D0913 T2009 Y2011Fear and LANning in Chicago.

At first glance, the itinerary for the most recent TTL LAN event was a carbon copy of the recipe from last year. Same sprawling city. Same explosive venue. Same adrenaline-charged agenda. Including so many familiar elements in one’s party exposes the planner to the risk of failure in living up to pre-conceived expectations. To keep the troops of an invasion force entertained, you have to keep them off-base. You can’t let them predict how the weekend will roll.

Fortunately, we had some surprises up our sleeves…

Gameplay depicted for illustration purposes only.

TTL Cozmo – Grand Champion
TTL Diddy – Co-Champion

As you can see, we were overrun this time. 45 attendees. Esteemed Guests. Gunslingers. And the very, very, very patient women who love them. The gamer is the most important ingredient in any LAN recipe. Even if the formula for the weekend is the same, the events can be as infinitely different as the people who share them. By that account, this LAN grew very quickly beyond our control, becoming its own animal. Our concern was less about keeping spirits high, and more about containing the bad craziness that threatened to have us run out of town.

Same city. Chicago.

This was the fifth Gunslinger throw-down in Gotham [shut up, Pittsburg], but certainly not the first LAN Party. Ever since the Xbox made friendly competition in a tactical roleplay a carry and play application, we have been using it in this town to turn poker night into war games. Only cleaner than both. When Xbox LIVE gifted that flame of multiplayer to every household on the Internets, we moved the social experiment out of the basement to make Cyberspace safe for Sportsmanship. Such has been the Gunslinger’s mission even before they were Gunslingers.

Same venue. Ignite Network.

These guys run a great business. Their gaming lounge is a post-modern playground with enough bandwidth rolling through it to sortie 40 gamers into the grid at once. We clocked it. Their objective as hosts is always the same as ours – to enable gamers to create their own memorable experience together. They are the brick and mortar to our virtual clubhouse. And, they effortlessly eliminate every logistical nightmare that plague historic-hotel-ballroom-worst-case-scenarios.

Non-Gunslingers depicted for illustration purposes only.

We had a good mix of personnel on this occasion. Fresh new FNGs, LAN Alumnus, Veteran TriAthletes, Captains, Executive Officers, good showings by several regional cells of Gunslinger Regulars. And then there were these guys…

More than five years after the TTL flag was planted in the plasma-scorched earth of Halo 2, the Overlord High Council convened at a highly disclosed location. The first seven Gunslingers – and the Recruitment Officer that built us an army – showed up to thank the teammates that have carried them through so many evolutions.

A long campaign of party planning has enabled us to learn what inspires gamers to cross lines of state, nation, and continent to join the gathering of teammates and friends. If the weekend is centered around the game alone, the storm will not gather. As is with Xbox LIVE, collisions between Gunslinger Squads and randoms must be enabled. A City and its citizens enter the equation once the tournament trophy is awarded. The party spills out into the streets.

You are invited to relive the After-Party if you would like, constant reader. Photographic futurist and and alpha-geek Stuicide emerged fresh from his gallery opening in Memphis to equip partygoers with wearable media collection devices. What was dubbed the “PONY CAM” [mostly because it was fitted to the skull of one TTL Pony for a memorable portion of the evening] provided mixed – yet serendipitous – results in a darkened Chicago pub.

Random Chicago chick depicted for illustration purposes only.

That is not TTL Pony, but an impromptu gadget model who subjected herself to a dramatic reenactment of the rig. Rather than capture video while on its wild ride atop Pony’s brow, the camera snapped a pic every 5 seconds. Instead of a real-time sampling of the revelry, feast your eyes on a more genuine representation of our own memories from the celebration.

Finally, no agenda to surprise or delight a herd of urban adventure seekers should overwrite traditions like the Steaktacular Feast at Fogo. Good Game by the way, Action. Thanks for putting us through the paces of the Tournament again.

Get some more next year, Gunslingers. We will keep throwing these parties until people stop coming, or until you find LAN Centers in towns were you live.

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 20

D0906 T0035 Y2010PAXific Northwest Weekend

Four Gunslingers from Tied the Leader would like to sound off with our heartiest “Say Thankya!” to the industrial players and title gamers that contributed to a fantastic weekend in Seattle, Washington. Over the course of Labor Day Weekend, we made the rounds to partake in social events occuring in conjunction with the Penny-Arcade Expo.

This was the first occassion on which this gamerblogger attended an official convention. [By they way, PAX-goers, what the hell was up with all the kilts?] Very little can – or should – be said to describe the experience. It’s a very subjective undertaking – motivated more by personal relationships than any tactical agenda or propoganda. The entire weekend yielded a broader perspective as to all of the various demographics that inhabit and propell the gaming universe.

When you meet The Makers of a game, you gain startling enlightenment about the machinations that drive forward your favorite pastime. The grueling hours. The unforgiving deadlines. The unrealistic expectations. The compromises that govern the decision making. While the act of creating a game may become less magical with this newfound understanding, you gain a deeper appreciation for the would-be magicians. As they become mere mortals in your estimation, it can be said that their accomplishments seem all the more impressive.

