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- Keep moving
The First Rule of First Person Shooters is: Don't stand still, not even for a moment. It's simple, but absolutely essential. Never one place for more than a few seconds, or you're fragged.
Keep moving or die.
- Learn how and when to rocketjump
Since the days of Quake, advanced players have used "rocketjumping" as a tactical maneuver. Firing a rocket underneath your feet while jumping makes you jump much higher, although the splash effect of the weapon also causes you damage. In some mods (such as Rocket Arena), or when using the battle suit, rocketjumps are free. Rocketjumping is a great way to make staircases where none exist -- just rocketjump from a lower platform to a higher one. It can also be used to seriously confuse an opponent, particularly a relatively experienced one -- a clever rocketjumper can even end up behind his pursuer!
Rocketjumping is a useful skill to add to your arsenal.
- Learn how to hop
In Quake III Arena there is a strange effect when jumping repeatedly; when "hopping" you can effectively "skid" off the ground you're jumping. To do this, jump, and hit the jump key again the moment you touch down (the effect is much more pronounced if you fall from a great height on your first jump). The effect is that you can move something like 20% faster while hopping, although of course it is harder to change direction (ignoring midair steering, you can only change direction while in contact with the ground, which happens for short periods of time). This technique can help a great deal when trying to catch up to someone you're pursuing, but be warned: since you are jumping, you make noise which can be heard by other players. Nevertheless, it is a useful skill to learn.
Learn how to "hop" by repeatedly jumping whenever you make contact with the ground, for an added boost in speed.
- Learn how to steer in midair
It may sound strange at first, but in midair you can actually change the direction you're moving in. Even though this violates Newtonian mechanics, it has been a feature of id Software's first-person shooters since Quake (possibly because of a bug which was well-liked by the testers enough to be kept), as anyone who remembers Ziggurat Vertigo will remember. In Quake III Arena this maneuverability is much less pronounced than in Quake (in which you could actually leap off of a precipice and land back where you started!), but it is still significant and is worth mastering. Maneuvering in midair allows you to land where you want to, and more importantly makes your position less predictable (and thus makes you a harder target to hit -- particularly to railers). To maneuver, simply sidestep perpendicular to the direction you're traveling; in its simplest form, face in the direction you're moving and sidestep left or right, making sure to change your facing as your motion changes. It takes a little while to get used to, but it is invaluable. You can practice easily enough on one of the acceleration and bounce pads.
Midair steering is useful not only for landing precisely where you want but also making yourself a harder target.
- Use simple items
In the game options panel there is an option called "Simple items." By default this is off, which means that items are displayed as 3D, rotating objects. When on, items are represented with a simple, unambiguous icon. Some experts prefer this option turned on, not for the minor gain in framerate that accompanies it, but for the ability to instantly recognize weapons from a potentially very large distance. For simplifying game play it can be quite effective.
Try turning on the simple items option and see if it helps you distinguish weapons and items from a large distance.
- Stay out of water
Moving through water involves several disadvantages. It makes noise and it slows movement; although once in water you can move in three dimensions, you are also slowed to about half your normal movement speed. Also, the interface between water and dry land is often awkward and takes time to cross; this makes you an easy target while you're stuck trying to maneuver (and making distinctive noises in the process).
Water is best avoided where possible.
- Lead your targets
Most gun fire travels at a finite speed -- only the machine gun, shotgun, and lightning gun are effectively instantaneous. So, as the saying goes, you have to lead your targets. Different projectiles travel at different rates, so you have to lead by different amounts; practice makes perfect. Particularly worth noting is that when players hit pads or rocketjump, they move in nice, graceful -- and predictable -- parabolic paths. Railers tend to aim at the top of the trajectory (where the target is moving most slowly), but with a weapon that does significant splash damage (rocket launcher or BFG, primarily), you should aim at the point where your freefalling victim will be landing. This not only does typical splash damage, but will also likely kick them back up into the air due to the momentum, which keeps them disoriented and unable to significantly maneuver.
You just lead the slow ones by a little less.
- Fire splash weapons at obstacles near other players
Some weapons cause splash damage -- namely, the rocket launcher, grenade launcher, plasma gun (small splash), and BFG. Splash damage is damage taken by people near the point of impact; you don't have to land a direct hit to do damage, and the closer your victim is to the point of detonation the greater the splash damage. The key to using these weapons effectively is to not aim directly at your target, but rather to aim at the ground or nearby wall where your target is. That way you might not land a direct hit but you'll probably do some splash damage. Proficiency at the rocket launcher is indicated -- a good rocketeer can keep his victim bouncing helplessly in the air by pumping a rocket underneath his feet just before he lands; this is not only effective but extremely disorienting to the target. Furthermore, splash damage directed at someone who is walking on a precarious ledge over the fog of death or void can knock them off -- it won't count as a frag for you but it will count as one less frag for him.
