Get Back On The Track, Jack

HBO today points to an interesting blog entry by an English teacher in Korea, playing Halo 3 (apparently for the first time or nearly so) in Korean without English subtitles, and so without much insight into the story or what the player is supposed to do:

Gears of War was subtitled, but Halo 3 had full Korean menus and voice acting. This meant we had NO idea what the story was the entire time we were playing. If we were required to do something, we had to figure it out, usually by destroying things or pushing buttons. This lead to a lot of backtracking, guessing, and traveling to corners of the map "just to see" if this way where to go.

Diehard Halo fans, of course, probably can tell just from the visuals, combined with knowledge of the previous two games, what is going on a lot of the time. Here Halo 3 is a victim of its success: it is played by many, many people who are not hardcore gamers or hardcore Halo players.

So for every Halo fan like me, who liked the idea of the highway tunnel chase in Outskirts but disliked its cramped spaces and linearity, there are probably more than a few like this player-- who doesn't know where to go in a level without verbal cues, and dislikes exploration.

In some of the pre-release weekly updates about Halo 3 Bungie talked about doing some playtesting and putting in some ledges to clearly indicate which way the player should go. I admit that in some levels it is easy to get lost-- some of the jungle areas in Sierra 117, just about anywhere in Cortana-- but I view exploration as a privilege, not a punishment. I'm going to go to all corners of the map eventually just to see what's there, because I think the Halo series, like Bioshock, for instance, is a game that understands one of the first and foremost tasks is establishing a sense of place. 04, Delta Halo, the Ark: these are real places to me. I feel like I've been there. I want to go back there. I keep looking around the corners hoping to find something new, even where I know there won't be anything. I just keep hoping.

Meanwhile other gamers know that they're supposed to follow the signposts, and consider time spent looking for one to be wasted, and time spent returning to a location you've already seen to also be wasted.

I look at it this way: if the player objects that strenuously to returning to a place, then perhaps the place isn't fleshed out enough. Then again, some people don't want to explore real spaces and just want to get on to the next bit of shooting. Oh well.

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Comments

It's certainly interesting and informative to see Halo 3 from such a totally detached perspective - almost the classic 'alien viewpoint'. I'm honestly surprised that they got as far as they did - Tsavo Highway at least.

Like you, I tend to interpret the criticism of non-obvious progress through the level as a backhanded compliment to Bungie's level design. Perhaps this suggests an interesting new criterion for evaluating level design: if a player can easily navigate an unfamiliar modern FPS level from start to finish with all text and dialogue in an unknown foreign language, then it really must be an outrageously linear design!

[quote=OldNick]It's certainly interesting and informative to see Halo 3 from such a totally detached perspective - almost the classic 'alien viewpoint'. I'm honestly surprised that they got as far as they did - Tsavo Highway at least.[/quote]

Further I think. He mentions tanks and wraiths separately-- so he (or someone he was playing with) is familiar enough with vehicles to know the difference, and there are no Scorpion tanks until The Ark.

[quote=OldNick]Like you, I tend to interpret the criticism of non-obvious progress through the level as a backhanded compliment to Bungie's level design. Perhaps this suggests an interesting new criterion for evaluating level design: if a player can easily navigate an unfamiliar modern FPS level from start to finish with all text and dialogue in an unknown foreign language, then it really must be an outrageously linear design![/quote]

Agreed. I think the real problem is that Halo appeals so widely that even people who don't LOVE it will end up playing it at some point-- by his own admission he'd have preferred to be playing Gears, a game with zero exploration, where the path forward is almost always obvious, and it's impossible to take a wrong turn since they don't exist. Halo's base of potential players is so large it can hardly hope to please them all. It's always been more about action than exploration, but I'm glad the last vestiges of exploration were not removed, even if it would have made some players happier.


Rampant for over se7en years.

My impression is that the problem was not knowing what needed to be done rather than finding your way about the map.

[quote=A Geek in Korea]Gears of War was subtitled, but Halo 3 had full Korean menus and voice acting. This meant we had NO idea what the story was the entire time we were playing. If we were required to do something, we had to figure it out, usually by destroying things or pushing buttons. This lead to a lot of backtracking, guessing, and traveling to corners of the map “just to see” if this way where to go.[/quote]

And maybe he just doesn't like back tracking.

[quote=A Geek in Korea]Occasionally there would be large battles that were really fun (TANKS! WARHOGS! WRAITHS! FIGHTING!) but the rest of the levels were normally “hit a button, now [b]BACK TRACK![/b]” The repetitive levels DID not help when you needed to find someplace new to visit. When we were in the open areas fighting HUGE things, it was a total blast.[/quote]

His complaint sounds familiar. Has he played Halo CE?

It also sounds like he is describing The Ark (silent cartographer section) and the shield towers in The Covenant.

You don't do a LOT of backtracking after activating the Cartographer. Just pop back inside then take the other exit and head down. But can you take the wrong exit? Head upwards?

I liked the way that I could backtrack right to the beginning of AotCR. You can't do that in the Ark. But I can image the problems you'd face if you could go back to the start and you didn't know to go down. Are waypoints set? Or is it all dialogue?

I still want total freedom to go back. I don't want Bungie to completely linearize their games and sprinkle them with one way drops and geometry changes. The cliff wall creating that happens at the start of the dam sequence is the worst offender!

And as for the Covenant backtracking... after the first tower, the Hornets could land just outside the tower to save you driving back to the beach. I don't think its so onerous to go into a tower and then come back out again.

At the end of the Covenant you press the button in a cutscene and then have to run back the way you came. But at least its obvious where you have to go. Its the only way you can go. And I spotted the small shaft the first time I played the level. I jumped down it without hesitation. I didn't even try the lift.

But, now that I think about it, most of Halo 3 was, 'press button, RUN AWAY!!!'.

I don't think his criticisms are quite fair. First of all, the situation he played the game in is hardly conducive to a fun gaming experience. And had he been able to understand anything, the story would still have been lacking context and motivation since he's never played a Halo game before. Of course pushing a button isn't going to be satisfying if you don't know why the hell you're pushing it other than the fact that it's at the end of a hallway.

Also, "no blood"... what the hell? Is the game censored in Korea?

...This was already featured on HBO news