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Difficulty in Balancing Halo’s Weapons

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"We may not agree 100%. But for Halo to be relevant again, more than 11% of what I wrote needs to happen."

 

Shots fired.

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I wish more people understood what is being said in this thread, Halo literally doesn't work optimally without this kind of utility weapon.

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Halo's hybrid Arena/tactical FPS mutant baby identity is what makes it so hard to balance. On one hand, snow-balling is a perfectly accepted meta of classic Arena FPS like Quake. The idea behind map control is that the superior team/player should be rewarded by winning timely battles/superior map positioning and thus gain advantages in terms of armor/weapons and health. I remember Fatal1ty talking about the importance of the first kill in duel, as that would allow the winning player to establish map control/timing setting the tone for the duel and essentially the next kill would be a "freebie" for a skilled player as the player who established map control first would be stacked versus and thus hold a huge advantage over the spawning player.

It's definitely interesting to compare Quake and Halo. One trend in Quake duel map design over the years is the popularity of dual rocket launcher spawns. It's especially common on hectic, single-atrium maps like Aerowalk and Phrantic. Designers of these maps recognize how important RL is to movement, combat, and area of denial, so they want to ensure that the out-of-control player can almost always get RL. I love Halo because it's so simple, but some of the same principles are in Quake--they're just broken up so you have to work for them. In Halo CE, you can throw four grenades off spawn in doubles to deny an area; in Quake, you need to find a projectile weapon. The pistol lets you challenge stacked opponents watching with sniper in Halo, but in Quake you often need to grab the grenade launcher (missing from Quake Champions, I might add) to block off lines of sight from rail users. Mappers place grenade launchers to assist OOC players on small maps (see Aerowalk) and high to let IC players maintain control (see Bloodrun). Another design strategy I've seen in writing is to place two 25hp bubbles instead of one 50hp bubble to make it harder for the IC player to burn the OOC player's health resources.

 

It's cool how the two games accomplish the same tasks completely differently. At the same time, control is such an important part of how Quake works because otherwise the game would be all about aim. Quake breaks down as a game when players start hitting more than 60-70% lightning gun because the armor stops meaning anything. Halo has never had that problem because utility weapons always killed slowly enough that power weapons and power ups were a significant advantage. Now Quake Champions has a problem with the railgun being too effective since armors and health can't stack that high (but I heard this was getting looked at). I prefer Halo CE more than any Quake because of the immediate power off spawn, which lets me be aggressive right away and focus on higher strategy. But I also love running the items in Quake or getting a clean retreating rail or grenade on a chaser. Maybe we could play QL/Reflex sometime? West coast player here, my ping might not be the best.

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You know what's kind of ridiculous?

 

Halo 5 might be the best incarnation of Halo for 1v1 competition (I mean the maps suck, but yeah). FPS 1v1s are all about extrapolated jousts with lots of gooey meta cheese, which is the literal opposite of what you want in a mostly-arena 4v4 shooter.

 

They'll never push 1v1s, though. 

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A projectile utility weapon would solve so many problems. It widens the skill gap allowing the perfect kill time to be faster while still maintaining slower average kill time. Projectile rounds limit the utility weapon’s effectiveness at range without the need to add in something like spread. It also makes strafing way more effective widening the movement skill gap without having to add in something like thrust.

If it performs well online I'd be all for this.
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If it performs well online I'd be all for this.

In this day and age, it is no longer an excuse to claim projectiles cannot work in a online environment. Especially when there are plenty of examples within Halo 5 alone that such a claim is complete bullshit.

 

Give the bullet a "glint" and a decently noticeable impact animation and many of the "inconsistency" complaints go away.

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I think a key concept people need to understand about a good weapon sandbox is that there is no hierarchy of weapons.

 

No weapon should be ostensibly better or worse than any other weapon overall, but only better or worse in CERTAIN SITUATIONS (except for power weapons of course). This gives every gun a purpose and a reason to pick up.

 

This is what Halo 5 struggles with and what CE, true Halo, succeeded the most with.

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Something that has always irked me is the insistence that a great competitive game would not be fun for casuals, despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary. Halo should be that game, but instead we get more and more bifurcation that serves only to serve no one. 

