Hyping Halo 3: A Sign of What's Wrong?

Matt Barton's picture

I just came across this rant in the New York Times on a familiar topic--why are modern games so inspid? The author goes into the usual criticisms about how shallow the vast majority of games are, and how they pale compared to the best in film. We've often talked here about how the film industry is so different than the games industry--there is, after all, a place in the film industry for independent films, and not even every Hollywood blockbuster is a mindless action extravaganza. Yet when we turn to the games industry, it's just one highly polished clone after another, right? What is Halo 3 but just the latest remake of Wolfenstein 3D (or 3D Monster Mash, for that matter?)

In a way it IS silly calling Halo 3 (of Halo 1, for that matter) a "cultural phenomenon." Let's call it what it is: a derivative game with a so-so plot and cardboard characters. Sure, it's pretty and compelling, but it wouldn't hold up as a film or novel (at least one that a non-gamer would care about). I'm not saying it's not fun--I'd be an idiot to say that--but it's a bit disappointing to think that it's 2007, and it's still all about the audiovisuals. Sigh.

Imagine this: Every six months or so you go the bookstore and buy the same novel. Same story, same text. The only thing that changes is the art on the cover, which gets a little bit more realistic every time you see it. Pretty soon, that damn cover art will look so real it'll be indistinguishable from a photograph. Who knows, maybe it will look MORE REAL than a photograph.

Get my point?

That said, there are developers out there busting paradigms, but they're not the ones we hear about in the mainstream press. Dreamfall? Totally unmentioned except in the gaming press. Half-Life 2? Well, it ain't Halo, so why bother? Psychonauts? Who cares, it isn't a MMORPG. How many people have ever hear of Syberia, Bad Mojo, or The Dig? Ah, they can't be bothered; the only adventure games worth playing are Myst and Monkey Island.

In short, I don't think the problem is that there aren't any original or artistic games out there. I think that the problem is that the only ones that attract the mainstream press are either over-hyped games like Halo 3, or publicity stunts like Grand Theft Auto.

Link via Grand Text Auto.

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Calibrator
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Joined: 10/25/2006
My ramblings

The industry seems to need hype to sell anything and that alone is a disturbing aspect.

When comparing with movies I see TV or printed ads only two or three weeks in advance - with games you get "prepared" half a year or more in advance.
With "ads" in gaming magazines like developer's diaries and previews.
Then a "community" establishes itself to gather all those people trembling with expectations to wait for the new messiah...
And sometimes a game never materializes because the developer/publisher closed the doors - leaving the gamers salivating for nothing.

Personally I recently played a lot of graphical adventures because shooters bore me to death - as you say they are too derivative.
Story and flexible gameplay excites me the most (="excites me at all").

Games like Thief - Dark Project, Deus Ex (the first!) or System Shock don't get published anymore (an no - Bioshock doesn't really count) as the market for these games seems to be too small to cater for. :-/

In fact I play custom fan made missions for the Thief games more than anything else and as the newer graphics cards (or their drivers) break the Thief games I don't intend to upgrade my "gaming rig" (what a terrible word) further.

take care

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Mark Vergeer
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Matt have you played the game?

As I haven't played the game myself I can only speculate. Perhaps Bill can shed a little light on the subject....



Editor / Pixelator - Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Bill Loguidice
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Halo 3 - A brief defense

I've only played through the first mission and a half or so of Halo 3, so I'm VERY early in the game. I disagree in the case of the Halo, as just like in the first two games, I feel like I'm part of a classic epic space opera. "Part of" is key there, as, while the story is very strong and compelling in my opinion, YOU are a part of it, YOU are a big part of driving it. While superficially it resembles every other FPS, that's like saying after Pole Position there needn't have been any other behind the car racing games. Technology evolves, subtleties evolve. The Halo series, three included, makes you part of an epic and makes intelligent use of team-based play, physics, classic game mechanics (lobbing grenades is like playing artillery duel for instance), etc.

While I often like to compare videogames to other mediums/media, I think Halo 3 is a prime example of everything that can be right and unique about videogames. While I think it can make a fine novel, graphic novel, TV show, movie, etc., arguments aside, it does what it sets out to do as a polished and quality videogame. In this case, I think the hype is justified, as, while the game is not perfect, it's damned good. It has a robust single player campaign, it can be played with two to three other players besides yourself at the same time through the campaign both online and offline, it has customizable and robust multiplayer modes and settings (again offline/online) and even lets you do a form of level creation. How can that be criticized?

Mark Vergeer wrote:

As I haven't played the game myself I can only speculate. Perhaps Bill can shed a little light on the subject....

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
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forcefield58
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Joined: 05/19/2006
Halo 3 - The Halo Experience

I mentioned in Bill's blog that I had recently finished the solo campaign in Heroic difficulty (which is different for me as I play most games in "normal" difficulty setting). I've also played Halo 1 and 2, and read the 3 Halo novels that have come out. I may be a bit biased to comment, but, I agree with Bill that the hype that proceeded Halo 3 turns out to be deserved. I was a bit skeptical based on the ending of Halo 2, but my fears were put to rest as the solo campaign played out. Bill is right, you're drawn into the game and feel as if "you" are lobbing "sticky" grenades, sniping Brutes, having a relationship with the holographic "Cortana", etc.

