I'm Working on a Creepy/Atmosphere "Machinima" in ArmA 2 and Need Your Feedback!

I was working on a MARSOC-ish mission for ArmA 2 on a map my guys haven't played on. It's a real heavy jungle and I decided to have it take place in the jungles of central Africa. As a result, I ended up with some gnarly sights. I ended up trying different times of day and realized that the Ammunitions Factory/ Cache I was building was pretty creepy at night with a bit of fog, so I just kind of started rolling the camera and did some editing, added some music, etc. It's not very far along at the moment, and I haven't edited all of the footage, so think of this as the first act of 2-3.

A few notes: First of all, watch it at "original quality." Even if it means buffering, and even if it's above the native resolution of your screen. It'll give you much better quality. And I suggest watching it in relative darkness and with headphones.

And let me know any feedback you have of any kind. Timing on the music, editing, cuts, etc. When I get around to it I'll post the next chunk of stuff, with any feedback taken into consideration. Still not sure I want the ending 'sequence' in this to actually be explicitly shown or if it'll just be the aftermath, we'll see.

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How I made Skyrim a Completely Different Game, and You Can Too! Part One

I've recently undergone a journey of ambitious scope. I've already played almost 250 hours of Skyrim at this point, and honestly it's been awhile since I dedicated much time to the game. Now I have a bit of time for it now though, and I wanted to go back into it with a full mod rehaul spectacular.

Desired End Result: A more dynamic, in depth, and survival focused game.

First of all was the gameplay. While I'm a lot less down on Skyrim's combat than most, I still recognize it has flaws, and could be made better. I also have a lot of mechanics in mind that aren't a part of the game but that I'd love to see in the game to help me encourage to play a 'role' within the game. The role I was most interested in was a hunter type who could rely on himself to survive in the wilderness of Skyrim, but who took part in the events of the land. He's a warrior, but one who knows his way behind a bow and how to field dress game. A rugged, capable adventurer.

Secondly, I wanted to pretty up the game. There are a lot of great texture mods for Skyrim, but it's a bit of a balancing act in Skyrim because you've got to be careful not to go too crazy with them, and focus on the important ones. I have a very beefy PC but Skyrim still isn't the best optimized game. My focus for this stuff was improving the lowest points in Skyrim. Things like the shields and environment textures.

Thirdly, I wanted some new content to keep me going. I wanted new placed to explore, new characters to meet, and most of all new gear to play with. I despise anything that doesn't legitimately fit into the lore and tone and aesthetic of Skyrim. I avoid all of the anime bullshit and try to keep to stuff that looks less "special" and amazing, and more functional.

I'll go into more depth on how I achieve these goals on a mod by mod basis when I get into the actual list of mods you'll need.

Getting Started: Essential Tools

First thing's first, you need to go over to the Skyrim Nexus, the premiere source of Skyrim mods. Pick up the Nexus Mod Manager, another essential tool in modding Skyrim, which will help you more easily download and keep up to date your mods, as well as help you control load order (you need to do this if you plan to use many of the primary mods I will be suggesting) and even launch the game. Then, make sure you have the High Resolution Textures downloaded and installed. If you can't run the slightly better textures in that pack, you're not going to get much out of this list. It should be easy to nab this on Steam on the off chance you don't have it yet. You'll also need the latest SkyrimScriptExtender (SKSE) for most of the gameplay relevant mods, so make sure you have this installed first and foremost.

The Mods: Survival Gameplay

Frostfall - Hypothermia Camping Survival -Chesko

Frostfall is a pretty interesting mod that forms the core of my little "Survival module." It adds two major aspects to Skyrim: Cold Weather Survival and Sustainable Wilderness Living.

The Cold Weather half of the mod simulates various elements of surviving the frigid winds, deep snow drifts, and icy waters of Skyrim. It simulates the player's temperature based on certain variables. When the player is in a cold, snowy area they will receive greater exposure to the cold. And if the player gets wet, they will be even more vulnerable to the cold, especially if they have recently been submerged. Falling into the freezing waters of Skyrim is no longer a matter of casual fun. It becomes dangerous, bringing your temperature down rapidly and making it even more difficult to keep warm without a strong fire. Even the rain can hinder your progress in the wilderness, especially if you don't have a good cloak and hood to keep you dry. In fact, clothing and gear plays a large part in surviving now. You can't wander around in Iron armor for days and come out the other side. You'll freeze to death on the frozen tundra without warm clothing. Thick furs, heavy cloaks, and other insulating items of clothing are a necessity.

The Sustainable Wilderness Living aspect of the mod adds several mechanics around constructing and using a camp to rest, cook, and warm your haggard self. This in particular plays into the other mods in the Survival Module such as Needs and Diseases, as they all center around ensuring you keep well fed, parched, and have shelter to rely on. It brings a new focus on hunting and gathering because you need to have firewood and meat to survive.

The reason I love Frostfall is that it makes Skyrim feel like a place you have to survive, not a place you just sprint around to explore. It's very tense wandering around in the pitch black of midnight, almost unconscious from exhaustion and cold, hoping to happen upon a friendly camp. It also helps to solidify the sense of place. You find familiar hunting grounds, a good place to camp, fellow hunters to barter with. It's pretty awesome.

Realistic Needs and Diseases &Inns and Taverns: Realistic Room Rental -perseid9

As the name implies, Realistic Needs and Diseases adds more "bodily functions" to Skyrim, primarily hunger, thirst, and disease. This mod is key to reinforcing the need to hunt and adding difficulty to survival.

Like Frostfall, RND is broken up into two chunks, and adds a number of mechanics to serve both elements.

The first half of the equation is the "Needs" part of the title. Your character will get exhausted without sleep, or intoxicated if you overdo the ale. You also need to eat or you'll starve, and suffer the consequences of an empty belly. But to make things easy for you, the mod adds a lot of new recipes, making food much easier to come by as you will usually be close to a source of food, instead of having to seek out one of the sparse ingredients of vanilla Skyrim. But food wasn't the only thing to get attention, beverages see a boost in variety and thirst is another metric you need to keep track of. You'll be able to fill your waterskin at the river if you have need, so it should be easy to keep your thirst at bay.

Playing into the other half of the mod, (Diseases) food also ages, meaning that it can spoil if you've kept it in your pack for too long. On top of food spoiling, the diseases of Skyrim have been rehauled, and become much more serious. When you first come down with an illness, the symptoms are easy to cope with. But as the disease progresses, the effects will become difficult to live with. With luck, all you'll need is some rest in a real bed with a warm fire and stew in your stomach. If that doesn't do the trick though, you'll need to resort to science, or magic to cure what ails you.

Hunterborn - unuroboros

Hunterborn is a great mod to pair with Frostfall and RND, giving a lot more depth to the actual activity of hunting, which is great because it's something end up doing a lot more of with hunger factoring into your wellbeing.

Normally in Skyrim, hunting is pretty simple. You shoot the deer, and then you might get something from doing that. Like, a ring! But with Hunterborn, loosing that fatal arrow is the simple part. From there, you have a number of options depending on your situation. If you have a camp nearby, you can pick up the carcass and transport it to your camp where you can dress and butcher the animal. You can also harvest organs and the like from animals, and skin the pelt. Once you've gotten what you need from the animal, you can dispose of the remains.

This makes hunting much more active and requires that you do more than just "Hit X" to get everything you can out of the animal. But it also means that you'll be able to harvest realistic amounts of what the animal has to offer, instead of hoping you'll get some meat this time.

Another added bonus is that the mod expands upon the alchemical and culinary fields in Skyrim, adding recipes and ingredients to the game, many of which cater to the hunter in all of us. Hunterborn is an excellent mod for any marksman/ranger type, but fits in with my character as well.

