narcogen's blog

Stephen Totilo and N'Gai Croal finished their series of debates on the Halo 3 Beta last week, and since a lot of what they covered intersects some of the pieces I've written on this site in response to complaints from hardcore gamers to the effect that Halo is unfair and unsuitable for serious competetive play, I thought I'd remark on some of the points they raised.

category: 
game: 
platform: 
topic: 

I'm going to start with a really, really tiny detail and try to use it to come to a sweeping statement about what makes a game fun. The detail we'll start with is weapon spawns in the Halo games: why timers are fair, but not fun, and why slightly random spawns may be unfair, but more fun.

category: 
platform: 

Okay, so not everybody is in love with Halo 3. Over at the Hushed Casket, Midnight calls it "fun" and details the changes. Rapture calls it a bigger, prettier Halo 2, and it's most decidedly not a compliment. Of course you can't please everybody, and some things (like Halo) become so popular that the only way for anybody to make themselves cooler is to not like it. The guys at the Hushed Casket aren't like that, though, so if they've got a beef with the game, there's probably something to it.

category: 
game: 
platform: 
topic: 

I've read in several previews that the range of the radar around a Spartan in multiplayer has been reduced. I don't have any good way of quantifying that, but it certainly seems to be true to me.

In particular, on Valhalla there are two rock outcroppings on either side of the stream where players often like to perch with ranged weapons like a turret, sniper, or laser. Often there's a lot of activity far away that they are paying attention to, and more than a few times I've run right up to such a player from behind and assassinated them if there's no one covering their back. It's also happened to me quite a few times as well.

I have a feeling that the radar may have lost most of its usefulness in many situations if this is the case. It can tell you if an enemy is nearby but on a different level, but doesn't indicate whether it is higher or lower, so this is of little use. Out in the open, you'll see a player long before he or she ever shows up on radar, so it's only good for detecting someone outside of your line of sight. If the range is so short, however, that it's routinely possible to run (not sneak) up to players and melee them before they have a chance to register an enemy on the radar, it makes me wonder if it shouldn't be either removed entirely, given a greater range, or provide additional information, such as the elevation of a target.

category: 
game: 
platform: 

The Saved Film feature of Halo 3, as implemented in the beta, looks more like a framework than a finished piece of work, but even as such there are some quirks worth noting.

Currently you can "share" up to six of your saved films; essentially, Xbox Live hosts them for you, and friends and other players can access them. To help those film browsers out, you can retitle the films and give them descriptions. By default, Halo 3 names them by game type and number (SLAYER003) and the description includes the map, game type, date and time.

category: 
game: 
platform: 

Halo 1 came out nearly six years ago. Halo 2 came out nearly three years ago, and until the release of bright, shiny, next-gen Gears of War, ruled the roost at Xbox Live. Halo 2 just logged it's five millionth unique player, and will no doubt continue to be a fairly popular game as long as there are more first generation Xboxen in the field than their younger, 360 brethren.

With all those players, games, weeks, months and years under the bridge for Halo 1 and 2, what can one say about Halo 3 after three days?

Probably the easiest thing to do is just point out what's changed.

category: 
game: 
platform: 

Only a year ago, Bungie finally admitted they were, in fact, working on Halo 3, and had been for over a year.

Now, with the release of that game still, in all likelihood, more than half a year away, rumors of sequels, "true sequels", expansion packs and secret features are circulating through the labyrinthine tubes of the Internet.

PlayThree is citing unconfirmed, unidentified "sources close to Bungie" that state the following:

RUMOR: Halo 3 will run at 1080p, 60fps. MS apparently wants this to one-up ths PS3's claim to being the only "true 1080p" console. Bungie is supposedly testing this internally now.

UPDATE: Frankie, aka Stinkles, has smacked this report down hard in the NeoGAF forum. His response? BS. Confidently written BS, but still BS. Thanks KP at HBO for the notice.

REACTION: One can see why Microsoft would want this, but the record for past Halo games is that they will lock at 30fps and walk the line where textures and effects are more important than resolution or high framerates. That the rumor specifies that the Beta won't be 1080p is just a hedge, meaning this rumor gets to survive past that point, whereas otherwise people might assume that if the beta isn't 1080p, the game won't be. After all, Halo 3 has had a lot of work done to it so far: geometry, textures, effects. If it wasn't all done with 1080p in mind from the start, can this be changed so late in the process? And if so, why doesn't it apply to the beta?