Gamer community reigns at PAX. Combatents step out from behind the avatars to wage a more social contest in person. Posses clash. Sects intermingle. We Gunslingers broke bread with allies from the Good Game Network. We raised glasses with the Spirits of Fire from the realm of Hawty McBloggy. We crashed after-parties teaming with dionysian hoardes from The WorkPLace of Bungie.net. We payed homage to our Godfather from Halo.Bungie.Org.

Speaking of Halo.Bungie.Org, we even accepted a challenge that was issued on their front-page. It’s what we Gunslingers do. It turns out that chatter from the beta for Halo Reach was right on target. The pistol is, in fact, most effective against Elites.

Good Game to all who allowed us to cross their path. Thanks for the hospitality. Thanks for the camaraderie. Thanks for making the act of playing these games more rewarding than shooting at a piece of paper that does not fight back. It was a pleasure to meet you and to know your face.

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 4

D0619 T1717 Y2010ChicagoL4Nd

On Memorial Day Weekend of 2010, a LAN Party was hosted by Tied the Leader in the city of Chicago. It was our 4th official event in what has become somewhat of a hometown for our virtual community. Present and accounted for were 30 attendees; including a posse of TTL Gunslingers and some esteemed guests.

We had sworn up and down that our clan would never see Chicago again, at least not as a function of our love labor. Hosting a LAN Party in this city had always served up a back-breaking challenge. The road to Chicago was mined with pesky hotel regulations, unrealistic expenses, and prohibitive union bylaws. Other official TTL events had found much easier purchase in the sands of places like Florida.

In the end, public outcry weakened our resistance. Rather than ban the Gunslingers from the city they had come to love, we turned our LAN recipe on its head in search of an alternative scenario. With a new blueprint on the table, the ChicagoL4Nd was announced to much rejoicing. What follows is a photo-essay that attempts to regurgitate a mere fraction of the experience that was shared.

To set a Gunslinger on a quest, first you need a Tower.

Previously, the center of LAN operations had been a historic hotel in the Loop business district. This proved not to be the smartest choice when your happening requires more electricity than NORAD. For this battle, we selected a Springhill Suites as our preferred H.Q.

Chicago has been called a city of neighborhoods. Our billet was strategically selected in one called River North. The new setting provided vistas that were as pleasing to the eye as they were to the lens. Ever the visual communicators, our guests fanned out in search of urban architecture fit to capture and share.

This homebase was far less lonely off business hours than the central downtown sector that we had come to know in years past. The immediate surroundings of the hotel bristled with options for night-life and hospitality. Of course, the poor fools that chose the ChicagoL4Nd as their early-summer vacation tried to conquer most of them, with varying degrees of success.

To set a Gunslinger on a quest, you need a Good Game.

While these parties are designed to focus on socializing, they still revolve around the shared pastime of the partygoers. The task of wrangling enough audio/visual components to enable dozens of gamers to collide in real-time had always forced a strategy of begging, borrowing, and stealing from the local membership. To overcome this burden, we did what all great organizations do… We outsourced the solution!

Enter the Ignite Network. During all of our lost time, this state of the art LAN Center had resided just under our noses on the north side of the city. After some introductions and negotiations, we arrived at an alliance that would enable us to label their establishment as “territory controlled” for a portion of the weekend. This changed everything, and [by all accounts of those who attended] made ChicagoL4Nd our best event on record.

Of course, in solving old challenges, new ones arose. Hosting the LAN at a location other than the hotel required us to arrange transpo for the invading hoard. Fortunately, like any good crime worth committing in Gotham, you can always pile a bunch of jokers onto a school bus. What doesn’t kill you makes you stranger, after all.

To set a Gunslinger on a quest, you need a Saloon.

The upside of abandoning the hotel as the gaming venue was the freedom to bring our own spirits. Our proven equation for success in entertaining combines real friends, fake violence, and all of the celebratory agents that make the LAN a party. With hotel staff monitoring our festivities, previous gatherings had been forced to adopt the Chicago convention of the Speakeasy. With a private function and our own rules, we were no longer forced to bootleg our cocktails under the table.

Upon our invasion of Ignite, something wonderful happened: They helped us. Our work was not over in migrating to their establishment. The existing network was rigged for PC gaming. There were adapters and connectors to apply to the local grid. Rather than cast an apathetic stare in our direction like the union electricians from days gone by, the Ignite guys actually rolled up their sleeves and made light work of our load-in.

Within record breaking time [mere moments], gamers were squared away and accessing Xbox Live. It was miraculous. Members who could not make the journey witnessed an avalanche of login notices on their screens at home. Parties formed up with ease and rolled out into the wilderness via an unbreakable network. No longer bound by the limitations of System Link, all of the games that we play were finally suitable for use in a live setting.

To set a Gunslinger on a quest, you need a Tournament.

Casual gamers? Guilty as charged. Tied the Leader doesn’t really cater to pros. This does not mean that our people don’t like an incentive to make them sweat it out for the win. After configuring the network for digital zen, competitive sign-up sheets went live at the command post that rules Ignite from atop a raised stage.

