INS Legacy

Going for Gold

Posted in anecdote, commentary, designtalk, essentials, insurgency by Argyll on March 15, 2010

My red-eye flight to New York’s JFK was cancelled, so I spent the night at SFO waiting for a flight to Dallas-Fort Worth, then connect to Toronto… somewhere in between playing Insurgency on the airport Wifi, sleeping on the plane, and reading Schell’s Art of Game Design, I thought of this analogy to describe the situation with Insurgency:

If you followed the Winter Olympics, then you might have watched Canada reinstate itself as the best hockey nation in the world. There is good reason why we won the Gold, and it comes down to who was on the ice, at what time, their individual talent, and especially their collective talent in putting it all together. If you have not seen the goal, watch or read about it here.

Fleury, Canada’s goaltender, made a save from a shot on net. Neidermeyer picked up the puck and cleared it from their zone, passing up to Crosby.

At the point that the puck went from Canada’s zone, passed the defenders, and up to Crosby is like the point where Jeremy and I controlled the puck, back and forth through all obstacles up to the other team’s zone. As Jeremy had the most experience, having initiated and going through a first release of Red Orchestra, I passed it up to him; as he went on a break-away from his momentum, I skated off the ice exhausted. Jeremy seized his momentum to get a solid shot on goal.

Then he and Pongles (and the rest of the developers) quickly picked up the rebound. They shot on net some more. As Jeremy skated off the ice, and many of the other players left the game, new players came on the ice. Steppenwolf picked up a rebound and passed to Spielmann, who has continually put shots on net and picked up his rebounds.

I have skated once again on the ice, and positioned myself behind the net from the goaltender’s perspective. I have studied how the goaltender has been making his saves (the fans’ perspective), and have skated back around to a position that views an open net. I am shouting “Pass!” but the puck is still being directed on the goaltender.

There is a rebound for me to pick up on. But Spielmann still has control of the puck. I have watched several rebound opportunities and shots taken on net. I have seen what it takes to score the goal, and have positioned myself to make a solid attempt.

All of this has taken a matter of years, when in a game of hockey a sequence like this is seconds. It was the final seconds of the Gold Medal game when Crosby had control, fought through defenders to the net and again along the boards, before passing it down to Jarome Iginla. But Iginla didn’t try to take a shot, he viewed the opportunity to pass, seizing Crosby’s momentum for a shot on net. That shot, and subsequent goal, made millions roar and united a nation.

Every play to get a shot on net is different, and in order for Insurgency to reach scoring opportunities, we continually passed the mod amongst each other to reach the net to score several goals. We all get shots on net, and I haven’t yet taken a shot. I helped to position the play to get the opportunity to take a shot. It was the Defenceman who set the play up, and typically hangs by the blue line to hammer a shot on goal. I have studied, from each perspective, on how to score a goal. Now I feel I should take a shot, after I set up the play.

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Last Chance

Posted in commentary, designtalk, essentials, insurgency by Argyll on February 14, 2010

I write this from California – Santa Monica to be exact – where the sun is shining bright. I return to frozen Canada later this week, with a broadened perspective and opportunities.

The weather isn’t the only difference between LA and Toronto. They are completely different worlds.

I have experienced many different worlds in my 24 years on this planet. I don’t wear blinders while I go through life. I have the eyes and mind of wonder and discovery. I don’t take it for granted, and use these opportunities to view things differently. I question the world around me and think about how to make it a better place. There is no correct answer to do anything.

That’s why I pursued photojournalism – so I could enter different worlds and be there to see, document, and share.

During my trip to California, I went into a Barnes & Noble book store. I have a habit of buying books. I picked up a copy of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Once I read that book, I went back and picked up another Gladwell book called Tipping Point. Finishing that, I went back again and picked up his other book Blink. I’m about half-way through.

Gladwell is brilliant. He has been named one of the most influential thinkers by major publications. Born in England, he grew up in an Ontario town, attended the University of Toronto, and now is a writer for The New Yorker magazine. Gladwell has experienced many different worlds with the same sense of wonder and value that I have. His books are about decision making and success. They aren’t found in the self-help section, but in psychology and business sections. They possess a very sociological outlook.

My advice is you read those three books I mentioned above.

