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The COTA Soldier: A Guide to COTA Character Development

Discussion in '<:: | Combine Overwatch Transhuman Arm | ::>' started by Ethan, Apr 5, 2017.

  1. Ethan

    Ethan Combine Civil Authority

    Dec 20, 2016
    +311 / 8 / -2
    In this guide we'll be talking about the transhuman soldiers who serve under the Universal Union's dominion.

    <::|| The COTA Soldier in HL2RP ||::>


    It's important we recognize the COTA Soldier as an often misunderstood character in the HL2RP universe across all servers. We should start with getting on the same page with all the research material that I have found very useful in developing my own COTA character.

    We'll start with the wikia and talk about that for a moment. In here we learn the basics of what the soldier is, speaking briefly about their presence in the HL2 universe along with theories as to the process of transhumanization. I find this an important topic to cover first because it's always the main argument against why people see COTA as characters who don't deserve to engage in any meaningful dialogue with other characters. Moreso, people often see COTA characters as players who have the option to powergame their characters with a single emote, fearing that close interaction will merit a bad death of a good character at the hands of a non-character.

    Fig. 1 "Unmasked Combine Soldier" - In-game model based off of the likeness of Eric Kirchmer

    There is never anything specific beyond this image as to what the transhumanization process is, but from the source material and game files we can begin to paint a clear image of what we believe is inside of a COTA soldier's head. Now the wiki only goes so far by saying there's clear evidence of surgery done and what we see as port holes into the body of the soldier itself. These may be temporary devices used by automated surgery machines, a likely innovation due to the sheer number of soldiers requiring transhumanization. We see this body in Nova Prospekt where it is theorized that these soldiers undergo even more extensive surgeries as their voices sound even lower than regular soldiers, wielding different battle tactics and showing general improvements over their City 17 COTA brethren. From that we can deduce that regular COTA soldiers likely do not have all those ports and surgical augmentations. But from the midsection we see evidence of a major surgery done to incorporate what is likely some synthetic gastrointestinal augmentation, which in terms of logistics could accomplish the following: Nutritional and chemical supplements that promote regeneration of damaged cells, replenishing blood volume during blood loss and removing the need for urination and defecation by either making efficient the process of digestion or by creating another orifice through which body waste is passed.

    These theories remain consistent with the canon while also making sense of why we hear Breen giving speeches to the soldiers at Nova Prospekt, rebuking them for their efforts at failing to capture or eliminate Gordon Freeman. This reveals two things, the first being that in a large way the soldiers are still human and as a unit of humans have morale. The second, that perhaps the soldiers serving at Nova Prospekt's facilities are the highest tier of transhumans, the second version if you will, of soldiers competing for eternal life within the Universal Union's Combine Overwatch. As Breen has said...

    "Now is the moment to redeem yourselves. If the transhuman forces are to prove themselves an indispensable augmentation to the Combine Overwatch, they will have to earn the privilege. I'm sure I don't have to remind you that the alternative, if you can call it that, is total extinction - in union with all the other unworthy branches of the species. Let's not allow it to come to that. I have done my best to convince our Benefactors that you are the finest the species has to offer."

    It is clear from this language and other snippets from his speeches and interactions with Gordon that we see Breen is ultimately an advocate for humanity, but ultimately capitulates to the Universal Union's superiority. Breen is trying to sell the idea of human super soldiers to the Universal Union in what may either be a bargaining chip of his own, or as a last ditch effort to preserve the species beyond the occupation and suppression of the last generation of humans on Earth.

    Fig. 2 "Nova Prospekt Soldier" A superior soldier to the City 17 COTA soldiers?

    The question still remains as to the extent of the surgeries and technological improvements that have been made to the COTA soldier. There is no specific agreed upon standard, but we may generally deduce that the soldier has received extensive training beyond any training they may have already had. In addition, they may have received chemical injections over time which increase their strength, reaction times and ability to remain alert over extended periods of time. I find it is also very likely that the same memory altering chemical dumped into public water reserves is used in a concentrated amount with COTA soldiers per their induction into the program, dissuading any reoccurring thoughts of prior patriotism or memories of the war they had fought and lost at the hands of the Universal Union for their former countries.

    To finish the discussion of how human a COTA soldier really is, let's remember that as a force being field tested against the resistance is most effective for one reason; their humanity. They think like humans, act like humans and have human emotions because they are humans. But as a friend of mine who said it best, "they're all business". This is where we begin to see division between a COTA soldier's humanity and their duties as a COTA soldier. Their training and discipline is what visually separates them from the rest of humanity. When we see them they are coordinated, communicate efficiently using very in point of fact language containing only mandatory vocabulary, barring only excited utterances spouted moments before death.

