I thought I'd create a thread so that we can share our thoughts on the period before the mission actually occurs - the intelligence gathering stage (the briefing, the photoes, the file infomation on suspected terrorists etc.), the team choice stage (where each operator is chosen and put into a team), the kit distribution (where each chosen operator is then given the kit from a large pool of equipment, such as weaponary, tools and armour) and finally the planning stage (where a plan can be formed for the coming mission).
At this point in the mission, it's my first contact with what will be coming later on in the action stage. This should aim to achieve one thing and one thing only - the immerse the player into the action. This, I think, should be achieved by an in-depth storyline, with effort spent making each flashpoint seem like an independent incident, convincingly life-like situation that special forces would be called in to handle. To that end, what is required is briefings given with appropriate seriousness by professional voice actors with an appreciation that what is due to occur is a military action - so no hollywood epithets here. The intended audience for such briefings should be the operators themselves - so feel free to include plenty of military lingo and the suchlike to make the player feel like he is in a genuine military situation (again, building atmosphere and immersion).
The tangoes should, if they are a group independent from previous missions, be fully fleshed-out groups with beliefs and motivations for carrying out such an incident. We should be able to understand their actions, because in doing so we render them believable, and therefore more real. Such infomation on them could include lists of previous incidents believed to perpetrated by them (such as proper intelligence documents and newspaper cuttings), long-zoom photography from intelligence agents and other such miscellaneous data.
The location that is due to be hit should also be explained in some depth, so that the environment we find ourselves in has a sense of place and is not merely a level created at the whim of a designer. It should feel like it has stood for a length of time prior to that of the mission's occurance, with a history (and perhaps historical significance) and a reason for its importance. This is somewhat easier with existing landmarks, but to that end it would be best to include such data anyway, as not every player would be aware of such a target, or its significance.
I think it is preferable to get a sense of the operators as real people, as this lends signifcance to their in-game lives and stops the player from thinking of them as disposable AI 'extra-lives' (should soul-switching be present). Obviously life-like AI is a dominating factor in such a situation, but nevertheless I don't think that is the be-all and end-all. The operators, like the tangoes and the locations themselves, must have a sense of having existed before the game took place. Not necessarily detailed infomation, but infomation none the less (such as age, weight, height, previous training, original unit, family etc.) lends creedence to the operators. If the game is appropriately realistic, we aren't going to be getting that much of an insight into their private lives while 'on-task'. Operators don't talk about their girlfriends or kids while on a mission (maybe on the way there... but not during an assault!), only in Hollywood do they do that. Operators are the most professional soldiers in the world. Their minds are focused on one thing and one thing only when moving into position for an assault - the mission. Don't patronise the player and take them out of the mission with crass and heavy-handed attempts at story-telling that challenge the boundaries of belief.
From here, we put the operators into various teams. Each operator needs to have the appropriate set of stats (the genre staples, such as stealth, leadership, stamina) for not just their physical capabilities but also their weapons handling - not every operator might be as good as each other with assault rifles, but some might be more at home with an SMG, or (god forbid) a pistol. Have the specialised team members, such as those designated as snipers, be good with both a sniper rifle AND a back-up, such as a pistol or an SMG. Don't have the mistake of Raven Shield where a sniper couldn't use a pistol for toffee (although the situations where a sniper would use a pistol should be few and far between if you're using a sniper properly). This would result in 'natural' specialisation instead of having to rely upon 'special' characters for certain things - obviously they would still be designated with their best ability, for ease of selection, but this shouldn't be the limit of the infomation about them. The different abilities (and the facility to look at them) shows us that the operators are individual people with varying skills and not the same bot repeated over and over with a differing visual representation and voice set - it takes us further into the game's atmosphere and adds an extra layer of strategy. For those who want to skip this stage, a pre-chosen team consistent with the a pre-chosen plan would make selection easy.
Kit selection should be as painless as possible - weapons arranged into class, with a brief blurb of infomation detailing their vital statistics (caliber, weight, range, muzzle velocity) and the attributes based upon such infomation (manouverability, recoil, reload speed etc.). Don't make some weapons artificially better or worse than others. While variety exists in weaponary, such variety should be consistent with real life. Don't make an assault rifle fire more slowly, or have more recoil, than its real counter-part just to provide an alternative to an existing one. To that end, leave us with a functional set of appropriatly varied weapons, and not a huge list of weaponary that is as ineffective as it is needless. Do, however, include a wide variety of modifications and adjustments - and allow us to attach more than one. Foregrips increase manouverability (at the expense of an under-slung masterkey), tac-lights allow us to illuminate areas (at the expense of night-vision), sights mounted on the rail allow us to get a better view of our target (at the expense of being able to use the ironsights or an aimpoint), a foldable stock allows, again, greater manouverability but greater instability. Suppresors allow (relative) silence but subsonic rounds render them less-powerful and with a smaller range...
