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Halo 3: play-testing evolved
August 26, 2007 3:32 PM   Subscribe

Halo 3: Play-testing evolved.
posted by nthdegx (56 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
"That enemy can kill the player in three shots," he says. "Imagine your mother playing, where she's barely learning how to move around in the game — bam, bam, bam — dead. That's not going to be a fun experience."

Are they serious?
posted by empath at 3:37 PM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hasn't Valve been doing this for a while?
posted by bam at 3:42 PM on August 26, 2007


Are they serious?
posted by empath at 5:37 PM on August 26


Why would he not be serious? You generally don't put a "boss" at the beginning of the game.

You hit start, and then 6 seconds later you're dead? That's just bad game design.

Sometimes the guys writing the story and the guys programming the encounters have to come to a compromise.

I would say the work this guy is doing is precisely to avoid ridiculous stuff like this that doesn't get caught by programmers and QA/QC who can play the game all the way through blindfolded with the controller upside down.
posted by Ynoxas at 3:46 PM on August 26, 2007


I wonder how much Microsoft paid to Wired to print these articles.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:48 PM on August 26, 2007 [6 favorites]


It's not the specific of the situations, but their designing of the difficulty curve for a FPS around somebody's mom playing the game.
posted by empath at 3:50 PM on August 26, 2007


Every month, Wired has more and more full-page ads and less decent articles and content. This started when they got bought by Conde Nast.

Last month - Martha Stewart on the cover? WTF? And the "interview" with her was a single page long.

This month - first the Microsoft Halo3 lovefest, then the bundled "supplement" mini-magazine advertisement for the silly "Fashion Rocks" show on TV every year - wait a minute, I thought I subscribed to _Wired_, not _Vogue_!

The only magazines I look forward to now are Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, MAKE, and CRAFT. If it wasn't for the fact that Wired is only $10/year (and this was a gift subscription) I'd be very upset about the way their content is going.
posted by mrbill at 3:53 PM on August 26, 2007


Halo 3 - Hype Evolved.
posted by sien at 3:54 PM on August 26, 2007


I like the Halo series well enough, but I'm not holding my breath while I wait for number 3 to hit the shelves. I didn't play the beta, but what I saw looked awfully similar to Halo 2. That was disappointing, not least because this is supposed to be a next-gen game (and Bungie had almost two years to familiarize themselves with the 360 hardware.) Like I said in the Bioshock thread, I'm getting myself psyched up for Mass Effect.
posted by Rangeboy at 4:03 PM on August 26, 2007


>> You hit start, and then 6 seconds later you're dead? That's just bad game design.

How many games have you designed? Halo 3, being the second sequel, isn't so much a game by itself, but an installment in the series. Do you think anyone is going to pick this game up having not been exposed to the first two? And these jaded fans of the aren't going to satisfied to just play a warmed over version of the first two games? Of course not. They're going to expect this kind of difficulty, challenge and surprise.
posted by Jasper McLean at 4:07 PM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Where I work, when it comes to raw difficulty, usually the designers (or senior designers) have a pretty reasonably close idea of how difficult things are. These kinds of tests definitely help refine these ideas further, but what we're really looking for with these kinds of tests are 'holes'-- things that, once you know, are easy, but 'normal' people without the intense continuous exposure to the title will have a hard time figuring out. It's really the 'blank slate reasoning' you're looking for. If something is really easy with the Foo Gun, but they don't realize they should use that gun, for example.
posted by blenderfish at 4:11 PM on August 26, 2007


It's not the specific of the situations, but their designing of the difficulty curve for a FPS around somebody's mom playing the game.

I quit on Halo 2 without even clearing a level. Too dark to see a damn thing and no idea where to go to complete the level. I just spent about an hour trying the same spots over and over until I said "Fuck this" and put it in my trade in pile. I was pretty glad I waited for the 4 for 20 used deal to buy it.

I'm not anybody's mother but I am a grown up who doesn't have forever to sort out crappy games with shitty UI and poor gameplay. If it isn't intuitive I rarely bother with things these days. If I want a learning curve I'll mess with wireless drivers in Linux. If I want fun then fun is what I want.
posted by srboisvert at 4:11 PM on August 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


Do you think anyone is going to pick this game up having not been exposed to the first two?

If they don't, a lot of people are going to be fired. The primary aim of all three console manufacturers is to acquire Solitaire veterans as new customers.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 4:11 PM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


From the article:

It was a subtle but deeply pleasing balancing act: Halo neither bored people with overly long storytelling animations nor numbed them with pointless fighting.

