Pre-game prep: The Modding Party
Night time, Morton Hall. The room was filled with nerf guns, opened with exposed internals. The sound of a power drill worked nearly nonstop, accompanied by the chorus of excited chatting, and testfires from supped up automatic blasters and powerful spring loaded ones. Shards of shaved plastic covered the tables. In the old days of HVZ, a few weeks before every game, the community would hold a nerf modification party. The blasters of the old N-strike series were pretty sub par when brought straight out of the box, so for any sort of accuracy in midrange, you almost needed to modify them. The most common, standardized mod was to remove the air restricter in order to get that extra power behind each dart. This would get them about up to the same range as the elite series which would drop on the market several years later, but the old streamlines were far less accurate out of the blaster. Less dense foam, softer tops, about the only saving grace of old streamlines was the pale orange coloring which made them much easier to find in the grass. But we didn't have the wide range of darts that you'd find on the market these days, and whistlers or suctions were only compatible with front loaded blasters. For those of us using the clip system guns, it was all we had for a while. By the end of this event, I was way more comfortable with the internals of my raider than I wanted to be, though as I had no background in operating the drill for air restriction removals, I eventually had to grab someone much more handy to help me out.
Geoff had embraced the Recon as his primary at this point. As the longshot wasn't exactly functioning very well after the first night in our first game. The recon had proved to be a much more practical weapon, offering the same performance at a much smaller size. Like me, he came to get the upgrade. I'm pretty sure he was getting it double springed. (Adding a second spring to increase the pressure of force behind his darts.) This came at the cost of making the blaster harder to prime. But in conjunction with removing the air restricter, it would allow darts to reach very far ranges. The man who offered to do his AR removal had never done Recons before, but his AR removal went a little too smoothly. Putting the blaster back together was the hard part. But we managed to accomplish it. Finally, it was time to test it. To our amazement, the first test shots were so powerful that not only did they send the dart to the top of the steps with a very loud bang, but they also spit stray little chunks of plastic like a muzzle loader. This thing was like the noisy cricket in Men in Black. Since Geoff favored the small profile of the recon with no attachments, what he had was a handheld pistol that could send a dart from the bottom of baker steps to the corner with a loud slamming noise. Easily making Geoff both our scout, and our sniper. That was until we brought it outdoors for a few tests, and realized that the darts had a tendency to veer very far off course when beyond midrange. In retrospect, it was more likely due to the old streamline darts. Although when the stars aligned, every once in a while he would land a straight shot or a curved shot at long range with this thing. But I digress. The modding party was a success in our eyes, as we both came out with greatly improved performance. We spent the rest of our time talking to people. There weren't too many noobs there, so it was cool to hear the survival stories of actual oldschool hvz veterans. The only reason we knew about it was that we had started stalking the forums some time after Spring game.
About those forums:
Now I cannot tell you how much culture and history those forums packed from the old days. But I can't mention my first weeklong game without explaining just how integral they were to the game. In an age before Facebook became as refined as it is now, they were essential for communication between players. Human players had access to the main forums. And it would say just below your name whether you were human or zombie. But after you get turned, and you send a message requesting to be turned on the forums, it opens a second half of the forum dedicated to the zombies. And they could see what humans were posting and still interact with them, throwing taunts and jabs at the remaining resistance. But because humans couldn't see the zombie stuff, the zombies were able to have a massive intelligence network. You also had to be careful who you trusted with information, since you could be talking to someone, and telling them a plan, but if they die between then and the designated time, you might have a horde waiting for you. The zombies basically had dedicated forum readers who would keep track of what was going on, while directing the horde or specific operatives to areas where on field zombies might be witnessing human traffic from inside a Wendies or something. Humans may have been at a disadvantage in the intel department, but that's half of what made late game survival so fun. As fewer and fewer humans survived, they'd start talking offline more, in attempt to outwit the zombie menace. The misinfo campaigns just added an extra layer of gameplay over the existing game.
Another important facet of the forums were the pages for Official Strike-teams. Strike teams were squads of up to no more than 8 players who acted somewhat as a closed cell in missions, dossier hunts, and freeplay campus traversal. Official Strike-teams were those who were recognized by the mods, and allowed to have a private space on the forums. Unofficial strike teams just had a public forum, and had to make due with that. I feel like strike team identity really helped people get into the game. Like humans had to cooperate in order to survive, but there was something grabbing your clique of friends and crafting that brand identity, trying to get recognized as official, trying to earn prestige among your fellow players through outlasting other teams, or being given the honor of the BFG mission. Which in those days, only one team would be selected to do.
