Blue beam zapping

Posted November 6th 2005, expanded November 2018

Associated movies

  • BCM321 - Legendary; Blue beam zapping (8:08)


Bodies fly up, and then…

When you set off a big chain reaction in the Arc of death scenario, there's something pretty amazing you might see. A high-flying body may get 'zapped' by a plasma emission (the 'blue beam' as it's often called - though it's not truly a beam). Typically, the body gets violently deflected away, and for Elites and Jackals there's a spray of purple blood. First time I saw it, an Elite got zapped and clouds of purple exploded from him as he flew off, back over the hills behind my shoulder. Truly spectacular. And it's surprising that this violent potential is there at all!

Whoa! Did you see that?

It turned out that the save I was using was particularly good for this, allowing me to see zapping quite often, maybe once every minute or so. The Elites had already been killed at the rock on the right (i.e. before I got my save checkpoint), nicely boosting the grenade count there. Each time I reverted, all I had to do was promptly send in a frag grenade to approximately the right place, and BLAM! A huge chain reaction would send up multiple bodies, including many heading towards the tower. And as luck would have it, an emission was due at just the right time. My opening two pictures here show an example.

However, you can get a much better dedicated set-up, in which you're not being attacked, and you're standing at a pile of bodies ready to send it sky high. You can potentially then see zapping frequently and easily, and you have much greater control in regard to the explosion. I'll cover this set-up work next, before talking about the fun and the zapping phenomenon, and more.

Setting up

For this plan (demonstrated in BCM321, and figured out shortly before) you can either start from scratch or potentially adapt a standard arc of death save if you happen to have one - especially if it already has some bodies and grenades at the rock on the right. Have a pistol and plasma pistol, and have a needler on hand for later. Be fully loaded with plasma grenades and have at least one frag; all for later.

Another Grunt for the pile

Build your pile

Position yourself at the cover rock and kill lots of covies non-explosively at the rock on the right. Influenced by your positioning, they tend to gravitate there to get a good view of you, though at times you may need to fire a shot to attract them. Try to keep the pile tight; I think that will help. And most importantly, keep looking the right way to prevent the game removing the stuff you're trying to accumulate. Contrary to what I'd originally thought, and what's suggested by a caption in the movie, you don't actually have to keep the stuff in sight; it suffices to merely be looking the right way; see here for elaboration.

For this work you should have a pistol (you might want a spare full pistol for ammo too), and preferably also at least one plasma pistol, for bringing down Elite shields (after which you can deliver a pistol headshot of course). Actually, if you're running low on plasma pistol charge you can always focus on using its normal mode of fire instead, which is much more economical.

The main covies to do all this with are the guys from the final three dropships. They'll give you a sizeable pile of bodies, and probably enough loose plasmas to blast them high enough (on Legendary at least, but I haven't tested lower difficulties where you get fewer grenades dropped). Of course, you could get an even bigger pile by also using some of the earlier covies.

Delay the Pelican arrival checkpoint

When the last covie is dead, Echo 419 turns up (that's assuming you didn't take so long finishing the covies that it turned up earlier - which would mess up the plan). When you start to hear the intercom chatter, begin jumping to delay the associated arrival checkpoint. That's going to be your eventual set-up checkpoint. You can also pick up your needler now, for use in the later fun. Make sure you left it where you'll be able to pick it up without losing sight of the body pile.

Looking good!

Maybe do some tidying

Move to the body pile, and allow extraneous stuff to potentially be removed by looking away from it. Stuff which is well outside the pile or which you think is straying from the core too much. If an undesired plasma doesn't vanish, you can potentially just pick it up after offloading one of yours.

This tidying will potentially alleviate strain on the game. Your pile might actually be 'secure' after that - i.e. nothing vanishing when you look away (especially the grenades) - but you can't be sure yet, so still keep it in view. You can test it after the checkpoint.

Get a well timed checkpoint

Wait for the Pelican to leave. Moreover, I suggest waiting until you can't hear it any more. Then wait for a plasma emission. As soon as one starts, do a few quick jumps (you could do auto-jumping, keeping the jump button down; that's how I've been doing it), then stop to finally get a checkpoint, completing your set-up. On PAL Xbox I suggest using 3 or 4 jumps. This timing should be pretty ideal for making prompt zap attempts. Each time you revert, you'll have a comfortable few seconds to launch the bodies in time for the next emission (that's the idea anyway). On NTSC there's a timing difference in regard to the tower. I believe it fires every 15 seconds instead of the 18 seconds it takes on PAL Xbox. So maybe jump only 1 or 2 times.

