Idle Musing: The Fundamental Importance Of Voice

It’s mid-May and it’s raining outside. Someone I can’t see is making me laugh. These omens suggest that it is time to return to my Idle Musing column. Something else inspired this, too, which was last week’s Planetside 2 Call To Arms. I had intended to film the whole thing and then chop it up for YouTube commentary, but once I was on the Mumble voice server, I found myself running a platoon. Then I found myself marvelling at the effort the RPS guys had put in to the organisation of allowing players to communicate. There were dedicated radio operators in each squad. And then I was thinking about voice comms. And not doing any filming at all.

I suddenly realised how voice communications had invisibly underpinned a decade of the most incredible gaming experiences. This is a missive to their importance, the joy they brought.

I had been using voice comms for several years by the time they actually managed to cause me to take note of them as a kind of phenomenon in their own right. I remember that evening with some serious clarity: it was when my little band of Eve players jumped on to a server that was hosting the main fleet for an attack on Russian-dominated Red Alliance, towards the end of the first phase of the great war, immediately before the intervention of GoonFleet.

There were thousands of ships in the fleet, and logging on to a voice server outside the game, I suddenly saw hundred of names in the chat. I don’t know exactly how many people were listening and talking on that server, but it must have been upwards of three hundred individuals. We suddenly realised that we were part of a colossal enterprise, and the voice server alone gave us a glimpse into the enormity of the attack that was unfolding. It was a titanic fleet, and the communication infrastructure that lay behind it had to be equally vast. We logged in to near-perfectly disciplined communications, with two commanders talking to the assembled hundreds, who followed the commands as best they could in practised silence.

And we still had to abandon the operation, defeated.

There are a few critical differences between PC and console gaming, and most of them are reasons why I play games at a desk in a spare room, and not on a couch in the main room of the house. Principle among these is communication. Voice communications have been in games of all kinds for years now, but there’s long been a critical difference between communications on a console and those on a PC, and that’s down to matters of control and versatility. Sure, running your own Mumble or Teamspeak server is more expensive and more complex than letting the game do it for you – that’s just the water we swim in with this sort of thing – but the advantages of it bring us some of the most important attractions of what it is to play on PC.

I’ve discussed elsewhere how for many people voice comms built into online games have ended up being a perceived as a potential negative – the classic complaint of “a twelve year old swearing in my ear during a game of Call Of Duty”. These are what you hear offered as a standard of the downsides of gaming. And it’s hard to counter these with descriptions of the enormous, positive services that voice comms provide, at least until you can show people these things in action. And showing means doing, so consequently it can be very hard to convince anyone to /do/. Perhaps they will discover for themselves, perhaps they will see the things I and others have seen.

Anyone who was there for our Planetside 2 evening, of course, will know what I am talking about. There were five platoons, each with four squads of around ten people. Co-ordinating this were a duo of generals who had to speak to the entire 200+ throng, as well as co-ordinate strategy for the deployment of the individual platoons via the platoon leaders. Those platoon leaders, meanwhile, had to deal with the tactical challenge of four squads, and the objective they’d been set by command. That means a lot of information going back and forth. The solution was radio operators for each squad, each of relaying information so as to avoid a massive babble. It didn’t entirely work, sadly, because the command chatter too often conflicted with what the radio operators were saying to the platoon leaders. But just the fact that could be attempted was an Ode To Joy moment in the backrooms of gaming.

It reminded me of the time when bandwidth finally allowed me to use voice comms at all: when my 56k modem was dispensed with for a DSL modem, and I could hear the voices of my Quake III team. We still used our ultra-complex set of “binds” to spam information “RED ARMOUR NOW” “ENEMY FLAG ESCAPING LOW” through the text chat, but suddenly more specific and urgent communications were possible.

The incredible attention to function of the mod community had already seen fit to build on this, of course, and a mod we used in the competitive Quake III tournaments – OSP – enabled a “coach” function, whereby a spectating player could see what was happening on all four screens of the playing team at once. A near-impossible task of information processing, of course, but it allowed that person to provide a running commentary on voice, and to give the active players a better overview of the tactical position of their team-mates on the map at any one time.

And that has been the pre-dominant use of voice in-game over the past decade. It gets used for socialising and idle chat, too, but the main reason to have it is ease of co-ordination. Making playing together communicative and co-operative in a way it couldn’t be when we were just hammering abbreviated blatherings into text chat. This is true if you are role-playing with pseudo-dwarves, and true if you are co-ordinating a fleet of one-hundred tense Eve pilots.

There’s something else though, which I think we’ve only just begun to see, and that’s voice comms as exploration and the unknown. The best example I can think of this is the proximity chat in DayZ. This was patched in as a part of the ongoing development of Arma 2 system has appeared in several BIS games, and basically meant that you could speak in “real space” with other players nearby on the server. This was not an out-of-game system, it was based entirely on whether you were in physical audible distance to other players.

A chance for a twelve year old to swear in your ear, maybe, but it took on a rather different nuance in DayZ’s vicious survivalism: figuring out if someone was going to kill you.

