Building the Ultimate Halo Game

BASIC GAMEPLAY

Controls
Shields & Health
Melee Attacks
Fall Damage
Player Movement
Heads-up Display
Equipment, Armor Abilities, & Power-ups
Interactive Environments & Weather Affects

This game would remain at its heart a Halo FPS. There wouldn’t be anything radical added to the basics. For example, there wouldn’t be a Gears of War/Killzone/Rainbow Six-style cover system (as Frank O’Connor said back in 2006 “[T]here is a cover system in Halo. It’s called ducking behind objects and using the environment to shield you from harm.”), nor would there be any class system or COD-style perks, both of which would be detrimental to multiplayer game balance; all players would have access to the same weapons and abilities regardless of rank. There would just be the core gameplay everyone has come to expect from a Halo game. Of course, there will be gameplay changes, mostly subtle but some quite substantial. This section will deal with all non-weapon- or vehicle-related gameplay aspects that affect both Campaign and multiplayer.


Controls

Fortunately, the Xbox One’s controller has the same basic layout as the 360’s gamepad. The 360’s controller always felt natural and comfortable, a perfect fit for a console FPS. The default button layout, which is pictured below, would be much the same as the classic layout from older games or the Recon layout from more recent games (jump is A, melee is B, toggle weapon is Y, RT fires your gun, etc.), though there would be some minor differences due to new additions to gameplay. I also have proposals (not pictured) for default controls should armor abilities and/or sprint be part of the game.

As in the previous games, there would be a selection of non-default button layouts for players to choose from. For example, there would be Recon, which would place Reload/Action on RB and place RB’s Default function on X but otherwise be the same as Default. Other classics like Southpaw, Green Thumb, and Boxer would return as well. However, in order to accommodate a wider variety of possible preferences, the number of presets would be expanded beyond the six or seven that have been the norm, perhaps upwards of 12 or even 20. If fact, if it’s feasible to do so, I would also allow for fully customizable controls.

For Forge, there would be at least two controller layouts, whereas before there was only a single layout. One layout would be the same as it was in Reach, Halo 4, and Halo 2 Anniversary, while another would be the same as in Halo 5.


Shields & Health

Shooters (both first- and third-person) typically use one of two health systems: non-regenerating health restored by health packs, or regenerating health. Most old-school shooters use the former, including Doom, Quake, and Unreal Tournament, though some more recent titles like BioShock do so as well. In those games, you had a finite amount of health, which could only be restored by picking up a health pack. In certain games, you could gain additional protection from a body armor or force field pickup. Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark lacked even health packs, so once you took a certain number of hits that was it. They offered only body armor and shield pickups, respectively, to give you some added protection.

This system has largely been replaced in the genre by regenerating health. If the player has sustained damage, he can simply retreat to safety, wait a few seconds, and he’s good as new. This system is used in many notable titles, including the Call of Duty and Gears of War series. Resistance: Fall of Man and Far Cry 2 & 3 use a variant of this system where there is a health bar that is divided into sections. If the player’s health drops into a lower section, it cannot regenerate past that section.

Halo 1 used a combination of systems. You had non-regenerating health that was restored by health packs, which was in turn overlaid by a regenerating shield. In Halo 2, 3, & 4, however, both shields and health regenerated (the latter more slowly than the former), and, consequently, health packs were removed. Both the Halo 1 and Halo 2/3/4 systems have their defenders and detractors. One of the most common arguments I’ve heard (in fact, the only I can recall offhand) in favor of regenerating health is that Halo 1’s system encourages people to camp the health packs in multiplayer. However, as one who prefers the first game’s gameplay to that of the sequels, I tend to like the original’s health system. In my experience, I’ve never had camping of the health packs be a problem, either in Halo 1 or Reach. After all, there were multiple spawn points for health packs on most maps, and they re-spawned frequently, so it’s not like they were some rare, coveted item that had to be defended. Also, I’ve argued in the past that if the player’s health regenerates, it encourages them to be less careful, since if they do get wounded, it doesn’t matter as much since their health will automatically start to restore itself between encounters. Furthermore, I’ve heard others argue that regenerating health allows the player to “camp the health by default,” meaning that the player can simply hide anywhere to let their health come back rather than camp where the health packs spawn. Relating to this, I think health packs encourage players to cycle around the map more; not only would they have to cycle around the map to retrieve weapons and equipment, they’d have to go retrieve health packs if they’re wounded.

