Sunday, 17 July 2016

My First Experience with Paintball

Now for a completely different post, sadly without pictures. A friend of mine took a couple of us out to paintball for his birthday. This was the first time I'd played paintball so I thought it would be a good time for a paintball vs Nerf comparison. There were 5 of us in the group, so we were thrown together with two other groups of strangers, totalling around 16 players.
Since I'm an Australian and paintball is extremely restricted, being treated essentially as firearms, all the equipment was loaned. We were all given Tippmann 98 Customs to use, with gravity fed hoppers. The hoppers could hold around 150 balls fully loaded. Since the markers were pretty much solid metal, they were substantially heavier than Nerf blasters, and so after a while my arms did get tired. This is more due to not being used to the weight than anything else. We all had overalls, which were relatively thin but did at least keep the paint mostly off us. Naturally we all had full face masks. The friend who organised it had a bit of credit left over, so got a pair of gloves and a protective box. I took the gloves, and though they were rather uncomfortable, I did take a few hand hits and they certainly saved me a lot of pain.

The first obvious things to get out of the way are performance and projectile comparisons. The paintball markers we were given are naturally substantially more powerful and accurate than the superstock blasters I regularly use and go up against. It was not unreasonable to fire at and hit an enemy near spawn, from near your own spawn. I personally scored a lot of hits popping up and nailing barely exposed people (usually just the marker and their head in a facemask) easily 15-20+ metres away. Since the hopper was slightly off to the side, the markers had a set of iron sights. Given the range and accuracy of the markers, the iron sights were actually very useful. The markers we used were semi autos, with pretty nice trigger response. I was easily able to fire off 4-5 balls per second if necessary, though typically shot in 1-2 ball bursts. Given the velocity and accuracy of the marker though, I rarely needed to fire that quickly, and within 20 metres could easily hit my target in one or two shots. Overall, the markers worked fine for the venue and the players, though I know basically nothing about paintball markers.

The obvious main distinction between paintball and Nerf is the ammo. We used an oil based yellow paintball, and it did it's job fine. Upon a decent impact, the balls would burst open with a reasonable amount of paint, easily enough to tell that you've been hit. Naturally given their higher mass (supposedly average 3 grams) and substantially higher muzzle velocity (don't know an actual number but I'd definitely say 200fps+), they hit much, much harder than a superstock speed dart (~1.3g FVJ at max 150fps at MLF). You would definitely feel it if a ball hit you pretty much anywhere. They did hit perhaps slightly weaker than I had feared, and outside of an unlucky finger scrape, I was left with no visible marks on my body. I did see a few other hits that did more damage (one unlucky player took a direct hit to a finger), but otherwise nothing out of the ordinary. Compared to superstock Nerf, naturally they hurt quite a fair bit more, but not enough to be actually incapacitated due to pain. Naturally due to the potential for injury, a non-firing rule was implemented for close range. If within 8 metres of an enemy, instead of blasting them you would simply shout "surrender" and they would be counted as hit. The one time I needed to do this, I rounded a corner I knew there was an enemy behind, shouted "surrender", then was shot twice (presumably instinctively) before he registered what had happened. The mod quickly intervened, sending him off to respawn and letting me stay in the game. I was no more than 5 metres away from him when he shot me, and although the shots definitely hurt quite a lot, I was left with no mark on my body when I checked after the games.

The paintballs do definitely make some things easier. For one, they are much easier to bulk reload, as you simply open up the hopper and pour a canister of balls in. There's no regard for direction or organisation, and the gravity hopper worked just fine. They also (obviously) make hit detection far, far easier. Not only do you feel paintballs much more, but you are also left with a paint mark wherever you got hit (assuming the ball actually breaks and releases the paint). Naturally they also cause other (very obvious) problems. They are non-reusable, and so have a far, far higher operational cost than Nerf blasters and darts. Cleaning up paint marks is also a pain, and the paint means you can only play paintball in specially designated and restricted areas, whereelse you can Nerf just about anywhere. Essentially, you get exactly what you expect from the name.

The play area we used looked around 60-80m long, and about 20-30m wide. Cover was arranged roughly as such:

The red and blue goals are turned around for protection and are used as the respective sides' respawn point. All the green represent various pieces of cover. This particular arena used a few cars and a lot of tyres for cover. Easily crouchable behind, but also easy to aim over the top of by standing up. The red-blue boxes near the middle represent the objectives for Checkpoints. Overall I thought that while the cover was decent, given the very long effective range of the markers, could have done with more height. The ability to effectively fire from spawn to spawn, and the general protection against such, made it in my view a little too easy to spawn camp. If one team estabilished a particularly good position in the middle line of cover, they would be able to very effectively pin down the enemy team at the back of the field. Additionally, I felt like 16 may have been slightly too many for this play area. I felt like at times the sheer number of players, and thus volume of fire, made it nearly impossible to move to the middle line of cover in the middle of the game. It was certainly not a total mess (definitely not 64 player Operation Metro/Locker), but I think about 12 players max would have made for more tactical and generally better games. If our group had 6-8 people, I honestly wouldn't have minded a 3-4 player per team setup. Given that the markers could easily reach from one end of the field to the other, even with the reduced player count it would still be easy to engage enemy players from just about anywhere.

