Banshee Handling II: Crash and Flow

[Please note: This is intended as a companion piece to the previous article, with more advanced concepts that build on those already established. If you have not already read the previous piece, please do so now.]

The two central yet opposing forces at work when piloting a Banshee are “crashing” and “flowing.”

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Crashing is the hard edge of flight, the driving, combative, plunging energy that knocks into opponents, overturns vehicles, and overwhelms enemies with a mentality of “attack, attack, attack.” Your only defense is to kill with shocking speed and to force your enemy’s attentions onto his own survival rather than your demise. You are a shotgun, a cannon, a tank; you are a truck running someone over in an alley; you are a thousand attacks from a thousand attackers all concentrating on one man.

Flowing is the soft edge of flight, more aikido than blitzkrieg. You are smooth and accepting, allowing incoming forces to “shed” off you without confronting them directly. (Obviously, this is not literal; in Halo, any shot that hits you will damage you. But think larger—you aren’t dodging bullets, you’re dodging attacks.) You are water and wind; the stronger the attack, the weaker the resistance. Stopping or moving erratically or awkwardly is completely contrary to your goals. The highest success is to seek always the path of least resistance.

To successfully combine both crashing and flowing is the art of the Banshee pilot. They will never mix, though they may switch from one to the other in a heartbeat. An example: Charging a tank on Death Island that is parked a long, long way into the ocean. As you approach, you keep track of shots fired and dodge smoothly when they come anew. Anything you fire is a potshot, not aimed so much as pointed. You are fleeting and ghostly. Upon reaching the tank, however, you turn from the wind to the boulder, crashing into the tank’s blind side and pounding it with fire. Your goal now is to overwhelm him, and any distance you gain is to his advantage (allowing him to take a bearing and kill you) rather than your own. You have flipped from flowing around his deadly attacks to crashing into him as you offer your own.

Crashing is generally more utilized against ground targets, whereas flowing is generally used against other Banshees. However, this is no hard-and-fast rule, and you may change a hundred times within a single duel. Rocket-, fuel rod-, or plasma grenade-wielding infantry should be treated with “flow” energy, because of their danger. One way of looking at it is to offer an enemy who is deadly (a tank, a rocket) with flowing energy, whereas an enemy who you outgun (yet who, like any opponent, can kill you eventually if you shirk him) with fast, crashing energy.

Enough philosophy.

UNDERFIRING

It is easy to look at a Banshee a thousand times, yet never truly see how it is constructed.

One easily and commonly missed fact is that a Banshee’s fire (both fuel rods and plasma) do not emit from its front. They fire forward, of course, and are more frontward than backward, but in actuality, they are emitted from the underside of the Banshee—from the bottom.

This has interesting applications once you understand it. For instance, if one Banshee is “parked” on top of another, with both firing, who is dominant? The top Banshee is hitting with his shots; the bottom is not. Though both are in danger (from splash damage if nothing else), this temporary situation is controlled by the Banshee in the mount.

Other applications are against vehicles; if, in the heat of the battle, you have charged and found yourself actually on top of a tank, touching, you need not worry, so long as it cannot target you. Fire at will, and you will hit.

You will need some degree of “targeting,” of course; the guns do not fire straight down. But in the right position, you can hit targets who would not even realize you were aiming at them, because they intercept your shots barely after they leave your guns. The position most relevant to these situations is what I call the “anvil,” and it shows up most with semi-skilled pilots who rely on the technique of dropping (discussed in the previous article).

CHARGING

Often a Banshee battle will be opened by one pilot noticing the other before he himself is noticed, closing to range, and firing while he continues to advance. The other pilot, warned by the incoming plasma, turns and charge toward the threat, firing as well. As they arrow toward each other, they will eventually approach battle ranges, and enter the whirling arena of Banshee combat.

However, crucial damage can be dealt during the initial charge, and being able to effectively execute your assault during this phase can yield a deadly advantage. There are inumerable occasions when one pilot will actually be killed before the charge is over, from a perfectly placed fuel rod and a few bolts of plasma. Though this is rare, you can still drop shields, possibly remove health, and establish a dominant position by the time the charge has ended.

The only true way to hone the charge is to practice it, but there are a few methods that may serve as a core for your own style. A classic technique is to close to medium range, then fire a fuel rod and immediately drop. Besides establishing a temporary bottom position, this tends to clear the path of your opponents own fuel rod, which is invariably fired; it is an instinctual reaction to a head-on-head charge to fire a fuel rod, and the main difficulty in executing this is timing the drop properly to avoid the incoming fire. The other difficulty is properly aiming your own shot, which can be challenging. If, upon dropping, your enemy continues his course, flying overhead, simply spin up into a chase position and continue firing. It is assumed that you are firing plasma throughout the entire battle, of course.

(Beware experienced opponents who will see your drop as nothing more than an opportunity to place easily-aimed and easily-led fire into you. Always remember the vulnerability of being predictable.)