SkyTEST - etayorius

SkyTEST is pretty to explain but is still a really great mod, which further enhances the player's encounters with the wildlife. It focuses mostly on the behavior of the critters of Skyrim, making them a little more interesting, dynamic, and organic.

With SkyTEST, predators stalk their prey, creatures seek sources of food, and even socialize amongst themselves.

Mods: Gameplay Balance

Skyrim Redone [SkyRE] - T3nd0

Skyrim Redone is, as the name suggests, an overhaul of Skyrim's base mechanics. Many people had issues with Skyrim's combat and perk system, but for me this is more about giving a more tactile experience. This makes combat more demanding, engaging, and dynamic.

I won't get into the details of it, if you want to read up on the mod's page you can do that, it goes into great depth there.

Locational Damage - Kahmul

Locational damage is a pretty no-nonsense kind of mod, but it goes a lot further than you might expect. This isn't as simple as damage based on headshots.

Not only are there an entire fourteen separate "zones," from limbs to necks to faces, but each zone has unique possible effects when hit, sometimes even based on what is hitting the zone. Some effects only happen when a bow is used, other only if a bash attack, and other still require a heavy weapon to be used. This gives the player a lot more to do in combat, making things much more intense, engaging, and dynamic.

SER Market Fix - MD Wolfe

This is a very handy mod to make the economy of Skyrim more sensible and less exploitable. It increases the amount of coin a shop owner might have, and plays with the costs of items to be a little more logical. Very handy if you plan to make a living in Skyrim.

The creator of the mod claims that the prices are being changed based on the values of base materials and demand and more, meaning every item is worth what it's actually worth.

The Mods: Immersion

Mike Fox's Darker Nights- Mike Fox

This is one of, if not the absolute best, way to fix Skyrim's ridiculous nights. While most solutions use post processing, Darker Nights actually reduces the light in the world, avoiding the image destruction of other options.

There are a number of different version as well, allowing you to get the flavor you prefer.

Its sister mod, Darker Dungeons is an interesting mod, but because it acts upon every interior in the game, some of which end up far too dark (especially inhabited buildings like inns and shops and homes) so I wouldn't suggest that one unless you really really want it. I find Skyrim does fine at keeping interior darkness at an appropriate level, so I'm not using it with Darker Nights.

Open Cities- Arthmoor

This one is extremely simple to explain: Cities are no longer instanced, meaning you can walk right through the gates and around the strongholds of Skyrim without a loading screen. It's a small but very awesome touch.

Relighting Skyrim - NovakDalton

Relighting Skyrim is one of my favorite graphics mods for Skyrim because it has one of the most dramatic effects and on one of the most important parts of an engine's quality in my book: lighting.

This mod adds actual light sources where they previously had been missing, and also makes some light sources cast shadows that had not done so in vanilla Skyrim. It's probably not something you'll usually notice when it's there, but you notice when it isn't so I consider this an important mod, especially if you have mods like Darker Dungeons.

Immersive HUD - Gopher

This is a simple, but very effective mod for my goals with modding skyrim. It allows you to have much greater control over the HUD and when its various elements are on screen. I use it to keep as little on screen as possible at any given time to add to the immersion of the world. No more HUD elements cluttering my view as I trek through the tundra or forests of Skyrim.

Travel by Boat - Joubarbe

Travel by Boat adds a number of docks and boats around the rivers of Skyrim, allowing the player to use a more contextual "fast travel" to get around Skyrim. I mostly like this because of the added objects in the world, but I was also hugely drawn to the real time ferry along the coast of Skyrim. It's that kind of stuff that really gives me a kick.

The Mods: New Gear!

Immersive Armors & Immersive Weapons - hothtrooper44

These two great mods add a ton of gear to the game, making the enemies far more varied in their gear and giving you a lot more toys to play with! And the best part? It's all lore friendly.

No silly Final Fantasy swords that look like they were modeled and textured by a 13 year old, just a lot of high quality gear that fits into the world, while still doing a great job of expanding on the weapons and armor of Skyrim.

Weapons of the Third Era - Created by 747823 & Updated by MasterofShadows

Weapons of the Third Era is a Morrowind inspired weapon pack that adds a little bit of old school Elder Scrolls flavor back into Skyrim. If you're lucky, you just might might happen upon some weaponry imported from the marshes of Morrowind!

JaySuS Swords- JaySuS

JaySuS Swords focuses, obviously, on bladed weapons, which I like for a couple of reasons. For one, most of the swords in Skyrim are a bit on the fancy side of things.

Swords seem like they should be the most common weapon you see in Skyrim, so I like this adding to the chance you'll see a sword in someone's hand instead of an axe or mace.

JaySuS swords have a very realistic feel to them, and they fit very well with the not so vaguely Viking tone of Skyrim very well. There are a few quirks that I'm not a huge fan of like references to the crusades which obviously didn't occur in the universe that takes place in Skyrim, but it's mostly just on the pommels of swords so you don't ever really notice it.

Armor Compilation - Omegared99

The armor in this set is not only pretty great, but also serves to add just enough flair here and there. After all, it's only realistic that highborns and jarls and emperors would have finer armor sets than those adventurers and soldiers bear. It has some nods to other worlds, but in this case I'll let it slide because it actually fits in the aesthetic without being overbearingly from-another-world-y.

Skyforge Shields - Dreogan

Shields don't get a lot of love in Skyrim. There aren't a ton of em, and a lot of them have pretty piss poor textures. Luckily, I have a few fixes for both. Skyforge Shields adds a few pretty awesome looking and of course very lore friendly shields intended to mirror the style of other Skyforge items.

Bandolier: Bags and Pouches - Dragten

This is a good mod that adds some flair to your character and also gives some neat functionality in the way of added carry capacity. This adds a ton of new bags and pouches and straps and doodads to add a lot of cool details to your character and to help you carry more gear.

Ritual Armor of Boethiah - Wasbunny

This armor looks pretty awesome, and fits pretty perfectly my idea of what a loyal servant of some dark and malicious deity would earn in through their service in Tamriel. It may be a bit too spectacular for some, but I think it looks too awesome to pass on.

Insanity's Shields - InsanitySorrow

Another mod to buff up the selection of shields, this adds a number of new Round Shields to the game with over 50 patterns to add some variety to the gear the inhabitants of Skyrim carry.

Cloaks of Skyrim - Noodles

Cloaks of Skyrim is pretty obvious, but one of my favorite mods to add to the feel of the world: adds cloaks! And not only that, but it interacts in really awesome ways with Frostfall. Skyrim just makes more sense with cloaks, and I'm surprised that they weren't in the game to begin with!

Plus, you look badass with a cloak!

The Rest: Minor Mods and Fixes

Here I'm going to list all of the smaller mods that don't impact the gameplay. For the most part, they are visual mods. For those that have multiple quality levels, I'm pretty much always just picking the highest version.

I'll probably add the Gear Visuals up top with pictures and all that because they really are essential in my opinion, vanilla gear looks pretty terrible. But this list needing to have links took forever and I don't have the patience to continue with this today. That change and the full install guide should be up tomorrow by about 6PM PST. After that I'll consider doing a big screenshot gallery and a video of me showing the basics of how this collection of mods has changed the way I play. Which may or may not be cheesy and "lore" friendly. But will almost certainly involve green screen silliness at some point.