LAN Master action thaxten ascended his usual pulpit as the ringleader of the affair. For two days, he would put ChicagoL4Nders through the paces of glory and defeat. Halo 3. Modern Warfare 2. World at War. Free-for-alls. Squad Battles. Each trial earned gamers points counting toward bragging rights and keepsakes.

Rooting each combatant at their own dedicated station, the tournament events flowed with greater ease than ever. Gone were the delays between games while players tweaked their controller settings or arranged their player’s icon and call sign just so… The flow of adrenaline was steady. All the while, Ma Deuce 50 labored over the construction of his “beeramid”.

Not every moment was host to fierce competition. These events are not intended as the poor man’s MLG. These are parties. Gamers make the trek to step out from behind their avatars and enjoy one another’s company. As such, here is a requisite shot of Gunslingers laying down their weapons to channel their inner rock star.

The little details were what made this party truly special. When not huddled around the screens depicting the best action, our guests enjoyed the Ignite bar. Snacks. Juice. Smoothies. Coffee. All were treats for which we did not have to plan or provide, thanks to our hosts.

To set a Gunslinger on a quest, you need a Prize.

Through the contributions of a new recruit tagged TTL DDay, our guests had access to a treasure trove of gear – a literal cache that we came to know as “schwag mountain”. Most of the booty was doled out in response to donations made to our charitable foundation. The rest was awarded as giveaways to those gamers who carried the day in our digital thunderdome.

The entire contest was spreadsheeted down to the very last kill. Free-for-all qualifying rounds determined brackets for team-based competition. The Gunslingers designed their own tournament. Squads duked it out in pursuit of various objectives chosen by Clan Captains. The more games a player would play, the more points they earned toward the ultimate goal.

Months of planning always boil down to one perfect moment. A hush falls over the room. Spectators erupt simultaneously into cheers as the action spikes. It is only then that you know that your LAN Party is a success.

Here we see Locomotive defending the Gunslinger’s honor in the final round of the Halo Slayer Tournament against [then] Community Ally Big Country. Over the course of day one, 28 gamers had been whittled down to 2 survivors. Off Loco’s right arm is REACH tester and TTL Strike Team Captain L Askan, inspecting the runner up’s gameplay for bugs.

In the end, it was Big Country who established himself as Supreme Slayer on the Halo front. He strutted into the Gunslingers house and bested them all at their own game in a relaxed recline. He would finish Third overall in the ChicagoL4Nd tournament. T’was a good weekend for Big, who scored himself a clan invite and a Fiancee.

Surprise guest TTL Pony took Second Place overall. When he wasn’t dodging the smackdown from his rivals, he was racking up points on numerous fronts. Having previously claimed for himself a Trophy Pistol as Grand Champion at ChicagoLANd 2.0, he took home a leather holster and gunbelt to match. Repeating history made at AtLANtica 3.0, Pony edged out his competition in a marathon FFA match of COD: World at War.

...And then there was TTL Killer, previously the Grand Champion of AtLANtica 1.0, proving the truth behind his chosen namesake. This longtime LAN Party journeyman – once having travelled all the way to AtLANtica 2.0 from an Air Force base in Japan – took top honors at ChicagoL4Nd. Some attribute his success at these events to his clean living. Others profess that the legendary Warthog Pilot in his Halo Squad sponsored Killer to victory on his back. Whatever the cause, for the second time, Killer went home with the ceremonial replica awarded to the overall victor at all offical TTL LANs.

While the weekend may have been all fun and games, it was not all games all the time. There was fun to be had off the grid. The Gunslingers saw the inside of a lot of pubs. Apparently, a local hockey team was also in the process of securing a trophy for themselves. Cocktails known as ‘Carbombs’ may or may not been consumed in large volume. Malt vinegar may or may not have been shot in the place of malt liquor. Memories are foggy, and stories are inflated by gossip.

In the face of numerous failures to collect on the debt owed to us by BUNGIE for Steaktacular medals awarded in Halo 3, we took matters into our own hands. A mass-reservation at Fogo de Chao has become a ChicagoLANd tradition. It was all but demanded by certain veterans that the rite be upheld on this occassion.

Some gamers even ventured beyond the confines of their natural habitat to visit a place called “outside”. This may seem difficult to believe. However, photographic evidence is being provided as proof. They even seem to be enjoying themselves, despite the unfiltered breeze and direct sunlight.

All good quests come to an end…

It was inevitable that each Gunslinger would find their way back home. Planes, trains, and automobiles would scatter us to our rightful gaming stations across the globe. One returned to Canada. One returned to Europe. Others ventured back to every corner of the continental mainland of these United States. Several of us just limped back to the other side of town.

No matter the distance traveled, we say thankya to everyone who made ChicagoL4Nd better through their presence. Good Game. See you online. See you next time.

To the proprietors at Ignite, we shall return…

...for ChicagoLANd V.

