Anger, Sadness and Envy Episode 14: ODST Pt. 2 (MP3)

A deeper look at ODST-- what worked and what didn't in this small-team, short-cycle Bungie experiment that landed with the profile of a fat expansion and the pricetag of a discounted full title.

Show Highlights:

Keep On Truckin'
GamesRadar: 7/10
Was ODST a Good Idea?
Demise of Chronicles
Comes With Beta (or The Crackdown Factor)
Full Game vs Expansion
What Would 343 Do?
What's Good in ODST?
Will it Rain on Reach?
Time Flies
Finding My Way
An Uplifting Preserve
Playing Detective
Clues That Work...
...and Those That Don't
Kikowani Station
Mission... Accomplished?
Allowing For Failure
Breaking the Finale
Blowing the Bridge (or not)
Carrots and Sticks
Death From Above

For those wondering, we ambushed Blackstar late at night on his birthday with a 3-hour recording session he wasn't fully prepared for, and that accounts for him being quiet in this episode (that and the fact that I don't know when to shut up). More of his contributions will be in the second half of this episode, which looks ahead to the Multiplayer Beta of Halo Reach.

This is the MP3 version of this podcast.

File Format: 
Audio file: 
ASE Episode14 ODST Part 2


Here's some response on the 'Blowing the Bridge' section.

To be fair to the game, I think Narcogen misrepresented its behaviour somewhat (01:22:24: "Like for instance, the bridge will blow whether you blow it or not" …and a few remarks after that). I explored the gameplay structure at this bridge when writing my Bridge onslaught challenge piece about holding your ground and wiping out the covie forces, and also a piece about getting stranded on the other side. It's not true to say that even if you stay on the bridge or advance, it'll eventually blow. Yes the bridge can blow without you setting the charges, but only once you've retreated as far as the first metal UNSC barrier past the sandbagging. That's the key thing Narcogen perhaps hadn't realized, or at any rate didn't mention. If you never back off that far there's no problem - so things aren't quite as bad as the impression given.

If you do retreat that far (or if you set the charges), it seems to trigger a failsafe countdown which will blow the bridge in about 77 seconds if you don't operate the tower control sooner. It's admittedly a bit hazy as to why you were wanted for the control if the super can take care of things alone, but you could imagine that maybe the super just managed to find another way; it merely took longer. In regard to charge-setting however, the game does give you some justification for things getting done if you don't set them yourself (this is in answer to a query of Miguel's). As you reach the sandbagging, you namely hear Mickey say "Great, I gotta do everything myself?", signalling that he's given up on you and is setting the charges himself. So that's reasonably ok.

You can indeed be on the wrong side of the bridge when it blows, as there's easily time to run there once the failsafe countdown has been triggered by either method. The game does give you some warning however; you hear Mickey say "Everyone, behind those barriers, bridge is set to blow". So perhaps the game needn't feel too obliged to cope with your perversity if you nevertheless decide to head the other way. If you make it to the other side and then it blows, yes the game rudely yanks you back - even if you're busy fighting covies! The far side actually seems unnaturally dark (I found myself using my VISR), suggesting that Bungie really weren't catering for the possibility that you'd be there.

Moving to a separate point, I think the biggest trouble with this opening section is that it seems to've been designed primarily as a quick means to show you some pretty graphics of a stupendous explosion. The actual gameplay element is really weak if you play it as Bungie apparently expected. There's practically no challenge if you set the charges and retreat. It's trivial. Trying to hold your ground is way more engaging - and I buy these games for combat don't forget, not for pretty cutscenes. It seems a bit sad that you have to play perversely to make the start of that level interesting from a gameplay perspective.

Actually I'd say it's exactly as bad as I presented-- the game blows the bridge whether you blow it or not. Retreating past the sandbags doesn't qualify as blowing it, or even necessarily intending to blow it; it's possible you could do it just being confused about what to do.

I can't say for sure whether or not, on the playthrough I stranded myself on, that I did retreat that far before the bridge blew; I don't really remember. That just underscores how broken the encounter is, though, it hardly excuses it. Bungie backed away from making this encounter as complex as the scenario really demanded, perhaps because it's not really a part of what many players consider Halo. Then again, there are lots of elements in ODST that do that, so I'm not really sure why.

In fact, the encounter is actually quite a bit more broken than I thought once you start looking at it. First of all, why are you Dutch in this scenario, and why is Dutch setting the charges? Isn't the demolitions guy Mickey? Why aren't you playing him if your job is to set the charges? If not, why isn't your job to guard the guy who needs to set the charges? If anybody can arm charges, why do you need a demolitions expert? If you can blow the bridge with charges that aren't armed, why do you need to arm them? If this isn't a job you want to rush, why does it only take a second? If the demo expert can't rush it, why can I?

