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Police Quest
 

Modern American History and PC Gaming:
Daryl F. Gates' Police Quest


 
Two Historically Controversial Institutions: The LAPD, and Video Games

     Daryl F. Gates, the controversial former Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), recently passed away on April 16, 2010. Most of the time, when a police officer has something to say about video games, it's usually at a community crime awareness meeting where he is going to say something about how incredibly violent video games are nowadays and that's why we must all be vigilant against super-deadly youth crime, or that's why video games are bad. But Gates was different. He was directly involved with Sierra in the creation of many entertaining, high-quality video games designed to educate players about police procedures and tactics, including a tactical FPS. He also contributed personal anecdotes from his police career and included recorded interviews with many of these games.

     To make his role in video games even more extraordinary, Gates is not just any police chief; he is a historical figure who has left his mark on modern policing. In 1968 Gates was responsible for the historic implementation of the first police Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit in the United States, the storied Metropolitan Division's D Platoon. Subsequently police departments all across North America have followed the example of LAPD and established special highly trained units tasked with handling counter-terrorism, high risk warrants, barricaded suspects, hostage situations, and so on. Today, it would be unthinkable for a major police department not to have such resources.

     In spite of Gates' role in the development of modern policing he was nevertheless a very controversial figure. Critics tended to portray him as having a militaristic, as opposed to community-friendly, approach to police work. For example, in 1987, after an egregious drive-by shooting that resulted in eight deaths, Gates implemented "Operation Hammer", which involved aggressive police sweeps of southern LA and many arrests which did not ultimately lead to any charges. When questioned on a PBS interview if the communities in question had appreciated his aggressive tactics, Gates replied, "Sure. The good people did all the time. But the community activists? No. Absolutely not. We were out there oppressing whatever the community had to be, whether it was blacks, or Hispanics. We were oppressing them. Nonsense. We're out there trying to save their communities, trying to upgrade the quality of life of people..." Gates was ultimately forced to resign as Chief in 1992 following the Rodney King beating and the subsequent LA riots, and in the aftermath of the Christopher Commission report which basically stated that the LAPD often used excessive force, and the Webster Commission, which among other things criticized his handling of the riots.

     Gates tends to be either loved or hated by different groups of people for the nation-wide impact that he has had on modern policing in the United States but less known to the general public has been Gates' involvement with PC gaming. It is so very unusual that a historic police figure devotes the kind of time and energy over so many years that Gates did with Sierra's Police Quest series, which eventually became known as "Daryl F. Gates' Police Quest", then "Daryl F. Gates' Police Quest SWAT", and finally simply 'SWAT". This progression even covered the transition of the well-known series from an old-fashioned Sierra "adventure game" to a Night Trap style interactive movie game to a RTS and finally to a tactical FPS. The manuals that came with these games tended to be filled with information on actual LAPD police procedures and extensive anecdotes and commentary from Gates himself, and the games themselves always featured correct police procedures concerning use of force as a major aspect of gameplay. SWAT 2, the RTS, even featured in-game audio commentary recorded by Gates himself advising the player about what the real LAPD would try and do in each level.

     I was a history major back in college and simulationist gaming has always been one of my passions. I have gone through the effort to have acquired all the Sierra games that had varying degrees of authorship by Gates, jumped through some minor technical hoops to get them to run on my WinXP machine, and am now in the position to present you with a brief review of them all.

Police Quest: Open Season

Police Quest      "Police Quest: Open Season", released in 1993, was the first Sierra Police Quest game created with the involvement of Gates. The gameplay was exactly in the style of any other adventure games that Sierra had been best known for at the time. The interface was graphical and mouse driven and the player needed to click on objects in conjunction with various interaction commands in order to proceed. Whereas the earlier Police Quest games took place in the imaginary California town of Lytton with the player playing the role of small-town cop Sonny Bonds, Open Season takes place in LA, and the player plays the role of a LA homicide detective. The Police Quest series of adventure games were always known for emphasizing correct police procedure, but the emphasis was even greater in Open Season, probably because instead of simply needing to adhere to imaginary Lytton police procedures which were cobbled together by a game designer doing some research, the player now had to conform to actual LAPD procedures, complete with all the paperwork. After you play Open Season you'll know, down to the document number, which forms a detective must fill out after examining a crime scene. Open Season is also much more gritty than the earlier Police Quest games; again, it's easy to tell that authorship of this series has transitioned from a game designer who probably just did research on crimes and police procedures to an actual police chief who has seen some pretty messed up things in his day. Open Season opens with the player examining a dead, shirtless cop in an alley who has been tortured to death, and a few minutes later if the player chooses to examine a dumpster in the same alley he will find a child who has been shot to death probably in a gang crossfire. That is very intense for 1993 when you consider how around the same time the unrealistic and cartoony-comedic violence in Mortal Kombat, such as Sub Zero's head-rip, had been elevated as some kind of serious issue worthy of national attention by the likes of Joe Lieberman.

