D1213 T2250 Y2009The Nobility of Teamwork

Start the countdown. In just about the same amount of time it takes to gestate a human life, Reach will Fall. Having been given a first real glance at what lies over that horizon, the game becomes one of waiting for our next official briefing. Just over that horizon lies Team Noble.

For what promises to be Bungie LLC’s last dance with the United Nations Space Command, the creators are taking us to the beginning of the first chapter told in their tale. From what has been glimpsed during our introduction, the central figure in this bout is not a solitary hero bearing the fate of the galaxy solely on his back. Instead, we are to follow the fates of a deadly ensemble that is one from many.

At Tied the Leader, this is a story with which we are well acquainted on our own. For over four years, we have been plucking lone wolves from the rumble pits of online play, and marshalling them to the front lines of organized challenges. Throughout all of our lost time [human history, is it?], we have thrived on the thrill of victory – or the grace of defeat – alongside the trusted members of a team. Some even call it a clan.

It has been said that equipment changes everything. By that same logic, the right equipment in the right hands changes everything about everything. Ever since Coagulation was a tactical puzzle, we have been pushing our teammates to specialize. When a player takes full responsibility for that at which they are the best, they become a functioning organ in the organism that is the team. At that point, they become more effective than any one individual.

The Halo Nation had become used to operating as the lone gunmen – and, on rare occassions, gunwomen. The Orbital Drop Shock Troopers entreated us to our first sample of squad life, but their’s was a story of more mortal circumstances. Our new team is an upgrade – a roving pack of SPARTANs. This new title gives life to the sort of team only witnessed previously in a multiplayer contrivance – or a brief cutscene if Halo Wars counts [and it doesn’t].

The ODSTs certainly exuded their own brand of courage under fire. Yet, it is NOT likely that these new blokes will be sneaking around in the rain, driven on by the mournful wale of saxophone. The noise is being brought back up to maximum. Our new role models are the crazy brave human tanks that lock horns with the howling darkness. They strut to guitar riffs that signal zero fear. And, there are six of them to bring the pain.

Great teams are about great individuals, not clones marching in lock step. Their talents should compliment one another. The more unique each of the players becomes, the better the team. This ain’t about general issue. This is about a deadly committee of experts. The message is as clear as the challenge it carries: Leave that lone wolf shit behind! Leave it.

It’s like the new Commanding Officer said, it’s all about blending the right skillsets. Strikers are always more effective when they are shuttled by Ace Pilots. Dead Eye Snipers are more valuable when they are spotting for Honorable Guards. We have tasted that action on every foray into the battles available in multiplayer. To see it played out so vividly in the campaign is a change that is happily welcomed.

Recruiting, training, and leading our own team is a thing that our webmaster calls “The Experience Behind the Experience”. It is that moment when the game stops being a solo act, and turns into a symphony. It’s a story that Bungie obviously understands, since they taught us to write it for ourselves. If ODST was a love letter to fans, Reach is a love letter to clans.

That’s going Oscar Mike in style. At TTL, the only cannon we care about is the one in our holster. We are not as concerned about the nuances of the story as we are about the magic created by a company of players that agree to work together toward the same goal. In Halo Reach, that very thing IS the story.

It’s a Noble tale. A fitting end for Bungie’s watch.

Do you want to know more? We do.

Standing by…

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 15

D0928 T1633 Y2009Join Us. Stop Them.

And so, launch day for Halo 3 ODST came and went. Millions of veterans of the Halo Nation got some – that for which they had waited for months. We strapped ourselves into an express elevator to hell, going down.

The lead-up to this game was an agonizing marathon of foreplay. The Superintendant had teased us with the vague aspects of his identity for months. As the Great Drop grew nearer, details for what lie ahead became more specific.

Game trailers. Convention appearances. Press previews. The always entertaining ViDocs. A Firefight roashow aboard 2.5 tons of military transport. By the time the Live Action short emerged at the end of an episode of Band of Brothers, this gamerblogger was on the verge of a marketing overdose.

“Enough!” I wanted to shout. “I want this game. I will buy this game. Me and everyone else who ever heard of Halo is a slam dunk on this one. Why the hard sell? Just give us the freaking game, already!” Not that I minded the inside scoop. Bungie is always generous with that. It just made the wait that much harder to endure.

That’s when it hit me. This isn’t marketing. This is recruitment propaganda. Every war requires it, and this is Earth we are talking about. Turns out that I was not the intended audience for this full-media barrage. It’s true target resided right under my nose on the MidWorld Forum, home to the TTL Gunslingers and trusted Affiliates in the Good Game Network.

Allow me to introduce you to TTL Radiomond, a gamer that one might call a n00b. Before he succumbed to peer-pressure to learn the ways of the Xbox, the last controller he had wielded was from a Nintendo 64. Since his indoctrination as a Gunslinger, he has been a Call of Duty guy. Don’t resent him for that. When someone enlists, they should be allowed to choose their branch…

Radiomond said: “I took to COD and found success far quicker than I did in Halo. TTL had almost a year and a half’s worth of Halo notches on their gun belts, in addition to all of their years in Halo: CE and Halo 2. Compared to me, they were pros. I was the rookie. It was too tough for me to get excited about it and make a difference in the game. To me, Halo was like a prolific musician’s back catalog that seemed too daunting to go back and discover on my own.”

While the rest of us were keeping an eye on Bungie, and everything that they let slip from behind their curtain, Radio was sighted-in on the development of Call of Duty 6: Modern Warfare 2. The only updates coming out of that camp were born upon twitter feeds and a rarely-updated YouTube channel. As more and more pearls issued forth from the Halo wellspring, Radio picked up on the transmission.

