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Limit Common Comms


Warriorstar
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Everyone knows I'm full of terrible ideas and this one is no exception. However, it did spark a bit of interest in the Discord, and I wanted to collect some of the conversation here, and help to expand on the mechanics I'm imagining in a discussion where people can evaluate things at their own pace and not feel rushed to respond.

Problem Statement

Comms is one of the most critical aspects of being on-station. It is vital to intradepartmental progress, it gives Command a useful signal as to their crew’s effectiveness, it allows endangered crew to call out for help, it is how Central communicates to the station, and it allows for announcements that other crew-members may find interesting or fun.

From my perspective, however, comms is a firehose of information with an incredibly low signal-to-noise ratio, especially with regard to the Common channel, which will be the subject of the bulk of the discussion below.

 

  1. Communication amongst your department, to the crew, and in aggregate for command, is unceasing, but no one really has the option to disable any channels, because they all carry some amount of information worth appraising.
  2. From an RP perspective, common is absolutely bizarre. Comms is aural in nature, which means in theory every crew member on the station from the Captain to the Clown in perma has carte blanche to yell whatever they want into everybody’s ears at any time. Even in a rickety, poorly designed station overseen by a bureaucratic nightmare corporation should recognize how ineffective and annoying this is.
  3. Many crew have tasks that preclude them from following comms closely. Miners are constantly firing and clicking their KAs. Command on the bridge is assaulted by constant noise- and speech- related messages from bridge hobos (and bridge designs with a space gap, while nice, don’t actually stop noise from reaching the other side). I don’t really know medbay but my understanding is a lot of time is spent reading diagnostic printouts. If a group of players is roleplaying, their focus is on their character and the characters around them, and if the interaction goes on long enough, a large amount of comms will have scrolled past, but we want people to roleplay. AIs observe the entire station but also need to watch their comms for “AI open”.

I think one of the most telling demonstrations of the above is how many highlighted strings many players have. If a player needs a dozen regexes to find the salient information in the rubbish, I feel that’s a strong indication that the core aspect of station-wide communication needs work.

Proposed Solution

Remove common comms from all headsets. Preserve it on public intercoms. Add the ability for crew to call out for help specifically from Medbay and Security when they perceive or are dealing with a threat.

Summary Justification

This removes a large amount of noise from the chat log while still allowing crew to make generalized announcements for the benefit of the whole crew.

Replacing Existing Use Cases

For most uses of common, the PDA is an excellent substitute. The PDA is an excellent substitute because conversations between individuals are condensed. The only scrolling one has to do is in the singular conversation with another crew member. Receiving a message makes it plainly obvious who the messages (and any of the recipient’s subsequent replies) are for. Multiple conversations can be easily kept track of.

In addition, since PDAs have an audio cue and their chat log text shows up distinctly (inasmuch as anything can be distinguished), and provides an immediate reply button, they facilitate rapid conversations, and make it much harder to miss the communication.

Remember that this proposal keeps departmental comms. Miners can still call out on Supply for help, Security can still coordinate, etc. The goal here isn’t to make it harder for anyone to do their job, but (in part) to increase the signal-to-noise ratio of all communication channels, and to encourage players to interact on a more personal and fine-grained basis with the rest of the crew.

Emergency Callouts, or: HELP MANTIS

This use case is a very distinct one than others, and possibly one of the most valuable uses of common comms. When crew are attacked, when runes or terrors are sighted, calling out on common is the most common response. But why?

  1. It’s fast. The muscle memory for talking on common is ingrained very early on in terms of hours played.
  2. It’s effective. It alerts all departments at once, but most importantly, Security and Medical simultaneously, the two departments most vital to handling an individual emergency in its first few minutes.
  3. It provides redundancy (in the positive sense); if the people who should be caring about your health/well-being are otherwise preoccupied, at least one other crew member will see your comms and possibly pass the message on.
  4. In the case it is a station-wide problem, this is the fastest way to get everyone on the same page—in the event they see the message.

Now I’d like to share some of the reasons I think this is a bad idea.