      In the context of the time in which it was released, Open Season manages to push the envelope in terms of content and realism without being gratuitous or silly. At a time when adventure games were never particularly realistic, Open Season was innovative by presenting the player with down-to-the-specific-form realism and detail vis a vis LAPD homicide investigation procedures. However, as a contemporary gamer, I found that it was nevertheless very difficult to get into and enjoy Open Season because it suffers from the same limitations as most old Sierra adventure games, or indeed the general limitations that characterized all older adventure games. You cannot proceed through the game unless you know exactly what the game designer wanted you to do at each specific point and at the same time it's very hard to guess or figure out exactly what that is; when you open up your game control panel in Open Season the game actually shows you a now-defunct telephone number you're supposed to call if you're stuck in the game. Often, as the player you have an idea for what you'd like your character to do, but you have a very hard time making this happen through the game interface; getting dismissive error messages from the game for what seems like ten minutes at a time as I fight the interface to try and make my character do something is probably my most prominent memory of the whole adventure game genre. It has gotten to the point that I would rather watch someone else play through one of these old adventure games on YouTube and let someone else struggle through one of them than play one of them myself. Open Season was surely one of the best adventure games, representing the best of a bygone era in gaming history, but there's definitely a reason why for the most part nobody makes adventure games any more.

      If you're interested in playing Open Season for yourself the easiest way to go about it would be to buy the Sierra Classic Collection that includes all the Police Quest adventure games including Open Season. It is set up to be able to run on a contemporary computer with a minimum of difficulty, and I was able to get it very cheaply from amazon.com.

Daryl F. Gates' Police Quest: SWAT

Police Quest       The next Gates title after Open Season was "Daryl F. Gates' Police Quest: SWAT", which I will refer to here as "SWAT". SWAT starts to break the Police Quest series away from the traditional adventure game genre, and is instead a live-action CD-driven FMV that has an adventure-game-style interface. The game takes place as a series of movies that your computer plays directly off of a set of several CDs and in order to do well and proceed through the game you must click on the proper buttons and inventory items at exactly the right time, although it's not always clear what the correct thing to do is and part of the challenge of the game is figuring this out. Depending on how well or poorly you do this, the game will either proceed to video clips showing good outcomes (such as a successful arrest) or video clips showing bad outcomes (for example, your commanding officer scolds you for violating procedures). There was a time when this type of CD-driven interactive movie was very popular, but as a genre I remember it coming and going very quickly. The best known example of a game of this genre is probably "Night Trap", which in 1993, much like Mortal Kombat, was considered to be somehow so dangerous to the people of the United States by Joe Lieberman that it needed to be the subject of Congressional hearings.

      Much like its predecessor SWAT was one of the best games of the genre for its innovation and realism. During the action sequences the player had to respond in real time to real SWAT hand signals and use appropriate SWAT tactics in order to proceed with the game. True to real LAPD SWAT procedures, the player character would be suspended for a time pending an investigation following even an in-policy shooting of a suspect. It was even possible to rush ahead like Lone Wolf McQuade and in some situations make a hostage rescue shot and save the hostage but this would result in the player character being placed on probation and a hostile investigation into the shooting.

      It's hard to over-state the realism implemented by SWAT, which is to the best of my knowledge far in excess of any other game. The game doesn't jump from action sequence to action sequence as is practically demanded of games nowadays. The majority of the time in the game is spent on repetitious and mundane drills and exercises punctuated by occasional call-ups, which of course is a very realistic representation of what would happen if you actually were a SWAT team member.