Immersive Skyrim Thunder - Wordeee

No Radial Blur - Holugar

Real Night Eye- Ichibu

Real Rain - PlayerTw0

Sound Propagation Overhaul - rohverK

Supreme Storms - mannygt

Better Dynamic Snow - SparrowPrince

Quality Snowflakes HD - Yuril

Real Shelter - Robinsage

Remove Interior Fog - rgabriel15

Wet and Cold - isoku

Bones and Skeletons Retexture- Andre789

Dark Brotherhood Tenets Restored- Rathinosk

Detailed Rugs - raiserfx

Dragon Glyphs HD - Valstein0

Enhanced Blood Textures - dDefinder1

Hi Res Battle Maps V2- Bosphorus670

High Definition Ivy - Josh Ezzell

Real Effect Candle - Yuril

Roadsigns Redone - Hanaisse

Skyrim Effects Project - Deanoman

Static Mesh Improvement Mod - Brumbek

Ultimate HD Fire Effects -rheadude

Visible Windows - isoku

Gear Retextues

Book of Silence -CaBaL

Hvergelmirs Armor AND Shield Retextures - Hvergelmir

Improved Weapon Enchantments FX - darkman24

Ultra HD Silver Sword - FrankFamily

Virtus Imperii - EcthelionOtW

A Quality World Map - IcePenguin

Alternative Snow - Yuril

AOF Detailed Mountains - AnOldFriend

High Realistic Tundra Moss for AOF Detailed Mountains- Hein84

Benjamin318s Door Retexture - Benjamin318

Benjamin318s Tents - Benjamin318

Better Embers - lavigne77

Distant Decal Fix - SparrowPrince

Footprints - jonwd7

High Quality 3D Map AND LOD- Ethatron

Skyrim HD (All) -NebuLa1

The Skyrim Distance Overhaul - Grieche

W.A.T.E.R. - SparrowPrince

Character Visuals

AOF Believable Hair - AnOldFriend

Beards - Hvergelmir

Brows - Hvergelmir

Beards Unleashed - osdiaus

Benjamin318s Beast Races - Benjamin318

Better Vanilla Hairs - kebrus

High Res Face Maps for Men - Geonox

High Res Warpaint and Dirtmaps for Men - Geonox

Horse HQ Retex - Helendia

Nuska Real Skin for Women - Currently unlisted :(

Ponytail Hairstyles - azarkiowa

Realistic Teeth - Brumbek

Straight Hair Retexture - navetsea

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How I made Skyrim a Completely Different Game, and You Can Too! Part One

I've recently undergone a journey of ambitious scope. I've already played almost 250 hours of Skyrim at this point, and honestly it's been awhile since I dedicated much time to the game. Now I have a bit of time for it now though, and I wanted to go back into it with a full mod rehaul spectacular.

Desired End Result: A more dynamic, in depth, and survival focused game.

First of all was the gameplay. While I'm a lot less down on Skyrim's combat than most, I still recognize it has flaws, and could be made better. I also have a lot of mechanics in mind that aren't a part of the game but that I'd love to see in the game to help me encourage to play a 'role' within the game. The role I was most interested in was a hunter type who could rely on himself to survive in the wilderness of Skyrim, but who took part in the events of the land. He's a warrior, but one who knows his way behind a bow and how to field dress game. A rugged, capable adventurer.

Secondly, I wanted to pretty up the game. There are a lot of great texture mods for Skyrim, but it's a bit of a balancing act in Skyrim because you've got to be careful not to go too crazy with them, and focus on the important ones. I have a very beefy PC but Skyrim still isn't the best optimized game. My focus for this stuff was improving the lowest points in Skyrim. Things like the shields and environment textures.

Thirdly, I wanted some new content to keep me going. I wanted new placed to explore, new characters to meet, and most of all new gear to play with. I despise anything that doesn't legitimately fit into the lore and tone and aesthetic of Skyrim. I avoid all of the anime bullshit and try to keep to stuff that looks less "special" and amazing, and more functional.

I'll go into more depth on how I achieve these goals on a mod by mod basis when I get into the actual list of mods you'll need.

Getting Started: Essential Tools

First thing's first, you need to go over to the Skyrim Nexus, the premiere source of Skyrim mods. Pick up the Nexus Mod Manager, another essential tool in modding Skyrim, which will help you more easily download and keep up to date your mods, as well as help you control load order (you need to do this if you plan to use many of the primary mods I will be suggesting) and even launch the game. Then, make sure you have the High Resolution Textures downloaded and installed. If you can't run the slightly better textures in that pack, you're not going to get much out of this list. It should be easy to nab this on Steam on the off chance you don't have it yet. You'll also need the latest SkyrimScriptExtender (SKSE) for most of the gameplay relevant mods, so make sure you have this installed first and foremost.

The Mods: Survival Gameplay

Frostfall - Hypothermia Camping Survival - Chesko

Frostfall is a pretty interesting mod that forms the core of my little "Survival module." It adds two major aspects to Skyrim: Cold Weather Survival and Sustainable Wilderness Living.

The Cold Weather half of the mod simulates various elements of surviving the frigid winds, deep snow drifts, and icy waters of Skyrim. It simulates the player's temperature based on certain variables. When the player is in a cold, snowy area they will receive greater exposure to the cold. And if the player gets wet, they will be even more vulnerable to the cold, especially if they have recently been submerged. Falling into the freezing waters of Skyrim is no longer a matter of casual fun. It becomes dangerous, bringing your temperature down rapidly and making it even more difficult to keep warm without a strong fire. Even the rain can hinder your progress in the wilderness, especially if you don't have a good cloak and hood to keep you dry. In fact, clothing and gear plays a large part in surviving now. You can't wander around in Iron armor for days and come out the other side. You'll freeze to death on the frozen tundra without warm clothing. Thick furs, heavy cloaks, and other insulating items of clothing are a necessity.

The Sustainable Wilderness Living aspect of the mod adds several mechanics around constructing and using a camp to rest, cook, and warm your haggard self. This in particular plays into the other mods in the Survival Module such as Needs and Diseases, as they all center around ensuring you keep well fed, parched, and have shelter to rely on. It brings a new focus on hunting and gathering because you need to have firewood and meat to survive.

The reason I love Frostfall is that it makes Skyrim feel like a place you have to survive, not a place you just sprint around to explore. It's very tense wandering around in the pitch black of midnight, almost unconscious from exhaustion and cold, hoping to happen upon a friendly camp. It also helps to solidify the sense of place. You find familiar hunting grounds, a good place to camp, fellow hunters to barter with. It's pretty awesome.

Realistic Needs and Diseases & Inns and Taverns: Realistic Room Rental - perseid9

As the name implies, Realistic Needs and Diseases adds more "bodily functions" to Skyrim, primarily hunger, thirst, and disease. This mod is key to reinforcing the need to hunt and adding difficulty to survival. The optional Realistic Room Rental mod from perseid9 increases the cost of renting a room at an inn, making forging your own path a little more desirable. If you're down on coin, you may not be able to find an Inn with a cheap enough bed for you so'll be forced to make die with your own survival skills.

Like Frostfall, RND is broken up into two chunks, and adds a number of mechanics to serve both elements.

The first half of the equation is the "Needs" part of the title. Your character will get exhausted without sleep, or intoxicated if you overdo the ale. You also need to eat or you'll starve, and suffer the consequences of an empty belly. But to make things easy for you, the mod adds a lot of new recipes, making food much easier to come by as you will usually be close to a source of food, instead of having to seek out one of the sparse ingredients of vanilla Skyrim. But food wasn't the only thing to get attention, beverages see a boost in variety and thirst is another metric you need to keep track of. You'll be able to fill your waterskin at the river if you have need, so it should be easy to keep your thirst at bay.

Playing into the other half of the mod, (Diseases) food also ages, meaning that it can spoil if you've kept it in your pack for too long. On top of food spoiling, the diseases of Skyrim have been rehauled, and become much more serious. When you first come down with an illness, the symptoms are easy to cope with. But as the disease progresses, the effects will become difficult to live with. With luck, all you'll need is some rest in a real bed with a warm fire and stew in your stomach. If that doesn't do the trick though, you'll need to resort to science, or magic to cure what ails you.