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You know what's kind of ridiculous?

 

Halo 5 might be the best incarnation of Halo for 1v1 competition (I mean the maps suck, but yeah). FPS 1v1s are all about extrapolated jousts with lots of gooey meta cheese, which is the literal opposite of what you want in a mostly-arena 4v4 shooter.

 

They'll never push 1v1s, though. 

H5 definitely gives more opportunities to prolong gunfights than the rest of the series, except maybe default Reach. I think one of the main things holding it back is just the lack of weapon depth. Duel is great in Quake because of the constantly changing disparity between the players in health, armor, and offensive capabilities, but Halo's weapons don't lend themselves to interesting encounters very well. Around 11 minutes in, @@MultiLockOn starts talking about how difficult it is to make compelling 1v1 maps, how the interesting engagements need to be crafted specifically out of the map geometry since the weapons won't do it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__mDGYZgd4Y

 

Something that has always irked me is the insistence that a great competitive game would not be fun for casuals, despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary. Halo should be that game, but instead we get more and more bifurcation that serves only to serve no one. 

It's kind of ridiculous how rarely a "competitive party game" gets made. It's my favorite kind of game by far. As a moderately skilled and (predominantly) knowledgeable FPS player, I like the ability to challenge all of my skills against better players one day, then play with my less-experienced friends the next and just go for the most ridiculous plays. The only game in recent memory that fits this bill imo is Rocket League. The insane mechanical skill curve gives great context for higher-level strategy while giving low-skilled players a crazy different experience with literally no changes. And the game is very popular.

 

It's painful because there seem to have been attempts to make Halo 5 the kind of game both casual and competitive players could enjoy. Unfortunately, the process for attaining this goal was almost completely backwards.

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Something that has always irked me is the insistence that a great competitive game would not be fun for casuals, despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary. Halo should be that game, but instead we get more and more bifurcation that serves only to serve no one.

I disagree with that.The majority of the type of casuals you're referring to don't have fun with games like starcraft, quake, or gunz.Halo has never been a great competitive game, even CE was only an above average competitive game.Which is why everyday casuals can have fun with it.
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I disagree with that.The majority of the type of casuals you're referring to don't have fun with games like starcraft, quake, or gunz.Halo has never been a great competitive game, even CE was only an above average competitive game.Which is why everyday casuals can have fun with it.

 

I'm not sure where you're getting the idea that SC or Quake didn't appeal to casuals. And the only thing really holding CE back was lack of online play. 

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I disagree with that.The majority of the type of casuals you're referring to don't have fun with games like starcraft, quake, or gunz.Halo has never been a great competitive game, even CE was only an above average competitive game.Which is why everyday casuals can have fun with it.

 

Counter-Strike? R6? LoL? DOTA? All of them balance top-down and still somehow have large or even massive casual followings.

 

 even CE was only an above average competitive game.Which is why everyday casuals can have fun with it.

I don't even know what this is saying. How are you measuring "competitive"-ness? It mechanically scales well with player skill, sure, but CE is far less forgiving in many ways than even most of the "competitive" shooters available now. Are you saying that casuals can enjoy getting stomped by a player only a few dozen hours better than they are? Starcraft is off-limits, but spawn traps, weapon nading, randoms, timing, etc etc are casual friendly?  I don't understand how that's not antithetical to your argument.

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I'm not sure where you're getting the idea that SC or Quake didn't appeal to casuals. And the only thing really holding CE back was lack of online play. 

 

 

Food for thought; if Halo CE had come out with XBL capabilities, would the various LAN groups really still be active today? In a weird way I attribute the lack of online play, the terrible PC port and everything as indirect reasons as to why the LAN didn't fade out.

 

Halo CE appeals to casuals because it kept the core principle of bungies 10 seconds of fun (I forget what it was exactly) but also was very simple to pick up at first. You move, shoot, switch weapons, throw grenades and jump. A lot of the weapons are satisfying to use. It's simple to pick up yet hard to master.

 

At Daytona long time h2-h3 and beyond players got a chance to play Halo CE. It seemed like there were a decent amount of people who consider those games to be the pinnacle of competitive halo that actually got to see what my elitist ass is talking about regarding CE.

