Halo 3 Title Update 2

Halo Achievements

[b] If my body were a car, I'd be thinking about trading it in around now. I would like to upgrade. I would be actually on the lot somewhere and some guy with a loud sports jacket would be sizing me up...kinda lookin' around goin--maybe kickin my knees.

[/b]

-- Ellen DeGeneres

I'm not going to spend my time trying to convince you that Halo 3 is worth playing. Over the course of its life, Halo has joined the Madden series as a kind of radioactive No True Gamer pox. These are titles lauded by beefy males: individuals who enjoy sports, rush Greek and are familiar with the mechanics of the Deadlift. Or so goes the cliché.

Chances are, you've already aligned yourself with the camp that enjoys the game. Or possibly, you're one of the people that blocks out its mere existence.

In any event, one should be aware that Bungie has just finished the final coat of wax on their promised Title Update 2, which by now has sped through the many copper-coated wires of the internet and parked itself into countless Xboxen. Why should you care? Well, for one thing, it marks a fulfillment of the promises and prophecies that were made when the current slate of interconnetted systems were envisioned.

Online Mechanics
First a quick glance at the suspension tweaks. Note that the changes were carried out on the Halo 3 multiplayer experience, and not the single player campaign.

  • Playlist Rankings - Players now earn game-specific ratings for Halo's mulitplayer modes. This was engineered to provide more immediate feedback to players, allowing them to see their individual progress in game-types as opposed to basing their worth on TrueSkill numbers and insignias. It will also enable tactically invested types to gauge their opponents quickly, based on their game-specific rankings.
  • Achievements - Ten new relevant achievements have been added which deal specifically with the Legendary map pack. Great. Bungie's revolutionizing the gamescape by adding more achievements, right? Underwhelming feelings aside, it's an interesting way to promote the new map material that Bungie's producing. Appealing to the completionist/achievement-farmer is hardly new, but including a dangling carrot after the release of a map pack is somewhat unexpected.

    TU2 also revealed a host of achievements that will be applicable for the upcoming Mythic map pack. These are a bit juicier than the ten mentioned previously, as they include new Skulls, hinting towards an expansion of the single-player campaign at some point in the future.

Down the Road
What I take away from the update (particularly the presently-useless achievements) is a notion that Bungie has a longitudinal plan for Halo 3. I haven't seen an astoundingly game-changing addition here, but the idea that Bungie is not content to rest on their obscenely large piles of cash is quite appealing. They could easily have let the game roll along, adding only the slightest of physics or weapon damage tweaks along the way. Instead, we're seeing small (but well-reasoned) changes to the way the player conceptualizes his rank in the online world. His relation to his virtual counterpart is now accessed through a global rank and a per-game rank. He is offered a multitude of assessments for his in-game metamorphosis.

In more succinct terms, Bungie is thinking about the way people play and they're thinking that ways to improve the model exist. They're not out to fix the game, they're attempting to expand it.

This is a business move, make no mistake. They've already shipped a vast number of Halo 3 discs, so what better way to push the Legendary map pack (and create buzz for the Mythic pack) than to offer a numerical e-popularity reward? This creates an implicit player expectation: “Bungie will release more maps for me to play on. There is more fun to be had from this title.” But it's one that's based on player desires. That player wants the variety that a new pack will include. He wants to work towards those achievements, learn the intricacies of the new levels, experiment with new game settings and tactics. He wants a fresh start, albeit one with the knowledge accrued from months of playing.

This era of gaming is defined by the online sphere. I judge a game through its content, but also hunger for the vast networks of interconnection that the Myspace and YouTube generation thrive on. I seek to add a friend to my game, to speak with them across missions, to gloat and complain about my experiences. I have recontextualized an aspect of gaming that was previously accessible only through a multitude of physically present friends and a large couch. I consider the social part of these machines to be wildly successful.