As with real life, each kit option has its advantages and its disadvantages. As in real life, certain kit choices will rise to dominance as they are more preferable in cerain situations in combat - foregrips becoming necessary on rifles with long-barrels and therefore a lack of manoverability, for example. Give us a chart that shows such infomation being dynamically altered by the addition of modifications, so that we can see our adjustments on the fly. Don't assume the player is an idiot and cannot manage to make the mental leap that a combination of adjustments makes for a better (or worse) weapon, or would make the multiplayer unbalanced. If the game is consistent with real-life, then one weapon MAY rise to dominance, but even with the best attempts at gamebalance the one or two 'best weapons' will be found ANYWAY. Give us at least some reality and an attempt to discover the best weapon for the job (whatever that may be). By making the weapons behave genuinely, you have a world in which the variety of weapons, and their unique attributes, makes for the appropriate level of variety. The relevant weapons should dominate in the relevant areas.
Armour should be much the same as before - I don't recommend making the selection needlessly complicated with things such as balaclava choice or whether to wear a particular type of gloves, or a certain holster. Armour should be put into different 'roles' - 'Breacher / Demo', 'Assaulter', 'Recon', 'Sniper' (ghillies if necessary)... but don't limit the player to just the one based on their team member. Allow us to make the mistake, or mix and match. Of course, realism and conventional wisdom dictates that a certain choice is more preferrable than others, but allow us the CHOICE. Allow us to have a sniper go in with the assaulter's wear and see how much it affects his manouverability and camoflage. Let us make that mistake.
That's another thing that the armour should be consistent with - camoflage. In CQB, this is largely irrelevant, but the addition of varying scenarios, like recon, in varying weather conditions, like snow, could make going out in all-blacks a serious mistake. For sniping, stealth is the optimum (when you're lining up your scope on that guy's head from another building, he shouldn't see your human shape on that rooftop through the window and get spooked), so camo choice here should be paramount. It would add an extra layer of strategy, be pretty self-explanatory (who in their right mind would go for a snow mission in anything other than white?) and an extra-layer of realism and immersion.
I won't touch heartbeat sensors or pucks or anything like that because I don't approve of them nor do I think they should be included. I understand this is controversial as they are a part of Rainbow lore (despite the fact that in the book, it was accessible via laptop, not a hand-held sensor), but if anything should make a return, it's the 'goggles' from RvS as that was a very effective way of incorporating them - despite the fact that real operators do not make use of such a device. Tactical aids, such as breaching charges and the various types of grenades should make a return, as should the demo and lock-picking kits of old.
Finally, a few pleas as regards the kit selection - please allow us to save load-outs, so that we can select an optimum selection and not have to go through kitting out repeatedly for similar situations. Include a few pre-made load-outs for those unsure of how to outfit their team, so that they can gain an understanding of what is appropriate - like a 'sniper' load-out, or a 'breacher' load-out. This streamlines play and provides some tutorial for the beginners. Also allow us all the equipment for every mission. Don't limit us because you think we're too stupid to work out what works best.
Give us the choice. With appropriate training, intuitive and ergonomic menu screens, with concise and illustrative infomation about each kit item, we can make the right decisions quickly, painlessly and with some insight. These are complicated things that can be made to appear very simple with the right look - drag and drop, tooltips, dynamically scaled charts detailing the pros and cons of each kit item, and saveable pre-sets all provide much help.
Planning (this is copied from another thread with some additions)
We look at a rough/detailed map of the mission (depending on intel) and choose insertion points AND METHODS for said teams (such as fast rope, rapelling, or just on foot). When it comes to breaching the building, we can choose a variety of methods, such as detonation of diversionary charges and breach, blowing out the doors/windows, picking the locks, sledghammering a window in, shotgunning the hinges out... you get the picture - all of course depending on the team in question's kit. From then on, the orders are simply 'clear the floor' in a variety of methods (with different ROEs and speed). The AI should be able to calculate when each tactical aid should NOT be used, such as a frag in a room full of hostages. On the map is an objective marker pointing out hostages. At that point, the next order is 'wait for go code' or simply assault (in a variety of methods, some outlined above). In addition to the regular orders there should 'escort hostages to extraction' taking the hostages through an appropriate exit route.
So what you have is a map with a series of 'hotspots' in which you can place teams and specify how they assault. Not only would this simplify planning to the extent that you wouldn't NEED to put down waypoints, as they already exist in a skeleton sense you just need to put teams to them, but the AI would eliminate the vast majority of tedious refinement needed to produce a decent plan. The plans should have a varying number of hotspots depending upon the complexity of the operation, further operations having more opportunity for technical but non-the-less easy to instantiate plans. It should ideally make the player have to think about tactics, but not have to spend tedious hours laying down waypoints in every room they want cleared.
This makes great claims of the AI but it allows for maximum functionality and flexibility WITHOUT compromising tactical depth. With an appropriate interface, this could look incredibly simple. All these things need NOT look complicated with the right look.
Ok, let's open this discussion up to floor. A lot of what I have posted is consistent with previous Rainbow games, but in some cases with minor improvements, or certain additions. Now while a lot of this is present in previous games, I think it is vitally important that these aspects of the series be carried across into further iterations. This game's interface can be steamlined and adjusted to look childishly simple but belie a great deal of tactical depth. At every stage, the decicion should be made to revert to a prior 'best case scenario' plan that is pre-made to allow the user to skip things they feel are unecessary or too complicated for them. Allow them to learn by example.