Full Tilt

By Qpo / February 11, 2017

Played Dawn of War II: Retribution a bit during the summer and fall. After I was done with the Space Marines campaign (I prefer to play these alone due to the "Not Enough Toys Principle": I don't want to share this few units; it's a tactics game) I installed the "elite mod", which not only improves balance between the races, to reduce whine and increase game length, but adds new units and improves looks. For example, for the Blood Angels, the marines in Devastator Squads actually have blue helmets, and the Assault Squads are in Death Company paint. Fuck me how amazing; couldn't be happier.
   Nobody uses matchmaking so playing it is like traveling back in time to the days of lobby games. At the start some people check your stats and kick you out of their lobbies, but if you just stick with it you'll get games in and eventually your Army Level will increase, proving you've spent time as that race, and it's easier to get accepted. You quickly start to recognize some players that you've had good games with, and they recognize you, and even if you don't talk that much there's a generally friendly attitude. For the first dozens of hours I almost don't even care to move my units, that's how much I'm enjoying to just be in the game. As Assault Marines leap in to break up fortified suppressive fire, allowing your own heavy weapons to take position and rush in with the bulk of your forces, I at times lose focus and just watch the gorgeous scene unfold before my eyes. I love this setting.
   After the initial phase of wonder is over, I can enjoy the game somewhat carefree as I start to experiment with what builds to use, i.e. what unit composition I'm aiming for and in what order I should develop it. I try stuff out, as usual being "weird" since I don't care much to look at what others do, and eventually find something that I start to win games here and there with. I'm almost exclusively playing 3v3 since the more stuff is on the screen the more awesome a battlefield will look, and when the teams match up to respect the factions of the setting it is extremely satisfying. (They should add a "strict" mode that forces one to respect the setting.) I also get easily stressed out in 1v1s. I'll estimate that I'm now about 20–60 hours deep into the multiplayer, excluding the time I first spent playing the Last Stand bonus mode, where you control a single hero in a 3 player co-op against waves of mooks and bosses, unlock equipment as you get exp so you'll reach further your next game, and so forth.
   As I go beyond that stage things start to change. The wonder phase is long over, even if it's still one of my favorite settings. The experimental phase is never really over, but now I've played enough games to feel that some builds simply do not work, and as the tactical playroom shrinks it becomes more about controlling your units perfectly. How the resource nodes are placed, and what starting position you got, can change things up a little bit, allowing you opportunity to quickly adapt your build, but it's mostly the same. Some maps, especially the ones that are significantly larger than the average, allow for some different tactics, but they are, to no surprise but indeed deep disappointment, the least popular. And with not that many people playing the game in the first place, if you don't want to just stare at the lobby screen, you'll end up mostly playing the same rotation of samey maps.
   Maybe it's because I'm now, at least when I played it the most actively, at the "mid skill" level; if I stick to my plan A and plan B and don't experiment, and play a couple of games in a row, I'm at least competent for the night's third game and beyond. Maybe it's that the wonder being gone, the pleasure I get from the game being much lower, that I'm more sensitive to the negatives now. Either way, I now notice the whining. The completely pointless lashing out against teammates as soon as every sign doesn't point to an effortless victory. Even when I was a little kid myself, ~13 years of age, I would think "How can someone be this sensitive? Can't they take even a loss in a videogame as a man? What kind of person is on the other side of the screen? How would he react if threatened or struck irl? Would his head implode in shock?" As per usual I ignore it, or shoot out a quick burst of positive energy to at least show the third person on our team that I haven't given up yet.
   Everything just starts to seem more nervous. In the lobbies before the game starts, there'd occasionally be someone going "please please please balance the teams better! it must be perfect 50% vs 50% or I don't want to play!" — as if they were betting everything they had on the game. At least in most of those situations, enough of us others would say "calm down man, it's just a game" and then we could usually get going, either from the guy calming down or someone else taking his place. I keep playing quite regularly, solidify as a mid skill player, and try to focus on the positives. Still, the whining is there now. Was it always there? Do I just notice it more now? And then it finally happens, in a game with some nervous kid lashing out just because the start didn't go perfectly well, though we have ample chance to turn it around, I can't take it anymore, and I finally say something that starts with "fuck you idiot cunt". That I had up to that point been positive or silent, combined with the choice of words made him shut up completely. No doubt he was at least a decade younger than me, and he could tell that, too (when you spend a lot of your time — read: all — online you can easily tell people's age, and even other attributes, through text). We end up in the same game next game, as usually happens when you do lobby games, and neither of us says a single word, just as in the previous game after my outburst. The shittiest part about this is that the third guy on our team in the first game, was one whose name I recognized and had had many good games with. Feels bad he had to be a part of this.
   I keep playing for a while, but now I have a suspicion in my head: "Am I really enjoying this?" I don't remember if I tapered it off over a couple of weeks or went cold turkey, if maybe even half of my games were after this incident, but in the end I stop playing.
   There were a bunch of cool guys playing this game. I can't list their nicks but I'd recognize them instantly if I saw them in the game. No doubt the lobby structure is a part of this, and also that there were few enough people that there'd actually be a sense of community, i.e. accountability, since you would meet most people more than once. No real surprise either with such an awesome universe — how could anyone that likes it not be at least a little good? I hope that all of them that are still playing are enjoying themselves and having good games.
   Last week, Thursday, I installed the game and played a little. First games went bad of course, as my control was poor, and it's only losses. I don't quite reach the form I had before, although I quickly close in on it, and win a game here and there. At the end of the night I uninstall the game and it's fucking hard to go to sleep man. Just 15 minutes ago my adrenaline was pumping and my mind can't help but to process the last few games and come up with improvements for tomorrow. All of the next day, I can't fully focus my mind on anything else; it takes willpower to not reinstall the game and play this Friday night as well. Even on Saturday I can still feel some slight need to go back in there, and now my sleeping pattern has been pushed 2–4 hours later than I'd like it.
   The word "relapse" comes to mind, but this whole run, and especially this one night last week, was that I want to go back and take a look at things from my past when I've established a new normal and can look at them with different eyes. And you know what? I found out why I've had such an ungodly focus, only playing better the more I'm provoked, for periods barely ate or slept, was always hungry for more and never went on "tilt".
   I was always on tilt.