Now these publishers and developers have a responsibility to us. We've acknowledged the online components of these games, shopped at the virtual taverns these consoles have opened, but now need the wares peddlers to hold up their end of the bargain. I need new content. I want them to see the revenue generated by their work and think “How can we make this better? How can we offer a new experience? How can we reward the player?” I want my game to be constantly evolving.

Changing Times
You might be citing Mass Effect's “Bring Down the Sky” expansion here. The example's not without merit, though it somewhat feels like RPG expansions come out of cutting-room floor material that couldn't be worked in. We need something that doesn't feel like bolted-on content. Something that can be grasped as an organic outgrowth of the game, one that adds new complexities to the existing project.

Halo's updates are a small step in this direction. Even if the major work done is on behind-the-scenes code and bugfixes, there's still a minor thrill to be had when the Xbox gives you the update notification. What would really quench my thirst, though, would be something along the lines of the bonanza that is The Witcher: Extended Edition.

Developer CD Projekt struck upon unexpected gold with their release of The Witcher last October. While the title wasn't without its problems - the combat system and wooden cutscenes were points of contention – its capacity for moral hazard turned a number of heads, earning generous critical praise. Instead of embarking on the expected course of action (for the record, that would be declaring The Witcher as part one of a seven part multi-console multimedia initiative), CD Projekt began work on the mother of all patches: a comprehensive bug termination job coupled with extensive additions to the animation system, script rewrites, code optimization and two additional missions. The result? A two gigabyte download that is free to registered owners of the original (also available as a stand-alone commercial product). Now that is a way to reward your fanbase.

If Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords had been able to follow a similar path, the game could have lived on as a brilliant title whose dents were ultimately hammered out. Instead, it exists as a hobbled, incomplete Quasimodo.

Halo 3's Title Update 2 may be preaching to the choir, but I think Bungie will work in some surprising notes before their show is done. At the very least, they're showing that a shipped, working game is capable of humming a new tune, if coaxed slightly.

The update also includes some online multiplayer playlist changes. Yeah. Like anyone cares about that.

Comments

It all rang so true at the end when you mentioned KoTOR2. I finally finished the game a week ago (yea yea, I know I could just never bring myself to do the whole thing) and its problems, if fixed, would have made it an amazing game. It nice to see effort being made now a days though. Gives you a warm and fuzzy.

I'd like to kick Ellen DeGeneres in the knees.

Just puttin that out there.

Good article, but you left off the best instance of a developer going out of their way to evolve a game: Criterion Games with Burnout Paradise. They released a great game (I hadn't played a Burnout game before, so I loved it) with the notion that DLC should not be a burden to the customer. They had a plan to spend a year working on updates to a released game, hoping to change the boxed product over the course of a year.
The first update was just a set of minor changes to on-line ranking, some network tweaks and general bug fixes. Yawn. The second update, while not as great as it sounded, added on-line versions of some of the off-line gameplay, as well as new sets of challenges, with different criteria to complete successfully. It also included two new cars, and new models for some of the existing cars. This is much more in-line with what people expect from DLC, but they released this pack for free.
The third, and most recent pack had been planned to be for a fee, but at some point they changed their minds on that. Shockingly, it added the most content, and offered the biggest change to gameplay yet: motorcycles. Two bikes to start, with new objectives to complete to get 2 other bikes; and 70 new on-line challenges.
They still have plans to add an entire land-mass to the game, with rumors of planes getting added - and these have been said to be for free, too.
I hate to sound like a fan-boy, but for my money, Burnout Paradise has been a brilliant purchase, and might still be in the lead for my game of the year.

LobsterMobster wrote:

I'd like to kick Ellen DeGeneres in the knees.

Just puttin that out there.

Especially whenever I have to sit through that horrendous Ellen/Beyonce AmEx commercial. Ugh.

I don't play Halo but the Deadlift is possibly the best overall compound exercise, yet one of the most dangerous if executed improperly.

I don't hate Halo 3 because it's a bad game.
I hate it because it's an OK game that gets the sales and adulation of one of the greatest games of all time.
Yes, I am one of those ass-holes that hates things just for being popular.
Oh well.

