Weekly What's Update: Massive Attack!
And lo, we finally give up a date for the autoupdate that will kill cheating, fix glitches and do some cool stuff you totally didn't expect. Read this update to have your expectations rocked hard.
Posted by Frankie at 4/15/2005 2:16 PM PDT
Are you ready for some exciting news? The Autoupdate, the little download that could cure most of your Xbox Live related trauma, is almost ready. So close we can taste it. And it tastes of chicken.
Angry Trillions ask,
When does the Freakin' Autoupdate Come Out!!?
Well you'll still have to wait. TIL' MONDAY! Yep, the Autoupdate will be available on Monday April 18th, to fix cheats, bugs, glitches and gasp – tweak some important weapon balance issues. Next time you log in after it's available (it'll be spread out to mitigate server loads) you'll get a message alerting you to its presence. Don't worry if you don't see it first thing Monday morning, it'll show up in your neighborhood eventually.
The first guy to read this asks,
Wait a minute, what's this weapon balance issues!!??
The scale of the autoupdate gave us a unique opportunity – a chance to implement balance changes on certain weapons to smooth out the Xbox Live and System Link experience, and in a couple of cases, we feel, subtly improving the overall feel of the game.
Melee damage has been increased across the board as a counter measure of sorts to close-up dual wielding. Jumping strikes are now much more powerful, often resulting in instant kills, while the general potency has been increased for normal melee attacks and the Brute Shot has been given a specific melee attack boost, in recognition of the fact that it has a huge scythe attached to it. This actually makes the Brute Shot a go-to weapon in a lot of new situations.
Examples of the increase in power include one-hit kills from many jumping strikes, two-hit kills from the Brute Shot melee attack, and far more power on torso and head strikes from all other weapons.
Grenade attacks will be one of the most significant changes for the 1.1 version of Halo 2. In many ways, the new grenade balance is a reflection of the way we really wanted them to be. Grenades were not only weakened in the previous iteration, they didn't address the balance difference between a grenade-throwing player and a dual-wielding attacker.
A common complaint amongst critics (and Bungie employees!) was that grenades felt very weak and often simply ensured that a player would be hurt rather than killed. Some unfortunate side effects of this, apart from a difference in "feel" between Halo CE and Halo 2 were unpredictable damage and difficulty making accurate, long distance throws have any significant impact. The grenades, both plasma and human, have been improved in a number of ways and are significantly more powerful.
The fuse timer has been SHORTENED on the Frag and Plasma Grenade to increase their value in combat and in last-ditch efforts to defeat an attacker. In most instances, this new fuse timing will reduce the harm they cause when accidentally tossed at the start of a new round. The shortened fuse also makes using grenades for attacks slightly more predictable and accurate.
The damage caused by plasma grenades (frag grenade power is increased slightly) is significantly increased. In testing, we found that players equated it with the type of damage caused in Halo 1. A plasma grenade detonating at a player's feet will likely kill that player outright, even with full shields. The shortened fuse and small damage-boost on the frag grenade means that a well-thrown 'nade is more dangerous.
We feel that this, more than almost all the other changes will be noticed, and incorporated into the widest range of player skill. The grenade goes from being a dangerous distraction to a potent, flexible weapon and will change the balance of Slayer and objective-based games dramatically. We expect to see a lot of criticism initially, as we understand folks are used to playing one way – but long term testing has shown that it improves the experience in the vast majority of maps and game types.
Plasma "sticks" will continue to be utterly deadly. And note that there is a knock-on effect to Brute Shot ammo from the power increase on frag grenades. It's subtle but enhances the Brute Shot nonetheless.
Magnum bullet damage has been slightly reduced to emphasize accurate headshots over a simple dual wielding combo. The auto-accuracy of the Magnum has also been toned down slightly when dual wielding.
Other slight reductions include the softening of the Plasma Rifle and SMG combo, to bring it in line with other combos. Experts will notice the difference.
We asked designer Jaime Griesemer to explain some of the reasons Why We Tweaked the Gameplay.
The changes to the weapon balance - why did we do that several months after the game’s released?
