Friday, January 24, 2014

Sofa Story: The Magic Spot

I've always been interested in the concept of 'the zone', a mindset where you transcend whatever activity you are doing and the flow comes naturally. While in the zone, you are at your absolute ability peak and can be unstoppable. The zone isn't just smoke and mirrors and has been backed by scientific literature. Some of that literature, which traditionally covers athletic endeavours, discusses that the same mindset can be achieved while gaming. I can attest to this and many gamers have tales where everything seemed to click, here's one of mine.

Team Fortress has been in my games rotation for nearly two decades. From the original Quake mod all the way to the modern incarnation (Team Fortress 2), the concept of objective and class based multiplayer has been compelling. Early in my playing days, I was a fan of the heavy weapons guy. A massive health pool and the ability to dish out insane damage once his gun is at full speed, they can be a nightmare to see storming into your base and can be almost impossible to eliminate once they set up shop inside. Later, I went through an engineer phase, building sentries to keep the home safe while occasionally pushing the front line with EMP grenades (grenades have sadly been removed from the game). A personal favourite tactic of mine was to use the wall penetrating power of the EMP to take out enemies before they could even see me. Most recently, I have spent my time split between the solider and medic. As a solider I prefer to hit hard and rocket jump back to my base to reload, it's a dirty tactic but incredibly effective. As a medic, I love activating an uber-charge and ripping through as many sentries as possible (I know all to well what a pain it can be to get them just right and the frustration when they explode). While I love to play as all the classes, I tend to avoid the sniper. The speedy reactions necessary to score a head-shot coupled with the sit-and-wait playstyle really doesn't suit me. I find playing as a sniper to be extended periods of boredom interspersed by brief heart-attack-inducing moments. This isn't to say I never pick the class, but it's definitely low on my list. 

One feature that has been awesome in Team Fortress 2 is automatic stat tracking. Loading screens point out your scores and playtime with each class and the statistics can be torn apart to find things like overall accuracy. I'm not too caught-up in the stats themselves, but one thing always irked me about them. I would always see my best performance per class as somewhere in the neighbourhood of 20-30 points in a life... except the sniper who was an outlier at less than ten points. Maybe it's OCD, but every time I saw that stat I would get a bit upset and one day I vowed to reconcile this. Firing up the king of the hill map, Nucleus, I promptly choose to play as a sniper despite three other players on my team doing the same. I wasn't playing for the team this time, it was all about me.

My first few lives were a disaster. I went to the typical sniper perches only to find that the other snipers on my team were already occupying them. Two snipers on a single point is pretty much a recipe to draw fire and I managed to get myself and teammate promptly killed. My next attempts involved grabbing the bow and arrow and pushing for a more in-your-face offensive style. I had moderate success but wasn't anywhere near to racking up double-digit scores. Perhaps my best life was when I noticed a stack of enemies crowding the central control point and simply blind fired arrows into them. I must have scored three or four kills without even aiming! It's this run that got me thinking, the central control point was always going to have people on it, and my best bet for quick kills was to focus my attention there.

I switched back to the sniper rifle, ran out of my base and aimed my sights towards the middle. I had no inclination to find cover or conceal my location. My gun was loud and I was going to stand proud taking unobstructed shots at the point. The tactic was surprisingly effective. I managed a bunch of kills before a spy took the side route and stabbed him some spine. Still, I was nowhere near my goal of 20+ points in a single life. Undeterred, I spawned again running into the open. This time, however, I was a bit more mindful of my surroundings. Popping off a few quick shots, I darted back to the safety of my base. After a few more rounds of popping in and out, a critical rocket narrowly missed me and I realized that my days were numbered with this tactic. Retreating to my base, I slowly inched out the side door to get a lay of the land. It was at this point that I realized I could get a view of the central control point while being literally steps from the impregnable safety of my base's door. The range was small giving me little room to track targets, but the spot was as protected as could be.

I raised my scope to my eye and immediately an enemy ran right through my crosshairs - headshot. Then, seconds later, another one came marching through - headshot. I realized that the high traffic nature of the control point meant that I didn't need to bother tracking targets, I could just hold my sights at head level and fire as soon as someone wandered in the way! I quickly racked up five kills this way until the opposing team got wise and a few soldiers fired some rockets my way. Seeing them slowly arc their way in, I took a few steps back, watch my base door slam in front of me and the rockets harmlessly crash against it. Then, poking my head out again, I grabbed a bunch more kills before attracting attention. Under fire again, I stepped a few feet back and was protected by the divine will of my base's door. I kept doing this for a couple of minutes, stealing kills and getting out of harms way and then the magic happened. I don't know if it was the repetitive nature of what I was doing but I fell into the zone, reacting to incoming fire instantly and unerringly shooting domes has soon as they were in my sights. I felt immortal and unbelievably powerful. I eventually lost track of how many kills I had racked up, but knew that I had surpassed my goal of 20 - I was now going for the all time high-score.

The rest of the story is fairly boring, in my zen like state I continued to dance in and out of my base scoring kills at will. The only thing that stopped my streak was my team foolishly claiming victory. The final tally: 63 points in a single life - a figure to eclipsed my previous best. I think that my magic spot was later nerfed as I have tried a few times to replicate that miraculous day but have never come close. In any case, I had a new statistical dilemma, my sniper score was still an outlier, just in the opposite direction. The onus was now to pump up the stats on all my other characters... something I'm still working on to this day.