Some regard gaming a useless hobby or a hermetic time waster. At Tied the Leader, we see gaming as a discipline. It is equal parts art, craft, science, and sport. To walk the path of a gamer, one must be adaptable. To long endure in the practice of this discipline, one must be flexible enough to maintain a posture at the forefront of evolution. The landscape is ever-changing. The rules are in a constant state of flux. In the interest of remaining a once and future citizen of the Halo Nation, these concepts could not be more true.
Before the Beta Test for Halo: Reach was upon us, we were challenged to forget everything we knew about playing Halo 3. The new trial in the franchise was heralded as ‘combat redefined’. Reveal trailers implored us to leave behind that which we had toiled to learn in the virtual trenches. New control schemes dashed years of controller-twitching body memory on the rocks. Favorite weapons were swapped out in favor of a shiny new arsenal. Familiar physics were morphed. Virtual physicalities were redesigned.
The backlash was predictable. Gamers don’t like change. The more a gamer plays a game – and the better they become – the less likely they are to enjoy a shakeup of their native arena. By comparison, a decorated black belt would not welcome an alteration to their discipline that eliminated their favorite maneuver. The choice then becomes one of either abandonment or adaptation.
When the doors to the Reach Beta swung wide, a very vocal minority of loyal servants from the ranks of the UNSC took to the streets with lit torches, fit to riot. The laundry list of wishes was the same almost everywhere you looked for them. Grenades were too powerful. Assault Rifles were not powerful enough. Jumps were too low. Needler damage was too high. Armchair developers tossed about terms like “overpowered” or “weapon balance” to reinforce their respective complaints.
For this gamerblogger, the disorienting experience of submitting to the Halo: Reach Beta was best summarized by Tied the Leader’s faithful Webmaster in Chief and Gravemind, who fights under the tag Sunburned Goose:
I was frustrated by the Beta for my first fifty games or so. After that point was when I stopped playing Halo 3, and started playing Halo: Reach.
Right on, Goose. Forget everything you know. Learning to crawl again is all part of the discipline. Busting ourselves down to FNGs keeps the experience fresh. When the game changes, we are served up new riddles to solve. We are given new stories to write for ourselves. We are served up new worlds to conquer.
The last time the TTL Gunslingers infiltrated a new battleground en masse, it was that of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The leaders of our clan all but required our most steadfast Halo Loyalists give the new title a dance. Primarily, we didn’t want to deprive them of our company. Secondarily, we wanted to challenge them with learning a new aspect of our shared discipline. As a hidden tertiary motive, we wanted to force them to miss Halo enough that they would attack Halo: Reach with renewed fervor.
And, miss Halo they did. In waiting for the street date for Modern Warfare 2, there was no Beta Test to amuse us. We found this puzzling. Infinity Ward conducted a Beta for Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Why not put the sequel through similar paces?
The answer to this question became apparent when we finally played the game. To our chagrin, Modern Warfare 2 had been shipped with the very same almost-good-enough multiplayer mechanics that had been featured in its predecessor. Thus, the need for a Beta seemed less, provided you could ignore a steady parade of cheater glitches that rivaled the wild west yesteryear of Halo 2 on Xbox Live.
In combating the outlaws that trolled Infinity Ward’s killer application, we arrived at a new catch phrase: “Should have had a beta!” we would say. Among some of our more patient and forgiving Gunslingers, these words provoked annoyance and protest. Nevertheless, the meme put down roots. Speed-glitching flag carriers? “Should have had a beta!” Crashing party lobbies? “Should have had a beta!” Experience Point vampiring hackers? “Should have had a beta!” And so on…
Recycled code notwithstanding, the need for a MW2 Beta seemed obvious. Not conducting one was seen as a mistake. Over time, an interesting theory emerged. Why Beta Test your game prior to launch, when you can just patch it later? Why tip your hand? Modern Warfare 2 was destined to be a slam dunk – a guaranteed blockbusting record breaker. Eminem had gamers lined up at their local retailers to snatch the release like a neutral bomb at midnight. A Beta might only give them a reason NOT to spend that sixty bucks. Why take the chance? Why compromise the marketing machine with a hands-on sneak preview?
Of course, it could very well be that no one at Infinity Ward was quite so sinister. The mysterious absence of a Beta for Modern Warfare 2 could just as easily have been forced by an aggressive development deadline for a game that was being coded for play on three distinct platforms. Yet, in sampling some of the more unsatisfied feedback about the Halo: Reach Beta, that little conspiracy theory creapt back into mind.
As was the case with Halo 3, now that the super awesome Beta is behind us, our new challenge is to forget everything we know about playing Reach. All bets are off. The work is, as they say, in progress.
Developer anecdotes have revealed the fact that the build we tested was already old when we got our hands on it. We think we know what Reach will be, but our information is out of date. Bungie is a fast-moving target – outpacing our crosshairs. If you listened to the Mayish Podcast, you know that the following fixes are already in:
Movement is faster.
Jumps are higher.
Headshots are fixed.
Melee attacks are slower.
Reticules are brighter.
Vehicles are stronger.
Grenades are weaker.
DMR magazines are deeper.
Magnum are slower.
Assault Rifle is more deadly.
Plasma Launcher is less “comedic”.
…and that is just for starters. There is still a long, hot summer of crunch-time to perfect the details that will govern our fighting and dying. To put it bluntly, if you played the Beta, you don’t know jack about Reach. At least, not at a granular level of experience. If you have read this far, that is obviously the space you inhabit.
It is for these reasons that development houses like Bungie conduct a test phase. They aim to hit the target the first time. They strive for excellence, and nothing less. This wasn’t a free trial. This wasn’t a sales demo. This wasn’t a final dress rehearsal. This was a test. This was only a test. Had this been an actual emergency, you would still be riding the contrails of your jetpacks and dealing death from above, oorah.
In our many travels, we Gunslingers have seen gamers miss out on amazing experiences, simply because they passed their final judgements about a game during the several hours they spent helping to test it. We invite each of you not to become one of those sad statistics. It’s a distinct privilege to be invited to collaborate in the creation of a game, but the work does not stop there. As fans of the franchise, the only thing that we owe Bungie [aside from the cost of purchasing the next evolution] is a little faith that they will get it right – like they always have.
For everyone else? Well, they should have had a beta.