My online beginnings were a long time ago, in the land of Halo 2 and primitive Xbox Live. I have grown since then. I have conquered the world of the PSN and Steam. Truly, I am a learned man of all forms of gaming...Except the ones I suck at. Of which there are many.
I'm mainly into FPSs. They seem to be the games I'm best at, so I generally enjoy them more =P. However, I'm not entirely foreign to fighters, RPGs and RTSs. In fact, some of my favorite games of all time have included many RPGs, like Mass Effect and Oblivion.
I wish I had more time for gaming these days...But college is important, and someday I want to work on games.
Can't get enough of me on a daily basis? I'm on Twitter! I post about gaming, and my life. It's like a mini-blog!...Oh right that's the entire point of Twitter...
When you've spent as much time with a game series as I have with Halo, it's very hard for you not to immediately think of it when a topic like Improvement comes up. Initially, I tried to think of something else to write about, but I just kept coming back to Halo. This series has been with me for half of my life, and is easily my most treasured and well-versed video game franchise. I've been participating in Halo related discussion just about as long as I've been playing video games, and my "never-gonna-happen" dream is to oversee development on a Halo game.
That's why, against all of my better judgement, I am sitting down with you today to tell you exactly how I would build Halo 4. This is, by all definitions, a terrible idea. I have far too much to say and I love to be wordy about it =)
(This is a very lengthy read. You've been warned)
LET'S GET STARTED.
The most basic thing to start with is how the game feels in your hands. Halo has always had this down pretty well. In fact, Halo 1 was the first console FPS to do it right! As the series evolved, the formula became more refined. Halo began to be known for it's quick and responsive movement, along with snappy aiming. Halo is an Arena FPS at its core, and it does what it does very well. However, Bungie took a giant step backwards in regards to movement mechanics in Halo: Reach.
In Reach, movement speed has acceleration. This means that when you click the stick in a direction, it takes a moment for your character to reach their full running speed. This was not present in past Halo games, and we're still not sure on why they added this. The net result is that strafing has been almost totally nerfed. You can't properly dodge a headshot with a strafe in Reach because your character takes too long to change direction. In addition to this mechanic, the overall movement speed is very slow compared to Halos 2 and 3. Coupled together, these two elements make strafing a practically useless tactic in Reach.
Long and the short of it, Halo 4 should return to a Halo 2-3 style of movement: Fast and snappy. A game that responds quickly to input naturally flows better.
In addition to a return to form, I see absolutely no reason why Halo 4 can't have extended controller options like Button mapping. Lots of PC games have it, and even some console games do. Halo has always had a wide variety of control options, but I feel that giving players the option to just use whatever buttons they want would be a big plus. Also, many players have asked for the option to toggle on and off aim assist. I see no reason not to include this as well. If players want to intentionally handicap themselves, let them.
The last issue to cover under gameplay is the feeling of power and ability. The Master Chief is one of the last of his kind. The SPARTAN II program created the most powerful soldiers humanity has ever seen. They are walking tanks of utter destruction and lethality, and the Chief was their leader. Reach chose to place you in the shoes of a Spartan III, a downgraded "Budget" Spartan. It's time to return the player to a powerful killing machine. The increased movement speed and snappier controls will help with this feeling, but elements like shield and melee strength, along with jump height have a lot to do with this as well. Again, more Halo 2-3 than Reach on this one.
In Summary: You are the Master Chief. You should handle like a super-soldier; Quick, precise, deadly.
I'd like to preface this section by saying that I am not taking into consideration any previously established information we have on Halo 4. This is exactly how I would put it together, not how I would put it together based on pre-existing information. Don't worry, I'm not about to write you a fan-fiction of my perfect Halo 4. There are just some elements I feel it needs to be successful in starting a new trilogy.
The most powerful storytelling element of Halo 1 was just how alone you felt in the fight. You had marine support for backup on some of the earlier missions, but as things got more and more dire, it seemed you had less and less allies to count on. You were the backup. The moments in the series when you are fighting alone are probably the most powerful, and Halo 4 needs to re-capture that feeling. I want Master Chief not to see a familiar face (Besides Cortana) throughout most of the campaign. It brings that sense of being alone in an utterly alien environment to the forefront. Which brings me to my next point...
