narcogen's picture

Well, I'm starting to wish I hadn't said I'd do this today... I just had the nastiest workout, and my hands are shaking. Will keep it relatively short.

So I get to The Tech at about 4:00 in the afternoon. (If it's not obvious, that's where the tournament is being held.) The Halo sessions don't start until about 6:00 (plus the obligatory hurry-up-and-wait period), but my dad wanted to check out the museum for a bit, seeing as he was driving all the way from Berkeley just for some Halo thing. So we did. It was decent.

Wasn't the best organized event I've ever attended. Also, the Halo matches were flooded. (Numerous games were being played, including Xbox, GameCube, PS2, etc.) Something like 64 people were bracketed for Halo, as opposed to the other extreme, 8 for DOA. So it was a while before things fell into place. In the meantime, I got some of the crappy catered food, drank tons of water, slowed my breathing, and watched people warm up. (I managed to get into one game, but only one, which sucked.) I did a massive amount of standing that day — my spine still hurts. Whenever I had a free moment, I went to a bench and laid down. The matches were played standing, with the TVs mounted on carrier stands — and the lack of chairs was a major, major oversight, in my opinion.

Finally they figured things out. I believe they were reconfiguring the brackets to deal with no-shows and eliminate byes. It was an initial bracket of, I believe, 16, so we had to go through no less than 4 cycles to get everybody's initial match in.

I'd been watching people practice for a while, and I could tell that there were a lot of amateurs present. However, there were a few really high-class players as well, so I decided to be careful.

I was matched with a fellow who looked about 18, 20, thereabouts. To recap, the tournament rules were Slayer Pro, Battle Creek, 10 minute time limit, 1 vs. 1 splitscreen. That was finessed by having the MC call Stop! after 10 minutes, the refs (one for each game — a good idea) made you hit Start, and the score was taken. Unless you'd already hit 25 kills and ended, in which case you'd automatically win. And yes, it was the same ruleset/map for the entire tournament. Probably wasn't fair for some.

We squared off. I got out my glasses, which were scratched to all oblivion (I'm getting new lenses soon, but as it was, I was having trouble seeing details... like frag grenades and motion trackers.) and got my gloves on. (They're a new pair, since my other pair — 4 or 5 years old — is totally ruined. I got these two days ago, just enough time to break them in and cut the fingers off.) He didn't make any comments on that, which was nice.

We went at it. He wasn't bad, but... how do you say it? Not the same. Wrong league. No glaring problems, just not entirely at ease, so I took him. 21 - 12, me. I apologized. He wandered off. I heard some comments — ... what can you do? I mean, he has the shirt, and the gloves...

To explain, I was wearing my Halo shirt (the original, sky-blue one). I actually got tons of questions about that — at least half a dozen, people asking me where they could get one. I'd say, Well, you can buy it — a similar one, anyway — online... and they'd say Really? Thanks! and walk off without asking where. Maybe they were going to get Watson on it. I don't know.

Anyway... so I then waited for the 4th cycle to go (I was in the 3rd), then the next round started. Two cycles. I was in the second. Got some water and waited.

I was matched against a character who seemed to be about 30, which was a little disturbing, as most everyone else was 17-25 or so. We went.

He was much better, and I was scared. He wasn't a pistoleer or a grenade-lobber — he was the cheap sort, going straight for the invisibility and rocket launcher.

Like they say, man oh man. I managed to keep him mostly at bay by sniping his ass with my pistol, but when he managed to get the RL and a good position, it was just a matter of letting him use his rockets up. There's no maneuvering, no ambushes, no cool tricks of the terrain or interesting weaponry you can use to tackle that kind of thing in Battle Creek. It's just charge, boom, charge, boom, charge, boom...

But like I said, I tried to keep him away from the launcher. We stayed pretty close until the end, when... he got the launcher, grabbed the invisibility, stole the overshield, killed me once, then sat on the overshield spawn point and hunkered down.

Now, let's review. Like I said, there's nothing you can do — no terrain, no nothing. The ONLY way to deal with the launcher is to 1) Let him expend his ammo, or 2) Kill him really fast. That means a perfect 3-shot pistol kill, or a precise 2-shot sniper, or... whatever. It's almost impossible, EXCEPT —

Except that he had an overshield, so it WAS impossible. There was nothing in the game that could kill him fast enough to keep from getting my ass shot to Timbuktu.

