A letter of counsel to 343i in relation to the next installment in the Halo franchise. Written with dedication and love by your fanbase and avid community.
The Issue of Halo’s popularity decline.
As seen in this link, Halo 3 has passed Halo 4 in activity for the week of October 28. This is the first time a current Halo title has ever been surpassed by a former title.
And in this link, Halo 4’s extreme population decline is somewhat explained. It highlights the out-of-game reasons why we are at record-breaking lows right now.
This document will highlight the in-game reasons while stating and explaining the five key things we think Halo 5 needs to be successful.
We strongly believe that if these five requests are met, Halo 5 will be the greatest Halo game to date. A good title “out of the box” that offers an exceptional experience to both social and competitive players is what Halo desperately needs right now. This will help not only to attract a new fan base, but to bring back old players as well.
Some requests may appear extreme, but extreme times call for extreme measures. A touch of extreme would go a long way for Halo and the shooter genre in general right now. We hope everything we wrote is properly read and well considered.
Thank you very much for your time,
The competitive community.
The Needed 5:
1. Sprint Removed.
The following link shows that 72% of the 3190 people who voted, want sprint gone.
Sprint’s effects on the game go a lot deeper than the obvious complaint made about players running away when they should have died. People can sprint off-spawn to finish a weakened player which lowers the punishment for dying and makes trading kills more prevalent. Previously, a victor could regain their shields and get ready for the next encounter by obtaining new weapons or positions in the downtime - an advantage to the winner. This works well as an appropriate disadvantage for dying.
Sprint wrecks the advantage because you or a respawning ally can run straight back to the winner of the previous fight and finish him off. It removes the downtime where you get a chance to regain shields and prepare for the next encounter.
These issues disrupt the flow, depth, integrity and intelligence of the game. They cause more anger than enjoyment and these are only the obvious effects.
Sprint completely destroys the scale of the game. This is the real, underlying problem with sprint.
Scale refers to the dimensions of a map, in relation to the dimensions and abilities of a Spartan. Halo gameplay has been consistent in the past regardless of weapons, kill times, maps, gametypes, grenades or perks, because the scale was done right;
Geometry Proximity is another important point:
Areas and geometry need to be close to each other to provide interesting, strategic and unique combat tactics using verticality. The further areas get from each other the less verticality and synergistic-use there is between them. Snipe tower on Lockout is a perfect example of close areas and geometry creating interesting, strategic and unique combat opportunities. However when sprint is added the tower becomes “too small”. So you enlarge the tower but now the exact properties that made it good are lost, it becomes too horizontal and has too much distance between each area for it to work well in combat.
These are just a few examples of how scale dramatically affects the game. If any component in any of the above examples is too much or too little, the game will have huge problems. This is why sprint is such a big problem - the game has to balance sprint, against itself. It has to sacrifice the integrity of all properties above, in order to make sprint ‘work’.
The average encounter distance is also increased which means a lot of the components that make Halo so unique and successful are made less viable; Circling players, strafing, jumping, melees, tactical grenades, CQC strategy. These aspects cannot thrive or have much effect when distances are increased to account for sprint. The game ends up functioning like another generic long-distance shooter with no flavor.
When a player tries to hold a position down to run a flag, to protect his base, to kill other players, or to land shots across map to help his team mates, sprint makes it very hard to.
For example Midship’s Pink tower in Halo 2: To use the tower you need to first defend it so you don’t get assassinated or caught off guard. With no sprint you have small windows of opportunity to shoot from it as players can’t sprint up there, all it takes is a periodic check to see if anyone is moving in on you. With sprint added, you need to be continually checking, and have no time to fire from the tower to other areas of the map.
The power position value is diminished which removes structure, variance and direction from the map.
This works everywhere - the idea that players have to constantly check their back and be on the lookout for players running into their area, instead of actually playing the game. It makes it very chaotic, unstructured, at times random, and completely ruins any chess-like mind games that happened constantly in previous titles. This is why Halo has been failing so much; the lack of combat structure and strategy makes it boring no matter what gizmos and gadgets you’re using.
Upscaling maps is extremely bad, we cannot stress this enough. Angles get ruined; think looking through a window from across the road VS standing right up against it - you can’t see much of anything from across the road. This effect causes people to sprint more, to get closer, so they can play the game.