Something Halo also excelled in is taking the fight to a galactic and epic scale. It threw you into an unfamiliar alien universe filled with mystery. I think this is again where Reach failed to hit home. You were fighting on a very human planet. You were participating in a very familiar military-campaign-styled mission structure. It all felt very "been there". That is not what a Halo game is about. Halo is about unraveling an ancient secret, or thwarting a threat to the entire galaxy. It's about experiencing something new and wondrous. Not running point to point playing "soldier".
I'd like to go back to the gameplay section for a moment. I said that I wanted the Chief to feel powerful again, like a super soldier. I didn't say that I wanted him to feel overpowered. I want the enemies in Halo 4 to be as lethal and dangerous as the Chief. Grunts were fun and all, but we've had our fun with them. I want intimidating, even scary enemies. I want to feel like I'm fighting something that might even be above and beyond my capability. I want that feeling of fighting the Covenant for the first time, but with a totally different set of enemies.
These enemies should also play absolutely nothing like the Covenant. For five games now, we've been fighting this exact same setup: Leader unit with Shields, lesser units without shields that support them. The strategy to take out a group of Covenant has largely been the same throughout every Halo game: Pick off the un-shielded ones at a distance, then take out your plasma weapon for the shielded leaders. Rinse. Repeat. It's been a great formula that I still love playing to this day. That was then. That was the Covenant. These new enemies need to look, move, attack, coordinate, and be fought differently in Halo 4. I want to re-learn what it means to fight in a Halo game. All the basic elements must be retained (Weak-point instant-kill areas, manual aiming, etc.). I would never want Halo to turn into Metroid Prime or Unreal Tournament, or really anything that doesn't retain that "Halo" feel.
I just don't want the player to be pulling out their plasma pistol yet again for whatever leader units Halo 4 has.
In Summary: Halo is about ancient mysteries and galactic-scale threats. It is not about fighting a military campaign. But just because it's familiar, does not mean it can be the same. The enemy formula must change, while the combat remains grounded in a "Halo" feel.
And we've hit the meat of it. The really juicy, nitty-gritty, spittle-flying part of all this. There is nothing Halo fans will get more worked up over than Multiplayer and the details therein. I have been on the forums and participated in this almost violent debate that happens between users every day. It is a touchy subject to say the least, so tackling this bit of development is particularly challenging (And is the meat of this article!)
The very first thing to decide on may well be the most important: Which direction do you take the basic mechanics? Do you take them back to Halos 1-3, or do you push forward along the lines of Halo: Reach. Most will tell you that this is an absolute decision. No compromise. It can either be Trilogy or Reach. No exceptions. I'm here to challenge that expectation.
Reach made a lot of mistakes, but there were a lot of really good concepts hidden beneath the muck and grime that coated the surface. It's almost like Bungie came up with a lot of really interesting ideas, but they did not translate well into gameplay. So let's take some bad gameplay elements that Reach had and try to find the underlying ideas:
==Fixing Armor Abilities==
Essentially, these were supposed to be re-usable equipment. While this is a great idea, the implementation went all kinds of wrong. On one end of the spectrum, we have what I like to call "Mobility Abilities", which are things like Jetpack, Sprint, and Evade. The on the other side, you pretty much have powerups that you spawn with, Active Camo and Armor Lock. Then you have the odd men out: Hologram and Drop Shield. Of all of these, only Jetpack, Drop Shield, and Hologram can really be considered "Equipment". This is where the original idea broke down. Most of these "re-usable equipment" items are in fact basic gameplay mechanics or powerups.
So let's take a look at what was really going on with Reach: We had Mobility Abilities, Re-usable Equipment, and Powerups. Now that we've broken it all down, it becomes much more clear what we can allow the user to spawn with and use regularly, and what we want to encourage the user to pick up and fight over. Let's define them as Mobility Modifiers (Mods), Armor Mods, and Equipment. Keep in mind that every one of these occupies the same slot. You cannot have a Mobility Mod with Equipment, for example. Let's tackle these one at a time.
Mobility Mods are very basic Armor Abilities, are re-usable, and (mostly) quick to recharge. Are available on spawn.
-Sprint is the one that needs the least changing. You move faster, you recharge. Done.
-Evade needs to be toned down, as it's current iteration allows the user to bound effortlessly in a single direction, twice, and cover an unrealistic amount of ground. Evade should be for getting quickly out of the way of a grenade, or getting back into cover. One use, reduced range. Done.