RUMOR: Bungie is striving to make Halo 3 compatible with Xbox 360 Cores, but may have to drop to 30fps in some cases.

REACTION: That makes little sense. A hard drive is of use for caching content, reducing load times. How it affects framerate is difficult to see. Why Microsoft would want to make part of their installed base feel like they are getting a crippled version of a flagship title just for the "1080p 60fps" on the back of the box is beyond me. People who want Halo 3 will buy it regardless of those numbers.

RUMOR: Halo 4 will be a launch title for the next next-generation Xbox in 2011.

REACTION: Doesn't Bungie want to do something else for a change? Isn't the whole idea in letting Ensemble and Wingnut work in the Halo universe to give Bungie a break, so they can move on from Halo?

category: 
platform: 
topic: 

Doing one of my regular turns around gaming news sites, I came across an interview with John Romero, of Doom and, dare I say it, Daikatana fame, now Founder/President of Slipgate Ironworks. You can find it over at Adrenaline Vault. Slipgate is supposedly working on a new MMO for the PC.

What I found interesting is this particular exchange:

3. Where is it all going? What do you see happening in the next five years and beyond?

JR: Right now MMOs, mobile and PC episodic are really polarizing into the newest most important segments in gaming. Next-gen console is big but its future isn’t too bright with the emergence of cheap PC multi-core processors and the big change the PC industry will go through during the next 5 years to accommodate the new multi-core-centric hardware designs. My prediction is that the game console in the vein of the PS3 and XBOX 360 is going to either undergo a massive rethink or go away altogether. The Wii has the perfect design for a console that doesn’t pretend to be a PC and is geared more toward casual gamers than hardcore gamers. The hardcore gamers are going to either be playing on their PCs or a new PC-like platform that sits in the living room but still serves the whole house over wifi, even the video signal.

This answer struck me as wrong in almost every important respect possible. Where it isn't wrong, it's self-contradictory. Let's take a closer look.

category: 
platform: 

Louis Wu says this article is supposed to have three parts, so I guess this is the end. Weapons? Covered. Characters? Covered. NPC behaviors? Covered. Cover? Covered. What's left? Oh, right. Story.

Plot Holes You Could Drive A Warthog Through
Normally, when one is talking about plot holes, one is referring to elements of a work of fiction that cause the audience to lose suspension of disbelief: characters acting contrary to their nature, unlikely and unexpected events, strange conspiracies of circumstance and coincidence. Things that make you want to lean over to your neighbor and say, "that would never happen in real life".

Works of fiction in fantasy and science fiction universes have a lot of different ways to conceal those flaws: magical mysteries and high-tech mumbo jumbo. Wizards are people who can summon fireballs from thin air, and the Enterprise is a ship which, by very definition, travels faster than the speed of light. All that remains is for these fictional universes to remain self-consistent. Which they sometimes do.

Gears of War, though, has some plot holes. They're different kinds of holes. Most of the time, characters in Gears are fairly easy to understand, and act in accordance with our expectations. Since most of the time we expect them to be either kicking ass or taking names, we are not confounded when these things occur. So when something happens that does seem unexplained, it stands out. Some sharp readers already pointed out a few, but I'll try and start from the beginning.

category: 
platform: 

The first time around, I talked a bit about Gears' level structure, its cinematics, and main characters. Now a bit more about some of its unique strengths and weaknesses, compared to Halo, including NPCs and weapons.

category: 
platform: 

Released a full two years later and the first title in a wave of second-generation games for Microsoft's next-generation console, Halo 2 and Gears of War clearly have nothing in common, and nothing would be gained by trying to compare them. So why am I doing it? Because that's the nature of my illness. After having completed the game twice through now (still working on Act 5 on Insane) I feel compelled to write up some observations comparing the game I've spent the last two weeks playing to the game I've spent the last two years playing. Beware Gears spoilers!