I just didn't 'get' Halo. When the first premiered, I hadn't played a console since the original Nintendo. A friend had picked up an Xbox with Halo and he was showing me the game. He kept going on and on about how revolutionary the game was, about how it was quantum leaps beyond Goldeneye, etc. etc. At the time, I was playing BF 1942, and of course, we'd had just as good or better games on the PC for years. Single player seemed uninspired and MP was nowhere near as fun as a full slug-fest on Battlefield.

Most recently though, I picked up Halo 3 to play through Co-op with a friend. And will wonders never cease? I thought it was 'meh.' I don't understand why it has sold as well as it has.

Now about the remainder of the article - I don't care about this new addition, but I do like this trend of studios making valuable fixes, adding updates and new gameplay to their existing products.

I only hate Halo because it's a console FPS.

I hate Halo 3 because all my Xbox Live friends have been playing nothing else since it was released. So, unfortunately, any post-release polishing that may be going on really has no impact on me whatsoever. Except that maybe it continues to alienate my friends.

I showed them, though. Civ Rev hasn't left my Xbox tray since it was released.

What's with all the hate? There's a lot to enjoy in all three Halo games, not least a pretty decent narrative for single player and co-op. As for being regarded as "no true gamer", what do you care what other people think?

Hans

hidannik wrote:

What's with all the hate? There's a lot to enjoy in all three Halo games, not least a pretty decent narrative for single player and co-op. As for being regarded as "no true gamer", what do you care what other people think?

Hans

There are actually quite a few of us who agree with you pretty strongly, but the discussion has been carried out to the point of exhaustion on numerous previous occasions so I at least feel no compulsion to have it again. Sorry to disappoint, but at the very least you can rest assured that you are not alone in your appreciation for the series.

Spaz, just wanted to say I really enjoy your writing style.

Burton wrote:

It all rang so true at the end when you mentioned KoTOR2. I finally finished the game a week ago (yea yea, I know I could just never bring myself to do the whole thing) and its problems, if fixed, would have made it an amazing game. It nice to see effort being made now a days though. Gives you a warm and fuzzy.

There's a fan group in the process of trying to fix KotOR2, but no word on when they'll be done.

Mex wrote:

I don't play Halo but the Deadlift is possibly the best overall compound exercise, yet one of the most dangerous if executed improperly.

And from casual observation, one of the most likely to be done improperly. Squats can be pretty cringeworthy too!

I haven't looked at Halo since I found out the original was scooped up by Microsoft and confined to the consoles (I know it has since found its way back to the PC). Later, I had the chance to sample the game's auto-aim. I've never looked back with any shred of longing or regret.

I'm glad others have found enjoyment in it, though.

hidannik wrote:

What's with all the hate? There's a lot to enjoy in all three Halo games, not least a pretty decent narrative for single player and co-op. As for being regarded as "no true gamer", what do you care what other people think?

Someone in my circle of friends has to hate Halo. It's a burden I must bear alone.

I actually used to have a lot of fun with Halo 2, playing with a group of people at work in networked conference rooms with projection TV's. We used a conference call to talk to each other. That was awesome.

TU2 also revealed a host of achievements that will be applicable for the upcoming Mythic map pack. These are a bit juicier than the ten mentioned previously, as they include new Skulls, hinting towards an expansion of the single-player campaign at some point in the future.

This is the most vexing bit of the update. There are achievements for nabbing a skull and for doing multiplayer stuff in the same map. It just doesn't make sense. I want more campaign, dammit!

Danjo Olivaw wrote:
TU2 also revealed a host of achievements that will be applicable for the upcoming Mythic map pack. These are a bit juicier than the ten mentioned previously, as they include new Skulls, hinting towards an expansion of the single-player campaign at some point in the future.

This is the most vexing bit of the update. There are achievements for nabbing a skull and for doing multiplayer stuff in the same map. It just doesn't make sense. I want more campaign, dammit!

Same, I really hope there's more campaign that's my favorite part of Halo 3 but I really hope there's more campaign stuff incoming.