June 26, 2008

Sandbox (Part One)

> — Vociferous @ 11:03 am


Defining the Sandbox

Last time we talked, we looked closely at Halo: Combat Evolved and the game’s ability to capture one of the main components of any given encounter: the environment. Of course this doesn’t mean that the first Halo game didn’t have an incredible sandbox or amazing enemies, the other two ingredients which we mentioned. Halo: Combat Evolved’s sandbox was fundamental to the franchise’s success and its enemies were remarkable.

That being said, it is clear that the first Halo game laid the groundwork for an environment’s role within encounters throughout the entire trilogy. In that same regard, Halo 2 was the catalyst for change in the sandbox – a change which became a necessity when considering the scope, scale and opportunities presented in Halo 3. What began in Halo 2 as a complete overhaul of the Halo sandbox ended with Halo 3, in what many believe was a nearly perfect system of tools. Although we’ve talked before about the problematic effect Halo 2’s sandbox changes created for multiplayer, for campaign, the sandbox’s evolution was entirely beneficial, and, in fact, quite necessary.

Without Halo 2, we would not have the Halo 3 we have today.

One might ask then, “What is the sandbox?”

Within the context of this article, we are speaking about the collection of weapons, vehicles, equipment and other implements, both tangible and intangible, which serve as the lifeblood of an encounter. While the environment provides a location and the enemies provide an objective within that location, the weapons and vehicles are essentially the apparatus – the stimulus, as it were – which transforms any given scenario from a potential encounter into an actualized one.

Without the tools of the sandbox, an encounter is only hypothetical. The sandbox materializes it, fleshes it out and goes a step further by defining its intricacies.

And while Halo: Combat Evolved had a fascinating and diverse sandbox with 12 individual weapons and four vehicles, Halo 2’s system set the bar considerably higher. Halo 2 had 19 weapons and seven vehicles, as well as dual-wielding and boarding, elements which added completely new dimensions to the manipulation of the sandbox. In almost every way, Halo 2’s sandbox explosion paved the way for the volumetric increase found in Halo 3’s 26 weapons, 11 vehicles and 11 pieces of equipment.

In hindsight, it’s hard to imagine a more interesting evolutionary pathway for the sandbox from its meager beginnings in Halo: Combat Evolved to the colossal breadth of options found in Halo 3. A close look at the design process and changes which occurred within the sandbox of Halo 2, and subsequently in Halo 3, provide an interesting tale of survival of the fittest, as well as a story of the elaborate refinement of potential.

Darwin’s Halo

Like amino acids in a proteic vat of possibilities, the original base weapons and vehicles fused together the genesis of the trilogy’s sandbox in Halo: Combat Evolved. Simplicity, authenticity and diversity appeared to guide design at every corner. Each weapon and vehicle served its purpose and function – everything was not only compelling to use but completely pragmatic depending on whatever circumstance the player found themselves in. That being said, it was still largely primitive and gaunt.

With Halo 2, however, a number of additions, removals and refinements brought a larger breadth of options to gameplay, even if concerns about specific design choices were not fully resolved until Halo 3. Some of the changes were emphatically needed and others would be questioned even to this day.

Halo 2 introduced the Battle Rifle, a weapon meant to replace the highly-touted and equally-despised M6D Pistol – in the name of balance and plausibility.

The most notable change was the removal of the first game’s Assault Rifle and Pistol, being swapped out for the Submachine Gun and Battle Rifle. While players would never get their hallowed M6D back, with the advent of Halo 3, the new Assault Rifle improved upon its precursor to create what is currently the most accurate mid-range fully automatic weapon in the series.

The scant size of the Covenant sandbox in Halo: Combat Evolved was also considerably amplified in Halo 2. From a fictional standpoint, it might have been confusing to fans initially – the Covenant were alleged to be a powerful war machine which devoured entire planets, yet they only employed three infantry weapons (all short to mid-range), a single grenade and a single turret emplacement. Upon the arrival of Halo 2, we were introduced to a slew of new Covenant weapons, including the Covenant Carbine and the Particle Beam Rifle, distinctive ranged weapons with a Covenant flair. The Fuel-Rod Gun and the Energy Sword, which were once enemy-only weapons, had now become completely useable and compellingly fun at that. It is interesting to note that while many fans railed against the inclusion of the Arbiter’s story and the Covenant-heavy posturing of Halo 2’s campaign, without it, our existing sandbox would be decidedly barren and misshapen.

