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Halo 3 Beta Quick Report: Parting Shots

So now it's over. For just about everybody. I thought I'd do one last collection of observations about the Beta before we begin the four months or so waiting for the Real Thing to arrive. However, before that happens, it's interesting to note that the beta didn't end at the same time for everybody...Click "read more" from the front page for the entire text. read more

Making Halo More Newb-Friendly

Stephen Totilo and N'Gai Croal finished their series of debates on the Halo 3 Beta last week, and since a lot of what they covered intersects some of the pieces I've written on this site in response to complaints from hardcore gamers to the effect that Halo is unfair and unsuitable for serious competetive play, I thought I'd remark on some of the points they raised.Click "read more" from the front page for the entire text.

Lies And The Lying Xboxes Who Tell Them

My Xbox is a liar. I've been playing the Halo 3 Beta and Half-Life 2. Since Halo 3 is a beta and HL2 is a backwards-compatible title, neither show up.

Replayability And Brute Force

I'm going to start with a really, really tiny detail and try to use it to come to a sweeping statement about what makes a game fun. The detail we'll start with is weapon spawns in the Halo games: why timers are fair, but not fun, and why slightly random spawns may be unfair, but more fun.Click "read more" from the front page for the entire article.read more

H3 Beta Quick Report: Is It Pretty Enough?

Okay, so not everybody is in love with Halo 3. Over at the Hushed Casket, Midnight calls it "fun" and details the changes. Rapture calls it a bigger, prettier Halo 2, and it's most decidedly not a compliment. Of course you can't please everybody, and some things (like Halo) become so popular that the only way for anybody to make themselves cooler is to not like it. The guys at the Hushed Casket aren't like that, though, so if they've got a beef with the game, there's probably something to it.

H3 Beta Quick Report: No Radar Love And Grenade Confusion

I've read in several previews that the range of the radar around a Spartan in multiplayer has been reduced. I don't have any good way of quantifying that, but it certainly seems to be true to me.In particular, on Valhalla there are two rock outcroppings on either side of the stream where players often like to perch with ranged weapons like a turret, sniper, or laser. Often there's a lot of activity far away that they are paying attention to, and more than a few times I've run right up to such a player from behind and assassinated them if there's no one covering their back.

H3 Beta Quick Report: Describing Saved Films

The Saved Film feature of Halo 3, as implemented in the beta, looks more like a framework than a finished piece of work, but even as such there are some quirks worth noting.Currently you can "share" up to six of your saved films; essentially, Xbox Live hosts them for you, and friends and other players can access them. To help those film browsers out, you can retitle the films and give them descriptions. By default, Halo 3 names them by game type and number (SLAYER003) and the description includes the map, game type, date and time.

Halo 3 Beta Impressions

Halo 1 came out nearly six years ago. Halo 2 came out nearly three years ago, and until the release of bright, shiny, next-gen Gears of War, ruled the roost at Xbox Live.

Meat In The Mountains

If you're not a mountain lover and a voracious meat eater, it's a lot harder to fully appreciate Kazakhstan. I don't have problems on either front.

Here Saltanat and I are having May Day shashlyk (shish kebab) lunch at the Chimbulak ski resort with our friend Chris and his two daughters, Fia and Amelie.

There's no snow on the slopes, but you can still see the snow-capped peaks in the distance.

100 Hours Of Oblivion

At about 100 hours of gameplay in, I completed the main storyline of Oblivion. I had delayed it for awhile, doing side quests, finishing the Thieves' Guild quest line and getting access to Arcane University in the Mages' Guild, but finally it seemed it was time to get back to business. I found a daedric artifact I didn't like so much that I could give it away: a staff that spawns daedra to attack a target. Since I already had the Jermayne brothers following me around to help out in fights, and the last few parts of the main questline also include helpers, adding more characters didn't seem like it was that worthwhile.

Azura's Star, a soul gem you can use over and over again? Yeah, not letting that go. Far too useful. The Wabbajack, that turns things into other things? Too cool. I've got it in a display case now. The Skeleton Key, that unlocks any door and never breaks? Also far too useful.