Halo: Reach, the latest game in the series, offers an excellent compromise between the Halo 1 and Halo 2/3 health systems. It utilizes a “sectional health bar” system similar to the ones used in Resistance and Far Cry 3. The health bar is divided into three sections, and the bar changes color as it diminishes, similar to Halo 1’s health bar. The player’s health has limited regenerative capacity, and can sustain damage that won’t come back on its own. If it drops to the middle or lower third the player must use health packs to fully restore their health. This system works fine as-is, and is similar to one of the several systems I proposed in the first version of this article.

Despite the Reach health system offering a good compromise between the two standard health systems, I am leaning towards the Halo 1 health system mainly because of difficulty balancing for Campaign; the total lack of regenerating health is a difficulty-enhancing factor that I approve of. It can be and has been argued that regenerating health, even if it’s only partial regeneration like in Reach, is a difficulty-mitigating factor that results in enemies having to inflict more damage to compensate. As I consider enemies who inflict excessive amounts of damage to be among the least desirable ways to enhance the game’s difficulty (see the “Difficulty” section later on in the article), I would go with a health system that makes having to jack up the enemies damage output unnecessary.

As for shield mechanics, I must draw attention to how Halo: Reach altered said mechanics. Reach has a feature that is unique to it: if the player has any shields remaining, damage from certain attacks will not bleed over to their health. In every other Halo game, including the more recent Halo 4, if an attack did more damage than what the player had in shields, the remaining damage transferred over to their health (e.g., if they had 10 HP of shields left and were hit by an attack that inflicted 25 HP of damage, they’d lose their remaining shield energy as well as 15 HP of health). While in Reach this still applies to grenades and power weapons (e.g., rockets, sniper rifle, shotgun) as well as damage resulting from high falls, it does not apply to most other attack forms. Standard-issue weapons (AR, DMR, etc.) as well as melee attacks cannot inflict damage to health unless the player has no shields. Even if the player has a single hit point of shielding left, damage from those attacks won’t transfer over to his health.

I am split on whether I’d go with Reach’s system or if I’d include full “bleed-through” for all attacks like in the other games in the series. On the one hand, universal bleed-through had been the rule throughout the entire series, with Reach being the sole exception so far. It’s also consistent in the sense that if an attack does x amount of damage, it always does x amount of damage regardless of how much or how little shields the player has left. On the other hand, in Reach’s system the lack of bleed-through and the audible pop of the shields are valuable feedback mechanisms. I know that if I have even a sliver of my shield bar left I can survive a DMR round to the head or a melee to the face but that if my shields have popped, those same attacks will kill me instantly. It’s arguably a much more transparent system, one more easily understood by the player. However, Reach was designed and balanced around bleed-through not being present for most attacks. There is no reason that any future game in the series has to do so as well, and they could just as easily follow the model presented in the main series, with some added feedback, such as making the beeping when shields are low sufficiently obvious to let players know their shields are weak enough for a weapon like the pistol or DMR to bleed through their shields and kill them with a successful headshot. So, for the sake of argument, this article will assume that, like the first three games and Halo 4, bleed-through would be universal to all attack forms in this game.

As to how much shields and health a player has, it depends on the whether you’re a Spartan or Elite. Elites, being bigger targets, would have more hit points to balance things out. Here are the stats I’d assign to the two, as well as the approximate size difference between them:

The amount of hit points listed above for Spartans is the same as it was in HCE, while those listed for Elite PCs is an approximation based on the relative size difference between a Spartan and an Elite. If an Elite gets hit by x% more AR rounds (or shotgun pellets, or any projectiles that are sprayed out in a spreading pattern by their weapon) at a given range than a Spartan, he should have x% more HP. With the numbers given, a non-headshot weapon that inflicts 10 HP of damage would take 15 shots to kill a Spartan and 18 to kill an Elite. These numbers could easily be adjusted to be higher or lower than the 90 HP each of health & shields in order to balance things as much as possible, though it should still be somewhere in the 80 to 95 range. To minimize the potential gameplay effects of the imbalance in size & durability of these character models, Elites would generally be restricted to specific Spartan vs. Elite gametypes as well as custom games. Note that there are fractional hit points as due to damage modifiers some attacks might not inflict a round number of HP worth of damage.


Melee Attacks

As I mentioned in the introduction, one of the great things about Halo is that it was one of the first games (if not the first) to allow the player to melee at any time with their in-hand weapon rather than having to swap to a dedicated melee weapon. What’s not great about Halo’s melees is the lunge added in Halo 2 and carried over to each subsequent game with some modifications. Whether it’s the random thrashing of Halo 2 or the overpowered no-miss beatdowns of Halo 3 & Reach, I consider the melee lunge to be quite simply a bad system. By comparison, instead of a lunge, Halo 1’s melees simply projected an area of effect in front of the player, and any target caught inside said AOE would have melee damage inflicted on it. After playing Halo 1 on the MCC over XBL and seeing how its melees function perfectly fine in an online multiplayer setting, I believe that there is no need for the melee system to physically move the player.

