Among the early adopters in the Civil War of the Halo Nation [that’s online multiplayer for Halo 3, if you didn’t catch my drift], the buzz is all about change. For some, the reengineered rigors of matchmaking via Xbox Live are still a mystery, as they toil to finish the great journey of the campaign in spoiler-proof bunkers of isolation. For others, the race is on to get reacquainted with the tools of the trade.
What is different? Everything. New game. New rules. New weapons. New vehicles. All bets are off. Even our old favorite elements have undergone tweaks in their migration to the new fighting construct. The Warthog and the Pistol are slower. The Needler and the Plasma Pistol are faster.
Even in-game chatter went under the knife. What was once an open party line has become an encoded battle network, with teams in ranked play segregated on the comm channel. There is no exchange of verbal barbs until they reach the post-game lobby together. To put it in more obvious terms, a lot of people have been stripped of the chance to abuse their favorite toy. To put it in unmistakably blunt terms, they took the kazoo away from the toddler in the restaurant. Sorry kids – your version of a prank call just got blocked.
On the flip side, ranked teams now have an open channel. Gone is the privacy of the dead-box as our unhappy place. Even the most polite of gamers have been revealing their darker side in moments of weakness – moments when they are used to being left alone with their seething rage.
There are a lot of reasons why this decision would have been made. Rather than second-guess them, this gamer-blogger wants to meditate on the impact that those decisions have had on our experience. Here are some thoughts on the issue, refracted through several conceptual prisms…
Financial: The reputation of the Xbox Live Community precedes itself. When I describe the experience of matchmaking to the uninitiated, it is often met with a shrug of the shoulders and a dismissal like “I would try that if I thought I wouldn’t be screamed at by obnoxious children for the whole game”. When I tell them “A lot of those problems have been solved in ranked play”, the eyebrow shoots up and is followed by a curious reply of “Really?” A more hospitable environment means more paying subscribers in our scene.
Social: For the die-hard fans, our chief complaints have been addressed. This very website has maintained a constant dialogue about in-game conduct. The articles in this open forum have been a parade of pleas that we might all get along. With our opponents having less opportunity to incite grief, we can spend more of our time enjoying the game, and conceiving new and more interesting ways of doing so. [see next article below]
Fictional: Aren’t we all supposed to be hermetically sealed into suits of power armor that can withstand the vacuum of deep space? Does it even make sense that we should expect proximity communication with our opponent? Correct me if I am wrong, but you would have to yell really loud inside a Mjolnir helmet to be heard on the outside. Impossibly loud, even.
Tactical: The game seems far more competitive with team-specific channels. Strike Teams can enter a base while exchanging a running commentary of the events for a second wave. Concern for giving up one’s position with tactical chatter is a thing of the past. Coordinated strikes arrive with terrible efficiency now, even among teams that just met. It was all too easy to guard a base on Terminal in Halo 2. Overhearing someone say “Let’s all form up under the tracks!” would be followed with “Hey guys, I think maybe we should all throw some grenades under those tracks.”
Personal: This blogger thinks he might just miss those vile, little bastards. Granted, I will still be hearing them from time to time. However, I always found it amusing when the other team would lose their shit and start trying to fight us with their mouth instead of their weapons. Proximity chat was always a good means of knowing thine enemy.
The TTL Gunslingers always tried to distinguish ourselves with how we conducted ourselves behind the Battle Rifle. Our mission to be the guys in the white hats on Xbox Live went a long way to swell our ranks. We still say “Good Game” in the post-lobby. They can’t take that away from us. Yet, anyone can be cool once the game is over. It’s those moments of running terror and smoking plight during the game that reveals the true nature of a gamer.
A measure of that interaction is gone now.
Of course, given the amount of times that we encountered opponents worth hearing – grossly offset by the amount of times we went scrambling for the mute button – this gamer will take the new structure for in-game chatter any day of the week.
And twice on Sundays, because I usually game twice on Sundays.
How has the chat revolution impacted your gaming experience?