“The marketing of the brand was an orgiastic feast of the senses for everybody. As the news of those releases spread through our community, we all absorbed the mission of the ODST, just as any new real-life military recruit would do. The marketing prowess behind the brand enhanced the gaming experience for me the moment I dropped with my other ODSTs on Tuesday, September 22nd.”

The lure was unmistakable – as compelling for a green recruit as it was for a hardened veteran. ODST started as a pre-order to test the ability of Amazon.com to deliver the new COD to Radio on opening day. Now, it had become a game he could not wait to play.

“With ODST, I am still the rookie, but it is by design. Bungie Studios managed to find an entry point for me. As the human Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, I found a role and a link to the larger Halo story – as the rookie entering a world that’s been dominated by experienced players reminiscent of the Master Chief. I can foresee my wanting to go back through the story from the beginning someday. But for now, I am the rookie. And I am prepared to drop.”

Turns out the real message surrounded us all along. Moral to the story? Never underestimate the importance of a solid recruitment campaign. While it seems as if everyone in the world has been given a proper chance to play Halo, there are always replacement soldiers lurking about. The trick is to get their boots on the line, too.

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 7

D0928 T1515 Y2009Don't Burn The Love Letter

As a fanbase, the Halo Nation can be demanding. As a consumer base, they can be downright unforgiving. We want the world [nay, the universe], and we want it cheap – if not for free. Anything less, and we set flame to the village.

Anyone who has spent any appreciable amount of time on the forums lovingly hosted at Bungie.net [or relevant points elsewhere] should be well acquainted with the wish list of must-have items required to “perfect” the Halo Franchise. While it is impossible for Halo Nationals to universally agree on any point, there are some “suggestions” that you see over and over and over again.

Traditionally, the most coveted items at the top of that list have been:
1. Bring back the Super-Pistol from Halo: C.E.
2. Let us experience more of the Defense of Earth.
3. Remake the Midship map from Halo 2.
4. Give me Recon Armor! [ad nauseum]

What if one game accomplished all of those things? One year ago, such information would have been dismissed as a joke – or rediculous gossip.

Hold that thought…

What if the same game went above and beyond any of our pre-conceived expectations?

What if a Halo game delivered everything we ever asked for, and then stretched the boundaries of our imaginations in ways that only Bungie Studios LLC can? Would it be heralded as the Holy Grail of franchise installments? Would it be greeted by cheering crowds and rose pedals? Would we hoist the developers onto our shoulders and carry them through the streets as heroes of our warring nation?

To fully understand the contents of what was described as a “love letter from Bungie to its fans”, we need to break it down, line by line.

SuperPistol?: Check!
It zooms. It throws a bullet around the world. It kills Brutes in four shots – Grunts in one.
What’s more… this impossible hand-cannon comes equipped with a silencer, just to make you feel all the more badass.

Earth Defense Campaign?: Check!
Welcome to the suck. You are on the ground just in time for the cataclysm. You are “Oscar Mike” and knee-dip “in the shit”.
What’s more… this is not the usual checkpoint-riddled chute of action to which we should be accustomed. Our friends in Kirkland built us an entire city – a sandbox over which we have free and open reign to explore infinitum.

Midship?: Check!
Everyone’s second-favorite symmetrical thunderdome is back into matchmaking rotation. Your sword is right where you left it. So is your shotgun.
What’s more… everything is prettier than you remember.

Recon?: Check!
At long last, everyone who wants to don the coveted reconnaissance raiment can HAS it – provided you want it badly enough. Given the amount of forum bans that have been handed down just for asking, that should be a fair assumption.
What’s more… The challenges along the Road to Recon only lend to the replayability of the game – in ways that the player may not have imagined.

Add to that a Star-Studded Cast of Players.
Your Commanding Officer is the Hottest Chick in the Known Universe: Tricia Helfer from Battlestar Galactica. Your Brothers in Arms are the fanboy heroes from cult hit Firefly: Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, and Adam Baldwin. Those people don’t work for free.

Add to that a new construct for Cooperative Play.
Firefight has the capacity for endless combat scenarios. It’s like matchmaking, only without the mob of bullies that seek to make you feel bad about yourself. Hunters might be bastards, but they don’t teabag. And, it all happens in ten environments that will never run out of opponents. All you have to bring is some friends.

Add to that a Reach Beta Invite. For Free.
Before Reach “falls”, we all get to kick the tires. Anyone else drop 60 bucks on a game called Crackdown for the sole purpose of enjoying the same privilege prior to Halo 3? Anyone else throw Crackdown right in the trash like a Fallschirmjaegergewehr on Prestige Day as soon as Snowbound closed its doors?

Add to that a shot in the arm for Halo 3 Multiplayer.
Midship ain’t the only arena added to our respective war rooms. Longshore and Citadel are the other new kids on the block. Some Multiplayer denizens are rightfully hacked off by the fact that the price for street-date DLC just jumped to 20 bucks a map, but they have the Hottest Chick in the Known Universe [see above – or below] to console them. Let them tell her that they don’t like her game.

It has been said that you can’t please everyone. It should also be said that there is no pleasing some people. It must finally be noted that, for every one gamer who starts a thread on this topic, there are dozens of loyal Seventh Columnists who descend upon them with an appropriate level of scorn. Give ‘em hell, troopers!