This game would most likely restore the melee system back to the non-lunging melees of the first game, and I would add the lunge only if it was absolutely necessary for melees to function properly in online play. The only change from Halo 1 that I would consider is maybe trimming the range by about 0.5 to 1 meters down from the original 3.5 m (mainly because of “hitbox dissonance” issues), though if that causes any complications that did not exist with H1’s melees, then I would leave the range the same.

If it proves necessary to retain the lunge, then it would need some changes. First off, the range would be lessened noticeably; it’s range would be no more than it is in Halo 4, perhaps slightly less. Furthermore, the angle the player can lunge at would be reduced; they would not be able to melee an opponent who is so far off center that the only thing showing on-screen is their elbow. If melees are going to be assisted by a guided lunge, then they don’t need to be super-easy to hit anything without trying. However, when the player does execute a lunge, the melee should always hit, without falling short, bouncing off, or otherwise missing (a problem present in Halo 2 that’s fortunately been averted in every subsequent game in the series).

As in Halo 1, melees would do varying amounts of damage depending on whether the player is standing, running, or jumping. Furthermore, I’d add a damage bonus for heavy or bladed weapons like the rocket launcher or Spiker, respectively. Here are the baseline damage values for melee attacks of Spartan and Elite player characters (weapon-specific damage bonuses will be listed in the weapon entries):

Melee Damage: 55 (standing), 70 (running), or 85 (jumping)
Damage Modifiers:
                  Hunter Armor: 50%
                  Flood Flesh: 50%
                  Sentinel Armor: 20%
                  Light Vehicle Armor: 10%
                  Heavy Vehicle Armor: 5%

Note that all AI-controlled entities in Campaign enjoy those same damage modifiers for their melees, even though their base damage may differ from the player’s (refer to Appendix I for a further explanation of damage modifiers). Also, in addition to the above modifiers, the amount of damage the player’s melee attacks inflict in Campaign is further modified based on difficulty: 2x damage on Easy, standard damage on Normal, 80% damage on Hard, and 50% damage on Legendary (the same figures as in Halo 1; I don’t know if it’s the same in the sequels).

Like in Reach and Halo 4, the player would be able to perform flashy, stylized executions when holding the melee button when assassinating an opponent. While it’s something based purely on Rule of Cool and doesn’t really add anything of substance to the gameplay, it’s a mechanic that’s popular with many players, myself included.


Fall Damage

Fall damage is a feature that I would absolutely insist on including. It was present in Halo 1, ODST, and Reach but absent in Halo 2 & 3 (it’s also present in Halo 4, but the distance required to fall in order to sustain damage is high enough to where it doesn’t figure into the course of normal gameplay). I have always stressed the importance of fall damage in gameplay. It provides tremendous incentive to watch your footing in areas with high drop-offs. Inattentive players can plummet to their death or at the very least suffer damage. Likewise, players who attempt to jump off a high ledge put themselves at risk of injury or death as a trade-off to getting to lower elevations more quickly, thus providing a certain balance to methods of traversing a stage on foot in addition to encouraging players to be more careful. As Rampancy.net’s Narcogen said “A map that has fall damage can offer options and be balanced. One approach, for instance, might require a long drop that would weaken the player, but be the shortest and fastest possible. A longer route would cause no damage, but take longer.” Finally, in addition to damaging the player, non-fatal falls that inflict above a certain amount of damage also temporarily stun the player. Obviously, fall damage has a significant impact on gameplay.

As for how much damage the player sustains, a damage scale more like Reach’s would be implemented as it was sufficiently punitive but not excessively so like it (arguably) was in Halo 1. In any case, a fall like the highest ones encountered in multiplayer maps — Damnation, Prisoner, and Boarding Action had drop-offs upwards of 25-30 meters high, the farthest and most lethal drops in Halo 1 MP — should definitely be fatal or at least cause critical damage to a player with full shields & health. As in Halo 1, the player would be able to reduce the amount of damage they sustain by properly timing a crouch when they hit the ground.


Player Movement

A Spartan-II’s maximum (non-sprinting) running speed would likely remain the approximately 7 m/sec it was in the original trilogy. That was a decent enough running speed, and doesn’t need adjusting. As for jump height, it’s negotiable. While I feel that the lower jump height in Halo 1 cut down on annoying tactics like bunny-hopping, jumping in the first game felt a bit unresponsive (I’ve heard this is mostly due to H1’s physics, though Halo 1’s controls did feel overall somewhat looser when it came to jumping). Of course, there’s no reason it has to be as such in this game. Since rockets and frag & plasma grenades would have larger explosions on the order of what was seen in Halo 1, perhaps it would be better if the jump height was more in line with what it is in Halo 3.