We played two different gamemodes, Checkpoints and Sabotage.
Checkpoints would be better known as Domination, with three objectives in the middle of the field. The winning team is the team that is in control of the most objectives at the end of the round. The objectives were just pieces of pipe that you simply knocked forward to capture. By design, the objectives would only display one colour at a time, that being the opposite team. It was quite a simple setup that worked well.
In both of the Checkpoints rounds, I rushed forward to the T shaped cover and immediately took control of that piece of cover, focusing on it for the entire round. In the first round we played, I was able to hold it for the entire round, and wasn't hit once, while getting quite a few hits on enemies trying to move up. No enemies were able to get close to my objective, and the rest of my team were able to move up and hold all the objectives for pretty much the entire round. In the second round we played, I was hit about 6 times throughout the round, however we had control over most of the objectives for most of the time. The enemy team were only ever able to get one or two players up to the T cover, and my team held the other two objectives for most of the late game. During one time when the enemy team had two players at the T, I was able to hit one of them from long range, then rushed up to the T. I turned the corner and "surrender"-ed the other player, during which another player from my team had moved up to the T as well. We held the T for the rest of the game.

A big factor in the Checkpoints rounds was early momentum. My team always seemed to have faster starts, being able to get to the objectives first and secure better positioning. Although we did sometimes lose objectives, my team spent much more time in control of objectives, and we pretty much always had at least two of them at a time. Because of the range and accuracy of paintball markers, once a good position is established by a team, it is extremely difficult for the opposing team to make any forward progress. The sheer number of players we had meant that any exposed player who looked to be a threat would immediately get hammered with paintballs. We had quite a few players from both teams stay in the back lines of cover, yet they could still get quite a lot of hits and be useful to the team.
Checkpoints/Domination was generally a solid gamemode, and I think that it could work even better for superstock Nerf, given that you can't cover the entire field from anywhere. After the first minute or so, paintball Checkpoints usually turns into just a Team Deathmatch, since the objectives are practically untouchable afterwards. Nerf Domination could be much more competitive throughout the round if set up right.

Sabotage would probably be better known as Volleybomb or something along those lines. There's a central bomb that starts in the centre, and the objective is to have it on the other team's half of the field at the end of the time limit. The bomb must be thrown as soon as it is picked up, and can only be underarm thrown.
All three Sabotage rounds ended with the bomb quite near the centre, usually only a few metres towards one side. The rounds were essentially decided by whoever was brave enough to get pummeled with paintballs just to nudge the bomb towards the other side, and whether they were successful or not.
Momentum was once again a big factor, as the team that could get to the bomb and move it first usually also had a better position. The problem with Sabotage was the same as with Checkpoints and the field in general. The sheer number of players meant a very high volume of fire, and the lack of vertical cover meant that you would often be targeted by at least 3 enemy players. This made it practically impossible to get near the bomb unless you were especially brave or otherwise willing to get hammered by paintballs, and more often than not you would get hammered even before getting to the bomb. So essentially after the first minute of play, it again turned into essentially a Team Deathmatch.

I enjoyed Sabotage less than I did Checkpoints, primarily because of how messy it was near the bomb. Noone survived in the centre near the bomb for more than 20 seconds, and that area was completely full of flying paintballs. Checkpoints at least had 3 objectives to split up the players, while Sabotage focuses every single player on one objective, which makes it quite a mess. I think the maximum number of players for a good Sabotage round in this arena with paintball would be 8-10, so teams of 4-5. I think Sabotage/Volleybomb in superstock Nerf would work better since the engagement ranges are much shorter, so you at least won't be targeted by the entire enemy team if you're exposed. Nevertheless it would still be pretty messy, especially considering the number of high ROF blasters you typically see.

Personally I still prefer Nerf. Nerf allows me to tinker with things at home, play with friends at local playgrounds, and play in public parks with the Melbourne groups. Furthermore I have been able to survive on my current set of darts for several months now, with very few being damaged to the point of unusability. With paintball, not only would I be unable to use my markers at home or on friends at will, but I would also have to replace every single piece of ammo used, and I would only get to use it in a paid arena specifically meant for paintball. Furthermore I expect that I would not be able to play with some of my friends, as I expect some of them do not like the prospect of being hit by high velocity paintballs (or the prospect of having to pay).
I can definitely see a lot of the appeal that paintball has compared to superstock Nerf. It's far more powerful, usably accurate even at long range, and has relatively compact, very high capacity systems. It also greatly reduces any ambiguity in hit detection. I certainly wouldn't mind playing paintball again with friends, as I found it to be quite a fun experience, but it definitely won't become a regular thing for me.

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