Sunday, November 18, 2012

Halo History: Version to Version Evolution

Halo 3 sold more than US$170 million worth of copies in the first twenty-four hours of release, breaking the record set by Halo 2 three years prior.[5][6] The games have sold over 34 million copies worldwide, and all Halo merchandise has grossed more than $1.7 billion.”
- Wikipedia

“Microsoft Corp said its "Halo 4" video game racked up $220 million in global sales on its launch day, beating records set by previous installments of the hit series.” – Yahoo News

Since the announcement of Halo 4 at the E3 conference, I’ve been reminiscing about the Halo franchise. I have fond memories—after all, I spent enough time with Halo to write three books: The Black Art of Halo Mods (Sams), Halo 2 Hacks (O'Reilly) and The Unauthorized Halo 2 Battle Guide (Thompson).

The Halo video game series has clearly been a fantastic success for Bungie, Microsoft and the Xbox group. As I played through Halo: Reach, I thought I’d write up a post about the most memorable differences between the various flavours of Halo. I wanted to do this as much from memory as possible so that the things that were really memorable get the most attention.

I didn’t get around to posting what I wrote, so now that I’ve had some time with Halo 4, it seems like it’s about time to post.

Halo: Combat Evolved (Halo 1) — 2001

- © 2001 Microsoft. First released screenshot of Halo

The first version of Halo (Halo 1, or Halo: Combat Evolved) is a first-person shooter (FPS) that was released on the original Xbox platform. It became the most important game in the success of the new Xbox video game console and spawned a massive franchise.

These are the aspects of the original Halo that I remember most vividly:

  • It was beautiful (which sounds funny when you see the anniversary upgrade)
  • The game engine was solid
  • Melee attacks were addictively fun
  • Vehicles were cool (see warthog jump). Combat with vehicles was a lot of fun
  • The story was good
  • Multi-player (deathmatch) was a lot of fun but there was no Xbox Live option when Halo was released, so you needed to either use the same Xbox (up to four players) or network Xboxs together (up to 16 players). In Building 25 on the Microsoft campus they had large screens and would network Xboxs together to play. That was the first time I played with a group. Later my roommate and I would thread a network cable to our neighbour so we could play.
  • The pistol was clearly overpowered
  • Large portions of the game involved playing through a level and then going backwards through the same level
  • How do you run?
  • The race at the end was exciting

- © 2001 Microsoft

Halo PC — 2003

A couple of years after the Xbox version of Halo, a PC edition was released. This became known as Halo PC. It was a popular game since consoles were still not considered cool by hard-core gamers. Basically, if you couldn’t use a keyboard, a lot of FPS fans, wouldn’t take the game seriously.

Thanks to networking options there was a vibrant multi-player scene for Halo PC and it boasted far more maps than the original Xbox game. If I remember correctly, the flamethrower—which was cut from the original Xbox game—was available in Halo PC.

Halo 2 — 2004

- © 2004 Microsoft

Halo 2 was a significant advance. Included in the upgrade was:

  • Faster movement
  • Dual-wielding (using two weapons at the same time)
  • Exploding vehicles
  • Jacking vehicles was a fantastic addition
  • Xbox live multi-player support
  • Health status was hidden and no health packs were available. This made it harder for better players to dominate by constantly rejuvenating.

Here are some of the Halo 2 Cons:

  • The ending
    The ending was a let-down because there isn't any in-your-face way to see how many levels are left in the game (as there was in Halo 1), many gamers were surprised when the game ended. personally, I enjoyed the direction of the story, but at the end I was incredulous. "that's it?"
  • The Jackal snipers sort of ruined part of the Legendary level experience. The Jackals were so ridiculously good with the Covenant beam rifle that they would immediately take you out. The only way to deal with them was to learn where they were and get the drop on them.
  • Weapons aren't balanced
    Having played the Halo 2 Beta, I was disappointed with some of the changes (primarily to do with weaponry) that made it into the final release. I believe that too much was done to limit the impact of gamers who can actually aim. My pet theory is that players such as char (from crew116) kicked ass so badly in the Alpha and Beta that Bungie thought their favourite weapons were overpowered; the truth is that they were just the best players. To 'balance' the weapons, Bungie beefed up the weapons that require less skill. For example, the sword is clearly overpowered - there is no logic to the fact that the sword lunge has better range than the shotgun. IMHO, the sword ruins Lockout Slayer.
  • One positive weapon change was the pistol being toned down—which prompted the Red vs. Blue joke “Balanced doesn’t sound like more powerful.”
  • Still no run?

I wrote my first Halo book about Halo 2 multiplayer: The Unauthorized Halo 2 Battle Guide: Advanced Combat Techniques. Despite some unfounded allegations to the contrary, I did not violate any NDA agreement by writing this book and I did not release any information that wasn’t already in the public domain.

And since I did have a legal right to write about Halo, I decided to exercise it by writing Halo 2 Hacks. Which is a book about Halo 2 Easter eggs, glitches, skulls, tricks and mods. I tried hard to spread the word about modding as a creative and positive hobby, but I have to admit that most press at the time focused on modding as a form of cheating and it was hard to have my voice heard above the people claiming that all modding is bad—a perspective that is indefensible when people take the time to understand the modding community.

Halo 2 Hacks: Tips & Tools for Finishing the Fight. After the experience with my first book, I had to take precautions. Before writing Halo 2 Hacks, I paid an overpriced lawyer to write a decision in support of my legal right to write books about Halo. That document clearly asserted that the 1980 “Pac-Man decision” set the precedent for instructional books about software. After that, no one bothered to question whether there were any legal issues with writing books about Halo.

Halo Custom Edition (HaloCE) — 2004

In 2004, Microsoft made the enlightened decision to release some of the developer tools that were used to create Halo. This version was called HaloCE (for ‘custom edition’—not to be confused with ‘combat evolved’) and was an add-on for the PC version HaloCE brought modding support to the Halo universe. Unfortunately, it was the last time a version of Halo included support for ad-hoc modding. A map editor was added later on, but it doesn’t compare to the power and potential that Halo modders experienced with HaloCE.

If you had a Halo PC disk, you could install Halo Custom Edition (HaloCE). Some people confused HaloCE with Halo: Combat Evolved, but they’re entirely different beasts.  I wrote the Black Art of Halo Mods about modding HaloCE. This book combined many tutorials from the Halo modding community.

Halo 3 — 2007

- © 2007 Bungie/Microsoft

Halo 3 was another step up for Bungie. The graphics and game play were better, but it really felt like they spent much more time on the multiplayer experience than the campaign.

  • The enemies were largely the same but with better graphics
  • Equipment was added. Items including sprint and invisibility could be picked up.
  • Two-handed weapons such as turrets
  • Legendary campaign was too easy. It really felt like the new equipment and weapons put the game out of balance and Bungie didn’t have enough time to fix it before releasing the campaign. I can remember one instance where there was an invulnerability item that I ignored because I got through the whole fight without needing it—that struck me as odd at the time.

Halo Wars — 2009

- © 2009 Bungie/Microsoft

The original Halo concept was a real-time strategy game. However, that vision didn’t become a reality until 2009 when Halo Wars was released.

Halo ODST — 2009


- © 2009 Bungie/Microsoft

I understand that ODST was meant to be a different kind of Halo game—I get it. However, that doesn’t mean I have to like it. What I remember from ODST is long sections of walking around in a dark city and not doing much. There were flashback scenes to daylight that had the best battles in the game; some really fun fights.