As for Elite player characters, I may have them move slightly faster (say, 8 m/sec) and have a somewhat higher jump height just like in in Reach, though if only having more shields & health is sufficient to balance their larger size against Spartans, then I would keep their movement the same as a Spartan’s.


Heads-up Display

While there’s nothing major that needs to be done, there are a few tweaks and additions I’d make to the HUD. The default HUD would have the same basic layout as the Reach and Halo 5 HUDs, and would combine aspects from both of those HUDs as well as HUDs from previous games. To start off, the top center widget would be just like it was in Reach, containing not just the shield bar but also a health bar and a compass (the latter to help navigating given how I’d approach level design). The motion tracker widget would be identical to how it was in Halo 4, with the vehicle blips showing what type of vehicle it is, which direction they’re facing, and showing which direction they’re coming from even when they’re outside the normal range of the motion tracker; the motion tracker’s range would be 25 meters by default in both Campaign and multiplayer. The weapon/ammo counter widget would be the same as it was on Halo 3’s HUD. The grenade indicator widget would be just like it was in Halo 3 & 4 (it was nearly identical in both games). Finally, like in Halo 1 and 5, the player’s targeting reticle would be situated in the center of the screen, rather than about a third of the way up from the bottom like in other games in the series.

Other changes to the HUD would be the various waypoints and objective indicators. Instead of tiny, pale blue print, I’d use the larger & easier-to-read orange print used for Halo 1’s distance indicators. Enemy names in multiplayer in the Reach-style HUD would have the same placement (centered and just below the shield & health bars) and font size & color as the H1 HUD rather than showing up in bold red print right above the enemy’s head like in the other games’ multiplayer. Also, the HUD may need a couple of extra additions or modifications for any new gameplay features, such as a map for Campaign similar to the one in ODST (which the player may need due to how I’d approach level design). Other changes would be re-adding the damage meter for vehicles when operating them (which had been absent since Halo 1), and possibly adding a sprint meter (if sprinting ended up being a standard ability).

Of course, if there’s a default HUD, then there must be non-default HUDs. Another new feature I would add to this game would the ability to customize the HUD, including being able to choose the basic layout of the HUD. Halo 5 already supports multiple HUDs, as seen in Campaign where each Spartan has their own individual HUD, so there’s no reason this can’t be done in multiplayer as well. In addition to at least a couple of variations of the Reach/Halo 5-style HUD (one of which would definitely be Buck’s ODST-style HUD), the player could also choose a Halo 1-style HUD. The Halo 1-style HUD would of course have the shield & health bars in the top-right corner and the ammo & grenade counters consolidated in the top-left corner, but it would by necessity incorporate some aspects of the default HUD, such as the compass.

Regardless of their HUD type or whether they’re playing Campaign or multiplayer, I’d give the player the ability to further customize certain aspects of the HUD, such as the color and opacity of its various widgets. Options would also exist for adding details from Halo 3 like curvature and a translucent visor outline or details from Halo 4 & 5 like subtle parallax movement when in motion, the ability the see parts of the inside of the helmet, or the various little non-functional highlights that make H4’s HUD look more like a jet fighter pilot’s HUD. Finally, I would likely give players the option to have the HUD use Covenant text when playing as an Elite.

Other changes to the HUD would include letting the player control what kind of messages and feedback show up on-screen as well as select their viewpoint while in a vehicle. As for messages and other forms of feedback, I’d give the player the option to do such things as disable tutorial pop-ups (e.g., “press RS to zoom”) or choose whether information such as ammo/grenade acquisitions are shown as on-screen text like in Halo 1 & 2 or as the more simplified Halo 3/Reach system where “+x” is temporarily superimposed on the ammo or grenade counters.


Equipment, Armor Abilities, & Power-ups

While Halo 1 and Halo 2 had the basic “Golden Tripod” of guns, grenades, & melees, in Halo 3, Bungie decided to add a fourth leg to the tripod (I guess it’s now “Golden Tetrapod”) by giving us one-time use deployable equipment. However, I felt that this feature was kind of tacked on, not being fleshed out very well and not really meshing well with the core gameplay. It has been likened to a chair with one of its four legs being an inch shorter than the rest, making it wobbly and uneven.

