A War Game Where Nothing Could Happen

Video game creator Sion Lenton had an idea for one level of his next war video game. The sequence would feature Marines, probably in near-future Tajikistan, on assignment, on patrol. They'd walk around, looking for bad guys. They'd find none.

"I was contemplating having a mission where nothing happens," he told me while he was showing me Codemasters' 2011-scheduled Operation Flashpoint: Red River recently in New York. "That actually happens a lot to real soldiers." They go out on patrol. They expect to encounter resistance. But they find nothing but tension and quiet.

Red River won't have such a mission, Lenton said. "My chief game designer designer didn't think that was a great idea."

Serving in a war, it's been said, is a long bout of boredom punctuated by moments of terror. War video games aren't built to that proportion. They typically present was as a ceaseless fireworks display. Lenton argued: "I don't think you have to do that to be exciting."

The Operation Flashpoint games made by Lenton's team do show a slower version of war. Players have to proceed carefully, skulking across terrain. Their pace wouldn't be mistaken for real combat, of course. They have more action than that. This new one, Red River, even leans a little more toward the Hollywood version of war seen in games like Call of Duty or Medal of honour. This PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 sequel has the helpful mission-objection pointers and a simplified health system — you can still bleed to death from a wound as you could earlier in the series, but you can now heal yourself instead of waiting for a medic. (It also has four-player co-op and extra computer-controlled fire teams who can be ordered for coordinated three-team attacks).

You cannot, however, just run through Red River's campaign of counter-insurgency in 2013's Tajikistan and clashes against China with guns blazing, as if this was a big-budget war video game. You need patience. You must be tactically careful.

"It's exciting enough just walking down the street with bullets around you," Lenton said. There's drama in the simpler movements of war, something else he learned from studying real fighters. "Just crossing the road under fire can be terrifying for these guys."

Thrills need not be entirely heroic according to this game designer. Lenton proudly mentioned that one of the game's missions teaches players who to fight while going backwards, in order words, how to retreat with skill.

War in video games usually involves the stress of action, the cacophony of an event. Operation Flashpoint Red River won't have a mission in which nothing happens, but even the suggestion that it could reveals a different possibility for war games: the stress-of-inaction, the tension of searching for an enemy who, in this hour, is not there.


    It could have worked. Remember that No One Lives Forever 2 mission where you're searching an arctic station and you barely find anything? The tension is effective. It's not like it would be boring, either, if you had scripted events with IEDs/shelling, or civilians startling you.

    I think it would have worked quite well and wouldn't be upset if a level here or there featured me doing "nothing" but patrolling.

    I reckon it would've worked, until some buggers would inevitably go and spoil it everywhere.

      Unless they made it so there were multiple levels where it COULD happen, but which one is entirely random so even if you do know that there will be a level where nothing happens, you don't know which one it'll be.

    Levels like that have often been brilliant, the haunted house from VtMB comes to mind and it would have been a great mission for story telling, development and encourage exploration rather than constant shooting.

      Great example of how this kind of gameplay can work. That level was TENSE. You'd keep seeing flashes of the ghost of the killer, so you were never really sure if there was about to be some action or not. That could work extremely well in a war game, and it could be more poignant and meaningful in that setting also.

        The was also the haunted house level from Thief 3 "Shalebridge Cradle" where it worked extremely well.

    yeah dont want the kids copying that....gee the terror of kids patrolling around their school not shooting anybody

    That would be really good if done well but if it wasn't designed well it could be just really frustrating.

    There would have to be a clear progression in the level so the gamer didn't find themselves running around in circles because I know when I'm lost I often look for new enemies as a sign of where to go.

    There would also have to be a very dramatic build up to make sure tension is ratcheted up otherwise it would just be boring.

    If done well thought, it could be extremely creepy and rewarding.

    Tie it in with some story narrative. Not cut scenes but "live-action-banter" between the soldiers. :)

    Could work but wouldn't because it's a game geared towards 4 player coop.

    I've played a multiplayer ARMA2 convoy mission where nothing happened, just drive from one corner of the map to the other.


    Immersive? yup. Boring? hell yeah.

      Heh, this is why I like ArmA 2. The quiet moments exponentially ramp up the intensity when you actually experience action.

      Compare that to a game like Call of Duty where you are constantly bombarded with action and you start to grow so accustomed to that action that it no longers feels exciting.

    This is interesting, because it underlines just how much of 'military' games are scripted, when war is (obviously) for the most part un-scripted.

    It would've been a decent idea, more realism is never a bad thing.

      This is why I really enjoy games like Armed Assault 2. When you use the mission editor you can place enemy patrols for a mission to spawn randomly within a set radius, and also set a probability of them even spawning at all. Coupled with some relatively clever programming of the AI (which has to work over 200km2 of terrain, roads and buildings) that manoeuvres itself towards any set objectives or orders you have a game that is very close to real war where you cannot predict everything.

    After the debacle of Dragon Rising and the extreme headache inducing field of view and the drop of support for a game that had a lot left to fix, I think I'll pass on most Codemasters games.

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