-->
Games

Team Economics in Halo 3: ODST

Firefight is a great team game because working with other players feels voluntary instead of forced.

The best thing about Halo 3: ODST is Firefight. While a lot of gamers wrote it off as a derivative of Gears of War 2’s Horde mode, it deserves credit for being a much more refined design. Team game design can be seen as a kind of miniature economy or scaled down MMO. The basic rules governing an MMO economy like exclusive resources and mutual goals are distilled and simplified into combinations that can be grasped on the fly. Instead of a Healer and Tank exchanging buffs and timing elaborate strategies, the exchange is much less complicated. A sniper covering you while you close in with a short range weapons is a resource being swapped. You keep the sniper from being overwhelmed, the sniper watches your back in exchange. The individual abilities of a class are now the weapons equipped. Firefight captures the essence of this exchange without forcing the player to participate in it if they choose not to.

Firefight would make a really good XBLA download. It consists of eight levels taken from the ODST campaign re-designed into closed arenas. Two levels can also be played at night to mix things up. Enemy troops drop in at various points or doorways at timed intervals. Five waves of enemies per round, three rounds per set, and 200,000 points total to make par on a set. Waves consist of about three groups of five aliens, give or take, and can be anything from Grunts, Heavies, Brutes, or those God awful bug things. Levels are all varied in playstyle. ‘Crater’ is a big arena with two platforms looking down on it. Getting control of a gun turret on your side is the key to keeping the level under control and not getting overwhelmed. For those more interested in vehicles there is ‘Platoon’, which features a Warthog and has Brute troops drop in on Chopper bikes regularly. Other levels feature complex hallways and tunnels that you have to dart around while enemies close in. To keep things interesting you play as an Orbital Defense Shock Trooper, which means no regenerating health. You have a finite supply of ammo and health kits that restock at the end of each round.

Which sounds simple enough on paper but like any Halo game the devil is in the details. A good team game should always consist of shared resources that have to be shared along with multiple skills being used in conjunction in order to effectively beat a level. Something like Left 4 Dead manages this by making it so your teammates can be pinned down by zombies. Since health and cover fire are key commodities, freeing a teammate from a zombie is an essential exchange of abilities that ensures people stay in the group. Sharing health kits and cover fire are less enforced but still essential exchanges since it’s always better to keep your teammates alive in a Left 4 Dead or Left 4 Dead 2 round. In converse, Halo 3’s multiplayer doesn’t provide a lot of incentive to not just lone wolf your way through the average session. The only resources that can be exchanged are non-essentials like driving the Warthog or cover fire. Team play will always dominate a game, but you can also just run around and do your own thing while still effectively playing. The same can be said for playing the zombie side in Left 4 Dead. The balancing act of resources in a team game is how much should people must work together versus letting them choose to do it voluntarily.

Firefight strikes a unique balance between Left 4 Dead’s team dependence and Halo 3’s open style by featuring a bit of both worlds. ODST features three new guns: the silenced SMG, the silenced 9 mm, and the Red Stapler. Technically that last one is the Brute Plasma Gun but everyone I play the game with calls it that. Any alien you make a headshot with a 9 mm is going to die instantly, anything you’re peppering with the SMG will be going the same route soon. The problem is that once you cross into the second or third round you’re going to be facing a lot of shielded enemies. Bullets are a waste on shields and at higher difficulties even bounce off. Effective teamplay means having one person use the Red Stapler to drop shields while a teammate pops them in the head. Since resources like medkits, ammo, and even lives are collectively pooled players have to negotiate when to use them as a group. You’re never going to outright get your teammates killed, just take more than your share from the collective pool. Grabbing an ammo box when you’re only half-way empty or using one of the few medkits when you don’t really need it screws everyone over.

It’s that precarious balance between lone wolf and group play which made Bungie be very insistent that there be no matchmaking in Firefight. (Why Halo 3: ODST Firefight Doesn’t Support Matchmaking, David Wildgoose, 12 Aug 2009) It’s also bullshit that you can’t play Firefight 4-way splitscreen but that’s another matter. Team play is promoted via very strong incentives, but unlike L4D it never forces you to work as a team via penalties. So while playing the game with strangers would probably fall apart because they’re hogging ammo and health, playing with your friends makes it so you team up naturally due to the incentives. What’s refreshing is that you can still slip in and out of playing as a tightly coordinated group to go wander off and do your own thing without worrying about instant death.

The game’s scoring system and daunting 200,000 points for par subtly encourages teamwork. Enemies never stop coming in Firefight, so locking down a choke point and just shooting until you finish a set is both dull and makes scoring par very difficult. Your best bet is to start ramping the multiplier with a Brute Hammer or sniper shots so that you kill a bunch of enemies in a quick span of time. The only way to do that efficiently is to attack enemies right when they come out of the drop ship. Some levels you can time it so that you dodge the Drop Ship’s turrets, other times you can just shoot a rocket into the thing before unloading into the drop site. Playing like this is effective for short bursts and maxes out your score, but you almost always last longer if someone is watching your back. Someone with the Red Stapler drops the shields, the sniper drops them, and the weaker enemies are taken out by the Hammer player to improve the score. Lone wolf behavior is a necessary resource in the sense that someone is going to have to do something crazy to score the extra points to make par.

Halo 3 was always a very team friendly game, it just never really gave players many ways to feel like a part of a group. You can cover each other and balance out weapon payloads, but sharing resources is not an essential element. Rather than make those shared resources absolutely essential like in L4D, Firefight just adds a couple more layers onto the game design so that you can really feel like a group effort is possible. The little touches bring all this together. If you’re the last man standing your friends can scout the map with the bodiless camera and call out what enemies are closing in. If you’re a good sniper you’ll need someone to drop the shields off the more advanced enemies. On a map like ‘Crater’ the player on the turret is essential and they need cover on both sides and below to be effective. A good Warthog team can dominate ‘Platoon’ while other players sneak off to pursue their own goals. Firefight is a great team game because working with other players feels voluntary instead of forced.

Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image