Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The ArmA2 vs. OFPDR Realism Debate: A Random Thought

"The first casualty of war may be truth but the first casualty of wargames is reality."
Mad Russian, from a post at a Combat Mission discussion forum
Which game is more realistic, ArmA2 or Operation Flashpoint Dragon Rising?

I never served in the military, never been shot at, never shot a single round with an M16 ... the list goes on. I'm totally unqualified to even try to answer that question.

Yet, the question is out there and so frequently found in discussion boards, reviews, etc, that I thought about it more than once. I can point some aspects in each game which are not ”realistic”, some of them obvious, others just because of the general limitation of computer simulations. I can also point some features of one game that are more “realistic” than in the other. In the end, pointing out what is more realistic in one game than in the other feels a bit futile. “There is no substitute for reality”, they say.

But I said I’m not going to try to answer the previous question. So let me re-phrase it: how much realism is enough for games like ArmA2 and OFPDR?

Realism in unexpected packages
Some years ago, when the USMC needed a war game to train small unit leaders in tactics, they didn’t put out a contract solicitation for a multi-million dollar simulation (to be sincere, I doubt they had the money for that). Neither they went into off-the-shelf war games considered to be sort of the holy grail of tactical war gaming (Advanced Squad Leader, Combat Mission, [insert your “realistic” war game here]). They chose Close Combat, a quick, easy to learn, highly popular war game of the late 1990s. I don’t know if you remember Close Combat, but despite being an instant hit and almost a genre-defining war game, was scolded by the old guard war gamers for its “lack of realism” in many aspects. The USMC commissioned a mod for Close Combat that ended up being accessible to every grunt in the Corps: Close Combat Marines.

Close Combat Marines' main menu

How much realism is needed when lives are at stake?
For me, this virtual war-waging thing is just a hobby. If I don’t get some tactical thing straight the consequences are not important. When a Marine plays a war game for training, if he gets something wrong his Squad may die later in the thick of a real firefight. Close Combat Marines was realistic enough to teach small units tactics to real Marines.

A Close Combat Marines scenario.
Objective-driven realism
There is a key thing in the Close Combat Marines story: as far as I know, the war game was never used for training on anything else than small units tactics. You cannot train on in the particulars of communications, close air support, indirect fire support, etc. Heck! In Close Combat Marines you have perfect command of every unit: they don’t get disoriented, they don’t confuse your orders, etc. Yet, the humble Close Combat delivered well for small units tactics training.
The point I'm trying to make is that realism for the sake of realism is a flawed premise. You, as a player or trainee, need to figure out what you want to achieve and that’s exactly where you draw the line for how much realism you demand in a war game or simulation.

And that’s why I play both ArmA2 and OFPDR. They both give me something of what I am looking for: practice real life infantry tactics for small units in a modern war setting.

Even when in OFPDR the recoil of the M16 is 5 mm lower than what it should be. :)


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