  1. It’s fast at the expense of accuracy and response time. A lot of crew are real bad at giving useful information when they are being assailed. Even if they do manage to squeak out a “help maints”, people will berate them on common for not giving enough information, while they die in a dark corner of the station. I don’t think players, in general, should be punished with round death because they didn’t give precise enough information while they were being fucking murdered.
  2. Antags now know what you know. It is rare an antagonist won’t have common, so if the victim manages to get something out, or the cult hears their runes have been found, they can adapt quickly. By letting anyone shout anything they want on comms they can more than give away the position and ability of the crew charged with apprehending the antagonist.
  3. The right people can easily miss it, making it worthless. Again, as above, the chat log is constantly full of shit, sound effects, big-font messages, and so on. The impending death of a crew member may never register to anyone, which is an asset to the antag, but is entirely determined by what’s going on at comms at the time.
  4. Comms can be dropped. This is an engine limitation, and can occur anywhere from dchat to big-font messages (I once round started as NTR and never got the Declaration of War sent by the nukies in that round).
  5. Once someone screams “V-V-V-VAMP SCIMAINTS” everyone knows the round type now, and starts falling into predictable uninteresting patterns.

Replacing Emergency Callouts

What does a replacement for common used in emergencies look like? We already have the answer. The SM reports its own degradation. Death implants dutifully report the casualty (unless it got EMPed and is on the fritz). Many systems self-report, and only to the appropriate department.

To pick an example from real life: emergency dispatch services are a phone number. You call them, they dispatch. Everyone in the world doesn’t find out.

The Emergency Transponder

In lieu of being able to announce personal emergencies over comms, I introduce a transponder, built in, or produced as a cartridge, into the crew’s PDA. When in the player’s hand or PDA equipment slot, the emergency call button shows up as an ability at the top of the screen similar to turning internals on, antagonist powers, etc.

What happens when this is activated? The same thing that would happen if the station had an emergency dispatch. Security, Medbay, either, or both, get alerted. The amount of information they get could depend on several factors. Perhaps they don’t get a location if the crew doesn’t have suit sensors on.

One way or another, the departments responsible for taking care of the crew in the most specific sense are the only ones that get the information. The whole crew doesn’t find out at once, and the antagonist retains more of the element of surprise.

A tool like this could be abused pretty easily; some of this can be ameliorated with a long cooldown, as well as a round start cooldown (unable to be pressed until 10-15 minutes into the round). I would also imagine it to be somehow locked to the person whose PDA it belongs to, but I don’t really know how PDA ownership works. It may be worth allowing anyone to press it, which means sec may have to investigate more false positives, and the boxes of PDAs in the command area suddenly become much more valuable.

What about callouts of station-wide valid antags? They already get callouts. Biohazards have a big font announcement, cult gets one once they pick up enough steam, giant spiders get infestation callouts.

In addition, one of the most tension-killing moments is when a roundstart blob doesn’t pick up enough steam before someone diving maints calls them out. Or  a terror gets spotted before they have a chance to even settle down somewhere and form a game plan.

This isn’t to say that people can’t report these things. Again, they have departmental comms, so they can report it to their department. But now we have something interesting, where people need to spend time communicating, and relaying information to the right people.

To wit, as it stands now: the round starts. A blob pops. A maints diver sees it, calls it out on common, everyone suits the fuck up before the blob has spawned its first factory, cargo rushes guns, science spams flashbangs, the blob is killed, and everyone hates that the round ended early. Command may not have even said anything or given any orders to the crew, but everyone knows what to do.

With this proposal: the round starts. A blob pops. A maints diver sees it and either activates their transponder or calls out on their departmental comms. Now the department is responsible for relaying the information to security. It could go through, say, the department head over to the HOS via Command comms, it may have to just be relayed to a sec officer the diver passes by in the hallway. Officers have to go and investigate the reports, let the department know what’s up, and hope the Command staff are competent enough to get all the departments working together to fight the blob. Instead of random civilians shouting on commons to print welders and order guns, it will require Command to coordinate and give the correct orders. If the communication fails to make its way to security, the crew may not find out about the blob until its biohazard announcement, which is pretty fairly timed out from the initial spawn events for biohazards.