In Reach, they refined and improved the concept of equipment, giving us reusable armor abilities; basically, they put a few coasters under the short leg. It wasn’t executed perfectly either, but as a concept it worked for the most part, with the abilities actually feeling like an integral part of gameplay a thus felt like a proper fourth leg. The main issue I had with this system was how certain abilities functioned. Halo 4 carried on the armor ability feature from Reach, where it works about the same, just with some changes to the roster of AAs and some tweaks to returning AAs. Most notably, Sprint was made a default ability just like jumping is.

Halo 5 dispenses with armor abilities and introduces “Spartan abilities,” a suite of standard abilities, most of them mobility-related, that all players possess, including a multi-purpose thruster pack, a slide ability, a “Spartan charge” (basically an enhanced sprint-assisted melee), the ability to “clamber” up ledges, and a “ground-pound” (a dive-bombing aerial melee with splash damage). The overall effect is a much faster-paced and “twitchier” Halo experience, one that not only contrasts sharply with the slower, more methodical gameplay style of old-school Halo (the Spartans in Halo 5 are more “jet fighter” than “tank”) but also makes simply negotiating the battlefield in an effective manner a more complicated endeavor.

I have had my fair share of criticisms of all of these systems. In particular, armor abilities, “Spartan abilities,” and even sprint as a default ability have significant and far-reaching impacts on the overall pacing and flow of combat, and even the levels & maps themselves have to be designed around these abilities, often in sub-optimal ways (see my review of Halo: Reach as well as this post from Halo.Bungie.org for further thoughts). Also, in my own opinion the simplicity of the old guns-grenades-melee triad was one of the appeals of classic Halo, a simple and effective gameplay formula that produced an amazing shooter experience like nothing seen before at the time. While I do think the fourth leg deserves serious consideration as a gameplay feature, I lean heavily towards ditching any form of “fourth leg” entirely and going back to the classic Golden Tripod.

But for the sake of argument, if I were to incorporate a “fourth leg” into a Halo game, I would stick with Reach/Halo 4-style armor abilities as I feel that as they’re reusable, integrated abilities instead of single-use deployables, they are better in terms of function. Also, as each ability has a specific purpose and only one can be equipped at a time, it means there’s fewer variables for the player to keep track of than with a maximalist Halo 5-style “Spartan ability” system.

To start off with, armor abilities would be mostly unchanged from how they’ve always functioned. As before, each ability is attached to a single module and only one can be equipped at a time. Each ability drains various amounts of energy during use, and when the energy is depleted there’s a cool-down period where the ability recharges. However, unlike in Reach and Halo 4, armor abilities would, just like weapons, be dropped when a player dies and could be recovered by another player (incidentally, Halo 4 does have Stealth Elites drop their camo module when they die).

Second, armor abilities would be largely relegated to being an item that must be picked up off the field. Loadouts, introduced in Reach, are a departure from the classic Halo balancing act where players always start with the same gear. While Reach’s loadout system manages to remain balanced in the sense of every player in the match having access to all available loadouts regardless of things like their rank, I always felt it was a worrying move towards a more COD-style type of shooter. Indeed, Halo 4 made it to where, just like in COD, loadouts are fully customizable, complete with two slots for perk-like abilities, and weapons and other gear & abilities had to be unlocked. Therefore, this game would, like Halo 5, scale back loadouts, with loadouts being the norm only in select gametypes, such as Invasion and Firefight, and in most “Arena”-style playlists in matchmaking all players would have identical starting gear. I will go into more detail regarding loadouts in the page on multiplayer.

While armor modules would be reusable, I would consider giving them limited battery life. In Halo: Reach and Halo 4, they have a recharge time after being used, but they have an infinite amount of uses. This can be likened to giving a weapon infinite ammo — you might have to reload the weapon, but you can use it forever —, and it gives players the ability to continually spam an armor ability. A limited battery life would reduce the incentive to spam an ability and encourage players to be more judicious about using them, much like how limited ammo for power weapons encourages them to more carefully pick their targets so as to not waste their shots. However, giving modules a limited battery supply may not be warranted as I would scale back loadouts and thus spawning with modules wouldn’t be as common, not to mention unlimited battery isn’t a problem for Campaign & Firefight.

If limited battery life for modules were to be implemented, the total amount of uses/charges per battery would depend on the relative usefulness and strength of the ability provided by the module. The game mode could also influence the battery life of an armor module (e.g., a module would last longer in Campaign than in multiplayer, perhaps indefinitely). Just to throw out some numbers, in multiplayer, the active camo’s maximum battery life would be 30 seconds, the jet pack would have a minute of fuel, and the hologram could deploy up to seven decoys. Once the battery is depleted, the player must discard it for another one lying on the map. A module scavenged off a dead enemy or ally would only retain however much battery life it had when the player using it died, just like when picking up a used battery-powered weapon. Options would exist to give armor modules unlimited battery life in custom games and select gametypes in matchmaking (and Campaign, if they have a limited battery life by default in said mode).

