While the story is rich and detailed, it’s the multiplayer that is the foundation that has turned Halo into a monumental success. Those who play the game online may wonder why that is, afterall there are numerous cheaters and quitters in games. Racial epithets and sexist remarks spew forth from players like vomit, and yet the online gaming continues its strength. There is any number of reasons for this, but a good deal of credit has to go to Bungie for the way they’ve implemented multiplayer as an integral part of the game.
Halo moved multiplayer from an add-on feature at the end of development to a fully resourced portion of the game’s functionality. The true breadth of this undertaking has been witnessed since the launch of Halo 2, and now well over a billion games have been played online. But if Halo was ambitious in its incorporation of multiplayer, then Halo 3 looks to revolutionize the entire experience for console gamers. Let’s take a look at the individual aspects and see what we can look forward to. As always, a good deal of information on the online gaming aspect of Halo 3 is under tight wraps.
Bungie has said that there is no magic secret to what they’ve done, and no developer is locked out of copying the Bungie way. I bring this up because many gamers wonder why the Halo matchmaking system hasn’t been done by any other game (although it looks like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is taking a similar approach). The answer to that quandary is simple: there is no reason.
Halo 3 will use the TrueSkill system employed by most Xbox 360 titles, but in a modified form.
Rank – Levels in Halo 3 are going to be handled differently this time around. In the background will be a similar leveling system, but your experience will be designated by a military rank. You skill for any playlist will be based on the TrueSkill measurement, however the hell that formula works. But for experience it’s an easy system to understand. When you win, you get 1 point. The more wins you have, the higher your rank. This way a person ranked “General” will clearly be marked as someone with far more experience than a “Private.” In addition, negative points will be similarly linear. When you quit out of a game in Halo 3 your experience drops 2 points. Jerks who quit a lot could end up with negative Rating Points.
Party System – Just like in Halo 2 players will be able to hook up with a group of friends (up to 16) and go online for some games. The great thing about the party system is you never leave your friends behind; you simply go from game to game as a group. Limits are placed depending on the playlist obviously. You can’t take a party of sixteen into a game of Double Team (2 vs 2).
Stat Tracking – Once again you will be able to visit Bnet to get detailed information on your games. This will also include keeping track of your scores and progress during the campaign.
We know a lot of what to expect, in the way that we have only sporadic confirmation of game types. But there’s a tingling in our tummies that indicate Juggernaut, CTF, and Assault game types will be around. The interesting thing is that for all the info Bungie has released about custom games, it would appear that we’ve only seen the surface of this deep pool.
Out of the Box Game types: These are the default settings for these variants, but within the custom menu options there are numerous tweaks and changes that can be made. Everything from giving the flag carrier near invincibility to adjusting time limits for winning a game of Oddball. Never mistake these broad variants as all there is to Halo 3 custom game multiplayer, this is just the beginning.
Capture the Flag – CTF involves at least one team, or all teams, having a flag that their opponents must steal and take back to their base. The variants shipping with the game are as follows: One Flag, the classic style where teams take turns on offense and defense; Mutli Flag, every team in the game has a flag they have to defend while simultaneously trying to steal the enemy flag; Tank Flag, where the flag carrier is a loaded up with extra power to become a tank; Ninja Flag, where the flag carrier is invisible.
V.I.P. – V.I.P. involves having one player on a team be designated the V.I.P. That player is stronger than other players, usually with Overshield. The only way to gain points in this game type is to kill the opposing team’s V.I.P.
Slayer – The Deathmatch game type, and probably the most popular in the Halo games overall. This involves getting as many kills as you possibly can.
Oddball – A skull is placed on the map and the team, or player in free-for-all games, who holds the ball for the allotted time wins the match.
Assault – Teams must take a bomb to the enemy base and plant it. The defensive team is able to disarm a bomb that has been planted.
Juggernaut – One player is overly powered and has to take on all other players. The only way to score is by getting kills as the Juggernaut.
Infection – Zombies was the first widely popular custom game for Halo 2, and Bungie has made it an official game type this time around. One player starts as green (the zombie) and everyone else is red (the humans). Zombies can only use Energy Swords, and humans only use shotguns. When a zombie kills a human, the human player must switch to the zombie team. It was an honor based game type, but now you’ll have no choice with the official implementation by Bungie.
King of the Hill – Just like when you were a kid. Make it to the hill and hold onto it for the allotted time to win the match.
Territories – A set number of plots exist on the map and one team must defend them, while the other tries to take them over. This is a pretty significant change to the game type, and makes it a hell of a lot of fun now.
Land Grab – Similar to the old Territories variant, but when a team captures a location they hold it for good. The goal is to be the first to capture the majority of plots. When it’s 2-2 and only one area is left to capture this game type becomes frenetic fun.
Player Traits – These are the myriad of customizable options for game types. Not everything has been confirmed, but here are some of the things you can expect to see. We haven’t gotten firsthand experience with the new options, but from the looks of things you can go into nearly infinite detail on what you’d like to happen. If you’d like to set up a FFA slayer game and have the person in the lead get slightly slower, go right ahead. That’s an option. The potential for great custom game types is unlimited.
Active Camo – You know how your player model was still fairly visible with Active Camo in Halo 2? That can now be altered so you can be either invisible, or a semi-transparent form. The pyramid shaped icon has been replaced by a glowing blue orb.