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Food for thought; if Halo CE had come out with XBL capabilities, would the various LAN groups really still be active today? In a weird way I attribute the lack of online play, the terrible PC port and everything as indirect reasons as to why the LAN didn't fade out.

 

Halo CE appeals to casuals because it kept the core principle of bungies 10 seconds of fun (I forget what it was exactly) but also was very simple to pick up at first. You move, shoot, switch weapons, throw grenades and jump. A lot of the weapons are satisfying to use. It's simple to pick up yet hard to master.

 

At Daytona long time h2-h3 and beyond players got a chance to play Halo CE. It seemed like there were a decent amount of people who consider those games to be the pinnacle of competitive halo that actually got to see what my elitist ass is talking about regarding CE.

I introduced my real life friends to Halo 1 and they thought it was super fun despite the skill gap (i.e. me winning almost every game). We now play CE exclusively for more than two players instead of Smash 4.

 

I then introduced them to Halo 2. Immediately they were saying it kind of sucked. They felt it was really slow in comparison—the kill times, movement speed, field of view, everything. They were also confused why almost every weapon was useless and why the sniper and BR were so easy. Another problem was the reduced visual clarity, which was compounded by the lower FoV. I can only imagine how they would have felt about any other game in the series.

 

The “thirty seconds of fun” quote was about the following: do something for thirty seconds, then move onto the next thing. You’re forced to move on because of the need to reload, recharge shields/health, find more grenades, or get a new weapon. I think it works so well in CE multiplayer because things actually reset since battles are resolved quickly. You’re not wasting time trying to track down some guy that ran away. Conversely, you don’t waste time trying to run away. You kill or are killed and you move on. And there’s always a powerup coming up soon to start it all over again.

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Food for thought; if Halo CE had come out with XBL capabilities, would the various LAN groups really still be active today? In a weird way I attribute the lack of online play, the terrible PC port and everything as indirect reasons as to why the LAN didn't fade out.

 

Halo CE appeals to casuals because it kept the core principle of bungies 10 seconds of fun (I forget what it was exactly) but also was very simple to pick up at first. You move, shoot, switch weapons, throw grenades and jump. A lot of the weapons are satisfying to use. It's simple to pick up yet hard to master.

 

At Daytona long time h2-h3 and beyond players got a chance to play Halo CE. It seemed like there were a decent amount of people who consider those games to be the pinnacle of competitive halo that actually got to see what my elitist ass is talking about regarding CE.

 

My CE dubs partner and I have had similar discussions about CE around this concept before, whether the fact that it's actually (comparatively) difficult to setup quality games meant that the game had to grow and survive by the hand of people who were truly diehard about playing it.  It means that your only opportunity to really play is against people who take it so seriously.  Also, the fact that we don't have that many maps, and modding aside, basically zero ability to make adjustments meant that just like SSB:M, we're forced to play the game as it launched 15+ years ago, so the depth in the meta has always gone further in one direction, rather than what we see now with H5, weapon changes and little adjustments all over the place.

 

As far as the thread topic, another buddy and I were discussing the other night what direction 343 will go in with H6, continuing with high mobility and in general "more shit", or back towards a more classic Halo.  It's unlikely because of just how many damn weapons there are (and warzone variants don't help this at all), but removal of abilities aside, I really think one of the best things that could happen to the series is a drastic reduction in the weapon count.  I would almost be willing to see dual wielding come back if we didn't have so many options, as I think there's some merit to less options upfront, with depth around how you combine those options (this is arguably a similar mechanic to how one chooses which two weapons they carry at any one time).

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I don't even know what this is saying. How are you measuring "competitive"-ness? It mechanically scales well with player skill, sure, but CE is far less forgiving in many ways than even most of the "competitive" shooters available now. Are you saying that casuals can enjoy getting stomped by a player only a few dozen hours better than they are? Starcraft is off-limits, but spawn traps, weapon nading, randoms, timing, etc etc are casual friendly? I don't understand how that's not antithetical to your argument.

CE had an above average skillgap but it's not on the same level as games like StarCraft, gunz, or quake.It's obvious looking at those games then looking at CE that this is true.
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CE had an above average skillgap but it's not on the same level as games like StarCraft, gunz, or quake.It's obvious looking at those games then looking at CE that this is true.

