Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What did Halo ever do for us?

A subject that seems to come up fairly often (and you'll no doubt see a lot more frequently in a week's time when people rush to be the first and hippest dissenting voice on the internet) in game discussions is "why on earth does everyone think Halo is so good?"

It's usually followed by a list of things that the poster doesn't like about the Halo games, and often surmises that people like them because they're told to, and their feeble sheeple minds can't possibly do anything but play along.

Now, I'm no huge fan of Halo. The level design of both games was fairly shocking in single player, they shoot their load early making them a bit of a grind for the 2nd half, and the online community can at best be described as "retarded".

But I think people downplay (intentionally or otherwise) what they did that made them stand out from most other FPS games (even revered titles like Half-Life 2 don't do anything differently to Doom in the basic mechanics). And while I'm not saying the Halos were the first games to implement these things, I think they probably had a massive influence in them finding their way into a huge number of FPS games since (possibly even to the point of being the accepted way of doing things now)...

  • The regenerating health or shield that allows you to completely recover if you avoid being shot for a bit. Which results in having no health kits and allows slightly more risk-taking on the part of the player.

  • Only being able to carry a very limited set of weapons, forcing players to think a little more about what they want or need to use, instead of just stockpiling a huge personal arsenal in their back pockets.

  • Off-hand grenade throwing, so that you can use them in the heat of combat instead of having to switch to your grenade weapon, throw, then switch back to your gun.
And though it doesn't seem to have caught on in the world of shooters-with-vehicles, personally I much prefer the "point in the direction you want to go and then press forwards, and the game will work out the rest" way of driving as opposed to just rigidly aping how a vehicle drives.

God, I sound like a Halo fanboy now. Eurgh.

1 comment:

JP said...

"God, I sound like a Halo fanboy now."

No, not really. It's good analysis, and important because many developers (designers specifically) have this complicated opinion of Halo that's tough to get across: it's obviously very well-executed, but for some people (myself included) it just lacks soul, something that really grabs you as unique. Inevitably someone responds "Well you're just an elitist prick, and besides it sells millions, shows what you know". To which you might respond "Well, what if I *am* an elitist prick?" And things derail from there.

The hidden lessons of Halo are the things you've identified, which all have to do with accessibility. Innovations in making complex mechanics simpler to parse and faster to use are worth a lot more than some designers give them. They're just as important as a baroque fiction or a wacky new game mechanic.