Police Quest       The firearms drills and exercises are real drills and exercises, presented in enough detail that you could practice them yourself at a range if you wanted to; they are very similar to the tactical firearms training that I personally received from a local firearms training institute and from private instructors with military and law enforcement backgrounds. For example, as part of the basic firearms training, you are expected to hit a stationary target once in the torso, once in the head, twice in the torso, or twice in the torso and once in the head; you usually have anywhere from 1 to 1.5 seconds to do this. This is exactly what I drilled for four days at the firearms training institute I attended. Even the terminology is spot-on; it doesn't really make a difference in terms of gameplay, but the instructor verbally differentiates between a "double tap" and a "controlled pair", which are both 2 rapid shots to the torso, but with different degrees of aiming on the second shot. After going through the basic firearms training encompassing shotguns, rifles, and pistols once, you may take part in tactical training, which features pistol courses of fire extremely similar to the Steel Challenge and US Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) competitions I participate in once a month. For example, under tactical training, you must complete a course of fire called "El Presidente" within a certain amount of time, which involves shooting torso-shaped targets left to right or right to left and then back again. "El Presidente" is a very well known and widely used tactical drill. In another drill you must shoot a series of steel targets called pepper poppers as quickly as possible until they fall (they're weighted so that only hits near the top of the target will cause them to fall); this is exactly the same event as is found in many steel shooting competitions. SWAT has the most realistic and accurate portrayal of tactical firearms training I have ever seen in a video game. Finally, besides for all of that, the game lets you zero a rifle, and compensate for windage and elevation when firing at distant targets with a sniper rifle. Many games nowadays feature sniper rifles, but very few games let you click on the knobs on the scope in order to compensate for windage and elevation. Again, an outstanding level of realism that is very hard to find in shooters nowadays.

Police Quest       In the game, to simulate weapon handling, you use your mouse cursor to click on targets that pop up on the practice range, or on suspects that appear during the action sequences. When you click with your mouse your cursor gets displaced a little bit in order to simulate recoil. Probably the only way in which this game is not totally realistic is that it's much easier to hit the targets quickly using your mouse cursor than it would be using an actual gun, especially using a .45 ACP 1911 as is portrayed in the game. Getting two aimed shots on target after drawing from concealment within 1.5 seconds using my Kimber TLE Custom 2 (very similar to the actual pistol used by LAPD SWAT) was the very best that I was able to do in real life after 4 days of intensive training. In the game, using the mouse, I was able to do this in less than half a second, which in my opinion would probably be pushing the limits of human capability, since in real life to fire a "controlled pair" you would need to take the time to visually line your sights up and pull your trigger without jerking it, visually re-acquire your sights after the significant amount of recoil you'd get from firing a .45, and pull the trigger once more again being careful not to jerk it. If a person fires a pistol simply pulling on the trigger as fast as he can, or if the person tries to force the gun down as it is recoiling to be able to re-acquire his sights faster, he is likely to shoot very low, or very far off to the left or right. You have to let the pistol rise and fall on its own rhythm and you have to let the trigger drop the hammer on the firing pin in its own time. Pistol marksmanship is much more difficult than the popular media portrays and one of the challenges is that if you rush any of the steps in the aiming and firing process you will fire an extremely poor shot.

      Just like Open Season, my major frustration with SWAT was with the interface. During the call-ups, I knew all the SWAT hand signals, I knew all the SWAT procedures and tactics, and I had my ridiculously fast cursor clicking skills. I had the benefit of having researched all this stuff on my own for a long time before coming to this game. However, it was difficult to tell from the camera shots where your character was supposed to be in relation to the rest of the team, and whether or not he was properly covering his team mates. It was difficult to tell when moving up through the level was appropriate, or when it would be considered moving ahead of the team. Even loading up and drawing your weapon in order to shoot required clicking through a series of menus; the game even made you fiddle with the fire-mode selector on your MP5 every time you clicked on it in your inventory. Even with multiple attempts I had a lot of difficulty adhering to procedure and completing the call-ups without getting placed on probation and this difficulty all boiled down to problems with the interface and confusion about what exactly the game was trying to portray at any given time.

      Indeed, in many ways the game feels more satisfying as an interactive documentary than as a game. The game featured a lengthy classroom lecture given by an actor explaining SWAT procedures, use of the LASH communicator device, a rundown of hand signals, and terminology used to orient around a building (for example, "side one two, level three"). It even had videos you could watch with recorded interviews of actual SWAT officers. I felt the game was glorious as a documentary but plagued with typical adventure-game style problems as a game.