 

I'm not really sure you're comparing apples to apples here. 

 

SC is an RTS, so that's basically a non-starter for comparing "competitiveness." It requires totally different skills. That's like saying Soccer has a larger skillgap than Basketball. 

 

Quake is certainly faster, but it also has a much more precise control scheme (which actually requires a faster game to maintain the skill gap). Quake is primarily a dueling game as well, so the team strategy that makes CE so interesting is completely gone. Again, this is a little bit of an odd comparison, especially since those games are all on PC rather than console. 

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I disagree with that.The majority of the type of casuals you're referring to don't have fun with games like starcraft, quake, or gunz.Halo has never been a great competitive game, even CE was only an above average competitive game.Which is why everyday casuals can have fun with it.

In the case of Quake, I don't think you can make the claim that casuals wouldn't have fun with it because it was already dying by the time the modern casual gamer on PC was invented. It's a decently fun game at any level if you're playing with roughly equivalent skill levels. The modern casual expects the entry into a game on a social level to be effortless, and arena shooters have never been accessible in that way because of lack of infrastructure, lack of population, or both. So I would say that Quake's failure to appeal to modern casuals is not caused by how competitive it is at a high level. There's just been no good attempt to bring them in, and it might never happen.

 

I don't know much about Gunz, but it looks like a game that only becomes fun when you cease being a casual player. And I think it's silly to bring up Starcraft because it's not the same type of game or audience.

 

As for Halo CE, I see what you're saying, in a sense. The movement skill gap is obviously outclassed by many PC shooters. The gun skill requirement is less. But the relative outcomes of engagements still have good distinction between good and great players. There are choices made for the game to be extremely accessible in omparison to those PC shooters, but the competitiveness of the game isn't lowered by much as a result, and the skill ceiling is not in sight. On top of this, the creative potential in Halo 1 destroys what Quake has for team gametypes (although it's a close call for Quakeworld), if not duel, and I would wager the same against Gunz, Unreal Tournament, and Tribes. The spawn system and grenade physics create a significant skill gap at a high level, whereas movement mechanics in PC shooters don't have a huge amount of impact on the skill gap at a high level even if the skill cap is extremely high. For instance, Smilecythe has the best movement skill in any arena shooter by far, yet he isn't at the top in any of the larger games (I'm counting Reflex as large) because other factors are more important if you want to get by at that level.

 

My point is, making a game accessible doesn't need to have a large negative impact on competitiveness. Does that mean I would remove advanced movement techniques from Quake to make it more accessible since (in my opinion) it doesn't have the largest effect on high level play? No, and that's because the movement helps make the game more fun at a high level, not just more competitive. And I don't think Quake would get any more fun for casuals if you removed those mechanics. Just an example.

 

As far as the thread topic, another buddy and I were discussing the other night what direction 343 will go in with H6, continuing with high mobility and in general "more shit", or back towards a more classic Halo.  It's unlikely because of just how many damn weapons there are (and warzone variants don't help this at all), but removal of abilities aside, I really think one of the best things that could happen to the series is a drastic reduction in the weapon count.  I would almost be willing to see dual wielding come back if we didn't have so many options, as I think there's some merit to less options upfront, with depth around how you combine those options (this is arguably a similar mechanic to how one chooses which two weapons they carry at any one time).

Trimming the fat in the weapon sandbox would make designing it so much easier. Having more than two or three precision weapons makes it much less feasible to make them function somewhat distinctly without wreaking havoc on the balance of the sandbox. Same with having more than one or two automatic weapons with random spread and high magnetism, or having more than one or two power weapons that give you free kills. Every sequel has more and more weapons fit into the same number of roles or fewer.

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A good topic. I believe that universal settings could exist as well. Halo has always been famous for having fun/popular custom gametypes such as SWAT, Snipers, Infection, and Grifball. However, that does not mean that the core gameplay experience can't be uniform across the board, assuming it is actually done right. Intentionally separating the settings in classic AR starts vs BR starts fashion is just asking for community segmentation as has now traditionally happened. The only 'split' necessary should be ranked and true social. Make a core gameplay experience that doesn't suck and either side, especially casual players, will just learn to get used to it despite OP Pistol complaints.

