Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Tides of Momentum in Halo 3

Halo 3, much like the NFL, is a game of momentum. When you have it, you win. When you don't, what happened to me last night happens. I was carrying the week, starting with a 22 in Team Doubles (the only "team" game I'm good at). Three nights later I had a 31, just 5 away from my record 36 in Lone Wolves. I had gotten 9 points in 4 days play, which for me is outstanding. The wins were piling up like spent shells, my Kill/death ration was averaging about +8 (no, really), and I could almost swear my SPARTAN was grinning in the replays.

Then last night I made a terrible, awful, disastrous mistake. I turned on the Xbox 360 and clicked on "Play Game," activating the insidious disc hidden within the bowels of my Split Pea Soup Green Xbox. The first game was a loss. A bad one. I might have been -11. Maybe it was -12. Either way, I had a boot print on my SPARTAN's butt that was destined to become more pronounced as the night went on.

The next game, I lost. Not too bad, though. Only -8. Then I lost again. And my score dropped to 30. Then I lost again, and again.

And again.

And my score dropped to 29.

This is when a sane person realizes he just "doesn't have it" and gives his blood pressure a break. This is when he (or she) realizes that the god of Halo 3, Bungiemalahara (ruler over the virtual realm Halo inhabits) has forsaken them, at least for that night. As punishment for my Halo 3 sin of gluttony and self-mutilation, I was cursed with a slow connection.

I know, lag gets blamed for poor performance more than any other reason, but in one night I got sent to the "Black Screen" room six or seven times, had a partner lag out, and lost 90% of my melees. And that's AFTER the Melee fix (which I'm a big fan of, despite everyone else's inexplicable complaints.) I should have stopped. After all, Rock Band was sitting there next to the Xbox 360, waiting for it's turn. "You have so much to do, Solstice!" it seemed to say. "You need to finish guitar on medium to unlock all the songs, and get that drum set rocking on medium as well!"

I lost again.

"...come on baby, don't fear the reaper..."

The Skill value seems to be a mystery to most people. I look at it like this: If you level up one skill point, you are considered -. If you do okay for 1-3 games, you are considered null, and if you win 1-3 games, you are considered +. This is how I interpret it, and it seems to work pretty well for me to predict where I'll be after a game. Of course, if the game's a disaster (like many yesterday were), sometimes you can drop without warning. Say you just move to Skill 30. I would consider you Skill 30-.You play two games, and have a k/d ratio over both games of +1. You would then be considered a Skill 30. Then you win two in a row, with the last game being a +4. Now you're a 30+, and only need one or two more solid games to move up to 31. This is in regards to Lone Wolves. Team games muddy the water due to teammate skills and performance beyond the understanding of all but Bungiemalahara and his chief demon, Algorhythmus. Also remember that really valuable medals help bump you up artificially. A killing frenzy, for example, is the freight elevator to the next point.

Back to my tale of woe. I backed out of Doubles, tired of the idiot "partner" I had been stuck with the last game complaining that I should have told him the other guys were behind him. Time for Lone Wolves, where I can block communications, and pretend like I'm playing bots. (Sometimes I wish Halo 3 DID have bots.)

I lost yet again. But did okay. Enough to only lose by 5 and have a K/d ration of -1. So I played again.

At this point in my story, the proverbial blood was gushing down my face from repeatedly bashing my head against the momentum wall, and it was getting hard to see the screen through the red haze. (The red haze might have been frustration as well.) So finally, at long last, I backed out of Halo and turned the Xbox off for the night.

So will the momentum shift back in my favor tonight, or will Bungiemalahara curse me again despite my offering of nightly abuse on his electric alter? Or will I just play Rock Band?

The moral of the story is this: when I am winning, I need to keep playing. If I am losing I need to stop. After one more game. Or two.

- Solstice01

Thursday, February 14, 2008


What's the old saying? Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in awhile. That cynical colloquialism sums it up tonight, where I had one of my best nights ever. Welcome to the Valentine's Day Massacre, and for once, I was on the giving end of said destruction.

This is the first "holiday lobby" Bungie has created since Halloween's Infection lobby. Valentine's Day is Team Doubles (what else?) and runs through the weekend. I did very well, winning all but one match. In the match prior to my "perfect" match, I went from Skill 1 to Skill 3 in one game, and ended with 5. That skill in 5 games in one night is impressive for someone of my questionable "skill".

So how did I do it? How did I manage to get a Perfection medal? First off, to get one you have to have 15 or more kills and no deaths in the game. I got the fifteenth kill with 30 seconds to spare.