The first time I used it for real – rather than just testing it with my chums – was when I was crouched in a barn, alone, knowing there was another survivor outside. After a few moments of breathless anticipation, I heard him say something on the proximity chat.

“Say again?” I said.

He replied, in Russian. I didn’t understand the words, but I understood the tone. He was questioning, probably asking if I was friendly.

I replied that I was friendly. I tried to sound friendly. We eventually moved into line of sight of each other, and he made more friendly Russian noises. We lowered our weapons. He searched the barn, and then barked something in thanks before he moved on.

A smarter man than me – probably Bruce Sterling – once observed that it was interesting how modern computing had become more about communication than it was about computation. It would be easy to overlook how much multiplayer gaming relies on this truth: that we have developed ways to talk and so have created even better ways to play. There’s something beautiful about that, and we should not ignore it.


  1. MobileAssaultDuck says:

    The odd thing is that as I have aged I have become such an incommunicative bastard in games that I now believe it could even be negatively effecting my enjoyment of entire genres.

    When I first got into MMOs, I always joined the Roleplay servers, I got involved in the community. When I joined raid guilds I became an officer quickly due to my willingness to lead and speak on VOIP (and I have a fairly clear and un-annoying voice, I’ve been told).

    At some point though, and I can’t even put my finger on it, that changed. I instantly started disabling in-game VOIP. In an MMO I turn off the zone/general chat the first moment I log in. In LoL I used to start games with /ignore all.

    I keep drifting from MMO to MMO wanting some of those early WoW experiences I had and never finding them, and as much as I kept blaming the games and the community, this article has me thinking that maybe I am the problem.

    Maybe my total self-reclusion in MMOs has been what ruins them for me.

    • Svant says:

      I would say that is very likely… MMOs are often quite terrible games, what makes you play is the social aspect. It is what kept me playing WoW for a long time, it is what keeps me going back to Planetside 2. Well Planetside 2 is not a bad game by any means but I have played it a lot and with any other similar game I would be bored by now but the RPS community and mumble makes be come back, day after day.

    • jellydonut says:

      There’s no point in playing a massively multiplayer online game if you’re going to play it non-massively, non-multiplayer, non-online. Then you might as well play Skyrim or some-such instead, and not have to pay a monthly tithe for the privilege.

      I recommend the ‘with people’ approach, though. Especially in games where you can actually do epic stuff together like Eve Online, rather than ones where the multiplayer content amounts to co-op dungeons and stilted battlegrounds.

      • Banana_Republic says:

        Most “solo” players play MMOS because those worlds are larger, more dynamic, with more content and more frequent updates than single player games. It’s not with a goal to be part of a community, but to be part of a large, vibrant world where they aren’t the hero of the story. They’re just another adventurer trying to get by.

        This is what the sociophiles seem incapable of grasping. MY game isn’t about YOU. You’re usually just moving scenery for me. An unpredictable element to shake up all the carefully crafted AIs that run around in SP games. But just like in RL, when the occasion arises that I feel like mingling with the other “unpredicatable elements” the option is there. But also like in RL, that’s infrequent — like maybe 5% of my time. The other 95% I just prefer to be able to go my own way and not have my way led by a committee.

        It may be because I’m old like the OP of this thread, but I’m far less interested today in winning friends and influencing people. I’ve got friends and they are defined by a whole hell of a lot more than the games I play. I’m not in the market for more, which is why I see MMOs first as GAMES, and second (a distant second) as social experiences. I’ve got a pub two blocks from my house for when I’m feeling gregarious.

        • Foosnark says:

          Very much this.

          I have always preferred playing MMOs solo or with my wife. There are minimal exceptions:

          — I used to play GemStone III, back when the community was small and the bandwidth was smaller. (As in, if there were 100 people logged in there must have been some amazing event happening. As in, you read combat text scrolling by at 2400 baud and reacted in real time). Everyone roleplayed, everyone socialized. Some did it better than others, but that was just what you did. The combat system was not designed for groups, there were not “raids” or “guilds” or anything like that, but it was far more social of a game nonetheless. The experience was changed radically with an infusion of new players when it first spread from GEnie to AOL.

          — I kind of like the Alerts in Champions Online sometimes. Five random people thrown together for a quick fight. Sometimes it goes spectacularly badly, sometimes smoothly, and sometimes there is actual teamwork and overcoming of difficulties (such as when two people quit and your team consists of one nuker and two low-level healers). But mostly, I play Champions solo (“I work alone.”).

          — I like how Guild Wars events turn into a dogpile of players working toward a common goal. In fact, even non-events can turn out that way. But I have never gone into a dungeon because I don’t want that kind of experience.

          I turn off voice chat in games. I was tired of insults and useless mic spam in Team Fortress 2, and found my enjoyment of the game was improved by not hearing it. It was a rare thing for voice chat to carry enough useful tactical information to bother with.

          I turned off zone chat in Neverwinter and it’s much more peaceful. If I could play it single-player that’d be even better.

      • SKapsniak says:

        An Elder Scrolls game comes along about once every four or five years. If we’re lucky we get one similar single-player open-world (rather than story based) fantasy-RPG from a random European developer sometime in the intervening period.