But most importantly of all was a thread called 'How to win HVZ'. The cultural monolith of HVZ culture in the early days. It was more of a rant than a how to, screaming about how HVZ is not a game you win by beating it. I'm paraphrasing here, based on memory, but the gist of it was 'You win HVZ by dying in a blaze of glory. You win HVZ by getting left for dead by your strike-team. You win by dive bombing a human from a tree, or scaring the shit out of them. You win HVZ by walking away with a funny or badass story. You win this game by being the one who steps up and takes a risk. So stop complaining about human tarps, or getting nommed at Walmart, and go out there and play the god damn game.' Something along those lines, though with many, many more words that can stir the soul. Parts of it were even incorporated into the zombie prayer. "As we forgive those who camp out on Ellis." was a reference to the humans who would use the Ellis Hall courtyard/stairs as an impenetrable fortress, the very same types who were said to be loosing the game back in the day. Its one of many pieces of Athens Culture that we lost when the forums went down, and if anyone has a surviving record of that speech, I will personally dedicate an entire blog to the preservation of it. Unfortunately the Way Back machine doesn't let me view the forum threads, so all I can do is tell you about it based on memory.
A new base:
So yeah. The forums on the old HVZ Athens website were important to our strike team's early days. We armed ourselves with knowledge, with modded nerf guns, and connections. Another thing that had changed since my first game was that Geoff was now living in Athens. It was a place off of Columbus Road near the DQ on the far outskirts of town. He was renting a room and he wasn't the only one there who was in the game. Red-Team's very own Hayes was one of his roommates. This new location allowed me a place to rest my head for the durration of the game, as well as leave the car somewhere. Athens is notorious for being hard to find a parking space, and I just wanted to find a place to stash it for the week long just so I didn't have to deal with all of that. For this time, we were going to be playing for the whole thing. I know we say week-long a lot, but it was actually a 10 day game back then. Although since Chauncey and Brandon couldn't join us for this game, Geoff had recruited Cole to fill the gap. I had met Cole before, but I didn't really know him at this point, so in my mind at the time, Geoff and I were the only two members of our strike team. Regardless, I do want to stress that Cole is a founding member as well, but I will be continuing the story based on my perceptions at the time.
So we had it all figured out. Our 'two' man strike team was called Tempest. And we were going to be like the temp agents for strike teams. If your squad needed an extra man or two for a specific task, we were there to fill the slot. It was a networking tactic to help get our name out there before we built our strike team up. We were going to spend the game growing, and recruiting players who jived well with us. And by the next game, we hoped to earn our recognition and receive a special spot on the forums with our name on it. With those ambitions, our new location, our newly upgraded nerf guns, and our past experiences, we felt more than ready to tackle anything the upcoming game had in store for us... Unfortunately for us... There was one scenario we could have never even considered at the time. And even now, its not really something a player should be expecting. At least not in the way it happened.
Day 1: Betrayal at Opening Mission. Enter Maleficent.
When first we poked our head into Morton, most of the people had not arrived yet. But the back lobby area still had a lot going on. A few early arrivers fully kitted and ready for battle, conversing with mods and each other. I saw one familiar face there. That Preston guy who had pinned us on the ledge of Alden library in my previous game. He was talking to a few of the players, and I overheard as he walked by "Yeah, I'm that guy everyone seems to know by name for some reason, and I don't know why." I had to suppress a smirk, recalling just how memorable my first hour of gameplay was thanks to his tank ability. But I let him be, he already had a sizable crowd demanding his attention. Geoff and I chilled and conversed with a few people before the mods finally let us in.
It may not have been my first game, but it was my first time seeing a rules briefing. A lot of inside jokes were packed into the slides, but they were very clear in their explanation of the rules. I think this was Ben's first game as admin. He told me a story once about how he was the original guy who would ride around on a bike and shoot zombies, then as soon as he became the mod, he immediately made sure that nobody could ever do it again by slapping the No Vehicles rule up there, which persists to this day. So it was technically the beginning of a new era of HVZ in Athens. And a lot of new freshman players had joined. Although some would argue that the introduction of the Raider and Vulcan kinda threw the game into a new era, as it resulted in a lot of rule changes, but that was before my time, so what do I know? I'm considered a relic of the past by the new players anyways.
