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by Bill Mills
OK, so maybe it didn't start exactly like that, but the bottom line is that Mackz Xtreme Sportz set about the task of running a scenario game at the Blanding MOUT site. To some, this seemed to be an impossible mission in and of itself.
It began be researching the previous games held at the site, and going over the after-action reports on file at the base. From these, MXS had to develop solutions to all of the problems encountered. Key amongst these was acceptable paint.
Paint proved tricky for a couple of reasons. From the military's point of view, paint stains on their training facility was not acceptable. During military force on force training, the units training must carefully police the grounds afterward, retrieving all of their trash and brass shell casings. For paintball it would be nearly the same, but no trace of paint could be left behind. Previous events used a white filled paintball. While this was thought to be less noticeable on the grey concrete, cleaning all of it off proved a great challenge with pressure washers.
PMI, and their paint manufacturer RP Scherer stepped up to bat, and worked with MXS to research and develop a paintball specifically for the game at Blanding. Over several months time they formulated a variety of fills, placed them on cinderblock, baked them in the sun for a few days, and then tested how easily they washed clean. They discovered that the titanium pigment used in white paints was actually harder to clean than other colors, and arrived at a yellow fill that was bright in color, but could be cleared away more easily. Also, using a clear shell, which has not been common in paintball since the late 1980s, lead to less residual marking after clean up.
The second half of the challenge with the paint was the weather. Holding a game in Florida in the summer means heat and humidity. Paintballs, being made of gelatin, which dissolves in warm water are plagued with problems in this type of weather. They absorb moisture out of the air swelling, changing shape, and sticking to each other in loaders.
In the spring of 2001, RP Scherer introduced a new paintball shell formulation brought over from medical technology used by their parent company, Cardinal Pharmaceuticals. The new formulation includes corn starch, and a method for dry mixing the gelatin before it forms the paintball skin, rather than mixing it as a liquid. The dry mixing eliminates the need for the oil which is found on many paintballs, used to help release them from their moulds. Without an oil coating, the thickness of the shell can be controlled with much greater accuracy during manufacture.
This new paintball shell, which PMI calls Advantage, is becoming the standard on all of their paintballs. With the new formulation it is much less susceptible to environmental damage from heat and moisture. As an additional benefit to the new manufacturing process, paintballs with the Advantage shell have a very, very small and even seam, keeping the ball very round.
Thus the Blanding Ball was designed, and planned for production in a small run specifically for this one event - MI 2001. Armed with the Blanding Ball and a business plan which included manpower and equipment for site clean-up, methods for communicating the site rules to the players and more, Patrick "Pacman" McKinnon met with the brass and Camp Blanding and gained approval.
Then came the game itself, a collaborative effort of Pacman and his business partner and wife, Dianne "Mother" McKinnon. They designed a game centered around secret agent Ethan Hunter, and the nefarious Hannibal.
Hannibal, portrayed by Kerry "Viper" Rosenberry, took the role criminal overlord has rallied terrorists from around the world under his guidance to break the world governments, displaying his power through the destruction of wonders of the world. Assisted by a cabal of nefarious characters named from roman legend, his goal was to take over the Atomic Research Facility in Hartwell, UK, stealing nuclear weapons technology and fuel.
Facing off against Hannibal was "Mother Hen" portrayed by "General Jim" leading a group of the world's top anti terrorist teams to protect the facility,
With a limit to the amount of people that could be on site, pre-registration was a must, and totaled just short of 600 players before the event began.
Players began gathering at the MOUT site on Friday, before the game, with the opportunity to set up camp, and walk the grounds. Some, armed with water guns took the edge off of the heat while everyone wandered up and down the streets, in and out of the buildings, discovering what positions could shoot where. Central to the town was a three story hotel with roof access that commanded an excellent view of the streets below.
From the West side of the town (the IMF starting side) an open ditch provided access to the storm drains which spidered out the main street, offering manhole access to the surface. To prevent excessive entanglements, both teams were limited to two players each in the sewers at any given time, which greatly limited their effectiveness in the games.