It’s surprising how much impact the community can have on how a game evolves after it is released. Their choices and play styles subtly change how the core gameplay works. After Halo 2 shipped, we saw a lot of people relying on a small number of weapons and always choosing dual-wielding over melees or grenades. We started experimenting with ways to nudge things back toward the variety of options that we had originally intended. Nothing major, just small tweaks to change the emphasis. We played with these changes for awhile and they were so much fun, it felt like we would be cheating our fans if we kept them to ourselves. That’s when we started looking for ways to get as wide a distribution as possible.
Are these changes going to affect how the Campaign mode plays?
No. These are multiplayer-only changes. The Campaign doesn’t change as the community evolves, so it still plays as intended. Wait a second… is this some sort of dig about the ending?! Screw you, Frankie!
What are the most significant balance changes - and how do they affect typical gameplay scenarios?
The two most significant changes to the overall balance are the ones we made to the melee attacks and grenades. One of the reasons Halo is special is that it has “damage spikes”. In any given situation, you can choose to melee or throw a grenade instead of shooting, and if you do it right you get a big jump on your opponent (when you don’t just kill them outright.) We wanted to emphasize these “damage spikes” relative to the bullet-hoses, so we made them do more damage. For example, now if someone charges too close with dual SMGs you can melee them and actually kill them faster than they can kill you. You have viable options again.
It took me ages to get used to the balance as it stands, what if I just don’t like the new tuning?
I believe that anyone who really appreciates what makes Halo unique will like the new tuning. I know that some people want a flatter, more predictable experience suitable for high-stakes competition, but that’s not the mainstream. Most players want lots of parallel options and unpredictable situations to get as much variety as possible. The “pros” always come up with their own rules anyway, so these changes are really for people that are just playing for fun. Mind you, there's a lot in here that makes me think the pros will like it better too.
How long does it take to get used to the changes?
I imagine that most people will not even notice these changes consciously; some of them are pretty subtle. The people in our play tests acclimated almost immediately, especially if they had played a lot of Halo 1. Hopefully it will take people long enough that I can pad my Live ranking, though.
Do you think new combos will emerge from the changes?
No, the changes aren’t severe enough that they actually add “new” combos. However, they do make single-wielding more competitive with dual-wielding, so I expect you will see people using a larger variety of weapons.
Philosophically, how do you think the changes have improved the multiplayer experience?
I think these changes make for better multiplayer stories. After a fight in the shipping version, the story is usually pretty simple. Either it’s “I ran around the corner and he had the shotgun and blew me away.” or even worse it’s “I saw him first and starting shooting and then he saw me and started shooting, but I started shooting first.” With these changes, the stories get a lot more interesting and varied. Now sometimes it’s “He came up behind me and started shooting so I ducked around the corner and dropped a grenade and he ran right into it!” or “He jumped down at me just as I was reloading, but he got in too close and I beat him to death with my battle rifle.” The fights last longer and each player has several options.
Frankie's Personal Opinion:
To me, it ends up feeling in some ways more like Halo CE. And I love the new changes. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed ALL of the new stuff in Halo 2, but I specifically missed that feeling of last-ditch-effort, when a well-timed melee, or brilliantly thrown grenade could tilt the balance in my favor. I have to say, I LOVE the new balances. And again, they're subtle. You can play perfectly well for ages without noticing.
Tons of cool kids ask,
After the AU is released, will the Halo 2 leaderboards be reset?
Yes, though not immediately. Our current plans are to reset the existing leaderboards within the next few weeks, once the AU and the first wave of maps has been released. We can't yet say with 100% certainty when that date will be, but we will give as much notice as possible once we have a confirmed date. For now, plan on this happening within a few weeks.