There are still more shrines to visit and more artifacts to find, but once I had the Septim armor and this daedric staff, I found it difficult to justify putting the main plot off any further. I'd also overcome my boredom with Oblivion gates; with Umbra and Apotheosis, plus my helpers, closing gates was far less tedious. I could fight through them or just sneak or run through them, unlike with the first few I encountered. At the Kvatch gate early in the plot, the gear I had was so weak that every Clannfear and Scamp was a serious threat, to say nothing of Daedra Churls and Kynvals. I had to save after every encounter, heal, wait for magicka to regenerate, then move on.

However, the portions of the main quest after that point underscored one of the weaknesses in the game. It doesn't handle combat with a large number of participants very well. The problem seems to be that everything moves far too fast. The relation in speed between an arrow flying, a sword stroke, and a running target, is just far too low. By the time you finish a sword stroke, a target you hadn't even seen yet is in front of you. Dodging arrows is far too easy. If it takes a long time to wind up and swing a heavy sword, then targets wearing heavy armor shouldn't be zipping around like meth addicts; I don't care if they are demons from hell.

The result is an insane amount of "friendly fire" for a game that's more about swordplay than ranged weapons. During the defense of Bruma, or the final fight before Mehrunes Dagon appears, it's far too common to hear your allies accusing each other of hitting the wrong person, and even fighting amongst themselves, or attacking you. Yielding (block + talk) usually works, but that's not the point-- it shouldn't be happening. If I'm the third person in to a sword fight, the relative speed of the two combatants should not be so high that I can't be sure of who I am going to hit. It seems odd to watch two targets that are running in place at each other at full speed, sliding all over the terrain as if everything was coated in ice.

It's not merely a cosmetic problem, either. It encourages you to actually stay out of the fight, or at best, attract a target solely to you so you can fight it without risking damage to your allies.

I don't play these kinds of games for the combat; I'm more interested in the exploration. Still, it's difficult to avoid all the combat, so the combat you have to play should work well. The rest of Oblivion is so great that it makes up for the combat, and it's still a great improvement over Morrowind. Still, there are some things that are quite annoying.

That there is a restriction on you that prevents changing weapons in mid-attack is understandable. However, it's not quite understandable what Oblivion considers an "attack". For instance, healing yourself with a spell is an "attack". Attempting to change weapons before a spell animation is complete generates a "you can't change weapons while attackiing" error. That is almost surely going to delay your weapon change when you hit the button again. Being blocked or meleed also seems to delay this. Nearly all of my deaths in the latter stages of the game went like this: I cast a spell to heal myself, hit the button to change weapons (usually from a ranged weapon like a staff or bow to a sword) and then hit the trigger to attack.

The change weapon press creates a "you cannot change weapon" error. The attack button press now succeeds, but with the old weapon, which is likely either empty or ineffective. If you don't wait until that animation finishes, but just stab the "change weapon" button, you get the error again. In short, the timing that is considered critical is not timing of an attack against the enemy, but rather against Oblivion's error-checking routine. The game really needs to do something about this. Why can't the game just wait until the animation is finished, then change weapons, instead of throwing an error? If it has to throw an error, why can't it also throw out the next attack buttonpress if they were nearly-simultaneous? Either change would stop the player from getting stuck in a loop where he can't defend himself or change weapons.

In between those two relatively large-scale fights was a side trip to Camaron's Paradise, a sort of parallel universe created by Mankar Camaron, who is ushering in Mehrunes Dagon's invasion (return?) to Tamriel. This was similar to some of the earlier side quests that take place off the main map, like the magic painting and the mage's dream world-- or like Oblivion gates themselves. The problem with this one came down to the end battle with Camaron himself.

Facing him head-on, alone, didn't seem to do much good. He healed himself as fast as I could damage him, and I emptied Apotheosis before I could kill him. Making it worse were his son and daughter also attacking me, as well as the creatures they were all summoning. Interrupting his little monologue by attacking him seemed to confer no advantage, and killing his progeny to whittle down the odds is also temporary, as he simply resurrects them.

The solution turned out to be surprisingly effective but also somewhat disappointingly easy. You can hide in the upper corners of Camaron's throne room, and the game considers you to be "sneaking" and hidden, even though you are actually in plain view, and he is still speaking to you. This might have had something to do with the dark brotherhood armor and Nocturnal's Cowl, both of which I was wearing. An arrow poisoned with a Strong Poison of Silence stopped him from using any spells, in addition to doing 3x sneak damage. Three such arrows and he was defeated without my ever been seen or struck by an opponent, and Paradise evaporated around me. A bit anticlimactic.