Conclusion

This is obviously a pretty drastic change to one of the fundamental mechanics of a game that is, by and large, predicated on consuming large amounts of text. It is for this reason I don’t expect it to gain traction, but I would be very interested as to if this has been done/considered before, if there’s balance/mechanical ramifications I’m missing, and so on.

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As someone who is still relatively new to SS13, I can't speak to how much impact this change would have on the server as a whole, but I would like to add that the sheer volume of information in Common is overwhelming to new people.  I am slowly getting to the point where I can understand most of what is being said, but I will still frequently miss important stuff because I am focused on what I am doing instead of reading the rapid text scroll.  Less random text information would be a blessing.  And more audio cues or AI announcements are good.

On the other hand, as a tourist/civilian/assistant without access to dept comms, I think the game might end up feeling a bit lonely or too quiet without the constant station chatter.   You would be out of the loop most of the time and that could add to boredom and lead to people walking into danger unawares.   

On the upside, the lack of general chatter will make the Journalist job more important and news releases have more impact.

...

One other thing I would add - It has always frustrated me that there is not a better way to report emergencies or threats directly to Security.     The emergency transponder might be perfect for some situations, but there are others when it wouldn't be appropriate but I still would like a way to inform Security of a problem without shouting it to the whole station.  Where is the 911 radio channel?

 Currently, I will grab my PDA, scroll all the way down looking for HoS, fail to spot his name, give up and look for a random Security Officer, send him a quick message, and then put away my PDA.  All of that takes so long that I might as well have just announced what I saw over Common, because the bad guys are all long gone ... or I am already dead before I hit "send".  PDAs are not great in a life or death emergency or for warning people about a station-wide threat. 

 I would love an emergency channel that anyone can use to report problems, but only Security personel and Command can view.  Or maybe the Emergency line is monitored by a designated Dispatcher, similar to the Paramedic, but for Sec.   Either way, it would let you send quick message that would be visible to Security ... if they bother to check them.

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I can't really agree with any of this, personally. Removing common comms will just make rounds far more boring overall by removing the ability for people to communicate if they aren't in the same room or the same department. Common comms is what spices up the round and keeps things interesting, sure it can be annoying as hell sometimes and a detriment to the round but that's typically not the case and is often the exact opposite.

Not to mention the effect this will have antag balance-wise, which is something I disagree with on this front entirely. It would be a massive boon to antagonists that I'm not sure is needed or warranted. That said my main opposition to this is the above, rather than anything to do with antagonists(despite that being a pretty big reasoning behind it myself).

The ideas proposed in regards to the emergency channel thing is relatively interesting, but is very likely to be unmonitored or missed. People already miss enough information as it is already with PDA and such, we don't need it to be even harder for security to communicate and respond to call outs. Especially given with the emergency thing it would be unlikely for security to be able to respond to pretty much anything in a timely manner.

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Yeah I'm gonna have to agree with Mitch here- this is a massive buff to antagonists as a whole, makes the round significantly more boring by removing any form of casual conversation with people who aren't in the same room as you, and screws over people who don't have access to departmental comms. While I can understand some of the reasoning behind the idea, I think this will do significantly more harm than good.

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Comms is the only communication we have that supports multiple users with no other restrictions. Trying to coordinate between three people or more that don't share a department or have one in the first place would mean you need to copy everything that's getting said around. And if you make something harder/more annoying to do, it will happen less, in this case it's players interacting with each other.

It will also arguably nerf antags. They won't be able to hear where their target is, like a miner asking for RnD to be manned. Would need to keep watching some crew monitor or GPS for them, to even know whether they are on station or not, and miners don't necessarily set their sensors due to the GPS, which notifies both ways.

With something like the transponder, antags may also be unable to tell whether they are busted or not, as they have no access to the alert channel. It would also need to alert engineering, else that plasma fire the activation was about won't be extimguished, and sec and med can only watch the person burning to a crisp until one atmos tech actually replies to a PDA message, gears up, and comes all the way from atmos to toxin, where the fire has now burned everything and solved itself.