-Jetpack needs the most tweaking. It broke maps because of the sheer versatility it gave the user. I propose turning the Jetpack into a Jump pack. Give your spartan a Double Jump. It could be used to clear small gaps, but not entire maps. It could be used to go up one level, but not three. It also requires much more coordination and skill to use effectively. One double jump, then requires a slow full recharge. Done.
Armor Mods are Re-usable Equipment, and have a variable recharge time. They are available on the map as pickups.The idea here would be more powerful abilities with a trade-off. A few ideas I've had:
-Remodulate: The ability to shift all your shield strength to your front, doubling your shields towards incoming fire, but leaving you completely vulnerable from behind.
-Phalanx: Share shield strength with nearby teammates for a short period. The more teammates, the stronger your collective shields. The more you (The wielder) take damage, the weaker the boost is. Once the ability is over, your shields drain completely.
-EMP Pulse: Drains your shields and sends out a short-range pulse that drains anyone's shields caught within the radius. Cannot shoot or move while activating the ability.
-Advanced Hologram: Take control of a hologram for a short time. You are able to shoot, but do no real damage. You abandon your actual body while using this ability.
-Passive Camouflage: You activate Active Camouflage for a very short time, but cannot use your weapon or melee while doing so. There is a recovery time where you cannot melee or shoot shortly after deactivation of the ability.
-Shield Repel: Using your shield as an energy source, you send out a field to repel any incoming projectiles in front of you, such as a Grenade, Rocket, or Tank Shell. Can be held down until shields are drained. Cannot use weapons or move while activating the ability.
Those are just a few ideas I've had floating around in my head for a while, and should give you a very clear picture of the kind of things Armor Mods would be.
Equipment is a one-time-use item with no recharge time. They will also spawn as pickups, but will be treated exactly like what they are: Very valuable absolute advantages. Long spawn times at very key positions. Keep in mind that once these are used, they will be gone. You will have to find another Ability to pick up. These will also have very obvious visible changes to your armor configuration, so others may identify what Equipment you have. A few ideas:
-Overshields: Exactly the same as the Overshield in previous Halos, except you can choose when to activate it.
-Active Camouflage: Exactly the same as Active Camouflage has been in previous Halos, except you can choose when to activate it.
-Bubble Shield: Exactly as it was in Halo 3.
-Charge: When activated, you surge forward very quickly, instantly killing anything in your path (Imagine Skyrim's Whirlwind Sprint, but with killing).
-Overdrive: For 20 seconds, you move faster, melee faster, reload faster, and jump higher.
-EMP Grenade: Tosses out a specialty grenade that will drain shields within the radius. Much like the Energy Drain from Halo 3. However, it will not affect you!
-Armor Shutdown: You can lock up an enemy's armor for 4 seconds. They are invincible to melee during this period, but vulnerable to any gunfire or explosives.
-Recharge: Instantly recharges your shields if you are not in direct fire. Has 3 uses per equipment.
These basically take the place of powerups, and some could even be considered power weapons. These are the big dogs to fight over.
In Summary: My goal with breaking all of this down was not to scrap the idea of Armor Abilities, but simply apply them better to the core tenets of Halo. Mobility Mods give variety, but not advantage. Armor Mods give the user some kind of benefit, but with a negative tradeoff. Equipment is an outright advantage, but is very rare and can only be used once, and then leaves the user without an ability. This adheres to the core idea of Halo that everyone starts equal, and that advantages must be earned, not given.
I can't believe that was all just for covering Armor Abilities. But I feel like in this system, I've turned a very badly implemented idea into a good one that innovates and pushes the game forward.
Bloom also started out with noble intentions; To add an extra layer to the skill gap, and discourage trigger spam. What it did in practice was throw the skill gap out the window. The "pacing" speed of headshot-capable weapons was so much slower than the "spam" speed, that even MLG pros knew that the better tactic was to spam, and give no care at all to Bloom unless you were very far away from your opponent.
I propose only using Bloom on weapons that actually benefit from it. This class of weapon is Automatics. Automatics benefit from bloom by being able to be burst fired while maintaining real accuracy. They can be used at mid-range instead of just close-range spray weapons.