Most of the structures on the fields, even if only one story tall, featured basements, and almost all had either gun ports or windows in every wall, while some were only partially constructed to simulate bomb damage.
Players also milled about the staging area which had a small trade show set up. Cybertribe Paintball featured a whole store's worth of paintball supplies for those looking for emergency repairs, or upgrades to their gear. EMR Paintball had a booth with photos of their field, and information on upcoming big games and scenarios, while owner "Blue" Hanse was at the event to play. Pro Team Products booth featured the E-Micro 2000 version of the E-Mag as well as their Vector based MP-5 simulator which is sold to military and police units for training. They also showed a prototype of the CAR-68II. Designed to replace their original VM-68 M-16 simulator, the CAR-68II is EDM machined from actual M-16 upper and lower receiver castings, for a complete simulation down to the T cocking handle. The CAR-68II is still in development, and like Pro Team's other training products is destined for the training market, rather than recreational paintball. Team Moist Donuts had a commodity as precious as gold in the Florida heat - ice - trucked in daily to their booth. Blackpoint Engineering featured their radio controlled paintball mines. This included surprise demonstrations as the mines sprayed water harmlessly on people walking past the booth. Andy VanDerPlaats, who produced the previous Blanding games, and his wife provided catering, and Old River Paintball did air fills for both high pressure air and CO2.
Saturday morning things kicked into high gear, getting ready for the game start, which happened on time at 12:00 noon. As the two team starting positions were relatively close, the paint started flying quickly. The layout gave an advantage to the Cabal team which was closer to the city border, allowing them to gain more ground on the streets.
Due to the close quarters shooting bound to happen indoors, the velocity was limited to 260 fps for the entire event, which had a surprising effect. Early on, many of the players didn't notice that the lowered velocity also meant that their paint wouldn't shoot as far as they were used to. Many players were laying out streams of paint that fell harmlessly to the ground 10 or more yards in front of their intended target. Early in the day, players tended to also be more timid than necessary, huddling in groups at building corners, expecting their opponent's paint to fly further than it did. About 15 minutes into the game "GI" Joe tried to rally a group to cross the street and take the building across from the hotel. While he had no trouble crossing the street without getting shot, none would follow, so he made it to the building alone.
As the day moved on, players began adjusting to the decreased range of the paintballs, and making more bold movements, though tensions definitely ran high during the "close encounters" inside buildings.
TANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
The importance of communication was underscored by the tanks used at MI 2001. Several team tanks, and even a small howitzer were about on the field, firing at players and buildings. When cannon fire hit a building, all of the players in the marked portion of the building were eliminated. As a tank, would roll into a street, shouts would come from second floor windows, or from the roof on the hotel (depending on which team controlled it at the time) warning players ganged up at building corners, or inside buildings about their impending doom. Unfortunately, these shouts were often not heard over the calamity of the game, and a tank rolling around a corner would make quick work of a dozen or so players, or clear out part of a building with its air cannon. The numbers of tanks were well balanced between the teams, and demolition players with satchel charges and LAW rockets kept them in check so that they were an exciting part of the game, but did not dominate it.
Both teams were given missions throughout the day. These revolved around taking and holding various buildings, or obtaining props. The main mission for the cabal was to steal a nuclear weapon, while the main mission for the IMF was to prevent a machine called the Ragnarok from being stolen. One small building seemed to be the center of an unusual number of missions for both sides. A mission to blow up the door of the building would be followed by a mission to repair it. Both teams were left wondering at the reasons for this.