Sure, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

So here is mine…

This gamerblogger can only hope that the people who are lambasting ODST are not the very same people that asked for it in the first place. This game is one of the most diverse offerings we have ever seen in the franchise. And it’s a bold answer to a mountain of unsolicited feedback. If it wasn’t so sincere in its execution, it would almost seem like pandering.

We asked. Repeatedly. Bungie delivered. Repeatedly. Over in this corner of the Halo Nation, we say thankya.

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 9

D0924 T1003 Y2009Official ODST Review

We don’t review games at Tied the Leader. We play them.

Therein lies the proof.

The Gunslingers have dropped. You will find them in the firefight.

Once again, BUNGiE Studios has created a killer application that clans like ours can leverage to unify our troopers and put their boots on the line.

Territory controlled.

Say thankya!

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 7

D0914 T2107 Y2009Helljumper Express To the Rescue

For the past several weeks, the TTL Gunslingers have been tracking the progress of the ODST Transport Van – which we have lovingly dubbed ‘The Helljumper Express’ – as it rockets across the country in a whirlwind tour in anticipation of the drop of Halo 3 ODST.

To date, we have intercepted this movable feast of hype in Oregon, Arizona, Texas, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio. In every location, this event has inspired its attendees with a renewed enthusiasm for the Halo franchise. City after city, gamers are reporting in with newfound eagerness to return to the warfront against the Covenant in the service of the United Nations Space Command.

More than a mere transport, the Helljumper Express is a rescue vehicle; preparing gamers to drop and putting their virtual boots back on the digital line. Depicted below is the tour leader, callsign “Patrick”. At every stop, he has served faithfully as our paramedic, administering a much-needed shot in the arm. He’s a gentlemen and one hell of a party leader – just the sort of medic you would want on such a mission of advanced reconnaissance.

Gamers all across this Halo Nation of ours are answering this most recent call to arms. Having finished the fight, they are opting in for another tour of duty. You are invited to sample their experiences in their own words…

CASE STUDY: TTL FEZZER

This self-professed “slave to his education” has been mysteriously absent from the Halo warfront for some time now. When a gamer is mere steps away from becoming a licensed healer of beasts [what you might refer to as a “Veterinarian”], how do you tear him away from his studies?

“The Bungie marketing machine knows their trade, and they practice it well. There is no mistaking the purpose of this tour. And from this gamers perspective, they are accomplishing their goals. The whole event, from entering and exiting the truck was about 15-20 minutes. But that was plenty of time for me to see how fun and awesome this game is going to be. I am looking forward to the full version and all it has to offer. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to Drop.”

CASE STUDY: TTL LOCKE

Once an Overlord in the ranks of the TTL Gunslingers, this gamer has since migrated off-world to sample the galactic intrigue found in EVE Online. [GASP!] Poor bastard is lost in space. How to do you bring a trusty gunhand like this back into violent congress with the Halo Nation?

“The game has all the good qualities of Gears of War, and none of the bad. Wrap that up in a Halo package, and its simply a blast to play. One of my favorite moments was hitting a cloaked brute with an Incendiary grenade, and then seeing him get hammered into a group of grunts. Someone order the flaming gorilla? Another fun moment involved thinking I could go toe-to-toe with a Hunter, and having it end badly… very badly. (Hey…I had the pistol, I got cocky)”

CASE STUDY: TTL CUTENESS, TTL PONY, TTL BUNNY

Pony is depicted below. He’s not a monogamous gamer. His partners in crime [Cutness and Bunny], tend to bounce from hero to hero in search of fresh adventures and more points to add to their ever-escalating gamerscore. They have been just as much in love with the Master Chief as any of us… but their eyes tend to wander as a game shows its age.

Cuteness: “Truthfully, I’m a 100% Call of Duty guy. You’re not a super soldier, you’re just some expendable grunt – you’re fragile. ODST feels like the next generation of that. You’re fragile, albeit not as fragile as in CoD, but more so than the Chief, and it feels right. You’ve got the 4 player Co-Op. Difference here is that is is a challenge. It was a good experience, and I guess I won’t be canceling my pre-order now to help pay for my MW2 Night Vision Goggles.”

CASE STUDY: TTL DEMAG0GUE

The gamer behind the Reclaimer is more an artist than a warrior – just don’t make the mistake of asuming that he is not a little of both. Even artists need new horizons. When a user employs a game as a canvas, rather than an arena, they crave new design elements for their pallette.

“The black-lit, HD gameplay was gorgeous, and the action was non-stop and intense! This webcomic creator is already thinking about ways to blend this latest of Bungie’s titles into the Reclaimer story line. New maps, new characters, and a mob of angry Covenant forces hell-bent on human annihilation provide the potential for new story-telling opportunities.”

CODA: THE GGN GETS WORKPLACED

Some gamers never stray too far from the Halo Nation. When the Helljumper Express rolled through Chicago – cradle of the Haloverse – faithfull combatents were on hand to pay homage. On this occassion, Bungie did what they do better than any development house in the business: they served as a catalyst for community among gamers. The Good Game Network [represented by Tied the Leader and Halo 3 Wheelmen] rallied to join Halo 3 in the Workplace and sample what is yet to come.

Depicted above [from left to right]: Workplacers Ghuta and Krewl Intent, Yours Truly [above], TTL Goody, and H3WM Il Duce. Off camera: TTL Radiomond and Conradi. Thanks for the ride, ‘Workplacers. Pay you back in-game sometime.

Of course, these guys had to show us up by bringing bloody flags!