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 6

D0816 T2146 Y2009AtLANtica 3.0

In June of 2009, the TTL Gunslingers returned for a third time to the site of what has been dubbed the AtLANtica. The recipe was, as it has been for the past three years, very much the same: equal parts sunshine, violence, friendship, salt water, and more than a splash of rum.

Once again, our hosts were the benevolent [and ultra-tolerant] inn-keepers at the DoubleTree Suites in Melbourne, Florida. Our audio/visual providers were the saints that own and operate Hoover AV. Our backdrop was the Atlantic Ocean. Our aim was to celebrate the games we play, and the community that they inspire.

While repetitive in nature, this event has had a way of escalating in scope. The dimensions of the venue were the same as last year. That didn’t stop us from packing it with more screens, more noise, more gamers, and more action. It’s a destination we would recommend to any gaming entity in search of a gathering.

For many of the Gunslingers, the third AtLANtica was a reunion. For others, it was introduction to the mayhem that was much storied at our round table. They came from as far away as Holland, and from as near as just over the state line. In all cases, no name tags were required.

Tied the Leader was born from the culture of LAN Parties. Before Xbox Live captured the Master Chief and imported him into every home with a broadband feed, the founders of our fortified position in the Halo Nation were enjoying System Link games among friends. As the games grow more complex, so do the parties.

The attendees at AtLANtica included some of the same Gunslingers that first planted their flag in the uncultivated soil of what would become TTL. Since merging together from struggling upstarts with names like ‘Dead Theologian Society’ or ‘Clan Meryl Streep’, being a TTL Gunslinger is all they have known – and what a long and strange trip it has been.

These parties are a solid reminder of why we fight. For us, gaming as a member of a clan is about friendship as much as it is about victory or teamwork. Meeting a person, looking them in the eye, and shaking their hand is the surest ounce of prevention [and a never-miss pound of cure] for almost any amount of Internet Drama.

That don’t mean that we don’t get to fightin’. At a TTL function, the party-goers are put through the paces. Halo 3 Free-For-All. Halo 3 Squad Battles. Call of Duty Free-For-All. Rock Band High Scores. Grand Theft Auto Chopper Diving. In keeping with tradition, each wave is weighted with points that count toward winning the trophy that commemorates the event.

Rarely taken is a photograph that can capture the electricity emitted by 50 gamers locked in violent congress mere paces from one another. When the distance between different states or continents is closed to within the same room, the combatents get rowdy. Losing control of said room is a sign of success at any good party.

The spectator element is another sign of success. When gamers find themselves watching to see who carries the day, rather than jumping into the surf just outside the back door, its likely that they are getting that for which they came.

Of course, with an NBA Finals game in play, video games are not likely to be the only thing that is spectated. Fortunately, the local scene features many establishments that can stand up to a request like “TTL, Party of 50…” On one such mission, we provided a Gunslinger escort for a Lakers fan lost deep behind enemy lines, in a sea of Orlando fans.

That hotel hidden away on the Atlantic Coast has become like an honorary member of our clan. Having been there three times, it’s a place as familiar to us as some of the maps we see in matchmaking. Like the hill in the middle of Valhalla, it is a territory we have controlled time and time again.

Depicted above: Covenant Battle Cruiser? Or gathering storm? Sooner or later, the beach calls the gamers away from the network. One can take only so much non-stop carnage. When the breaking point is reached, there is plenty of stimulus right on site to soothe the assualt on the senses.

As an event, the AtLANtica has developed its own unique flavor. Gunslingers who have quested to become well-acquainted with our happenings have remarked that Florida is a better party, but Chicago is a better LAN. That lazy air and the sound of crashing waves dillutes the competitive spirit. The poolside bar helps as well.

Yet, sooner or later, competition finds us all. As we continue to host these affairs, we continue to open up new warfronts for live entanglements. The Gunslingers look to us to keep the offering fresh. No one wants to be able to predict everything that will happen.

Time and time again, we all run home to Halo. The more games we sample, the more apparent it becomes that there is no development house that understands the value of a good LAN Party better than Bungie Studios. It’s the game that brought us together to play against the living in our own living rooms. It’s the best game to bring us back together as we muster up and migrate en-masse to a ballroom.

‘Good Game’ to all that attended. See you next year.

Where? Who knows? There are still a lot of cities with names that can be blended with the word LAN. AtLANta? SeaTTLAN? AmsterLAN? HollywoodLANd?

Or, we could just return to Florida for a fourth AtLANtica. Bungie is still making Halo games. Why should we diversify? One fact rings true: When something ain’t broken…

Stay tuned.

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 9

D1102 T2328 Y2008ChicagoLANd 3.0

On Labor Day Weekend of 2008, almost a full month prior to the time of this recap, the TTL Gunslingers and their allies completed their third quest for the Tower – that would be the Sears Tower, to be exact. On that occasion, the City of Chicago was home to yet another national assembly and LAN extravaganza. The following is a photo essay and full timecode recap…

>>>DAY ZERO: 28 August 2008

First Contact. Over the course of the past 12 hours, the Gunslingers had been arriving from various points beyond the borders of the Second City. Journeys from Holland, Mexico, Canada, and both coasts of these United States brought them together in violent communion. They ventured to what would serve as ground zero for a celebration of the community that unites gamers in a clan.

