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MAG: Putting the Massive Multiplayer in Online FPS

To say that online multiplayer FPS games are quite the rage at the moment would be an understatement. Nearly every game that falls within the genre of FPS ships with some version of an online component. To not do so usually means that, regardless of how good the single-player portion of the game may be, critics and players are going to pan the product because of this shortcoming. Games such as Rainbow Six: Vegas, Gears of War and the Call of Duty series are immensely popular among players. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is still one of the most played games online, even two years after its release. Some games, such as Counter-Strike and Tribes, don't even bother with a single-player campaign, focusing instead upon the multiplayer mayhem of team Deathmatch (and other variations) of online FPS. Following this line of thought, Zipper Interactive is set to release Massive Action Game, commonly referred to as MAG, in January, 2010.

MAG is ambitious; ambitious in the sense that it needs its own moniker. Most gamers are familiar with the term MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game). MAG is perhaps the first MMOFPS. Traditionally, designating a game as an MMO means that there is some form of persistent world in which players log in and out of without disrupting the ebb and flow of the gameplay. While this is not true in MAG, there is a similarity. Set 20 years in the future, MAG pits massive multinational corporations against one another. This is certainly not a unique theme in gaming. However, in this case, the world is somewhat persistent. Players choose to join one of three corporate giants. Gameplay centers around attacking or defending company-held areas, assets or intelligence. Included are all of the now standard variations of Capture the Flag, Sabotage and all out Team Deathmatch. Aside from scope (which I will discuss in a moment), other factors setting MAG apart from other similar games include differing armament and abilities depending on which corporation is chosen and a persistent global map showing who is "winning" the war, statistically based on data regarding which corporation is winning the most conflicts.

Now to the scope. Why is MAG the first MMOFPS? Whereas traditional battles in this genre normally pit teams of 6 to 8 players against one another, MAG boasts a few more players per team... up to 128 per team. Yes, imagine 256 players on a single map trying to complete certain objectives within a given timeframe. For simple Team Deathmatch, it would be chaos, but that is expected. For other game variations, coordinating that many players seems a daunting task to say the least. Enter the Team Leaders. If you will, allow me to backtrack just a moment. MAG is being developed by Zipper Interactive, commonly known for their outstanding SOCOM: Navy Seals series. They have also done contract work for the United States military creating simulations and training programs. Suffice it to say that they are somewhat familiar with command structure. This experience is readily apparent in MAG. Players are broken into teams of 8 players. This small unit is a squad, and all members of a squad can talk to one another. Each squad has a squad leader. There are four squads assigned to a platoon. Each platoon has a platoon leader. In the larger maps, there are two platoons to a company. You may have figured out by now that a company will have an Officer in Charge (OIC). While individual members of squads can only talk to one another, squad leaders can also communicate with other squad leaders. Platoon leaders can communicate with all of their squad leaders, as well as with other platoon leaders and the OIC can communicate with anyone in a command role. Using simple directions on the D-pad, unit leaders can issue directives to their group members, can designate targets and can call in support (in the form of airstrikes, artillery, etc). This simple but effective method of coordinating troops is absolutely essential to completing the map objectives. Leaders of various ranks also provide some benefits (such as better accuracy, less noise, and more stamina) to those soldiers around them, so having a good leader and listening to the directives quickly become paramount to the enjoyment of the game. This is not a game for the lone wolf.

That being said, snipers and stealth players take heart. Sometimes the directive is to cover a bunker or take out a critical target. While the gunners run in, a skilled sniper picking off enemy troops from a distance is a most welcome advantage, one that will quickly earn the accolades of one's comrades-in-arms. Like many games of this sort, players earn experience during the course of an operation. This experience in turn earns the player levels. Each level earns the player a skill point. Skill points can be assigned to various skill trees, opening up new perks, weapons or armor. Choosing a career path early on is a wise choice. If a player later decides to try a different route, points can be spent to redistribute the skill points. Characters can create multiple "load-outs" so that changing between spawns during an operation is easily achieved. Having several alternative builds is helpful if, during an operation, there is a need for an additional medic or mechanic in your squad. And yes, even those not so good at combat can earn points by healing the fallen or repairing damaged equipment. Even with all the depth of play, the amount of players on maps and the level of detail (which I did not touch on, but which is quite beautiful), MAG ran smoothly during the recent open beta. If that can be achieved after full release, this may be the game to pull many a die-hard Xbox 360 FPS player to the PS3 side of the fence. I know I'll be strapping on my guns on January 26th.

-The Mung Bard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Buddy Ethridge
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