Friday, January 30, 2009


Surveying the aftermath of the Halo 3 piece, I thought I’d do some thinking about what went right and wrong. With the exception of one commenter, most people did not accuse me of being an idiot or not playing the game. Several of them even agreed with the analogy of ranges and rock, paper, scissors, but pointed out that it wasn’t really a governing set of laws. I’ve flipped off comment notice for the thing out of principle. I’ll usually respond 3 to 5 times to defend a piece depending on how much people aren’t following me or making faulty counter-arguments, but eventually I have to throw in the towel and accept that I fucked something up.

The first thing I should’ve done is define skill. There are about 2 definitions going on in the piece itself with everyone else applying their own conception as well. The point I was trying to make was that when two people are at the same range, then it’s not really a matter of domination. You’re just shooting at each other and it all depends on who lands the most bullets first. Halo 3 is particularly interesting in this regard because headshots do significantly more damage BUT are not insta-kills. Tagging someone in the head will drop their shields faster than the body. Any definition of skill is subjective to the game and player, but in this sense I meant it purely boiled down to your ability to make headshots over your opponent.

The second thing I should’ve done was dedicate a paragraph to professional and competitive play. The inspiration for the analysis was basically why I don’t like Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer but love Halo 3’s. Dedicating a paragraph to the fact that I’m typically playing the game with friends while drinking beer would’ve explained where I was coming from instead of just alluding to it. However, because I’m trying to describe the overall experience the multiplayer generates, it’s not enough to just discuss the casual end of the spectrum. For the record I read a couple of gamefaqs on team play and handling the Battle Rifle competently, but that’s pretty alien to how I play Halo 3. I hate the Battle Rifle and typically work as a two man team with another friend so the split screen doesn’t get too obnoxious.

An alternative would be to do the section where I explain the intention of the game design and then dedicate a paragraph to how players break it. I’m not very good with a sniper rifle (I’m getting a lot better thanks to Far Cry 2) but I’d have trouble nailing the broad side of a barn with one without the scope zoomed. I went onto Shotty-Snipers via a friend’s account to see higher ranked people playing and sure enough, a lot of those guys can tag you with the sniper rifle when you get in close. Another commenter pointed out that with sufficient practice the Battle Rifle can contain Medium to Long Range so well that you don’t need to worry about close range. Anyone with a power sword is going to get dropped well before they get close. Neither me nor my friend play at this level, but it goes back to the other paragraph about studying hardcore play along with the casual set. The reason I didn’t include a lot of this or go into specifics was that it all starts to become a strategy guide instead of the game experience. My original solution to skimming technique was to contrast the whole thing to Call of Duty 4 but in retrospect I think that might have been a dead end. The COD 4 players told me I wasn’t explaining that game properly so that flawed understanding ended up junking the Halo 3 rundown.

Finally, starting the article off with a few glib comments about the plot probably wasn’t a good idea. As someone who liked the plot of Halo 2, part 3 was a broken and disjointed game in my opinion. Each level reeks of being designed independently of the other, so there’s no flow or pacing to the experience. But that’s an essay for another day.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with this initial attempt. I wasn’t cussed out too much and there was enough positive feedback that I think I’m getting close. At this stage, I’m pleased with how I write about linear single-player games. Multiplayer was the next beast I wanted to tackle and I think I’ve got a better idea for the next time it comes up. I’m still scratching my head on how to handle something like Fallout 3 or Mass Effect, but I think the key might lie in multiplayer games. These are finite systems that ought to be separable from the experience they are generating. If there is anything else you think I missed or noticed yourself from the piece, I’m all ears.

1 comment:

Ben Abraham said...

Great analysis of what went on in the comments, and honestly, if that's as "bad" as you can do you've got nothing to worry about.

I'd be really interested to read that essay on Halo 3 if you ever write it - I absolutely ADORED everything about the campaign in Halo 2 (hence my thesis study) and 3 was sadly accurately summed up by your description.

Which itself could even have interesting implications for a mulitplayer study because #3 spent so much time and effort on the multiplayer "Beta"... and yet the single player suffered immensely, dare I say, as a result.

Anyway, sounds like you picked up the important messages. =)