>>10:00 PM: Upon the conclusion of various dinners, much of the invasion force rallies at Miller’s Pub, an establishment adjacent to their temporary home base at the Palmer House Hilton. As always, the scene is standing-room-only. Fortunately, the Gunslingers are no strangers to contesting a territory and making it their own.

>>>DAY ONE: 29 August 2008

>>2:00 PM: Finally, after various forms of settling in and wandering the streets of the city, official festivities can begin. The kick off for ChicagoLANd 3.0 comes on the 34th Floor of an undisclosed location that just happens to be the real-life residence of the gamerblogger who would be their host for the next several days of noise and carnage.

>>3:00 PM: War stories are exchanged along with gamertags to accompany primary identities. Glasses are raised. The sun beats down on new and familiar faces. After an obligatory group shot in front of the ubiquitous skyline, the Gunslingers disperse in search of a feast of their choosing.

>>6:00 PM: Over the years, the group has become too large to decend upon any one establishment. No restauranteur in their right mind wants to hear “TTL, party of 40, please…” Some go to Fogo de Chao in a gesture to collect a small portion of the steak that had been won via Matchmaking for Halo 3. Yet others blaze a trail to a much storied slice – or two – of pizza.

For many, it will be an early night. The next day, after all, holds the promise of LAN action.

>>>DAY TWO: 30 August 2008

The LAN begins. Over the next 48 hours, the Palmer House will endure a storm of simulated violence and real friendship. Teams will be built and destroyed. High scores will be tabulated and calculated. Prizes will be claimed. Keepsakes will be sold at auction.

>>6:00 AM: That’s right. The crack of dawn is host to load-in. A maze of hallways and freight elevators lead from the dock to 2,500 square feet of private digital arena. All must be networked and configured before hangovers can subside, bringing gamers out of their rooms in search of that which was promised to them before they put themselves on planes, tranes, and automobiles.

>>8:00 AM: Six projector screens are erected and keystoned. Half-again as many television monitors are configured throughout the space. A meticulously conceived floorplan takes form, with a central nervous system and command center located in the dead center of the room.

>>11:00 AM: Opening Ceremonies. LAN Master Action Thaxten assumes control of the mission, detailing a challenge for all who have dared attend. A tournament is described in which participants compete for prizes in a decathlon-style event that yields many opportunities to put points on the scoreboard.

>>11:30 PM: The trophies are unveiled. The Gunslinger’s pistol is, of course, a replica – a fact that TTL Demagogue will end up explaining to 6 Chicago cops who invade his hotel room on a tip from an impressionable cleaning lady. The “LAN Cup” is awarded to TTL Fate, in recognition of outstanding acheivements logged at previous events.

>>12:00 PM: With the games of ChicagoLANd 3.0 officially open, eager gamers settle in for some free-form warm-ups. Profiles are entered into consoles. Seats are arranged. Games of every variety spark to life on various platforms.

Light guns begin to blaze high scores for Duck Hunt. Ever since [and even before] the inception of TTL, the old Nintendo chestnut has been a mandatory staple and a nostalgic throw-back at LAN Parties. It does, after all, count towards the assignment of The Prize.

Rock Bands are formed for jam sessions, filling the room with a range of accompaniment, from the best garage act to the very worst Karaoke. The bands disband as quickly as they come together, with chairs rotating in a musical fashion all their own between gigs.

>>2:00 PM: At long last, tournament-weighted Halo maneuvers commence, beginning with a Free-For-All tournament. The Gunslingers are lined up in front of the projectors in a bid to take each other down. The featured maps start out large and crowded. Through a bloody process of elimination, the more intimate spaces on the menu play host to the closing duels.

>>4:00 PM: Call of Duty 4 is given its TTL LAN debut. ...And the event grinds to a screaching halt. Tournament organizers are served with a painful reminder as to why the Gunslingers are, first and foremost, a Halo Clan. The truth is unmistakable: Debates on game aesthetics aside, no developer builds a platform for interaction that is as effortless as Bungie’s party lobby.

Confusion sets in as the veterans of COD’s class system rush to educate their noob partners in the art of the perks. The System Link menus throw the flow of the competition into complete and total disarray. Yet, the Gunslingers make do as the first exclamation of “Let’s do this!” fills the air.

>>10:00 PM: “Territory Controlled!” once again at Miller’s Pub. The bartenders begin to recognize this motley band of prize fighters in shirts with matching logos. The regular patrons start to quit out of the match to hold the corner by the windows.

>>>DAY THREE: 31 August 2008

A new entry in the LAN Tournament in unveiled: Chopper Diving in Grand Theft Auto 4. The rules are simple: Spawn a helicopter in a clear intersection using a cheat code. Climb to the operational ceiling of the craft. Gain some momentum. Exit the cockpit. In keeping with Olympic tradition, the event is judged by the hosts of ChicagoLANd 3.0 – who also provide color commentary on the preceedings.