      The only way I was able to get SWAT was by ordering a used copy from a third party vendor off amazon.com. I was able to get it to install on my XP machine by using a Leisure Suit Larry 7 utility, which I had found after following a link from SierraFiles. Without that utility the installer window won't work properly and you will not be able to install the game. Also, during installation, the installer will ask to check your system to make sure the game can run on it, but you must skip the system check or else the installer will crash. After taking these steps, the game seemed to work normally.

Police Quest: SWAT 2

Police Quest       In SWAT 2, the series made a very significant transition from being basically an adventure game to becoming a RTS. SWAT 2 allowed the player to play through either a LAPD SWAT or a Terrorist campaign. In either case, the game introduced strong management elements which had not been present at all in earlier games in the series. Both the terrorists and the LAPD have a budget which can be spent on training, equipment, and which must be used in order to deploy teams. The player starts the game with a certain budget and basically must make it last for the entire game; if either organization exhausts its budget and doesn't have enough money to deploy teams for the upcoming level, the campaign ends, and in the case of the LAPD public outrage over government spending makes the LAPD chief resign, which is another example of the incredible attention to detail and even mundane realism that characterizes all the games that Gates was involved in. Both the terrorists and the LAPD start with a certain number of personnel with background stories and skills, who may be trained using funds from the budget, who may be equipped on an individual basis with equipment purchased from the budget, or who may be removed from the game through death or disability. Much as Gates himself was forced to resign because of the 1992 LA Riots, if any of the SWAT missions goes particularly awry, the campaign ends and the LAPD chief is forced to resign.

Police Quest       Besides for budget issues, during the SWAT campaign the player must correctly manage D Platoon according to LAPD policies. Each five-man entry team is called an "element", and you cannot field an element without an "element leader". In order for an officer to act as an "element leader" he or she must have outstanding levels of skill in the vast array of skills implemented in the game (including "sidearms", "submachine guns", "shotguns", "dynamic entry", "CS gas", "hand to hand combat", "first aid", and "explosives"), and must complete an element leader qualification course, which takes the character out of the game for one mission. Therefore, it is possible for the SWAT campaign to end if, as the player, you didn't plan ahead, and had only a couple element leaders who are for some reason unavailable in the next upcoming mission, either because they've been killed or injured, or because they shot a suspect in the previous mission and are now suspended for a mission while the shooting is investigated per LAPD policy, where any time an officer shoots a suspect there is a mandatory suspension and investigation. (During the terrorist campaign, terrorists who have been badly injured on a mission are considered mangled for life and are likewise removed from the roster since it is assumed that they don't have access to the best medical care.) Since being an element leader requires very high levels of skill across the board, having enough element leaders for any eventuality usually requires that you spend much of your budget on training for your most promising officers so that there will be enough officers who are eligible for element leader training in the first place. But the details don't end there; officers who are deployed on a mission collect additional hazard pay, officers may be certified as EMTs, K9 handlers, snipers, or bomb disposal experts. All of these qualifications have requisite skill levels in various specific skills. As a friend of mine commented, "after playing that game you'll be ready to manage a police department!"

      The SWAT campaign enforces adherence to real LAPD policies, just like every earlier Gates game. If an officer shoots a suspect who has his weapon in a high ready position (which basically means that he's aiming at someone) that shooting is in-policy and the officer will be suspended for 1 mission for an investigation that is basically a formality. But if god forbid an officer shoots a suspect who has a weapon in a low ready (which means he's holding a weapon but isn't pointing it at anyone), who doesn't have a weapon in hand, or if an officer somehow ends up shooting a civilian, another officer, or a police dog, that officer can be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination from the force and you lose him or her from your roster just as if he or she had been killed in action. Moreover, each policy transgression committed by LAPD officers has an impact on the overall evaluation of the entire mission, and if even a single mission gets a poor evaluation, the campaign can end with the resignation of the LAPD chief. You can even get in trouble for using too much CS gas in a building! This is absolutely realistic and true to life; I once investigated this and asked an actual former SWAT team member about this issue and he basically told me that if you put too much CS gas in a building it can displace the oxygen and injure the suspects, so that is forbidden under procedures. Additionally, the LAPD is unable to prosecute or effectively investigate the terrorists without evidence and unless you make your officers grab items of evidence before each mission ends your ending after the final mission of the campaign gradually becomes more and more unsatisfying.