“No flag, no country!”
~Eddie Izzard.

Are you prepared to drop? You have just over one week to find out. The Helljumper Express is far from being on its last legs, but it is on the last legs of its journey.

This could be you! The rescue mission will take all comers. Form a line and get some, Marines! We are ODST. Are you?

ADDITIONAL PHOTO CREDITS: TTL Stuicide, TTL Radiomond.

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 11

D0824 T1442 Y2009The Helljumper Express

“The ODST in the black truck fled across the desert, and the Gunslingers followed…”

Ever since the Gamerscore Blog announced that Halo 3: ODST would be making a whistle-stop tour across the nation, the TTL Gunslingers have been anxiously awaiting its passage through their respective towns. The lure is unmistakable… A chance to experience the legendary Bungie marketing machine first-hand. A chance to wield a silenced SMG one month early. A chance to get prepared to drop.

One such Gunslinger is a gamer ‘tagged TTL Dren. Once upon a time, this striker scored himself 43 medals with a single blast from the Spartan Laser. On Sunday, August 23rd, he intercepted two and a half tons of hype as it rolled through Hillsboro, Oregon like a freight train bound for the howling darkness. Having sampled that which awaits all of us on September 22nd, he has shared his field report from the scene:

TTL Dren said: The truck has room for 16 people, 8 playing the game while another 8 sit at the ready, watching and waiting for their turn. When I arrived a little before noon, there was a line of maybe 40 people. Before the gaming started, one of the PR guys gave us a briefing about the rules and what to expect. He even had to stress the fact that it was a team game. I am sure there were some in the crowd that were new to that idea.

They were handing out nice cards with an ODST group shot on one side, and a controller configuration on the other. The only thing that really stood out was that the X button is used to turn on your VISR. The Y button controls a flying cam that is used when you’re dead. I never remembered to try this, as I wanted to play more.

[click above for Hi-Res of the mostly-familiar control scheme]

It wasn’t until 4:00 that I got to drop, in the night level ‘Crater’. I have to say this was a great level. It’s a courtyard with enemies just pouring over the high ground. At times there will be doors that open on the sides and you can get a good grenade in the pack. Other times you will have drop ships land and deposit baddies.

The weapons are much the same as what you find in Halo 3. Being able to zoom in with a silenced SMG is cool and it felt like the AR at times. The pistol is back, but I am not sure it’s quite the same as Halo CE. It has no problem dropping grunts and jackals with a head shot, though. Unfortunately, I never got my hands on other power weapons. I did snag the fuel rod gun for a bit, until it ran out of ammo. Extra ammo didn’t seem that hard to find, as the enemy drops weapons all over the place. There is no dual wielding.

This was all pre-demo stuff, so things will change. In our setup, they gave us 10 minutes with unlimited lives. In the final game you will have to depend on those lives, and you can earn more as you go through the firefight. There are life packs in the levels as you don’t have a shield like the Master Chief.

There are a bunch of new medals to be won as well. The assist medal is a star with a yin~yang symbol in it. There are hammer medals, and it tracks what your biggest kill was. If you take out a Chieftain, it will show that in your carnage report. You could also customize your character, although there wasn’t much time to play around with that. At times you would see someone running around without a helmet.

After playing for even a short time, I have to say this is a great game. It requires a whole new strategy and you really have to be a team. You have to be cautious about what weapons you use and how you use them. Since your not a spartan, you have to remember that your grenades can’t be thrown across the map anymore. It has a different feel, yet still feels like Halo.

I cant wait to play this game again.

Thanks to the folks at Bungie, Microsoft, and GameStop.

Thank you for sharing, Dren. Good game. Who will be the next Gunslinger to intercept the Helljumper Express?

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 12

D0216 T1502 Y2009The Sands of Myth

Last week, Tied the Leader was invited by Bungie Studios to joyride through the environments to be included in the Mythic Map Pack for Halo 3. Our local agent in the Seattle area, L0com0tive, infiltrated their press event. This gamerblogger was welcomed to join remotely via Xbox Live. We both say thankya!

The following is a report on the endless potential of the map aptly named Sandbox – a modular playground for the Halo Nation. Why just Sandbox? The scope of this map is staggering. It is not an exaggeration to proclaim that we have never seen a virtual environment with so much potential for customization. To do this map justice, we will have to talk about Orbital and Assembly later.

Let the exploration begin. Be sure to access the Hi-Res by clicking on the images! It takes more than 400 pixels to tell this tale.

In game development vernacular, the notion of a “sandox” suggests the ability for a gamer to do whatever they want. This map lives up to its name. As promised, everything you can behold can be deleted and/or rearranged in Forge. Nothing is nailed down. The only thing that remains constant is the very ground on which you walk. Or does it?

The default arrangement for this battleground is merely a starting point. This is not rigid hard-code geometry. This is our world, to mold and tweak as we see fit. The flow of traffic and the tone of the battle is at the mercy of the user. Choke points and high-ground are things of our choosing.

Drawing from a diverse palette of design elements, each gamer becomes an arm-chair architect. Equipped with only a game controller; structures can be wrought from stone, wood, iron, and even light. Colorful elements can be put into place to indicate team territory. The layout of your base is by your design.

You can tell a lot about a gamer by what they create when given complete control. For my part, my first attempt at Forging the Sandbox led to the sweetest jump ever negotiated by this vehicle hound. Skill and finesse take a back seat to my desire to catch some air on a Chopper.