Points are awarded for hitting the pavement – not the top of a building. A plunge into the water is an automatic disqualification [unless the diver is able to be killed by passing watercraft]. Timing and a sensibility for geometry are crucial. Highest scores are awarded for the best “splashdown”; taking into account brain stains, corpse slides, and property damage.

>>2:00 PM: Once more unto the breach in Halo 3. Ahhh, sweet home Halo 3 and its intuitive post-game Carnage Reports for easy scoring! This time, teamwork comes into play, with 4-gamer teams pitted against one another in a round-robbin’ trial of tactics and communication.

Squads are assembled using the results of the FFA from the previous day as a qualifier. In the end, three teams qualify for the finals, forcing a 4v4v4 on Last Resort – and the name of the map takes on an uncanny extra meaning.

>>7:00 PM: Pizza. At any other LAN venue, a cardboard box would do us fine. At the Palmer House, the Gunslingers are held over a barrel by a man dressed in a tuxedo, wielding golden cauldrons filled with sub-standard pie. This gamerblogger was already planning to buy drinks at Miller’s for anyone with the guts to cry foul. And well they should…

>>8:00 PM: A silent auction that has raged in the background for the entirety of the event comes to a close in a traditional town hall format. Items donated to benefit the Tied the Leader Foundation are sold off one by one from the auctioner’s block, with attendees outbidding each other in a battle of verbal cues. In total, more than $900 is pledged to assist in the rehabilitation of wounded combat veterans.

IN CONCLUSION: Game Over! A good time is had by all. What are becomming old friendships are reinforced. What have become new friendships are solidified. Good games are exchanged all around. A Gunslinger, who is also A Large Bear, claimes his prize. Casualties are held to zero. Power outages are, miraculously, a non-issue. By all accounts, ChicagoLANd 3.0 is a success.

CODA: Miller’s again? You people really need to be thinking about catching your flights home tomorrow. See you maniacs again next year. Chicago again? Perhaps…

There, after all, are other worlds than these.

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 10

D0622 T2158 Y2008AtLANtica, Version 2.0

It has been said that you should never return to the scene of a crime. Fortunately for the TTL Gunslingers, and a few distinguished guests, that same pearl of wisdom does not hold true for LAN parties – especially when the scene in question is a beach. Thus, on Memorial Day weekend, Tied the Leader held a repeat performance of last year’s AtLANtica event.

Telling the stories engendered at a LAN party is always a tricky proposition. Photos from the scene usually end up depicting faces frozen in a mask of tactical concentration. The camera is rarely trained on the attendees when the party erupts into exaltation. The competitive electricity in the room escapes the snapshots. The tension and suspense of live competition and social camaraderie defy illustration.

Thanks to the video stylings of one Sunburned Goose, this problem is solved in living, breathing high-definition. We bid you welcome to come along with Goose on his journey. Should you crave a higher resolution of this video documentary, register for a login here, and access the Downloads menu in the lower right-hand corner.

All told, 37 attendees graced us with their presence, their gunfire, and their company. Through the execution of a [not-so] silent auction, $1,200 was raised to benefit wounded combat veterans via the Tied the Leader Foundation. It was, after all, Memorial Day!

Special thanks go out to all who provided discounted services, contributed personal funds, or donated schwag to serve as fodder on the auctioneer’s block. They include: Bungie Studios, Electronic Arts, EE Knight, Hoover AV, JINX, Microsoft, Steve Downes, Red Bull, Los Jacklos at Easton Exchange, and Venus.

This event was many things. It was a vacation. It was a tournament. It was a live assembly of the membership from a virtual social network. It was introductions among new friends and reunions among old friends. It was a fundraiser for charity. Above all else, it was a party.

Tied the Leader is a community that finds it roots in LAN Parties like this one. When we played Halo: Combat Evolved, we didn’t have Xbox Live. We didn’t have hotel meeting spaces or 40” plasmas, either. Events like this one are always a much-needed reconciliation with the truth – that we are gamers in a clan to enjoy ourselves, as well as to enjoy the company of each other.

Next stop… Chicago. For the third time. After all, if one scene is worth returning to, so is another.

To those who attended AtLANtica, 2.0: Thank you, and Good Game.

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 18

D1015 T0056 Y2007ChicagoLANd Rewind

On Labor Day Weekend, the TTL Gunslingers [or, almost half of them] and their esteemed guests descended upon the Palmer House Hilton for an event that was billed under the name “ChicagoLANd”. In the relative calm following the storm of hype that surrounded the launch of Halo 3, our gaming community can recant the finer moments from the party we threw to say goodbye to the game that originally brought us together as a clan. Now the story can be told.

For the official clan of Tied the Leader, it was our second mass invasion of the city of Chicago. For the gamers who call the windy city their home, this was the fourth year that the conclusion of summer was heralded with the deafening roar of simulated gunfire.

The recipe has remained the same. A crew of gamers. Stacks of consoles. An arsenal of audio/visual equipment. Yards of infrastructure. A sprinkling of debauchery? The measurement of each ingredient in the stew of mayhem has grown year over year. This year saw almost 50 gamers converge on our national assembly.