– – –

Jeremy wants to be involved with the mod again, which I feel is the last chance for Insurgency to avert death. His approach however is in line with where the current regime stands – taking it in a new gameplay direction on a new engine. Some of the ideas are similar to “Beta 3”.

His return to the community opened with a thread outlining his ideas and consultancy with the community.

Details aside, I want to look at strategy.

When I approached to join the mod again over two years ago, I also approached the community looking for their ideas and feedback. I could see that they shared my frustrations with the direction of the mod at the time.

Jeremy evidently understands this importance too. His timing though, is much better than mine.

When I approached the project, before it received the Mod of the Year title, the team was still high on the false sense of self-confidence in their ability. They blatantly ignored the community’s frustrations, stating that any problems were insignificant because the solutions lay in their magical “Beta 3” design ideas. They obviously spent very little time actually in the game itself to draw that conclusion. My main concern then was about the regime’s ambition taking the mod in an entirely new direction from scratch, while ignoring the immediate issues at hand. It defied logic. The direction they set on was coming from inside their head and not inside the game.

I felt, while many of the community members also voiced concern, the mod required more immediate fixes and changes that should not be ignored while planning on starting something fresh. I could see that the team was a skeleton of what it once was in terms of talent and experience. They disagreed with my concerns. I got pissed off because they were blatantly naive and ignored the voice of experience that learned from being ambitious and naive. However, in the two years since, they obviously saw how I was correct – going from a stance of not updating on Source (to concentrate solely on OB) to minor updates on Source. My criticism stemming from my worries at the time remain: they have done too little in too much time.

I also have a little concern with the details in Jeremy’s approach. Once again, it seems the community could be left in shambles. I don’t know how much time he has spent in game, but from my point of view (hours spent in game) and some of the community feedback to his ideas, it seems his vision is coming from inside his head and not inside the game. That’s the same fatal error the current regime made.

There is a difference between how the mod plays today and how it could potentially play, if given a fresh approach. Future iterations would not be aligned with the design as it was established or currently behaves, and therefore they think it doesn’t matter how it currently plays. But the thing is, the community do not get to play with the new mod until it’s done (if ever). Sure, they can play with the ideas, but that isn’t as fun as it is while you’re developing the ideas.

– – –

My stance today has changed little from two years ago…

The mod still requires immediate action to fix issues that actually matter to the fans. There needs to be a change of gameplay based on how the mod plays today – not how it should play months or years from now – because that is really how the community expects and sees how it can evolve. There are bugs that need to be fixed. If custom content wasn’t suppressed so much, the art could have been updated directly from the community.

Most importantly, the community needs to be refreshed. They are the lifeblood measuring success or failure of a project. The developers think they can control the sway of opinion by banning any naysayers. Purging the community is not helping.

The question posed in the post below is redundant. There’s no getting that $1500 back invested into the mod unless Spielmann (or whomever he gave it to) coughs it up. I doubt they would know what to do with it, or else we would have seen its impact two years ago.

Nor does the mod really need that kind of money invested anyway. It can be for less.

vBulletin 4 CMS costs roughly $300 for a license, and I see that as community building software to save the mod. You might lose the current forums, but they are full of abusive admin posts that have tarnished the mod’s reputation and scared away fans. It is also full of threads expressing fan frustration; that is what led to admins becoming fascists. You would also lose the 15,000+ member accounts, but many of which now are spammers reposting old threads with links to their spam agendas hidden within their signatures. Or they are spamming private messages, which ironically brings members back to the forums.

If a fresh start is going to be made, it starts with the community. Actually, it really needs to start with the development team, as the current regime have proven over the past few years to be the wrong people for the task. Just as I had suspected of them.

But they hold the keys to the ignition. I doubt they will let Jeremy drive – because Jeremy driving is a smart thing to do for the mod. He’s an experienced  guy, with INS and RO under his belt, and he can likely see the incompetence in the devs for himself. Therefore they will feel threatened, once again, as they had when I returned. They will feel especially threatened now that they have had two years to prove themselves, and failed.

So even if Jeremy can get on board, there will be no trust amongst the team. The team dynamic will not be healthy enough to bring immediate action for the fans of Insurgency to benefit.

– – –

The only solution I see for the benefit of the project is what Xanthi, creator of the most popular INS level Sinjar, suggested in his comments in the post below.

