Monday, April 26, 2010

Team Economics in Halo 3: ODST

Doubling up this time, my post seems to have gone up early this week. First is my review of the Perfect Dark remake for N64. I found the game to be an interesting example of how intrinsic the controls are to a game's experience. In this case, using one of those god forsaken N64 setups was an intrinsic part of how the game handled difficulty. Using the 360 dual-analog made the game very easy and unbalanced for the same reason that auto-aim makes the game boring. It's too easy to kill people. Multiplayer survived remarkably intact if not slightly lobotomized, I felt like I was having a quickdraw session in the Wild West most times.

On another note, holy crap level design has come a long way.

This week's post, which is the next to last one in the economy series, is about team game economics. In this case, ODST and its wonderful subgame Firefight. I didn't think very highly of the campaign and it didn't improve my expectations for Reach, which seems intent on abandoning the Saturday Morning Cartoon roots and gunning for this end of the world crap. I hate to say it, but you can only take a story about giant cyborgs so deep before it gets silly. Maybe I'm just getting old though.

If an MMO represents the most sophisticated economy a video game can produce, then it seems reasonable to say that the means of measuring that sophistication can be number of players x number of resources being exchanged. A game like WoW or Everquest has thousands of players and hundreds of resources being exchanged. The key principle being that any one individual player cannot get all the resources they need to survive. So they have to barter and do so by providing the resources they have. This comes in the form of both abilities and actual goods.

A team based FPS reduces all of these figures considerably. Usually resources are only temporarily unavailable, a player can access any of them if they want. A very strict team economy would be L4D, which lets you be pinned by opposing zombies and thus always potentially needing something from your teammates. Something like Team Fortress 2 is a bit looser in that you can still cut loose but coordination often helps. I generally categorize Halo 3 into that concept, it always pays to buddy up BUT you don't really have to. The economy system is optional but obviously relied upon by sophisticated players as they exchange abilities.

Firefight was interesting to me because it blends all of these elements into a pretty clever package. You need energy weapons to take down shields, bullets to take down enemies. The equation gets more complicated if you're trying to make par in terms of score. A shared pool of health and ammo makes sure players are constantly debating who uses what. I think it's one of the best team games I've ever played in the sense that people begin working together immediately and discussing how to use their limited resources against the never ending waves of bad guys.

Simple, but elegant.

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