Halo: Reach and Online Gaming
Very recently this year Bungie Studios released their last installment to the Halo game series franchise, Halo: Reach. Bungie has been working on this since their previous installment Halo 3: ODST was finished and even had a small group of people working on it during the production of Halo 3: ODST. If you’ve followed Halo from its beginnings from the original Halo: Combat Evolved then you will understand how much the game has developed as a game series and a culture. This culture started, simply with a great game and evolved into something greater with a key ingredient: online gaming.
Halo has been known to set the bar for shooter games and made new leaps in terms of graphics, gameplay and storytelling. The music was also praised to be one of the best soundtracks of all time in a video game. The composer Martin (Marty) O’Donnell has been with Bungie since the beginning and worked as a composer and sound director. O’Donnell had a lot of lee-way during the productions of the game and even joked that one of the characters in the first Halo game had about “12 polygons” in their design which pokes fun at how much the game has evolved visually. Now in Halo: Reach the game boasts millions of particles that can be on a surface and an entirely retooled game engine to handle each characters thousands upon thousands of polygons.
The visuals and story are what keeps the players coming back but the one thing that keeps them coming back for more is online gameplay. On November 15th 2002, Microsoft released Xbox Live, which allowed players to play with each other without have to run on a local area network connection. This allowed players to stay at home and still be allowed to play with friends in their favorite games. On the launch of Xbox Live, Halo 2 was released too with full online capabilities, which was a brand new thing that really allowed Halo to take off. With online gameplay and dedicated servers that kept content new and fresh, games like Halo 2 could be played for years after the launch of the game. Halo 2 was still played on Xbox Live until this year when Microsoft decided to cut off Xbox Live for original Xbox games and only allow for Xbox 360 games to be online.
Online gaming has led to a different culture of gaming. There are now story writing leads for games, sound directors, and hundreds of other jobs that could go into a single game. Games also allow for more space on disks so developers can push the envelope and put more content into their games then they ever could before. Developers now have to incorporate online capabilities into their games and the standards are raised because other companies will have to compete with games like Halo: Reach. Dedicated servers and a team of people will need to manage downloadable content, patches and playlists that will keep players content for years to come.
Online gaming has come a long way since the implementation of Xbox Live and trailblazers like Halo 2 paved the road for newer games with newer technologies. The Xbox 360 will have Halo: Reach around for years to come because of online gaming and will start to bring in a new culture of gamers. I know that I will be playing Halo: Reach for a long time along with the other millions of gamers all over the world and the community will continue to grow and grow like it has since Halo 2.
In essence there is a culture that has spread from online gaming that has been adapted around what players like to see in a game and what they don’t like to see. What players generally like to see is all of the things that they love about the gameplay of a game. Players like myself would also like to see it transition well into an experience that they can play with their friends. When the players are broken down into groups the main divide seems to fall into two areas. These two groups are casual gamers and competitive gamers. The casual gamers are a much newer breed of online players but have been around since the beginning roots of many Nintendo and early consoles. These casual gamers are the reason why consoles like the Nintendo Wii have had a lot of success since it’s launch. However the Wii isn’t the only one to hop on the casual bandwagon. Microsoft and Sony have also catered certain games toward casual players as well and Halo is no exception. In Halo 3, a map editing system was made called the Forge which allowed players to make a custom multiplayer map and these players could manipulate the layouts, weapons, and starting areas for their in-game characters to utilize. The Forge was a way for any gamer to make a map that they truly wanted to play and shows how game creators like the ones at Bungie Studios have catered towards a broader horizon of gamers.
The more “hardcore” and competitive gamers have been the reason why games as we know them today have been so successful. The perfectionists of the world of gaming are not shy to online gaming in the slightest. The days of running around Mushroom Kingdom with Mario and Luigi on the Super Nintendo are long done. The games of the 90’s were challenging to the points of frustration but left the player satisfied when they could complete a certain level, or dungeon, or boss battle. This was a much simpler age without Local Area Network gaming, or online leader boards, or controllers with motion sensitivity. Yes, this is the beginning of our competitive gamers. The gamers who would spend hours finding quicker ways to beat bosses, traverse the nauseatingly unforgiving levels and get that oh-so important high score. With the evolution of gaming, this brought in a new style of competitive gaming. This world wasn’t where it was a player vs. the game. Now there is a human player pitted against another normally with a team or even going solo. Online play allowed a more cooperative approach to gaming. Now the hardcore gamers could test their skills against others for the glory of being the best of the best, or fall to the ranks of those who were much more skilled at playing a game. This led to online gaming as a more social pastime.
Halo 2 was the standard for online gaming and that standard was raised with Halo 3 and then raised again with the release of Halo: Reach. There are tournaments that feature these online gamers at their finest with a universal set of rules decided by the Major League Gaming standards. Although it may seem strange to some, there is indeed a Major League of Gaming or simply MLG. MLG pits the best of the best professionals of games (usually First-person shooters) like Call of Duty and Halo. These pros square off testing their true aim and duke it out on a bunch of Local Area Network connected Xbox 360’s. These Local Area Network games are yet another piece of online gaming at its peak and how competitive players can be with the relatively new technologies presented to them.
Using Local Area Network or just LAN started out in college dorm rooms. If that sounds strange then it would be smart to elaborate on how this really started. In its simplest form, 4 Xbox’s are hooked up to a single router and can have 4 players on one television set. These 4 Xbox’s with 4 players on each screen allowed up to 16 people to play locally with each other in a competitive environment. These were back in the days of the original Halo, which featured LAN capabilities and allowed 16 players to play on an Internet connection. These “LAN parties” were definitely casual affairs even though they featured competitive gaming and truly snowballed into the online experiences that players have today on a much broader scale.
Whether it’s “LANing” with your friends, or playing online with your friends from school in a Halo: Reach match, it’s undeniable that online gaming has changed the way that gamers play video games. It has a healthy mix of casual and competitive players to keep an even balance but most importantly, there is a culture there that some people don’t recognize. Gaming has come a lone way in the past 10 years and it’s hard to imagine where it will go into the future. Online gaming will undoubtedly change in the near future much like it has in the past and the culture will evolve again to suit the conditions of the players. My generation of gamers who paved the way through online gaming from the classics such as Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda, and Donkey Kong will still move forward. However we’ll still have the classics to look back on much like the “new gamers” will have something to look back on when they get older. The Internet will expand to house these new technological advances and keep online gaming fresh. It’s games like Halo: Reach that will keep these gamers happy for years to come and will pave the way for developers to make bigger and better games in the future.