        On the other hand MMOs with with similar size and scope to those games have been coming out every *3-6 months* ever since about EQ2’s launch. If you want all us damn soloists out there to go away, you need to do a better job convincing some of the publishers and devs vainly chasing the MMO pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, that they should really be vainly chasing the single player open world RPG pot of gold instead.

        Good luck with that, none of us for whom a single-player game would better suit our temperaments have been notably successful at the job to date :P :)

      • crunchyfrog555 says:

        Absolute nonsense.

        Most MMOs not only cater specifically for solo play only, but I’ve played MMOs for the last few years solo with no problems at all.

        I’ve seen this idiotic “you may as well play Skyrim” quote before, many times. Not only is it patently untrue about finding fun being solo, but you seem to labour under the assumption that we are either not aware of other games or haven’t played them – I’ve played Skyrim, and probably have more games than you can possibly imagine (that is no idle boast), yet I will still play MMOs solo.

        And why? For one reason – I find fun in doing so.

    • BTAxis says:

      I think that’s about the same for me, but for multiplayer games in general. I have zero interest in talking to other players, and if possible I’d like to not have to listen to them either.

      • MobileAssaultDuck says:

        The thing is, I used to enjoy mp games and then I stopped. I was blaming the games, but this article has me reconsidering this as maybe it is my lack of desire to communicate, not the game design itself, that has reduced my enjoyment.

        • evilsooty999 says:

          I still love MP games, but only the playing against real intelligence aspect as opposed to the usually terrible AI. I have no desire to speak to the person though; perhaps we get more anti-social as we get older? As a teen I would have loved all this voice chat stuff, but at 29 I can’t be bothered as I get more than enough interaction with real people during the day!

          • S Jay says:

            The issue might be that you don’t have the patience to deal with the 15 year old people anymore.

          • MobileAssaultDuck says:

            Oddly enough, the 15 year olds I have ended up meeting online and befriending have usually been pretty good people. We met these two dudes, Mike and Adam, when they were 14 and me and my early 20’s friends adopted them into our guild and vent. Sure, they had a few annoying vestiges of being 14 year olds, but we also gained the ability to shape them and turned them into pretty cool guys to play with now that they’re in their 20s and we’re all hitting 30.

            Without a doubt the worst human beings I have experienced have been late teens/early 20s. People who still have the stupidity of a 15 year old but have combined it with the arrogance of adulthood.

            Usually the 15 year olds are just overcompensating. If you treat them with respect they’ll calm down and be pretty good. The late teens/early 20 guys won’t back down and will continue their idiocy for a lot longer.

          • crunchyfrog555 says:

            I wouldn’t say we get anti-social as we get older (although I too communicate generally less in games as well). I’d say it’s more that as we get older we don’t blather on about meaningless stuff or feel the need to voice our every movement, etc.

            I’ve wondered this myself (I’m incredibly self-analytical when playing online), but have noted that if you stop to LISTEN to what is being said in your next game, you’d be surprised how much just needn’t be said. Of course, it all depends on the nature of the game, and the group, but the point still stands.

            I just think that we have less of a desire to shout “Wow! Look at that” at some smart explosion or something odd when we’re more experienced/older, as well as some of the banal chatter that we used to do when we were younger.

            That said, get in a group with some like-minded folk, and one can have a good laugh.

            I’ve been on Killing Floor, which allows a pretty free flow of chatter, as it’s not necessary to be heavy on the voice commands, and played a lot of games where I’ve said virtually nothing, but then another game where we’ve done nothing but swap laughs.

            As with many things, it depends on context a lot, but generally I guess the experience and age does make us less verbose, particularly with unnecessary stuff.

        • MarcP says:

          I actually stopped enjoying MMOs because VOIP got popular.

          Immersion is the single most important thing for me to stay interested in a game. With text, there’s an extra layer of abstraction and I find it easy to dismiss unrelated chit-chat from the game experience. For that matter, I can just *not* look at it if I don’t want to.

          On the other hand, I can’t selectively listen to relevant ingame chat and filter out real-life stuff, if it’s all speech. It’s not the twelve years old kids I’m worried about. Those I can simply avoid, not team with them, mute them, what have you. It’s with my ingame friends speech ends up being problematic. I might genuinely enjoy playing alongside these people, without necessarily being interested in their opinions on the latest TV drama, or in their musical burps. People don’t tend to talk about TV shows as much with text. They certainly don’t share their musical burps in text.

          I’ve heard tales of voice comms strictly used for strategies and the like, or sticking to ingame chatter. Finding people who do the above without them also being part of the fun brigade seems even trickier, though.

      • Bent Wooden Spoon says:

        This is pretty much me. Mentioned in a previous PS2 post I couldn’t be arsed joining the outfit because of the mumble requirement, folk said I didn’t need to talk. That isn’t the problem, it’s more the listening.

        I like working as a team, I don’t mind the odd bit of text chat, but I can’t be arsed with a whole load of real-life fleshbags gibbering in my ear and playing armchair general (not saying that’s the way it is in the RPS outfit, just my prejudice concerning VC in most games). I’m all busy playing future soldier and shizz, then my immersion’s completely shattered as some mid-20s plook from Rochdale starts thinking he’s in Platoon.

