Bear Creek Paintball

So today Mike & I went to paintball out at Bear Creek. It was originally a self-organised intern event at Apple, but we realised that the original field we’d intended on going to – Santa Clara Fairgrounds – was hosting a paintball tournament this weekend. Mike talked to some people in the local paintball (sporting?) shops and they seemed to think the field would still be open to the public, but we’d probably all be squished into only one of their available fields.

So, we redirected our attention to Bear Creek, which I preferred in theory anyway, as it was more likely to be a bush field – Santa Clara is all artificial fields, which are both small and, well, artificial. Blow-up plastic barriers and whatnot. Possibly fun in their own way, but, having played both bush & artificial fields before, I much prefer bush. More authentic, and more interesting gameplay than just finding cover and wasting all your ammo shooting other people’s cover.

The problem with Bear Creek is, they have only one field. It’s a reasonable size – about the size of the smaller fields they have at my “usual” field back in Australia – but it’s still just one, so it gets a bit repetitive. Plus it’s very cramped – a whole lot of barriers, all man-made – which really changes the game style. And, lastly, most of the people there have their own equipment and are all gung-ho. Ammo is a lot cheaper – we bought the stuff there, and split a case of 2000 between us for $55 total – so people just fire at anything and everything. The net result is, you get a lot of really aggressive people who will happily fire off thirty rounds just because they’re bored, and because it’s so cramped you don’t break cover for very long when moving about, if at all. Thus, it very quickly bogs down into a pointless stationary fire-fight, with people just wasting ammo and no-one really getting anywhere.

There were plenty of people, though, on the upside. I think we had about fifty or so at the peak; people came and went throughout the day. We got there by about 10:30 or so, and they’d already played quite a few games. Very much male-dominated, though; I counted three girls actually playing, plus another half a dozen or so wives who just sat at the tables looking after the babies. Kinda depressingly stereotypical, actually… I have no idea why the wives put up with. Anyway… of the three girls playing only one was a serious player, too, so, it was basically all guys.

Not that it’s really hugely different in Australia, although the few times we’ve been there has actually been a more even ratio.

Also on the upside, though, is that things move a bit quicker – we played about ten games, I think it was, in about four hours. Pretty good, really. Most games were about ten minutes or so, although some went longer (and some much shorter; the shortest was about twenty seconds).

I was rather tentative for the most part, though… while they rent you out reasonable mechanical semi-automatics and ammo pods, they don’t provide any overalls. I’d brought some black tracksuit pants and a dark t-shirt just in case, which I threw on over my other clothes, but it kinda sucked… I couldn’t really get into it because I didn’t want to ruin my clothes by crawling around on the ground or scraping up against things.

But then, there was an insane amount of paint on a lot of barriers anyway – they were completely covered, such that when you put your hand on them, as I did once or twice, you came away with a fistful of paint. Slimy, sticky paint. Ew. I very nearly leaned right up against one such barrier, which would have looked rather interesting in the aftermath. :)

Mike had his own gun from when he used to play back in Ohio years ago. He was pretty good, I thought – reasonably aggressive in play style, and he was able to claim a lot of hits by the end of the day.

So, things for me started out slowly… I’d planned on going pretty nuts as I had a thousand rounds or so to get through, far more than I’ve ever taken out, but in the first game we started at the bottom of the hill and half a dozen of us one the right-hand side were pinned down the entire game by one guy up the hill. The next game we swapped sides, and I sort of played the reverse role, although I didn’t get down as far as the opposition had in the previous game. I was also much more conservative in my playing style – I watched carefully for people trying to make a move, trying to anticipate them breaking cover, and then firing off a handful of shots. The guys around me were just firing all the time at anything which looked vaguely humanoid, or like it might be shielding a humanoid. They didn’t really hit anything more than I did, but went through five times the paint.

I did hold several guys back the entire game, though. And I actually made one guy surrender – two guys actually run up past me, one on each side, apparently not realising I was there. One actually turned around and ran back… it seemed like he must have seen me – he was all of two or three metres away – but he either didn’t or didn’t think to shoot me. I dunno. Anyway, I got his unfortunate comrade to surrender, which was awesome, but then that was about a minute before the end, so the enemy started pushing more and when I stuck my gun up to shoot them as they advanced, shot shot in the hopper; there was a guy on the other side of the barricade to me, and I’d just conveniently stuck my gun right in front of his. D’oh!