    The Psychology of a COTA Soldier


    All the information above does for us is that it allows us to stop seeing that soldiers are robots with mechanical arms and legs that can bend thick rebar around their opponent's necks. By now you understand that the soldiers are merely improved over the elite soldiers we see today, such as Rangers and Marines, who receive extensive training on things that most of us find as something we'd never need to be trained in. For example, a Combat Infantryman in the Marine Corps undergoes two days of training on how to walk up stairs. It is an indication of both thoroughness and preparedness on behalf on not only the US Military but also on the behalf of just how effective we have seen the Marine Corps in combat in all wars they have been involved in. This is due to their superior training. A US Army Ranger goes through a brutal 20 day test of endurance as he humps through the marshes of southern Florida after a hellish obstacle course, partly designed that way for one simple fact, filtering out the people who don't have the heart or willpower to stay in the program and fight equally alongside their brothers. Additionally, Ranger School offers more advanced training to a soldier, but only after they've passed through their first brutal steps.

    But what does this tell us about a COTA soldier's training? That it has to be equal, if not better than the training programs mentioned above. Upwards of 200 out of the 300 who enter into Ranger School wash out very early on into the program, we can assess the same for the COTA program. COTA soldiers are thus rigorously tested for any hesitation or doubt in the program itself well before they go onto the next phases of training where they begin to learn the advanced tactics, strategies and interfacing with the new technology the Union has to offer.

    This is where we begin to have a glimpse as to the mentality of a COTA soldier, we start by asking "why would anyone go through this process, if it's so hard?" and it's a fair question because there's no USA, no UK, China, Russia. No patriots are left from their former armies if they were former soldiers which most of them may have been. I believe there are two major reasons why people have chosen to enter the COTA program. The first and probably the most popular, eternal life. Soldiers are kept in stasis and given a chemical diet which improves them in every way. They are likely unwitting of the fact that they sacrifice their memories upon entering, but despite that, eternal life is a solid reason to serve on behalf of the Union to betray your species. For those people it's simple, it's me or you, and it's sure as hell not going to be me.
    Then we have the second group of people, the true soldiers. They see it as a challenge, they see themselves as career soldiers and can't imagine a lifestyle any other way. Does it matter who they're fighting for? As long as it's for the winning team, who cares?

    Self-preservation is the core of the survivors mentality. It is said that if your will to survive is greater than that of your opponents that you come far better equipped. As you develop your COTA character you may have a lot of reasons as to why he did it. But the training program was brutal, many people died and many people refused to go on, only to be never seen again. The ones who did survive will do just that in combat, fight alongside you and survive. They have become your brothers in arms and your only family as the rest of humanity despises your existence. They see you as twisted machinations of the Combine regime that deserve no less than complete annihilation for you have abandoned your humanity in your own selfish bid for eternal life. But your soldier doesn't see it that way. He understands that he fights to protect his new identity, his new life where threats against the Union are threats against his brothers. His family. And nobody fights harder to protect anything than those who do so in the defense of their families.

    The Emotions of a COTA Soldier

    But what about roleplaying and emoting emotions? To understand exactly what emotions a COTA soldier would display would require an understanding of discipline and its purpose. As a unit, COTA must appear completely in tune with each others movements just as they should be very well aware of what the soldier next to them will do when he reacts to a threat. Discipline is a core value as it increases effectiveness as a unit. It also helps in helping the unit represent itself as professionals, allowing them to appear more capable than they may actually be, serving as a useful propaganda tool for the Combine regime.

    So when you think to yourself, "what should I do about this situation, should I react emotionally?" remember that first and foremost, your soldier is highly trained and well-disciplined. He has pride in his unit, he aware that his superior will review his performance poorly and discipline him in kind were he to make a mistake. Because a mistake on the battlefield costs lives, and the soldier does not want to get his brothers killed. He has every reason to suppress an emotion that may be revealed as a damaging emotion to be seen by the unit. Moreso, his emotions are most likely suppressed by drugs used to augment his combat effectiveness.

    Emotions that are likely to find a natural presence among a COTA soldier are primarily going to be the following: Anger, Aggression, Empathy and Fatigue.

    Anger, an instinctual and critical emotion to have as it is a precursor and core element to aggression. It is what triggers aggression, controls aggression and ultimately pulls the reigns to the extent of aggression that one might have towards whatever made them angry to begin with. Anger is also a state of mind, someone who is frequently angry can be described as choleric or miserable as they often see things in life as negative aspects, rather than positive aspects where potential for personal growth or opportunity exist. It is very likely that COTA soldiers can be angry people due to the frequency of their negative experiences with normal people with how they are treated and seen by the rest of humanity. Does this mean you're allowed to express flagrant brutalities? Absolutely. But keep in mind, you're a professional and as a professional you're not going to paint your armor in the blood of your enemies simply because they looked at you the wrong way. You're there to represent your brothers, your unit and humanity for eternity. You would find such anger to be of hindrance to your future and to your survival were it that bad.