There is more to the story, of course. We were Team Doubles on Epitaph, one of my better maps. Right at the beginning, one of the Blues dropped/lagged out. Now it was two on one. I know what you're thinking - "Oh I get it," you think, feeling the way you do when a magic trick's prestige is revealed to you, "you guys just stuck together and mowed the other guy down."

Actually, you'd be partly right. We did mow him down, but not for lack of his trying. Unfortunately for him Epitaph is the worst map to play if you don't control the key weapons (the shotgun and the rocket launcher). I spent the whole game cycling through the rocket launcher, getting the shotgun, and running for Active Camo every time it popped it.

The lone Blue got me a few times, but I managed to squeak out a kill before I died. I perched a lot. Perching (sitting atop a higher structure to hide and surprise attack opponents) doesn’t get any better than Epitaph, where you can sit on the flying buttresses and punish people for assuming they are allowed on the floating platform.

With a minute left, I had fourteen kills, and the Blue had just been killed by my teammate (a guy I didn’t know. I’d have played with a Geezer or Possum, but everyone I knew decided Halo wasn’t fun tonight.) I saw Blue down on the bottom level interior, trying to run sideways to the safety of the door. I fired a rocket and jumped down. The rocket splashed his shields just as he started to shoot me. My second rocket hit the wall behind him, but the explosion ended the stream of bullets that were taking my own shields down to nothing. I landed by his corpse and ran outside. I had a Killing Frenzy. Not my first ever, but I was excited nonetheless. My teammate said "spend the rest of the time hiding.” In my nievety, I assumed it was so he could get the last kill. I didn’t realize he was trying to protect my Perfection, because before tonight, I didn’t even know the medal existed!

So despite the disparity between my 2 man team and the lone opponent, I still managed 15-0 in 11 minutes in a ranked game against an enemy that didn't stop trying to kill us the whole time. My partner ended the game at 10-0.

I'll probably never see another Perfection in ranked, so I'll be sure to enjoy this one, because after all, even a blind squirrel will sometimes find a nut fifteen times in a row without being run over by a car.

- Solstice01

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Let the Bodies Hit the Floor

I think I might have mentioned this before... I start slow when I play Halo 3 online. While it's embarrassing in Team Slayer to spend the first four minutes dying 52 times without a kill, it's worse in Lone Wolves where no one can carry me to victory. Almost without fail, I start a game by dying at least 4 or 5 times before getting a kill. Invariably by this time the guy in the lead has 4 or 5 kills, which means not only am I already -5 in my kill/death ratio, I'm also a whopping 10 kills behind the leader. So if I want to win, I need to get moving.

Come on get down with the sickness

As a result I am playing from behind. Sometimes I win in dramatic fashion (see Cal vs. Stanford.) Most of the time I get close enough to have a shot and then fall short.

One reason might be my strategy on every map. If I’m on Sandtrap, for example, I go straight for a Warthog gun. This will maximize my kills early on and hopefully give me some momentum going into the later part of the match. The problem with this strategy is that I usually go after the coveted weapons. On the pit, while I am going for the sword or rocket launcher, so is some guy who is plotting my demise. Often I am on the losing end of these duels.

I consider every meeting with a single other enemy a duel. My goal is always to kill the enemy during these duels, even if I have to die to do it. If I know I’m hosed, I try to stick them with a grenade. If I have a rocket launcher and he is right next to me, I shoot at our feet. I know it’s not the best strategy, but if I know I’m going to Respawn Land, I want to at least have some company.

At the end of the day, however, I don’t know why I start off cold and get hot. This is true no matter how many times I’ve played for the night or whether or not I’m in the zone. Ultimately it makes my matches more suspenseful, because I can't just jump to a huge lead and try to hold it.

And yes, I finally hit Skill 35, so I'm a Commander. What match got me the rank? You guessed it: Crazy King.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Top Down Perspective

In case you're wondering, no, I haven't engaged Active Camo. And no, I'm not just taking a long time to respawn. I haven't posted since Christmas. Why? Acute Bronchitis. I missed a lot of work and I slept a lot. But I have managed to play some Halo 3. And I've noticed as the matches, days, weeks, and months speed by, I tend to look at the game from high above.

Now if I could just figure out how to blast that blog entry down there!

First of all, I now believe I will see the rank of Commander afterall. I've made it to skill 34. One more and I get my second star. However, I made Major on November 17th. That was eight weeks ago. To put it in perspective, it took me just six weeks to get from skill 1 to skill 30. It's so easy to drop, and so tough to climb, it might be another few weeks, but I know I'll get there.

Will I get any higher?

