The Terabyte Tenderloin

The Terabyte Tenderloin
Raiders of the Lost ARC

Tom Endo | 25 Nov 2008 12:28
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One of these critical skills is being able to fire tightly packed groupings of lasers called a spread. Another longtime player, Jamie Kozma (screen name: Kamakozma), explains: "The spread is three to five lasers that, if executed correctly, are extremely difficult for a player to dodge. Good players can all dodge singles. A really tight spread is tough to consistently create though, and it's something that really indicates the skill of player." ARC resembles a lot of other highly strategic games in that the gameplay is primarily about manipulating opponents into a desired position. Players make frequent use of suppression fire and value specials weapons not for the damage they inflict but for their specific abilities in pushing opponents into an indefensible situation. These scenarios are called "rapes," and in the most popular team based modes, success often depends on a team's ability to set up as many rapes as possible.

The era following TEN, and the one that seems to have seen the last major influx of core ARC players, was the World Opponent Network (WON) era. According to both Durham and Kozma, this was a time of relative stasis. But after WON folded and its properties were absorbed into Sierra Entertainment in 2001, ARC underwent radical changes. Shortly after the acquisition, Sierra made an ill-fated attempt to monetize the game by incorporating ads into the user interface. In order to do this, they increased the game's resolution from 640 x 480 to 800 x 600. This had a radical effect on ARC's gameplay. "With the old resolution, even though players were off your screen they were still relatively close to your ship," Durham says. "The new screen size and laser distance made the game become much more distance oriented. Players could remain on your screen but were still far enough away to make it difficult for you to hit them." Kozma elaborates further: "You played the game in a more offensive style before the resolution change. Now, games are much more defensive and slower paced."

This change from a primarily offensive to defensive style of gameplay is something other games have tried - most notably Street Fighter III. It's a design decision that often deepens the experience for those familiar with the game, but it also alienates would-be newcomers attracted to more visceral thrills. Radical as the switch in screen resolution was, it wasn't the end of ARC. The death knell came two years after Sierra acquired the game, when the publisher closed the community off to new registrations in an effort to prevent hackers from using the ARC servers as a backdoor into other people's computers. The inability to register new players remained in effect for two years. When Sierra finally made it public again, returning players found a different ARC entirely.

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