24 square feet of projected multiplayer action was home to an organized tournament that had its participants roaring over the noise created by 16 combatants slugging it out in intimate real-time proximity. Awards were issued to the victors in Halo 2, Halo CE, Gears of War, and Project Gotham Racing. A dozen more monitor stations provided host to a menu of freestyle gaming – Geometry Wars, Duck Hunt, Guitar Hero, as well as everything from the aforementioned titles.

Rumor has it that a Wii even made it onto the network for a short-lived exhibition. At this time, such gossip cannot be substantiated with hard evidence. Sony, it can be verified, failed to make an appearance.

Why do this? To celebrate friendship that grows from the most unsuspected of sources. To build the culture that shapes our emerging shared pastime. To elevate the profile of the person that proudly claims the title of “Gamer”. And, in the case of Tied the Leader, to raise another $500 for the wounded combat veterans that benefit from our charitable foundation.

Why not do this? Lugging that much equipment is back breaking work. Orchestrating a symphony that can only be created by dozens of howling war junkies is enough to induce shell-shock that rings in the ear long after the last power strip is unplugged. Troubleshooting electrical blow-outs in a historic hotel before a captive audience of disappointed party-goers is enough to conjur an ulcer. Planning such an affair takes months of scrounging, plotting, and second-guessing.

Of course, when the winning team of a 4v4 tournament jumps to their feet as if they just took the gold medal in front of the watching world, all of those rigors seem well worth the trouble.

This blogger could tell you more about the memories that were created over the course of the storied weekend. Instead, you are invited to relive the event from the perspective of the Gunslinger that won top-prize at the ChicagoLANd. Once every fired shot, lap raced, and strummed chord was tabulated; it was a Gunslinger ‘tagged Pony that took home the trophy.

We bid you welcome to our clan site for an dead-eye-witness account in words and pictures…

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 5

D0603 T2011 Y2007The TTL AtLANtica

I have a secret. Wanna know how you can become fast tracked to a Promotion to the rank of Lieutenant in the Halo 3 Beta without really trying?

No. I am not talking about cheating. You take your Xbox to a LAN Party, and you let your Halo Clan [filled to the brim with gamers who are far more dangerous than you] play on your gamertag non-stop for two straight days and nights.

Well, maybe not “non-stop”. Our most recent LAN, after all, was at the beach. This past Memorial Day Weekend, the TTL Gunslingers – and the allies that love them – gathered on Florida’s eastern seaboard for what was officially dubbed [drumroll] The AtLANtica!

Following up on a tradition of staging events that are as equally heavy on the Party as they are on the LAN, we descended upon an obscure beachfront resort for the purpose of breaking down the final barrier that keeps us apart on Xbox Live.

Over twenty Gunslingers dealt themselves in on the experience. Faces were put to names. Bread was broken. War stories were shared. Lead was dealt at an even exchange rate.

In planning this extravaganza, our biggest fear was an announcement that the Halo 3 Beta would coincide with the event – separating us from precious testing time. As it turns out, that was the most interesting component of the experience – or at least, the gaming part of it.

After some troubleshooting and a strongly-worded phone call to tech-support, we managed to punch a hole in the firewall of the hotel network. The game must be allowed to flow, and under all circumstances!

Throw into the mix a projection screen large enough to induce vertigo on a jump from the man-cannon, and you have a spectacle that fills the room. An added bonus was the chance to game with our fellow Beta Testers. They made their appearances on the screen 4 by 4.

The Testing Station became a portal to the Gunslingers who could not make the trip. They were kind enough to tolerate our antics as the noise in the room [Guitar Hero] kept the team-chat channel open long after we were done asking “Who put a trip mine in the front yard?!?!”

In a rare move, our propaganda is being outsourced to our guest from the Halo Nation… Foo Mo Jive, recorded hours of audio for a Podtacular cast…

To be quite honest, the details from the event are hazy. When you plan a weekend to be a collision between sun, sand, surf, and gamer culture; the hardest thing can be keeping all of the memories straight. Say thankya that someone thought to record media for the sake of posterity.

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 8

D0917 T2331 Y2006TTLAN Fest 2006

The following is a story that takes place over Labor Day Weekend of 2006, during which the Third Annual LAN Party was waged by what has become the ‘Tied the Leader’ community. If you are not a big reader, you are welcome to skip down to the video links at the bottom. I would recommend that you at least give those a watch.

The story begins as the TTL Gunslingers descend upon the City of Chicago. They came from as far as the salt flats of Utah and the hurricane alleys of Florida. The promise of a LAN Party drove them for miles. Most of them ended up in a hotel located in a neighborhood called the Gold Coast. All day long, familiar gamers arrived at the hotel bar, 2 by 2. They entered the room asking for The Gunslingers, always drawing nervous stares from other tables.

