When I bought Halo 2 (H2), I wasn't interested in how well it played. I was interested in how well its multiplayer aspect worked. GWJ forum members had suggested it was excellent from a usability point of view. They were right.
H2 is the easiest game to play online that I've found. When playing the single-player campaign, one can receive H2 LIVE game invitations. One can join parties hosted by players on your friend list, or people in your H2 clan. One can see friends and clan members, along with detailed statistics about one's games, on Bungie.net; a great example of systems integration. In public games, H2 even matches players based on how good they are.
Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? That's because it is. Why aren't I happy, then? Because, though Bungie's system's great, it's not quite good enough.
Most of the H2 games I've been in have involved playing on teams comprised of fellow GWJ members and unknown players which H2 decided to pair us with. There was little organisation. We got given our map, our team and jumped right in. This "˜ad hoc' matchmaking and team building leads to problems I'm concerned about.
These problems will be encountered more by the casual H2 player than the semi-professional one. Since those of you in regimented clans will rarely have strangers on your team, it makes sense that my comments are primarily for the casual player. Also, they are only to do with team games. On to the problems:
Team play isn't encouraged.
It's very difficult to win a team game without team play. It's equally difficult to strategise with people you don't know. Since almost every H2 game I've been in has seen me playing alongside strangers, and I play for the team, I've invariably ended up trying to coordinate an attack or defence while my asshat compadres ran around doing whatever the hell they wanted. This is immoral.
What should happen is this: When I'm put on a team with miscreants I've never met before, the miscreants and I are automatically assigned offensive or defensive roles, perhaps with particular zones to patrol or routes to assault. These would be our orders.
Orders may be changed during and between rounds. As incentive to follow orders, players could be rewarded for staying in their roles with team play medals, higher rankings or nude marching band photos. In essence the server is acting as team Captain, thus stopping me screaming at any more 12-year-olds because they're not doing as I tell them.
I realise my idea is contrary to your peculiar notions of freedom of thought and speech, but hey; democracy doesn't work. As far as I'm concerned, if you're going to tell people with whom they'll play, you might as well tell them how they have play, too.
There's no asshat-opponent filter.
As said earlier, H2 matches players with opponents of similar skill levels to ensure as even a game as possible. This criterion is good, but it isn't enough. An opponent should be judged on ability and demeanour. Enemies should be chivalrous in victory and cordial in defeat. Generally they've been neither.
When I kill someone in H2, I keep quiet. When someone kills me they'll start swearing. If they're not swearing, they're getting confused. One team managed to think all of GWJ were English because they'd heard my accent. They ran around shouting things like "Take THAT British guy!" or "Cor blimey, guvnor! Suck my balls QUEEN Elizabeth!". Thankfully they didn't know my real name's actually Potato, or things could have been worse. (I was named after King Edward.)
Anyway, I wanted to give those Bostonians negative LIVE feedback, but I couldn't bring myself to do it; I'm not the bitchy young woman I used to be. Actually, I've never given any LIVE feedback on a player, but if I did I'd hope H2 would use it in its matchmaking calculations.
If that's too difficult to do, perhaps there could be some kind of H2 Morality Test as part of the game's configuration. It would be a series of multiple-choice questions, answers determining the character of the people one plays against:
You are at a school sports day. A disabled child is competing in the 100 hundred-metre sprint. He is using an electric wheelchair. He accelerates well at the start of the race, but is eventually overtaken and comes last. Do you:
A. Go over and congratulate him for a good effort and good sportsmanship.
B. Go over, kick the tyres on the chair and say he needed better equipment.
C. Go over and shout "ROTFLMAO, PWNZERED STEELY WHEELY!!!!1111oneoneoenÃ‚" while pointing out you can dance.
Those that chose A would get to play against people like my homies and I: the kind of guys that don't fart, but if we did it'd smell of roses. Anyone that chose B or C would get lumped together in games. It'd be like an H2 version of colonial Australia.
Good opponents disappear forever.
Let's imagine one ends up playing against worthy opponents. The battle was hard won and narrowly lost. It's probable that both teams would want to fight each other again in the next match. Can they? No. They've to leave the post-game lobby and go through matchmaking again – probably to end up fighting asshats.
Yes, H2 allows one to send friend requests to opponents, or to invite them into one's party, but these aren't options I'd want to take advantage of. Firstly, I want them as opponents; I've already got a full friend and clan list. Secondly, it'd be creepy. I can imagine how the scene would play out over voice messages:
Cpt.Zolitary: "Hey man, you were a great enemy. I've sent you a friend invitation! I thought it'd be cool to work together!"
Fullofrends: "A friend invite? We only played for each other for five minutes."
Cpt.Zolitary: "Yeah, I know. But we kinda clicked, right? I just thought we could have some fun, guy. You know, it'd be like in the movies! Like in Enemy Mine! Or Single White Female!"
It's frustrating to begin to understand the way a team plays, to get used to their rhythm and how to interrupt it, but never have a chance to fully use that understanding to smush them. Also, not allowing parties to continue to fight each other might hinder weaker opponents improving their game.
From a personal point of view, even if one wins convincingly, match made games tend to feel like unfinished business. While trouncing an opponent is good for morale, it's little fun.
Thus I am done presenting the most pressing of my H2 gripes. There are others of course (overshield not working properly; guns not powerful enough; ability to lose) but these are matters of gameplay, rather than usability.
While I doubt that this missive will effect any change, I hope it gives you some comfort to think that even I, a gaming colossus, need help sometimes. Let me close by paraphrasing Donne: no man is an island, entire of itself – especially if it's got the enemy flag.