        I definitely realise I’m at a significant disadvantage by not using it, but I still have enough fun it bothers me less than having to put up with it would.

        I’m an anti-social git.

      • SKapsniak says:

        I always wonder whether I’d actually have got more into the multi-player aspect of games, if it weren’t for the fact I’m on voice comms continuously for my day job (no I don’t work in a call centre) and so the thought of my having to be on them during my leisure time, sends me running away screaming.

        And then I realise, actually no, I’m still a curmudgeonly asocial git of a hermit, voice comms or no, so it probably hasn’t actually made any difference :)

  2. samsharp99 says:

    This. So much this.

    Voice comms is fundamental to me having a great gaming experience – and I specifically mean on a private server rather than the sometimes problematic encounters with people on public or in-game chat.

    The ability to call out enemies and then watch as your comrades take them out is very satisfying – along with hearing some of the more humorous antics that tend to occur while playing (that you would rarely bother to type out).

    Particular games I couldn’t do without voice chat would be LoL, Planetside 2 and just about any co-op game.

    • Memph says:

      I know folks that still flat out refuse to use any kind of voice comms in co-op games.
      Granted, if it’s late and i’m worse for wear i’m not too fussed, but when it comes to expert realism Left 4 Dead, or squad play in Battlefield, someone not being privvy to what everyone is planning or doing makes the entire experience a teeth-grinding excercise in otherwise easily avoidable frustration.

  3. PopeRatzo says:

    Foul-mouthed twelve year olds need love too.

    • Gwyddelig says:

      That may very well be so but I fail to see why it should be from me on Friday night when I’m gaming to unwind and he’s talking like the bestial offspring of Joe Pesci and Fred Phelps.

      Surely that’s what the parents are for?

    • Simon Hawthorne says:

      Really? From what they’re saying, they’re getting enough love from my Mum.

  4. The_Player says:

    You don’t need to tell that to us, people who read RPS probably understand that by default. Try to convince random strangers on the internet, that’d by much helpful.

    • Nova says:

      Random people on the internet read RPS. There’s also the thing with the linking.

  5. jellydonut says:

    ‘jumped on to a server that was hosting the main fleet for an attack on Russian-dominated Red Alliance’

    NO! Mein gott, Jim, Eve doesn’t have servers. It has /the/ server.

    • RaveTurned says:

      I assumed a VOIP server, hosting the comms for the main fleet for that battle.

      • jellydonut says:

        He mentioned the voice server after that, which is why I hope this sentence is reworked. People might otherwise mistakenly believe Eve is an average sharded MMORPG.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      It’s obviously referring to the VOIP server.

  6. DarkLiberator says:

    Excellent article! I agree that voice comms bring out of online gaming like nothing else.

    Voice comms in Planetside 2, BF3, ArmA series, and co-op games really shine.

  7. MOKKA says:

    Interesting article. For me the constant need for voice vommunication probably is the reason why I don’t play that many multiplayer games.
    I’m not very comfortable when talking to strangers and when it comes to playing with an RPS-Group it gets even worse, because I’m not very confident in my spoken english (I personally think it sounds atrocious).
    I guess the only way to get rid of these issues is to simply jump right into it and to annoy myself with my own voice until I stop caring.

    • DiamondDog says:

      I understand the feeling. But there is nothing that says you have to be constantly chatting. We have a few people in our League of Legends group that are friendly and communicate well in matches but don’t go in for all the silly banter. In my experience, after you play with a group for a while you soon learn everyone’s boundaries.

      Very much worth trying to get past your anxieties, though. The vast majority of my best gaming experiences have come about because of voice comms. It changes the intensity and enjoyment of team games to such a massive degree. It’s not just about co-ordinating, once you become friends with people you get the camaraderie that would be impossible if everyone were playing together in silence.

  8. Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

    League of Legends becomes a much much different game, when played with 4 other people on voice comms.
    Without comms its a weird mixture of a game that requires incredible teamwork, but makes it more rewarding to mostly ignore that, to a game where the best advantage you have is working together.

    On the European servers we have a group that regularly plays together, join us in The RPS Tea Room chat room, accessible from the bottom of the friends list. We use a mumble server to communicate and usually set up our games.

    The things you can pull of with just the addition of voice communication is games is incredible. One of the more overlooked facets in gaming, i think.

    • DiamondDog says:

      Dead on, Radiator. What kind of fool would play LoL without a mic? Or even, for example, a mic that sounds like it’s inside a shoe…

  9. Mungrul says:

    Cracking headphones those Sennheisers. Got a set (sans shiny stuff) that I use for listening to music.
    That aside, you mention optional voice is more expensive on PC than in console-land Jim.
    I beg to differ.
    When we started playing GW2 on release, I forked out to hire a Mumble server. I’d been looking in to running my own, but my internet can be a bit spotty, and the extra power consumption from using an old machine as a server was prohibitive.
    I went for an offer with a company (who I won’t mention here lest I get pounced on for advertising) that gave me a 30 slot server for a year for a grand total of £16.20.
    How much is a year’s subscription to XBox Live?

