigns," says my contact. "Some of them are quite gamey, because we're sort of roleplaying as soldiers. You might learn how to deal with something as the military would deal with it, such as maintain a checkpoint in counterinsurgency ops."
He went on to tell me about typical missions his team would face. "We see perhaps one new mission a month, usually designed by one of the clan members. Once we've had a bit of time to practice with the squad we'll go in." These missions can be all kinds of military scenarios and will usually include everything from the units forming up at their base camp to hitting an objective many miles away. "We might have one mission that is essentially just us pulling out of a town that is going to be overrun by enemies. The objectives can be defending convoys, clearing ambushes or whatever. And we're not always successful."
The single-life-per-game dynamic of both Operation Flashpoint and Armed Assault means that once a player is out of the game, he's out for the hours that may be left. These are no 20-minute sessions; this will be an entire evening or afternoon of conflict. The game itself can either deploy AI or allow a kind of semi-people situation, where real people play against each other, often in asymmetric groupings. Some clans, my contact told me, would employ their less regular members as insurgents for their missions. If they hadn't made the practice sessions they might not be able to do what the commander tells them and are therefore better suited to an enemy role in a hybridized part-AI, part human mission.
The extremely versatile options that Bohemia has delivered for both Operation Flashpoint and Armed Assault means attendance is limited only by how many people can turn up and how sturdy the supporting server is. "Sometimes we get other clans in for joint ops," says my contact, as he recalls how missions sometimes play out on a grand scale. He explains that a typical Armed Assault game might be 20-people strong, but that it could be bigger. Community core ShackTactical, one of the most devoted groups in the solider sim community, occasionally fields 60-man nights. As a result, they "ended up having a lot of influence on how the game was created," says my contact.
He was right, of course. Players influence far more in a niche market like this. Thanks to Bohemia's open approach to development, the players are able to mod almost any military tool they can think of into the game, such as parachutes or particular armored vehicles (my contact's team, who played out British Armed Forces scenarios, made sure that their avatars were carrying the correct backpacks, and that a British soldier's kit was accurate), but they also have a good deal of say in how the game itself came to be. Once the soldier sim community consolidated around Operation Flashpoint, it was inevitable that Bohemia, severing ties with their publishers, would make the next game, Armed Assault, for their staunchest fans.