WELCOME TO FLORIDA IN SUMMER
In the Neal Simon play Biloxi Blues the narrator talks about his boot camp in Mississippi being "Hot, Africa Hot." That is probably only because he didn't get the chance to train in Florida, or for sure the line would have been "Blanding Hot." If one isn't paying attention to hydration and body temperature, and is instead focusing on something exciting like perhaps, a scenario game, it's easy to push too far into the realm of heat exhaustion. Every now and again, a player would sit down in the shade, and then just not get back up, or fall down after a charge. Between the plentiful refs on the field, and players willing to give up on some game time to help a fellow player, the folks who pushed to hard were helped safely off the field. An aid station was set up by the Disciples Of Paint, a Texas based team made up mostly of medical professionals (EMTs, Paramedics, etc.) DOP made certain that the players in need were cooled and rehydrated before they returned to play.
The paint mines saw use on the field - one of them mounted on a radio controlled car was able to zip around on the street looking for a target until it was shot in the power switch, stranding it in the open street.
A mid-day hour long hydration break helped force players to pay attention to their bodies and drink in fluids.
The heat still managed to take its toll on paint. Some players were storing their paint in tents, which during the day in the full sun got astoundingly hot. Some paint, nearly too hot to hold on to, quite literally, ended up bonding together in clumps. While there were some extremes that took the Advantage shell past its limit, if stored under reasonable protection such as under the shade of a tree, it stayed in remarkably good shape compared to traditional shelled paint.
As the sun dropped lower in the sky, and the temperatures cooled, the game broke for dinner. While control of the buildings on the field ping ponged back and forth between both teams in a fairly even way, the same could be said for the tide of the game. By the break both teams had completed the same number of missions.
With street lights, and lights in the buildings, the MOUT site awaited the players at night when the heat was not as oppressive.
The IMF made use of helicopters to its advantage. The hotel proved to be a strategically important building, with the commanding view and range provided by its roof. Battling floor to floor to get there was difficult though. Landing players on top by helicopter (a person with a sign escorting them) bounced control of the roof back and forth. The Bad Monkeys managed to strike the cabal headquarters by helicoptering in and planting a bomb. When they tried a second time at night, the cabal was ready. At night a helicopter was eliminated by touching the pilot with a "LAW Rocket." As the Monkeys approached the East command post in their chopper, the defenders began shouting, calling for a demolition player with a LAW to hurry to the base and protect them. As the helicopter came in close to the base, a defender with a LAW stepped out of the shadows and took it out.
The player who later was awarded most valuable player by Viper, was an IMF player who worked his way through the woods to the cabal base. He was spotted briefly with a spotlight, and after a couple of shots into the dark, he called him self out on the one that hit. It is that type of sportsmanship and honest play that Viper feels holds the game together.
Prior to the game, both generals had agreed that if the game got out of balance in the middle of the night they would stand down until morning rather than leave the players frustrated and overwhelmed. At around 2:15 in the morning, most players had sacked out in the campground. The IMF was down to 6 players on the field, while the cabal had 30 - and both generals agreed it was time to let those players get some sleep.
In the morning, the game resumed and ran up until a resupply break allowed everyone to get ready for the final battle - the mission being control of the city. This battle got almost all of the players out on the field at once, with the paint flying fast and furious. Referees began telling players that when the game ended they were to stay where they were. The generals quickly figured that points would be awarded for the buildings held at the game end, and began placing their players to get as much real estate as they could.
When the whistle blew, both teams had 9 buildings each. After the missions were totaled, the game was nearly as close - only 20 points separated the two teams, giving a narrow victory to the Cabal. Both teams had accomplished their major missions - the Ragnarok was not stolen so the IMF gained points for protecting it, even though they never knew where it was. The Cabal didn't have much of a chance to steal it because they never found it either. It was in the basement of the house where they kept destroying and rebuilding the door.
Many of the players on the Cabal team had come from Texas, and displayed a Texas flag over the Cabal headquarters throughout the game. At the awards ceremony it was given to General Jim in thanks for a good game.
As soon as things were over, people
were asking for more, with hopes that MXS would schedule another event
at Camp Blanding - one preferably during a cooler part of the year.
MXS did indeed complete what some had considered to be an impossible mission.
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