Police Quest       The SWAT 2 missions and levels are often based on real famous events involving the LAPD. The game manual goes into detail both about the historical event that each mission is based on, and the mission as presented in-game. The SWAT 2 manual deserves special mention because in and of itself, it is like a short history book detailing the most famous LAPD SWAT call-ups, complete with personal anecdotes and memoirs from Gates himself. I remember Gates' anecdote about the time that he brought Barbara Bush to watch SWAT clear the residences of some squatters who had been involved with a lot of drugs. He describes how Bush jumped, surprised, and hugged him when the flashbangs went off as SWAT made entry, and how after the residences were clear Bush entered them and was, like everyone who sees it for the first time usually is, shocked by the level of squalor and degradation that a human being may fall to when he or she is addicted to drugs. I guess that from that point on, whenever Bush said, "Just say no!", she probably believed in what she was saying, as opposed to her just cynically repeating a political catchphrase! Even if a person had no intention to play the game, I would recommend everyone acquire a legitimate copy of SWAT that comes with a manual just to have the manual as a piece of modern history and something of a chronicle of social conflict and riots in LA.

      SWAT 2 features hostage negotiation, which is something that few games have ever implemented in a flexible and realistic manner. As SWAT, since the game takes place before the era of ubiquitous cell phones, in many missions you have the ability to send an officer to toss a "throw phone", which is basically a phone in a box with a really long cord, somewhere where a terrorist is likely to find it so that negotiations can begin. It is possible to offer food, media coverage, an escape vehicle, or cash to the terrorists. It is possible to actually grant these things, or else more commonly use them as a trap for the terrorists. As the terrorists, the computer-controlled D Platoon will attempt to negotiate with you, and it is possible to gain the same above mentioned assets by not opening fire, and by gradually releasing hostages.

      SWAT 2 is probably the only video game ever that implements Stockholm syndrome among hostages. During the terrorist campaign, you can direct your terrorists to take hostages who you can later execute, release in exchange for concessions from the police, or drag back to your terrorist training camp for Patty Hearst-style detention and isolation. During each mission, you can give your hostages a leaflet from your terrorist organization, or give them food you have gained from hostage negotiations with the police. If you do these things there is a chance that some of the hostages will succumb to Stockholm syndrome and resist the police when the police attempt to rescue them. Gates actually mentions the specific example of Patty Hearst several times in the game manual, who was an heiress who had been abducted by some domestic terrorists and after an extended period of captivity and abuse eventually joined the terrorist organization and took part in terrorist acts, and mentions "Stockholmed" hostages in the manual as well. According to the FBI, 27% of hostages exhibit Stockholm syndrome, so while its implementation in-game might seem bizarre initially, it's probably more realistic to include it as part of the game than not implement it at all.

      Most tactical games don't go very far in terms of implementing support, such as armored vehicles or helicopters called in by infantry. This neglect is probably rather unrealistic. SWAT 2 is one of the few games I am familiar with that allows the LAPD to call in armored vehicles or helicopters for support on many of the missions, budget permitting. The helicopter can circle the level and provide recon, or it can land and up to 5 officers who are equipped with rappelling harnesses can climb aboard and rappel down elsewhere on the map, which allows for very rapid deployment of forces. A historically accurate armored truck fitted with a makeshift battering ram (D Platoon's actual first armored support vehicle, a used armored truck purchased for next to nothing and modified for ramming holes in buildings by the LAPD) can be called in to make an additional point of entry on certain buildings. Even better in terms of realism, both support vehicles can actually be destroyed by the terrorists in certain circumstances, rendering them unavailable for the rest of the mission.