Halo 2 also brought the addition of two intangible changes to the sandbox which dramatically impacted campaign, as they were not only at the player’s disposal, but also at the enemies’:

  • Firstly, the addition of dual-wielding, the ability to hold two one-handed weapons simultaneously – firing and reloading them on an individual basis. In campaign, this became an additional strategic option in the close-quarters combat sections which parsed together the larger environments. While some players eschewed this style for its lack of versatility, its efficacy and pertinence, in appropriate situations, was inarguable.
  • Secondly, we see a dramatically altered infantry-to-vehicle combat system. With the inclusion of boarding, players could seize a nearby and relatively slow-moving vehicle, remove the existing operator and take it as their own. Although it is hard to imagine a Halo game without boarding, a quick return to Halo: Combat Evolved shows just how sorely missed this feature would be if removed.

An even closer look at the evolutionary branches of Halo’s vehicles finds several very interesting changes. Halo 2 saw the addition of the Gauss Warthog and the Wraith (unusable in Halo: Combat Evolved), two heavy vehicles which packed a punch and delivered extremely gratifying results. Both the Ghost and the Banshee underwent functional enhancements, now allowing for the ability to boost and charge infantry when not firing; and, in the case of the Banshee, a series of elegant aerial movements were added for dogfight engagements.

In the midst of these changes, the campaign’s story opened the door to an entirely new platform: the Brute sandbox.

In Halo 2, the brief and unsuccessful recapitulation of the plasma rifle into a Brute variant and the intriguing, but weak, Brute Shot were not well-received. To make amends, Bungie dramatically improved the Brute Shot and created an entirely new sandbox for the Brute species. Halo 3 introduced the Spike Rifle, the Spike Grenade, the Mauler and the Gravity Hammer – all interesting in both subtle and dramatic ways. The game also saw the inclusion of Brute vehicles with the Prowler and the Chopper, the latter of which remains very highly regarded. Despite the lack of impact the first-iteration Brute weapons had in the trilogy, most agree that the Brute sandbox was largely successful in Halo 3 – it offered a violent and slightly-barbaric element within the game’s fiction, as well as new and entertaining ways to play Halo.

The culmination of the sandbox, as witnessed in the third game, also saw the Hornet and the Mongoose. One was the long-awaited human flying vehicle and the other was an incredibly useful and entertaining two-passenger ATV. Both played large idiosyncratic roles in very unique encounters throughout Halo 3’s campaign. With the new versions of both the Scorpion Tank and the Wraith now requiring a passenger to operate the secondary turret – players were more inclined to facilitate teamwork. And while Halo 2 added the Spectre, a midsize Covenant assault vehicle which was controversial in form and function, Halo 3’s Brute variant, the Prowler, seems to more adequately fit the role – albeit arguably so.

The Mongoose, as was created for Halo 2 (left), found little overall purpose without a weapon. In Halo 3 (right), however, the Mongoose is easily a fan-favorite – allowing for a weapon-wielding passenger, as well as effortless style.

The above changes, for the most part, were all somewhat anticipated by fans. What was not anticipated, however, were the two new concepts introduced to further deepen the strategy of each encounter. One was referred to as the support weapon class and the other was simply called equipment.

The history of support weaponry is a long one; it is concept as old as the first game. In Halo: Combat Evolved, we were introduced to the UNSC LAAG turret on the back of the Warthog and the Shade turret emplacement, a Covenant stationary weapon. These, much like vehicles, shifted the player into third-person when being used. Similarly, Halo 2 had a UNSC turret and the plasma turret – both of which functioned as stationary heavy-artillery.

Halo 3’s evolution of this system was revealed as the support weapon class. In battle, players could find similarly-designed UNSC turrets, plasma turrets and even Missile Pod emplacements (which fired homing explosive projectiles) set at specific junctures throughout a mission. Stationary and like their Halo 2 precursors, these weapons had unlimited ammunition from their emplaced positions. Now, however, players could rend them free from their mounts and carry them into combat, with the only drawbacks being slower mobility and an ammunition limit. This addition added another layer of infantry combat which was not only functionally effective, but visually satisfying as well, since the impressive character model is viewed in third-person when performing such an action.

The second introduction was that of equipment, a concept which broadsided the community when it was first revealed.

Eleven unique items were added to the campaign’s sandbox, but they were not weapons or vehicles as one would typically expect. Although incredibly useful, if they were implemented carelessly, they could be used by enemies. The most emblematic example of a piece of equipment is, of course, the Bubble Shield, a spherical barrier which surrounds the device, and anyone near it, once it’s deployed. A player can remain inside it for a few moments before the device disables and the shield collapses, but while it is active, the barrier stops weapon fire and grenades. Its one drawback: players and vehicles can easily pass through. At range against a heavy tank or Warthog, such a device is immeasurably useful, but in certain circumstances, it can easily be turned against the person who employs it.