Upscaling can be confusing as well as you feel far away, so you sprint, then get punished for it by getting caught mid-sprint. So you stop sprinting then get punished for moving around too slow and getting pinned in a bad positions with no weapons.
The ‘slowed when getting shot mechanic’ introduced in Halo 4 fixes none of these absolutely serious issues with the game. There is nothing that can fix sprint, it will always ruin Halo.
We hope that if anything is taken away from this document, it is this.
2. Increased Difficulty.
Aim assists need to be significantly reduced; Halo 1, 2, and 3’s popularity was a lot to do with the fact that aiming was hard. You couldn’t just pick up a controller and start 4-shotting people and winning games. You had to practice, and it wasn’t easy. It was hard and frustrating at times, but you had only yourself to blame. But when you finally did land a 4-shot or a snipe headshot, it was the best feeling in the world. It was a feeling everyone related to and replayability came from the constant strive to find that feeling.
In Halo 4, a 4-shot kill is so easy that it means nothing, same with sniping. You don’t have to practice as much to land them, and almost anyone can do it. That great feeling is gone because it isn’t an accomplishment any more.
It also means that a lot of battles boil down to who sees who first, instead of who out-shoots who.
Halo stood out above other shooters because it always gave players a chance to use their skill to overcome an adverse situation. This is of huge importance, but was ignored in Halo 4 due to the extreme ease of the game.
Halo 3 was the first Halo game made in widescreen and got aim assist perfect. BRing and sniping was perfect in terms of difficulty. We aren’t just talking about competitive players either; look how popular the game was and is today. People are going two titles back to a game made 6 years ago, because it is more fun and gripping due to the difficulty and the feeling of accomplishment you get just from doing the basics.
Halo 5 needs to follow Halo 3 as a reference to aiming difficulty. Halo 1 can be used as well, but we feel Halo 3 is an easier reference since it’s widescreen and uses the BR.
On the flipside to this, base movement and strafing needs to be faster and more responsive - a better strafe means a higher difficulty in shooting. Halo 2 is a good reference for this as the game was fairly difficult and rewarding, despite have huge aim assists. The responsive strafing made up for the lack of aiming difficulty as players had means to avoid shots. In Halo 4, players don’t have the means to avoid the heavily aim assisted shots that are fired at them, which can be extremely frustrating and makes it feel pointless to play.
A greater skill gap in general increases replayability in the form of encouraged competition. This allows for greater player retention simply because of the intrinsic quality of individuals to want to better themselves. This creates a better experience for everybody as people are less frustrated and have a better and more competitive (will-to-win) population to play with.
Dynamic Aim Assist Idea: Aim Assist that lowers as Rate of Fire increases would work to limit effective range like bloom or spread but in a non-random fashion. It would achieve the same goal but in a far more intuitive, fair, skillful and enjoyable/gripping manner.
This would be the first aiming system of its kind in the industry and it would restore some novelty to the series, helping Halo to stand out and differentiate itself from other shooters once again.
3. Halo 4’s additions amended.
Listed in order of Importance:
The following link shows that 92% of the 3190 people who voted, want Flinch gone.
This comes back to difficulty - there is a skill to managing your scope, one that differs from aiming. Having to account for flinch in your aiming does not replace the skill involved in descope. Flinch has increased the issue of Sniping being far too easy. Being sniped across map is an issue everybody has; it doesn’t really make sense falling dead with no one in sight, it doesn’t feel fair and can be highly frustrating. Even when a player is shooting directly at a sniper, they still have a very high chance of killing you due to staying in scope.
Flinch does not compare to Descope in the slightest in terms of appropriate difficulty and sandbox function. All it does is make weapons overpowered at range which calls for more Bloom, Spread or less base damage in order to compensate, all of which are negative aspects for the game.
This is an extremely frustrating change, and again one that removes strategy; a dropped sniper at snipe tower means a fight over control of snipe tower to secure the weapon. Now it disappears so fast that such a thing doesn’t exist; the weapon will be gone before the battle is over. Dropped weapons give structure and direction to a game, it makes it easier to follow, and offers strategic “objectives” to all gametypes.
The reason given for fast despawn timers was that the battlefield gets too cluttered and that picking up a half-used weapon is a waste of time. With all due respect, we believe that this is erroneous as too many weapons isn’t an issue at all compared to vanishing weapons, and a half-used power weapon is far from useless.