Time will tell. I seem to have peaked in my abilities, and more and more often I'm running into General Headshot every where I look. How these people can get 20+ head shots in a game is beyond me. I'd really like that Brigadier bird. It's a nice looking rank. However you do face the eventuality of ranking yourself out of competition, so that the only people you get set up against can kill you so easily your corpses just pile up one on top of another like some weird SPARTAN pile.

I've also learned I really do prefer ranked matches over social matches. It's unfortunate, that. Because I prefer to play a few Lone Wolves matches (ranked), and then join up with my clan for the rest of the night, playing whatever they're playing. Which is usually Big Team Battle (social) or Team Objective (again, social.) Nothing wrong with it, I just like that ranked matches count more. But playing with your friends is what it's all about, I'm coming to appreciate.

Another thing I've learned is that there is a misconception that rank = ability. Sure you have to be skilled enough to make it, and you do have to win matches, but it is kind of like carpet bombing - play enough matches and you rank up. A better indicator of true ability is what their skill is versus how many matches they have played. If you're skill 25 but you've played 1400 matches, you probably aren't as good overall as someone who is skill 20 whose played 105 matches. The only thing that throws this off is people who sign up as a new account and plays through again. Even I can say with some confidence that if I created a new gamertag and started Lone Wolves ranked 1 I would clean people's clocks until about skill 15 or so. Unless they were starting over too. I wouldn't do that, by the way.

Finally, I've learned that spending a Lone Wolves match trying to run someone over with a Mongoose or laser two Spartans at once is an exercise in frustration. Sure I lasered two opponents at once in a Big Team Battle, where there were 8 bad guys in my way to begin with. Trying it against only 4-5 other adversaries is harder than it sounds. I really want the Mongoose Mowdown Achievement unlocked because the shoulder pads you get are the best ones in the game.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas From Solstice01!

Happy Holidays & Happy New Year

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

If I ran Bungie Studios

What Bungie disciple hasn't daydreamed about how they would tweak or improve the Halo universe if they ran Bungie? I've got a few ideas. Some are impossible to implement, and some would be easy - or would have been - before the game went gold.

This isn't a knock on Halo or Bungie at all, just little things I'd experience in Halo 3 if this was a perfect world.

To misquote a movie -

Gamer - "Is this Heaven?"
Solstice01 - "No, it's Halo 3."

First of all, there are 13 skulls to unlock in the game, and yet there is enough room for three more skulls on the screen. What I would do? Have the three Elite skulls on the Cortana level be unlockable skulls that give you different metagame experiences.

One Elite skull (called "Mirror Mirror") could allow you to play through single player as your Matchmaking SPARTAN/Elite. Sure the cut scenes would stay with ol' 117, but it would be a nice touch to let you play through as "you."

Another Elite skull (called "Goodbye") could give you limited "on tap" active camo like the Arbiter from Halo 2. As a twist it also gives the highest ranked baddies that same ability.

The final Elite skull (called "Retro") would make 117 wear the original Halo armor in the campaign, and fight the old school Elite-soldiered Covenant forces. The Brutes are okay, and fun to take down, but the Elites are a much more unique and interesting character class for the game. It would be an easy switch - all of the brutes would be replaced with Elites of similar rank (with the leaders bearing Energy Swords instead of Gravity Hammers). The drop ships would also revert back to the old "tuning fork' designs.

These three skulls would be relatively simple to implement since the models, textures, and animations are already built in.

Another thing I'd like to see is the ability to "level up" in Social Matchmaking. This would be much more difficult logistically for Bungie to do, but not completely outrageous. You would have a game variant of Big Team Battle called "Progression" one team randomly becomes Covenant and the other team becomes UNSC forces.

Everyone starts at the lowest level. Covie players start as Grunts, and UNSC players start as Marine Footsoldiers. Bear with me here. Each would be balanced as far as abilities go. The Footsoldiers would be faster than the Grunts and could jump higher, but the Grunts would be slightly better armored. Although neither one has powered armor, so you'll die easily.

After you get 2 kills as your starting type, you instantly morph into the next level, which is Jackal (sans energy shield) and Specialist (my name for the Communications guys that wear Oakleys.) Again these would be evenly matched but slightly different.

After 3 more kills you go to the next level. For the Covenant team, this means you are a low level Brute. Non-Powered Armor, SPARTAN-level movement, etc. The UNSC equivalent would be the ODST ("Feet First Into Hell", don'tcha know!) Then 5 kills at that level and you graduate to the top, which would be your usual SPARTAN character for UNSC and the Captain level Brutes for the Covie forces. For a nice twist, the UNSC players that get to this level will randomly be an Elite or a SPARTAN.