At the time of getting your checkpoint, be ready with what you think might be a good aim for a grenade throw. I suggest being set for plasma grenades rather than frags. Have a pistol so you can use a zoomed view to watch zapped bodies, and have a needler as secondary, as an alternative way of initiating a bang.

Further set-up remarks

Using a base save

A set-up may turn out to be unsatisfactory, not giving you zaps easily enough. So you may need to try a few times before you get a pleasing set-up. With that in mind, it makes sense to first of all form a base save from which to then make attempts at the final work. For example, a base save obtained from the dropship 4 checkpoint, so you've now got just the last three dropships to deal with.

Nice Elite double!

An additional reason for having a base save is that you might want to create multiple set-ups anyway. Different set-ups have different potential, depending on the distribution of bodies and plasmas. For example, I had one set-up which was particularly good for getting a Jackal zap. His body just happened to be in a good location relative to the plasmas. Another of my set-ups was good for getting two Elites zapped at once (see pic).

Beware of rage mode

When trying to finish off an Elite at the rock with a pistol (perhaps you've already brought down his shield with a plasma ball), don't be doing it with your clip about to run out. If he goes into rage mode just when you need to reload, he'll likely be running your way by the time you can drop him, and that means neither his body nor his plasmas will contribute to the pile.

Plasma count

How many plasmas will make for a good enough bang? It partly depends how tightly clustered they are. The set-up seen created in BCM321 only had 9, and was usable but definitely felt a bit underpowered and consequently limited. Detonation needed to be just right to send bodies high enough. Having at least 12 would be preferable, and perhaps somewhere near 20 might be ideal.

Plasmas revealed, after a few careful blasts

Probably most of the plasmas will be hidden by bodies, but you can get a count by going around picking them up. However, you'd best do it multiple times and in different ways, to guard against cases where the game removed plasmas when you were looking a bit too far away (it's hard to keep the whole pile in view when you're picking up the plasmas). You could also blast away bodies as best you can, to reveal most or all of the plasmas. Obviously that has to be done with quite a bit of care!

More on the checkpoint timing

I said to do a few quick jumps after an emission starts, and I specifically suggested 3 or 4 for PAL Xbox, and guessed at 1 or 2 being optimal for NTSC/PC. But if you want to be able to make faster zap attempts, you could delay the checkpoint slightly longer, with an extra jump or two. However, you'll also have less time to adjust position, and you might be a bit limited because of that - and maybe a bit rushed to start your detonation action. Likewise, if you want to have more time, use fewer delaying jumps, but that also means having to always wait longer. It's up to you how you want the timing.

Your set-up will have what I'll call a 'delay time' - the time until the next emission. I'd say the ideal is about 8 or 9 seconds. With 7 you might feel a bit rushed to detonate.

Why not use the sign-off checkpoint?

Instead of using the Pelican arrival checkpoint, why not use the sign-off checkpoint triggered just after Echo 419 signs off? Well, there's an issue with that. Now that there are no covies left, that checkpoint seems to be only briefly delayable - like by 5 or 6 quick jumps - and that hinders your ability to choose when to get it. Hence you might end up with poor timing, in which you have to wait inconveniently long before initiating detonation - which would also make it harder for you to judge when to act.

Using the set-up

Let's try putting a plasma here

Your initial grenade aim may or may not turn out to be suitable. Experiment, because different grenade placements will cause different body trajectories. I think also, there's some randomness in how the loose plasmas detonate; so even if you use the exact same throwing aim each time, things can turn out quite differently, though you can expect an overall trend.

After throwing, you can quickly move to a vantage point. It can be nice to actually run towards the structure rather than backing off, as it gives you a closer view of the actual zapping.

As I mentioned in the set-up plan, you can also use needling to cause detonation. Of course, you have to be bit careful about not being too close when the chain reaction begins! It can be done fairly safely though. With some of my set-ups it's been very effective. You need to focus on a particular body by the way; you need a body to get several needles for a bang.

Keeping the pile in view

Your pile may have so many bodies and loose plasmas that the game would remove some of them if you look away. That's something you can test. If the pile is 'insecure' like that, obviously you should make a point of keeping it in view until the actual explosion - unless you don't mind losing some stuff of course.