Definite inclusions in the roster of armor modules would be: active camouflage, jet pack, thruster pack, hologram, and auto sentry. The active camouflage would act more like the Arbiter’s active camo from Halo 2 (which could be considered the precursor to armor abilities as it was a self-contained, reusable ability). The camo could last anywhere from five on up to ten seconds per charge, depending on what works best for gameplay. It would have a flat energy consumption rate instead of a movement-based consumption rate. The player would not fade in while running full speed either. Firing a weapon would disengage the camo and drain any remaining charge, thus requiring the player to wait for it to recharge before using it again. It would not have a radar jammer effect like it does in Reach, nor would it affect the user’s hearing.

The hologram would function just like in Halo 4, so I really wouldn’t make any changes specific to it other than those that are universal to armor abilities.

The jet pack is mostly fine functionally as well, though one change I would make would be to give it a slower recharge rate. It recharged at such a fast rate in Reach that a player could spend more time in the air than on the ground, and it’s not much better in that regard in Halo 4, either. It ought to take at least five seconds to begin recharging, and another five seconds after that to recharge fully from zero “fuel.”

The thruster pack in Halo 4 felt like a half-assed version of Evade, so I would tweak it a bit. It would function exactly like the Halo 5 version, except for being an armor ability instead of a default player ability.

The sentry would be changed a bit from Halo 4. While it would be conjured in the same manner and consume battery energy in a similar manner, in terms of appearance and offensive capabilities it would more closely resemble the deployable auto-turret seen in Halo 3. It would fire a continuous beam in 2- or 3-second pulses, inflicting 30 HP of damage per second (damage modifiers would be the same as the Sentinel beam; see that weapon’s entry on Page 4 for more info). Alternately, it could be some sort of Covenant stationary defense drone that fires plasma bolts similar to the plasma rifle’s rounds, but weaker per shot (say, 6 HP per shot) and fired at a slower rate (≤3 rounds/sec) It would consume energy in a similar fashion to its Halo 4 counterpart, depleting energy slowly when it’s just sitting there but consuming energy more rapidly when firing at targets or taking damage.

As for the purely defensive modules, I’m not set on what I’d like to see included. The regeneration field from Halo 4 feels kind of useless, so I’d likely use the drop shield from Reach for the “spherical energy field-emitting support ability” role. Perhaps it could be retooled to be more like the Personal Shield item from the recent Star Wars: Battlefront game. As for armor lock vs. hardlight shield, that’s a tougher call. I hated armor lock, and while the hardlight shield is a better idea conceptually, it would be hard to justify given that it is Promethean gear and the narrative would lack said faction, and replacing it with the Jackal shield might not work because it would be kind of small for a Spartan.

If armor lock is to be used, it would need some major overhauling. As it functioned in Reach, it is very polarizing to Halo players, with some defending it as something that requires a lot of skill to use effectively, while detractors like myself consider it a broken game mechanic that allows players to easily cheat death when they would otherwise not be able to. In addition to providing up to five seconds of invincibility per charge, it can be pulsed up to three times per charge and it can emit an EMP that instantly depletes shields, which makes it not only an impenetrable defense but also an effective offense in close quarters. Its invincibility-on-demand and other features make it the ultimate “Get Out Of Death Free” card when used properly.

I’ve heard several proposals on how to nerf the armor lock, including eliminating the EMP effect, making it to where it can’t be pulsed, reducing the duration the player can stay locked, giving it a slower recharge rate, not allowing a player’s shield to recharge when locked, and even having it drain the user’s shields if they stay locked longer than a second, leaving them weakened when they emerge. 343 Industries added a mechanic (applicable only in Title Update gametypes) to where damage done to a player in armor lock drains the charge, reducing the amount of time per charge one can stay locked from the normal five seconds. One idea I’ve had is to have it to where it can still be held for up to five seconds, but if the player pulses the armor lock for even a split second, it still depletes the entire charge. So, if you use it for only half a second or the entire five, it’s still the same result: you gotta wait for it to recharge before using it again.

However, my preferred solution is making it to where instead of providing invincibility, it reduces all damage by, say, 90%. A player could withstand a powerful attack with only minor to moderate damage inflicted upon him. As for the EMP effect, it would likely be eliminated; the armor lock should be purely defensive, and should not also double as a weapon. The armor lock would also not deflect projectiles (rockets would detonate on impact), and vehicles that crashed into a locked player would not necessarily explode on impact, rather bouncing into or over them as if the locked player were a small rock.