You can be killed in between getting the kills you need, but the neat thing is that very quickly there will be many different characters with different abilities fighting each other on the same map. This might seem unbalanced, since someone who is good could outrace everyone to SPARTAN and then mow down the lowly grunts with ease. I'm not sure how to balance that aspect. Maybe once you reach that level if you get killed you revert back to an ODST until you get another kill or something.

A lot of testing would need to go into making it fun, but I'd be okay if my GUI looked the same regardless of what character I was. And for another twist, the one of the two teams could also be randomly turned into the Flood. ("Facehugger" form, then human combat form, then Elite combat form, then Brute Combat form.)

Next are new multiplayer maps I'd like to see. I really like the three new maps, although one of them is very tough to survive on (more on that during my review of the Heroic DLC).

"Ambient Praise" - I'd like to see a Covenant vessel map, similar to the one on Halo 2 but large enough for 5 on 5 or even 8 on 8 Team Slayer. This would be challenging to lay it out, but have two bases be on either side of the vessel and a big open three level hanger as the middle. You could borrow from the previous Halo games for much of the level design.

"Null & Void" - How about a map set in space with zero G? There could be large objects (like the debris of a vessel or parts of a Halo) floating in the background that could can climb on and in. You can kick off from your starting location but can't stop or change direction unless you collide with something or fire your weapon in the opposite direction you want to go. This would be almost impossible to make playable, but very cool if they pulled it off - especially since this type of multiplayer level is rare.

"Key" - A level on board the Forerunner ship would be cool, especially since we never really see much of the inside of it. There could be unique objects or custom power-ups, Guardian "bots" that cause trouble, etc. This would be a small map similar in size to Snowbound.

How about frequent DLC featuring new armor, insignia, and colors? Who wouldn't pay 400 MS points for black armor or some cool new helmet? I was on Heroic DLC today and there were over 17,000 people. That's $170,000 for Bungie. They could charge 400 points for five new colors (Black, Green/Brown Camo, Blue/White Camo, etc) and five new insignia. I know I'd like to see more Elite helmet choices, since there are some really cool ones from Halo 2 that are collecting cyberdust on Bungie's backup HDs.

New vehicles that are really old vehicles can also be offered as DLC. Things like Hogs (the civilian version of a Warthog) could be offered. Buy it and you get it in several colors (matching colors for your SPARTAN/Elite). Maybe it's a little faster than the Warthog, since it's not armed. Civilian versions of the Mongoose could follow suit. Who cares, you wonder? Why bother? Because it's something Bungie could do cheaply and quickly, and there are people out there who would like things like that for custom game types.

There are many other ideas (Dual wielding Energy Swords, anyone?) and this is just a sampling of ideas I've had. I'm 99.99% sure Bungie doesn't know this blog exists, but all I can do is publish it and continue to hope.

Still Incredible

Today is December 19th. My birthday was this week, and I got the new maps and the soundtrack to Halo 3. I'll be reviewing them in upcoming posts, but wanted to just update everyone one on how I feel about Halo 3 almost 3 months later.

It's still incredible.


Halo 3 is the only game I really play on the Xbox 360. I've got some borrowed games from CyberKnight, and a few Xbox Arcade games, but nothing has prevented me from enjoying what is now my favorite game of all time.

I spend most of my time playing Lone Wolves, but I believe I've truly reached the end of my growth there. I dropped to 29 again and clawed my way back to 30 today. It's been more than a month now that I've been at 30, so I think this is it. I played with a guy the other day (who was fortunately on my team) who was a General - Skill 50. He ended up with 28 kills. I had 6 or 8, I can't remember.

I went back and watched the film of the battle from his perspective. He spent the whole time with the sniper rifle and the battle rifle, and destroyed anyone of the opposite color foolish enough to play on the same map as him.

I've also started spending more of an effort to collect all the skulls and terminals. I think I have 1 or 2 terminals left, and 4 or 5 skulls. They are hard to find, but it helps to go through the level in Theater Mode and look for them that way.

I also need about 190 points worth of Achievements, including all of the metagame point achievements, Mongoose Mowdown, the SPARTAN laser one, 5 sticks, and a few more. I don't know if I'll ever get them all, but it does make the game have long term goals.

However, I am beginning to suspect that my favorite thing to do in Halo 3 is to play team slayer with my clan. There's something about having fun with those guys (and gals) that make Halo 3 even better. It is an interesting juxtaposition from Lone Wolves, where I turn off the other players and usually don't even bother wearing my mic. I might as well be playing AI bots. But playing with your friends, and then laughing at the antics that ensued and fun that was had by all is always entertaining, and I find myself wishing I didn't have to go to bed and could stay up all night playing. Darn day job!