A stroke of genius: the Bubble Shield, and other equipment concepts like it, added a new dimension to combat which fans never expected.

Although the practical usefulness of some equipment has been questioned, most play a large role in each campaign encounter – and your enemies are not afraid to prove this to you by using them efficiently and strategically. Whatever weakness some equipment may have had in functionality, the effective ones clearly elevated the complexity of every encounter, making them a successful evolutionary trend within the Halo sandbox.

[Proceed to Part Two]

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

download autodesk navisworks manage 2009 download activestate komodo ide 4.4 aglare dvd ripper platinum 6 partition magic 8 quarkxpress 6.0 download microsoft office enterprise 2003 runtime revolution enterprise 2.9 download ashampoo cover studio download acala divx to ipod microsoft mappoint 2006 europe download altova stylevision enterprise 2009 corel dvd copy 6 plus download adobe photoshop cs4 extended download ad aware 2009 download adobe creative suite cs3 download altova umodel 2008 powerarchiver 2009 download autodesk 3d studio max 2008 download altova stylevision 2005 propellerhead reason 4 download acala dvdcopy download xilisoft cd ripper download acdsee photo editor 2008 download ashampoo winoptimizer 5 download download pantaray q-setup pro 9 microsoft encarta 2008 download 4 media dvd to ipod converter microsoft sharepoint designer 2007 download transmagic expert microsoft frontpage 2002 adobe flex 2 download adobe acrobat 9 pro extended adobe creative suite 3 design premium download 3d home architect design suite deluxe 8 download efreesky magictweak 4.11 download adobe presenter 6 autodesk navisworks review 2009 download acdsee pro 2 adobe photoshop 10 ad aware download microsoft encarta 2007 download acala dvd ipod ripper download cakewalk sonar 5 download download microsoft visual studio 2008 professional boris fx 8 download download adobe photoshop 12 acala dvd audio ripper ashampoo office 2008 download native instruments traktor dj studio 3.4 corel painter x download onenote 2007 download smartftp 2.5 symantec winfax pro 10.02 fix-it utilities professional 9 download smith micro poser 7 canvas 11 with gis+ download paragon partition manager 8.5 enterprise server download codegear delphi for php 1.0 adobe creative suite 4 web premium download altova mapforce enterprise 2009 download autodesk autocad architecture 2009 download download canvas 10 autodesk autocad civil 3d land desktop companion 2009 aurora media workshop download download cakewalk sonar 4 adobe presenter 7 download novosoft handy backup 6.1 pro boris blue 2.0.1 download microsoft encarta premium 2008 corel painter x mac download corel photoimpact x3 daz bryce 6.1 mac microsoft office visio professional 2003 autodesk autocad revit structure suite 2009 adobe contribute cs4 download autodesk inventor professional 2009 download adobe photoshop 7.0 download crystalidea uninstall tool 2.5 imsi turbofloorplan landscape and deck 12 microsoft autoroute 2007 europe download futuremark 3dmark vantage professional download download zonealarm internet security suite 8 adobe photoshop cs4 extended mac autodesk 3d studio max design 2009 download ashampoo photo optimizer 2 download download acala dvd to pocket pc nuance omnipage professional 16 download corel draw 11 download adobe illustrator cs4 futuremark 3dmark 05 pro efreesky magic utilities 2008 download parallels desktop 4.0 for mac microsoft encarta premium 2007 download download steinberg nuendo 3 adobe incopy cs4 download paragon hard disk manager 2008 professional download download fl studio 8 xxl altova databasespy 2009 download adobe photoshop 8 download nero 9 download acdsee download corel video studio pro x2 download adobe after effects adobe contribute cs3 download download vmware workstation 5 mylogomaker professional 2 microsoft streets and trips 2005 download smartsound sonicfire pro 5 scoring download download adobe captivate 2 autodesk toxik 2008 download acala dvd ripper professional 5 adobe premiere pro cs3 download vmware workstation 6.5 ace download conceptdraw office 8 acronis true image 8.0 download abbyy finereader download download steinberg nuendo 3.0 norton partitionmagic 2008 guitar pro 4 acronis true image 10 download adobe illustrator cs i.r.i.s. readiris pro 11 mac download download modelright professional 3.0 neobyte titan backup microsoft streets and trips 2006 download adobe flash cs4 professional mac download ashampoo uninstaller 3 deskshare videoeditmagic 4.3 pixologic zbrush 3 mac download sony cd architect 5.2 download boris