    Aggression, followed shortly after anger that governs the energy you put forward towards an objective that you would otherwise be normally motivated to accomplish. Aggression serves as intense motivation, a motivation characterized as violent and swift in nature. Aggression is best seen as a temporary state of mind, rather than a personality trait as someone who is frequently aggressive would be called reckless or unstable as not all conditions call for aggression. Excited utterances spouted in combat are the result of either surprise, or the built-up energy from aggression when something happens that you don't want to happen. For example, throwing a grenade at a soldier and hearing him yell "Shit!"

    Empathy is important to separate from sympathy as a technical definition as empathy is defined as "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another". A great way to view a COTA soldier's capacity for sympathy, which is defined as "feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else" would be to look at the definition of a sociopath "A person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience."

    While I wouldn't go so far to say that COTA soldiers are sociopaths, I would meet them half-way and say that they are empathetic people which is what gives them an advantage. While the disadvantage of the remaining sympathy that they have is kept in check by training and discipline. As a soldier he is focused on his job and his job is fighting in and winning a war, and in war he has to make difficult decisions that frequently regard the value of human life as he weighs risks and develops options for his survival in a hostile environment. He may understand that a small village of old men and women with one source of water, a well at the center, is their only means of keeping hydrated. But as the resistance passes through this arid environment, their only resupply is from this well and thus that well must be destroyed from a strategic point of view. He empathizes that this action will negatively impact the village and likely result in either casualties or forced relocation of the villagers. But he also understand that such actions will also anger the resistance and teach them that the process of "human shielding" or putting civilian assets in the way of strategic objectives in war in an effort to dissuade military action from interacting with their strategic benefits, will not stop him from launching blows against the resistance.

    Now, does this stop the soldier from blowing the well? No, he knows what needs to be done. Does he feel bad for doing it? Maybe, but he knows the villagers were cooperating with the resistance at the least, and at best he has stopped the resistance from being able to travel out further and harm his brothers in combat. Empathy does not restrict him, it does not create a battle of conscience for him when he formulates options for his own survival or the survival of his unit. But it does allow him to pause and reflect on what he has done and where that puts him as a human in the scale of humanity. Which brings us to our next emotion...

    Fatigue. This is more often characterized as a physical state than a mental one, but we find it more useful and appropriate as a mental characteristic, particularly in characters who are suppressed by their training or their superiors from feeling the wide range of emotions that humans have. No mental state of that degree can be maintained without the assistance of drugs or suppressants of some variety. I would say that it is very likely that COTA soldiers are kept on a regular drug regimen through their gastrointestinal implant, mixed in with their food/water. Despite this, I can't imagine it's a perfect system. Soldiers would still break down, become regularly exhausted, lose focus and even express some indication of instability. It is not because they chose to, it is because these are symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Roleplaying a soldier in this way should mean your character has been exposed to a lot of combat, and I mean at least a hundred combat deployments with serious injuries sustained on more than a few of them. They are trained to endure, they have proven they can and stress affects us all in different ways but ultimately stress is a degradation of ones physical, mental or emotional state. Soldiers break down if overused or exposed to too much stress. While the commanders of COTA would be apt in recognizing this reality, there may be some cases where this is unavoidable. So ask yourself before you roleplay fatigue, is this something my character is used to? Was this a particularly bad thing to happen to my character?

    The Dialogue of a COTA Soldier

    Part of a COTA soldier's core edicts is professionalism. You rarely hear them speak on the radio with any intermittent stammering or "uh...". This likely so because of their rigorous training and high comms discipline as it is possible that the Universal Union observes all of their radio chatter and factors that into their analysis of COTA's effectiveness. The same goes for any vocal affectations or humor. They might jest with their brothers in person, but over the radio? Never.

    A lot of people feel they need to use '<::' to denote the use of a vocoder augmentation. But no soldier must use this to speak IC as it is assumed. The only time I'd imagine it to be acceptable is if someone uses a radio-based vocoder, creating a noticeably different audio voice filter, thus requiring the need for '<::' prior to dialogue.

    A soldier can joke with other soldiers, he can even pantomime the actions of an emotional human being for the effects of obtaining the attention of other soldiers or for his own attempt at humor. But when it's time to get to business, everything is in order for him and he is ready to go to work.

    I'll wrap this guide up for now. I wanted to re-write my entire guide on passive roleplay for COTA I wrote in 2015 for TnB and I feel I've accomplished a better guide as it focuses more on the soldier as a character, rather than me showing you examples or telling you how to roleplay. I hope you take positive impressions from this guide and I really hope to see it help you affect how you understand and develop your characters.

    I'm always up for a discussion on this kind of stuff so if you're interested in talking about what I've written, shoot me a PM and we'll shoot the shit.

    Thanks for reading guys, see you in the field.
    • Like Like x 8
  2. Dr. Death Defying


    Apr 3, 2017
    +140 / 4 / -1
    I've seen many iterations of this guide in the past in such places as TnB, by none other than your creation no less (or others who have taken your guide and used it elsewhere.) and I have always enjoyed how thorough you are about the opportunities there are for Overwatch characters.

    Well done.