XBL Could Help Halo Speed Running Go Legit

Any game that continues to have an active community after other games have passed it by technologically usually does so because it is extended and used in ways that weren't necessarily originally intended. Sometimes this is done by adding in features missing from the original-- such as the options for Internet play created by adding TCP/IP code to Marathon through the Aleph One project, or to Xbox Halo using tunelling programs like PfhorSlayer's Aquaduct. In some cases it's using the game engine and content as a basis for completely new creative works, like the much-heralded machinima series Red vs Blue, based in the Blood Gulch level in Halo. Sometimes it's done by modmakers, who create new skins, weapons, vehicles, levels and even entirely new scenarios in an old game engine, breathing new life into it. Sometimes it's a much simpler process that doesn't really require any technical changes at all, but comes from playing an old game in a different way. One of the oldest types of this kind of "expansion" is speed running-- ignoring most of the normal goals of gameplay for the sake of completing a level as quickly as possible. The first speed runners I remember seeing were in the original Quake game, where a group known as Quake Done Quick posted the best speedrunners' times in small, downloadable files that you could put into your game recordings folder and play back at your leisure. The simple ability of the game to record the actions of players and monsters in-game in a small file that could easily be transferred on the Internet-- similar to facilities that existed in other Bungie games, like Marathon and Myth, made the whole speed running process easy and accessible to lots of gamers. Even those without the high-speed, low latency Internet connections could participate in speed-running contests. And the legitimacy of entries could be judged without putting onerous requirements on each participant, since the recording files were generally small. Of course, this is not so with Halo speedrunning at the moment. Neither the Xbox version of Halo nor its PC and Mac brethren can currently record games in this way. So the only way to document a speed run is with a video file several times larger than any demo recording file for those other games. You had to have the necessary hardware and software to record yourself playing the game, which could also require a lot of extra disk space-- plus the software and expertise necessary to encode those video files into something palatable for downloading. Judging starts and stops also had to be done manually, as the only fair way to judge level completion was from cutscene to cutscene. Halo 2 on Xbox Live could solve all of that, and make speedrunning competitions a valid form of community participation open to lots more players, should they want it. It could probably work quite simply: since the game engine knows when levels start and when they end, as well as what difficulty level they are at, a player could log into his XBL account, choose an option to record a speed run, and then the XBL server just monitors signals from your Xbox based on when you start and stop the level, providing accurate, comparable, documented results. Heck, that way it might even allow you to pause the game if you need to take a bathroom break-- something that simply isn't possible while attempting a speedrun on video. If Halo 2 could actually record demo files, the usefulness of that feature could be enhanced by XBL; players could play games, note interesting scenes, add a few seconds of voice annotation, and submit them to an upload queue in XBL. The XBL interface could display demos recorded by various players, perhaps provide a voting interface so people could decide which recordings are interesting and worth keeping. This would be a great way for people to find, document, and share easter eggs and other glitches-- again, all without having to download huge media files, and without arguments about tricks players have or haven't actually accomplished. Players might choose to publish their films for the whole community, or perhaps send them to people on their friends list, to be downloaded to their Xbox or memory card. And, perhaps just like the raw statistical data I mentioned in the last column, information on these recording files could be published in XML feeds to fansites, who could search and catalog them based on which level they're on, or by player, or by kind of trick, similar to what the HBO trick database has done for screencaps and movies of eggs and glitches in Halo 1. While it may be tempting to think that the XBL and Bungie.net sites could handle all of that, there are always going to be players who are going to want to look at the same data in a different way, and so publishing it in a known standard that fansites can import and manipulate is a way of avoiding all the "can you add this view as an option" requests from users. Clan sites could focus on recordings made by their members. Sites could choose to have areas focusing on different kinds of recordings: speed runs, eggs, tricks, or perhaps demonstrations of certain multiplayer tactics.
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