After enough drinks to make any photographer’s hand shake, we ended up on the roof in full-view of the towers. A late-summer wind whipped across the skyline. David Mammet had slept in this building, for those of you who know what a Glengarry Lead is…

The next morning revealed what turned out to be a beautiful day. The promise of the LAN Party could wait. After all, we had gotten to know each other over countless hours of gaming. For now, it was time to break some bread and hold palaver. The game would wait.

We invaded a choice beach-head in Belmot Hardor and set up camp. On Labor Day, the city is pretty much evacuated in favor of vacation spots in exciting places like Michigan or Wisconsin. Foolish! The best kept secret is to stay home. You can hold down what qualifies as beach property anywhere along the miles of lakefront park and make your own scene.

We set up a modest spread. Video game violence had lead to real life violence – against livestock. Ironically enough, our two most dangerous gamers revealed themselves to be pascifists in real life, opting instead for a vegan restaurant just inland. There, chefs carefully prepared hearty meals without harming a single hair on any a critter.

With the conclusion of hostilities against tasty animals, we gravitated to the lakefront. That is where all lakefront parties end up.

When you cluster this many gamers together, sooner or later, a game of any sort will ensue. You can even coerce a bunch of tattooed hooligans to play Bocce. For the uninformed, this Italian game is a hybrid of bowling, marbles, and King of the Hill.

Aside from a wayward digital camera that ended up in a shock of bushes that ensnared a drunken Gunslinger like a venus fly trap, our only other casualty over the course of the entire weekend was a Bocce ball that was claimed by the waters of Lake Michigan. That’s why I say ‘Hey man, nice shot’.

The next day was host to the LAN Party. All promises kept. Zero Hour found us unloading two cars [parked miraculously like those of Rock Stars] in front of Fizz Bar and Grill. Did I mention the urban evacuation? Our Mission: to transform this private party space into a coliseum of digital mayhem.

You have to make a total mess before a LAN resembles anything close to a Party. Bins of networking cable were upended and taped down. Projection screens were steadied on tripods. And the Xboxes. Don’t forget those. They had been lovingly transported across five different states.

I’d like to tell you that we threw it all together without breaking a sweat. I’d like to tell you that. The truth is, any LAN architecture is not without that moment of panic. The projectors won’t work! The power is gonna blow! We all forgot to bring a game disc? All of these terrors were contemplated and difused. Depicted above, Action Thaxten has a “Get that camera out of my face until I figure this out!” moment.

After a few hours spent agonizing over connections [both physical and wireless], it was “Game ON!” The room darkened to reveal a panorama of simulated violence. Barkeeps from downstairs came up to see what was causing all that racket. One of them, having stared at the carnage for a few moments, threw up her hands in a dismissive gesture and cackled: “It’s a lovely day to be outside, boys…” Been there. Done that. See above.

Now, it was time to Slay and Capture and Control. Get your tag loaded up. Pick your favorite corner of the screen. Exchange that knowing glance with the person seated next to you.

Team chat was gone. Body memory might send that finger in search of the comm button, but it is wasted energy. The dialogue goes airborn at a LAN Party. You wanna talk some trash? Speak up, Junior. After all, we are all friends here. Ain’t we? With liquor flowing the way it was, we could only hope so…

Did we play our very best game on a projector? Of course not. No one ever does – not when you are used to scoring a headshot on a moving target that is only two razor-sharp pixels wide. There is, however, no substitution for an adoring crowd. When you hear a room full of blood-thirsty gamers start shouting when you pull that flag, you don’t worry so much about image quality perfection. You are too distracted by the blood pounding in your ears. Or was that the stereo speakers?

Away from the projection arena, a sampling of other titles were demonstrated on smaller cocktail stations. Depicted above, a self-assured Overlord teaches a Geometry Class, prior to winning an arcade tournament that was held during the open bar.

Did we mention class? How about old school? As part of a ‘Tied the Leader’ tradition, no LAN Party is complete without a shot down memory lane at some ducks. No Gunslinger is satisfied, afterall, with a shooting gallery in the Saloon. Speak your lesson and say it true…

There are two crucial components to forming a good LAN Party. There is the LAN, and there is the Party. At least, we have always felt that way about such things. It is always amusing how each side of the equation always seems to have people who get stuck there.

There are a thousand stories from this event. Our memories of it are a little hazy, truth be told. With drinks on hand in endless supply; the longer one stays away from the game, the more one’s skill at said game suffers. Vision blurs. Reflexes dull. The trigger finger loses its snap.

Instead of trying to recall each seedy detail, we can invite you to look in on this LAN Party. In fact, we can show you a full thirty seconds of live action recorded on that day. Click below to select your brand of media poison for our video recap – shot by Pink Tawko, and edited by El Burritoh.

Windows Media

Or, you are invited to see all of the photos taken during that crazed weekend – dutifully edited and compiled by photo editor DrPachango into a full-spectrum photo essay in five acts.

It is my privelage to introduce to you the TTL Gunslingers. This was not our first LAN Party. It will not be our last. One local guest had attended simpler affairs held on Labor Day weekends in years past. This time around, he was kind enough to remark:

“Man, you guys get a little more dangerous every time I come near you.”

Say thankya.

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 20