Next is the issue of sprinting. It may or may not be treated as a standard ability no different from melee attacks or jumping like it is in Halo 4 instead of as an armor ability like it was in Reach. It was my default AA in Reach; I liked the added boost to my speed for purposes of quickly escaping danger, regrouping with my allies, getting to power weapons, etc. While sprinting is pretty much an expected feature of shooters these days, I’m split on whether it should be an armor ability or a standard ability.

While sprint in general has serious gameplay implications—it affects map design and flow, plus there’s the issue of melee/sword rushing—those are amplified when everyone has access to sprint at all times. Sprint as a default ability is nice in that it’s always there and you don’t have to sacrifice it if you want to use the active camo or jet pack. However, I also like the fact that in Reach if I had sprint and the other guy had something else, I had the speed advantage. The Reach approach of having to forfeit sprint to be able to use other abilities provides a tradeoff. Do you want to run faster, or fly, or be invisible? You can only pick one. Finally, sprint as a default ability needlessly complicates the gameplay. Given the choice, I’d go with the Reach system, as I’m all about tradeoffs, and given Halo’s core gameplay, perhaps sprint should be relegated to being an armor ability. Also, it can be argued that if the default movement speed is sufficiently fast, there won’t be a need for default sprint, which would be further justification for sprint being an AA that you have to give up if you want to use a different AA.

There is a possible compromise between the Reach and Halo 4 approach to sprint, though. If sprint is a standard ability, perhaps it could be overridden by any armor modules the players have equipped; if they pick up a camo unit, they can no longer sprint, and in order to be able to sprint again they would have to discard the camo unit.

Regardless of whether it is an armor module or a standard ability, it would still operate the same when used, giving the player a boost of speed (say, 10 m/sec vs. the standard 7 m/sec running speed) but having a limited duration and a cool-down time. If it is a default ability, unlike in Halo 4, getting shot while sprinting will not slow the sprinting player down.

Finally, regardless of whether or how armor abilities are implemented, classic-style power-ups would definitely return and they would function pretty much identically to how they always have. The power-ups would of course include the Active Camo and Overshield (which would provide two extra layers of shielding like in Halo 1 & 2 instead of only one extra layer like in Halo 3 & 4; if someone goes out of their way for it, it needs to be worth picking up) and I would also likely add the Damage Boost and Speed Boost power-ups that were introduced in Halo 4. I might even consider re-adding traditional power-ups back to Campaign, where they haven’t appeared since Halo 1.


Interactive Environments & Weather Effects

Environments in the Halo series have always been largely static and non-interactive for the most part. I would try to make them at least somewhat more dynamic. One way would be to give them some degree of destructibility, whether it be aesthetic only like in Gears of War 2 & 3 or something that actually affects gameplay. While this game would likely not have destructible environments to the degree seen in games like the Battlefield series, there would be a sense of persistent damage. Certain objects that do not comprise the primary stage geometry such as smaller trees or small and/or nonessential structures could potentially be destroyed so as to add gameplay-affecting destruction. Degradable cover could come into play as well. Certain light fixtures could be shot out as well, which would have various effects in gameplay.

Moving stage geometry could play a role as well to make for more interactive environments. For example, in Halo 2 there were the moving parts of Cairo Station’s MAC gun that interfered with the player’s movement, various pieces of machinery operating in Forerunner installations (e.g. the elevator sequence in the stage “The Arbiter”), the piston on Waterworks, the fan on Zanzibar, and the radar dish on Ascension. I would like to see more stuff like that in a future Halo game.

Environmental hazards could also be an element. In snowy stages, there could be ice patches that cause wheeled vehicles to lose traction (something present in Halo 1 on AotCR, Two Betrayals, and Sidewinder). There could also be rockslides, avalanches, and other falling stuff in certain places in the game (e.g., stalactites, which like the ones on Waterworks could be shot off to distract or crush enemies), which could happen as part of a scripted event or as something triggered by the actions of the player or an NPC.

