On Monday's episode of Waypoint Radio, I shared a story about a very special game of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, one that I can't quite shake, and which has caused me to think a lot about why some multiplayer games stick with you.
We'd wrapped up our morning Breakfast and Battlegrounds session, during which we'd hoped (and failed) to get a match with the new "fog" weather mode. On a whim—and with a great deal of curiosity—I queued back up for a match the second we ended the stream. And as Erangel Island loaded in, I couldn't see a damn thing, and I was thrilled about it. Time to play in the fog.
That's when I noticed my mistake: I'd forgotten to switch back from squad to solo mode, so I wound up in a group with players who I do not know and who would not attempt to coordinate or communicate during the match.
We immediately all went our own separate ways, and in the early moments of the match, I managed to quickly gear up and set off to enjoy the weather. That's when I heard the motorcycle cut through the low, hollow wind…
I stalked two figures through the fog. One with a motorcycle. The other, the first person's companion, desperate to get on that motorcycle. I did not let them.
With the local area seemingly safe I spent some time looting nearby houses, getting better equipment for my trip. I'd decided: I was going to meet up with "Krispis," the one remaining member of my hypothetical team. I got on the motorcycle I'd taken from the pair of players I'd encountered earlier and set off across the map, driving over mountains and hills, dipping into the valleys, and eventually swimming to meet my teammate near the old ruins towards the center of the island.
As I approached, I turned on my team voice chat, but heard nothing back. He arrived in a buggy, rolling across gravel and sand. We exchanged looks. I dropped a pair of first aid kits to show know my level of commitment. He let me in the back of the vehicle, and we began to drive away.
The ruins rarely let people go easily, though. And after a brief turn, Krispis found the buggy slammed into a rock. In this moment, absent communication, I made a judgment: Krispis must've been a new player or a fool. I let out a little laugh. That's why he was in this match to begin with: He didn't know not to group up with random squads. Was I going to have to carry him through the fog towards victory? I would at least cover him, I decided. I became protective instantly.
And then I spotted the figure.
A silhouette on the roof of a church, stark against the stark white canvas. I call out its position to Krispis, but by this point, I am speaking only to myself—I'd turned off voice communication when it was clear that he wasn't listening or talking back.
The silhouette looked back. Our buggy found its ground and tore away, shots ringing out in the mist. I fired back helplessly, but with dedication, and Krispis sped us away. But separated from the columns and walls of the ruins, the fog only seemed to get denser.
The media scholar Alexander Galloway once wrote that games have abandoned montage as a technique. Alexander Galloway has not been in the fog. Because in this moment, we slipped into a fever: Jeeps and bodies and guns shifting into view, sliding out from the haze for a brief moment. A car slides across the valley and a body collapses out of the door. It is only in sight for a breath, but it gestures towards an entire series of events that led to its appearance.
This fever lasted for 30 seconds, and during each I was sure I was dead, poised to be shot from the back of the open-aired vehicle. As we rolled to a stop at a small residential compound, I wondered what Krispis would do if that had happened, if he were left alone. I did not need to wonder long.
We moved quickly, efficiently, grabbing what we could in a flash of speed and fear. More important, though, was securing position. Depending on your footing, the fog could be cloak or spotlight. So we found ourselves laying on the roof of a building, hidden behind the parapets of this two-story home. Waiting to see the dark, clear shape of soldiers break through the white.
My scope did little in the fog except to give me a closer look at our poor visibility. I anxiously re-positioned myself a few times, hoping to find a spot where I'd feel comfortable. I heard Krispis reloading and, when I go back to the recording now, its a motion that sounds purposeful in a way that it rarely does.
I lost track of him for a moment, turned my camera with paternal care, and saw that he was gone. I spotted him on a lower level balcony, looking out into the empty distance. Then, shots. His shots. Then two more bodies. Then we were running towards them, and dark smoke broke through the white. A little yellow Dacia, surrounded by four bodies.
As we picked them over for ammunition and medical supplies, I wondered if this car was the same one as before, if this was the future tableau of the past montage. I'd been impressed when he fired, but it during these moments (and slowly), that I realized that Krispis was the one carrying me. Yet I did not lose the parental urge to protect.
He led us up a hill, then another. The blue wall closed in tight around us and pushed us towards the valley. 20-odd survivors moved in the fog towards their deaths. We were two of them.
We rumbled down a hill and into the cracks and crashes of bullet fire. We took cover behind rocks, trees—but the blue wall would take those from us. We moved further on, and I knew immediately: There was no position to be held for us. The 20 other survivors were our foes, but the fog and the valley were their allies.
Krispis ran ahead. I saw movement in the distance, intersecting his vector of flight. I planted my feet, put my scope to my eye, and did my best emulation of him, like a child trying to move like their parents had—or maybe like a father struggling to keep up with his own kids. A hit. Then another. And then, the trees took my target into safety.
And as I pulled my eye away from the scope and looked for Krispis, I saw him laying on the ground there, dirt kicking up as rounds slammed into the earth. He did not need to ask me to run towards his side.
But he did anyway.
Or, perhaps he didn't.
His voice was tinny over the speakers. Accented, maybe? I've listened back a dozen or more times and I cannot decide what he said in that moment. I can't even decide which I'd rather he had said.
If I had to bet now, it was "trees." As in "They're shooting us from the trees. Look out." He was telling me where our enemies were, as if I hadn't already known that the forest was against us. "Trees."
But in the moment, I was certain that Krispis had said something else: "Please."
I've played two fog games since them—both with my usual Breakfast and Battlegrounds partner Patrick Klepek—and both have been memorable in their own right. I even, for a blink, was able to channel Krispis' stoicism:
But when I think of my favorite multiplayer moments of all time, it's this game, this first walk through the fog, that will stand out forever.
What's your favorite multiplayer gaming moment? Is it about what you did or the people you played with? Let us know over in the forums!