Overshield – This works the same as before, and the icon is now an orange glowing ball.
Invincibility – You take no damage at all for seven seconds. Placement of this powerup will be extremely important, because if it’s in an area away from typical battles you won’t be able to use it effectively.
Bungie Recommends is a way for Bungie to get involved even more in the Halo community. Game types, map variants, screenshots, and Saved Films will all be featured on the list. Bungie Recommends is a file list of about 24 items (number could change) that you can access through the game menus, and anything of interest can be downloaded for your use. An archive of the list will be kept at Bnet for gamers to look through. This is a quick and easy way for Bungie to incorporate user created content into the game without arduous playlist updates.
Players will be able to share their own content with other players. Any time during the campaign or multiplayer matches if you do something that is worthy of repeat viewing you can save it as a screenshot or a Saved Film. This can be uploaded to one of your slots for friends to check out. Any of the shared files can be browsed through at Bnet, and even flagged so when you next log into Halo 3 they will automatically download to your 360. You will be able to save up to 100 files to your 360 at a time, and six can be made viewable to your friends and the public. What this means is you can have 30 films, 20 Forge files, 30 screenshots, and 20 custom game variants. As long as it adds up to 100, you’re good.
Saved Films – Forge may be getting all the attention now, but this is the feature fans were most intrigued with during the beta. The final version is far more robust than the simplicity we saw in the beta. Rather than recording the actual video of a game, a Halo 3 Saved Film is actually a data file with the information from the game. When played back the game’s engine recreates what happened.
Keeping file sizes tiny is actually the least important aspect of the feature. By using the game’s engine to recreate your video it allows you to take greater control of how things look. You have the standard pause, stop, fast forward, rewind, and play options. You will also be able to switch the view to any of the other players, or even separate the camera from any character and fly around in 3D space. The controls work the same as operating a Monitor in Forge. You are also able to do some minor editing by removing bits of the film you don’t want to share.
Screenshots – At any point during the viewing of a Saved Film players can take a snapshot of the action. It will automatically be uploaded to Bungie.net in high resolution. A total of 50 screenshots can be uploaded by each player.
Custom Game Variants – Whatever your crazy mind cooks up can be shared with your friends. This will make the propagation of popular game types move along quickly. Usually each group of players would have the one friend who was the “game maker” and they held all the variants. Now everyone can share your creation, and possibly laugh at you when you log off. Who could possibly ever like a game called “Poo Poo King?” Answer: Everybody.
Forge Multiplayer Map Variants – Anything you and your buddies come up with can be shared just like any other file.
New to Halo 3 is the ability to alter your armor and make your character look unique. The different versions are unlocked by gaining Achievements in the single player and multiplayer game. When unlocked you can make changes to how your armor looks.
C.Q.B. – This Mjolnir/C variant is designed for improved survivability and mobility. The “Close Quarters Battle” armor is designed with easily moving joints so soldiers will be able to maneuver in ways that will give them an advantage in a close quarters fight.
E.V.A. – The “Extra Vehicular Activity” armor is designed to improve mobility in zero gravity and increase exoatmospheric endurance. This armor allows soldiers to move in zero gravity without the aid of thrusters.
ODST – This was first seen in Halo 3 footage during PAX. No official details are available, like whether the armor will be augmented with shields or not. But it looks like this will be one of the armor variants.
Bungie has insisted since they premiered Forge to the world that it’s not something that can be explained very well. You have to get in and mess with Forge to understand what it is exactly. But hell, we’re going to try anyways. Map editors have been sparse in the console space, and Bungie didn’t want to provide something like that for players. No, they wanted something vastly more improved and fun. That’s the key to Forge, by the way. Forge isn’t just a way to make a new map; it’s a whole game type in itself.
Players will start a Forge session as a Spartan, but can toggle into a Monitor so that changes can be made. As a Monitor you will be able to pick up any object on the map and twist it in 3D space. Parts of the map geometry are excluded from this however (and that includes the Elephant on Sand Trap). But everything, and we mean everything, else that’s placed on a map can be moved around. Fusion cores, vehicles, weapons, power-ups, grenades, spawn points, et al.
You will also be able to place objects on a map that aren’t there by default. The caveat is that you have a budget you spend as items are placed. This is simply to prevent players from dropping sixteen Scorpions on High Ground, or placing 10,000 fusion cores in a room. Anything that’s going to essentially “break” the game has to be prevented. But within your budget there are no limits. Also, everything is playable as you edit. So if you and a few buddies are editing a map, at any point you can drop in as a Spartan and test things out. There’s no loading or saving of the file first, it all happens on the fly. This also means that games can actually be played in Forge.
OK, let’s just give two examples of what’s possible according to things Bungie has done:
Rocket Race – 5 teams of two must battle to win a race. One player on each team is the VIP, and they are unable to drive. You set up checkpoints on the map, and each team must run to a Mongoose and race to win. The only problem is you spawn with rocket launchers. In order to get this to work you have to place enough check points to make a race worthwhile, and you need to increase damage resistance so single rockets don’t kill you. Forge allows games like this to replace Race, which was removed in Halo 2 and once again is not an official gametype.
Ring of Fire – On a recent podcast Bungie talked about placing fusion cores in a circle, then tweaking their respawn time. When the first fusion core explodes it sets off a chain reaction, but when the last core explodes the first one is respawning and the reaction goes on indefinitely.