Oh, and did I mention? He was beating me by one point... and we had 30 seconds.

This was the one major problem with the ruleset. Yes, it keeps games short, makes things easy — but it screws over some players, because if you're a waiter, not a charger, you have no recourse. While you're waiting, you'll lose. You can't hold off until your opponent has 23 kills then stage a comeback, because the game will be over by then.

So I was screwed in about 17 ways, and I knew it. Know those moments when the game's right on the cusp of ending, and you've been thinking, C'mon, c'mon, I can do this, pull it off... but then that moment comes that you just realize, It's over. There is absolutely nothing I can possibly do to win this game.

It was one of those moments, as I charged around the corner with a pistol in my hand and wearing nothing but a grimace.



He took the shot, and he missed.

Maybe the Guardians DO exist. I don't know. God was watching. Something. But he missed the shot.

So I'm flying around, pegging him with my pistol, and he shoots THE SHOT, and he misses...

My heart was somewhere in the vicinity of my stomach. I swear I heard a small alarm go off in my interior. But blam, blam... he was reloading, oh god... blam, blam... my heart was RACING, absolutely racing — three or more beats a second, just pounding out like a machine gun. My adrenaline system must have had a mechanical breakdown, because I'm sure it's not supposed to do what it was doing.

C'mon, c'mon, c'mon! DAMN IT!

And that was it. He fell to the ground. The score was tied.

I fell to one knee. The life sort of left my body. It was on autopilot that I grabbed the overshield, wandered through the teleporter... and staged a nice gun-down with my AR. Like shooting skeet. Bam bam bam. I didn't even care — as long as the score was tied, I'd stay in the running (with a tiebreaker). Grenade, more bullets, he died. One second — ONE second — and Time! was called, we hit Start, and ended. 23 - 22.

My opponent shook my hand and said something about screwing up. Thought I was on the other side or something. I didn't hear. Grabbed a wall and hit the ground. My entire body was tingling. The only time I've ever felt quite like this was when I got mugged, and even that wasn't the same feeling.

Every square inch of my body was tingling. It's the most interesting sensation. You must try it. And it stayed with me for ten, fifteen minutes, well into my next game, which certainly didn't help me.

I remember thinking, Well, NOW I can lose. Hell, now I can die...

Speaking of which... the next game.

I'd made the acquaintance of a guy named Guile (like, as he said, the word) during the warm-up matches. Into the tournament, we stayed in touch, checking up on each other's scores and such. He'd made it into the third round (what I was now playing), like I had — and was playing on the screen next to mine. He informed me my next opponent was his brother. Great.

We matched off. After this was one more round, after that the finals — played on the IMAX screen. That would be cool.

But it was not to be.

I'll break the flow of the story by telling you this — the guy I played was the guy who later went on to win the tournament. By a landslide.

We played, and at first it wasn't too harsh. I was playing well, and managed to stay within a few kills of him for the first 10 frags.

And then... I guess he got warmed up, because he started to break-dance on my head.

God save me from the man's pistol.

Now, let me get a few things straight. The pistol is a remarkable weapon. Powerful, versatile, deadly. In the right hands, it's pretty impressive. And there are some people who can really make it sit up and sing. These are good pistoleers, people who practice it a lot and do well.

Then there are the great pistoleers, people who truly feel comfortable with the pistol, and can force it to perform in ways that the average player wouldn't even think possible. I only know two or three people who I consider to be great pistoleers — and, though I don't want to sound stuck-up, I'm one of them. The pistol is my Friend.

But this guy...

You know the revered three-shot-pistol-kill? Two shots take most of the shields, the third finishes the shields and, if you score it in the head, kills 'em. Easy in theory. In practice, almost nobody does it except by accident. Sure, you TRY for it, but four shots, five shots, six shots, seven shots are when it happens. Why? Because you're skidding to your left, while also jumping and ducking, and skating diagonally forward, as well — and your opponent is doing the same. You're throwing grenades, and so is he, and you're trying to keep track of where they're exploding and avoid them. And, of course, he's shooting all kinds of shit at you, which you need to be avoiding.

So the legendary 3 shots doesn't happen, except very rarely. I customarily use anywhere from four to seven or eight, and I consider myself proficient.

This guy was doing three shots, consistently, with at least 80% of his kills.