Hunterborn - unuroboros

Hunterborn is a great mod to pair with Frostfall and RND, giving a lot more depth to the actual activity of hunting, which is great because it's something end up doing a lot more of with hunger factoring into your wellbeing. I wanted my character to be a hunter, so this was a natural pick for my Survival Module.

Normally in Skyrim, hunting is pretty simple. You shoot the deer, and then you might get something from doing that. Like, a ring! But with Hunterborn, loosing that fatal arrow is the simple part. From there, you have a number of options depending on your situation. If you have a camp nearby, you can pick up the carcass and transport it to your camp where you can dress and butcher the animal. You can also harvest organs and the like from animals, and skin the pelt. Once you've gotten what you need from the animal, you can dispose of the remains.

This makes hunting much more active and requires that you do more than just "Hit X" to get everything you can out of the animal. But it also means that you'll be able to harvest realistic amounts of what the animal has to offer, instead of hoping you'll get some meat this time.

Another added bonus is that the mod expands upon the alchemical and culinary fields in Skyrim, adding recipes and ingredients to the game, many of which cater to the hunter in all of us. Hunterborn is an excellent mod for any marksman/ranger type, but fits in with my character as well.

SkyTEST - etayorius

SkyTEST is pretty to explain but is still a really great mod, which further enhances the player's encounters with the wildlife. It focuses mostly on the behavior of the critters of Skyrim, making them a little more interesting, dynamic, and organic.

With SkyTEST, predators stalk their prey, creatures seek sources of food, and even socialize amongst themselves.

Mods: Gameplay Balance

Skyrim Redone [SkyRE] - T3nd0

Skyrim Redone is, as the name suggests, an overhaul of Skyrim's base mechanics. Many people had issues with Skyrim's combat and perk system, but for me this is more about giving a more tactile experience. I was already fairly happy with Skyrim's combat, but this makes it a little more demanding, a little more engaging, and most importantly for me, makes the perks much more interesting and varied.

I won't get into the details of it, if you want to read up on the mod's page you can do that, it goes into great depth there.

Locational Damage - Kahmul

Locational damage is a pretty no-nonsense kind of mod, but it goes a lot further than you might expect. This isn't as simple as damage based on headshots. Not only are there an entire fourteen separate "zones," from limbs to necks to faces, but each zone has unique possible effects when hit, sometimes even based on what is hitting the zone. Some effects only happen when a bow is used, other only if a bash attack, and other still require a heavy weapon to be used. This gives the player a lot more to do in combat, making things much more intense, engaging, and dynamic.

SER Market Fix - MD Wolfe

This is a very handy mod to make the economy of Skyrim more sensible and less exploitable. It increases the amount of coin a shop owner might have, and plays with the costs of items to be a little more logical. Very handy if you plan to make a living in Skyrim.

The creator of the mod claims that the prices are being changed based on the values of base materials and demand and more, meaning every item is worth what it's actually worth.

The Mods: Immersion

Mike Fox's Darker Nights - Mike Fox

This is one of, if not the absolute best, way to fix Skyrim's ridiculous nights. While most solutions use post processing, Darker Nights actually reduces the light in the world, avoiding the image destruction of other options. There are a number of different version as well, allowing you to get the flavor you prefer.

Its sister mod, Darker Dungeons is an interesting mod, but I feel it's not careful enough as it acts upon every interior in the game, some of which end up far too dark (especially inhabited buildings like inns and shops and homes) so I wouldn't suggest that one unless you really really want it. I find Skyrim does fine at keeping interior darkness at an appropriate level, so I'm not using it with Darker Nights.

Open Cities - Arthmoor

This one is extremely simple to explain: Cities are no longer instanced, meaning you can walk right through the gates and around the strongholds of Skyrim without a loading screen. It's a small but very awesome touch.

And More To Come!

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"You've Got To Be A Certain Kinda Crazy To Want This Life, Boy."

Military service is an unusual thing. You spend a lot of time in an unusual place with unusual people doing the extraordinarily unusual things. Which is especially weird when for some people, it's spending a lot of time in California with Joe America doing the most menial fucking thing ever every day.

During wartime, you're fighting a war. It's a pretty unusual occupation, warfighting. It's not really for everyone. In fact, it's really not for anyone. But during wartime, you're a warfighter who isn't fighting a fucking war. So that's weird.

And when you aren't even a warfighter yet, you just really really want to be, you are wishing you were fighting a fucking war, even though you'll hate a major amount of your life if you ever get around to it.

It's all a little peculiar.

Hard military men are pretty unusual too. My last girlfriend, lovely as she was, was the daughter of a member of the United States Army's Special Forces. He was an odd guy. Goofy, scrawny, kind of funny looking. He wasn't the meatheads some people think of as being the bad ass members of our armed forces. He was kind of a kid at heart. Probably exaggerated by how much time he had to spend being about as much of a grown up as anyone will ever be, but it wasn't just that. It seems that line of work just attracts a certain kind of person. A certain kind of unusual.

So I guess it shouldn't surprise me how fucking stir crazy I'm going here in a civilian life (and a boring as shit one at that, let me tell you. I can't remember the last time I heard any noise that was worth hearing, much less the last person I really talked to other than my mother, and that was just because of the recent tragedy in Boston). I'm sitting here, and realizing that I'd rather be sucker punched in the gut, have a sack thrown over my head, and be abducted away to boot camp, than continue on with this freaking life.

That's not a rational thought. But there it is, in my brain. Wondering why the fuck I can't get a stupid job just so I can pay $700 for a couple of months so I can finally tick off the last box and say "Hey Uncle Sam, I've got your proof I'm not an idiot, now let me in!" Wondering why the fuck the most exciting thing in my life right now is that there isn't anything exciting in my life.

It is an unusual man that thinks these things. That wants nothing more than to go and be screamed at by grown men, to be thrown into the mud and the dirt and the dust and to use up every last ounce of will to get through whatever unpleasant experience is up next.

One of the first Marines I ever talked to after starting to consider the decision to enlist didn't have much to say to me. He was well adjusted, though had his oddities about him as most do. He'd enjoyed his time in the Corps, and it brought him pride as much as it brought him pain. But he had one thing to say to me that stuck in my head for a long time. "You've got to be a certain kinda crazy to want this life, boy."

I wasn't really sure what he meant. I mean, sure, you think "well, you probably have to be a little nuts to go into a line of work that involves a hail of bullets being a likely plot point in your future," but I'm starting to think there might be a little more to that. It's a bit strange, but it's actually reinforcing my desire to enlist. Maybe I'm better cut out for this shit than I thought. I mean, who the fucking hell gets this frustrated because they can't get a break on going to MCRD? Normal people hear "we'll break you the fuck down and build you back up" and run the opposite direction. Yet all I can think is how stupid it is that I'm not fucking there yet.

Maybe I'm just crazy. But god damnit I'm gunna kick the shit out of MCRD's ass sooner or later. I'm just tired of fucking waiting. I'm one freakin' job away from being able to just get it over with and let the Marine Corps ship my ass off to be remade. I wish that job would come a little quicker. I'm just about fed up with this life and it's time for me to get a second try at a new one.

/exhausted rambling

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"You've Got To Be A Certain Kinda Crazy To Want This Life, Boy."

Military service is an unusual thing. You spend a lot of time in an unusual place with unusual people doing the extraordinarily unusual things. Which is especially weird when for some people, it's spending a lot of time in California with Joe America doing the most menial fucking thing ever every day.

