Sunday, March 8, 2015

Practical stock class: Dual wielding

I know what you are probably thinking: "Really? Practical stock class: dual wielding? Shouldn't that be impractical stock class?"

Dual wielding has a lot of detractors, and, to be fair, this is not for no good reason. Having a blaster in each hand has a few very obvious advantages and a host of slightly less obvious disadvantages. It is therefore the domain of those who take their inspiration from action movies and haven't thought their system through in much depth.

It is not, however, the exclusive domain of such people. Dual-wielding in Nerf is a viable system, with advantages and disadvantages, and which can be made to work if done right.

This post has been written with HvZ in mind, both because the entirety of my experience with dual wielding comes from HvZ, and because dual wielding is less practical in other gametypes.

Let's start with the bad news

Let's get this out of the way first: you are not Neo. You cannot fire at two separate targets simultaneously with anywhere near the accuracy that you could have with one blaster. You do not live in an action movie where guns hold more than twice their weight in ammo or reload themselves offscreen. Doing dual wielding right requires forethought and caution.

It also carries some disadvantages which can be ameliorated but not negated. Here are the main ones:

1) Dual wielding will reduce your accuracy. Doing so intelligently will reduce your accuracy by a lesser degree - but you'll still never be quite as accurate without a free hand to stabilize your blaster.

2) Reloading is going to be a problem. Reloading will either take longer or have a higher risk of fumbling - probably both.

3) You won't have a hand free for doors, grabbing plot items, etc. This may be a minor inconvenience or a significant problem, depending on the game and environment.

4) Keeping track of how much ammo remains in two separate blasters can be difficult. This is a problem that is easy to overlook.

5) Firing from behind cover is awkward at best. While this is a critical disadvantage in blaster vs. blaster games, it is largely irrelevant in HvZ - but, still, you never know when the moderators might decide to surprise the human side with a pack of spitter zombies.

Why do it, then?

There are plenty of reasons why a player would want to dual wield. For instance:
  • For the ability to provide suppression over a wider arc than would otherwise be possible, through either inaccurate fire or the unpredictable threat of fire. 
  • For fast reactive shots over a wider arc than would otherwise be possible.
  • To have multiple shots at the ready while using manual single-action blasters. 
  • As a substitute for an integration. 
  • For intimidation.  
  • It's just fun, dangit.
The first two reasons deserve special mention as they are actual performance advantages inherent to this system. The third and fourth reasons present dual wielding as a substitute for some superior but unavailable system. The fifth is reliant on the inexperience of the player's opponents; every system has weaknesses, and is less intimidating once you are familiar with those weaknesses. The last is an advantage, but not a performance-related one.

So, the next time you hear someone saying that dual wielding is a fine system for goofing around and a good system for the under-equipped, but is otherwise ineffectual, remember this: wide-angle suppression and snap reactions.

It is worth noting that dual wielding has a steeper learning curve than using a single blaster, as it presents a player with more options. If you have one blaster, you can move, point, and shoot. If you have two blasters, you can move, point each blaster (or both in the same direction), and shoot either blaster (or both). For this reason, I would not recommend dual wielding for novice players.

A note on accuracy

One of the most common arguments against dual wielding is that it reduces accuracy. This argument is, partially, a holdover from firearms users. This problem, while critical for firearms, is less severe for Nerf blasters as they have a high inherent inaccuracy, which makes increases to user inaccuracy less significant. Methods which are associated with high user inaccuracy - which include hipfire, not using a stock, and here dual wielding - are thus more widely viable with Nerf.

Note that I am not saying that this renders sufficiently small sources of user inaccuracy utterly inconsequential. Sources of error add. The penalties stack. What I am saying is that a large inherent error renders user error *less* significant.

Let's work through some examples here. You need to hit a person size target - let's say 33 cm wide, because that's the width of my ribcage that I measured in order to make a person-width dart-catching target.

In the first case, suppose that you are using a gun with an average innate and user inaccuracy of 0.5 degrees each. Random errors add in quadrature, meaning that the average of the overall error is equal to the square root of the squares of the average of each random error. So, our total error is sqrt((0.5 deg)^2 + (0.5 deg)^2) = 0.707 degrees. Some simple trigonometry gives us the maximum distance at which you have an even chance of hitting the target: 26.7 m. Now, suppose that you change your technique in such a way that you incur an additional source of error: 1 degree. The total error is now sqrt((0.5 deg)^2 + (0.5 deg)^2 + (1 deg)^2) = 1.22 degrees, and your range is 15.5 m. That's 58% of your original range - quite a nasty reduction!

In the second case, we'll assume that you have a total error of 3 degrees initially - which is not bad for a Nerf blaster with Hasbro darts. Your range is 6.31 m. With a new source of error of 1 degree, your total error becomes 3.16 degrees, and your range becomes 5.98 m. That's 95% of your original range - not bad!

In summary, you will loose accuracy when you dual wield, and as such you will loose range - but not as much as you might think.

Doing it right, part 1: Loadout

A good pair of blasters compliment, or at least do not detract from, each other. For example, a Triad works well with most blasters, as it is small enough that it permits use of the hand holding it for reloads, and it can be primed and loaded using only the tips of the fingers, making it possible to load both blasters without dropping either.

