“It isn’t what you play, it is who you play it with”
Recommended reading music
I was thinking about some of my best gaming days, and I realized that the highlights of my gaming career was centered around Halo for a better part of my life. Before I get too deep into it, I want to get kind of preachy: Halo may not be the best game out there. Call of Duty may not “deserve” to sell 60 billion copies when compared to empirically better games, with better controls, graphics, plot and depth. But while comparing games based on their technical specs is fine, the fact remains that games and gaming are a cultural thing. While we are sitting arguing about how Namco should be spending its money to further develop mechanics in Dark Souls, the people playing Call of Duty are cracking back beers with their friends and having funs. And you know what, it doesn’t have to be Call of Duty. Look at the Achievement Hunter crew - they make any game they play together look amazing to play. From Minecraft to Worms to Monopoly, any game they touch looks like a blast to play, and not always because the game is good. It is because they have a group of people who are all just sitting back, and loving games. I hesitate to bold this next section because it is pretty hippy sounding, but:
Instead of focusing on what you hate about gaming, focus on why you love gaming.
So I wanted to let y’all know why I love Halo so much. FIrst, the single player experience: On Heroic difficulty, the Elites really stand up to you as the player quite well. You always wind up in a situation where you have to use a power weapon or a vehicle to dispatch them, or else you have to be ready for an even fight. This is refreshing from the “you are an overpowered, but weak to grenade God” trope from elsewhere. The thing that really makes Halo Halo is the map design, though. In a game like Fallout, you are free to explore anywhere. In Call of Duty. you have a corridor. Halo splits the difference, creating large arenas chock full of options and baddies for you to explore. Want to use a ghost to take out all the enemies? Go for it! Maybe you can snipe an elite before he boards a Banshee, steal that, and dominate the skies. Why not! Or, you could try to run past everyone. Or go full on Rambo! This implied choice in a shooter makes for a more interesting story to tell later, as your experience differs from everyones, and you can try different approaches. I love any game that uses this layout (so....Halo and Crysis?), which I am officially declaring the Anal Bead style of map layout. You have a big open arena, tiny corridor connecting to the next big open arena, wash, rinse repeat, and if you were to look at the level layout, it would totally be a set of anal beads. Halo: The Butt Sex Toy of the Gaming Industry. You heard it here first.
Halo: Combat Evolved
The more interesting part, and the part more filled with nostalgia, is the multiplayer of Halo. I originally played the game in high school, so I was totally guilty of being “that kid” of this generation. Instead of playing online, I went to my friend’s house, who was lucky enough to have a combination Xbox and DVD player. Look out VHS! On a Friday or Saturday my parents would drop me off at his house, and we would play Halo from 9 in the night until 5 in the morning, sleep for four hours, then play Halo until noon. It was only ever four people, and it was always a blast. Typically, we would kill two bags of nachos and a 24 pack of Mountain Dew, because product placement. We would start with a traditional deathmatch game, then it would turn into a 1 on 1 style tournament bout, then we would work the campaign, and finally it would degrade into making up our own games in the system. One of my favorite aspects of the game was that instead of tying the save data to an account like it will today, the save data was a profile on the main menu, so naturally we had all the gag names. Names such as Corporal Cum, Senior Semen, and of course, Lt. Lapdance. I will have you know that I found Lt. Lapdance as my favorite (as it was the least offensive...I was a little more reserved back then). As the games went on though, I found myself attached to that handle. It wasn’t a joke, it was who I was in that moment in time. It is really fun how you identify with a handle and an avatar (I’ll always miss you dancing Megaman).
The Deathmatches were fun because we would have music going, and we would be constantly throwing out insults, and remarking on different strategies. For instance, one of my friends could not grasp the rock paper scissors concept of the different weapons, often trying to use the Assault Rifle against the shotgun at close range, then getting frustrated when the shotgun didn’t kill us as we ran away from him with the Assault Rifle. I remember that we would often time our kills to the music, trying to kill our opponent every time “click click boom” went “Boom” for added insult. The one on one matches were some of the most intense gaming I have done in my life, as you weren’t just proving to some dork on the internet that you were the best in town, it was a matter of pride between a group of friends. To be the best here was to be both feared and revered. The campaign of the game in co op was amazing - you had a competent driver/gunner, you had an anchor who would hold your spawn while you whittled away at a Hunter’s lifebar, you had a strafing partner in Two Betrayals. For what it’s worth, I honestly love the Halo maps more than I love Half Life’s at times (probably because I just started PC gaming in January). If I had to pick a single favorite level in an FPS, I would take Silent Cartographer over Ravenholm nine times out of ten. I remember how we spent hours upon hours trying to beat the Pillar of Dawn on legendary just to see the bonus cutscene. When we would get tired, we would make up our own game types. Take for instance Vehicle Wars, where you can only kill someone by running them over, but you can take any vehicle you want. We would play that for hours. We would stick as many stickies onto a Warthog as three players could just to see how far we could blast player four. And you know what? If Journey is like seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, then this was like having a wife and kids to me. As much as games have had an impact on my life, as much as games have made me question all of life's values, and made me run the gamut from ecstatic to depressed, I think I still hold higher playing with friends. Unfortunately, we had to move on with our lives, and I eventually jumped over one state to go to college. In this time, I played Halo in a different way...
