Is There A Halo Community?

Rams bemoans the lack of real "Halo news" and blames that for the infrequency of his column. I can relate. It seems like there was more news (or at least more newsmongering) before Halo actually came out (for any platform). There was anticipation, rampant speculation, and a lot of fun. HBO and Rampancy were among the first, but quickly many sites, including BG:H, started up as the Halo and Bungie community exploded, first in anticipation of Bungie's latest game and later, Microsoft's new console and the buyout debate that followed.

Rampancy, like many sites I suppose, was sideswiped by the buyout. It caused many problems in the fanbase and the fansite base for several reasons.

There was a disproportionate number of Mac users among site administrators and highly active forum members in the early days. I'm a Mac user. The guy who started Rampancy (then called The Core, Tyson "Ferrex" Green, now of Bungie) was and still is a Mac user. (Hope I'm not getting you in trouble, Rex.) Noctavis, who was going to start HaloNews.com and later joined the Core, was a recent Macintosh convert at the time (for which I will take a fair amount of the credit). Regardless of how silly or impractical it is, a lot of Mac users didn't really like Microsoft, and the idea of Bungie, a longtime developer of Mac games (even though Myth was a crossplatform release) being purchased to make games for MS new console stung a bit. Some protested vociferously. Others simply drifted away.

However, that was a bigger problem for some fans than it was for most site admins. Anybody willing to devote the time and money to contribute to a fansite wasn't going to be put off by an extra couple hundred dollars to buy a console. I bought an Xbox just to play Halo, but I'm actually pretty happy that I did. It's a decent system. I have other games for it, and I play those, too. I read a lot of the console flamewars with some amusement, because they are a lot like the computing platform debates I used to get into myself... except a lot more puerile, with the words "suck" and "faggot" used far more often. (Although these days, I'm seeing more occurrences of phrases like "towel head" and "camel f***er", to which I can only say... grow the hell up, guys.

With the exception FrigidMan's Mill, which later came back only eventually to close again for entirely different reasons, I can't think of a single major site that closed down because of the buyout itself. No, for us here and at other sites, the major problem was how moving to a console platform changed the way that the community interacts with each other, with fansites, and with the game developers. In many ways, Rampancy has yet to find a way to fit into the community the way it exists now, although I hope that it can.

Myth, the series of realtime strategy games that Bungie developed and published before Halo (we'll leave little orphaned Oni out of this for now) was almost the perfect game from the perspective of a fansite creator, and in its heyday there were a great number of sites, especially for a game that, despite receiving many accolades from the PC gaming press, was still looked upon as a "Mac game" by many, and like the fansites, had a disproportionate number of Mac users among its players. A Platform Wars tournament was held and the winner-- Panamon-- was a Mac user. All in all, despite Myth being a crossplatform game, many players still identified Bungie as a Mac-friendly company, and associated their Mac usage with them. Bungie felt like a part of the wider Mac community. So Myth had the best of both worlds-- it had crossplatform compatibility, meaning no one was excluded, but it still had a good-sized group of Mac users, which added to the "tight knit" feeling the community had. The mostly-friendly rivalry not only between the users of different platforms, but the different Myth Orders that played in the Ranked rooms on Bungie.net created an atmosphere of camaraderie and competition at its zenith that may never again be matched in online gaming.

The design of the game itself lent itself well to fansites. It came with its own tools for making levels (as did the Marathon series before it) and a growing selection of third party tools also made extensive modifications possible. What's more, Myth's use of colormaps and sprites to construct its levels meant that modifications could be distributed conveniently online.

Myth also could record games in "film" files that anyone who had the necessary maps could "play back". You could watch games played by certain players, learn tactics, or just sit back and watch. You could observe tournament matches after the fact. The film files were also small and easy to distribute.

Myth came, out of the box, with a free online play system with an integrated player ladder that ranked both individuals and groups, called Orders.

Myth was fertile ground for an online community. If you had the nececssary equipment to play the game-- a reasonably recent Mac or PC and an Internet connection-- then you could also be an active part of the online community as well.

Next installment: What Does This Have To Do With Halo, Anyway?

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