I still don't understand where this comes from. Did everyone else play the same Halo I did? The Halo where, at one point in the game, you take a bunch of slow-moving elevators to get to the next floor of some compound, clear out all the enemies on the floor, and then run for the exit only to find... another slow-moving elevator to another floor that looked exactly the same?

Oh, and to add insult to injury: you know how each level is named? Well, the elevator levels were given names that basically mock you for playing the same level over and over again ("But I Don't To Ride the Elevator").

If you believe Wired's article, Halo 2 was actually worse in the gameplay department than the original. More interestingly, though, the testing procedures Bungie seem to be using remind me of test screenings for big Hollywood movies. The apparent effectiveness of those screenings on improving the quality of blockbuster movies may serve as a cautionary tale here.
posted by chrominance at 4:17 PM on August 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


err, "But I Don't Want to Ride the Elevator."
posted by chrominance at 4:18 PM on August 26, 2007


Why would he not be serious? You generally don't put a "boss" at the beginning of the game.

What, you think the aliens are stupid enough to send their worst, greenest troops as the first wave of an assault? Only to leave their battle hardened elites waaaaaaaaaaaay in the back for you to find later?

Thats never how it works in real life.

Wait, games aren't real?

shit.
posted by Avenger at 4:20 PM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


They're going to expect this kind of difficulty, challenge and surprise.

You still want to ramp up from easy to hard at the very beginning so that you can get new players. You can have a very steep ramp up so that it quickly becomes challenging for the experts. The other option is to have it challenging from the start, but have an optional training mission or two.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:22 PM on August 26, 2007


I just counted the latest issue. Out of 196 pages, *84* are full-page advertisements. This is not counting two-page spreads with half-page ads on the bottom of each page. If this gets much worse, Conde Nast should pay people to read their magazine instead of the other way around.
posted by mrbill at 4:28 PM on August 26, 2007


Wired has always had lots of adds. It's a function of how healthy the economy is (ie. add budgets). The biggest/thickest issue in Wired's history is the one just before the high tech bubble burst in 2000. Someone did a study showing a correlation between the thickness of Wired magazine and the NASDAQ index. I've subscribed to Wired since (almost) day 1 and have watched this trend first hand.

The only magazines I look forward to now are Popular Mechanics, Popular Science

Check out New Scientist, it's the UK equiv of Popular Science and much better, although not cheap, and has its problems as any popular science magazine does navigating between fact and selling copy. Also don't neglect "old yellow" (NatGeo), conservative but they do have at least one must-read article every issue and it's cheap, just be sure to throw it out or it will drive you nuts with clutter.
posted by stbalbach at 4:44 PM on August 26, 2007


Did everyone else play the same Halo I did?

Yes. It was pretty rockin' until The Flood storyline and that godawful library level you describe. I think Halo was fluke hit, the designers hit gold by accident as witnessed by the generally crappy play of Halo 2.

I don't know how good Halo 3 will be, but I do know that Halo 1 multiplayer still works just fine.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:56 PM on August 26, 2007


new halo live action by weta and neill blomkamp, the guy peter jackson picked to make the movie. here's the first short too.
posted by andywolf at 4:56 PM on August 26, 2007


How to Read Wired Magazine. I actually do this, except for the contact adhesive part.
posted by mecran01 at 5:10 PM on August 26, 2007


My collection of Wireds used to be one of my pride and joys. The early years of that magazine had more influence on the way my brain is put together now than almost anything else I can think of. Even when they were spectacularly wrong (Push, the Long Boom), they were wrong in interesting and enlightening ways.
posted by empath at 5:46 PM on August 26, 2007


I will be buying Halo 3, but the game that I'm looking most forward to is COD4. I've been playing the beta for about 4 days. It's excellent; a well-balanced FPS multiplayer.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 6:20 PM on August 26, 2007


Well I have to confess, all I ever play is Halo Trial. I like that it never takes me away from my work for more than 15 minutes. Plus I'm not entirely convinced that Halo's ever gotten better than the 'ole face off in the Gulch.
posted by washburn at 6:36 PM on August 26, 2007


Halo 3 will have a solid single-player campaign, but do nothing that special - other than the fact that they'll have AI that's had work done on it instead of being done by a couple of interns, the way most other games appear to have done it. (I've played enough games to realize that 95% of them just use massive cheating to make them difficult.)