My freshman year my roommate loved Cowboy Bebop, James Bond, and Halo. It was pretty well a perfect fit. Our dorm’s internet also acted as a LAN, meaning we could pull in as many people as Xbox would allow into one group (16? Really?) at one time. A word of advice on college - freshman year is the best for meeting people. Everyone’s door was open, you could just stop in whenever. Everyone had the same problems, the same decisions, so it was really nice. Sophomore year, groups were established, cliques made their way back in, and it became harder to meet new people. Most of my best friends in college were made through those LAN parties. Usually one or two people on the floor would be playing Halo 2, and everyone else would just jump in until we were at the limit. It started with just the hardest of cores, playing deathmatch and SWAT (one headshot = death) games on the floor. Eventually though, there was a new game mode. The great equalizer. Zombies. Zombies used the same “1 headshot kills” mechanic, but started off as everyone against 1 zombie. Each person killed had to swtich teams (manually - Yay honor system!) and become a zombie. The game rewarded skill, but at the same time didn’t punish you for being new. Every human in a corner with a gun huddled up mattered, and almost anyone could get lucky and pull a headshot. This caused more and more non gamers to join in on our antics. It feels slightly sexist to say this, but we eventually had a 50/50 split of males and females playing because it was so accessible. Cheerleaders, stoners, drunks, and honor rolls were all playing together over LAN, and it was a thing of god damn beauty. Because we were all on a hallway we were usually 2 to 4 to a room, and would be yelling across the entire hall to let the other players know just how better we were. I still remember the screams of other players who didn’t realize that a zombie could get there.
One day, someone broke the Zombie meta in half with a discovery on YouTube: Halo 2 has glitches where if you perform certain actions in a certain sequence, you can jump incredible heights. This allows you to get to positions on the map that offer invulnerability to players who can’t perform the jump, plus it lets you know exactly where the zombies will funnel in from (although typically this wasn’t a problem as you would fortify your area with crates). We would spend time between classes learning the different jumps on the different maps, and trying to figure out the best route and the best time. See, as much as a successful jump basically won you the game, it requires you to run across the entire map, in a defined path, typically without other people. You generally had until there were three zombies before this was a death sentence to attempt. It really changed how the game was played, and kind of added a tier to the skill levels. Instead of breaking it in half though, it invigorated the playstyle. It offered a risk reward factor that didn’t exist from “camp in the corner”.
As the year progressed, the freshman learned how to craft Fake IDs. They learned that alcohol makes the stress of school easier to deal with. And I wasn’t OK with this, and neither were a select few of our original group (the irony being that I am pretty well intoxicated while typing this-but I am over an arbitrary age limit, so its all good.) So we found a new group to play with, a group with strong Christian values, and a desire to play some Halo. I spent so many Friday and Saturday nights in college playing with this group. The best part was that one of them was in college in tandem with being in the military, so he would command his team like a squad - either coaching them to stay together, or giving players instructions on where to position to flank other teams, how to protect the flag, etc. It was a thing of beauty as his team would more often than not win. He would keep giving the same piece of advice to anyone on his team, which was equal parts accurate and hilarious:
Calling out GIMP/Photoshop right here: Way to hard to add black border to white text in either. So had to use less savory means. Deal with it.
This group also had a tendency to call out names before each kill, which was hilarious if you aren't on the receiving end. It would usually go something like “Hey taterchimp!” “What?” *assassination*. Shit talking on the internet comes off as machismo, but between friends it has so much more a rite of passage feel. Playing with this group introduced me to many of the friends that I had through the end of my college years, from future roommates, to people I would use to give a good word in interviews, and even one of my girlfriends. She was constantly playing with the group, but she was “one of the guys”. Whereas many other had the stereotypical girly reactions of things such as yelling at how people were rude for killing them, she was able to dish it out both in game and verbally. We played one King of the Hill match where all of our teammates quit, making it a 5 on 2 game with an objective. Better known as a death sentence. Between the two of us though, we were able to triple the other team’s score before finally claiming victory, and the post game lobby was on FIRE about it. We were throwing out insults, they were making casual guesses at my sexuality, but then my girlfriend started speaking up, and everything changed. Now both of our weights and lives were called into question. Playing along with it, I believe we eventually confessed that we were 300 pound 40 year old hermaphrodites, something along those lines, and this is why we were able to beat them so soundly.
Halo 3 was introduced while Halo 2 was all the rage in my dorm, but the lack of 360s made it hard to coordinate matches, so it was generally a special occasion where we would get together and play. It was in my Junior year that I had a chance to really sink my teeth into it, and it just wasn’t the same. See, by Junior year of college my social groups were well cemented by major, fraternity, and the few remaining friends from Freshman year. So many good friends graduated, transferred, or failed. As such, my memories of Halo 3 were mostly with my roommates playing online, and a lot more against random people online. It never had the same impact. Playing against strangers is so much more aggressive and competitive and there is such a large gap in the talent pool that you find online that it makes it hard to have a consistent experience. It feels odd to leave this section so short, but really, this is where Halo stopped being the force that it was for me.
When my personal community for Halo left, so did most of my interest in the game
I have picked up every Halo release since. I still feel like it is a really well put together game, offering something slightly different than the Modern Warfare experience. But overall, whenever I play it, I am not playing it because taterchimp likes to play it. I am trying to bring back Lt. Lapdance. I am trying to get back those days where we would forget about our homework, open our doors, and kill some zombies. It is a chase for nostalgia, of days long gone. And like I said above, it may not be the best, it may not have the best production qualities or design choices, its narrative may never inspire me or move me to tears...but if games are only to be experienced as an individual, I want out. Even just commenting and blogging here, sharing my experiences adds so much more to the game than just playing it. It really is about who you have by you, not what you are playing. Thanks for reading.