  • No multi-player
  • Because you’re not a Spartan (you’re an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper [ODST]], you had limited “stamina” and had to rest. This ruined the experience for me since I’m all about getting into really gnarly battles and you simply couldn’t go hard enough for long enough to have the crazy fights I enjoy.
  • An over-charged plasma burst can temporarily disable a vehicle
  • Halo 1 Pistol was back
  • Achievement progress was shown on screen

Halo Reach — 2010

- © 2010 Bungie/Microsoft

  • Armour abilities were added. When a player spawns in multi-player, she can choose an armour ability such as armour lock or hologram.
  • Dual-wielding is gone
  • Weapons seem to disappear faster than previous Halo games
  • Some new monsters that were fun to fight
  • ‘plays more like Halo 1 or Halo 2‘
  • Can’t jump as high as you could in Halo 3
  • You have health again along with your shields like Halo 1. Pick up Health packs to restore your health.
  • Fight in space was cool and difficult
  • New assassination animations which are really cool.
  • There is a new cR (credit) system where you earn credits by using anything in Halo Reach. This includes campaign, firefight, multiplayer, theater, and forge. You rank up using cR. You cannot de rank. Details of multi-player system:
  • No social matchmaking.
  • The vehicles were the best yet—until Halo 4, that is
  • Best selection of modes: driving vehicles, manning turrets, flying, etc.
  • Ending was anti-climactic
  • This was the last Halo game developed by Bungie.

Halo 4 — 2012


- © 2012 Microsoft

Halo 4 is the first new Halo game developed by 343 Industries. They worked on the Halo 1 Anniversary Edition, but that was just a graphics upgrade—not a whole new game. I’ve only just begun Halo 4, but so far I like it.

  • Master Chief is back! He has been done for a few games. He’s back for a three-adventure.
  • The game feels a little bit different. I noted earlier that Halo was slow in comparison to Unreal Tournament. I’m not saying Halo 4 is as fast, but the way the engine feels and the weapons behave is closer to the Unreal experience. For example, the Storm rifle.
  • The graphics are great. The detail improvements are obvious; warthogs even have red gas cans at the back that get knocked off when the jeep takes damage.
  • Equipment has been revamped yet again. It seems that this is the hardest problem to solve in the Halo universe because it keeps getting fundamentally changed. Armour lock is gone in favour of a directional shield.
  • Weapons and ammo seem to disappear even faster than Reach and saving doesn’t seem to save them. This would be a big issue if ammo wasn’t so abundant. I’ve run into numerous occasions where my carefully stashed weapons were cleared away… annoying.
  • The Elites look cool, but I don’t like the new grunts. The old models were better in my opinion. The fact that some can fly for short bursts is cool, and it’s also kinda cool that some of them look like they’re wearing Mexican wrestling masks, but I liked the old look.
  • One issue that I have in the early levels is that ammunition is far too abundant on the Legendary setting. I remember having to be pretty frugal with ammo in past versions, but so far in Halo 4, I’ve had my pick of numerous weapons in most fights. This is just getting more and more obvious as the game goes on. I’ve regularly left entire crates untouched. I’d rather have fewer weapons but not have them ‘stolen’ by the game.
    If there is so much ammo because it’s the same amount for a co-op game, then there needs to be some logic to change this. Just as one example, I was in a section that boasted Elites as the toughest opponent (that’s on Legendary) and yet I had easy access to: an Incineration Cannon (the most lethal weapon in the game—thus far), plenty of small arms such as Plasma Pistol and Needlers, easily 200 rounds for the Covenant Carbine, numerous Storm Rifles, a Scattershot, lots of grenades, two Binary Rifles and at least three Banshees (I didn’t use any of them). Just a crazy arsenal considering the limited opposition.
  • So far the new weapons and ‘monsters’ are cool. I’m enjoying fighting the new race: Prometheuns.
  • The new vehicles are fantastic!
  • RUN! FINALLY! It’s so nice to be able to run without using some special armour ability.

Halo has obviously had a grand impact on the gaming community. I don’t know the numbers, but it must be the best selling game for the Xbox. Halo 4 is the beginning of a new trilogy and I’m sure that 343 will do an excellent job with the next two installments.

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