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Choke... And... Capture Points. Yeah.
Published on October 13, 2008 By mittens In PC Gaming

The Battle of Thermopylae is a battle in ancient history where the Greek forces led by King Leonidas used the pass of Thermopylae to funnel the Persian army, hundreds of thousands of troops deep, led by Xerxes into a small pass where 300 Spartans (and Thespians, Thebans, and Helots for a total of about 2300 troops) were able to inflict a great deal of Persian casualties vastly disproportionate to the number of Greeks over the course of several days. The battle represents a classical example of the strategic use of a geological choke point as a means of gaining a tactical advantage over a number of adversaries. Video games have relied on choke points and other points of interest, such as capturable points and flags, as an integral design mechanic and, as such, have served as the primary influence for a number of popular games and mods over the course of the last decade.

id Software's Quake was a game which started the age of user modifications such as Threewave Capture the Flag (capture the flag! grappling hooks!) and Team Fortress (yes, that Team Fortress). Threewave's level design popularized a very symmetric map design that forced a red and a blue team to compete using speed, power, and intricate knowledge of the maps that matches took place on. Team Fortress popularized the idea of having gamers choose from any number of "classes," all of which had their own benefits and drawbacks, to play a violent capture the flag match across maps designed using the concept of player bases being connected to each other by a very deadly choke point where a good majority of the player-to-player battles took place on. The strangest aspect about both of these mods is not how their game types differed in some basic mechanics but, rather, how each was designed around the same mechanics: capturing another team's flag in a level designed around a series of choke points (the flag room in each base and the middle of the map where the red and blue bases were connected).

Counter-Strike and Counter-Strike: Source serve as the best examples of a level design methodology which focuses on choke points and capture points (bomb sites) as a means of enforcing teamwork (three popular map layouts are below). When playing maps where planting and detonating a bomb are the focus there are is always the choice of one of two bomb sites where a bomb can be planted. There are, generally, two or three entry points for each bomb site and each of these entry points are typically narrow hallways or areas of very low visibility for those attempting to storm a bomb site. In order to succeed in a match, the terrorists have to be able to split up their team into a decoy squad and a bomb planting squad and convince the opposing team of counter-terrorists to take the decoy bait while the bomb planting squad can plant a bomb and setup their forces to defend all bomb site entry points. The other alternative, of course, is to have an entire team rush a single bomb site and hope to confuse the opposing team and kill them all but most maps in Counter-Strike are designed to give the bomb site defenders a tactical advantage in both visibility and cover. When terrorists invade a bomb site they are generally required to all pass through one hallway into a wide open map segment or antechamber which, by the nature of being less confined, gives the advantage to the defenders.

Where Counter-Strike influenced tactics using a series of confined rooms and hallways, the Battlefield series presented strategic and tactical options to its players on a vastly more open scale. Battlefield 1942, Battlefield: Vietnam, and Battlefield 2 all presented players with a very large toolkit of weaponry, vehicles, and air support as a means of dealing with the intricacies of a map that presented the indoor confines of miscellaneous structures, small towns, and, most often, the great outdoors with only terrain to shield a roving infantryman. The level designers at DICE, developers of the Battlefield series, created the maps of their games under the assumption that littering the landscape with a handful of capture point would be enough to create venues for battle amongst its online player base as each of the two opposing teams on a given map fight for dominance of every single one of a map's capture points. With Battlefield, DICE took the wide-open gameplay of games like Tribes and, basically, changed the "capture the flag" gameplay style to be more of a "capture and hold a bunch of flags" that moved a team ticket counter in a tug-of-war fashion that, after a certain amount of time, awarded victory to the team who was frequently able to hold the most points. At the time of its release, the wide-open planes-against-tanks-against-jeeps-against-infantry gameplay of Battlefield was revolutionary and created these huge team-versus-team conflicts that lay vivid and powerful in the memories of the players lucky enough to play in a full server of friends.