graffiti 5.2 pc washer 2 mcafee total protection 2007 ashampoo magical snap 2 download adobe photoshop cs3 download microsoft works 2000 download download altova xmlspy 2009 download microsoft office 2003 professional acala dvd zune ripper download download ad-aware 2008 propellerhead reason 5 download corel draw graphics suite x4 autodesk toxik 2009 imsi turbofloorplan home and landscape pro 12 microsoft mappoint 2004 download corel draw 12 futuremark pcmark vantage advanced download download web page maker 3 adobe fireworks cs4 download microsoft windows vista business (64bit) microsoft autoroute 2008 microsoft office project professinal 2003 autodesk combustion 2008 download adobe creative suite 4 master collection adobe contribute 3 download adobe after effects 7.0 dvd ripper standard 5 autodesk autocad 2005 download roxio copy & convert 3 adobe director 11 download microsoft windows vista ultimate (32bit) download corel painter 10 autodesk combustion 4 download autodesk mapguide studio 2009 download altova diffdog 2009 originlab originpro 8 download futuremark 3dmark '05 pro mathworks matlab r2008a download download activestate komodo ide 5 chemtable reg organizer 4.21 download adobe illustrator cs3 abbyy finereader 9.0 professional quarkxpress 8 mac download corel painter 9 download microsoft works 7 microsoft works 8 download smartftp 2.0 download acdsee 10 photo manager download adobe after effects cs3 professional microsoft money 2005 lavasoft ad-aware 2008 pro download download microsoft streets and trips 2008 download mcafee total protection 2008 download kingsoft office 2009 download norton partitionmagic 8.05 i.r.i.s. readiris pro 11 vmware workstation 7 download download iexpert registry clean expert 4.58 pctools spyware doctor 5.5 adobe flash cs3 professional microsoft autoroute 2006 microsoft office onenote 2003 download 4media dvd to mp4 converter 5 microsoft mappoint 2006 adobe flex builder daz bryce 6.1 download microsoft works 9 acala dvd creator 3 intuit turbotax deluxe download intuit turbotax premier 2008 download download zonealarm pro 8 adobe photoshop 6 download microsoft money 2008 download download adobe director mx adobe incopy cs download download cyberlink powerproducer 5 ultra download microsoft frontpage 2000 cyberlink powercinema 5 adobe soundbooth cs4 download roxio creator 2009 ultimate download adobe indesign cs3 autodesk autocad 2008 adobe creative suite 4 design premium download autodesk autocad mechanical 2009 download hd tune professional quarkxpress 7.3 mac download cakewalk sonar 6 download microsoft expresion web 2 nero 6 download xilisoft video converter ultimate 5.1 download download boris final effect complete multilangual 5.0 autodesk autocad revit architecture 2009 download download symantec winfax pro 10.03 ashampoo winoptimizer 4 download adobe premiere elements download cyberlink powerdvd 8 ultra thegrideon access password professional 2.0 download microsoft autoroute 2005 adobe incopy cs2 faronics deep freeze enterprise 6 adobe presenter for mac download download adobe illustrator cs2 download adobe illustrator 10 altova xmlspy 2008 download download futuremark 3dmark 03 pro download tamosoft commview 6 full steinberg nuendo 4 download autodesk autocad map 3d 2009 download pixarra twistedbrush pro studio 15 download download smartsoft smartftp home 3.0 download ashampoo clipfisher download corel painter 8 adobe flash cs4 professional openpim download systemssuite professional 8 adobe dreamweaver 8 download futuremark 3dmark '06 advanced adobe creative suite 3 web premium quarkxpress 5.0 download download elcomsoft advanced archive password recovery 4 professional download imsi turbocad pro 15 download nuance paperport professional 11.1 cyberlink powerdirector 7 ultra download 4media dvd to ps3 converter 5 microsoft windows vista business (32bit) native instruments traktor dj studio 3.4 mac download corel video studio 11 download download native instruments reaktor 5 ashampoo firewall pro download xilisoft 1click dv to dvd apple final cut express 4 mac download steinberg nuendo 3.2 download download autodesk autocad revit mep suite 2009 futuremark 3dmark '03 pro download acd see intuit quicken rental property manager 2.0 daz carrara 6 pro mac autodesk combustion 5 download vmware workstation 6.5 download symantec winfax pro 10.0 download boris fx 9.2 download nero 7 download adobe premiere pro cs4 installshield x express edition download ashampoo core tuner download download corel photoimpact 12 download dzsoft perl editor 5.8.3 download kingsoft office 2007 adobe dreamweaver cs4 mac download intuit turbotax 2005 microsoft money 2004 download ashampoo movie shrink