During wartime, you're fighting a war. It's a pretty unusual occupation, warfighting. It's not really for everyone. In fact, it's really not for anyone. But during wartime, you're a warfighter who isn't fighting a fucking war. So that's weird.

And when you aren't even a warfighter yet, you just really really want to be, you are wishing you were fighting a fucking war, even though you'll hate a major amount of your life if you ever get around to it.

It's all a little peculiar.

Hard military men are pretty unusual too. My last girlfriend, lovely as she was, was the daughter of a member of the United States Army's Special Forces. He was an odd guy. Goofy, scrawny, kind of funny looking. He wasn't the meatheads some people think of as being the bad ass members of our armed forces. He was kind of a kid at heart. Probably exaggerated by how much time he had to spend being about as much of a grown up as anyone will ever be, but it wasn't just that. It seems that line of work just attracts a certain kind of person. A certain kind of unusual.

So I guess it shouldn't surprise me how fucking stir crazy I'm going here in a civilian life (and a boring as shit one at that, let me tell you. I can't remember the last time I heard any noise that was worth hearing, much less the last person I really talked to other than my mother, and that was just because of the recent tragedy in Boston). I'm sitting here, and realizing that I'd rather be sucker punched in the gut, have a sack thrown over my head, and be abducted away to boot camp, than continue on with this freaking life.

That's not a rational thought. But there it is, in my brain. Wondering why the fuck I can't get a stupid job just so I can pay $700 for a couple of months so I can finally tick off the last box and say "Hey Uncle Sam, I've got your proof I'm not an idiot, now let me in!" Wondering why the fuck the most exciting thing in my life right now is that there isn't anything exciting in my life.

It is an unusual man that thinks these things. That wants nothing more than to go and be screamed at by grown men, to be thrown into the mud and the dirt and the dust and to use up every last ounce of will to get through whatever unpleasant experience is up next.

One of the first Marines I ever talked to after starting to consider the decision to enlist didn't have much to say to me. He was well adjusted, though had his oddities about him as most do. He'd enjoyed his time in the Corps, and it brought him pride as much as it brought him pain. But he had one thing to say to me that stuck in my head for a long time. "You've got to be a certain kinda crazy to want this life, boy."

I wasn't really sure what he meant. I mean, sure, you think "well, you probably have to be a little nuts to go into a line of work that involves a hail of bullets being a likely plot point in your future," but I'm starting to think there might be a little more to that. It's a bit strange, but it's actually reinforcing my desire to enlist. Maybe I'm better cut out for this shit than I thought. I mean, who the fucking hell gets this frustrated because they can't get a break on going to MCRD? Normal people hear "we'll break you the fuck down and build you back up" and run the opposite direction. Yet all I can think is how stupid it is that I'm not fucking there yet.

Maybe I'm just crazy. But god damnit I'm gunna kick the shit out of MCRD's ass sooner or later. I'm just tired of fucking waiting. I'm one freakin' job away from being able to just get it over with and let the Marine Corps ship my ass off to be remade. I wish that job would come a little quicker. I'm just about fed up with this life and it's time for me to get a second try at a new one.

/exhausted rambling

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I've been trying to kick start my Youtube channel!

I've got a lot of time on my hands, a kick ass PC, and Fraps so I'm trying to use them all in conjunction more often. A lot of what it's been used for is ArmA 2 gameplay with my community, but I'm trying to branch out. Which is part of why I'm posting here. Other than shameless self promotion.

Here are a few examples of what I've done so far:

Arma II: Operation Mudslide

This is a night time operation our fireteam carried out in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan. The mission was to insert into an enemy controlled town to destroy a number of hard and soft targets, including a high ranking member of Opfor. The mission goes along fairly smoothly until our fireteam is pinned down under heavy small arms and RPG fire, and we are forced to call in a danger close fire mission.

Arma II vs Arma III: Island

In this video, I wanted to show the differences in scale for the various "Islands" of Arma II and how the Island in the ArmA 3 Alpha stacks up. Not bad for being the new "Utes," if you ask me!

ArmA II: Close Quarters Market Training Facility

I made this brief training course to help show new boots the ropes in Arma II, focusing primarily on close quarters, target identification, and reactions to contact. This video is just a quick run through to give an example of what the course would be like from the point of view of a participant.

ArmA III & Adobe Premiere Pro CS6: Green Screen Keying

Here's a very short but I think pretty cool example of what can be done with a matte map and some compositing.

Battlefield 3: Downsampling

After reading this article over on the very awesome Tested.com, I decided it was finally time for me to mess around with downsampling. Originally I intended it to just be a curiosity and a way to take really sharp, smooth screenshots but was actually surprised at the performance I managed to get out of it. Downsampling to 1920x1200 makes an incredible difference on the quality of the image when playing a game, and when that game is Battlefield 3, the results are pretty spectacular even at 30 frames per second. The edges are smooth, and the textures extremely sharp. I ended up playing through a couple of missions with the downsampling on and recorded this clip along with a full playthrough of a rather pretty night mission. I think I might do videos of a lot of the especially pretty games I own being downsampled to show people just how awesome it can be if you have a powerful enough PC to accomplish it. On a related note, if you can push enough resolution, you should try it in Borderlands 2. That game really benefits from it, it's a hell of a difference if you really care about image quality and that game runs MUCH better even with that and PhysX on high.

Misc. Tests (Editing, etc)

Here's a very short video testing the logo animation I whipped up in an hour for gameplay with my buddies. Usually when I'm messing around with stuff like this, I post a short video up on youtube to show where I'm at before the final version is put up, used, etc.

Here's my first attempt at the keying from ArmA 3 to Premiere, using a random clip of what happens when you don't properly uninstalled a modded game (I was so fucking confused why I was able to do that with the cars in GTA until recently I was reminded that extra files aren't removed on uninstallation through Steam). I really want to do more with this stuff when I get the rest of my group I might try to render out an entire firefight on the bluescreen map and composite it over some real world footage of a park near my house, or my desk or something.

So, is there anything you guys would like to see? I don't have the money to start playing recent games or anything because I've been out of work for a while now, but I'm more than happy to go into Free 2 Play games, betas, and any of the games I already have on Steam. I'll be hopefully getting Bioshock Infinite soon so I will probably do some stuff with that, and one of the members of our gaming group is building a new PC in the next day or two so we'll finally be able to branch out into sexy ass games like Planetside 2 and Battlefield 3 MP, and probably some FarCry 3 multiplayer so I'll probably do some videos of that as well.

I'm also hoping to do a bit of Vlog-esque stuff talking about video games and probably getting into the Marine Corps a bit, and I'm trying to get a bunch of cool mods working in Skyrim so I can record an in-character playthrough of a bunch of content where I try to do a cool voice and read out dialogue and forge my own story. I haven't been writing much lately so I need something to encourage myself to do that kinda crap.

If you want to see me messing around with weird stuff, I'm more than happy to take suggestions on what would be cool to do videos on. I really just do this stuff for fun so I have something to do when I'm not job hunting, which is just about the most tedious fucking thing in the world in this job market.

My Steam List:

Asterisks indicate games that have not been finished or I've not spent much time with. If you have a game you want me to do a video on, search this to see if I have it, then suggest the video!