    • Tinotoin says:

      Definitely. I’ve had my HD-25s for 13 years now and only needed a replacement cable so far!

    • crunchyfrog555 says:

      Just a heads-up for the future.

      As you like Sennheisers, I’d recommend when they do give up the ghost (or you just fancy a change) to look into Grados. They’re strictly audio headphones so you’d need to use a separate mic solution, but they’ve been winning awards in the HiFi digests for as long as I can remember.

      They look like shit, design-wise, but it is a stark deception – they are VERY solid and sound as sweet as can be – Sennheisers tend to have that lovely “open” sound where the frequency range is well-balanced (not like some of the shitty tripe headphones like those awful Beats by Dr Dre which is just bass-heavy crap).

      Grado SR100s are the bottom of the range, and these are the ones I use for general gaming. I’ve got a relatively small head, so they are very comfortable – you can pop them on your head and they will not budge for hours (to the extent I’ve even forgotten I’ve had them on after a short while). They also won’t creep off one ear or anything like that. As near perfect as you can get. These are about £100 iirc.

      The range tends to go up in around £100 increments. Hope you find this of use.

  10. Gap Gen says:

    I remember when we lost an ArmA skirmish in a village once because most of us were using TeamSpeak, but one guy was using the in-game chat, and apparently the in-game radio chat *also* broadcasts sound in the game world itself, so the other team could hear him mumbling from behind the fence as we tried to ambush them.

    I think there’s a good balance between comms discipline and having fun. If everyone is talking shit then it’s impossible to get anything done and so it’s no fun as you end up wasting time. By contrast, if no-one talks shit ever then it’s a bit boring.

    Then there’s the Scoure of War (yes) method, where we only communicate with written letters sent by courier unless our avatars are standing next to each other. One game I was trapped by the enemy away from our main force, and it took about 20 messages for a courier to get through the enemy lines to alert our commander.

    • DXN says:

      This is the one problem I see with TS/Mumble — at least in Arma and Day Z. I think it adds to the game (funwise and realismwise) when you have to balance stealth against communication, and it’s kind of a shame when that gets replaced by the equivalent of silent telepathy. I’d love it if more games used something like this system, if people actually used it.

      • Gap Gen says:

        Yeah, I was mainly amused because I had no idea the game did this. In-game it’s kinda annoying because I could never hear what people were saying when they tried to use it on purpose, partly as in reality no-one will shout into their mike so someone down the in-game street can hear them, but maybe you can calibrate it to work better.

      • Professor Paul1290 says:

        The ACRE mod and TS plugin for ArmA 2 handles this when using TeamSpeak.

        People near you can hear you to some extent even if you’re using the radio and it has a quick in-game control to switch your change your voice volume so you can “shout” at your teammates across the street or “whisper” so only the guy right next to you can hear you.

        It’ll also do direction and volume according how far away and in what direction the other person is, so you know where the speaker is relative to you.

    • belgand says:

      That’s my issue with third-party voice as well. It never gets integrated into the game and remains relatively static. At even a basic level you have something like Planetside 2 where you have comms for your nearby location/squad/platoon/outfit/command and those all react according to how you’re deployed. If for some reason you need to move to another squad you don’t have to worry about switching room or such. It’ just handled because the game is an arbiter of information.

      The other problem is more like the example from ArmA in that we can’t have interesting use of voice chat and it can devolve into cheating sorts of behavior. Like players speaking while dead. I didn’t play it, but I heard that Chromehounds had an interesting system where you actually needed to have signal amplifiers to extend the range of your communications and could take out or scramble the radio mech to hamper them. That’s something I’d desperately want more of where communications are considered important enough to be a valid, functional system within the game. Like the classic stealth example. If using voice will carry a bit and perhaps give away your general position on the enemy’s radar you have to weigh whether something is important enough to report in or not. Or the ability to intercept enemy communications and possibly send them false intelligence. This is the game I really want to play, one that’s more about communication than about face-shooting.

      • Ergates_Antius says:

        This used to be a real problem back in the “old” days, when voice comms first started to become used in online games. In, for instance, Counter Strike, when your dead team-mates could float around the map and tell you exactly where the last terrorist was hiding etc. It’s one of the reasons most games lock your camera to a living team mate when dead these days.

  11. FakeAssName says:

    In the end VOIP always turns into bullshitting, the few times that being able to spew out something relevant to what is happening in game is dwarfed by the volume of content about bong hits and porn.

    Add in that 3rd party VOIP fractures the community by pulling players out of in game communication while 1st party / in game VOIP gives far too much Mic time to twats.

    • Gap Gen says:

      This is why you play with a community or people you already know. You’re right that in public servers VOIP is probably going to be awful.

      • BTAxis says:

        That’s great if you actually know such players, but when coming in fresh you don’t have that luxury.

        • Gap Gen says:

          This is totally why the Community folder on the RPS forums exists. Granted, it’s still public, but at least it’s a community with some continuity.

        • stupid_mcgee says:

          True, but if you hang out on the same servers regularly, you’ll get to know the other regulars. A good example for me is the New Jersey Lotus Clan TF2 servers. I don’t actually know any of the players on there, but there’s a lot of regulars and, IMO, it is one of the nicest TF2 servers out there. Usually a few people with mics, no drama, players tend to be helpful to the newbies, and most of the better payers will switch to make sure that teams are relatively balanced.