I could potentially see some Star Trek style coms badge as a replacement, but we need to pay attention it won't cost too much resources. We had PDA chatrooms, and they caused major lag if too many people were in one. The check whether a person would be the correct one or not to give the message to will be way more involved than checking if a device is on that frequency. Do they have their ID somewhere other systems would accept it? So check both hands, the PDA, the ID slot itself for the ID and a container holding said ID, if they don't have the correct ID, are they unmasked, and near a camera? Would mean an AI can track them, and such the system can identify them as reciever of the message. Heck, maybe even based on the voice, said something in the last X minutes? The comms badge must belong to the person with that voice, relay the message.

It'll be a massive overhaul, common comms are quite ingrained into the game. It would have a testing phase to determine if it works positively for the game, but there are many doubts about it, so i think there is a good chance it will be rejected after testing at least, and the work required for such an overhaul is too big for the chance it has to be wasted.

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common coms are kinda needed for the game to even work as how it works it is a social game first and foremost getting rid of it takes away most of the social part.

Also when coms are down you notice how big the difference is and most people do not like when coms are down.

 

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I think this is a super interesting suggestion. I agree that general comms is a pretty inefficient way to communicate due to it's general-ness. Removing it would remove the easiest way to communicate to the whole station and OP suggests some good replacements. I'll put some counterarguments to the points already put forward.

 

Lack of communication/interaction with people

I think this proposal will force MORE interaction with people rather than less. Instead of just being able to shout out whatever you want over comms, you have to communicate with the right people who have access to all comms to deliver your message. That's one extra step of communication and one extra step of interaction.

I don't know how you guys play this game, but I don't sit and read comms that much. I usually have better things to do. If one of my highlights are triggered then obviously you gotto read it, but otherwise it's mostly empty chatter.

To respond to the argument of it being harder to coordinate with people I would bring up the following points:

Use the PDA - I find this way more effective to contact people than writing in Comms. I use this way more than regular comms these days.

Get radio with right access - If you have some project spanning several departments and you need contact, you should be able to get a radio with access to the proper channels.

Get Heads to Deliver important messages - If you have something you want announced to the station, like a cool bar setup, basketball court or sushi bar, contact a Head and ask them to announce it. You could also ask the AI since they're usually forced to do it. This would actually add a level of interaction, instead of you shouting it out over comms.

New "Radio host" job - This is a more RP focused option, and something I would personally love. A karma role in which you get access to the NT radio station where you can host a radio show. You can deliver messages to a special radio channel everyone can listen, but not communicate on. That way everyone can opt out if you're bad.

 

Transponder instead of Emergency callouts

I think this is a great idea. This is how I envision it working: You hit the button, you get the option to provide a message, you hit send, everyone nearby is alerted that you have called security maybe by the PDA clearly stating "Silent Alarm activated". Warden/HoS or sec officer is pinged over PDA with the messsage but ALSO their location, based of their suitsensors. This means the Warden/HoS can PDA the victim back if they are lacking details or it seems there is time for it.

Who gets alerted could depend on the Alert level. Warden/HoS can get the messages on all levels then delegate to the officers. On a higher alert level, the whole sec channel could be pinged with the message.

You could extend this by having some sort of communicator role, who's single job is to work as a 911 operator. I imagine this could also be a security Officer who may have been harmed in the line of duty or similar.

11 minutes ago, MarsMond said:

With something like the transponder, antags may also be unable to tell whether they are busted or not, as they have no access to the alert channel. It would also need to alert engineering, else that plasma fire the activation was about won't be extimguished, and sec and med can only watch the person burning to a crisp until one atmos tech actually replies to a PDA message, gears up, and comes all the way from atmos to toxin, where the fire has now burned everything and solved itself.

To respond to this. The Transponder could clearly state when it's activated, alerting Antags. Regarding alerting engineering, you can deliver a message with the transponder if you want, such as "Plasma Fire" then the person pinged will have to get an engineer.

7 hours ago, Mitchs98 said:

The ideas proposed in regards to the emergency channel thing is relatively interesting, but is very likely to be unmonitored or missed. People already miss enough information as it is already with PDA and such, we don't need it to be even harder for security to communicate and respond to call outs. Especially given with the emergency thing it would be unlikely for security to be able to respond to pretty much anything in a timely manner.

