Find out what happens when 256 players go head-to-head at the massive MAG European launch event.
Bullets fly from every angle; orders are barked for the sake of survival; grim determination lingers on faces. "Everywhere you look there are people!" says PlayStation Network user Steven_sfst. "You go right and there's this huge battle going on, you turn left, behind and in front of you and it's the same! It's something you've never seen before in a game... it's just awesome."
Welcome to the blistering battlefield of MAG - or more accurately, the MAG 256 event, where 128 players from all corners of Europe are gathered to take on another 128 from the game's development team in North America, Zipper Interactive.
The setting for this transatlantic theatre of war? The P3 exhibition hall at Westminster University, UK, turned into an industrial complex style bunker, decked out with projectors showing the game, Twitter feeds displaying people's thoughts and, most importantly, televisions and PlayStation 3 systems all simultaneously playing the high-octane shooter. Even the stands holding the TVs and PS3 systems form the shape of a giant 256 when seen from a bird's-eye view, each number bathed in hues of red, blue and green.
It's a unique event for a unique game. And it's clear MAG succeeds in impressing the gathered players (or operatives, as they are soon labelled), who buzz from battle to battle, eager to jump into the next match even when briefing sessions and intermissions offer a break from the fray.
"It's been a lot of fun," says journalist DolphGB. "With 256 players I wondered how they were going to keep everyone together and work as a team. Playing it and seeing the incentives they have to make sure that you work as a unit, they've certainly done a good job... it's going to be interesting once everyone starts going into some of the bigger campaigns."
"It's been great," says RedH3lix. "Once you get into it, it's simple to go for the objectives - and as the day progressed you could tell the teamwork was coming together a bit more." Fellow operative, Yoni_pl agrees. "It's immense. Everywhere you go you meet other players, so you have to know what you have do - it's really intense."
Ain't got time to bleed
The intensity only increases with the main showdown between the European operatives and the stateside Zipper Interactive, which sees the grand total of 256 players going for glory. It ends up being an honourable draw, Zipper well beaten in the first round before destroying the visitors in a heated second. Not that anyone minds too much - a sign that the frantic fun offered by MAG has worked its magic, something the on-site members of Zipper are more than happy to see.
"From the first session people seemed to pick it up quickly," says Nate Klee, MAG's lead programmer. "We gave them some tips on game-queuing and resuscitating their teammates, and they didn't really need help after that. People's eyes were glued to the TVs - I'd come by and see if they needed any questions answered and they wouldn't even respond!" he laughs. "They were too busy!"
"It's been great," says Phil Knowles, MAG's art director. "It's been fun to see the whole thing come together. We're really lucky to be here and see [our concept realised] - I wish we could have got the whole development team to see it too, because we've been working towards this for quite a long while and it really is a nice reward to see everybody playing."
"Massive action event"
The sheer size of preparation around the MAG 256 event posed obvious challenges, yet the end result saw smiles all-round from those who made the game as well as those who played it. "I think the day went remarkably well," says Klee. "It took a long time to prepare the whole venue, and everything seems to have clicked and come together, everyone seems to have enjoyed the game - that makes me very happy."
"It's been a good experience," says RedH3lix. "It's nice to attend a launch event - I've never been to one before and it's been really good." For Belgium operatives Steven_sfst and Yoni_pl, a long journey back home awaited them after an early start and late finish - has it been worth it? "Oh yeah," they agree with a smile.
"It's been a massive action event," finished Yoni_pl. "Great fun with lots of people playing together."
For a first hand account of what it was like to be on the front line of MAG 256, check out the official PlayStation Forum.