Been a Long Time Coming

Halo 3Nov 8th 04: “I never thought I’d have broadband… Can you say XBox LIVE! Jay, Steven, fire up the controllers…”

April 10th 07: “Rob, are you ready?”

This week he finally got his Xbox LIVE account and tonight we got into some games together online. Not only did I get to introduce Rob to some of my gaming friends, but his wife and one of his daughters too — a family gaming night. Excellent times, man!

Halo 3 Pick-up Lines

“Hey dude, got your pre-order receipt?”

Front end of the line

“You didn’t pre-order? Other line, man.”

The rest of the line

The people were friendly and polite, and the GameStop employees had obviously figured out a reasonably good system; had the lines moving right along once the clock struck midnight. I ran into a few guys I knew from the band, so I wasn’t “alone” in line, which was cool. We were about a third of the way back in line, and we were in & out by 12:15. By the time I got to my car, out of the back parking lot and was passing the store-front again the pre-order line was almost done.

Halo 3

Gamers everywhere are counting down the final hours to the final release of Halo 3. Tonight’s midnight release may very well be the most-hyped event yet in video game history, with tie-in marking from every angle from action figures to caffeinated drinks.

mc.jpg

I’ve heard that Bungie and the XBOX LIVE team expect the cumulative time spent playing Halo 3 online — all players combined over the next few years — to be over a billion hours. The multiplayer experience, with groups of players battling online, is what a big part of what brings so many to Halo and similar games.

For me, and for many of my friends, our first stop won’t be multiplayer. First things first, you know. Our goal is to “finish the fight,” completing the story arc that has its third act in this newest version of the game.

As the Master Chief hurtles Earthward in a Forerunner spacecraft, he may be our last chance to stop the Covenant, the Flood, and the ticking time bomb that is the Halo network, before every last soul in the galaxy is destroyed. The stakes have never been higher.

Heck, Halo 3 might even end the war in Iraq.

Halo 3 Beta Notes

As we’ve been playing, I’ve been making notes and talking to others in our forums. Here are some random thoughts, mine mixed with other early players’…

The three maps we’ve been given so far are more fun than the proverbial barrel of monkeys. Halo 3I’m glad they went with asymmetrical playgrounds without any echoes of Warlock or Sanctuary.

It seems tougher to finish off kills than it was Halo 2 which can be pretty darn frustrating sometimes. Learning to work together and knowing your teammates’ positions and covering them seems like it’s even MORE important in Halo 3 than it was in Halo 2 since you can die so much faster.

Halo 3One thing that I do hope get changed before release is laser — it’s way over-powered when compared to other weapons, and is extremely difficult to get away from. [edit] even more over-powered is the Warthog’s machine gun.

The addition of the trip mines, energy shield, portable anti-grav lift and energy drainers have definitely changed the game.Halo 3 Halo has become less of a ‘run-and-gun’ game and more of a thinking, planning and strategy game IF a team is functioning well together. Yes, H3 will always be “just another shooter” to some folks. What’s been added this time around is that there are more creative ways to work. Drop a trip mine inside one of the doors or near a bomb or flag point and see what happens. Being able to detach a turret and drag it around is pretty cool, but you move more slowly and so it really only becomes effective in a team game where you can get someone to cover you.

Another thing that Bungie hasn’t messed with but ONLY improved on is the lobby system. If Halo2 and now Halo 3 didn’t have pregame lobbies as well-conceived and implemented they’d just be another “also-ran” in the game developer world. Halo 3The Halo 3 beta lobby, though perhaps not completely functional yet, is fun to mess around in. It’s got lots of eye-candy and useful info and is easy to pull your friends into. Once you get into the public beta (tomorrow, remember?) — or the final-relased game (September 25) — be sure to check out your friends menu and select some people who are playing but who aren’t in your party. There are some pretty damn cool ways that Bungie has added to interact with your friends and see what they’re up to.

I’ve always preferred playing with my friends than strangers, and I think it’s that way for most mature gamers. It’s because on those very rare occasions when I manage to get a good kill on a friend it feels much more meaningful than killing some random Timmy. Communities of new friends are built in the pregame lobby and Bungie understands this better than anyone.

Halo 3In many ways, it’s time for other developers to step up their game.

Halo 3 Beta

A few of you with sharp eyes have noticed, while playing on XBox Live, that there are a bunch of us playing Halo 3 already. “Hey, the public beta’s not supposed to start yet,” I can hear you shouting. Well, ok, it’s really just that I can read the emails and XBL messages you’re sending me, but what’s a little creative license between friends. Here’s the deal, straight from Bungie:

As of this morning, Friend & Family codes have been distributed to approximately 10,000 randomly chosen members of the Bungie.net community. Using a variety of different criteria, our web team created a pool of approximately 40,000 people and from there we randomly allocated the codes we had available.