Reconciliation.

The community has no trust or faith in the ability of the developers. It is evident that they can trust Jeremy, as he offers a glimmer of hope for them since he is partially responsible for making Insurgency into the success that it was.

I have represented the voice of the suppressed, the frustrated, the banished members of the community. I also am partially responsible for making Insurgency into the success that it was to become. I would also need to be involved in the reconciliation process, as I can promise hope for those who see none. Gaining the support of this demographic is far more important than the current devs think, and that’s probably why reconciliation will never work out. They will listen to me if I say hope is possible, just as they have when I said it is hopeless.

Fans need to see a return of the old leadership who are responsible for making Insurgency into the success that it was – Jeremy and Argyll – in order to see any sign of hope in the future of this project.

We started it, and we deserve to finish it.

– – –

Having said that, this is optimistic thinking out loud, and I have no part in Jeremy’s decision to return. I was surprised of his appearance probably as much as any other fan who remembers him.

Even if somehow Spielmann decides to allow me to take part in reconciliation and the future development of the project, I don’t know whether I would invest my time, ideas, energy, and money into the project.

Is Insurgency worth saving at this point?

I have started on other game project ambitions, and have gained certain opportunities that INS – particularly those who drove it into the ground; who would directly benefit from my help – may not be worthy receiving.

2.5 Review

Posted in commentary, designtalk, essentials, insurgency, review by Argyll on November 7, 2009

Now that the patch came and the mod is more functional (many users experienced crash issues, as every major patch has), a proper look can taken at the latest iteration of Insurgency.

First impressions:

Yes, finally tracers are working. They weren’t in the original release because of a bug that you could see them through surfaces (i.e. behind walls, etc). Now that it took more than two years to solve, you begin to realize how important tracers are to the game, especially a game about war.

The M203 sight is more broken than it was before. Except now it defies logic. I don’t know how to fix that sight, since I have never used that particular one (the sight I used on the M203 with C7A1 is different), and apparently nor does anyone else.

Sounds take a bit of getting used to. I like the phrase, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but I understand the reason that it was an opportunity to get engineer’s work in the game, and I respect that. However, I do feel that some of the sounds before were better. M203 reload and pistol firing come first to mind. The shotgun I am getting used to, but preferred the previous one.

I like all of the new insurgent skins, but why replace the previous ones and not just add the new ones? It would see more variety in the player appearance. However, I do strongly advocate the replacement of the previous default skin (the light camo top) to the current dark camo with Iraqi flag smock. Nice work by Splinter on these, but spine’s originals are still very strong to use together.

I have been experiencing more Marine victories it seems. I’m not sure of the competence of the other team, but I also believe the Marine weapons have less recoil and stronger accuracy. Damage seems to be reduced on many as well.

Grenade physics are worse. They don’t bounce, and I don’t like the sound… it matches the dropping a weapon sound, but you should be able to hear a distinctive sound from a grenade bouncing or someone throwing their weapon near you.

I don’t recall the reason behind no weapon in first-person spectate, but it was a bug that was just waiting to be addressed. It makes spectating way better, and better shows the game to other users (who can learn from it by watching).

I do not like the VGUI in the spectate. I like the function (as we originally designed a death vgui that wasn’t completed for release because it caused crashing) and information. It is just not very clearly displayed. There is an overuse of Dity Headline font. I love that font (having picked it out myself), and we were one of the first media to use it (I have seen it since used on CNN). But it is not legible at the smaller sizes. I can barely read the stats on the VGUI. Plus it should be transparent so that you can see more of what is behind.

Also on the VGUI, I tried minimizing it, but it just locked up any ability to move around in spectate after. Nor could I enable the VGUI again. Not sure if this has been addressed by the patch, as I am too scared to use it.

The weapon retextures are nice.

Patch

Posted in designtalk, essentials, insurgency by Argyll on November 4, 2009

Good job Louti on getting a patch out so quickly to fix some immediate issues.

Hey Pablo, do you feel what releasing often feels like? Feels good eh? Keep doing it.