Assassin's Creed III*
Borderlands 2
Dishonored*
Don't Starve
Far Cry 3
Killing Floor
Mark of the Ninja
Natural Selection*
Planetside 2
Red Faction: Guerilla
Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad*
The Sims 3
SWAT 4: The Stetchkov Syndicate
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
The Witcher 2
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
Awesomenauts*
Bastion
Darksiders
Darksiders II*
Dota 2*
Titan Quest + Immortal Throne*
The Witcher: Enhanced Edition
Capsized
Puzzle Agent 2
Alan Wake
Dear Esther
LA Noire*
The Walking Dead
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Call of Duty: Black Ops II
Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Bulletstorm
Crysis 2*
Deus Ex: Human Revolution*
E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy*
Far Cry
Metro 2033*
Zeno Clash*
Black Mesa
Garry's Mod
Half Life 2 + Episodes
Half Life Deathmatch: Source
Alpha Protocol*
Mass Effect
Mass Effect 2
Audiosurf
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved
Hotline Miami*
Little Inferno
Magicka
Orcs Must Die!
Osmos*
Poker Night at the Inventory
Puzzle Agent
Tiny and Big: Grandpa's Leftovers
World of Goo*
Guild Wars
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Day of Defeat: Source
Dead Island
Iron Brigade
Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West
Left 4 Dead 2
Monday Night Combat
Realm of the Mad God
Resistance and Liberation Open Beta
Shattered Horizon*
Shoot Many Robots
Star Wars: Battlefront II
Super Monday Night Combat
Team Fortress 2
Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas 2
Tribes: Ascend
Grand Theft Auto IV + Episodes
Mafia 2*
Saints Row: The Third
Sleeping Dogs
Borderlands
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die
Dragon Age: Origins Ultimate Edition
Evochron Mercenary*
Fallout 2*
Fallout: New Vegas
Legend of Grimrock
Alice: Madness Returns
Braid*
The Maw
Super Meat Boy*
Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack
Terrarria
Trine
Trine 2
Jamestown
Revenge of the Titans
VVVVVV*
Portal
Portal 2
Dungeons of Dredmor
Sam and Max: Seasons 1-3
Amnesia: The Dark Descent*
Dead Space
Dead Space 2*
ArmA II: Combined Operations
ArmA III Alpha
Chivalry: Medieval Warfare
Dirt 2
Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3*
Medieval II: Total War*
Sid Meier's Civilization V
SimCity 4 Deluxe
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II +Chaos Rising
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Alien Breed 2: Assault
Max Payne 1-3
Cargo! The Quest for Gravity
Rock of Ages
X: Tension
X: Beyond the Frontier
X2: The Threat
X3: Reunion
X3: Albion Prelude
X3: Terran Conflict
Antichamber*
Serious Sam HD: The First and Second Encounters

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I used to love Assassin's Creed combat. Now, I can't freakin' stand it.

Trying to finish Assassin's Creed III this weekend, for about the 3rd or 4th time I might add, has reminded me of an unueasy feeling I've been having about the folks making Assassin's Creed.

Now, I really love the original Assassin's Creed. It's not perfect, but it was still an awesome idea that I still think pulls off some of the concepts better than any other game in the franchise. Assassinations themselves, which were the primary draw in the original game, are not only boring as all fucking hell in Assassin's Creed 3 (I'll get into why later) but I've only performed a couple after many hours of playing the game. The game is called Assassin's Creed, but most of the encounters I've had with bad dudes involve half an army of obnoxious "tough guy" enemies that ignore all of the mechanics of combat save for one. This stands in rather stark contrast to me trying to sneak my way to a point of my choosing to dive down on my prey from, like the original Assassin's Creed allowed the player to do.

That being said, one of the things I really liked about Assassin's Creed, especially the first two games in the franchise, is the combat. I think the counters were a bit tricky to pull off in the original in some kind of annoying ways rather than purely challenging ways, but they were also very smooth, very predictable, and very satisfying to pull off. I feel like Assassin's Creed II really nails the feel of the combat, making it even smoother and more fluid than before.

But as I played on in the series, I noticed a pattern. One that started from the first sequel, Assassin's Creed II, but wasn't really an issue for me because it was small enough that it wasn't a bad thing, just a different thing. I'm talking about the "tough" enemies that resist your combos, counters, grabs, etc. In AC2, they weren't an issue because they felt spread out, you'd encounter one or two but rarely would they make up any significant portion of the enemies you saw. Towards the end (where Assassin's Creed games have always struggled in my opinion with this exact issue) this changed and things got a bit annoying, but it was a very small sequence of the game. In Brotherhood, I couldn't help but notice that there were even more of these guys. It started to be pretty cumbersome to have to fight in some instances because of it. There was almost always a few guys in the group that were going to completely ignore any of the finesse you were using, and in fact punish you for attempting to use any.

But man, the "third" game in the series takes that to a whole new level. I'd say 70% of the enemies I've been fighting in this part of the game (with a completion rating of around 30%) have been these "tougher" enemies. Before, it made the combat less interesting because all I could do was hit X on em till they died. There were other ways around it, but not nearly as many with the normal enemies. In Assassin's Creed III however, this troublesome trend becomes even worse because they've tipped the scales to the point where it makes the combat drag out significantly longer, which means I'm tending to end combat with very little health. Now, to be fair, this is also in part due to some really and truly awful camera design (a significant step back from previous games) that makes it impossible to get a view of the action around you. As well as this, the countering can be pretty janky, especially if you're busy with another guy. Sometimes, hitting the button totally works, others not so much, and others still you don't know to hit the button because no prompt shows up so you assume there's nothing to worry about. But still, fighting those tough enemies makes the combat far too simple, far too lengthy, and goes beyond making it boring but actually quite frustrating.

As a sort of parallel to this slow change to the nature of the game, there's another pretty major issue I have with the combat in Assassin's Creed III, which again has come to a peak after steadily growing over the course of the franchise. It's the number of dudes on screen in combat scenarios. In the original game, you rarely engaged more than a few guys at once, and once you did that you usually had time to run off and get to safety. In Assassin's Creed III, A fight started with three guys turns into 50, half of them being the tougher enemies. And that's just messing around in the open world with stuff like liberation missions. Go to a fortress, and you'll have 10 guys spawning around you ready to shoot your ass, and another 20 swarming around your area trying to kill you. It's obnoxious. It's not even that it's difficult: I rarely die in the game. It's just not fun to engage in that kind of combat. The reason the combat is cool the way it is in Assassin's Creed games is that it's quick, and efficient. You rip apart a group of guys and seconds later you are already gone. But as the series progressed, it became more and more of a "just keep fighting until there's no one left to kill" kind of game, which isn't my idea of a fun time. Especially in a franchise that started as something of a stealth game.

I feel like rather than fixing what was broken and focusing on the strengths of past games, Assassin's Creed III exaggerates past problems (probably because they feel each time "has to be" bigger and badder), hinders the strengths of the gameplay, and strays much, much too far from it's roots.

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Holy Hell: Head Tracking is to Sims as Peanut Butter is to Chocolate!

I've actually had the bits I needed to have a simple, single point head tracking rig for a while. It's a pretty simple set of objects: a little LED key chain light, a baseball cap, and a webcam. Tape also helps.

But my previous experimentation with non-IR based head tracking hasn't exactly been great in the past, so I guess I just let my dumb self get convinced this wouldn't be any different.

Man, was I wrong...

The Setup

Hardware:

You need something to attach the lights to. A hat works great, but you could also create a structure out of some sort of tiny rods and just attach that to a headset or what have you. It works best if they are held out away from your actual head, just because of the nature of the tracking.

Hat with an LED light taped to the bill.

You also need some sort of light, usually an LED (a reflective square might work too, but with much worse results because of the angle of reflection and brightness of the points) to create points for the camera to track.

LED turned on. Because of the way my tracking software works, I had to tape over one of the LEDs or it wouldn't track. You can use either 1, 3, or 4 points

And finally you need a camera to see these points.

Generally, just about any camera should work. If your webcam has an especially low framerate however, your performance will be less then excellent. Higher framerate means more data and better tracking. 30 is just fine, but lower than that may cause problems.