For those of you keeping score, that lineup includes 3 (three) Warthogs, 2 (two) Wraiths, 2 (two) Scorpions, and 3 (three) Gauss ‘Hogs. Channeling the soul of Evil Kenevil, this gamer wrought a venue for a record-setting stunt. Of course, it’s easy to set a record when only a few hundred people have access to the fairgrounds.

And, yes… I stuck the landing. This map will be in my fileshare upon release of Sandbox. Check back and help yourself to a download. I challenge you to best my distance. No fair using Gravity Lifts!

Sandox is billed as “an endless wasteland that still holds many secrets – some held more deeply than others.” Heed this warning, all ye who enter here! Similar to its dessert cousin, Sandtrap, this map has an out-of-bounds zone. Justice is not dealt in the form of pressure mines. On Sandbox, it is the Towers that do the talking.

Any Gunslinger would be proud. These Towers don’t miss, and they shoot repeatedly until nothing moves outside the bowl over which they stand gaurd. If Stephen King references are too esoteric, just imagine that you are Frodo, and the ring is around your neck. Either way, your ass is toast.

While we are on a literary kick, anyone up for a romp through the Well of Souls? Unlike Indiana Jones, you don’t need a team of Egyptian diggers to open the crypt. A little Forge magic is all that is required to removed the capstone.

From there, the only thing between you and a subterranean cavern is a quarter-mile descent through a forgotten shaft. Thank the Forerunner that there is no fall-damage in Halo 3, because it is a long way down. Once your boots hit rock bottom, you have arrived in yet another environment that awaits your mastery of Forge. Commence Geo-Glitching!

The obvious question becomes: How big is it? Since there is no defacto unit of measurement in Halo, we can only answer this question as a matter of forced perspective. It’s bigger than than your house, but smaller than Texas.

It’s big enough to pull some sweet maneuvers at the controls of a Banshee. This is not advised, however. In fact, what did Mom say? I am sure that she has a rule against barrel rolls in the house. What? You think Banshees grow on trees?

It’s big enough to allow you to really stretch your legs in a match of Griffball. No longer will League Commissioners need to speak at length about the folly of glitching beyond the confines of the court, as the walls are now wrought from solid rock. Behold the cheater’s prison.

It’s big enough to allow for a firefight that will require some steady aim, or at least some target-seeking ammunition. This is not a close-quarters affair. They crypt below Sandbox will have you on the move to close the distance between your and your target.

It’s big enough to erect a temple that can be used as a venue to sacrifice n00bs at the Altar of Bungie. The stone blocks and spires in the Forge palette lend themselves well to the creation of a mood that clearly deserves the name “Mythic”. Let those Mayan sensibilities run wild!

Please follow me back to the surface, if you will. We are not even close to finishing our expedition. In Forge mode, you will see a teleporter that is set in mid-air against the horizon. This leads to the final frontier that Sandbox has to offer.

As you can see, the sky is truly the limit. Another plane is set well above the dunes that enables a gamer to create a high-altitude battleground. Thus, Sandox becomes a three-tiered landscape that can support endless skirmishes that cover an unprecedented amount of virtual real estate.

Be not fooled by your experience in the crypt. If you fall from this height, you will experience a point deducted from your score, followed immediately by death. The Forge plane doesn’t just uphold your structures. It also doubles as an invisible killer of Man and Elites alike.

Afraid of heights? You may find the vistas at this level almost vertigo-inducing. These sights are lovely, if you have the stomach for the elevation. The sunset if quite a thing to behold from up here. Just try not to look down, if you can avoid it.

Depicted Below: Yours truly is murdered by “KP” (HBO Mainstay, Bungie Alum, Gunslinger Emeritus, and Xbox Team Member) while I smell the roses.

Do yourself a favor on your first outting, and don’t get killed enjoying the vantage points. This is still a warzone, after all, and the locals have itchy trigger fingers. Amidst preview matches with agents from various press outlets, the choice was between taking in the scenery, or returning fire.

While the metaphor for empowing the gamer with options holds true, it is also safe to say that this sandy battlefield is far more than just a box. There is an entire world in play on this map that is ready for the inspiration of its inhabitants. We will fight them in the skies, on the groud, and in caverns hidden away deep below the surface.

Sandbox will be unrecognizable to itself as many times as it is twisted, shaped, and bent in Forge. From top to bottom, the options are only as limited as the number of gamers that download the content. Any user who claims that they don’t like this map will only be telegraphing their own lack of imagination.

Oh, and let’s not forget the Golf. This should give new meaning to the notion of “Handicap” in Halo 3.

Thanks again for the new toys, Bungie. And for the advanced recon. We can’t wait to see what we do with them.

Almost forgot: For those of you want a tutorial on where to find the new skulls, just click here.

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 22

D0210 T0005 Y2009First Person Plural

“When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.”

This famous description of Alexander the Great, attributed by many to poet John Milton, illustrates the emptiness that awaits any warrior at the end of their glorious campaign. A Gunslinger who reaches the clearing at the end of the path has walked their last steps. Should a Gunslinger reach the Tower, there is nothing left to do but begin their quest again from the beginning.

As gamers, we contemplate this question in terms of “replayability”. In essence, the more worlds a game enables us to conquer, the longer we are likely to play it. Amidst the warzones of Xbox Live, the Halo franchise has long been heralded as the best example of a replayable game. Even if a gamer is able to execute every potential achievement in a Legendary Campaign, it is impossible that they will ever claim a flag from every distinct gamertag.