The End of The Beginning: Part Two

Posted in anecdote, commentary, designtalk, essentials, insurgency, news, review by Argyll on October 6, 2009

Insurgency is about winning the little moments. That split second it takes to aim your weapon – essentially drawing weapons with one another in a duel – it is that moment you need to beat the most. It is the moment defining your survival. Do you risk shooting from the hip in an attempt to temporarily blind and hopefully giving you time to land the shot? Or do you aim by instinct to land the accurate shot, provided you are quicker on the draw and getting on target?

There are several factors that need to come into place in order to have success. Combat is complex. It is confusing. It is defined by the leadership, communication, and ultimately intelligence of the victorious force. Guerrillas are highly intelligent. There are battles and there are wars.

While I remain ‘Senior Advisor’ of the mod, those channels of communication were cut.

Here is my parting words of advice in regards to improving Insurgency. They must be public in order for them to find you.

1. Abandon Beta 3, it is a waste of time to just explore the technology while you could be working on improving the current Source version of the mod.

2. Release what you have so far in the patch, even if it’s only cosmetic. Give the community something – you make them suffer far too much for a released game that only needs improvement. I took it through the toughest times to get it started and off the ground running. I envy you can lead the development on the released product. Yet, you do nothing.

3. Understand your audience, but more importantly understand your topic. What separated us from everyone else was we seemed to know what we were talking about when it came to representation of contemporary war. You easily could market the mod that way, but do not have the vision in that area.

4. Recognize talent. It stares you in the face. More importantly, recognize the lack of talent. Jeremy was my Art Director. Who is yours? What is their contribution?

That’s all big picture stuff. Do you want me to go into more detail?

Cheers.

The End of The Beginning: Part One

Posted in anecdote, commentary, designtalk, essentials, insurgency, news, promotion, review by Argyll on October 3, 2009

Introduction

I know Insurgency inside and out. I have the benefit of seeing it from all perspectives: founder, designer, developer, producer, director, and fan.

I am now writing a series of articles outlining my final thoughts on Insurgency. It is time to move on. There is so much potential for INS, yet those who currently control decisions for the mod do not recognize its potential. I did everything in my power (see article below) to save the project and the vision from the clutches that now hold it.

Their loss. The next project’s gain.

My day job currently is a Graphic Designer – which I am self-taught as a result of making websites for Insurgency over the years (in fact the current design was originally designed by me, and still uses tables, ugh!).

I have also worked as a freelance photojournalist – taking photographs and shooting/editing/producing videos – for the largest newspapers in Canada (and the occasional international publication).

I even produced a 12-part series on Leadership, filming and editing interviews of 12 CEO’s and leaders in major Canadian organizations. This was for The Globe and Mail, and for the same department that just won an Emmy (no, I did not work on the project that won, but I know who did).

As Insurgency was released in July 2007, I was beginning a two-month trip to Europe in between my fast-track summer program (instead of doing a whole first year, since I taught myself news photography while at my university’s student newspaper) and second year of Photojournalism at college.

By the end of July 2007, I was sitting in an internet cafe in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. It was before Kosovo declared independence. I could walk out the door of that cafe and look to my right, and see the UN Headquarters. Swedish military vehicles patrolled the streets.

In the town of Kosovska Mitrovica, I crossed a bridge under watch of French snipers and patrols. Signs warned against any assembly of crowds. That bridge divided the Serbs from the Albanians in the town, and is a reflection of the division of the country. I still have 710 Serbian dinar in my wallet that I can’t get exchanged anywhere.

Oh, back to the cafe. I wrote a proposal while sitting in that cafe. I had always thought that Insurgency should expand beyond the over-exposed desert settings (but they keep things contemporary), and move to a European setting. Originally, it was going to depict the 1990’s conflict in the Balkans, notably Croatia and Bosnia. To get to Kosovo, I was in the city of Mostar to get on a bus to Sarajevo while en route.

I walked the streets of where we were going to depict the war in the game. I had a camera the whole time. Not only did I walk the streets. I met, interviewed, and photographed, Albin Kurti the leading activist for VETËVENDOSJE! (Albanian meaning: Self-Determination) at his apartment where he is under house arrest. I still get their newsletter sent to my e-mail.

The current plans for Insurgency ‘Beta 3’ remain as the depiction of Kosovo (which was voted by the team members in 2007 over depicting North Korea). Yet, the same people developing that idea still don’t recognize the value of my experience in Kosovo.