A second method for ending the charge is to enter range, promptly fire a fuel rod, and spin away off-line. Timing is crucial here; your intent is to fire the fuel rod and then temporarily ignore your opponent as you avoid his fire. After evading, you turn back and reacquire. Properly executed, this is the most successful means of evading the oncoming fuel rod (which otherwise will hit you more often than not) when battling skilled pilots. However, it can be very difficult to hit with your own shot at the ranges needed.

OVERTURNING

The “circle” is the trademark identifier of a Banshee duel, and understanding it is key to victory. However, it is frequently assumed that each pilot is in fact turning as tightly as he is able, and that this is the cause of the symmetrical circle.

This is often not the case. Due mostly to the newly analog nature of the now-generally-used mouse for Halo PC controlling, it is common that Banshees can actually be steered more tightly than the pilot realizes.

With a controller and stick, turning is simple; you may simply push the stick in the desired direction until it stops. However, a mouse is infinitely “pushable,” and if you do not understand the actual limits of your aircraft, you may be shortchanging your turning radius.

The next time you find yourself in a circle, try repositioning your mouse and “overturning” past where you think you can. You may be surprised.

(To the controller-wielding PC users who are snickering: Don’t be too pleased. Unless your controller is tuned correctly, you may never be able to surpass your current supposed turning limit.)

Above all things, remember leading.

GROUNDWORK

Taking another page from the martial arts sector, I have coined the term “groundwork” to name the act of a Banshee attempting to crush an infantryman after a failed initial attempt (warned against in the previous article). Unfortunately, this is sometimes unavoidable, though it is always dangerous.

There are essentially three kinds of crushes: A straight, clean charge or drop that mashes the footman into the dirt; a squirming, awkward mosey that manages to hit him at an unusual angle after much effort; and a tight, wheeling turn that catches your target with the wing.

The first is ideal (except against a heavily-armed target, whom you should not be attempting to crush at all). The second is common in beginner pilots who are not aware of their own mortality, and occurs in skilled pilots, too, who are too lazy or too hurried to properly break off a failed crush and begin anew. The third, however, is the preferred method of salvaging a “failed” #1 crush that has brought you to ground level, yet has failed to kill. It consists of gaining enough altitude to take you off ground friction, then spinning as tightly as possible, attempting to collide into the target, usually with your wing. This is very difficult indeed, and requires an acute sense of angles and distance to even attempt. However, when properly done, it is a fast and effective way to finish your target, and far superior to the sliding, worming #2 method, which breaks the cardinal rule of Banshee survivability: To stay off the ground.

VISIBILITY CONTROL

One eminently difficult tactical problem is that of attacking and killing a target who is on foot, yet not armed with a heavy weapon (a rocket launcher, fuel rod gun, or others)—rather, he is carrying a light yet long-range and most importantly, constant tool such as a pistol. The disadvantage of these light weapons is their relatively little damage. The advantage, however, is that—unlike nearly any heavy weapon—they can fire instantly and constantly. A rocket, though deadly, takes time to fire and time to reload. A swooping attack that brings you to bear only long enough to fire a well-placed fuel rod, then immediately turns away and evades (repeating until the target is killed) is very difficult to counter with such a weapon, unless the footman is very lucky, very skilled, or in an advantageous position. However, if he is wielding a pistol, he can begin firing from a very long range (beyond your own effective range), and continue to do so as long as you are in view. These constant shots will both disrupt you (due to the stinging, flinching shots) and will kill you faster than you would like to think. Two clips should be sufficient. Although a Banshee at medium range, undamaged, can generally close and kill a pistol-wielding infantryman before dying (so long as he crushes effectively; if he begins to “worm,” all bets are off), the trouble is more pressing when you are otherwise engaged; dueling another Banshee, crushing another footman, attacking a tank, or anything else. It is very unpleasant to kill a tank, your shields down, then get shot out of their air by a pistoleer you cannot even see.

The only factor on your side is the fact that most players do not understand the excessive leading needed by long-range pistoling. It is entirely possible, even easy, to pump entire clips into Banshees at range, but to do so requires that you understand the leading required, particularly under lag.

From the point of view of Banshees, there is no good solution to this, save to practice rapidly acquiring your target, rapidly closing with continuous fire, and crushing swiftly and smoothly (watching out for grenades and terrain obstructions). However, one tool that may serve to your advantage is to control your target’s visibility. Consider: With your airborne position, your enemy must incline his view to see and shoot at you. Generally, he will also retreat backwards as he fires, attempting to gain more time to fire as you approach.

However, with his view on you and fleeing backwards, he has no idea where he is going, and will often walk off a cliff or under a vehicle.

If he butts up against any solid object, take the advantage to fuel rod him, as his backrest will ensure that the shot detonates on or near him, rather than a possible overshoot.

EVASION

The best way to study evasive motion is to study the way you already move from an outside perspective. If you can have a friend film your attacks, watch carefully and consider how you would deal with a pilot doing exactly what you are doing. How difficult would it be to kill him? How would you do it? Adjust your style accordingly.