Having some pre-game practice with the complete loadout that you will use in a game is usually a good idea - but, if you are dual wielding, it is paramount. Familiarity with each individual blaster won't always be useful as the combination is often an entirely different beast. It is a good idea to pick one pair of blasters and stick to them; swapping one blaster for another, or switching hands, can trip you up. (Putting one blaster away, or switching to an entirely different two-handed blaster, might be a good idea. More on this in the next section.)

Reloading will probably be difficult, and require some forethought and practice, depending on which blasters are used. Dual wielding does not, as one might naively assume, exchange the normal reloading process for one which takes twice as long but which must be performed half as often. On the contrary, a mid-engagement undesired reload is more dangerous and this necessitates rather than recommends opportunistic reloads, which means that a dual-wielding player can expect to reload at least as often as a player with a more conventional loadout. (Also: yes, that reload technique that Lara used in the first Tomb Raider movie was cool. No, simply doing that with two Stryfes is not as easy as you might think. I've tried.)

Carrying both plenty of darts and plenty of magazines is usually a good idea, but it is especially important while dual wielding. Dual wielding increases ammo consumption, as a result of decreased accuracy. The necessary opportunistic reloads tend to leave a player with half-full magazines. As half-full mags are awkward or impossible to top up on the fly with a blaster in each hand, it is good to have plenty of full mags at the ready.

Doing it right, part 2: Technique

Dual wielding is a technique, not a loadout - you need not commit to having both blasters out at the same time all of the time. Knowing when to use this technique - and when not to use it - is a key part of using it effectively. Dual wielding is the most effective when used by skirmishers who are working with a support group, as the support group provides a safe place for each skirmisher to retreat and reload, and for brief high-intensity encounters. Dual wielding is less effective for players who remain near the center of a large group because the primary advantage of dual wielding - the ability to have a second blaster preemptively pointed in another direction - is rendered irrelevant when there are already blasters in other player's hands pointed in that direction. Dual wielding is also less effective when working far from other humans, as a lone player will have a greater need for stealth and easy reloads.

Attention management is always important, and it is is vital for taking full advantage of the benefits of dual wielding.  Overfocusing on the greatest perceived threat, and neglecting situational awareness, is a common mistake regardless of what blaster(s) a player has. Dual wielding presents the opportunity to make a different mistake, which has similar effects: attempting to track and fire upon two separate targets. This results in attention being split three ways: one target, the other target, and situational awareness. Human just aren't wired to work this way. In a sense, this is a worse mistake than overfocusing: not only will your situational awareness suffer, but you won't be likely to hit either target, too!

The advantage of dual wielding lies not in the ability to focus on multiple targets simultaneously, but rather in the ability to switch focus rapidly. A player with one blaster will need to move it from each target to the next. A player who is dual wielding can have another blaster already pointed in the general direction of their next target.

As a general rule, it is best to keep both blasters pointing in different directions even if there aren't multiple readily-identifiable threats, as this makes snap shots faster. Regardless of blaster separation, dual wielding allows for fast snap shots over a greater range. A traditional right-handed user can easily turn their blaster to a target behind them on their left side - but a target on their right side would require an awkward twist of the hands, especially if the player is using a stock. This problem simply does not exist when dual wielding. However, aiming with one hand takes longer than with two when the arc over which the blaster must be moved is the same, so, in order to compete with a two-handed blaster in terms of snap shot speed, the length of the arc over which each blaster must travel must be reduced - which means aiming one's blasters a little off to the side by default. I find that an angle of separation of about 60 to 80 degrees between the blasters works well.

As a general rule, only one blaster should be fired at any given moment. This is, however, a rule with some prominent exceptions:
  • When targeting an area or a wave of incoming zombies, accuracy is not much of a concern, but volume of fire is. 
  • Attempting to hit two foes simultaneously is a fine last-ditch measure. Anything that has some chance of saving a player from both of two zombies is batter than something that has a good chance of saving them from only one of the two. 
  • When there is an overwhelming need for a hit on a single target, using both blasters at once is an effective tactic as doubling your total output makes dodging much more difficult.
For targets at long range, you can increase your accuracy by bracing one blaster against the wrist of your other hand. If you find yourself doing this often, then, really, you should consider holstering that second blaster. The advantage of bracing using your wrist is that it allows for a faster transition to dual wielding proper than drawing a second blaster.


Dual wielding is a useful, if specialized and perhaps difficult, technique. There are situations where it is advantageous (in particular skirmishing in HvZ), and on the other hand there are situations where it is not practical (in particular blaster vs blaster games). Proper technique is vital for dual wielding effectively, and this means not recklessly attempting to emulate an action movie hero. It has been my experience that dual wielding is great fun, although it does to some extent force me to adapt my role to my loadout rather than the other way around; I'm certainly not the best skirmisher but that doesn't stop me from trying. Whether dual wielding suits you as a player will depend on your game and your style of play. If you want to try something new or think that it might be useful, then I recommend that you give it a fair try, and be aware of its appropriate role, learning curve, and limitations.

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