However, the multiplayer will go even further beyond the rest of the industry with everything that will be there. Not just with solid gameplay, but with matchmaking and customization that shows how much work they've put into it, and will keep this game popular online for the rest of the 360's lifespan.

I'd say that Bungie's online features would embarrass the rest of the industry, but it's been clear to me for years that developers/publishers really don't care, given the steaming piles of crap that pass as online features nowadays. There hasn't been a game that's had online features to even match Halo 2.
posted by evilangela at 7:16 PM on August 26, 2007


Do you think anyone is going to pick this game up having not been exposed to the first two?

Yeah.

Me.

I played the first Halo once for maybe 15 minutes at a friend's house years ago. I haven't played Halo 2 at all.

I will be picking Halo 3 up when it comes out. Consider that rhetorical question answered!
posted by defenestration at 7:30 PM on August 26, 2007


If you still need proof that websites like metafilter have killed print journalism, look not further than the Bioshock thread earlier this week. I don't follow the gaming websites or press, but even I know Wired missed the boat when they put Halo 3 on the cover the same month as the game that people are calling the first or second best videogame ever gets released.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:59 PM on August 26, 2007


From my perspective as a professional game developer, this is interesting and scary. Interesting because it provides a new tool for evaluating the "fun" of games over time as developers change them. Scary because there's a real possibility that this kind of testing will start to be required by publishers or console manufacturers, and will have the result of disallowing difficult or innovative gameplay, while driving up development cost and time.
posted by JZig at 8:54 PM on August 26, 2007


How to Read Wired Magazine

Awesome, thanks.
posted by neuron at 8:54 PM on August 26, 2007


Pastabagel, Bioshock wasn't on the cover for at least a few reasons. Mainly, it was already out, so all the article could have been was a review and Wired has a section for that. Also, Halo 3 is an enormously more hyped game, and so having that as the cover article is almost certainly going to generate more sales.
posted by KingoftheWhales at 9:03 PM on August 26, 2007


evilangela: However, the multiplayer will go even further beyond the rest of the industry with everything that will be there. Not just with solid gameplay, but with matchmaking and customization that shows how much work they've put into it, and will keep this game popular online for the rest of the 360's lifespan.

So, I couldn't help but notice your profile says you're from Redmond, WA....
posted by blenderfish at 9:15 PM on August 26, 2007


So just a question for all you Halo fans. Does the phrase "Pathways into Darkness" mean anything to you?
posted by OldReliable at 9:56 PM on August 26, 2007


evilangela works for xbox. Her website (linked in her profile) says so.
posted by jonson at 10:44 PM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


The only thing that truly bothers me (and I say this as a Halo fanatic and someone who's never bought a console in his life) is that apparently Microsoft is hoping that Halo 3 will be a good tool to sell 360s with - meaning the port to PC is a long ways in the future.
posted by Anduruna at 11:08 PM on August 26, 2007


evilangela works for xbox. Her website (linked in her profile) says so.

How sleazy, where is the negative favorite when you need it?
posted by afu at 11:19 PM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


So just a question for all you Halo fans. Does the phrase "Pathways into Darkness" mean anything to you?

Yes, and I keep secretly hoping that Halo 3 will feature Durandal or Cortana being Rampant and shit. Or the jjaro. Any of it, really.
posted by dismas at 11:41 PM on August 26, 2007


i've been on the fence about getting a 360, but evilangela's inciteful comment sealed the deal and i'm ordering one! thanks for the press release!
posted by andywolf at 11:44 PM on August 26, 2007


I would never try and hide where I work - and I'm on the Xbox team specifically because I'm a serious gamer. But if that means I'm no longer allowed to express opinions about gaming-related topics because everyone's going to think I'm a fucking astroturfer spouting a PR line, let me know, and I'll avoid such topics in the future.
posted by evilangela at 12:04 AM on August 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


How many games have you designed? Halo 3, being the second sequel, isn't so much a game by itself, but an installment in the series. Do you think anyone is going to pick this game up having not been exposed to the first two? And these jaded fans of the aren't going to satisfied to just play a warmed over version of the first two games? Of course not. They're going to expect this kind of difficulty, challenge and surprise.

Difficulty ramp is still important. Let me tell you a story.

I was the QA lead for Marathon: Durandal, and led the design of the version of the Survival game mode that shipped when the game was released.