This really needed to be an experience more like territories. Arming a charge should take time. Advancing Covies should be able to disarm charges given enough time, so there's pressure to hold ground and arm quickly. You should need to protect the guy able to arm the charges. Maybe the demo expert can arm charges faster than you can, so if you can protect him you can arm quickly. If he dies, you can still arm, but more slowly. Or you could take the risky path and have both characters arming, leaving both vulnerable, but arming multiple points quickly. Or you could go on the offense, push across, and blow the bridge at your leisure -- the door doesn't open til you arm charges and blow them.

You are right-- the problem is that the least interesting way to play this is as intended. Or, even worse-- it appears you can literally turn your back on the action, walk away towards the next section, not doing anything-- and things will play out *exactly the same way*. In other words, your actions mean nothing at all.

Rampant for over se7en years.

> Actually I'd say it's exactly as bad as I presented-- the game blows the bridge whether you blow it or not.

That statement needed qualification though, that was my point; Miguel sort of queried you about mitigating factors. It's debateable how mitigating the qualification is. Perhaps not much. Retreating past the sandbags indeed doesn't qualify as intending to blow it, and it would be quite reasonable to think "Hey, I'll go back out on the bridge for a bit, see if I can push the covies back" - and end up being rudely blown up. Actually, the first time I played that section, I completely missed the explosion. I was busy looking around for ammo, and when I finally looked back, no bridge! I was like "What the heck happened?". There ought to have at least been a message earlier, something like "It's ok Dutch, looks like the super's found a way to blow the charges; everybody take cover!". But without anything like that, I was naturally assuming that the game was just going to keep waiting for me to get up the tower.

> Bungie backed away from making this encounter as complex as the scenario really demanded

I certainly would've been a lot more impressed if they'd coped for the strategy of holding your ground or advancing. Imagine if you went forth and wiped out the covie forces, and when you get back Mickey says something like "Wow, not bad for a rookie!" (or other phrases at random, for variation). That would've been nice eh? Perhaps he could also add "Guess I can save my charges for something else". Or if Bungie insists on showing you a bridge explosion (which isn't actually a cutscene, I realize), he could say something like "Better blow this thing anyway - could be more of those tanks showing up soon".

> In fact, the encounter is actually quite a bit more broken than I thought once you start looking at it.

Yes, I've had a few of the same thoughts. You'd think Mickey could set all the charges himself, especially as it actually only seems to take a fraction of a second per charge! Your idea of protecting someone taking their time setting them is good. That would've given you some reason to hold back the covies for at least a while; so you'd get some decently challenging combat before retreating.

> You are right-- the problem is that the least interesting way to play this is as intended.

The challenge of holding your ground and wiping out the covies is actually the most engaging combat I can remember having with campaign - which is another sad thing perhaps.

Going back to that "broken" theme, have you noticed how those big metal walls are impervious to the massive Wraith blasts, yet they can be easily destroyed with grenades, Brute shot, laser and Gauss gun? Completely daft! But hey, throw a spike grenade on one if you've never tried that; it's fun!

Another thing: if you trigger the blast from the tower and watch the Pelican with the sniper rifle, you can clearly see it blink out of existence. That seems really careless, because it's obviously something you might be watching.

I've had a few really odd things happen too. One time, the bridge blew and it left a Brute still out over the water. He'd survived the blast and was hovering in mid-air, crouched and still breathing. I eventually peppered him with an SMG, and the moment his shield went down he fell into the water (still alive) then died. I checked what happened in Theater. When the bang went off he was near a stanchion and didn't flinch at all. The bridge collapsed, leaving him exactly where he was.

And then yesterday when I was double-checking something before my reply, I had something weird happen. After wiping out the covies I was hearing continuous "Ooooh! Ahhh!" calls, like a comical version of someone crying out in pain. The sound seemed to be located somewhere around the middle of the bridge, but every time I moved to try and get closer to it, it seemed to go somewhere else. I fired up Theater and found what happened. A guy from the tower descended and stood next to it on a spot which the Wraith had already landed a blast on. Not too bright! Sure enough, another shot came sailing in and blasted him off the edge and into the water just nearby. He sank out of sight and the non-stop groaning began. So that was the source, but it's weird how it could seem to be in another area entirely.