I already made some remarks regarding Gears' all-things-to-all-soldiers cover system; how Frankie said it wasn't appropriate for Halo 3 (which it isn't) but wondering what Halo might have been like had it stayed a third-person game and used controls like Gears. Both games are still sci-fi shooters, though, which means they have a lot in common that has nothing to do with cover or controls. There are quite a few resemblances in a number of areas, but Gears also does a number of things right that Halo 2 didn't, and as much as I'm saying to myself now, "oh, Gears does this just like Halo" I can't help but wonder, by the end of this year, will I be asking "why doesn't Halo 3 do this like Gears did?"

category: 
platform: 



UPDATE: Since I wrote this entry last week, it was announced that the new Halo 2 multiplayer maps will make some XBL playlists 360-only, since the maps are only being released for the 360. In defense, we've been told that most Halo 2 players are using 360s. However, Microsoft does not release breakdowns between the two consoles. Microsoft, I find it hard to believe that so many gamers have drifted away from XBL that there are more Halo 2 players using 360s on XBL than there are on the original console, given that there are three times as many original Xboxes. Players I know that have both prefer to use the original to play online because of the lag caused by emulation.

Is it really necessary to use Halo 2 maps to try and pressure more gamers onto the new platform? Is Halo 3 really so far away that you can't wait for that to draw gamers to the 360? Is two years really too long to support an online game?

If you want us to believe that original console owners really don't count, show us the numbers!


GhaleonB, via Louis Wu at HBO, points out that Microsoft has put out a nice press release (even attributed and with a dateline, thanks guys) touting the six million user milestone reached by Xbox Live.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love Xbox Live. While not an ardent online gamer, the service as a whole is well put togther and thought out: the integrated friends list and messaging, content downloads, gamerscore achievements; the works. The idea of separate friends lists for each game (Sony) and cryptic friend codes (Nintendo) really make me wonder what anybody else is thinking as far as online console gaming goes.

However, just because I've been a subscriber since Halo 2 launched doesn't mean I'm ready to drink whatever kool aid Microsoft is going to serve up regarding the service; and this press release is at least as interesting for what it doesn't say as for what it does say and the way it says it.

category: 
platform: 

Ahh, the luxury of being an independent developer and publisher. The luxury to redesign every level in your game at the last minute, while you tell fans you're just "printing boxes" because you wanted to make the game... well, fun, instead of just done.

Those days are over for Bungie Studios, and have been since their 2000 buyout by Microsoft. The company that doesn't give release dates has become the one that has them dictated to them.

category: 
game: 
platform: 
topic: 

Frankie O'Connor at Bungie gave an interview near the beginning of this year, and one of the questions I found particularly interesting, especially because I've only recently had a chance to play Gears of War myself:

XCN: Are you influenced by other games like Gears of War, would you consider implementing some things like the Gears of War cover system in Halo 3?

Frank O'Connor: We're always asked about the influence of other games on Halo and recently the 'other game' often seems to be Gears of War. Will the cover system influence Halo? The honest answer is no. The gameplay for Halo 3 was decided long before Gears of War even shipped. If we put the cover system in Halo it would ruin the game because it's not about cover. It's about big encounters and open spaces and vehicles and so on. Gears of War is about cover. Sticking something like that onto our game wouldn't be a good idea. Anyway, there is a cover system in Halo - it's called ducking behind objects and using the environment to shield you from harm. But we won't be putting a cover button in, and it's certainly not the X button that we're often asked about.

Whenever a new game comes out with an ostensibly "new" feature it seems there's an exchange that runs something like this; where a journalist asks Developer of Last Year's Hit Game if they are going to implement Cool Feature from the newly released This Year's Hot Game in next year's Sequel To Last Year's Hit Game.

Whether the feature is appropriate for that game or not scarcely matters; it's a hip and trendy feature. In the case of Gears, it's the Cover button.

category: 
platform: 
topic: 

Last week I wrote about the website Halo2Sucks.com, a site devoted to discussing why Halo 2, despite being tremendously popular, was not actually a good game in the minds of some people; more specifically, why it was not as good a game as the original Halo. The key points of this argument were laid out by the original administrator, Shaker, who has since departed to parts unknown, leaving in his wake an absentee landlord.

category: 
platform: 
topic: 

Pages