We knew ahead of time that everyone playing our game would be seasoned FPS players. Mostly Halo fans, actually. When we dropped in the first incarnation of Survival, it was a huge blast. We just kinda made it up real quick and added it.

Fast-forward a bit.

Our testers got their hands on Survival and started playing. They loved it, we could see they were having fun, everyone was happy. Except I was looking at this and seeing that our testers couldn't reach the later rounds. Hm. In fact, the games pretty much always ended the same way: abruptly.

There was no intensity ramp; no feel of things being "cranked up". You got halfway through and suddenly it was completely impossible. It didn't ramp up to impossible, it suddenly was impossible for the next X rounds until something stepped on you.

We brought our testers over to the whiteboard. Long discussion snipped, here's what we discovered:

- The jump in difficulty in round 4 was good.
- The jump in difficulty in round 6 was higher but enjoyable and memorable. (We commonly called it "the Enforcer round".)
- The rounds after 6/7 were not fun.

The last part puzzled me. The entire point of Survival was to kick the player's ass, right? It's waves and waves of enemies until you die and then you do it again to get a better score. What made the Enforcer round fun, but everything after not as much?

The answer:

Shooting shotguns and rocket launchers is fun, and you can't have any fun if you're running away from being shot at.

We remodeled the three rounds after the Enforcer round and added a fourth, to give us the opportunity to ramp better. Extending by a single round let us stretch out the intensity ramp enough to give players more playtime while still remaining challenging. Furthermore, because we stretched things out a little like we did in the earlier rounds, people were seeing increased variety in enemy configuration over time.

Difficulty is a drug: don't hit people with a kilo at first. As they keep going, they'll want a little more each time. Give it to them as they continue, not all up front, because you want them to play the game, not get killed out of the gate.

So yeah, we could've started off high and fast, but it wouldn't have been as much fun.
posted by Mikey-San at 12:15 AM on August 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


And the bit about "someone's mom" is probably nothing more than creative language to make the basic point. If you're nit-picking it to mean "they actually want people's moms to play Halo 3", you fail at language. ;)
posted by Mikey-San at 12:17 AM on August 27, 2007


Evilangela, please don't let this exchange discourage you from contributing, and I have no doubt you are sharing your true opinion in good faith, but please realize that your statement was very strong (no other developer in the world but Bungie cares about multiplayer? Really?), so, at the least, it is worth noting your affiliation. (Similar to how newspapers disclose when they are reporting on companies they own/that own them.) Please also take half a step back and realize your opinions may be influenced by the somewhat insular culture that companies often possess.

Unfortunately, attributing your affiliation puts you in the position of being a de facto PR Rep for your company-- which is bad news. Imagine some turd wannabe gaming-news blog wants some diggs, so runs with the "Angela Smith of Microsoft says that all games but Halo 3 suck ass" angle... Yeah. Bad times.

I personally strenuously avoid commenting on the game(s) I work on for this very reason.
posted by blenderfish at 1:01 AM on August 27, 2007


That story actually just reminded me of how poor most video game criticism is, compared to, say film or book criticism (I'm a Metacritic addict). Video game critics seem to love to complain about things like the quality of the voice acting, or whether there's any lag as you cross map regions, or how creative the new weapon types are. All which makes up about 1% of what game developers actually seem to pour their attention into. The big about the importance of the "golden tripod" in the original Halo is one of the more perceptive summaries of the game's appeal that I've read, but I can't recall ever seeing it mentioned in reviews of Halo 2 I read (although I don't think I read many), other than via vague criticisms of "balance." Conversely, while game critics seem to be gaga over the intellectual content of the game du jour, Bioshock (it refers to Ayn Rand and objectivism) none of them seem to actually have anything interesting to say about it. None have noted that the name of the main villain, Andrew Ryan, is an obvious reference to Ayn Rand, or that the name of one of the secondary characters, Atlas, is an obvious reference to "Atlas Shrugged." Nor do any of them seem to have any opinions about what the point of all the Randian references are, like the somewhat obvious interpretation that the story is supposed to be a metaphorical criticism of objectivism/libertarianism/utopianism. There's rarely even attempts to place games in the context of the medium, other than facile graphics/weapons/enemies comparisons to previous games in the series or other contemporary top sellers (the tradeoff the article describes between environment size and polygon density- seen between Halo 3 and Gears of War- is something another topic I can't recall reading about in game criticism).