It is from games like Counter-Strike and Battlefield, along with historical battles like that of Thermopylae, that we see more games being released over the last couple of years that put an increased focus on points and the tactical situation in which they are placed in. All of Company of Heroes' maps, like the one below, are designed around a number of resource points that are used to collect resources passively while the game occurs. The stars on the map are capture points that are the primary item of importance in a game; similar to the capture points in Battlefield, these points in Company of Heroes determine the rate at which a team's ticket counter ticks down to zero -- the first team to hit zero loses. Almost any battle in Company of Heroes revolves around these points and their location on the map reflects their importance; they are typically placed on or near very tactical locations on a map such as a bridge in the middle or on an island-like landmass that can only be accessed through bridges.

DICE's latest game is the undoubted culmination of a point-based game design where a map's choke points double as its points of interest. Battlefield 1942/Vietnam/2 proved that players flock to the entire area surrounding a point of interest but if a map have six or seven capture points and sixty-four players (thirty-two per team) each point ends up attracting a fraction of a total player-base for a map and that, as a game design, ends up becoming a flaw in the overall experience. The progressive capture point format of Battlefield: Bad Company, where only two active points of interest are accessible by the entire player-base at a given time (and they're relatively close to each other) allows a match to be a consistently focused experience where both teams are honing in on a set pair of objectives. Instead of thirty-forty players being required for a good game like in the old days of Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield: Vietnam, Bad Company provides a high level of intense combat even if games are limited to seven-eight players per team (maximum is twelve-versus-twelve). It's worth noting that Bad Company executes this design while maintaining the relatively large map sizes that are a "trademark" of the Battlefield franchise; which goes to show that it's possible to provide a very focused gameplay flow amidst a large game map with a well thought-out design.


Comments (Page 1)
on Oct 14, 2008

GalCiv2 would have helped with space terrain to provide natural chokes and points of interest.

on Oct 14, 2008

Good article/post. Particularly good explanation of the pros & cons of the multiple control point aspect of the BF series. Good to think about.

on Oct 14, 2008

Good articles. I already own Company of Heroes, but you almost make me want to buy it again.

hiddenranbir
GalCiv2 would have helped with space terrain to provide natural chokes and points of interest.
Umm....no. Choke points may work in land battles, but in space there is no such thing as a choke point (not the way GalCiv does it, anyway; you'd need something like Sins). There isn't anything in space large enough to have that kind of influence.

on Oct 14, 2008

I think in modern tactics you can create what you need. In the case of a choke point it does not have to be a phyical wall that is the hard point that forces enemy movement. In the case of first person shooters we often, and rightly so, think of them in level design. However in the case of space and tactics you can create what you need, 2142 taught me that.

I was lucky enough to join a clan for a while that used an amazing amount of tactics. I often played the sinper class and between the ten or so of us we would employ a great deal of "forceful" enemy movement. For example soliders and engineers would create a wall of death where they would hold a posistion that would be a normal alternate route to the target. Not one of true importance but would force a enemy player into what we would call the "kill zone". A wide open hallway that housed myself, two other snipers, and one support. They would be funneled into an area where it would take too long to escape while we unloaded. 

In space since all directions are possible a choke point could not be. However I think you could direct your foes when using super tech like the example above but on a massive scale. Like the black hole gun to create an effective wall (or just a large deterrant), and rows of small friggiates to steer the alternate player where you need them to go. Does this describe a choke point? No not really; but it does start the next gen of RTS space tactics to begin thinking of what could be when a space game be comes truly 3D. Level design in space can include asteroids, gravity fields, and so on. The possibilities are as massive as space it self.

on Oct 18, 2008

Umm....no. Choke points may work in land battles, but in space there is no such thing as a choke point (not the way GalCiv does it, anyway; you'd need something like Sins). There isn't anything in space large enough to have that kind of influence.

Yes there is. Take a trip around without a planet's protective atmosphere and see how space influences you. And I don't mean breathing.