It was insane. We'll match up, see each other, and like an Old West duel, draw and begin shooting. I'll fire, and fire, and I'll be thinking I'm doing pretty well, and fire, and... die.

He'll squirt on by, metaphorically not even breathing hard, and I'll blink. What happened? Did he hit me with a rocket?

No. Just a pistol.

Obscene. And quite disregarding the pistol, he was good enough to rate Expert with everything else, from both kinds of rifle to the RL (which he rarely got) to grenades. Very good with grenades. And neither of us were fond of the rocket launcher (personally, I hate it), but I was left scrambling for it, in a desperate attempt to create SOME KIND of hole for myself to die. But he was so fast on the draw that, often enough, he could tag me before I shot — or at least make me dodge, losing aim.


He breezed by and not only beat me, he scored 25 kills a minute or two before the time ran out, and we wandered away.

The next block of time consisted of me waiting for the next match to play, moping, and then filing into the IMAX dome to watch the finals.

It was impressive, to say the least. I'm not sure if they used the in-theater projector, or rigged another one — I'm inclined to believe the latter, because the theater projector was obviously some kind of ten zillion watt contraption, rigged for total-dome display. In any case, we didn't use the whole dome — the image was projected onto a portion of it. However, it was still huge, and awfully comfortable, and the Digital Surround system was amazing.

We found seats. The Virtua Fighter matches played first. Now, I'm not a connoisseur of the game, but it was really obvious that these guys were world-class players. They were giving moves and reactions that I can hardly imagine. The DOA boys (and the soccer game, which I don't know the name of) were also excellent.

Once the VF matches were played, Halo revved up, and we got a glimpse of how you play the game.

Let me make a few things clear. Most of the players in the tournament were pretty good, save for a few recreational players who were there for kicks. And ALL four of the finals players were outstanding. These guys were really remarkable — they should have been recorded. I hope some of them got a chance to play in the Nationals, because they'd make a splash.

They played. They played with skill. However, all the time they were playing, Mr. Pistol was killing them.

It was almost ludicrous. He ate them for lunch. These guys were GREAT, very talented, almost no shortcomings — highly skilled, highly trained, well-drilled players who were all worthy of recommendation. They had great moves, and all were excellent with the pistol. And the god barely blinked as he mowed them over.

Not all of the games were too disparate in scores (I believe one of them might have been as close as a handful of points), but it was totally obvious that the outcome was predetermined. The finals were a formality. The Pistol had things well in hand.

I did see a few nice tricks. At one point, an enterpising finalist had attempted to forestall his defeat with a rocket launcher, much as I had. Naturally, he found himself quickly dead, and the launcher turned against him. And because it was split screen, some interesting things were possible, such as... two player standing off on opposite teleporters, one with the RL glaring at the exit, the other wondering when he's going to leave. A nice standoff.

But the other guy, with an assault rifle or something, managed to sprint through, nab the overshield JUST IN TIME to get hit by the rocket... and lived handily, of course, being invincible. He made the kill. A great sequence.

But in all, the matches were a landslide. We witnessed some great stuff, but the actual winner could have been decided in time to monogram his trophy.

You know... it's funny. We saw some of the best players in the world there that day. Here's the thing: when you're that good, it's not because you're very accurate with your weapons. It's not because you know the maps to death. It's not because you can fire fast, or move well, or have mastered the controls. All of those are things you improve a great deal when you first played, but at this stage, they aren't what does it.

What does it... is a kind of comfort.

When you play the game many, many hours... every day, every week, every month, without fail... something happens. It's the same as someone who works with the computer constantly, or puts thousand of rounds down a firing range every week, or even cooks all the time. It breeds a deep-seated, natural feeling, as if what you're doing is something you've done all your life. Martial artists know this — they know that if you want to seriously study self-defense, you've got to drill yourself so heavily that you don't, intellectually, know what to do — you have to have it so ingrained into your reflexes, your muscle memory, that it's hard-wired to just happen, of its own accord and automatically. Do something once and you're unfamiliar with it. Do it ten times, and maybe you'll know how it's done. Do it a hundred times, and you start to really understand it. Do it a thousand and it's quick, easy, you're good at it.

Do it a million times, and it's automatic.

Play Halo that much, and — not to be clichéd — but the controller becomes part of your hands. The barriers between command and effect are lost. You're not pushing a joystick to make things happen — you're just making things happen. No awkwardness. No hesitation at all.