Along those lines, thanks for your insider's perspective, evilangela.
posted by gsteff at 1:04 AM on August 27, 2007 [4 favorites]


gsteff: Video game critics seem to love to complain about things like the quality of the voice acting, or whether there's any lag as you cross map regions, or how creative the new weapon types are.

At least in my experience, games, like other art forms, cast a kind of spell on their audience. And it is only when that spell is broken do you start seeing all those technical nitpicks. So, when you start seeing that kind of nitpicking in reviews it's really code for "hey, the game just wasn't very fun, but we have to fill a page, so here goes."

Bioshock (and I've been playing it and enjoying it a lot) seems to successfully keep the spell cast-- so nobody really notes any technical issues (and yeah, there are a couple,) even though other games might be getting called out for those very same issues.

As for the deeper literary/philosophical criticism, I've seen a couple reviews touch on it, but it is hard to do a thorough analysis without spoilers.
posted by blenderfish at 1:21 AM on August 27, 2007


Dammit, when did Wired's website require you to click through a fucking Blackberry ad every time you load a page?
posted by Happy Dave at 3:18 AM on August 27, 2007


Yeah, I know my statement was a little too strong - I blame it on the fact I was tired when I posted, and since it's something I feel strongly about, I went overboard. I know Bungie's not the only one that cares - but I will say that looking at what games have done in that space, they're one of the few that seem to have really put effort in to not just the gameplay, but the whole multiplayer system. (Note that I'm not counting MMORPGs and online games that operate in a vastly different model than the single-session competitive games)

In my ideal world, every online game has moved beyond the decade-old server browser system that's oh so common, and at least followed Bungie's lead in improving things. I'm not saying they need to do it the same way, but I never want to see a server browser again.

This probably isn't the best forum for such a discussion, so I'll end it there. But if anyone's interested in talking about it further, let me know where to do so.

And maybe I should begin all comments I make on gaming topics in the future with a disclaimer, even though it probably won't have any effect on people questioning my motives.
posted by evilangela at 9:55 AM on August 27, 2007


evilangela: I would be less suspicious* of what you have to say regarding games/gaming/consoles if you just had a little "[full disclosure: I work for XBox/MS]" (like, say, Thomas Hawk when he critiques flickr.com). MeFites are sleuthy by nature and if folks would throw that little bit out there it would go a long way to deactivating our snark-o-trons.

That said, thanks for the comments, evilangela.

*Despite the fact you didn't make any attempt to hide where you work.
posted by basicchannel at 10:14 AM on August 27, 2007


Meh. I was about to comment on the usability studios aspect of the story, but since I'm on the usability studios support team, here in Redmond, I won't... I hate it when people think I'm astroturfing. *grin*
posted by Cathedral at 10:23 AM on August 27, 2007


Meh. I was about to comment on the usability studios aspect of the story, but since I'm on the usability studios support team, here in Redmond, I won't... I hate it when people think I'm astroturfing. *grin*

Please do? Ain't nothin' wrong with insider information if it's honest. Cem'on cem'on.
posted by radgardener at 1:38 PM on August 27, 2007


Calling all Xbox insiders. Show yourselves! How many of my brothers and sisters are hiding in the shadows of TCRs and XLAST files for fear of persecution? (I kid, I kid.)
posted by Mikey-San at 2:15 PM on August 27, 2007


Oh, shit.. are you 'drink coke' Mikey?
posted by blenderfish at 4:25 PM on August 27, 2007


Whowhat?
posted by Mikey-San at 5:27 PM on August 27, 2007


I'll take that as a 'no'. There is (or was) at least one other Mikey in XBox land, then. :)

and thanks for the followup post, evilangela.
posted by blenderfish at 5:31 PM on August 27, 2007


If you're asking me if I'm a dude on PartnerNet, well, we've had lots of those Gamertags. My actual Gamertag is Chelsea Bridge.
posted by Mikey-San at 6:24 PM on August 27, 2007


One of our testers had both "FartnerNet" and "Xcox Live" at one point. It was awesome.
posted by Mikey-San at 6:24 PM on August 27, 2007


i apologize if i was a little harsh evilangela, with all the viral crap flying around i just interpreted it wrongly. please don't refrain from giving opinion from the inside. it's interesting and more so when you know where the opinion comes from since it's more informed then just someone who reads up on their own time.
posted by andywolf at 10:49 PM on August 27, 2007


Here is a bit more on UX design from Splinter Cell
posted by srboisvert at 3:00 AM on August 28, 2007


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