      In spite of this tremendous realism and innovation, SWAT 2's gameplay is rather poor by today's standards. The isometric perspective makes it difficult to tell whether or not a character has line of sight through a particular door or window. It's confusing and difficult to issue effective group commands and often as I played SWAT 2 I ended up putting the game speed on the minimum setting and issuing multiple individual commands to open fire to my squads. The game manual boasts that all the characters in the game have behind-the-scenes character traits that will cause them to react unpredictably but still along general personality lines in chaotic and violent situations, but what really seems to happen is that characters usually fail to act of their own initiative, and when they do they act strangely. I've seen SWAT officers making entry into a building fail to open fire on suspects with weapons in high ready, which is totally unrealistic, and I've also seen terrorists crouched behind cover with body armor, grenades, automatic rifles, and combat knives surrender to SWAT without putting up a fight. Like I said, I mostly ended up micro-managing each character. In spite of the huge level of detail and realism elsewhere in the game, it's still not possible to make your squads do things that most modern gamers would expect them to be able to do; during the SWAT campaign your SWAT officers can mirror doorways, pry open doors, blow up doors, and automatically alternately run the walls to the left and the right when you order a group of them to enter a room, but you can't order them to stack up and throw a flashbang into the room before making entry. You can equip them with flashbangs, they can throw the flashbangs, and the flashbangs work, but there's no way to use them in conjunction with a room entry on a door that is closed. During the terrorist campaign you must accomplish various objectives (for example, force a hostile network executive to air your terrorist propaganda tape) but it's pretty much impossible to figure out how to do these things if you didn't read the level guide in the game manual; SWAT 2's terrorist campaign can take the inscrutable scripting and interface-rage of the adventure game genre to new and epic heights.

      SWAT 2 seemed to install and run without any problems on my XP machine.

SWAT 3

      The final game of the series that still had the involvement of the LAPD was SWAT 3, which was a tactical FPS. It was also the first title to drop "Police Quest" from its name entirely. SWAT 3 allowed for real-time FPS and squad combat, where the player, as the Element Leader, controlled Red and Blue, two small squads, which could be ordered to separately or as a unit (as "gold") to clear rooms, cover particular directions or doorways, mirror under doors, and thankfully, to flash and clear, breach and clear, or gas and clear, which in my opinion were the commands most sorely lacking from SWAT 2. SWAT 3 remains one of the most realistic and challenging tactical FPS games available today; I have never managed to complete the final level of SWAT 3 in spite of (obviously) a lot of time spent playing.

Police Quest       Many realistic aspects of SWAT 3, which came out in 2001, either have not been widely modeled even today in tactical FPS games, or else have only recently been modeled. Over-penetration of rounds fired is one such aspect. In police or civilian self-defense shootings, especially in a home defense scenario, over-penetration, when the rounds the officer or citizen fires penetrate through walls (or indeed through bad guys) and fly out of the area to threaten innocent bystanders, is a major concern because legally the shooter is responsible for all of the rounds that he or she fires. If you shoot someone invading your home with an AR 15, and your 5.56 NATO FMJ round hits the home invader, exits out his back, punches through your screen door, and hits your neighbor across the street, you would be legally and morally responsible for hitting an innocent person. While this concern about over-penetration might seem relatively manageable for you and me if we're an individual firing at one home invader down the hall, it is a much more serious concern for SWAT, who often use rifles in chaotic and deadly close combat situations. If a ten man team of officers equipped with M4 carbines is going to storm a dark, cluttered apartment in a housing project and they encounter armed resistance from multiple individuals, there is a much higher probability of stray rounds endangering innocent bystanders. To manage these risks, police and citizens who are concerned with home defense will usually load their rifles with hollow point or frangible ammunition instead of military ball ammo. There are many games which let the player choose between military ball and jacketed hollow point, but SWAT 3 has even more realism and detail. SWAT 3 also differentiated between dry wall, wood, glass, and cement, and had different specific penetration characteristics for .45 ACP fired from a sidearm, 9mm parabellum fired from a submachinegun, or 5.56 NATO fired from a rifle, with all of these cartridges being available in both FMJ and JHP and thereby having different penetration characteristics. And unlike, say, Rainbow Six Vegas 2 where overpenetration is just a means to kill bad guys behind cover, in SWAT 3 your main concern with overpenetration is hitting someone you shouldn't, which includes armed suspects who haven't had a chance to surrender yet. SWAT 3 is more true to life in terms of representing the legal obligations and constraints that anybody would face in our society if they ever used a firearm in a defensive and tactical context. SWAT 3 is also one of the very first games that implemented less-than-lethal munitions; as element leader, you could elect to take an AR that was modified, essentially, to fire flexible-baton type blunt trauma inflicting rounds.