Software:

I use FreeTrack, a free head tracking program that is supported by any program supporting TrackIR as it can output as if it were TrackIR. I used it for ArmA 2 and that was able to see FreeTrack just fine, and worked without a hitch once I had it enabled in the options and everything calibrated.

You can download FreeTrack here.

Once you have everything working right, you'll have to adjust the settings in the software to adjust what it tries to see as a point, play with sensitivity of your movements, and the acceleration curves to get it where you want it. Honestly, I was fine with just upping the sensitivity (it defaults very low) to about 2-3x and going from there. But if you want to make it so there's a dead zone, you'll have to mess around with the curves a bit, but that should be easy enough to do.

Tracking in Action

As you can see, it's not perfect. Because of some of the angles, and some other issues I have yet to diagnose, it'll kind of lose me for a while, in particular areas. It's not the end of the world because it's generally about as far as I need to see anyway, but hopefully I'll have a more effective, complete rig with more LEDs that aren't as directional as what I have. Hell, maybe I'll make an effort to go all the way and just use IR so I don't have to worry as much about light conditions.

Over all, the sensation is amazing. While it's pretty helpful for my videos, and you'll get to see much better views as a result of this, it's really hard to explain the feeling of a game like ArmA with head tracking, especially in that awesome Littlebird cockpit. Now I want to try one of those hardcore Aircraft simulations with this stuff!

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Arma II Scale Comparison: Stock A2 Islands

I've been working on getting content up on my pretty well unused youtube channel lately, rebranding it and giving it a new coat of paint.

My first major set of videos will serve two purposes, all though the intended purpose is to simply give a glimpse at the scale and scope of the maps (generally called 'Islands' in the ArmA community) from the air. I take a semi-direct path over the length of each Island to show how little/how much time it can take to get across them, then fly over the coast line to show the extent of that, and then just wander around to show some points of interest and get an idea of the scope of the interior of the regions.

This first video is just showing off the maps from ArmA 2's core game. Next I will do some of the Operation Arrowhead maps (I'll ignore the simple smaller ones for the sake of brevity), and then the 4th I'll try and get up a video featuring Clafghan and Fallujah. Look forward to absolutely awful framerates in that video! I'm running the game pushed up to the highest settings including the render distance, which makes my computer scream on those maps, but it's the best way to show off the scale of the maps.

If you want any other videos on ArmA 2, comparisons between ArmA 2 and the Alpha for ArmA 3, or any other content for that matter, let me know. I have plenty of free time (but am currently jobless, so if it's not real cheap/free to get something I don't already have, it'll have to wait).

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You Know a Game is Special When it Changes How and What You Play for the Rest of Your Life.

ArmA 2

This has been an interesting couple of months for me. I've had a lot of time on my hands lately, having lost both my job and my closest and dearest friend recently. I've needed a bit of a coping device, and turned to two things: my goals to join the Marine Corps and of course; video games.

Interestingly enough, I've managed to find an interesting intersection of preparing for the Marine Corps and playing video games. Which sounds a little silly, even know, but it really speaks volumes about how special and incredible what got me there is.

Many of you have probably heard of ARMA II as a complex and difficult to master military sandbox simulator. Which is sort of accurate. And most of you probably know it as one of the absolute most realistic combat experiences video games have to offer. This is less accurate, unfortunately.

It's a weird product on it's own, and one that in a lot of ways is pretty dated and messed up at this point in time. It takes a whole lot of power to render, the AI is awful, and the physics are pretty much non-existent. Some of the controls are clunky, and movement can be a right pain in the ass. And as for realism it tends to strive for scope rather than depth. Standard ArmA, even with all of the official addons, is about as big as the Pacific Ocean. But it's pretty shallow beyond that. The AI is incredibly unrealistic, not using many, if any tactics beyond unbelievably good reaction times, aim, and perception. Many of the more complex gears in the military system are not truly simulated (Artillery for example is fairly simple and basic).

But fear not! As with many games, ARMA II lives and dies by it's incredibly passionate and resourceful modification community. Luckily, ArmA is a really great starting point for a really crazy MilSim. It's huge, in more ways than one, it's got a good ballistics simulation, and it covers pretty much every aspect of warfare. It's not an Infantry simulator, it's a war simulator. It's pretty cool even with it's flaws.

But with the right mods, it becomes a completely different beast. It's even bigger, it's far more realistic, and in my opinion, down right magical with the right group of guys to sim with.

Arguably the biggest and most important mod in the community is ACE2 or Advanced Combat Environment 2. It's a fitting name for a game like ArmA, because that's exactly what it is. A combat environment. ACE is basically an overhaul of the entire game.

For one, It adds a ton of new weapons from various factions. It adds new vehicles with new functionality. It fills out the gaps in ArmA's gear, basically. As well as adding a lot of new toys to play with, it improves a lot of existing toys.

It adds a lot of new systems like a more complex medical module that requires different medical attention based on the condition of the patient. You will bleed out after being shot, and have to stop the bleeding with bandages. Pain will cause you a lot of trouble aiming and potentially cause you to lose consciousness, and you'll need morphine and epinephrine to dull the pain and keep you from passing out. Fatigue is also simulated, so no more sprinting up a mountain with an M240 Bravo, a SMAW, and 1200 rounds of ammunition. Based on your weight, as well as the speed and method of travel, you will become fatigued which results in decreased weapon control, reduced senses, and eventually unconsciousness.

A lot of things have tweaked and changed for increased realism, such as explosions throwing off shrapnel, extending the range of explosions and making cover essential during danger close fire missions, controlled detonations, and even the use of frag grenades and M203s.

To really give an idea of just how much this can mean, I'll have to give a specific example. In this case I'll use the operation of mortars, as I had to spend several days learning how they work with ACE and they are a totally different system without the simple Arty Computer you normally would have. The complex Arty (Artillery) system in ACE means firing a Mortar is much more involved than simply clicking where you want to put rounds.In fact, it's so much more involved that you generally should have at least a three man team to properly and efficiently operate a mortar.

First thing's first, you need to set up the mortar. It comes in two pieces: the business end, and the baseplate. They are extremely heavy (the M252 81mm Mortar system weights 91lbs total!) and as a result are carried by a pair. The first member of the team sets the baseplate down while the second quickly sets up the mortar tube on the baseplate. Then aiming sticks are placed where the optical sight is currently set towards. Once this is done, the mortar is ready to be aimed and fired.

The mortar itself isn't the only thing that requires preparation however. The mortars themselves have to be prepped with charges (the number of charges is how you control the force with which the round is fired and therefor the path the round takes and the time it takes to hit the target, keeping in mind the range to the target and any obstructions such as mountainous terrain between you and the target that the round will have to clear. As well as the number of charges, you also have several options, depending on the rounds you are using, on how the round will act upon impact. Some rounds can be set to airburst, or delay their detonation after impact; while others operate on a timer (such as illumination rounds, which are basically really bright flares). All of this prep work would, in an ideal situation, be done by the "ammo guy." No, there isn't really a fancy position title. He's just the Ammo Guy.

While the Ammo Guy is prepping rounds, the other members of the team are getting grid references and fire missions from elements in the field. When they receive orders for a fire mission, they will be given a target (either a grid coordinate, hopefully 10 digit, or a landmark will do the trick, or potentially adjustments from previous impacts), desired type of fire (type, quantity, and pattern of rounds), and any pertinent information (such as if the fire mission is "Danger Close" meaning friendlies are potentially within range of the coordinates).