Finally, the issue of too many weapons on map can be fixed with less intrusive modifications. For example lessening the occurrence of weapon spawns, or limiting (removing) Personal Ordnance Drops.
Again a difficulty decrease; instead of learning weapon placement (a motivator for continual playing/game longevity) players are given them at their feet. There is huge strategy in setting up for weapons placed on map, which is completely removed when weapons are put in PODs instead of on consistent and frequent respawns on map.
The reason for removing the classic weapons-on-map was because new players feel frustrated when they get killed by players with power weapons who have learned the times. This isn’t a problem with the game though, either the player doesn’t care enough to get better, or there aren’t enough learning tools available to them.
A better solution to the problem is to provide guides in-game and on the waypoint forums about where weapons are placed and what their respawn timers are. All players would appreciate such a kind gesture, and it would be an awesome way to interact and show interest in your fans.
All in all, any issues caused by the classic weapons-on-map, pale in comparison to those created by ordnance drops.
We suggest keeping ordnance but only as a method for delivering the classic non-random weapons-on-map placements. Or just remove it entirely; it isn’t necessary in any way, shape or form.
Difficulty again; flag juggling is a skill in itself, removing it is removing a goal which players can work towards (becoming an awesome flag runner).
Auto flag pickup is one of the most frustrating things in a game of Halo. Most flag grabs are unintentional; you are in a fight and all of a sudden you have a flag in your hands, it makes no sense, is extremely unintuitive, and it can cause you to die which can be infuriating. Its the kind of thing that makes people turn off their Xbox.
Not being able to drop it is equally as frustrating and unintuitive, it also removes a lot of strategy options in flag running. Previously you could walk the flag unseen (sneak it), juggle the flag (run it fast for a quick cap), or fake run it (pull it out to cause a distraction but don’t actually run it). Now all you can do is run it, you have no options, there is no strategy or depth, and it is less enjoyable because of it.
The flag changes in Halo 4 only worked to lower the skillgap and make CTF a much more frustrating, confusing and bland experience.
Oddball was the most strategically deep and enjoyable gametype due to it’s ability to make full use of a map. The strategies were endless in Oddball due to new setups being constantly invented and counters being devised. Unfortunately, the gametype has be turned into an something that resembles an extremely barbaric pass-time with no order or intelligence.
The new throwing mechanic creates continual “chase” gameplay which causes an overabundance of side-to-side spartan encounters due to all players moving and looking in the same direction. These encounters are random, frustrating, skill-less, uninteresting and doesn’t grip you like the classic thinking man’s Oddball does.
Oddball needs throwing removed, it made one of the best gametypes in FPS history, into one of the worst.
This gametype is like a deeper and more enjoyable version of flag. The original Assault gametype with an editable arm time (not instant like Grifball), and an indication that an enemy player is arming it, was one of the best gametypes we ever had. Its removal made no sense to the players, and everyone would love to have it back.
More medals means less importance of each and less of a feeling of achievement and joy when you earn one. Right now the number of medals given out is borderline spam. Keep all of the medals, but only show the classic and deserving medals in-game such as sniper headshots, multikills, assists and sprees. Things like killing an enemy while they are reloading, or getting revenge on a player can still be rewarded, but ‘hidden’ in-game and only shown in the post-game carnage report.
4. Weapon Loadout options only.
Halo does not work with Armor Abilities and perks in loadouts because it goes directly against what Halo is about; me versus you, an even battlefield, the best man wins. Our first thought was to have a universal weapon start across all playlists, like Halo 1. The reasons for this are as follows:
Gameplay is better due to more appropriate interaction between your default weapon and the scale of the game. It keeps power weapons in check, and allows everyone to always have a chance at all times. A game where a pickup means automatic victory (Sniper vs player spawning across map with Assault Rifle) doesn’t work because it isn’t fun for either party, and feels pointless and frustrating to play.
Games such as League of Legends and Starcraft have no split in their population, both social and competitive populations are playing the same game. Since Halo 2, Halo has had a split due to the lack of precise utility weapons off-spawn. Halo 1 was so highly regarded due to the universal settings which worked extremely well in a competitive environment - no tweaking required, as well being an awesome game socially (who didn’t play Halo 1?).
