There is no Potter in Team

Please note that all names in the following story have been changed to protect the identities of those that were involved…

… or, more specifically, so that I can tell my story and we can all laugh at what an arsehole my best friend can be when he so chooses.

A couple of months ago I managed to arrange a four player Co-Op playthrough of the story mode campaign in Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. This was pretty tough to organise, given that one half of the team were based in a time zone which put them five hours behind the other half of the team. Even more challenging, though, was finding four players who would be willing to play this hard as nails shooter in the first place.

Operation Flashpoint betrayal

Sure, it's all American bravado and bullshit one liners until one of these fuckers 'accidentally' plugs you in the back of the head.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is a tense, unforgiving shooter on default settings, with one shot kills a common occurrence. Our first session as a unit was nerve racking, given that three of the group had never played the game before. As a result, we relied on Potter, the only veteran of the game, to lead us through the first mission.

It was nail-biting stuff as we picked our way through the vegetation, engaging in skirmishes with random patrols and calling air strikes on villages occupied by hostiles. We even experimented with a badly planned helicopter ride that ended with two of our squad dead. It was a relief when we completed the main objectives and the airlift arrived. However, Potter insisted we should finish the secondary objectives first. These involved taking out two SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) sites on the other side of the island we were on, so we reluctantly followed him across the hills and valleys, and down to an old port where an APC (Armoured Personnel Carrier) immediately took out my buddy Orfax.

Crippled, he lay on just the right side of the crest to be approached while still maintaining a defensive position, so I crawled up, bandaged him up and then, with guidance from Vendible (our proper medic, who was on the opposite crest), I launched a rocket straight into the APC so we could move in and secure the port.

This had only lasted just over an hour but, despite being seated on top of a cosy bean bag with the heating set to a comfortable 20 degrees Celsius, my housemate (who was sitting next to me) and I were visibly exhausted.

Finally, we headed back to the chopper that had been patiently waiting for us. It took another 15 minutes of hiking over rough terrain to make it back there and I was relieved when I finally sat inside the troop carrier’s cabin. Glancing around, I asked over the comm.:

“Are we all in?”

“Not quite.” It was Potter. I couldn’t quite work out what, but something was wrong with the tone of his voice.

All of a sudden, I heard the sound of huge explosions, rapidly drawing closer.

“What the-“

That was the last thing I managed to mutter before a ‘Disconnected from Host’ message appeared on-screen. Staring in disbelief at the message, I felt a horrible sinking feeling in my stomach as it became apparent that I’d lost all my progress from the last hour and a half. No stats saved, no ‘mission complete’ screen. Nothing.

It was at that point that I noticed Potter was giggling uncontrollably. “Oops…” his voice said uncertainly, coming through on my headphones.

Me and my housemate, Vendible, exchanged glances as Potter tried to explain to us all what had happened. He’d basically decided it would be ‘interesting’ to call down an air-strike on our position while the three of us were in the evac. chopper and he was safely stood some distance away, just to see what would happen.

The thing is, I was already familiar with Potter’s multiplayer antics and, so, to stop him from murdering the entire team, I’d insisted on having the game set up so that anyone who killed three players in a row using friendly fire would immediately get kicked from the game. Potter had been quite rightfully kicked for this offence. Unfortunately, he’d also been the host of the game and, as a result of him being kicked, we’d all lost connection to the session.

“Hey, I killed you all at the same time! I didn’t think it would count as three separate kills!” Potter protested.

I could feel this burning, seething rage building up inside me as my other two teammates started arguing and hurling abuse at Potter. After a while, everyone went quiet.

“Wait, why isn’t AJ saying anything?” Potter laughed nervously. He knew. He knew something was really wrong even if he couldn’t see it.

“I think it’s because he’s furious.” Vendible explained to Potter. He was with me in the same room and it was all too clear to him that I was about to fly into a pure rage.

I suppose it should’ve been obvious that this was destined to happen. Back in 1999, when me and Potter first met properly at his rundown apartment in East Sussex, England, we bonded over a game of Tekken 2 on the PlayStation. This was followed many months later by Streetfighter Alpha 3 and Samurai Shodown 2, 3 and 4.

2D and 3D fighters were our staple diet, always played competitively. Generally, I had a natural ability for fighting games like these, but Potter usually out-stripped me after a couple of months because he’d actually take the time to learn how to play the game properly, just so he could delight in griefing me with combos and special moves I was ill-equipped to counter.

Tekken 2

If we had only just played this forever, if only...

