30 December 2009

The Dad's Guide to Modern Warfare 2: Traffic Analysis

This is part of a series of strategy guides for players of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. If you haven't already done so, check out the first post in the series here. As always, keep in mind the audience for these guides is not hardcore gamers but rather the casual "dad" gamers trying to stay competitive.

What I will call traffic analysis is the study of how players move around the map, as well as where they go and how they get there. By understand the traffic patterns of players, we can better understand how to predict where players will be, which will aid in padding our kill to death ratio (KDR). There are a number of factors that we'll talk about when discussing traffic analysis: mode of play, map layout, choke points, time, and other factors.

Mode of play. Perhaps this is too obvious, but it's worth mentioning. The reasons why players move around the board will likely be completely different in Team Deathmatch than in Domination. The key here is not so much that any random mode of play will result in different movement, but that specific modes will result in specific movements. A few examples: Domination players' movements will be intentionally focused around the specific flags, which are established and known locations. Headquarters players' will move from HQ to HQ as they are relocated; these locations are pre-determined but appear to show up in a pseudo-random order. Team Deathmatch player movement is less dependent on the mode itself, because of the nature of the mode. So player movement tends to defer to the other factors below.

Map layout. It should go without saying that the layout or geography of the map is the most important factor in analyzing and observing traffic and movement (assuming a constant game mode), but I'll say it anyway. Players will move differently when moving across wide open maps like Derail and Wasteland than they will in the city streets and tight corners of Karachi or Invasion. By acknowledging this difference, we can better understand how to locate where the opponent will be. Even on a small map like Rust, there are definite traffic patterns to be learned.

Perhaps it is common sense, but wide open layouts offer less predictability in traffic analysis because the opponent simply has more options. However, that isn't to say that the analysis is impossible, just perhaps a little more difficult. Even on maps like Derail like we already mentioned, players tend to locate themselves in familiar locations: the Warehouse and the Offices are common. So analyzing how players get to and from these locations, as well as actually into these locations, is important.

For this example let's take a look at the second floor of the Offices, which is centrally located on the Derail map and a popular spot for firefights and snipers alike. Yet there are only two staircases to get in, so in effect they're choke points (see below) for opponents who are trying to occupy that floor. If you set up shop on the second floor, you can expect that opponents will be gunning for you from the Warehouse, from the roofs of the Gas Station and Garage. And when they come for you, they're eventually coming up those staircases. So take advantage of that fact and force them to defend themselves in the choke points. As always, claymores are an excellent defense; and grenade damage is hard to avoid in a confined space.

Choke points. Choke points are entirely dependent upon map geography, so they are more or less a subset of the overall map layout, but are important enough to warrant their own bullet. When I talk about choke points I am speaking about areas of the map that players typically pass through to get from one area to another. They may or may not be the only way, but they are typically the easiest and quickest way, so we can take knowledge of that fact and use it to our advantage.

Good examples of choke points exist on the Rundown map. This map is two sides of a town with a river running down the middle, and three bridges crossing the river. It makes sense that crossing one of these bridges is the only way to get from one side of the town to the other (technically there is a fourth way, which is crossing the river by means of two ladders down to the water itself, but in practice I don't see a lot of use of this method). Two of these bridges are fairly wide open as it is, so they're already dangerous ground. The third (the northern most) is narrow, and a good spot to stick a claymore on one end. The key here is putting separation (in this case, the river) between you and your opponents, and then concentrating your efforts on those specific choke points.

Part of my camp and go strategy is finding a location that provides a clear field of view of a high traffic area of the map. Combining that strategy with our knowledge of choke points, we can help select better areas. Again, in reference to Rundown, I come back to one of my favorite spots, the Abandoned House on the western side of the map; it provides a clear view to the wide middle bridge. Another good example is the second floor of the Neighborhood (in particular the portion closest to the edge of the map, between the Church and the Corral. A claymore can guard your backside by protecting the narrow passage between the southernmost edge of river and the Corral, while the northern facing window gives you good coverage of the Brickhouse area.

. You might consider it a bit surprising to see time on this list, but a short explanation will suffice. Because all of the players (both on your team and the opponents) start in known locations, it is often possible to predict where these players will be in the first 30 seconds to one minute of the game. Of course, this is highly dependent on the map, and certain maps will result in higher probabilities of successful location. But in general, taking advantage of this knowledge can help you get started on a positive kill count.

One of my favorite examples takes place on the Afghan map. One team starts at the entrance to Convoy Canyon, while the opposing team starts in Pipeline Canyon. Typically at least one (and sometimes more) of the teammates that start in Convoy Canyon will proceed up the hill and head through the Big Bunker. Taking advantage of this time knowledge (combined with choke point knowledge), we can ambush these players by meeting them in the area by the back door to the Big Bunker. I can't count how many times I've started off in Pipeline Canyon, sprinted up through the poppy fields to the Shack, and launched a grenade or two toward the unsuspecting players peering out of the back door of the Big Bunker. Of course, you can expect that they're looking for you too, but they're locked up in a confined space while you're not. Although if you're careful, you can even reverse the ambush from the Big Bunker side as well, but it is a bit more challenging.

Other factors that are typically out of your control, but still worth mentioning:
  • Teams. Are your opponents carrying out an organized strategy as part of a team? Or are they randomly assigned teammates without any end toward coordination? Obviously, this is going to effect movement. In a sense, the movement of an organized team might even be more beneficial to you because they would tend to be more predictable than could normally be expected. Although to be sure, playing against well-organized, communicative team can be a real challenge!
  • Spawning. Spawn locations can be unpredictable, so while you might think the entire enemy team is in one particular sector of the board, a killed opponent might spawn somewhere you don't expect. The constant cycle of deaths and re-spawning tends to flip the teams from one side of the map to the other several times in the course of a game.
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