          I liken it to sitting at a bar/pub. You can sit there and drink by yourself and not talk to anyone, or you could strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you.

          Put your neck out. Say “hello.” Yeah, you’ll wind up running into the occasional complete jerk, but you’re more likely to run into a lot of nice people that just want to hang out and have some fun.

          • Enkinan says:

            Agreed, I’ve had the Lotus Clan servers on my TF2 favorites list for years and years. No matter how long of a break I take from TF2 when I come back I end up seeing at least a hand full of familiar names. The voice chat is typically relevant and helpful and adds to the enjoyment of playing against coordinated enemies.

      • Ovno says:

        No it doesn’t, the second any of that shit starts on the voip server of a proper organised force, the offenders are

        A) shouted down until they shut up, comms is for intel & orders!
        B) muted, comms is for intel & orders!
        C) kicked & banned

        You try waffling on about crap during a well organised eve fleet or planet side platoon and you’ll soon learn this yourself…

  12. Lambchops says:

    “There are a few critical differences between PC and console gaming, and most of them are reasons why I play games at a desk in a spare room, and not on a couch in the main room of the house. Principle among these is communication.

    I’m no doubt going to get called a Luddite fuddy-duddy, or be asked to hand in my PC gamer’s badge at reception whilst being escorted out of the building by burly security guards but for me communication is exactly the reason why I play multiplayer games on a couch in the main room in the house and not at a desk in the spare room. Whether competitive or co-op, same screen or split screen, I much prefer to play multiplayer games communication with people in the same room as me. From time to time I’ll play on the internet but I’ve never quite found it to hold the same appeal (even with people I already know).

    But yeah, agree with the gist of the article, I can definitely see how voice chat would make a lot of online multiplayer much more involved and exciting so even though I don’t use it I’m happy to put two thumbs up in praise of it.

    • Awesomeclaw says:

      I actually agree that for small groups of people playing in actual physical proximity is a far better experience, but for larger groups voice chat is completely adequate. I usually find playing games over the internet with a few people I know (e.g. Borderlands) an almost totally joyless experience compared to playing in person, but bump up the numbers a bit and it completely changes.

    • JackShandy says:

      This is why I love tabletop games.

      Faces! Voices are ok, I guess, but FACES! They are fantastic.

  13. Jae Armstrong says:

    But I don’t like speaking to people if I can’t see their face. It freaks me out. :(

    • Harlander says:

      You might find you can become accustomed to it, as I did.
      (I still hate talking to people on the phone, though.)

    • Revolving Ocelot says:

      I’m OK with speaking to people if they can’t see my face.

    • stupid_mcgee says:

      Me too, but it’s because I’m a bit deaf and sometimes have a hard time hearing people. In person, I can help out a bit by reading their lips for some clues. It’s those awkward moments, like when I have to get someone to repeat “travesty” 6 times in a row because I honestly can’t make out what they’re saying. 9/10 I can figure out a misheard word out by context it’s used in, but sometimes there is little to no context and I can become rather lost.

  14. Awesomeclaw says:

    I actually joined in the last RPS PS2 call to arms and it was essentially my first experience with voice chat in games (since I usually either have it disabled or muted). I only managed to get in at the end so I didn’t really participate, but when I logged in again on Friday night and Saturday morning the voice chat turned PS2 into a completely different game – actual tactics, actual strategy, actual camaraderie changes the game from a fun but run-of-the-mill head clicking simulator into something quite special.

  15. mrpier says:

    It’s telling that one of the the main discussions for the RPS planetside 2 outfit has been how to organize comms, maybe even before basic organization while playing the game. There must be hundreds of posts in the PS2 subforum with our members debating the ins and outs of different communication set ups.

    • Brun says:

      I don’t see what’s wrong with the in-game voice chat in PS2, it works fine once you get your rig configured properly. That said, SOE made a very bewildering (and unfortunate) decision in making the PS2 voice chat use UDP, which is blocked on most routers by default. I guess that’s why so many outfits feel the need to use Vent/Mumble/TS, since they either can’t figure out why half their members can’t hear everyone else or can’t be arsed to get their members to fix it.

      • Thurgret says:

        I’d hazard a guess that, besides those niggling issues with Planetside’s own system, the RPS crew is sufficiently large that the in-game systems may be too limited. Admittedly, I’ve never taken the time to figure out the in-game systems, while Mumble is very easy to use, so there’s that, too.

  16. Gwyddelig says:

    I guess my favourite, if slightly dickish voice comms moment was when I and a buddy found ourselves on the opposite BF3 side to another clam member on voice. He’d been taking sniper pot shots at us all round using our radio chatter to find us. Eventually he was irritating us enough to go after him. My mate kept him distracted in chat/ acted as a decoy as I manoeuvred around him. BAM – thank you for your tags.

    There followed one fairly hilarious RQ.

    We can all smile about it now

    • Duke of Chutney says:

      I’d like to see more of the RPS writers on hand for the next call to arms, one in each faction.