A specific, targeted Alert message, delivered straight to a Sec officer/Warden/HoS with as much information as could be delivered, would be way more effective than shouting it out over comms and hoping someone will detect it in the clutter. I don't see why they would missed more than the current messages. I would even argue that why a lot of this information is missed is due to Common being so messy and people automatically filtering it out.

Nerfing/Boosting Antags

I don't have a lot to add here, I just find it funny that some thing it will nerf antags and others think it will boost them. Personally, I think trying to balance a game such as this where skill disparity is so EXTREMELY WIDE for equal chance of winning is impossible. Balance in this case should be towards creating interaction and emergence, not winning. With that standpoint, I think this idea as balanced towards interaction and emergence as the usual comms.

7 hours ago, Mitchs98 said:

Not to mention the effect this will have antag balance-wise, which is something I disagree with on this front entirely. It would be a massive boon to antagonists that I'm not sure is needed or warranted. That said my main opposition to this is the above, rather than anything to do with antagonists(despite that being a pretty big reasoning behind it myself).

 

12 minutes ago, MarsMond said:

It will also arguably nerf antags. They won't be able to hear where their target is, like a miner asking for RnD to be manned. Would need to keep watching some crew monitor or GPS for them, to even know whether they are on station or not, and miners don't necessarily set their sensors due to the GPS, which notifies both ways.

 

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Firstly, antags do not need this buff. They are designed around the fact that they will eventually be caught and will need to go loud, the longer they're given a chance to snowball(stay stealthy) the more powered they're gonna be when discovered. They are designed around this core game mechanic of commons being available.

I think you guys are missing an integral issue here. SS13 is all about your interactions with other players and this removes a very significant game design mechanic that revolves around that idea of interaction. [Common] provides context about the round to most if not all players. If you take away everyone's (most everyone) ability to talk on a global communication network quickly and easily, you take away that context. This in turn makes the game much more boring, uneventful, and confusing

Take this example:

Over Commons you hear players begin shouting about some mysterious figure: "EMAG MAN." They say that a man in a blood-red hardsuit is running around the station emagging objects and machines. You can slowly trace their path as each respective department throws up their groans and complaints over comms as this "EMAG MAN" runs through their department amok. You can also hear security on comms frantically asking for the location of them.

All of a sudden you see a man in a blood-red suit run in front of you and emag their way into maints.

That is a very interesting and funny experience I've had on station in the past. Now Imagine that my only purview into that situation was the second part of that scenario, I did not hear anything on comms, infact I knew nothing about the situation until it crossed my path. Interesting? Maybe, I would probably forget about it and write it off since syndies are a common occurence in game. However, since I heard about this on comms for a few minutes before I had that experience, I now have context about this odd man running around and now my experiences are linked with the experiences of other people. This isn't some generic syndie/criminal, this is the notorious outlaw "EMAG MAN" and I just fucking crossed paths with them.

It not only makes things less confusing to the player, it gives situations more meaning, impact, and weight. It builds on the story the game and the player work so hard to make.

Take Another Example:

You hear a massive explosion, it shakes the station and leaves you a bit dizzy from screen shake. Without Commons this would likely result in you, once again, writing it off since you have no reason to care about it.

Now imagine that right before that explosion, over comms you hear: 

[Common] John Ham [Security Officer] "THE CLOWN'S GOT A BOMB!"

[Common] Chuckles [Clown] "Get me the captain or I'll blow it all to hell!"

Now that explosion isn't just any generic explosion, you understand the importance of it as well as getting the chance to experience the outcome of other players' experience even if it's across the station. You are brought into that experience, that story, by just listening in to what other players have to say.

 

On top of context, commons provide organization for the entire crew. Communication has to be collective and not forced through the bottleneck of bureaucracy that is command, otherwise it will take 5 minutes for command to come to a decision and make an announcement about Blob, Tspider, Syndies, War, etc which can significantly reduce the crews chances of making an organized assault. This also has implications for special events and players doing gimmicks where now your average player has no way to advertise themselves besides begging a head to make an announcement.