In the heat of combat, it can be hard to land a direct hit -- so aim at nearby objects to try to get some splash damage in there.
- Pin your opponents against corridors with splash fire
Splash fire not only does damage but also transfers momentum to the target, so with careful aiming with your rockets or BFG blasts you can bump your targets into arbitrary directions. Firing splash weapons at a target (read: victim) which is in a corner is considerably more effective; in a corner, every shot will hit a wall and will inflict splash damage on the target. So, when firing a splash weapon at someone near a corner, fire so that it knocks him closer to it; when he's crammed in the corner you can keep raining down death on him until his health gives out; direct hits will force him further into the corridor, rendering him unable to escape. This tactic is called "pinning."
Push and keep your targets in corners with splash fire, where it will be even more effective.
- Fire and then seek cover
Your target can't fire back if you're not in line-of-sight when they get hit. The ultimate in tactical maneuvers is to fire and then immediately pull back (say, behind a door) -- this way you're exposing them to fire but keeping yourself from their retaliation.
The best blow is the one that can't be returned.
- Pounce on your enemies from above
Most players think two-dimensionally; the world we live in is three dimensional, but with gravity we move around in what amounts to two dimensions. Adding the third dimension to a true 3D game is a very effective way to engage (and defeat) others; they may well know it's a fully 3D game and that attacks can come from above and below, but they still probably won't be expecting it. The "pounce" is a particularly effective tactic, using gravity to speed you up in your pursuit: If you see an unsuspecting target below you while positioning on a ledge, leap off and fire a rocket at him (or other splash weapon). With a little height on him, you'll be able to fire off another shot before you reach the ground -- or equally as good -- to fire point blank after you've landed practically on top of him. This is a deadly tactic, because the opponent takes two near-direct hits before he knows what's hit him.
By the same token, though, always keep an eye out for people trying to get the drop on you from above.
- Learn how to evade pursuers
When in full retreat, it is natural that your opponents will pursue you. Since you're retreating, you are probably outmatched in the weapon, ammunition, or health/armor department, so to get away you'll need to be tricky; otherwise, you wouldn't be retreating! Effective evasion tactics include making sudden and sharp turns, going in directions contrary to the "obvious" way (i.e., toward a health cache or the big weapons), sudden jumps or falls, midair maneuvering while ballistic, etc. Better still, feed him someone else; if while running from a pursuer you encounter someone else (minimally armed, of course), maneuver yourself so that the cannon fodder is between you and your pursuer; it is likely (unless your pursuer has a grudge) that the pursuer will engage the other hapless player, giving you a chance to fully escape. Using the "hop" maneuver (repeatedly jumping to gain up a little speed) can also help you get that little boost in speed.
Practice running from a well-armed foe. With just a little bit of a lead, you'd be surprised how often you can get away from even a dogged for.
- Don't follow a well-armed foe down a corridor
Sounds simple doesn't it? With splash weapons, a narrow corridor is a death trap; nearly every shot will land either a direct hit or do significant splash damage.
The corollary is pretty obvious: Don't pursue a player armed with a BFG down a corridor unless you have nothing to lose.
- Use the personal teleporter as a panic button
The personal teleporter powerup, when activated, takes you to a random position in the map. Since the place you are taken is random, it may not seem to have very much use, but in fact it can be used for a very specific purpose: to get you out of ugly situations. Having a teleporter gives you what amounts to a get-out-of-frag-city free card (if used properly). If you're strolling along and then suddenly find yourself under heavy fire and aren't sure where it's coming from, activate your teleporter. If you are moving along and trip and and fall (or are knocked by splash damage) off the map and into fog of death or void, the teleporter can save you.
Since you can teleport directly in the middle of a big battle, or fall of a ledge immediately after teleporting because you retained some of your moment, the teleporter isn't a guaranteed safe bet. Still, some chance of surviving is better than none.
- Use kamikaze as a last resort (Team Arena)
In Team Arena, the kamikaze powerup makes an excellent weapon of last resort. When you're deep in enemy territory and about to die, trigger it to take out your attackers and any other enemies that happen to be in the vicinity. But beware, the kamikaze blast will injure and kill your own teammates just the same as the enemy; detonating the kamikaze on your own territory is generally unwise, since you are more likely to hurt your own team more than the enemy. The one case in which there is a clear advantage to detonating the kamikaze in your own base is in one of the Team Arena games where the enemy must reach your own base to score, and is about to do so.
Kamikaze makes a great panic button, but watch you don't get some of your own teammates in the process.