The leaderboards are being reset as a way to level the playing field and give all players a fresh start with Halo 2. In recent months, cheating and exploits have become rampant, eroding the credibility of the leaderboards. Ultimately rankings are intended to be used as a means for matching players of similar skill into competitive games. However, we realize that for people in tat every level of play, considerable time and effort was put into playing to achieve a high rank as a sign of your skill and status in the Halo 2 online community. While having to start from scratch will be upsetting to folks who have invested so much time into elevating their ranks, we are confident it's the right thing to do. Whether you have have cheated or not, the entire ranking system is suspect now and nobody trusts the rankings that appear next to anyone else's name. Secondly, with the addition of our new gameplay balance enhancements, the actual game itself has changed slightly since you first started playing it last November. Now consider we have 9 new maps coming out and what we're left with is essentially a very different online experience. In light of all that, we felt it was the best course of action to wipe the slate clean and give everyone a fresh start.
There is one additional reason for resetting the leaderboards - we're making some changes to the way the level system works. As we evaluated all of the players and games taking place on Live, we've noticed that the actual skill difference between players getting matchmade together is higher than we intended. We've also noticed that players have peaked out sooner than expected and the level distribution amongst all players isn't as broad as we intended. We will be updating the detailed experience chart on our site before these changes are made but the gist of it is this - players will now actually move through all levels faster than before, and players at the highest levels will have less restrictions for matching (making it easier to get into games), the potential point loss for games with high level differences is being reduced and ultimately the level distribution will be stretched out, causing players to match against other players who are closer in skill than they were previously. All in all we feel this will lead to a better experience when playing Halo 2 matchmaking.
Cooler kids ask,
Will cheaters still be banned from Halo 2 after the AU is released?
In addition to this, the Bungie team will be monitoring actual game data to determine if players are cheating on Xbox Live. We have ways of identifying many different forms of cheating and network exploitation and if we have proof that this is happening, we will be taking our own measures to ban offending players from entering into matchmaking. First time offenders will be subject to a 7 day temporary ban from Halo 2 Matchmaking. Repeat and/or extreme violations will result in a permanent ban from Halo 2 matchmaking. We are committed to providing a fun and level playing experience for everyone on Xbox Live and we will not let cheaters and hackers ruin that experience for others. The Bungie "ban hammer" will only be used in cases where we have definitive proof of cheating. It will be based strictly on data collected and not on subjective feedback. If you cheat, hack or manipulate the online experience in any way, we will know and we will act accordingly.
Doctor Hue asks,
Will there be any other ramifications from the autoupdate?
Yes, notably, you will find lag is actually a little worse for a couple of days. After your system is autoupdated, it "retrains" the software responsible for finding the best connection speeds. That means that your first few sessions will get progressively better until your Xbox is fully conditioned to find the best network speeds. So don't panic. You will also notice longer loading times initially, as maps and other data are re-cached onto your Xbox. Those will vanish rapidly.
Shadow Blade888 asks,
I'm curious remember the Halo 2 E3 Demo is there anyway we can get our hands on that beautiful work of art or is it for high profilers. Another question can you just tell me this are any of the other 5 maps Earth based like Turf and Headlong.
Nope, the E3 demo you're talking about still works and is playable even, but is waaaaaaaay too buggy as it stands to ever be released. That said, one of the new levels (aside from Turf, that is), Terminal, is based on Earth and makes for some excellent urban combat situations.
I noticed that my buddy's level (he's in my Clan) shows up as the same as his Clan ranking. Thing is, he SUCKS and hardly plays, yet gets to bask in our glory. How is that fair?
To your friends, your level will now appear as your highest non-clan rank. You can now be assured that a player has earned every win of his top rank, and not just piggy-backed on the glory of other players.
Spartan 1245 asks,
Will people still be able to use secondary standby even after the patch has come out? It's all well and good fixing primary but secondary is equally annoying and I lost my skirmish rank to secondary standby. Will this be fixed in the patch?
Oh yes. Both kinds of standby are fixed. We can't stop jerks from doing it (actually pressing the button), but we can stop it from being worth their while. And for the record, they are all idiots. Any one of you care to deny that you are an idiot in public?
Forgetful Frank asks,
What were all the cheats and bugs again?