That same Halo Franchise has long been the bedrock of our warring gaming community at Tied the Leader. Our very name is homage to the announcements heard in its online multiplayer applications. The TTL Gunslingers played Halo 2 tirelessly for over two years, with only minor distractions. A component of that replayability came from the notion that we were all waiting for Halo 3, and that holding our territory on Relic was keeping us prepared to finish the fight. Another component was the fact that the dominance Halo 2 was relatively unchallenged by other titles.

We live in exponential times. In the current marketplace, Halo is racing against many other dark horses. One needs only follow Major Nelson’s Activity Reports to track the entries in the running. Your Xbox is no longer a one-trick pony. The competition for your trigger time is fierce, and there are now many worlds to conquer.

So, how does a development house keep a gamer loyal? And, how does an Overlord like your friendly neighborhood gamerblogger keep a clan of gamers happy and engaged? There are times when the replayability of our favorite games lies in the culture that we create for ourselves. The concept of culture is used here to explain the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group… but more on that later.

To best understand how the questions of replayability and loyalty impact the Halo Nation, we need to step outside our own borders. We even need to journey back in time to visit a world at war. I am, of course, talking about Call of Duty. Please join me in my Way-Back Machine as I take you on a tour of how the rival puppetmasters at Activision are seducing away the expatriates on your Friends List.

Call of Duty features a numeric ranking and matchmaking system, similar to the one that brings us into violent communion in Halo. The major difference is that a gamer earns Experience Points in Call of Duty for every opponent that they down. The downside is that Personal Achievement is more a factor in “Leveling Up” than is the fate of the team. The upside is that clans can’t boost a gamer by carrying them to repeated wins.

A winning streak in COD is not worth much if a gamer is not reporting confirmed kills to the War Department. Trust me. I overcame this reality via much pain… Any idiot can march from Stalingrad to Berlin and still go home a Private.

The outcome of this ranking system is that any gamer can shoot their way through to the mountain top; including a gear-headed Warthog Pilot like me. Even a Tube-Catcher [that’s COD-speak for n00b] who scores only one kill per game can reach the end of the numeric scale, given enough time and effort. Along the way, milestones are celebrated with enough fanfare to send a chill of pride up even the most jaded spine. Challenges are completed. Weapons are acquired. Perks are assigned. Promotions are awarded.

There is the sense that every step in the adventure makes that adventure more complex, and more dangerous. And when a gamer reaches the Mountaintop? When they have fired everything from the M-1 to the Fallschirmjagergewehr-42? When they have played with perks that make them run faster or shoot more accurately? What then?

Commander’s are given the chance to “Prestige!” In so doing, they are required to throw all of their wonderful toys onto the rubbish heap and start anew as a Private First Class – issued nothing but a Tommy Gun, a Pistol, and draft papers still wet with ink. All they are given for their trouble is a tiny little icon next to their gamertag that says “I reached the top of the mountain and I descended to climb it again.”

You can “Prestige” ten times in Call of Duty. That amounts to ten worlds to conquer.

When a gamer reaches the mountaintop in Halo 3, they weep. Either that or they seek out new life and new civilizations to conquer. Among the Gunslingers, there is a cadre of vanguards that sweep through games like locusts. First to fight. First to reach 100% of all available gamer points. They play everything that hits the shelves of the game store – well almost everything. If they last more than a few weeks in a game, we set them up with a discussion board. If that board fills up with war stories that seem worth living, we all go out and buy the game. A game like Call of Duty is clever in its ability to hold their attention for longer than the average Skateboarding simulator, since it has ten big speedbumps between them and the “completion” for which they endeavor.

By stark contrast, there are Halo Loyalists in the Gunslinger Army. Their Mjolnir is fused to their very backs. The UNSC standard issue Battle Rifle is an extension of their hearts. They hail from the dried creek beds of Blood Gulch, and ever thrive in the rolling currents of Valhalla. For these faithful SPARTANS, their only hope for Prestige is a second gamertag.

Unwittingly, some of the most prestigious citizens of our fare Halo Nation end up being some of the most vilified figures in the pre-game lobby. Have we not heard the scorn hurled at the feet of Second Taggers? Have we not added to the vitriol that dogpiles on a forum when this subject is brought to trial?

“Go pick on someone at your own level!”

“Enjoy your time ranking up again, you #%&%$%&%$!”

“I could win too, if I played on another tag!”

In essence, the desire of many to immigrate away from the Halo Nation may be a product as our own culture. What we have failed to realize in our limited exposure to the other warfronts on Xbox Live is that a Second-Tagger is a gamer who has engineered a way to remain in the game, by playing through it again and again under multiple identities. Their Prestige costs them an extra membership fee, making it more than just a sacrifice of time and effort.

Case Study: Los Jacklos is the first name in competitive gaming at Tied the Leader. He led expeditions through teenage wastelands like MLG and Gamebattles. When challengers come to MidWorld in search of our hides, Los is almost certainly behind the answer. Currently, he is on maneuvers against affiliated clans in the Good Game Network, via a private league. Here is his answer on the theory of Second-Tagging as a gesture of prestige…

TTL: How many distinct gamertags do you have, and what are their ranks?

LOS: I have three tags, TTL Los Jacklos, xxxLos, It’s the Jackle, all have 50’s.

TTL: What motivated you to pay for numerous identities?

LOS: Not everyone I play Halo with wants to get matched against 50’s in ranked games. So I created other tags to play with my lower ranked friends. You could say ‘why not just play social’, but let’s face it: social playlist players don’t often play with the same breakneck endeavor that ranked playlist challengers do. Often they quit, or just stop taking the game seriously. Lets not forget the guest factor or getting split! So I created other tags to play around with and sooner or later they get to 50.