So the rule briefing was short, sweet, and rather humorous, and from there, we were off. Cole was absent, and would be until about the final day, so it was just Geoff and I. I still remember just how anxious it made me walking up that Morton isle, then down the hall, gazing outside of every window for the zombies that were undoubtably out there waiting for us already. But it was that kinda anxiety that excited me at the same time. From the moment we exited the building, I swooped around the corner to check for anybody hiding, but it was all clear. So, the humans split off into smaller groups, then crossed the street. Keep in mind, this was before the new dorms were added, so we were mostly walking into an open field with a stray little maintenance building or something set up. Our group consisted of my brother and I, and a group of girls who didn't really belong to any teams. One of which was actually a mod, which we had no way of knowing at the time. Being the last to cross of course meant that the small 7 person horde had eyes on us, so they moved in for the hunt, forcing our backs against the shed. Someone shouted to make a circle. And since I had the highest ammo capacity, I placed myself up front. Some of them circled. I remember witnessing a zombie stagnate for just a bit too long, allowing me to take aim and hit him from a range he thought he was safe at. As he removed his bandana, I recall feeling amazed by the upgraded performance of my blaster. Compared to the stock raider from those times when i had massive amounts of zombies swarming me, and could only fire when they got close? This was a total game changer. And my confidence began to swell.
Geoff however wasn't so lucky. Now I'm not going to name drop people who get bad press in my blog, as someone normally has to do quite a lot for me to hold a grudge. But this mod... I'll call her 'Maleficent'. Basically, when Geoff was trusting her and another girl to have his back on the other side of the circle, she quietly allowed the zombie to walk past her, then put a finger to her mouth to the other player when she turned her head. The zombie walked right across the inner circle up to my brother. I had just finished up cleaning the front, when I heard "Got you!" behind me. After turning my head, I saw a zombie in the middle of the group, with arms on both of my brother's biceps. Reflexively, I shot the zombie, but was still kinda in disbelief over what I had witnessed. Geoff looked confused. He turned to face the humans behind him, wondering how a zombie could conveniently bypass their parameter like that. Hoping that one of the girls could say they shot the zombie. Instead; "He did, I saw it happen!" Maleficent all too eagerly agreed, pouring salt on the wound. I remember baring witness to the stoic disappointment that manifested in Geoff's face after he looked around and realized that nobody in the group had shot his assailant. Then sadness as his ambitions of carrying the Tempest name were shattered. He was the first human turned. Before I could question anyone, we had to get moving before the zombies respawned. And then I heard the girl who was told to hush grill Maleficent about it. She hadn't seen the zombie creep past them, but she knew what had happened as soon as she heard it.
"We really should have kept him from dying, our group is lacking in firepower as it is!" I couldn't believe what I was hearing, but with that can of worms opening up, how someone in the group had just let my brother get turned like that? Well, it caused me to be like "Fuck this group, I'm out."
An Enduring Tempest Grudge Explained:
Now, I want to be clear. It is perfectly normal for mods to try to kill players through mission mechanics or leading the horde into battle in order to ensure the balance of the game. It is perfectly okay to have a bias or affinity towards one side or another, so long as you are fair and retain the capacity to remove yourself from that bias when rulings need to be enforced. But I speak as both a former mod, a member of present day Red-Team, and a veteran player of both human and zombie playstyles when I say, its not okay for a mod to enter the game without OZs as a human a bandana on your arm, and allow a zombie to slip past a defensive point you are tasked with watching, just to ensure they get a kill. Now, opinions aside, the reason any of this is relevant to the Tempest Testimonies is because its one thing that really stunted Tempest in the early days. And future members of the strike team would continue to hold this grudge even well past our disbandment after one last hurrah in Endwar 2017. That's why, while I normally don't hold a grudge for longer than 2 months, the thing is... So what I mean to say is... Basically...? Fuck that person in particular! I knew not to trust her. But it was what it was, and we had to accept it.