Spoiler

Communication amongst your department, to the crew, and in aggregate for command, is unceasing, but no one really has the option to disable any channels, because they all carry some amount of information worth appraising.

This is precisely why we should not limit commons, you are taking away player's access to information. You have the very easy ability of just disabling commons on your radio headset if you do not want to listen to commons. I think you are grossly overstating how often commons is used, it is not a constant flood of chat messages, certainly not enough to take away from an interaction you're having face-to-face with another player.

Forcing players to run over to an intercom or sit by one in order to enjoy the benefits of commons actively makes this game less fun.

I see absolutely zero benefit to this addition, all this does is make it harder for players to communicate and understand what's going on.

Edited by Sirryan2002
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Okay that's a really complex fix to a non-issue. Others have said most things I've already wanted to about antags. Perma inmates who spam comms can have their headsets taken. Bridge hobos can be silenced with the press of a single button. Not being able to follow comms is a problem for new players, but becomes less so with experience. Otherwise noone could play Captain.

Mostly I'm just not convinced about the issue itself being an issue, which makes the 'solution' that much less appealing.

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  • 5 months later...

Sorry for the necrothread, but perhaps an answer to the overload is simply to segregate traffic into separate windows.   

One text box for In-game announcments -- combat logs, players coughing, you can't breathe! You yould die for a cigarette, players near you talking or emoting
One text box for common comms
One text box for department/silicon/cult/etc comms -- all channel-specific comms.

It's very common for, for example medical radio calls to get lost in the overall flow of text, having them be split out into a separate window that isn't scrolling like a demonic hamster wheel would help people manage information without needing to be such a dramatic change as abolishing a channel and replacing it with a new mechanic

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4 hours ago, Tenheydes said:

Sorry for the necrothread, but perhaps an answer to the overload is simply to segregate traffic into separate windows.   

Yeah I've heard ideas thrown around for a reworked chat window that allows you to have different tabs for different things.  If that were to happen I'd really love if it also allowed you to pop out chat tabs into their own window to have on a second monitor or something.  Or even if they couldn't be popped out, just having the ability to see multiple tabs side by side would be really cool.  I'm visualizing something similar to tabbed chat windows in MMOs where you can configure your UI to have multiple windows visible at the same time or to switch between tabs.

A lot of this would need to just be a "safe default" and then allow the customization to be user configurable so that the "single chat window" option still works for people who prefer that.

I've heard this talked about previously but I have no idea if anyone is currently working on such a feature.  I'd love to see it happen though.

Edited by Rythen
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Personally id love for the ability to just, click it off, like how you do with other channels you have a key for, just flick it off.

That way those who wana use gen com on a headset still can, and those who dont want to hear the nightmare of white noise can just tune it out.

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  • 1 month later...

Honestly I think the suggestion to remove common comms from headsets but keep them for station bounced radios and intercoms is a great idea. Definitely adds to the immersion, and a lot of the low RP stuff happens when people start saying silly things over the common chat. Departmental radios are way more interesting, and this would really encourage the heads of a department to be the go-betweens for the various departments, as it should be. 

I also love the idea of the emergency button instead of "; help maint!". This might have balance implciations for some gamemodes and various antags might need a bit of a nerf to keep them in check.

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I personally am not in favour of this suggestion. Reasons have already been given by others. 

 

Furthermore, there already is a possibility to cut out common comms, however it is not by default and it's not forced upon anyone.

 

On normal headsets: Change the frequency to anything that isn't the default common frequency (default is 145.9).

On command headsets for example, there is a tickbox for 'common' that you can untick, to not receive common chat.

Edited by Landerlow
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2 hours ago, Landerlow said:

 

 

On normal headsets: Change the frequency to anything that isn't the default common frequency (default is 145.9).

On command headsets for example, there is a tickbox for 'common' that you can untick, to not receive common chat.

Huh, you know, i never realised the frequency thing actually worked to do that, though it would be much nicer to have a tickbox for the normal headset to similar to the command headsets, just to make it simpler.

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  • 2 weeks later...

So…. remove funny green text and add life alert 

🤨

why? I am confusion. This completely flew over my head. That would be like removing the ability to make calls on your cellphone Irl, it just… wouldn’t work. 

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