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Five Minutes Of... Halo: Reach's Firefight Menus
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Five Minutes Of... Halo: Reach's Firefight Menus


December 7, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3
 

For me, I learn as much when I'm not playing as when I am. Not just in the postmortems -- although Bungie's exemplary match-reports are ruthless masterclasses as well as cheery report cards -- but in the pre-match set-up sessions.

Thinking methodically about what different weapon combinations offer, and then edging that thinking out to explore what happens when that combination is integrated with particular equipment, and then assessing that loadout against different enemies, on different maps, brings to light not just things about those elements of the game, but about my play style and skill gaps.

"Sniper Rifle? But which map? Do I know its vantage points well enough? Paired with what? Shotgun? Makes me wary -- I'm bad at closing distance. Too much relying on a scoped DMR means my footwork is still weak. Maybe should bridge the gap by pulling in armor lock? Need to practice gauging EMP blast radiuses with that anyhow..."

And this is one of the wonderful terrors of the Firefight menus -- the apparently exhaustive range of options they display aren't the only ones you're considering.

Customization allows you to set up the perfect framework on which to impose your own goals and objective: this time it's about not dying, this time it's about headshots, this time it's about total kills.

Thanks to the power of the menus, Firefight becomes a skills laboratory, giving you a controlled environment in which to run experiments on your own abilities.

Not, of course, that the additional considerations end there. I spend a slightly embarrassing amount of time playing Firefight on my own, but planning set-ups for multiplayer nights are even more complex tests of imagination. Now it's not just finding loadouts which suit my skills and predilections, but those of my team-mates.

Even just thinking about what they'll want often helps me learn from how they play. Tweaking difficulty doesn't just become about deciding between Heroic and Legendary but about thinking about the impact of each player's ability and style -- this person's fearless about grenading Wraiths, he's good at smartly husbanding ordnance drops, someone else is a good shot but a bit gung-ho: let's leave hazards on, but up the lives limit.

As a consequence, saved gametypes become mementos of amazing nights, or tiny, subtle encodings of friends' personalities. You could show me a print-out of an optimized Firefight menu and I could tell you, four times out of five, which of my friends it was designed for or by. You can make people laugh with a nicely tuned set-up, embed it with little jokes and digs about how they play, or references to previous unforgettable matches.

It's worth reiterating for a moment: we're talking about a menu here. A screen full of lists, which -- thanks to the game that supports it, and the judgement exercised in what is and isn't available for customization -- operates all at once as a test of my imagination, an outlet for my creativity, a strategic study-group, and a strange multi-dimensional photo album of a particular bit of my social life. I'll admit to being pretty gob-smacked by that. It's a design feat in and of itself that often gets overlooked.

And that, perhaps, is the last bit of my obsession with Firefight's menus, and at the root of why I find them so fascinating and enjoyable. In principle, messing with these kinds of variables is a key component of what being a game designer is supposed to be about. Usually, though, you don't get to muck around with a complete and polished system. You're making these kind of design decisions against an evolving, incomplete, periodically busted framework. You're stretching your imagination hard, but with no easy way to close to loop, to find out if your 'aha's really are "yay"s.

And, to make things worse, you're calibrating for -- you hope -- millions of potential players, most of whom you didn't grow up with, or get married to, or give birth to. Those bits of game design are rewarding and challenging and fascinating, but they're often painful. Firefight's menus offer a different fix: a perfect, frictionless microcosm of game design, where each new idea is a button press away, the test loop is fifteen minutes of shooty brilliance, and your audience is three of your favorite people. I may never play anything else.


Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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