BLAM! - Elite tag

Tagging a zap victim

When you're grenading in some particular way, and often getting a particular body zapped, there's something extra you might like to try. Identify the body in the pile, and tag it before it flies off - so you hopefully then get a mid-air blast and a zap. I included a few examples of that in BCM321.

However, it's best if you leave the tag until the last moment, so the tag blast goes off as late as possible. Otherwise the blast is liable to be silent, due to the game being overloaded from all the audio work it's having to do in regard to the chain reaction. A silent blast just doesn't have the same satisfaction as a normal one.

How can you identify the body in the pile? By using tagging. Basically, do your detonation work then tag a body which you think might be the one. You'll soon notice if you were right. A process of elimination should get you to the right body before long. It's pretty easy.


The zapping zone

The tower has two halves which come close together part way up, forming a vertical channel. The bottom of that channel seems to be the approximate height at which the emission has the power to zap. I've never seen a zap lower down, even though the emission looks lethal from the outset. Zapping can also occur far above the tower; so maybe the zapping zone goes on indefinitely.

Elite deflected horizontally

Deflection dynamics

When a body is zapped, it typically flies away at some upwards angle. Could be steep, could be shallow. And actually, it could be practically horizontal - which I suspect arises from a glancing blow (the emission just skimming past the body, only just making contact). I may've also seen a body get deflected downwards, but my view of the angle was poor (his plane of motion was towards me), so I'm not sure. If downwards deflections are possible, they're freakishly rare at least.

As for the speed at which a body flies off, that partly depends on body weight (or so I assume, from observation and the expectation that the game is using its normal physics emulation). Grunts and Jackals typically go a lot faster than Elites. Indeed, sometimes they shoot off at huge speed, quickly becoming dots in the sky, or lost entirely.

Is zapping power weaker lower down? I'm wondering about that because I think I've only seen high-speed deflections higher up. Maybe I'll be able to say something more definitive later.

Jackal blood streak

Purple blood streaks

Unlike Grunts, Elites and Jackals shed blood when zapped, typically causing them to leave spectacular purple blood streaks as they fly off to wherever. An Elite's blood streak is thicker though. The length of the streak depends how fast the body is going. Jackals can go much faster than Elites, so you can see some extra-long streaks with them.

Blood can also get splashed onto the tower. That's mainly when the body is in the channel groove I think, thus trapping the blood.

Channelled bodies and high-flyers

Sometimes you get what I call a 'high-flyer': a body which is going up almost vertically and very high. This is relatively unusual because bodies normally fly off at quite an angle. I think high-flyers most typically arise from bodies getting caught by the groove in the left side of the tower's channel. If the emission catches a body when it's near the groove, the body can effectively end up getting shot out of the channel like a bullet from a gun. So if you want to get high-flyers, your best bet is to get bodies heading into the groove.

Groove up the left half of the channel

Sometimes a body may only get zapped after getting channelled up the groove (or just by chance, is zapped directly above the top of the tower). In such cases I typically lose track of them and they're never seen again. One moment they're there, the next moment they're gone. I had wondered if that's because they got shot up too fast to perceive - and perhaps then removed by the game because of going past a certain height. But I now suspect that what's usually going on is that the body is deflected at a significant angle and goes quickly out of view. Maybe I'll get a better picture of this later.

If a high-flyer goes up sufficiently close to vertical, it's possible that he'll get zapped a second time, on the way back down. I've seen it happen, but so far only once. I caught it on video but unfortunately my view of the second zap was poor, as I was busy moving around the tower. Maybe I'll get a better example sometime, worth showing in a movie.

Bouncing off walls

When a body flies off to a huge distance, you might see it bouncing off an invisible wall. I think most or all the bounces I've seen have been to the left of the moon.

Weapons get zapped too

Incidentally, weapons can get zapped too. You might manage to spot that occasionally.

Self zapping

If you care to commit cyborg suicide, you can get yourself launched and zapped - though you'll quickly be auto-reverted which is a pity. You'll briefly get some tremendous views too! However, a better way to get yourself zapped is to launch with the aid of a hog impact, like you would for reaching the top of the tower. That way, you'll still be alive when zapped, and you'll have longer to watch things before getting auto-reverted. You can see a few such zappings (albeit accidental ones) in some of my movies. There's one in BCM322, two in BCM324, and one in BCM325.