I was miffed about that at the time, but really in hindsight I think I was just embarrassed. :) Even moreso because I’d expect them to do that at some point, and would probably have peeked around and gotten the guy in question to surrender if I hadn’t seen one of his teammates making a run for it further back.

So anyway, we played a bunch more games, largely capture the flag and whatnot. To “mix things up”, given they had just one static field, they alternated both sides and direction; sometimes we played across the field instead of along it. However, across the field it probably measured no more than fifty metres, which is well within the plausible range of a paintball gun, so those games tended to start with an insane amount of enemy fire coming right at you from the get-go. It was kinda cool to see, because it looked intense and cool, but, it’s a rather frustrating and boring way to start off; it hinders people from spreading out quickly, further encouraging bunkering.

The last four games were interesting. We were playing across, as I just noted, with a flag in the middle. It was a return-to-base capture the flag though; usually in capture the flag you have to get it to the enemy’s base, or at least from one side of the field to the other, which is much more likely but still challenging. In a return-to-base game, especially with such a short field, it’s just an insane sixty-second firefight and then it’s over. Thus the twenty-second game I mentioned. The team that started on the far side started further away from the centre and down the hill, such that by the time you’d sprinted up to actually get a good line of sight on the flag, the enemy was already there and had it. I knew they’d sprint the first game, because it was just the obvious tactic, and they did. I was pinned down with ten other people behind an insanely small barrier from the opening barrage; I don’t think I fired a round that game. :/

The next game was basically the same in reverse. Our team ran for the flag, and I sprinted to higher ground above the central fort (where the flag was). It was actually a fantastic point – when I got there I found myself looking at the flank of half a dozen guys, all squished up behind barriers that offered no protection from my angle. I was able to take out several of them straight away, before they even returned fire. Unfortunately they quickly got a lucky shot against me, and I was out… we won about twenty seconds later anyway, but, it’d be really fun for those brief two or three seconds where I’d had an insane advantage. :D

The third game we were once again on the down side, but I was determined not to let the enemy win in twenty seconds once more. So when the whistle went I sprinted straight to the fort. I don’t know how I avoided getting hit in the opening volley – I could see paintballs flying past me on every side, hitting everything but me; I’m sure some of my teammates right behind me were hit. But, I made it right to the fort, and was able to peg the opposition’s first sprinter with half a dozen rounds. He won’t be making grabs for flags for a while. :D

I was in a bad spot, though – right up against the outside of the fort, with no cover on the sides, and sure enough it wasn’t long before four opposition guys came up on the high ground to the side. Somehow, though, they didn’t see me, even after I shot at least one of them. They retreated, too… I don’t know how I didn’t get the crap shot out of me there, but, meh.

There was an enemy guy right around the corner from me… as in, about a metre away. I kept yelling surrender and pointing my gun sort of around the corner, but he either ignored me or didn’t realise… I spoke to him immediately when the game ended, and he seemed nice, actually – he said he’d heard someone yelling surrender, but thought it was his buddy who was supposed to be where I was. I shot his buddy, as it turns out, thus why he wasn’t there. :D

So, I’ll forgive him for that. The problem with Bear Creek is that within 15 feet range you have to offer surrender and they have to accept it. The problem is twofold. First up, some people just don’t surrender; if they think they’re in cover enough, they just ignore you. Or, as in the case just noted, they don’t know you’re talking to them so they just blissfully keep going. Back in Australia the rule at both places I played was they you have to offer surrender, but if they ignore you, try to fire at you, or simply take too long, you shoot them anyway. That’s a much more practical rule, and it actually makes people surrender; here, a few of the more experienced players who weren’t entirely going by the rules simply ignored surrenders because they were confident you wouldn’t shoot them anyway.

Unfortunately we still lost that second-last game… I was worried about the people coming up on the high ground to the side, plus this guy round the corner that wouldn’t surrender, and so I missed one of their sprinters grabbing the flag. I was actually about to run for it myself, too, and when I looked up to plan my dash noticed it gone. D’oh.