- Pick up regular spawns weapon before battle fodder
In the arena, there are two basic types of weapons you'll see lying around -- weapons that appear regularly in their usual weapon spawn points, and weapons that are dropped by downed players (even yours). These behave differently when you pick them up, and noting the difference can give you a slight advantage in conserving ammunition. When picking up the weapons that appear on the regular spawn points, you will get the default amount of ammo for that weapon; if you already have over that default, you will only get one additional ammunition point. Weapons dropped by other players during battle, however, always give the same amount of ammunition, regardless of your current count. Regardless of your current ammunition, picking up the spoils of war after the spawning weapons will conserve ammunition.
Where possible, pick up the normal spawning weapons before picking up weapons dropped by other players to maximize ammunition.
- Try to get behind your attacker in a one-on-one skirmish
When going to head-to-head with another player, to get the drop on him you need to end up where he isn't expecting you -- and that's usually behind him. This can be accomplished by a variety of means which depend on your tactical situation; for instance, a rocketjump can often confuse him long enough for you to get behind him, or enough splash fire to keep him ballistic or pinned, for example. Another common area where players try to out-maneuver each other is near a jump pad; there are numerous places where both players will alternate jumping on the pad in order to try to out-trick the other, and also in order to keep them from being exposed to fire from above.
Managing to get behind your opponent means that you'll get at least one free shot before he knows what's happening, and probably another one before he can respond.
- It's better to die by violence than by suicide
From a strictly game theoretic point of view, the goal of games is to score the most points. In Quake III Arena, points are frags, and you get one whenever you kill another player. Unfortunately, on the other hand, dying without being killed means that you lose a frag; it's called "suicide," even though, strictly speaking, suicides are not always self-inflicted. Falling into the fog of death counts as a suicide, even if you are "pushed." Similarly, getting stranded in the middle of lava or slime is bad news if you're low on health. In close quarters combat it's not uncommon for you to hit yourself with splash fire, which at the wrong time can kill you. If your goal is to win the game, then letting some nameless guy score a frag on you by plugging you with a rocket is advantageous to falling off a ledge or fragging yourself with your own rocket. (If the player in question is challenging your lead or is ahead of you, of course, that's another story.)
Plus one frag for some other guy is better than minus one frag for you.
- Try to score a frag when you see another player's imminent demise
When another player suicides, he gets minus one frag. A clever player, however, has the opportunity, he can turn that opponents loss of a frag into a gain for himself. Victims who find themselves falling into the fog of death or void, or who fall into a large lake of lava or slime aren't going to last too much longer; some well-chosen fire, however, can score an easy kill, since not only do they have far more important matters to attend to than watching out for hostile fire, but in lava or slime the very substance which threatens their life is lowering their health and armor nice and easy to make your job easier. Such "freebies" are cheap ways to pump up your score without putting yourself at much risk (and without cheating).
Plus one frag for you is better than minus one frag for some other guy.
- Use grenades to cover your retreat
Grenades are not terribly useful as an offensive weapon in close quarters combat, but they really come into their own when used strategically. They make for great suppressive fire weapons; when retreating down a corridor, drop a few grenades behind you. This gives you three benefits: first, it discourages a would-pursuer from falling you into a field of grenades; second, if the pursuer does follow you, he's likely to get injured in the process; and finally, it can act as an early-warning system, since you will be notified if a pursuer is taking damage from the grenades by the "plunk" sound that is made when enemies take damage by your fire. If you've retreated and hear someone taking damage from pursuing, you can take position and prepare for an ambush.
Where grenades really shine is in setting up a temporary "minefield" to help you escape from the thick of things.
- When you have the objective, evade rather than engage
When you have the objective -- the enemy flag, or the white flag or some skulls in Team Arena -- your goal should be to deliver the objective to its final resting place (your base or the enemy base, respectively), not to rack up more frags. If you can, evade an enemy gladiator that isn't standing directly between you and your goal; only engage someone if they're actively stopping you from completing your objective.
If you're going in for the score, don't risk adding a few more kills to your score.
- Choose team powerups based on strategy (Team Arena)
Team Arena has the four team powerups; these confer very different benefits to the holder, and remain in effect until the player dies. Ironically, the roles that the powerups encourage are not necessarily what you'd think from the names alone. The guard powerup is best for assaulting, not defending; and conversely, the doubler powerup is best for defending, not attacking. The ammo-regen powerup is ideal for sniping from an isolated location, and the scout powerup is well-suited for hit-and-run tactics. The team powerups are valuable; each one present on your side of the map can only be in use by one team member, so don't squander the team powerups. Don't use guard -- arguably the most powerful -- if you plan to simply scout around or defend, for instance.
Pick up the team powerup that suits your intended play style, or switch to that play style once you acquire the powerup.