We dabbled in Co-Operative play so very rarely (‘Nam 1975 and other emulated NeoGeo games don’t count), but when we did it quickly became apparent that Potter was a natural chaotic force. The first game that I remember us attempting was Star Wars: Episode 1 on the Dreamcast. It didn’t go very well, mainly because I was bored with it very quickly, but also because I found myself flying off into chasms ‘by accident’ whenever Potter happened to be in range of me and using his character’s Force powers.

When I get into a game where the aim is to work alongside someone else, I become extremely focused on playing that game as part of a team. My weapons are your weapons, your loss is my failure, and so on. I become a bit of an intolerable arsehole if we all start losing (Top Tip: never play Crackdown 2 with me).

In contrast, playing cooperatively with Potter is entertaining, but the entertainment is derived more from his curiosity and wanton ability to push the boundaries of the game engine and our friendship as far as possible. In short, for almost ten years he has been fucking my shit up and, as a result, getting his shit fucked up by me.

It can be hard to tell when Potter is merely bored and trying to spice up the action or genuinely bumbling around ineffectively causing disaster in his wake or – worst of all – hatching a plan that will result in my death and his amusement (the Op. Flash. example is definitely option C).

It was only when we played the original Halo, however, that I learned what cooperative multiplayer with Potter was destined to become. Halo is a game series I’ve played in Co-Op with Potter since its first inception, although I’ve never been sure why I always ended up playing it with him, only that it’s become some sort of tradition. All I can say is, all those critics who complain about Halo playthroughs being too short should try getting energy grenade tagged, stabbed in the back by a plasma sword or vaulted off a cliff by a power hammer (carefully placed right behind you so that it doesn’t kill you, but the subsequent fall off of the bridge you were standing on does) at every possible point; you’ll quickly see the playthrough hours increase.

Halo 3 betrayal

"Seriously dude, I know exactly what you plan to do with that plasma sword and you can fuck right off."

Every time he did this to me I would look incredulously over at him sitting next to me and there would be this innocent look on his face that begged, ‘Who me?’. This always resulted in a sharp punch to his shoulder.

Another notable game in our history of Co-Op play was Star Wars: Battlefront, which is a hell of a fun game. Potter regularly crashed into me with Snow Speeders, stepped on me with a Walker and even blasted me to kingdom come with a turret, apparently either forgetting or simply not caring that we were on the same team.

Out of these experiences emerged a bizarre meta-game. In heated sessions, the battle for spawn points and kills was shoved aside and instead it would become a personal battle where the one kill that counted was the only other human-controlled player in the game. The bots were of little consequence to us and just became handy human shields.

I’m thankful that we never took our sessions online, as I can only imagine the grief we would’ve caused other players.

There are a multitude of other fine examples of the shooting, stabbing and general misery that we’ve subjected each other to, but I won’t go into too much detail here. One recent highlight that comes to mind, though, is a multiplayer session we had with a couple of friends in Left 4 Dead that ended with Potter killing all the survivors, including himself, by dropping a Molotov cocktail on the floor while standing in the safe house at the end of a chapter. I remember it vividly, because it ended with my character lying dead on the floor, watching the safe house door closing shut in front of him.

So, am I still angry about what Potter did to the team in  Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising? No, I guess I’m not, because to understand and appreciate Potter’s chaotic nature is important. The player is a force of anarchy in every game world ever created and as they discover new forms of expression, it becomes clearer to understand what this shit is all about.

Potter is rock’n’roll and, whether we like it or not, he helps us to understand the complicated nature of the human mind. Games are just games, and sometimes people just take them a little too seriously and, really, it’s good to have your teammate snipe you in the back of the head when you’re just about to take the final spawn point and win the match because, well, it isn’t that important.

Bill Hicks once said something about life which I’ll very loosely paraphrase for this article:  Life is a roller-coaster. It goes up and down and left and right, and it’s all very exciting. It’s easy to get involved in this ride because it feels so very real. But it’s just a ride. The problem is that, sometimes, corporations and individuals get involved and have money invested in this ride, and they tell you that you have to take it seriously. Then, individuals like Potter come along and point out: “Hey, man. It’s just a ride. It’s just a ride.”

Bill Hicks - It's Just a Ride, by Goodbyeskye

It's philosophical and shit.

And do you know what we do to these individuals? We shoot them.

Naturally, as soon as we reconnected with an entire mission to replay in Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, Vendible strolled casually over to Potter’s character and stabbed him, then made room for me as I marched over to Potter’s corpse and tea-bagged the fuck out of it (the game’s camera pans out from your corpse and spins around it when you die, so I can only imagine Potter got an entertaining view of me crouching and un-crouching above his dead face).

So, to Potter, for supplying multiplayer joy and misery for over 10 years, I salute you and your kind.

Original ‘Just a Ride’ image (above) can be found here.