Obviously there are a lot more than 10,000 registered Bnet members and unfortunately we aren’t able to accommodate all of you. We’re sorry but hope to see you online next week. At this point anyone who still wants to participate in the Halo 3 beta will need to do so via the Crackdown file download starting on 5/16.

So please don’t ask me if I can get you into the beta early as well, I can’t. I believe there are still copies of Crackdown available for sale, and the public beta starts next week. If you’re in the F&F beta this week, please let me know and let’s get together for some killin’.

In the meantime, I’m sure there are plenty of videos being posted on the gaming sites and youtube. The environment is beautifully done, with lots of additional details. When Master Chief jumps and lands in the snow, for example, the snow splashes up around his feet.

Gameplay’s what it’s all about, though, and the gameplay is pure Halo, even better than we remember from Halo 2. We’re working on learning just how to apply the new shield, trip mine and other weapons. I’m at the bottom of just about every game’s stats, but I’m used to that. <grin>

I hope to see you in the public beta next week.

Guitar Hero II

I was asked in one of the gamer forums to write about Guitar Hero II for the Xbox 360 (and PS2, I suppose, since the games are extremely similar), and in particular if it’s appropriate for kids.

Guitar Hero IIAt it’s core, Guitar Hero is a rythm or coordination game, much like some of the games in Fusion Frenzy. The easier settings require coordination of fewer of the buttons. Here are some videos of the gameplay: the easy setting and the hard setting. Each of the different color circles moving toward the player is a differnt note that they’re to play on the guitar’s fretboard (normally with the left hand). Note that Easy didn’t ask the player to use the orange button further to the right of the screen.

A guitar is a two-handed instrument though, and Fusion Frenzy was one-handed. Guitar Hero requires pressing the correct buttons (frets) with one hand and another button (strumming) with the other hand at the correct time. So in that respect it’s a bit harder than other timing games are; I’d say that most kids over the age of eight or nine could pick it up fairly quickly.

The final “is this appropriate for my kids” question is one each parent can only answer for themselves, and that’s the “hard rock” aspect to it.Guitar Hero II If your children are allowed to watch milder rock videos (you remember music videos, don’t you – those things that MTV used to play a majority of the time?) then you’ll probably be alright with them playing this game. There’s nothing too offensive from my point of view, but I’m sure there are some parents who wouldn’t want the generic “hard rock” cartoon imagery in the house.

You can take a look at some videos of it online to help you get a better idea, or just stop by your local BestBuy and watch as some 12 year-old plays all day.

I’ve played through the career mode once, finishing the tour on “medium” difficulty last night, and though I’d personally like it just a little more if the song list included more of my favorite Classic Rock songs, I really enjoy it. As of course so do my two teen sons, and it’s a great time rockin’ out with them.

Communication, Compassion, and The Xbox Story

“No matter where you are in your career, you can listen to people, support them, show compassion.”

Tim Sanders wrote that several years ago in one of my favorite business books, Love is the Killer App. As you might imagine, he’s collected many stories since then about situations where people have made the time to make real connections to others. Times they’ve sought out opportunities to slow down and have a real human-to-human conversation, and how those have helped build trust, loyalty & friendship – relationships that are “real” as well as “just for business.”

On his blog last week, Tim shares with us one of those stories, one that’s well worth setting aside six minutes of your day.

Turn off the distractions around you, read Tim’s blog posting, then click through and watch his video.

(go do it now.)

Yea – wow. To be sure, it takes a lot for someone to get to that point in their life and it’s a pretty extreme & rare situation — at least I sure hope it is. But just how do you know what’s going on in the lives of the people around you unless you take the time to sit down and communicate with them?

Gaming’s Better on a Console

Mr. “Modeps” James is having trouble with PC Gaming:

It’s now been a few days of trying to get this stupid game to run. I’ve updated drivers, reinstalled the whole steam client, shut off anything that was running in the background that didn’t need to be… and just nothing works.

That was exactly the case in our house a few years back. My oldest son liked playing Half Life/Counterstrike, but every time he wanted to play, he had to start with 30 minutes of re-install this, re-config that… and then maybe it would work. That’s when I decided to buy my first console since Mario & Duck Hunt in 1988 on the original NES.

We got a Microsoft Xbox, then joined Xbox LIVE and of course now are gaming with folks all across the land using LIVE and the Xbox 360. With just a few minor (and mostly flash-based) exceptions, I haven’t looked back.

I know the Games For Windows folks are counting on a resurgence of gaming on the PC, especially with the coming of Vista and the service formerly known as Live Anywhere, and I hope it works well. For XP and previous systems though, Modeps is right, the experience was “just not worth the effort.”