I don’t know what happened to the rest of my team in that game… it seemed like no-one else ran up to the fort behind me… they certainly weren’t there once we actually got bogged down. There was plenty of firing going on, though, and people were going out left right and centre, so they were doing something… just not helping me. :)

The last game was a bit of a… well, I was unhappy. I’d been shot in the top of the helmet two games before, which had absolutely drenched my hair with orange paint. Mike cleaned my mask, but I didn’t even realise it was in my hair, and it’s such a bitch to get out that Mike probably didn’t even think to try. Anyway, in this last game I made a sprint to the side of the fort – I knew some of my teammates were going to the high-ground that I’d enjoyed so much two games prior, and that with them covering from there I wouldn’t face any forward fire from the enemy from the side of the fort, but would have a very good angle on the flag.

That all worked well – we had a sprinter who made it to the flag at the same time as their sprinter, and they sort of fought over it. I got there about the same time, though, and shot the enemy guy probably half a dozen more times than I needed to. But he didn’t put his gun up fast enough. ;)

The ref then called me out – first saying that I’d been shot, referring to the orange paint in my hair, and then noting the 15 feet rule. The orange paint thing was just B.S., but I didn’t want to argue with the ref and figured I really had been shot, and just hadn’t noticed in the excitement. So, two points here.

First up, the field limit on muzzle velocity is 270 feet a second. All the rentals are pre-calibrated, and people with their own equipment have to have them tested at the start of each set (pair of games). Now, we never measured them in Australia, but I’m pretty sure we were using 300 fps there. The paintballs at Bear Creek just didn’t hurt, basically… the guns were reasonable, and the accuracy was acceptable, but the range wasn’t that great… so, even when you were shot at close range, it didn’t really hurt. In Australia when we play, everyone compares bruises at the end of the day, and they have some very nice ones. Here, virtually no-one was bruised, even people who’d been hit forty times.

Second, when you’re playing a game type that basically requires a sprinter to the centre of the field, it’s just silly to expect someone like me to yell “surrender!” to them and expect them to pay any attention. The enemy sprinter would not have paid attention. He wouldn’t have even heard me. He would have run off, the enemy would have won – from the disadvantaged side, which would have been incredibly embarrassing for my team – and no-one would have cared that he hadn’t surrendered when he should have.

So, I shot him. As I said, he was unlikely to have bruised anyway. I wish it didn’t have to be that way, but, that’s the style of game.

Apparently they often play a game style called “Civil War”, which we didn’t this particular day, where everyone puts their guns on the ground in the middle of the field, and starting from the ends of the field has to sprint to pick them up. That sounds like another recipe for disaster – what’s going to happen when the first guy gets there, picks up his gun, and then has twenty unarmed opponents right in front of him?

Anyway… if you haven’t picked up already, that last game ticked me off a bit. I had already arrived at the opinion that it wasn’t as good as paintball back in Oz, and that wasn’t not the kind of mind-bending conclusion that would reverse that.

I’ll go back, for sure, though… I mean, it was still fun, no doubt… next time I’ll be more confident about being aggressive, since I know I’m not likely to actually get hurt even if I do get hit.

We played one set of assault games with the defenders on the high ground, one life each except for the “Terminator”, whom had infinite lives. All the assaulting players also had unlimited lives, but had to go back to the ref at the centre of the field to get put back in. Our team’s Terminator wasn’t too bad, but spent most of the time on the other side of the field to Mike & myself, so he wasn’t much help to us. The enemy’s Terminator was wearing full-body padding, so he knew he wasn’t going to get hurt. So he just stood there, in completely plain sight, shooting at everyone. He got shot heaps, too, but didn’t care. It’s a good game type, for sure, but they really should add the proviso that the Terminator isn’t allowed any padding or armour. Then we’d see how brazen they’d be. :)

All in all it was good, although it finished early – 3pm or thereabouts, which seemed kinda odd given there were heaps of people, most of whom were happy to play longer. So I was back home by 4. It was good to have a shower – I had a lot of paint on me, and the orange in my hair took ages to come out. It was insane; I stood under the shower for thirty seconds, with orange just pouring down, before it was finally gone. I can’t fathom how one little paintball could have so much paint in it.

(maybe I really did get shot again in that last game?)

We never met up with the other Apple people that were supposedly going, though… I think they did eventually turn up, at lunchtime or so, but neither Mike nor I saw any familiar faces, so we never asked. But since there were so many people anyway, it didn’t matter. It’s good to know, at least, that we can wander up there any weekend and be pretty much guaranteed of having plenty of opponents.

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