  17. Ayam says:

    I feel the urge to give a shout out to Nullkigan for his efforts on the herosquad/unofficial rps mumble server. Also, after reading about John Walker’s feelings on playing with others, it would be so great to see him hop onto Mumble and try playing vocally with some of us. :)

  18. stupid_mcgee says:

    When playing TF2, there’s two things that almost always result in victory: 1) a really good medic and 2) communication.

    It’s not the end of the world if someone doesn’t have a mic, but when playing a fast-moving FPS, taking your hands off the controls to type out a message simply isn’t effective. Especially if you’re trying to warn the medi about being backstabbed. By the time you finish typing, the medi is most likely already dead.

    So, yes. Please, use mics. It helps. A lot. Just about every single multiplayer game out there is made better with mics. Typically, cohesion is key. When no one’s communicating their plans, what they see, and just running about doing whatever, it’s nearly impossible to have any meaningful form of cohesion. A group of excellent players who don’t communicate won’t stand a chance against a team of middling players with good communication.

    • derbefrier says:

      This made me think of the old days in TFC when playing competitively before VOIP was really a thing. I had so many macros just for communication like for spy alerts flag positions etc… Its amazing how big a difference simply calling out enemy positions can change a horrible loss into landslide victory especially in public games when even the tiniest bit of communication can lead to an ass kicking. I dont have the time to invest in multiplayer shooters to actually get good at them anymore but some of my fondest online experiences only came about by not being a mute and talking to people, joining clans etc..
      your really missing out if you refuse to talk to anyone.

  19. airtekh says:

    Very good article Jim.

    I’ve played lots of multiplayer over the years, and for most of it I sat in stony silence; it’s only in the last few years I’ve started coming out of my shell and using voice comms more often.

    Team Fortress 2 is the game that coaxed me into being more vocal. I found a couple of friendly servers where people were talking tactics and engaging in light banter, and it kind of compelled me to join in. If I wasn’t talking, I felt like I was missing out on part of the fun.

  20. PikaBot says:

    If a game doesn’t have built-in voice chat, I will never use voice chat with that game. I cannot be bothered fucking around with a separate program, and I have never managed to get them to actually work.

    I’m also weird about the type of game where I’ll use it. TF2 or Left 4 Dead, I will mic up a storm. But for some reason in DOTA 2 I prefer the text chat. Maybe it’s because of my long experience with the original DOTA, where there was no voice.

    • Wisq says:

      They’re actually really easy to get working these days. Most of them have audio setup wizards that take you through it, automatic volume normalisation and noise cancellation, etc.

      Generally, as long as your voice works fine in games, it’ll work fine in them.

      • PikaBot says:

        It is perhaps irrational on my part, but I honestly don’t care. I’ve wasted enough time on the bastards to no avail in my youth, and so I have no interest in touching them now.

  21. Gurrah says:

    Which was your platoon last Thursday, Jim?

  22. Brun says:

    What I struggle to understand sometimes is the mindset of “I don’t like voice chat (or communication in general) in multiplayer games because I hate dealing with offensive and immature people.”

    Am I really the only one that hears that and thinks, “but that’s what the internet is?” Almost since I first started playing games online I’ve approached them – and the internet in general – with this mindset. The internet is a dirty, sordid, offensive place full of people who take pride in being as insulting and immature as possible. But because I fully expect this to be the case I find that very little of that actually bothers me. The most a “15-year-old screaming profanity into the mic” will get out of me is maybe a raised eyebrow. I very rarely use ignore or report functions in online games – usually only to squelch someone who is spamming and impeding my ability to communicate with other people. I’ll never meet or even speak with 99% of these people again, why do I give a damn what they think about me?

    The nature of the internet necessitates that it be approached with something of a thick skin.

    • Reapy says:

      It’s easier to ignore chat than voice. Voice requires the effort of muting each annoying person while get is easily ignored. Without a doubt voice with friends or a focused team I awesome, but in pub land no comms are king.

  23. tomeoftom says:

    The amount of hours I’ve just hung out in TF2 is innumerable. In my mind, you can never have a real public sense of fun unless you have voice comms. Most Source Engine games feel like a party, when the server is really good.

    Battlefield 3 couldn’t have possibly done any more damage with a single design move than to neuter in-game comms.

  24. sinister agent says:

    Day Z is the best example – the proximity chat is an excellent feature.

    It’s just a shame that Other People will inevitably game it by using third party chat systems instead.

  25. Professor Paul1290 says:

    ArmA 2 groups/clans/communities that run ACRE (Advanced Combat Radio Environment) mod often do prefer to play with command and platoon leads having a dedicated radio operators to deal with the large amount of traffic coming in and with each squad having their own short range channel.

    It’s VERY helpful for sorting out what would otherwise be a jumbled mess of comms and is very useful for just about any mission with more than a couple squads.

  26. Cooper says:

    Although I set up the Planetside 2 outfit for RPS, I will admit that before this I absolutely hated using voice comms in games.

    I was resolutely a solo MMO player the rare times I actually played any MMO games (I played EVE casually for a year, sticking to popping NPCs). I quite liked it when I found a TF2 server that had friendly, funny chatter across voice comms, though I’d never join in myself.

