March 1, 2013 by gregoryadler
Where Halo 2 falls short in providing an equally immersive campaign story as its predecessor, Halo: Combat Evolved, it makes up for it with its revolutionary multiplayer and online experience. Following its release, Halo 2 held the top rank on Xbox Live for nearly two years and by June of 2006, the game had more than 710 million hours of online play logged. Halo 2 set the standard for online multiplayer by giving players the mean to shape their online experience, specifically through its custom game feature. Halo 2’s custom game mode gave depth and significance to the game’s online experience by allowing players to modify virtually any aspect of gameplay and by giving players the ability to easily share custom game modes online and with friends.
Typically, first person shooters give the player limited ability to influence gameplay when compared with the standard modes offered by the game. Players are only given the option to modify the map, the game mode, and the necessary score to win. This leaves little room for player innovation, as gameplay cannot really differ from game to game. Halo 2 breaks out of this mold by giving players the ability to configure minute game mechanics in a way that shapes the gameplay experience. Custom game options include the typical options found in first person shooters, but also the ability to change starting health, movement speed, weapons on map, weapon spawns, power-ups, damage modifiers, objective items, team configuration, and more.
One specific game mode that illustrates the ability of these features to create unique gameplay is a created game mode called “Zombies”. In Zombies, one player starts off on a team by himself with the energy sword and no shields. All other players start as “humans” on a second team with limited ammo and without radar. The gameplay follows as such: when the zombie player kills a member of the opposing team, they are added to the zombie team. The game ends when all humans are converted to zombies. What starts off as a game where the zombie is outnumbered and outgunned by humans quickly turns into a lone group of survivors with dwindling ammo resisting an onslaught of enemy zombies.
This is just one specific example of how Halo 2 lets the player transform gameplay beyond the core of the game offered by developers. Another important component of Halo 2’s custom game mode was the ease by which game types could be shared. Halo 2 gave players the ability to upload custom game modes to Xbox Live, which could then be easily downloaded by any console with internet connection. Additionally, any time a player participated in a custom game mode, they had the option of downloading the game mode to their Xbox once the game ended. These two features allowed for unique and new custom games to be accessible throughout the entire community. This meant that players had an incentive to create new and unique game types because they could be easily shared throughout the gaming community.
Though the glory days of online play in Halo 2 are sadly over (I will get through this do not worry), the impact of its innovative custom game experience can still be seen in subsequent Halo games. Halo 4, released eight years after Halo 2, provides the same core custom game experience. Players are given about the same level of modification in terms of gameplay and can share game modes online in an almost identical manner. In fact, many popular game modes that originated in Halo 2 have been remade by the community in subsequent Halo games. Some player made game modes have even been made default because of their popularity. For example, the Zombie game previously discussed is now a ranked and default game mode in Halo 4.
Even though Halo 2’s custom game experience has long run its course, I think that the popularity and depth provided by this part of the game can offer insight into what makes an enjoyable online gaming experience. While a game’s mechanics may be well liked by the gaming community, as was the case in Halo 2, players still enjoy the ability to manipulate game mechanics at a minute level. This allows players to create their own style of gameplay, which they can then share with their friends and the community. Providing the player with the means to do such is beneficial for both gamers and developers. It encourages gamers to experience and create beyond the original game, and allows new and unique styles of gameplay in the community. It also allows developers to track what game modes become popular and also consider its integration or relevancy in the creation of future games. Halo 2 illustrates that including and encouraging player innovation can captivate player interest in the game long after the game mechanics of the original game have been thoroughly played out.