However we do think that Weapon-only loadouts can work. Automatic and Precision rifles *only* in Loadouts would not tamper with the balance of the game because every player has the same choice of weapons. It allows any person of any rank to play with any weapon they choose while still technically abiding by “even starts/spawns”.
We feel that Loadouts have potential because choice is a good thing when it does not tamper with balance. We suggest keeping the same loadout options currently in Halo 4, minus Armor Abilities, Support Upgrades, Tactical Packages, Pistols, and Grenade options (have 2x Frag universal).
Ie. use Precision Rifles and Automatics *only* (no PPs or Boltshots).
As for Armor Abilities, adding them into the pickup sandbox as another class of item along side power weapons and power ups, is the best way to go. They do not function well in loadouts at all, but a lot of them have great potential as pickups.
5. Visible Ranks & Social Split returned.
In the previous two Halo titles players have complained about having uneven matching of players in terms of skill. This poses a huge issue because killing people who are new or social isn’t fun or stimulating (boring), and being totally destroyed by people who play far more than you isn’t fun either, and is kind of demoralizing.
The reason for these uneven matchups was due to the push to get faster games. The root of the problem is an overabundance of playlists; the more playlists there are, the more the population is divided. The more the population is divided, the less players there are per playlists. The less players there are per playlist, the longer it takes to find a game. The longer it takes to find a game, the less priority can be given to making even matchups.
We need to stick to the basics when it comes to playlists - less is more.
Another reason for uneven matchups was due to the lack of clarity between social and competitive playlists.
Halo 3 had it perfect; ranked and social playlists in a separate categories. This worked extremely well because lower skilled players, or those who simply wanted to muck around and have fun, had a place to go. Similarly, those who were serious and enjoyed ranking up and bettering themselves, had their place too.
The separate populations never matched with each other, and always had good games because they were always in like-minded company. Best of all, everyone was playing the same game, just with different attitudes towards it which was recognized and supported.
Ranked and Social split must return, and ranks have to be in-game. If players can’t see them, they might as well not exist. Simple as that.
Importance of getting the core game right.
Any game, business, product, or service, has core competencies; What they do best. Usually these core competencies are aligned with how a company differentiates their product or service from the competition. This differentiation is also known as a company’s unique selling proposition.
So what are Halo's core competencies? What does Halo do best? What makes Halo unique compared to the competition? What does Halo do better than the competition? Does your views align with the community’s?
We hope the next Halo title in its default state can be one in which all players social or competitive, can enjoy. We wish only for the best, and with that believe Halo’s success has, and always will, boil down to the following:
Halo's unique selling propositions
Multiple shots to kill, headshot bonuses, medium kill times - not instant but still within the 1-2 second range, allowing time to fight back. “Always a chance”.
Recharging shields mean that players enter every fight on even footing - they are not handicapped or easier to kill due to previous encounters.
Everyone starts with the same weapons, alternative weapons and pickups spawn on map, two weapon inventory only, and grenades “always ready to use”. All of these make the game a very unique, fair, deep, exciting and highly satisfying.
Ranks that represent your skill level which you can increase by getting better and beating other players is a huge motivator to play, it adds real excitement to the game. People would play for hours on end because of this fact alone.
Players move at a constant and predictable speed making the game easily comprehendible and non-random. This coupled with the medium kill-time, melees and the unique grenade system made inter-combat tactics, mind games and strategies destroy anything else possible in any other shooter in terms of depth, enjoyment, fairness and competitive value.
In Halo: Reach and Halo 4, the core competencies were strayed away from:
Not even one was firmly stuck to.
Our goal here is to have the best default, “out of the box” settings possible. Competitive players do not want to play an entirely different Halo than social players. It does not help us grow and it has negative consequences because we are forced to play a completely different Halo than what everyone else is playing. It drives a wedge between the communities, we want unity.
The best competitive settings in our minds is default Halo which plays well, that is why we think Halo 1 is regarded legendary in the genre.
Conclusion and thank you.
The fact that you, 343 Industries, have listened to us, the community, in the past by bringing us the Turbo update, and have shown interest in providing us with a ranking system for the next title, along with a spectator mode, and 60 frames per second, makes us very hopeful for the next title. Despite our often rash language and jumping to conclusions, that may drive you away, we value and cherish a good Developer-Community relationship.
We hope this letter can be of use and that Halo 5 is a great success.
Thanks for reading,
The competitive community.