    Planetside 2 changed this almost immediately. It was the offer of scale which basically demanded communication for coordination that got me using voice comms.

    EVE had offered me an even greater scale, but one that was daunting and deep in pre-existing structures, groups and individuals. Such that I could never see what my impact upon this would be in either the short or long term.

    With Planetside 2 I immediately saw what was needed in order to meet the challenges & the possibilities of the scale it offered. I was constantly disappointed about the lack of orgnisation that would make the scale on offer meaningful. For much of its early tech test and beta life, PS2 was a muddle of small scale skirmishes and messy clashes that had no direction, purpose or meaning. It was little more than a string of BF3 sized battles tied together with 5 minute bus rides.

    That annoyed me, because I could see what the scale could offer, and in order to get the game play I wanted to experience in Planetside 2 I did my best to offer coordination.

    I don’t think that, had I not been playing Planetside 2 since the earliest point during the pre-beta tech test, I would have got anywhere nearly as involved as I have in voice comms.

  27. Synesthesia says:

    I’ve been bothering my friends talking about this, specially in regards with ARMA 2. I am completely in love with that game. And voice comms are such a big part of it. The vehicle channel and the fart jokes. The TS hierarchy. It all clicks together, and so beautifully. You should check some of the videos of ChKilroy using ACRE, you will love it.

  28. strangeloup says:

    Because I’m going to spend the next 3 paragraphs explaining why it’s not something for me, I’d like to preface this by saying thanks to Jim for the article, which has made me think a bit more about the use of voice comms in gaming, though it hasn’t changed my opinion sufficiently into something I want to do (a substantial part of that being because yay social anxiety).

    I’ve occasionally used a Skype call if I’ve been playing a game with a few friends, but by and large I’m not interested in, or no longer play titles such as EVE, Arma/DayZ, Planetside 2, anything remotely MOBA-flavoured, etc. that might require, or at least be highly improved by, the use of voice comms.

    I play TF2 sometimes but I play it for fun and have no interest in the competitive scene whatsoever — I’ve absolutely no objection to people who are into that, but for me I can’t parse treating a game as a super-serious contest, especially something as cartoony and silly as TF2. Any time I’m playing a game with randoms (i.e. a public server, so like 99.9% of the time) I turn voice off. The character voice command shortcuts (Z, X, or C followed by a number) are easy enough to access in only a second, and I’ve found them to be entirely sufficient for that kind of play.

    For me, I only like to use voice chat if I want to have a regular conversation with someone. If I want to play a game, I’m quite happy to just get on with playing the game. I think the one circumstance where there’s overlap is Second Life, where now and then when I’m (virtually) hanging out with friends, I’ll quite happily turn my mic on and have a chat. I like talking socially, and I like playing games, but I don’t want to mix the two in the same way as I don’t want to mix beer and tea.

  29. Gramarye says:

    There was one BF2142 match that was one of the best experiences I’ve had in an online game. If I remember correctly, I was a squad commander, it was a domination match, and from the beginning our side’s ass was being handed to us in little bits and pieces. It wasn’t a clan or a group of friends, we were all strangers losing a game to other, better, players. I don’t even think we had a commander until halfway through.

    Then some guy ran for commander, unopposed. He got it, of course, and as it happens he had a mike. He laid out a quick plan, gave squads orders and encouragement, and got us support when we needed it. I don’t think he was a very experienced commander. Still, I could tell as soon as he started talking that he knew we were in trouble, but he wanted to win and he really believed we could do it.

    Our nosedive slowed, then turned around. We started gaining. This guy was everywhere, providing support, joining in, as earnest as a retriever looking to play. The gap became smaller and smaller as the clock counted down; the feeling was indescribable. I could hear excitement and anticipation in new commands and exhortations; it only increased as the score got closer and closer…we pulled ahead with less than fifteen seconds remaining.

    I think of that experience when I think about voice communication in games. I don’t think of idiotic children, or trolls, or even the two non-English-speaking Portugeuse guys in L4D I ran into somehow. I remember that guy and the sound of his voice after we won. I’ve rarely played without voice communication since.

  30. Christo4 says:

    Heretic, putting bling on the HD 25…
    If this was Warhammer you would have been purged by the Emperor’s fire!

  31. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    More idle musings please!

  32. Arglebargle says:

    Interesting stuff, but at the house here, any sort of game VOIP is verbotten! All the computers are in public areas, and there were several instances of someone yelling stuff like ‘Help, help, Oh no, Aaah Arg!’ and everyone running to see what horrible thing had occured, only to find just a pixel disaster. People simply carrying on obliviously in game while others were trying to do something else was also a pain. This lead to a house meeting where ‘No hollaring on the internet’ became the rule.

  33. Ergates_Antius says:

    I could do with a new headset – my current attempts with headphones and clip-on mike have never worked very well.

    How about a mini Hard Choices follow up reviewing some gaming headsets?

  34. apa says:

    “lf only you could talk to these creatures, then perhaps you could try and make friends with them, form alliances… Now, that would be interesting.”

    Are we there now?