Using this data, the mortar team will measure the range to target, bearing (in mil radians) to the target and of the barrel, and get to work aiming the mortar tube. The mortar has a small adjustable sight attached to the tube that can be rotated to adjust for the difference of the bearing of the barrel (where it's pointed) and the bearing of the target (where the barrel NEEDS to be pointed). At this point, the sights are adjusted and all that is needed is to rotate the barrel until the sights once again line up with the target. With proper bearings however, you only have half of the picture. Yup, there's still more to do. The elevation of the barrel needs to be set so you don't shoot right past the target. Elevation is calculated based on two things: the range to the target and the number of charges on the round being fired. Then, a level is set to that elevation and the angle of the tube is adjusted until the level is, well, level again.

The mortar is aimed, the rounds prepped, and all that is left for the loader to load the rounds into the mortar and the gunner to fire the mortar. They work in tandem so that they can maintain a high rate of fire. If it takes 20 seconds between rounds, the targets may have time to scramble and avoid further casualties, which would be a waste of rounds and very much unappreciated by the guys that may be depending on an effective fire mission to get out in once piece.

So as you now hopefully know, ACE2 is a hell of an overhaul. It brings a whole new level of depth and realism to ArmA II's equipment and operations. It requires a whole new play style, and it's really really awesome. It seems silly, but having to cower behind a wall to avoid shrapnel from indirect fire or having to march to a destination instead of sprint there really enhances the experience of playing ArmA.

The next most important modification we use with our crew, and a very new addition to our play, is the ZUES AI overhaul. Because the AI in ArmA II is probably the biggest problem with the game, this modification is a real game changer. Enemies behave much more intelligently, more naturally, and their abilities are neither super-natural nor special-ed, which was about the mix of the original AI in ArmA. Where before the AI had a tendency to drop to prone with absolutely no interest in cover and start throwing accurate fire towards anyone shooting at it. Alarmingly accurate, really. Even at significant ranges, you'd have AI with ironsights out shooting our guys with RCOs. That was in part due to unusual accuracy, in part to uncanny reaction time, and in part to a complete lack of self preservation. As a result, things like suppressive fire did almost nothing to them, and to us would cause casualties, decrease our accuracy (something I always hated with a passion. bullets landing on the cover in front of you does not make you incapable of a stead shot, and it lead to a lot of them shooting first and preventing us from getting a good bead on them as a result), and force us to try and maneuver to cover. With ZUES, accuracy and reaction times were made to be more realistic, requiring the AI to take time to line up a shot. ZUES also solved the prone issue, making the AI much more intelligent about using cover, moving in combat and while under fire, even flanking and spreading out to search an area (especially awesome to see in an urban environment, where the enemy forces slowly move around the friendly fire team, and start firing at them from new positions in just about any direction.

This new AI system makes firefights feel freaking incredible. Enemy forces keep up the fire, use suppressive fire, move about even (by ArmA standards) difficult urban terrain in an intelligent way. The other night I was rolling as the Designated Marksman, and during the seizure of a large town I was pinned down on a rooftop overwatch position for about an hour while the rest of my mates were pinned down in a compound several hundred meters from my position.

Running back and forth between positions, setting up my rifle on the wall surrounding the rooftop to send rounds down range on targets that were moving in on my fire team was really awesome. It felt like the tales I've heard of a position being over-run in places like Baghdad with enemies on sides. I don't think anyone got out of that operation without being hit at least once. By the end of it, I was shaking with pain to the point I could barely make shots even with my rifle set up on my bipod, and we had already run two rescue operations at that point, because of downed vehicles.

It's hard not to feel a bit closer to the guys you're gaming alongside even when you're a part of something like this and you know the only way you all got out of it is because of every member of your fireteam working together.

It was exciting, thrilling, exhilarating, and as with every operation we've done with our set of modifications recently, an awesome bonding experience for our squad.

But the modifications don't stop there! This next one is the "mission" that we play within: Multi-Session Operations or MSO for short. Basically what MSO does is simulate being in country and having to do things like patrol enemy controlled villages and towns, perform reconnaissance, and even go on EOD operations. It's pretty incredible because it's all dynamic. It spawns civilians, insurgents, IEDs, and fills the map with them in a very natural way, which leads to a lot of really cool firefights.

But the reason that MSO really shines for us is the map we play on. Called Clafghan, it is a 20 square kilometer chunk of Afghan valleys with a large population center to the north. Clafghan is based on the infamous Korengal valley, which was once one of the deadliest places on the planet for American forces. It's clear why it's such a formidable place to wage war, especially against a guerrilla force. The terrain is about as difficult as it gets. Rocky, steep, and jagged, the valley's make moving around incredibly difficult, especially in vehicles. And the elevation of surrounding valley ridges means no place is safe from ambush. In every position, there is always a bigger ridge that enemy forces can fire down on you from. And to make matters worse, the valleys are covered in vegetation, making enemy firing positions hell to pinpoint, especially when they keep on the move.

Clafghan does an excellent job emulating this terrain. As we patrolled down roads and through cities, we were constantly ambushed by enemy elements along the valley walls. Because of the terrain, we had to travel along the foot of the valleys most of the time, especially when we were performing mounted patrols. And there is no worse tactical situation than being smack dab in the middle of a big ass valley. The elevation makes it much easier for the enemy to get effective fire on your position than for you to do the same on their position. It also means that crossfire is only a problem for you, enemy forces can attack you from 4 different directions without worrying about friendly fire. And spotting 4 insurgents 800 meters up a valley wall hiding in some bushes is hard enough when you aren't staring up a hill.

It's a scary place to operate, but that makes it pretty awesome. When you take contact, you usually don't know where it's coming from, and the teamwork it takes to find those targets is incredibly rewarding. There's nothing quite like having your grenadier finally getting eyes on an enemy fireteam, giving you a bearing, and giving you a chance to set up your rifle, zero in, and start sniping the son of a bitch trying to kill you from the top of a distant ridge. It's rewarding for the whole fire team, and whenever you contribute to the success of the unit it feels awesome, even if it's just spotting an elusive gunman.

The Aftermath

The most interesting thing about my recent experiences with a fairly serious simulation crowd in ArmA is how it's changed the way I play other games though. Even with things that I already knew about (I've studied shooting theory and tactics from military field manuals and literature), actually putting them to use in ArmA has reinforced their use and I'm using them in other games as well.

I finally managed to get into Far Cry 3 after significant technical issues (which have since been somewhat alleviated though nowhere near as well as they should be considering my PC's specs) near the game's launch prevented me from playing more than a few hours. Giving the game another chance, I started having a lot of fun with it. And I noticed myself doing a lot of the things I did in ArmA to ensure my success in a firefight. For one, whenever I go to check my map or take a moment to plan out my next move, I 'take a knee' while I'm doing so. Which is actually kind of useful because keeping low in Far Cry 3 helps you keep from being spotted by roaming baddies, or shot in the face when they do detect you.

And when a firefight does find me, I find myself using things like suppressive fire (granted, it's only partially effective, as I don't believe the enemy does much reacting to fire) on obstructed enemies, or give myself some covering fire when changing position.

It's changed the way I play games in some pretty interesting ways and it's made me want, for lack of a better way of putting it, "a little more" from my games.

That's not to say games like Far Cry 3 aren't enjoyable (not as enjoyable as it has been for other people, unfortunately) and that I didn't really really enjoy Black Ops 2. But it's fun to play little meta games on top of the core mechanics of games, and in some interesting ways, there have been actual perks. Suppressive fire is more than just a distraction, it also occasionally snags one of those red thugs in the ass.

As a result, ArmA 2 has changed the way I look at games, and is giving me reason to explore more about how I play them and what they can do to change my behavior. It's been an interesting experience, and it's been, forgive the cheesiness, kind of eye opening.

Sorry for the massive ass wall of text! If you read it all, let me know if you've had any similar experiences that have shifted or altered or shaped the way you play games.

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