I guess to people that haven't followed the Halo games, the plot would seem "so-so". Actually, my friend recently bought a 360 and Halo 3. He finished Halo 3 about the same time I did, so I tried to talk to him about it. Since he hadn't played the first 2 games he didn't have the emotional attachment to it like I do. So, I had that "unfulfilled" feeling. Another of my friends has followed the same course as I have and played all the games, read the books, etc. He finished the game a couple days after I did, and the resulting discussion we had took up almost a full day (we work in the same office). Fulfillment!!

The ending sequence of events were so "life-like", so emotionally draining, that by the time the end video scene played out, I was a mess! When it appeared certain "events" had taken place, I was seriously distraught. For a full week I played nothing else, and when it was over I sat there in front of the screen and thought to myself, "now what do I do"!

Halo is kind of like the "Madden" football series of games, or the Half Life games, or the Civilization games, etc., you have to be a fan to be affected by the hype, and at least in the case of myself and a bunch of people I work with, we're all buying in. There are exceptions though. Microsoft should be paying me royalties as I've convinced a large number of people to go out and buy the box.


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Matt Barton
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Gettin' Emotional over halo
forcefield58 wrote:

I guess to people that haven't followed the Halo games, the plot would seem "so-so". Actually, my friend recently bought a 360 and Halo 3. He finished Halo 3 about the same time I did, so I tried to talk to him about it. Since he hadn't played the first 2 games he didn't have the emotional attachment to it like I do. So, I had that "unfulfilled" feeling. Another of my friends has followed the same course as I have and played all the games, read the books, etc. He finished the game a couple days after I did, and the resulting discussion we had took up almost a full day (we work in the same office). Fulfillment!!

I did actually play all the way through Halo 1, and I did enjoy it more than most other FPS I've played. The storyline did have you wondering what would happen next. Still, I can't honestly imagine breaking into tears over it. Even if there was a part or two with emotional interest, that was immediately squashed by the next hour or two of blowing stuff up. There was never any part of the game where I felt anything was really at stake. Here's the bad guys, kill them. You have nothing here, for instance, that can move you like the battles between Luke and Darth Vader in Star Wars, or between Gandalf and Saramon in Lord of the Rings.

I mean, hell, I cared far more about Arnold in Predator than Master Chief in Halo.

Again, please don't think I'm saying that Halo isn't fun or compelling. They're great games. But I don't see any value in them beyond pure entertainment. There's nothing wrong with that, but I do wish we could get to a point where a game could be tremendous fun AND have some redeeming value to it, like the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings movies.

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forcefield58
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Funny!
Matt Barton wrote:

I mean, hell, I cared far more about Arnold in Predator than Master Chief in Halo.

Darn it Matt, I read this and laughed so hard I spit my diet coke on my ancient 19-inch PC screen!! I agree, as I too cared about Arnold in Predator.

Cheers


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Bill Loguidice
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More Halo
forcefield58 wrote:

having a relationship with the holographic "Cortana", etc.

I forgot about that one. Frankly, I'm a sucker for "love" angles, complicated relationships and emotions, and so far - from what little I've played - Halo 3 is nailing that with the Cortana "flashbacks". What's all the more intriguing is that we're talking about essentially a modified human "cyborg" of sorts in Master Chief and a non-corporeal AI construct in Cortana.

Matt also makes a good point about essentially the fighting breaking up the story. But frankly, that's the videogame construct more than anything. Halo is not quite so bad in that regard - as particularly in Halo 3 - there's constant team chatter. There IS a story going on around you and "independent" of you as you yourself are progressing it.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
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Matt Barton
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Halo Good Points
Bill Loguidice wrote:

Halo is not quite so bad in that regard - as particularly in Halo 3 - there's constant team chatter. There IS a story going on around you and "independent" of you as you yourself are progressing it.

This is what I really found to be the best part of the game. Whereas in so many other games you're "one man alone" (Doom, Far Cry, Half-Life), here you feel like part of a team. Some parts almost felt like you were playing a multiplayer game with a group of buddies. These moments, while not constant, really did stand out. Indeed, the parts that seemed to drag out to me were those that didn't have your comrades with you. I thought Quake 4 did a good job in this regard too, though not as well as Halo.

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Bill Loguidice
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Chatter
Matt Barton wrote:
Bill Loguidice wrote:

Halo is not quite so bad in that regard - as particularly in Halo 3 - there's constant team chatter. There IS a story going on around you and "independent" of you as you yourself are progressing it.

This is what I really found to be the best part of the game. Whereas in so many other games you're "one man alone" (Doom, Far Cry, Half-Life), here you feel like part of a team. Some parts almost felt like you were playing a multiplayer game with a group of buddies. These moments, while not constant, really did stand out. Indeed, the parts that seemed to drag out to me were those that didn't have your comrades with you. I thought Quake 4 did a good job in this regard too, though not as well as Halo.

Halo 3 definitely cranks up the "chatter" quite a bit over previous entries in the series. Also, if you're familiar with Halo 2, the Arbiter is now your sidekick, in an almost comical buddy flick type of pairing (though they play it serious).

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
======================================

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forcefield58
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Twists and Turns
Bill Loguidice wrote:

Halo 3 definitely cranks up the "chatter" quite a bit over previous entries in the series. Also, if you're familiar with Halo 2, the Arbiter is now your sidekick, in an almost comical buddy flick type of pairing (though they play it serious).

And then there is the strange turn by the Flood temporarily siding with Master Chief and the Arbiter, and even stranger than that, the sudden return of the Oracle. I won't spoil it for you, but something is going to happen that you least expect. The Campaign turns out to be like a soap opera, primarily for guys, even though I know alot of girls/women that play the game!

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