Finally, bad weather would come into play. Weather in the Halo series has largely been mild and usually quite fair. There was light snowfall on Assault on the Control Room, Two Betrayals, and Lockout, light, almost unnoticeable rain on The Great Journey and The Storm, and fog on 343 Guilty Spark and Backwash (the latter pictured to the right to illustrate how the thick mist obscured vision; click image for full size version) as well as parts of AotCR & Two Betrayals in Halo Anniversary. Fog was the only example of adverse gameplay-affecting conditions as it limited visibility considerably. None of the other weather effects did anything other than add ambiance. Heavy rain, wind, thunder & lightning (with appropriate light sourcing), heavy snow or whiteouts, thick fog, and so forth would play a larger role in this game, and could affect gameplay by affecting visibility, interfering with vehicle maneuverability, and so forth. Weather effects could even be dynamic rather than static, changing as a stage progresses and even differing in the same place and time on separate playthroughs. However, if this proves to make things too unpredictable, weather would always be fixed. For example, if it starts pouring down rain in one part of a stage, it would always rain in that part. In any case, weather would always be static in multiplayer in the default configuration of all maps (no sudden, unexpected whiteouts on a snowy map, for example), as random weather could negatively affect combat in Matchmaking.

However, for custom games, weather effects could be customized for most outdoors stages, with the available effects being appropriate for the stage. Even time of day could be changed from the default time (for Campaign, I would consider implementing a feature where the time of day in some stages is tied to the system clock, similar to what Factor 5 did in Rogue Leader on the GameCube). For example, a snow-themed map could have clear, sunny skies or a raging blizzard, while a stage like Blood Gulch could be given rainy, stormy weather in the middle of the night. Weather could be made dynamic or static as well. For indoors stages where weather isn’t an issue the player could potentially alter the lighting levels. Weather, time of day, and lighting would be customized in Forge mode, which I will discuss in-depth later.

<<< Back to Part 1: Introduction

Forward to Part 3: Campaign >>>

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2 responses to “Building the Ultimate Halo Game

  1. Ok, I was just reading this article, and while I haven’t reviewed all the minutae and every single statistic yet, I have some comments…

    For one, I 100% agree with the idea of making a new game which focuses on the human/covenant war across different planets and colonies, rather than on the rings and the flood. You could really position this at any point in the timeline so as to provide the best battle scenarios.

    I really would like to see the Elites return as the primary enemy. I definitely agree that the Brutes would need some reworking to really contribute to the game, but I can’t even really think of how you would do that…and I wouldn’t miss them if they weren’t there.

    The number one thing I’d like to see in a new Halo campaign would be a serious, more realistic (Blomkampish) tone, and an enhanced focus on combat mechanics and AI. I would try to make the campaign combat match the intensity of a multiplayer match as much as possible. IMO an Elite should have equal health/shields and deal equal damage to the spartan player, and those values should not change across different difficulty levels. Ideally, the difference in the difficulty levels would entirely lie with how smart and aggressive the enemies were.

    Definitely agree about the AR – compress the old AR and old BR into one select fire weapon. With a good spread-bloom system, accuracy would be reduced during sustained auto fire enough to balance it out, while short bursts and rapid semi-auto would grant enough accuracy to go for head damage at mid range.

    I actually think there could be potential to use the fire mode selection as a wider overall game feature. The AR would be the primary reason to implement it, but it could be used in other weapons as well. For example, imagine switching modes on the Plasma Pistol – one mode being the dual function one we’re used to, one charge mode that automatically charges and holds an overcharge bolt until you pull the trigger, and “semi” mode that only fires the mini shots, but does so as soon as you pull the trigger rather than when you release it. You could also use such a command to adjust the rate of fire of the PR (ie 300/450/600 rpm) to manage damage vs overheating rate, or to toggle between magnification levels on the Sniper Rifle (5x/10x) or even the BR and Carbine (2x plus a 5x option).

    On the SMG – I think the way to differenciate it is ammo capacity and accuracy of sustained fire…it could even be changed to a very compact LMG (think mk46 mod 0). Firing a lighter round (even up to 5.56) it could deliver full auto with a tighter spread/less recoil than the AR for up to 70-100 rounds straight, at the cost of lighter per hit damage and no ability to go for pinpoint headshots.

    Of course I also agree with you on most other aspects we’ve dicussed in the past – i.e. semi-auto BR, health packs, fall damage, etc.

    As far as implementing different classes of characters, I can think of a lot of different ways to implement them. For example, when playing the ODST or any other human character, you might experience much more severe recoil effects on weapons like the SMG, AR, and BR…or even more realistic tactical shooter-ish characteristics like (basic/limited) posture/movement based accuracy and aiming only with whatever sighting was available on the weapon (irons, or scope).

    By comparison, playing the spartan you would have the superhuman strenth and coordination to fire the heavy recoil weapons to the performance we’re used to in Halo regardless of movement or posture. Due to the enhancements of the HUD, the spartan might be able to fire towards a projected reticule without actually using the sights of the weapon (due to cpu-managed eye/hand coordination). One thing I did in my last mod was make the 2x magnification universal to all weapons – this could be explained as a magnification feature of the spartan helmet/hud and not the optics of the weapons.

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