TTL: What is your primary goal as a gamer?

LOS: My primary goal as a gamer is to play games. I think I have been doing that successfully since a young age. However, they have not entirely been electronic games. Joking aside, I assume you mean as a Halo player. My goal as a Halo player has been to recreate the magical moments of my first few games of Halo played with friends. I am thankfully able to do that almost every night!

TTL: Has the process of “leveling up” these tags stoked the replayability of Halo 3?

LOS: Yes, I suppose. If I was confined to one tag I wouldn’t play less Halo, but I would probably play with fewer players outside of my skill range.

TTL: Do you encounter scorn in Matchmaking from people who suspect that you are playing below your natural level?

LOS: I play on ‘Team and Party’ voice chat 100% of the time, so I don’t know for sure. I would assume I do, being that some XBL players are scornful people. I can tell you that people who are 50’s playing on second tags aren’t complaining about it (too busy complaining about LAG and BR spread to sweat the small stuff!!!).

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 7

D1113 T0014 Y2008Wheelman Profiling

In a previous report submitted by the Tied the Leader Institute for Combat Excellence, a full intelligence brief was delivered on the range of deadliness for Tail-Gunners. Based on countless hours of service in the field of the UNSC, the personalities and fighting styles of the rear-shooter was rendered into profiles.

Resounding feedback to this analysis revealed an enthusiastic demand for the same treatment to be given to the drivers that complete the Warthog Team. Thus, the following addendum has been compiled through a joint task force with the Halo 3 Wheelmen Department of Tactical Steerage. The contents of this report follow immediately:

THE COWBOY

This pilot is a crazy-brave daredevil – countermeasures be damned! A Cowboy drives straight into the mouth of hell, with guns blazing and a rebel yell. These pilots are without fear or restraint. Their lifespans are short, but they tend to make the big plays when they are needed most. They rush the SPARTAN Laser on Valhalla. They ride out to support and insure Banshee acquisition on Sandtrap. Know your Cowboys by their extended stretches of time spent guarding the motorpool, awaiting the delivery of their next Warthog.

THE ACE

Behold the stone cold killer. For any Tail-Gunner with an appetite for a Perfection Medal, the Ace Pilot is their most reliable sponsor. They are the Slayer Elite, wielding the Warthog like the weapon it was designed to be. An Ace can smell the Brute Chopper around any corner. They have an almost psychic link with their shooter. A dangerous asset to be sure; the Ace can prove to be a troublesome distraction when the combat objective is more complicated than straight up killing.

THE KAMIKAZE

Pilots like these are the Suicide Kings of any fleet. Not the finest team player, a Kamikaze Pilot strives for the Splatter in any engagement. Personal glory will always outweigh collective achievement in their mind. The only attack vector they know is directly at their opponent. Highly susceptible to Road Rage, these maniacs take their Tail-Gunner right out of the equation, closing to an ineffective range on the would-be target every time. Kamikaze Pilots never learn. They are drawn to a Bubble Shield like moths to a flame.

THE QUARTERBACK

Every squad needs a solid leader. The Quarterback commands a strike team from the driver’s seat of their vessel. They understand that the Warthog is the backbone of any coordinated blitz. Their eyes behold the battlefield as a maze of potential objective routes. Know this Wheelman by their fully-staffed craft, flanked by as many support vehicles as possible. This Pilot lives a thankless existence. Their finest glory is shepherding a Flag-Carrier safely home. A Quarterback dominates the team chat airwaves, calling the play and executing the mission.

THE LONE RANGER

Many combat authorities have expressed outright scorn for the selfish soul that leaves the base in a Warthog without a Tail-Gunner on board. The Lone Ranger is as far from genius as they are from their namesake. They regard the LAAV as their own personal shuttle, or shopping cart. This most crucial of all combat assets is wasted on delivering them unto their weapon of choice – most usually a Sniper Rifle. These Pilots are frequently brought up on charges of treason at the conclusion of a fight.

THE IMPOSTER

In what is perhaps the grossest betrayal of trust on the battlefield, the Imposter offers an empty promise to anyone will listen that they can drive. Once behind the wheel, their ineptitude for the Wheelman’s craft becomes tragically apparent to all who were foolish enough to climb aboard. Know these so-called pilots by their freelance status, as they almost exclusively join the battle as last-minute conscripts. Such is their only recourse, as anyone acquainted with them would betray them instantly before they could reach the motorpool.

THE DANGERPHOBE

A foil character to the Cowboy [see above], the Dangerphobe is the most conservative Pilot in the squadron. This Wheelman is best-served staying on Defense, since it is beyond their nature to put their Warthog in harms way. They are not unlike the collector who refuses to take the Ferrari out of the garage, for fear that an errant pebble from the roof of a truck will knick their “Precious”. In an amusing side-note, Dangerphobes are easily pranked. Playing a recording of the Missile Pod Lock Indicator in their presence will result in an involuntary loss of bladder control every time. Always gets a laugh in the mess-hall.

THE TRAILBLAZER

More artisans than warriors, the Trailblazer takes the Warthog where it was never designed to travel. They defy the laws of science and the rules of engagement in combat. Their chief weapon is surprise, as they exploit a flank once thought safe under traditional combat conditions. A Pilot from this stock is as unpredictable as they are cunning. While their peers may grow impatient with the low survival-rate of the Trailblazers tactics, the psychological dividends that are paid out in the event of success are considerable, as opponents adopt a crippling sense of paranoia that no corner of the warzone is safe.

