Author: Edward Harding Osborne
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Date: 2009-09-25 17:52
Submitted by: TV-PressPass

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The manufacturer of the AK-47 might be going out of business. In an article published last week it was revealed that Izhmash, the company responsible producing for the original Kalashnikov and its modern upgrades, owes more than $13 million and is facing bankruptcy. The famous weapon so popular in movies and games may not have a legitimate manufacturer in the future. The primary reason for their financial problems comes from the wide variety of clones swamping the market. Everyone hears the myth: that in parts of Africa you can get a Chinese made AK-clone for pocket change. But every one of those knock-offs is under cutting Mikhail Kalashnikov's authentic assault rifle.

Reading that got me thinking about the quality of virtual weapons. When does a game get it right, and when do they settle for the lesser version of a gun? Sometimes we are given a legitimate rendering of that weapon, but other times it's just a piece that “looks the part.” This week I want to examine guns in games, and the importance of getting it right.

Some games mask their real world weapons. The post-apocalyptic Stalker labels all its guns with military sounding fictitious names. The immediately recognizable SA80 is a “Il 86” in game. Even the Kalashnikovs are labeled with names like “Obokan” and “Akm74/2U” as if to somehow hide the real weapons they're modeled off. But within a week of the game's release, modders had edited the game to give the weapons their real names. These sorts of details add exponentially to a game like Stalker, where a huge part of the game play is atmosphere.[/p]

[p] Still other games forsake the modern firearm completely and choose instead to give their artistic designers control. The foremost example of this would be a game like Crysis, which promises hyper-realistic graphics and dynamic combat. But the weapons are all fictional, space-age affairs. Even though some of the guns are obviously modeled on or inspired by real life weaponry, the fact is that they are all imaginary. And somehow that makes the situation less compelling. Its harder to buy into the characters and story line presented when the North Korean forces aren't carrying an assault rifle I recognize. The same is true when fighting alongside American infantry; their SCAR might sound like a recognizable special forces carbine when you read it, but instead the player carries an alien-looking fabricated weapon.

Perhaps its unfair to expect realism from a run-and-gun shooter like Crysis, but the fact is most new shooters choose to license their weaponry. The classic Rainbow Six series was one of the first games to offer a selection of real world weapons. Athena Sword was its most varied iteration, which boasted a roster of 53 different SMGs, shotguns, rifles and pistols with equip-able scopes and suppressors. But since then Ubisoft has canceled whatever their agreement with Colt might have been, and in the Vegas generations of Rainbow Six there are no 1911s, no M4s and no M16s. And this does detract from their realism, when a hostage and rescue situation has no one with a Colt carbine.[/p]
[p] Being a dedicated military simulator, Arma2 of course has the actual weapons that would be issued to the armies portrayed. To my knowledge, it is the first game to replicate not just the traditional AK-47, but also all of the 74 and 101 variations. Using the official names on carefully detailed models makes Arma2's weapons immediately recognizable. The difference between an M16A2 and an M16A4 is not something most people know, but Arma2 has both and plenty of other versions of the USA battle rifle as well. While this sort of attention is impressive, the game primarily focuses on western and eastern kit. There is little weaponry that is not explicitly American or Russian. Which is where the modding community comes in.

The FAA weapons mod, now in Arma2 adds another 39 guns to the game. While some are only differentiated by a scope, and others are duplicates of weapons already in Arma2, the addition of these extra weapons adds quite a bit to the game. The inclusion of a wide variety of H&K firearms means SWAT teams reminiscent of Rainbow Six squads are easy to assemble. And as a Canadian, the presence of the FAL, (used by our military till the mid-eighties) is an exciting addition. Extra pistols, a pump action shotgun and the AWP rifle made so popular by Counter-Strike, all help to extend Arma2 beyond a basic NATO versus Russia playing field. These different guns do bring a different feel to the game. In a military simulator like Arma2, and arguably in any contemporary shooter, the presence of a wide selection of real-world weapons is a crucial part of game content that should not be undervalued.

Edward Harding Osborne is a Canadian journalist who has trained with the Canadian Forces. He writes Dispatches weekly for Armaholic and is an avid war gamer.

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