As for the precision weapons (In regards to bloom), they don't need it. It only makes them more spammable at close ranges, and slows down their effectiveness at their intended ranges. Simple RoF caps suit these weapons fine. However, even with RoF caps and a limited clip, precision weapons still tend to dominate Halo's sandbox. Pistol, BR, DMR; It's been the same story for a long time.
So let's change that.
==Defining the Weapons Sandbox==
(I can't take total credit for this idea, as I've seen it proposed in different ways by some different members of the Halo community)
Here's what I'm proposing: An automatic/precision hybrid, by way of a Burst/Full Auto switch. Keeping with Halo's simple and obvious nomenclature, I dub it the "Combat Rifle".
The Combat Rifle is actually a very simple concept: Throw a Burst Fire/Full Auto switch on an Assault Rifle, give it bloom, and make it headshot capable in Burst Fire mode. I bet that some of you hardcore Halo fans choked on your drink a little at that last part. An automatic? With Headshots?! I know, it sounds crazy! But hear me out.
The Combat Rifle would have a 40 round clip. To switch firing modes, one would press a button on the D-Pad. In Full Auto mode, the rifle would fire quickly, and have a large, quickly-expanding bloom. The bullets would not be headshot capable, as it is a spray weapon. It would be your standard Assault Rifle, for all intensive purposes. However, in Burst Fire mode, things get tricky. First thing is that the reticule changes, and now has added crosshairs. It fires a 4 shot burst, with a small amount of bloom per shot. It's a "5 shot kill". I put this in quotes for a reason. If every bullet from the first 4 shots hit the enemy's body, their shields will break. The fifth shot (If a headshot), will kill them. If not, two more bursts to the body. So it's a 5-shot headshot, 7-shot-bodyshot kill weapon.
You might be asking what makes this any different from a Battle Rifle. Let's take a closer look at the mechanics. While the very first shot of every round hits dead center, the other 3 rounds will go a little bit wild. This ensures that at long range, the only shots that will hit will be the first shot of each burst, and maybe another if they're lucky. However, at mid range, the shots have about 90% chance to all hit. At close range, this goes to 100%, or you can just switch to full auto and start spraying. This effectively limits the range of the Combat rifle to a mid/close-range, headshot-capable rifle. Even then, it's a very slow kill (5 perfect shots). This makes the weapon just effective enough to work as a capable starting weapon that isn't totally underpowered or overpowered.
Since you've been given a weapon that performs both as an adequate headshot weapon and as a spray weapon, we can start to refine what's needed in the sandbox as a whole. Remember: Bloom for the automatics, no bloom for the precision weapons.
-SMG: A more powerful close-quarter spray weapon with 80 rounds per clip and high RoF. Better than the Combat Rifle at close range.
-Pistol: Single-shot 5-shot-kill weapon with 15 rounds per clip, enough for 3 perfect headshot kills. Slightly faster RoF than the Combat Rifle's burst fire.
-Battle Rifle: Combat Rifle's big brother. 3-round-burst a 4 shot kill with 48 rounds per clip, enough for 4 perfect headshot kills. Slightly slower RoF than the Combat Rifle.
We've now defined our expanded core weapon set. All these weapons fit a niche, with each being able to compete with each other in their intended ranges. All are better than the Combat Rifle in some way, yet the Combat Rifle could also compete with any of them given a lapse or lack of skill on the part of the SMG/Pistol/BR user.
Next comes power weapons and specialty weapons. These don't really need to be defined at all, as this is where the game can get really creative and crazy. I'd like to see some form of plasma weapons return, as I have an idea for them that goes back to Halo 1. Those who did play Halo 1 know that way back then, plasma weapons had a unique "Freeze" effect on opponents. This made them deadly weapons because you could slow down your opponents movement speed. It was a really unique idea that never took hold in any future Halo titles, and I'd have it return in Halo 4.
The most important part about the rest of the sandbox is to keep it simple. Don't double up on weapons. It creates redundancy and un-needed sandbox elements.
In Summary: I can't really summarize this without losing detail. You gotta read it for the full explanation. I'll go over key points: Taking bloom and applying it to weapons that benefit from it: Automatics. Then, create a hybrid auto/headshot weapon: The Combat Rifle. Burst/Auto switch, Burst is headshot capable. This gives us a singular starting weapon to base the rest of the sandbox on.