THE RODEO CLOWN

While a sure-fire boost to troop morale, the Rodeo Clown is hardly a tactical asset. They live for the prosecution of Operation Sweet Jumps. Pilots that fit this profile think that the Warthog was manufactured to enable their own personal joyride. In any combat scenario, they will be unable to resist the temptation to catch air, take a roll, or execute a “sick wheely”. Their head is rarely in the fight. Know a Rodeo Clown by their fondness for extreme sports when watching the civilian network in the barracks.

It should be duly noted that profiling a Wheelman is a more daunting task than that of cataloging the various behaviors of a Tail-Gunner. While a Wheelman must select attack vectors based on ever-shifting battle climates, the only thing a Tail-Gunner needs to decide is in which direction they might shoot. Ergo, a Wheelman may find themselves adhering to several of the following archetypes throughout their illustrious career at the controls of the divinest machine of war.

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 32

D1110 T1700 Y2008Tail-Gunner Profiling

It has been said that behind every good Warthog Pilot is a geat Tail-Gunner. Well, actually, I have no evidence to support that claim. In fact, I just made that shit up. But that doesn’t make it any less damn true. This SPARTAN has logged enough hours at the controls of the Warthog to earn a permanent imprint of the seat cushion pattern on the ass-end of my uniform. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that your selection of a Tail-Gunner is the most important decision you may make in a forward deployment.

Tail-Gunners come in all shapes and sizes. All armor permutations. All paint colors. In my travels, from Blood Gulch, through Coagulation, and ending up in Valhalla; I have come to know a variety of archetypes into which these friendly combatants fall. To know your Tail-Gunners is to know victory – or defeat! Gather round, fellow pilots, for full disclosure of all Tail-Gunner Profiling is about to be rendered with disturbing honesty:

The Dead Eye
Of all the would-be tail-gunners that may grace [or defile] the temple on the back of your assault vehicle, this is the shooter you want in your employ. The Dead Eye wields a turret like a scalpel, incising opponents off the battlefield like unwanted hemorrhoids from the ass of a desk jockey. When you give this Tail-Gunner a ride, your only concern is where you are going to put all the Wheelman medals they will earn for you. Their Perfection is your Perfection, after all.

The Nerf Gunner
This is the gamer that you “accidentally” splatter when you go to pick them up. No matter how much ordnance they distribute, those telltale stars simply to refuse to manifest in the medal quadrant of your HUD. The Nerf-Gunner’s name does not suggest that the soldier is made of Nerf. Rather, it seems as if their bullets are wrought from harmless sponge, for all the damage [or freaking lack there of] that they inflict on hostiles. Call out targets all you like, you poor bastard. This soul will just spin like a confused top until they puke into the inside of their helmet.

The Bail Gunner
Beware – never to be trusted! Your ride with this Tail-Gunner will be short-lived. As soon as a shiny object comes into view [i.e. their favorite weapon], this gamer will Bail off your rear bumper and leave you hung out to dry in enemy territory. Bailers are also known to be spooked ground-side by the first squawk from the Missile Pod Lock Indicator. Their indifference to the Warthog’s vital combat function can only be punished by a permanent ban from Tail-Gun service. Unless they carry the flag, let them walk. After repeated contact with these individuals, the Pilots in the Roadkill Squadron of the TTL Gunslingers were forced to adopt their near-fanatical mantra:
“The Tail-Gunner Dies With The Hog!”

The Gauss Boss
Much like the Dead Eye [see above], this Tail-Gunner is the unquestioned authority on the lethal application of accelerated particles. A mastery of skill for the Chain Turret does not always translate to a Gauss-empowered warzone. The Gauss Boss is the One-Shot/One-Kill specialist of any mechanized infantry. Everyone thinks they rate as an Expert on the Gauss – a sentimental favorite among UNSC regulars. Any Wheelman worth their salt, however, knows that wielding the G cannon is more art than science. When the Boss is riding the platform, no opponent is safe. Before you can call out a target, you will see them flung from their feet by a bolt of white lightning.

The One-Track Minder
This gunner means well enough; they just can’t multi-task to save their life – or, more importantly, yours! They have no head for the objective route, and they think every fight is decided by kill-count. While you are flinging your Warthog headlong into enemy territory, the One-Track Minder is still looking behind you at the cover they saw someone take as you left your base. If you grant this shooter access to your rear bumper, you are sure to spend the entire fight shouting “Dead ahead!” or “12 O’Clock LOW!” While not a complete and total failure [see Nerf Gunner above], this gunner refuses to admit that some hostiles can be left for the rest of the team to mop up.

The Fire Fighter
These Gunners are a real pleasure to share a Wathog with, if you have an agenda for hearing loss. Instead of waiting for a valid target, the Fire Fighter runs the gun all day long, as if it were a hose connected to a bottomless pit filled with water. Whether hostiles are in sight, or not, the deafening roar of the turret fills the air. Rather than painting a target of opportunity with some purposeful gunfire, the Fire Fighter seeks instead to paint the town red. If the unceasing thunder of the cannon doesn’t burst your eardrums, the vibrations through the steering column will earn you a crippling case of carpal tunnel syndrome. Give this shooter a ride if you want to suppress the enemy with shock and awe, but prepare to find shell casings in the interior of your Warthog for weeks to come.

This concludes an official report from the Tied the Leader Institute for Combat Excellence. Good Hunting, Pilots!

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 47

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