Fixing Cheats and Glitches:
With the sheer number of variables on the Xbox Live service, the fantastic numbers of players involved and the vast disparity between ISPs, modems and quality of service, it took time for us to identify all the cheats, glitches and exploits. And unlike a PC game, even once you've addressed all of the problems, the solution isn't as simple as posting a patch on a website. A console game is largely immutable, and implementing changes is a significant task. The fixes we've implemented required a great deal of testing, tweaking and retesting to ensure the autoupdate process would go smoothly and provide satisfactory results for every Halo 2 player on Xbox Live.
With all that aside, what follows is a partial list of the changes, bug fixes and anti-cheating measures we have implemented.
Flag Bouncing: We're fixing the super high flag bounce caused by collisions with certain objects – like the conveyor belt in Colossus. Teams would often simply bounce the flag from one side to the other, thus ruining a vital aspect of that map's intrinsic design.
We've fixed the flag-grab-through-solid-walls problem (although you can still toss a flag through legitimate places, like gates and windows. This will have a huge effect in CTF games on Beaver Creek, Zanzibar and Coagulation.
Elite melee ghosting – a glitch allowed a player (using a short sequence of button presses) to exit a vehicle and continue to an objective while all other players viewed the player as an invulnerable stationary "ghost" at the original point of disembarkation. This was caused by forcing the Xbox to "lose track" of the player.
Sword flying will be gone from multiplayer, though we'll keep it in Campaign mode. This was basically an exploit that allowed players to "fly" by locking onto a target with a Sword while riding in a vehicle – then later releasing a pent-up Sword lunge, and basically soaring, unhindered through the air. Although a noisy part of the community feels this was a fun, unexploitable bug, we have witnessed it used for cheating, and when we fix other problems, any we left in deliberately would be exploited all the more.
We've addressed the "ghosted dropped weapon" problem, which was caused by a difference in object location tracking between different machines - a gun you just couldn't pick up, for example – and is easily encountered during games between Pal and NTSC machines.
We've fixed the tie resolution problems that automatically defaulted the red team as winner in a tie.
We've made some changes to the way our system works when entering Clan matches – basically making it easier to enter even when conditions are less than ideal. The measures used before were perhaps too strict and prevented some players from entering games with their clan.
We've addressed the bug on Beaver Creek that caused double-teleporting – this was related to poor bandwidth, and it would cause a player to bounce back out of the teleporter rather than passing cleanly through.
We fixed a glitch that made players too immune to sniper fire while in turrets.
We've addressed the modem standby cheat. Can't say how, but we've implemented several fixes to help alleviate this problem. We can't stop people from pressing suspend modem, but we can make it less worthwhile to them. We've also added a number of ways to make it more difficult for players to abuse the fact that they are the host of a game.
This is just a sampling of what we're fixing. Some things are insignificant, some you won't even have heard of, and others we don't want to discuss at this time. All in all, it should be a very pleasant and painless experience and one that improves your experience significantly.
This is a partial list. Many of the changes we've implemented will be invisible to players. Some are simply minor tweaks to networking or performance code. Some are more important, but happen in the background. Some fixes will simply remain undisclosed to prevent further abuse of the system, and we realize that even this tremendous run of changes won't be entirely complete and that abuses by unsportsmanlike players will continue, but we're confident that these tweaks and adjustments will improve the experience for beginners and experts alike.
Autoupdate for the Masses
The Autoupdate is an Xbox Live download, and can be implemented by logging any Xbox with Halo 2 onto the Live service. While we encourage non Live users to borrow an account, try a free trial membership or take their box to a Live-using friend's home, we are also including this and all previous autoupdates on the retail Maptacular disc available later this year. That means that the fixes will be available to everyone eventually.
Split Screen Enhancement
Split screen players have long complained that their screens are too muddled with interface and messages to see what's going on clearly. The Autoupdate also removes the pop-up messages that have plagued split screen gamers. The downside is that they no longer see those messages at all, but in testing and polling, we've found that the cleaner screen presentation makes that a small price to pay.
Finally, I asked myself, what would Chief look like if Andrew made a Star Wars poster on his last day at Bungie? Something like this, and note well, if you are a hot chick, Andrew is perfectly happy to make out with you and will be at Bucca De Beppo in Seattle between 8:30 and 10pm.