==So How Does it Play?==
This will be short, but it's a very important point. Combining our Gameplay elements (Waaay up there) and what we've just defined in Multiplayer leaves us with a fast-paced skill-oriented shooter. The RoF on burst and single-shot weapons may be slower or faster in comparison to each other, but they would all be able to down an opponent within 3-4 seconds. I'm aiming to create a much faster pace than Halo: Reach, but not quite as fast as Halo 1 or Halo 2.
But just because it's fast doesn't mean it'll be un-approachable to new players. Something that everyone seems to have forgotten is that if you make a skill-oriented game, you can still have it be played casually. Professional sports are like this: 5 year olds can play them, but so can professional athletes. In regards to Halo 4, what I've done here is give new players the tools they need to both get a few kills and start learning how to get good on their own. However, if they get slaughtered every match, then how are they to get any better?
That's where the second forgotten element of a competitive/casual game comes in: A good ranking system. Random matchmaking is the "easy way out", because while you'll get matched up with some bad players, you'll also get matched up with some unbelievably good ones. The best thing for everyone is to actually create a very competitive ranking structure. Yes, new or unskilled players will get stomped on early on, but then the good players will move up, and new players will stay down, and fight each other. A good ranking system separates the crowds in ways that benefit all parties: Pros play with pros, and newbs play with newbs.
In Summary: The game is faster-paced, with core weapons being able to down opponents in 3-4 seconds on average. Snappy controls with quick kill times result in a skill-based game. A good ranking system makes the game accessible to both new and experienced players.
==Getting your Classic Fix==
As much as I'd want everyone to enjoy these changes, I know not everyone would. I've done my best to present a balance between new and old, but there will always be people that hate Armor Abilities and Bloom. But I would not shun these people. Rather, I would give them a haven. I think that a Classic playlist is an absolute must for Halo 4.
This playlist would literally be stripped down to a classic weapons set (No Combat Rifle or New Weapons), no Armor Abilities, disabled bloom, and classic powerups. That's it. The Classic Halo formula stays in tact alongside all the new features, and it just takes a little extra elbow grease to set up.
In Summary: Read 2 paragraphs!
And, my readers, we are out of Multiplayer land! Woohoo! If you've read this far, I commend you. But we have more to go from here, though these will not be nearly as long as the Multiplayer section was.
First order of business when talking about Firefight is to mention just how dismal Firefight is right now. While the original mode was a difficult survival scenario, our current "Firefight" playlist is called "Firefight Arcade". And it's just a shooting gallery. There is no option for a skill-based Firefighter in Matchmaking. It's disgusting and insults the design work put into the game mode.
Therefore, there will be no Arcadefight in Halo 4. If you play Firefight in Matchmaking, you play survival. And you'll like it.
The rest of the improvements I want to make to Firefight are really quick, so let's just list this out:
-Bring back the Covenant and the Flood as enemies in Firefight. Nostalgia!
-Ability to customize squads on a per-unit basis. Want a Zealot, a grunt, a Flood combat form, a Hunter, and a Brute in one enemy squad? Go for it!
-More options for custom AI behavior, and more custom skull slots.
-Have default firefight maps expand and allow more access as players progress.
-Purchasable upgrades in the form of new Armor Abilities and such.
-In Forge (We'll discuss this soon!), allow custom Firefight maps to be built with a custom AI path scripting tool.
There, see? That wasn't so bad.
I'll cut to the chase: Halo 4 needs a full on map creation tool. Terrain editor. Texture painter. All of it. What I want to do with it, is create a cross-platform creation kit. Build your maps on PC, then bring them over to the Xbox to play. In this editor, I also want to give the player options to create their own custom geometry from basic shapes, then give them the ability to paint textures over it. BAM! Custom buildings and scenery.
With this toolset, we'll see a crazy amount of original maps.
I realize that this is definitely on the better side of crazy. But hey! You never know.
WE. ARE. DONE.
I know this was a long journey, folks, but to anyone that read this entire thing, I thank you SO much for reading, and honestly hope that even if you aren't a Halo fan, you at least enjoyed the read. If you are a Halo fan, and agree or disagree with me on something, be sure to leave a comment. Just thank you all for reading!
If, by any chance, this were to get into the eyes of a 343 Studios employee, I honestly hope you'll consider some of these ideas. I truly believe that this design strategy is a wonderful marriage of old and new, and really would breathe some very needed life back into the Halo series. If not Halo 4, maybe Halo 5?