Nor do they value the experience or talent of Iraq war veteran and level designer of ins_Buhriz – Mike Majoris. In the depiction of the Iraq War setting for a game, what better resource to have but someone who has been there engaged in the very war you are depicting?

Another INS Alumni level designer now working for Crytek volunteered to help Insurgency… until he was driven from the team by the current ‘leadership’.

The original creators of Insurgency matured quicker than the mod itself, especially their talent.

Those whom are left over carry a legacy greater than the ‘Insurgency’ project itself. INS is only the beginning of a look at the representation of war in reality-based games.

Transparency

Posted in anecdote, commentary, designtalk, essentials, insurgency, news by Argyll on September 26, 2009

Well, it looks like the developers have prematurely ejaculated once again. As with the first (few?) girl(s) you get with, this likely will happen because of inexperience and over-excitement.

The delay likely stems from the absence of Louti, their programmer, over the past two weeks. One of the brilliant things about Steam is you can see how often users are playing games, or even developing. I pointed that out months ago when I revealed that the current leadership do not even play the mod in public.

For a good time there Louti was actively developing and testing the mod. However he has not been online in 14 days. Nor has he played Insurgency in that time. I’m not trying to say anything bad about Louti, quite the contrary. Without his efforts, there would be no upcoming update. He is probably busy with life, which is understandable and should always take priority.

However of course the developers are trying to save face and say the patch is still being worked on. Apparently only one issue left to fix, and it’s a critical one preventing anything else from being released.

I understand why the developers would want to deliver all the new content at once. But, you know, that is such an out-dated mod update method. Welcome to Steam.

They could have updated the cosmetics by now. Actually, one of the changes are the Iraqi insurgent skins redone by the very talented Splinter. There is no longer a light-camo-pattern jacket (that acts as default for insurgent players until they customize their appearance) that is the source of mistaken identity and many TK’s. I personally suggested to Splinter to replace that jacket with a darker skin. Now, there is a sexy British pattern Republican Guard jacket instead. That is more than just a cosmetic change. That could have prevented numerous friendly fire incidents since it was completed weeks ago… yet remains a promised feature, rather than an actual one.

Where did this upcoming mod update come from anyway? It was quickly announced in early July that there would be a patch.

Allow me tell you a story. It is true.

You probably know by now that I am the founder, and former project director of the mod over the span of five years. One of the turning points of the mod over the years was the addition of Jeremy Blum (the founder and former project director of Red Orchestra) and he brought in some wonderful talent. Jeremy and I had a pretty good dynamic, shared some vision, challenged each other’s visions, and together led the mod to the powerhouse that it became. We recruited many talented developers, and they are responsible for making the mod what it is today.

In late June, myself and Jeremy were talking about the mod. I was keeping him up to speed on the incompetence and inactivity of the current developer leadership, since he has been busy attending college. He still held ‘Super Administrator’ status on the INS Forums. Well, with that status, Jeremy easily could have made any changes to the forums. The Forums is like the capital city of a country, and whomever controls them, controls the mod.

I have been in exile in the hinterland. I have always been a presence and when the timing is right, I would strike where I can. The current developers still trusted Jeremy’s word. Yet, Jeremy still trusts me.

We planned a gathering in Toronto at my house. Myself, Jeremy, and a handful of INS developer alumnus (all of whom have professional experience in the games industry) were to attend and outline the future of the mod.

We were to wage a coup on the leadership and take over the mod on July 4th, while at the meeting.

In the days leading up to that point, we were gaining support from those who we could trust, but unfortunately one of them betrayed us and informed the ‘leadership.’ Jeremy was removed from the ‘Super Administrator’ status and the coup was crushed before it had a chance to begin.

Days later, the developers announced that a patch was already in the works and expect an update soon. It seemed to be a wake-up call for them to get their act together and actually develop the mod they are developers for.

Had the coup succeeded, it could have saved the mod. Now, it’s just the same old bullshit.

We are now thinking of what else we can do for INS. But being honest, there is little that we can still do to help save Insurgency. We might have to let go, which is difficult to do for a project and community that you dedicated years of your life to. We care about the mod and fans very much.

But alas, we will likely just have to draw upon our experience and proof of concept for the next endeavor…