As I move on from yet another Halo game that failed to hold my interest, I like to put some of my thoughts in writing.
I’d like to address an issue that has, more than anything else, contributed to the degradation of Halo’s competitive viability: Minimum Kill Time vs. Average Kill Time. These metrics are incredibly revealing, as they provide insight into the speed and skill-depth of shooting. Not only does that impact the individual engagements of players, but also indirectly impacts nearly every other aspect of gameplay.
The effectiveness of an individual player is inversely proportional to the kill time, so a longer kill time makes an individual player less effective. A well-balanced, competitive game should reward teamwork but should also reward individual ability as well. Since Halo CE, Halo games have failed to reward individual ability to a proper degree. Through a combination of slow kill times and shallow shooting skill-depth, individual players are rendered largely ineffective regardless of their ability relative to the other players. I will prove why.
For this analysis, I’m going to use some rough assumptions to illustrate the point. We’ll compare the Halo 5 magnum to the Halo CE pistol and we’ll use a kill time of 1.2 seconds and 0.6 seconds respectively. The spacing, or delay, between shots will be 0.3 seconds for both weapons.
We also need to get an understanding of how fast average people can react and respond to visual or audio inputs. As of this writing, the average reaction time in an online click-test was 271 milliseconds or .271 seconds (http://www.humanbenchmark.com/tests/reactiontime/statistics). Using these averages (and quite frankly, gamers have faster reaction times than the “average”) we can begin to build an objective analysis of the role time-to-kill (TTK) plays in a game.
The example I’m going to use is something that happens quite frequently in Halo games; a solo Blue player flanks two Red players. The two Red players are unaware of the Blue player until he shoots and engages them. Once the first shot has been fired by the Blue player, we will assume that both Red players will react either due to being hit or hearing the shot. Additionally, for analysis sake, we will assume that all players shoot at the same time once fully engaged.
Therefore, the minimum TTK can be described as:
TTK = (ns-1)*D
Where “ns” equals the number of shots to kill. We subtract 1 from this to represent that the first shot is the starting point for our measurement of time, as players will not react unless they see the other player or hear/feel the first shot.
“D” equals the time differential or delay between shots, which is 0.3 seconds for both weapons in this analysis. What this means is that after the first shot lands, the average player (with a reaction time of .271 seconds) can respond to the threat right before the second shot is fired.
Using Halo 5's pistol as an example (5 shot kill, TTK 1.2 seconds) and assuming 100% accuracy, the single Blue Player is 2 shots up on 1 of the 2 Red opponents, who are now both aware of his presence. Assuming perfect aim, the absolute best the Blue Player can do is slay 1 of the opponents at the exact same time he himself dies (it takes the single player 5 “shot windows” to slay the 1 Player, and only 3 “shot windows” for the 2 players to slay a single player, as they fire 2 rounds per shot window).
In order for the single player to successfully slay two players, the two players would need to miss 6 shots out of the 11 opportunities between the two of them, and the single player would need to land every single shot. Put another way, in order to be successful the two Red players only need 45% accuracy while the single Blue player needs to have 100% accuracy. Regardless of how clever, strategic, or intelligent the Blue player’s engagement was, those are poor odds and a poor recompense for what should be a rewarding decision. Add in the fact that modern Halo games are incredibly easy to land shots in (the average kill time is very close to the minimum TTK), and the likelihood of a single player winning against two players is negligible to the point that above average teams eliminate it from any strategic decisions.
Now compare this to the Halo CE pistol, with a shot spacing of approximately the same amount of time (0.3 seconds). The single Blue player would still be 2 shots up on 1 of the 2 opponents by the time they fire back, but can slay one of the two opponents and still have 1/3 of their health remaining. Additionally, in order for the two Red players to slay the one Blue player, they would need a minimum accuracy of 60% (as opposed to only 45% required in a slower TTK game like Halo 5).
Here is an illustration of the above point (the player's health is the % inside the box, the arrows represent shots).
Altering nothing but the TTK, we have dramatically influenced a critical component of moment-to-moment gameplay. Not only does a longer TTK put a much greater emphasis on team-shot, it also invariably makes team shooting easier; a fatal combination for any game attempting to be skill-based and competitive. A long TTK also increases the likelihood of a single player engaging multiple opponents, as teams have longer to respond to the threat. As we can see, all else being equal, a team based game with slower kill times is factually less skillful.
The implications of this cannot be understated. The effectiveness, or lack thereof, of individual players decreases the entire strategic evolution of the game. As the impact of an individual player is lessened, so too are the entire team’s viable options. If an individual player cannot be reasonably effective against more than one player, strategy becomes stagnant and one-dimensional. Feints, flanks, and sneaky routes by individuals become immaterial and are discarded. For the sake of brevity, I won't go into the impact it has on power weapons vs. standard weapons, suffice it to say that it's another significant detriment.
The gameplay devolves into holding power positions and relying on the fact that two players will always beat one. This is not a more strategic game as some people erroneously assume; it’s a more one-dimensional game.
I’m often accused of simply wanting “Halo CE 2” and that the pistol is the only thing anyone wants. That’s simply not true. What I and other long-time fans want is the kill-speed balance of Halo CE; fast kill times with slow average kill times. Slower kill times, even with a difficult weapon, will always put the individual at a larger and larger disadvantage. A game must find the proper balance between its design intent and the appropriate kill-speed.
Numerical superiority will always provide an advantage, but it should never be an insurmountable advantage. There must be a balance between who-sees-who first and teamshot-only gameplay. The only way to properly strike that balance is by having an average kill time that is significantly longer than the minimum TTK. This requires players, even good ones, to miss shots. There are two ways to accomplish this; designed randomness or a deep skill gap. It should be obvious which one of those two options is preferable, but it’s unfortunate how many developers rely on the former.
As always, I welcome feedback, comments, or arguments.