Failing films, simply observe the methods of those whom you fight against. Eventually you will gain an overall sense for the methods you use, and can recognize them in others. Again, consider the techniques you use to counter them, and devise counter-counters.

One oddity is that the underside of a Banshee is seemingly the easiest side to target. A tank or gunner with your broad belly to aim at will have better odds of a hit than when viewing your side or some angle. Also, of course, the deadly belly shot (mentioned previously) is possible from this angle, though it is important to understand how rare and difficult this truly is (despite the apparent views of some that it is an instant, failproof knockout). The angle is very narrow and the margin of error very slim. However, even without this advantage, firing into the belly is effective, so you need not worry about an instantly devastating kill.

The most common error among new pilots is the assumption that quick (or slow) turns back and forth, up and down, will allow them to shake or avoid a Banshee on their tail. This is utterly false, unless your chaser is very poor indeed, and probably a relic from classic flight sims. Any evasion less than complete, wheeling turns that remove you from the tail’s field of vision, require significant retargeting on his part, and allow you to return fire, is useless and only creates more opportunity to be shot at.

Always, always, always remember that anything static, unchanging, or predictable is also vulnerable. Do not rely on anything as “your way”; techniques like the drop are useful, but if you use them overmuch are holes in your game that can be exploited by a skilled player. Reliance on anything, whether a drop, a spin, a hover, or another tactic, is deadly. Keep changing and keep moving.

PLANES OF MOTION

Banshee motion can be categorized into four basic groups.

Class 1 motion is no motion at all; it is a parked or hovering Banshee. This is a sitting duck.

Class 2 motion is linear, a predictable, straight flight. This is dropping vertically, flying arrow-straight, and diving down or spiking up. Class 2 flight is more evasive than Class 1, but not much so; leading and aiming is very easy for enemies to conceptualize, and the only real misses will be from poor execution.

Class 3 motion is rotational in addition to linear. It includes turning in a plane, allowing more complex movement than Class 2 travel. For reasons difficult to understand, turning motion is infinitely more difficult to target against than linear motion (though beware of turns so tight that you stay inside your own diameter, letting incoming fire hit you with little to no correction).

Class 4 motion is dynamic, with turns in multiple planes, combined smoothly with linear motion. This is what all pilots should strive for at all times, not only when in danger. It is this ability they are unique in, and they should take full advantage of it. Ignore concepts of up/down, left/right; you are free within the air, and should move like a sheet of paper caught in a gust of wind. Hitting such targets is an extraordinary task.

In an interesting quirk, it is my belief that non-horizontal turning is actually tighter than simple Class 3 spins. Try adding a diagonal angle to your wheeling turns for tighter, faster movement (for instance, when charging a tank and evading fire).

Class 4 movement is very difficult in tight quarters, which is the reason that a followed Banshee should never enter a tunnel or other small arena; they will have no room to maneuver. Do not expect to “ambush” an unaware attacker—by this time, you will have the most damage, and them the advantage.

EXTREMELY CLOSE QUARTERS

Extremely close quarters Banshee dogfighting (which I sometimes call “Banshee grappling”) is a wholly different game than open-air battle. Usually occuring in tunnels or other tight locations, but sometimes showing up between two low-mobility pilots in the air (such as pilots who are both overly reliant on the drop, and often end up together on the ground), ECQ Banshee fighting is much more about angles, weights, and pre-existing advantages than it is about maneuver and aim. Frequently, the scenario will be both Banshees head-to-head, pressing and firing and hoping to kill the other before they themselves are killed.

This is unavoidable muddled, and to borrow a term from an old instructor of mine, creates “uncertain outcomes.” The best pilot may be killed by the worst. Skill is overshadowed by luck.

You may attempt to break this “clinch,” but it can be difficult to do so, particularly in a low-maneuverability environment. Also, be aware of how slowly a Banshee accelerates before it can gain speed, and that while you attempt to break away and reposition, you will be vulnerable to coup de grace fire.

Practice these situations over and over to acquire a basic sense of the “weights” and angular energy a Banshee exerts. If you can break past your opponent, you can often wheel and finish him before he can correct; it is the face-on pissing match that has no real winners, and breaking it without exposing yourself to danger is always worthwhile.

Skilled targeting of vulnerable spots can be an ace of your sleeve, but should not be relied on.

Beyond that, the player who enters an ECQ clinch with the most health and/or shields will win.

In similar ECQ situations where you nonetheless are able to move, the winner will be the pilot with the greatest familiarity and comfort with tactical movement and the feel of their vehicle. Very strange situations with rocks, walls, Banshees, trees, and so forth will sometimes occur, and it is vital to be able to take any environment into stride and manipulate it in a way you can trust. Practice, practice, practice.



Nothing more for now. Consider these contents, use what works and reject the rest, and see if the general concepts make sense to you.

Feel free to email me with any questions. Enjoy the skies.


— Brandon “vector40” Oto
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