Yes like a lot of Bungie stuff, not a lot makes sense after the Great Microsoft Incursion of all those years ago.
I don't understand the mentality of auto-objective gameplay.
It defeats a lot of purposes of game-playing.....
Oh , I forgot, Jaime was involved.
Perhaps people need to live in Kazakhstan for a bit and relish social observances.
There are a lot of truths to hold.
We still miss Peter Marks ,Brian Morden and Father Mac etc.
Ferrex still suxx 'tho, lay some smackdown on him Stefan for me. ;-)
lotz of luv and copious amounts of C6H6N12O12 :)
Oh ok then, when I see u , dinner and drinks are on me Narc because you were always a nice friend.
The Ethereal BNA


You hit it on the head - it just doesn't matter whether you respond to in-game cues (e.g., "hurry up or something very bad will happen") because the level will play out exactly the same. I think the Bungie's apparent apathy to player decisions is one if the major reasons why H2, H3, and ODST's campaigns pale when compared to Halo: CE's. In H2, playing as the Arbiter, you could take all the time in the world to escape the falling mining station after you severed its support cables. (Even if you waited 10 minutes, there was no cut scene to show the station disintegrating as it ripped through the nearby planet's atmosphere.) In H3, the same problem occurred at the end of Crow's Nest - the bomb would never blow until you descended the elevator. In ODST, you've already noticed two campaigns scenarios where any sense of tension and urgency dies once you realize your actions won't change a thing: (1) Sprinting (or lazily strolling) to Dare's drop pod after she frantically claims to be surrounded by Covies; and (2) Racing to set the bomb charges and triggering it ASAP (or standing around and enjoying the scenery).

Compare these lazy campaign designs with Halo: CE. If you didn't save any Marines on Level 2 (Halo), Cortana sadly says, "We couldn't save them." In Level 8 (Keyes), if you didn't protect Captain Keyes and he succumbed to Covie fire, it was game over. In Level 10 (Maw), you knew you had to stomp the gas pedal on the 'Hog or your butt was going to be toast when Halo blew. All of these events played out differently depending on whether you responded appropriately to in-game cues. I think that's why we still place CE's campaign on a pedestal - it did that far better than any Halo game since.



I think you hit the nail on the head: Bungie could have easily tailored the campaign experience to change according to your gameplay decisions. Think of all the "hurry up or something very bad will happen!" cues in H2, H3, and ODST: the mining station falling after you sever the support cables in H2, the UNSC bomb triggered to destroy Covie invaders in H3's "Crow's Nest" or even escaping the disintegrating High Charity in "Cortana", and Dare's desperate plea for help and the Covenant onslaught on the ONI bridge in ODST. Whether you raced to achieve the goal the game set for you or set your controller down for a half-hour, you still got the exact same cut-scene/in-game dialog at the end. I think Bungie was very lazy in its campaign design.

Compare those encounters with Halo: CE's magnificent campaign. In the level 2 ("Halo"), if you sprinted to each dropship and and quickly took out the Covie invaders before they killed the Marines, Cortana praised you. If you were too slow, she'd sadly remark, "We couldn't save them." Little differences in the campaign experience really motivated you to try harder. You really had to carefully protect Captain Keyes while escaping the Truth and Reconciliation or he'd die and it instantly was game over. Compare that with the invincible Johnson/Arbiter in H2 and H3. (I understand that these were plot-critical NPCs and they couldn't be allowed to die. But at the very least, Bungie could have injected some sort of realism into their gameplay, e.g., Gears of War's clever "revival" system. The way Arbie magically leaped up at the end of a battle, fully revived, after eating 100 needler rounds, made no sense and ruined any sense of his vulnerability.) A final example of how Bungie designed actual consequences for your gameplay behavior in CE was in "The Maw". You knew if you didn't stomp the gas pedal to get the heck off Halo before it blew, you were toast. I still rate Halo: CE's campaign as far and away the best one in the series for the real tension such gameplay created.

I read online that a Bungie employee said they deliberately did not include a countdown clock (ala 'Hog Run in Halo:CE) in H3's Crow's Nest because they thought it would be too difficult or frustrating for players. That's garbage - the challenge and the satisfaction of getting through a tough section (especially on Legendary difficulty) are what "made" Halo:CE so great. Why didn't Bungie simply leave the clock out for Easy and Normal difficulty, but put it back in for Heroic and Legendary?

Bungie just doesn't seem to get it. They focus on the wrong aspects of campaign. They recorded thousands of new lines of dialogue that only marginally affect the gameplay experience, and then botch a simple fix (adding a countdown clock, quickly ending the game with an explosion if the player fails "get out in time") that would have reinstitute Halo:CE's palpable sense of danger and urgency. Raar! Enough ranting.

Do you guys enjoy interrupting and talking over one another? It happens like every 30 seconds.