Strike Team Muscle Man Savage and the Red-Team
So the thing was, I had no way of getting into contact with Cole, as that was Geoff's friend at the time, and I barely even sat at acquaintance level with him. So Tempest was now just me. Geoff's death clearly upset the both of us, but I needed to survive the night. I kept running. And as I looked to my right, I noticed there was another group running parallel to me. And like me, they were all adorned in black trench coats. "Hey, I notice you guys have a rather tasteful fashion sense, mind if I join you?" I asked jovially. A player by the name of Gary Grant was leading the pack. He agreed, then announced his group as Strike Team Muscle Man Savage, or something along those lines. They all had trench coats, save for one little boy about half my height who was instead dressed in a bunch of tinfoil and cardbord boxes. In case you haven't guessed, this was Gary's brother Sydney. And as we bounced off of each other, I got the sense that Sydney was much more experienced and mature than his childish appearance suggested. This kid had seen action. I managed to tell them the story of my recent loss, about how my brother died a needless death and how I was the sole survivor of the strike team. A story I would eventually tell enough times that it basically felt rehearsed by the third day. We did most of this talking while on the run, or turning and fending off attacks from behind. I ran with them for the rest of the mission.
And at some point, we ended up migrating close to the Nelson parking garage, when I noticed a squad dressed in red camo pants running around down there. I needed to tell Hayes the news. So I ran up to the brick opening, and dropped down, then matched my stride to theirs. While on the run, I maneuvered over to Hayes and told him of my brother's demise. He said his condolences, thanked me for the knowledge that his roommate was now among the dead, then went on to explain some things about Maleficent and what kind of mod she was that I really wish we'd have known. So the thing was, Maleficent is actually a mod. A pro-zombie mod. A VERY pro-Zombie mod. To the point of where if she could kill all the humans in the first night, with no regard to the balance of the game, she would. In fact, she's certainly been know to have attempted that, according to some players and mods who predate me. So, he offered a quick word of condolences, then went back to doing... Whatever the hell it was Red-team did back then. I don't fully recall all the details, but a lot of it was the most tactical running, diving, and ducking that I had ever seen from Red-Team. And I can say that, I'm a member of them now.
You see, back in those days, Red-Team was very different. Led by a guy we call Sarge. He wasn't a student, but an older local who may, or may not have seen some action in Namn. So where as most players play the game to get some excitement, Sarge was the kinda war vet that played the game to feel... normal again. And that showed through out the strike team. Where as teams like Razor would embrace the tacticool ascetic of private contractors, brandishing polished tried and true hvz tactics, the Red-Team of old felt like actual comandos dispatched behind enemy lines. The old HVZ games were a lot more immersive than the ones of today, and strike teams like Sarge's Red-Team did well to really sell that to players. And with this being the start of the Derp Mod era, we were just starting to step foot into the silly themes and such. In the old days, the game was kinda scary, more edgy, and themes were more grounded and served to immerse the players into actual zombie apocalypse. And Sarge's Red-Team was an echo of that era. Thankfully, the silly bonkers themes wouldn't really get weird until some time around 2014, so it was cool to run with them in their natural element. Few remaining players in Athens HVZ remain who have seen what I have. And it left an impression on me going forward.
The Dead Storm churns:
Eventually though, while it was fun playing soldier, I realized there really wasn't much of a point, so I split from the group. The mission had ended, and it was dark. The residual zombies had cleared out. So it was time to go back to HQ and discuss what Geoff and I were going to do from here. It was a long, lonely, paranoid walk all the way across town. Expecting an attack at any moment, I had been checking my back every three steps. Even though I was on one of the upper streets where action never occurred. It was just a habit solo players needed to get accustomed to. Up hill, winding around the long inclining curb of Columbus Street, then off onto Lancaster Road, I finally made it. Knowing there was at least one active zombie in the home, I made sure to approach the porch carefully. Checking literally everywhere. I sighed, then entered the building, expecting to see my brother brooding somewhere. Thankfully, I had underestimated him. For adorned in a tacky purple zombie shirt, there he was, holding a Marshmallow brain inside of its packaging. Of course he was angry about his death, but he was channeling it constructively. If Maleficent wanted him to be a zombie that badly, he was going to be THE quintessential zombie player for Athens HVZ.
Boy, if only I knew what that would entail for his hvz career and game reputation.
(To be Continued.)