Monday, December 10, 2007

From the Friend's List

I thought it would be nice to spotlight some of the fine folks I have on my friends list. 99% of them I didn't know before I got an Xbox 360. What makes them a friend? Why did I add them (and also rate them as recommended?)

Today's entry is the first guy who graced my friends list. In fact, he was there before I even owned a 360; how's that for being on the ball? CyberKnight is the closest friend I have on my list, and the only one I know in real life. He lives down the street, and introduced me to the 360. Before that, we'd play Halo 2 together on the Xbox, where he would regularly stomp the polygonal guts out of my Halo 2 SPARTAN.

A member of the Geezer Gamers, CyberKnight is also in the same clan I am, the Awesome Possums. So here you go, CyberKnight, your very own blog post. Coming soon, others on The List.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Am I the Oddball?

Halo 3 is a very good game at giving something to the masses that everyone will like. To that end, there are many game types for the players who amass in the numerous ranked and social lobbies. I almost exclusively play ranked games. Why? I don't know. Probably because it matters. If you win, you are (usually) rewarded with a raised skill level. If you lose and lose badly, you are (again, usually) punished with a diminished skill level.

Now that I am up to 30, I am nearing the end of my endurance. It has become very difficult just to stay at 30, much less move up. In fact, in the last 20+ ranked matches, I've been as low as 28 and only as high as 31. The players are just too good. If I make a bonehead move, I pay for it with a death animation and a respawn time.

I appreciate the many game types, maps, and variants that Bungie spends money and time on. Take Lone Wolves (my favorite lobby) for example. You can play Slayer, Swords, Crazy King, and Oddball.

But wait! What is Crazy King and Oddball?

Well, they are objective-based game types.

Shouldn't they be in a different lobby? Maybe Social Slayer?

Well, they do have to go somewhere, because for some people those game types are fun. The only reason I don't mind Crazy King only due to the fact that most of my 30 points have come via that game type. My strategy almost always pays off, so I either move up a point or stay where I'm at.

However, the bee in my MJOLNIR VI Bonnet is Oddball. This is a game type where a skull appears in the middle of the map, and you have to grab it and hang on while other people try to kill you. The first person to have a cumulative holding time of 50 seconds wins the game.

The problem is that there is very little skill involved. Some of the players don't even go after the ball. Maybe they don't understand the rules, or maybe they just like disrupting the flow. Either way, I got stuck playing Oddball (nobody vetoed the game) with a guy who had a shotgun and guarded the skull! That's right, he didn't pick it up, he protected it like a mother goose protecting her egg.

Another problem is that in a game like Oddball (and I'll admit, Crazy King) there is no real time to go after better weapons or sticky grenades. You need to get to the skull now, because someone is racking up the points while you are standing there earning nothing. So you are forced to fight the person with the skull using the assault rifle and frag grenades. (If you are one of the people who reads this blog but has never played Halo 3, suffice it to say this is a weak weapon combination.) The guy with the skull simply waits until you are within range, and then lunges forward like an Olympic speed skater and kills you with one "shot" by punching you in the face.

Congratulations, now you get to respawn across the map and start the process over.

This might just be a strategy problem on my part, but it annoys me when people are behind me and start shooting me while I am half a map away from the ball. I get that you want an easy kill, but here's a hint, Guy-in-the-Green-Armor: if you let me soften up the skull carrier, then you can kill us both and take the skull for yourself! This happens in Crazy King too.

Ultimately, Oddball is a necessary evil in Halo 3 multiplayer. If I want to play Lone Wolves, I have to play Oddball from time to time when no one vetoes it or it is the replacement game after a different veto. I think a game like Oddball, where it is so easy to lose a match 50-0 shouldn't be in a ranked Slayer room. It is so difficult now for me to move up, where I bite and claw my way from 30 to 31 only to fall again to 30, to then get stuck playing Oddball and having some guy grab it and run while everyone else pretends it is just a Slayer match.

Soon I'll be reviewing the levels that are out, and the three new ones once I get them. For now, let me say that while I'm good at Crazy King, I would sacrifice it out of Lone Wolves if it would take its skeletal sister-game variant with it. Let me succeed or fail with the barrel of my rifle or the tips of my energy sword, not via the cruel grinning death's head.

If Solstice01 could just pick up that 7-10 split...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Not in the Face!

Why do I have a headache?