 

Space is filled with a plethora of stuff. FF mod in BTS manages to encourage that with great success.

on Oct 18, 2008

Just thought I'd add one more example of creative use of chokepoints: Unreal Tournament 2204's Onslaught Mode. If you aren't familiar with it, it consisted of a wide open map with a bunch of capture points called nodes. Each node was connected to certain other nodes, and the goal was to capture enough nodes to connect your power core to the enemy's power core, at which point you stormed their base in an attempt to destroy their power core. It allowed players to run around in a wide open map, but still managed to funnel everybody towards certain points so there was always intense fighting.

on Oct 18, 2008

I am indeed familiar with Onslaught, I just ran out of room to add it to the column.

on Oct 18, 2008

hiddenranbir

Umm....no. Choke points may work in land battles, but in space there is no such thing as a choke point (not the way GalCiv does it, anyway; you'd need something like Sins). There isn't anything in space large enough to have that kind of influence.

Yes there is. Take a trip around without a planet's protective atmosphere and see how space influences you. And I don't mean breathing.

 

Space is filled with a plethora of stuff. FF mod in BTS manages to encourage that with great success.
In GalCiv, you have ships crossing light-years in weeks. Planets are insignificant (and they would be even if ships weren't that fast. Space is big; unless you start in front of a planet, you aren't going to need to worry about them).

on Oct 19, 2008

There are things(nebulae, phenomena, etc) measured in light years in terms of width and depth. Space is big, which is exactly why there are giant things in it. So it's silly to think our small ships have free reign across tracts of it.

As for 'insignificant'. Final Frontier only puts on star systems and doesn't explicitely place planets in a grid square, which doesn't properly reflect your idea of light-year scaling.

on Oct 19, 2008

I was responding specifically to the idea that GalCiv could have choke points. Final Frontier is an entirely different game.

hiddenranbir
There are things(nebulae, phenomena, etc) measured in light years in terms of width and depth. Space is big, which is exactly why there are giant things in it. So it's silly to think our small ships have free reign across tracts of it.
Anything large enough to measure in light-years is also insubstantial enough to not matter. You can fly through a nebula just fine. They are therefore irrelevant.

on Oct 19, 2008

Anything large enough to measure in light-years is also insubstantial enough to not matter. You can fly through a nebula just fine. They are therefore irrelevant.

ahem

Big Black Hole

on Oct 19, 2008

Go around.

on Oct 21, 2008

Exactly. Go around. Because there is a barrier stopping your fleet from directly attacking a point of interest. Then we have immense pockets of space with volatile gravitational fields and radiation. Space can be made so interesting, but it's always made empty and, almost, meaningless to even have a setting in space.

on Oct 21, 2008

Choke point ≠ navigational hazard. You do have to go around that, and for something that size the added travel time wouldn't be negligible, but the people on the other side wouldn't be able to capitalize on that. We're talking about covering the edge of a circle with a 6 light-year radius (give or take). This isn't viable as a choke point; the minimum force required to cover that area would be unstoppable if concentrated in one place.

hiddenranbir
Then we have immense pockets of space with volatile gravitational fields and radiation. Space can be made so interesting, but it's always made empty and, almost, meaningless to even have a setting in space.
That's because space is almost entirely empty. Sure, you can name a lot of different things that float around in it, but variety isn't the same thing as abundance. The objects you name make up a small fraction of one percent of the volume of a galaxy, and are for the most part too small to be of much relevance to interstellar travel. The things that are big enough to matter are so vanishingly rare that incorporating them into a game would be either pointless or misleading.

Sorry, I have to ask: "volatile gravitational fields"? Are you referring to black holes, or are you learning astrophysics from Star Trek?

on Oct 22, 2008

And radiation. Massive explosions which release phenomenal levels of energy and radiation. Hurling matter across space and all that hoohah. Space can be made so interesting, but it's always made empty and, almost, meaningless to even have a setting in space. It's why the FF, BOTF gave space an actual reason as a setting for strategic warfare: Not just a simple fact of higher attack/def value or having more ships to burn.

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