      It is possible to lose the respect of your officers by bungling various aspects of SWAT procedure. As the element leader, you must radio in downed suspects, hostages, or officers. In order to do this you must work through a radio communication tree in real time. If you report using incorrect terminology by picking the wrong term from the tree, for example if you have an officer down but report him as "neutralized", or you have a suspect neutralized but report him as "down", you are penalized. You are also penalized if you fail to report and collect evidence. The police procedure element of SWAT 3 isn't as cumbersome as in the earlier games, but it is still definitely present.

      The AI in SWAT 3 was greatly improved from SWAT 2. The officers under your command run the walls upon making entry. They shoot as soon as a suspect brings his weapon into a high ready, but never shoot when they shouldn't. The suspects' AI is better as well. If you move away from your team, come face to face with a suspect, and order him to surrender, he usually won't. Suspects tend to only surrender if multiple officers are pointing weapons at them, or if you come up behind them and you order them to surrender from directly behind them. Even if you shot the suspect multiple times with the less-than-lethal munitions, if you were alone, the suspect would still actually wait until you were reloading and then try to shoot you, instead of simply surrendering because you hit him with the less-than-lethal. Many suspects will only surrender if they're incapacitated by CS gas and at the same time they're being covered by multiple officers. For 2001 that is outstanding AI, and it is still very satisfying to play with today.

      The SWAT 3 manual, following the tradition of the previous game's manual, was of outstanding informative quality. SWAT 3 was actually the first game in the series that I played and the game manual was practically a textbook on police procedure that equipped me with adequate knowledge to play all the preceding SWAT games. The manual articulates, for example, why all civilians and hostages are handcuffed when SWAT encounters them, but how that procedure differs for children or badly injured individuals. Even better, the Game of the Year edition comes with a second CD that is filled with educational movies about SWAT tactics. Even if someone never plays the game, SWAT 3 could be a good buy for someone who just wants text and documentary movies about how SWAT operates.

      SWAT 3 is recent enough of a game that no special procedures are needed to run the game on a contemporary computer.

      To date, there was one more sequel in this series of games, but Gates, and the LAPD, was not involved. SWAT 4 was an excellent game, and one of my all time favorites, with many fine mods, but is beyond the scope of this article.

Final Thoughts

      On a personal note, the SWAT series of games are some of my favorite games of all time. I learned a great deal about firearms and tactics and the more I played the more curious I became about the details and why things are done the way that they are. I certainly gained a great deal of respect for the police and began to understand their actions as reported periodically in the media a little bit more. Because of the thirst for knowledge that these games engendered I took initiative to learn more and completed multiple tactical firearms classes and participate in shooting sports. These games educated me and lead me to explore new hobbies and develop new skills.

Police Quest       Gates stated in the SWAT 2 manual that the reason he was involved in game design was because he wanted to educate the public about realistic aspects of dangerous police work. At the time, and even today, there was a widespread perception among the public that police, especially the LAPD, were trigger happy, brutal, and bloodthirsty. By implementing games that emphasized police policy and procedures and restrictions on use of deadly force, Gates intended to educate gamers about the restraint that police must use even in very intense tactical situations. Gates wrote that he wanted gamers to realize the great difficulty and personal risk undertaken by SWAT officers to resolve violent situations; that while the safest way for officers to end a situation might be to use overwhelming and indiscriminate force (for example, simply leveling a building with anti-tank weaponry instead of making entry and attempting to arrest, rather than kill, suspects) they do not do this because fundamentally "SWAT is a lifesaving organization." Gates demonstrates very high hopes and expectations regarding the educational power and pro-social value of video games at a time when most big name politicians would be quick to wring their hands and chime in about how violent video games were stealing away the innocence and youth of the nation's children. When the evening news headlines were mobilizing parents with lies about Night Trap, Gates, a man who as chief once vowed to never be bullied by "crummy politicians", and never, in a city polarized by race hate and vicious politics, to throw any of his officers to the wolves, demonstrated the courage of his convictions and once again defied the two-bit politics of the day by being involved with the design of extremely high quality video games that were both interesting to play but also pro-social and genuinely educational for many years. It is so rare to ever see someone holding high office take a stand on principle, or even do something for the edification of society, without it all being cheap, cynical manipulation of the lowest common denominator. Is it any wonder that such a man saw value in video games and personally invested in their design, even while Washington was still reverberating with Lieberman's anti-video-game screed?
 
-- Wounded Ronin (07/04/2010)
 

 
 
 
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