 

Look at Gears of War 4. While an understandable goal of pleasing both audiences separately, TC made the huge mistake to segment the player base by implementing two different weapon tunings, one for Core and one for Competitive. From what I can tell, this causes the most hate for GoW4 aside from the cosmetic loot box fuss, despite core GoW4 gameplay being pretty spot on for core Gears gameplay. Can we ever stop doing this for Halo?

 

Also, regarding weapon balance, on TB it pretty much goes without saying that a strong and skillful utility weapon like the CE Magnum should be the core element of sandbox balance. However, one thing that I hate is how Halo typically treats automatic weapons, especially spawning ones. IMO, the spawning auto is always a bit too niche, I think. If the utility weapon can potentially be the most effective at every range, what is the point of the spawning auto? Making them be weak, inaccurate, and skill-less easy-to-use close range weapons seems redundant IMO. Shotguns outclass them at short range, via a typically straight upgrade. Isn't that bad? Or do we only care if it happens with the utility weapon? We apparently can't buff the damage because competitive types don't like being melted in CQC, which I can understand. However, then the auto is used as a backup(sidearm) to the utility weapon, but aren't having sidearms in Halo bad for the sandbox? Or, once again, only when it applies to the utility weapon? It just makes me wonder what the logic is. It is no wonder autos are always removed from competitive settings. They are either too easy to melt with in CQC, or are so weak that they are essentially useless and are then just removed because what is the point of them? This is all clearly from their extreme ease of use combined with the fact that the utility weapon needs to be strong enough to beat all non-1-hit weapons at any range, which completely eliminates DPS>Range as a classic balance formula. Just why do autos have to be easy? Why can't they too be more difficult to use in order to warrant more power in some form?

 

I really, REALLY like how GoW handles the situational balance of the starting weapons. In Gears, the Gnasher shotgun is somehow the skill weapon, utilizing skillful movement to dip, duck, and dodge into a close enough range for the weapon to actually cause any damage. The need to get close in order to quickly kill is a great incentive to actually make players move, despite the cover-based mechanics of the game. Then, you have the Chainsaw-equipped Lancer assault rifle, which is about as weak as Halo autos have traditionally been, but has a very large ammo mag, and is extremely accurate. This auto is traditionally the noob weapon in GoW, designed to allow players to sit in cover and shoot opponents from across the map. However, due to how weak it is, combined with the cover mechanics and movement, along with the Down-But-Not-Out crawling system, the Lancer is extremely ineffective at actually killing players, especially compared to the lethality of the Gnasher. The Lancer almost literally never kills players. But that doesn't stop it from being probably the second most useful weapon in GoW PvP. The reason this can be is because the Lancer can do something that the Gnasher literally cannot, and that is cause damage from range. The Gnasher may clearly be the best weapon for pushing and slaying, but the supporting and suppressive crossfire provided by the Lancer means that being able to push a weakened or downed opponent with the Gnasher is just that much more effective, and this dynamic allows for extreme team play for GoW despite the Gnasher allowing for very amazing clutch individual plays. The spawning weapons in GoW are not used equally for the same purpose, but both have very, VERY clear roles and do their jobs extremely well without overlap. One weapon for pushing and slaying as an individual, and the other for hanging back and supporting with teamshot.

 

I really wish Halo could have the utility/auto relationship dynamic work this well. I don't think that it ever has. Quick Camo/Pinging Camo and slightly better melees with the CE AR just seems too niche to be a spawning weapon. If it could actually burst fire with any accuracy that would be a start. But I wonder how Halo's spawning auto could work if it was more akin to the GoW Lancer or from what I hear the Quake Machine Gun: Weak but very consistent damage with lots of ammo, and much harder to hit shots with.

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Great post. I agree, and I think the Lancer is a good starting place to look for Halo's spawning automatic secondary. Honestly, if we could just drop this stupid headshot multiplier, the current post-patch AR is pretty much what I want. Then just give it some unique properties like quick camo, faster melees, longer melee reach, and effectiveness against powerups like in H1, and you've got an interesting weapon on your hands.

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