That, above all, is what our resident tournament-slaying master had. It wasn't that he was a great dodger, or shooter, or thrower. But he was so smooth, so effortless, so incredibly at-ease with the system, that he was almost at one with it.

When you first learn to use a computer, it's very hard. Everything is new and untried. However, after a long time, you start to understand how things work, and doing things becomes much easier, much more intuitive. Even if you've never used a program before, or never adjusted a particular OS setting, or... whatever, the first time you do it, you don't fumble much. You don't spend an hour trying to figure out the interface. You just do it, because you know the realm so well that you can, more or less, determine what effects certain causes will induce. A newer user wouldn't know this — even if he had a manual, he'd take much longer, be much more stilted and uncomfortable. It's like physics; if you know the rules, you can apply them to things you've never done or known before, and they'll still work.

So, say you want to jump up, bounce off this wall, hit the floor just as your grenade explodes, throwing you forward, right as you fire, hitting this guy in the head immediately after the grenade takes his shields, and avoiding his return fire at the same time... you KNOW it will work, and you know exactly how to do it, even though you've never done it. Or you know it won't work. But you don't have to figure out by trial and error. You know.

Anyway, I digress. ::look at length of post:: A lot.

A few more points:

- The MC at the event was an utter, complete, and absolute dickhead. He sounded like a mouse on crack, and every five minutes he was making some comment like, Mmm... Budweiser beer still available downstairs! or Ah, this Red Bull is something... just outside the door! Get it while it's cold! He must have been payed off.

- The slides showing the tournaments brackets are available online. here's the one with me

- Thumping music from downstairs played the entire time. It was nice, unless you happened to walk by the speakers, in which case you'd probably wake up five minutes later, wondering how you ended up lying against the wall.

- The food was awful. Example: There was pizza in an adjoining room, for snacks or whatever. By the time the Halo section of the tournament started up (like I said, there were tons of games — most of the rest of them had been going on all day), I think it had been sitting there since about 11:00 AM. The Halo tourney started at 6:00. Do the math.

- I drank so much water I felt like a sponge. Water is the key to comfort when you're surrounded by emissions. Remember this.

- I got back at about 11:00, exhausted, and slept.

- Once again, I don't mean to bitch about being squared off against the tournament winner. It was a great match, and I played well. It just seems so incredibly appropriate, wonderfully ironic, after my heart-stopping second match — it's like God standing there with his hand out, saying, Glad you enjoyed yourself. Now pay up. I guess all those ... gimme this and I'll never ask 4 anything again! Pleeeaazze! prayers we make have to be accounted for sometime.

- In any case, I was entirely pleased with the outcome of the tournament. Third round out of six (out of five, really, seeing as I'd have been totally happy just getting to the IMAX). Like I said, I played well — especially considering that, prior to the event, the last I'd played was three days ago... but before THAT, the last I'd played was, ah, two or three weeks before. The exact number escapes me. Needless to say, it was fun.

Anyway... after all, at such high levels as the finals, it's a bit like the Olympics — there's not a lot of difference between the players, and it's not like the person who wins is actually fifty times better than the guy in second place.

Okay, so that's a bad example — at THIS event, the guy who won WAS fifty times better than anybody there. I just mean in general. If I hadn't met up with Godzilla early on, I might have been able to go further.

Like I said, the tournament rules had some problems, but in another sense, they were great — because they were... pure. No vehicles. No tricks. Not really any strategy. Just skill against skill — pistols, with ARs for close-range, well-melded with grenades. Plasma rifles and RLs rarely made an appearance, and snipers never. Grenades were actually really heavily used — it might not seem that way, but they're an integral part of pistols. They limit an opponent's maneuvering options — throw one HERE, he has to run THERE. They bring down his power — take his shields with a frag, which is pretty easy, and he's meat for your pistol. And they WILL kill you if you stop paying attention. Most importantly, they're a kind of mental game. You can avoid them pretty easily if you're paying attention, but it takes brain capacity, and if you're devoting attention to them, that's less neurons to give to shooting, dodging, whatever.


Okay. I don't know if I had any more to say. I don't think so — and I hope not. But really and truly, my hands are absolutely throbbing by now, and my wrists feel like butter. The nerves in my arms move whenver I touch them to the desk, so I'm typing like I've got an invisible armrest. I'm not even going to proofread this message, so don't bug me if there are errors.

To summarize: I am happy.

Now, end.