and burn 3 adobe after effects cs4 mac download adobe photoshop cs3 extended download adobe illustrator cs4 mac download download xilisoft dvd ripper platinum 5 adobe flex 3 adobe dreamweaver cs4 download autodesk navisworks simulate 2009 download e-gadgets delete duplicate files download codegear rad studio 2007 architect cyberlink power2go 6 download uniblue speedupmypc 2009 download uniblue registrybooster 2009 download nero 8 ultra edition download autodesk 3ds max onenote 2003 download norton partitionmagic 8.0 guitar pro 5 mac download microsoft office project professional 2007 autodesk autosketch 8 sony vegas pro 8 download download adobe premiere pro cs4 mac download intuit turbotax 2004 download daz bryce 5.5 corel dvd moviefactory 6 plus download lavalys everest ultimate 4.5 adobe photoshop 9 download propellerhead reason 4 mac xilisoft audio converter 2.1 symantec winfax pro 10.4 download microsoft streets and trips 2007 adobe director 10 download paragon drive backup professional 8.5 adobe fireworks cs3 download cakewalk sonar 7 producer edition download zonealarm antivirus 8 nero express download acronis disk director suite 10 download nero burning rom corel draw 10 download nuance pdf converter professional 5 download download algolab photo vector 1.98 native instruments reaktor 5 mac xilisoft dvd ripper ultimate 5 microsoft encarta premium 2006 download adobe indesign cs4 mac download acala divx dvd player assist download adobe creative suite 4 master collection mac download adobe captivate 3 download download quarkxpress 6.5 ashampoo magical defrag 2 download download sony acid pro 6 download microsoft office 2007 altova semanticworks 2009 download quarkxpress 8 corel draw x3 download mcafee security innovative solutions advanced uninstaller pro 9.5 download autodesk autocad electrical 2009 download adobe flex builder professional 3 download cyberlink dvd suite 5 pro download paragon partition manager 9 professional vmware workstation 5.5 download xilisoft video to audio converter 5.1 autodesk autocad 2009 autodesk inventor 10 microsoft encarta premium 2009 autodesk autocad 2006 microsoft works 8.5 adobe after effects cs4 cakewalk sonar 3 download ashampoo photo commander 6 download ashampoo burning studio 7 corel draw 9 download download microsoft mappoint 2005 corel dvd 9 download ca erwin process modeller mcafee antivirus download adobe indesign cs4 download tuneup utilities 2008 autodesk autosketch 9 download microsoft office 2000 download partition magic 8.05 download download adobe contribute 4 autodesk autocad raster design 2009 ashampoo burning studio 8 download adobe after effects 6.5 download dvd ripper platinum 5 download adobe fireworks 8 download altova schemaagent 2009 codegear rad studio 2009 architect zonealarm internet security suite 2009 download download novosoft handy backup 6.1 server microsoft office 2008 mac download intuit quicken rental property manager 2009 download download corel video studio 12 altova diffdog 2008 autodesk inventor 2008 quarkxpress 7.3 passport download burnaware professional download sound forge audio studio 9 download autodesk 3d studio max 2009 download guitar pro 6 microsoft money 2007 deluxe download grahl pdf annotator 2 download microsoft digital image suite 2006 download ms sharepoint download smartftp 3.0 altova umodel enterprise 2009 download download tamosoft commview for wifi 6 full graphisoft archicad 12 download powerdesk pro 7 download microsoft money 2006 adobe dreamweaver cs3 download acronis disk director suite 9.0 download abby fine reader download download microsoft streets and trips 2009 avid media composer 2.8 microsoft frontpage 2003 download microsoft windows vista ultimate (64bit) download download corel painter ix autodesk autocad 2004 download download mcafee total protection 2009 download wincare memory booster gold microsoft encarta 2005 acronis true image 11 home xilisoft iso burner partition magic 7 download download partition commander server edition 10 steinberg nuendo 2 download download microangelo toolset 6 4media dvd to ipod converter 5 download download microsoft money 2007 home & business quarkxpress 7 download corel draw 11 mac adobe creative suite 3 master collection dtsearch desktop 7 microsoft money plus microsoft mappoint 2009 north america download adobe premiere 6.5 download autodesk inventor 11 sony sound forge 9 download download acala avi divx mpeg xvid vob to psp altova stylevision 2008 download download pinnacle studio 12 ultimate microsoft mappoint 2008 download download guitar pro 5 download autodesk autocad 2007 futuremark 3d download adobe creative suite cs2 propellerhead reason 3.0 download acala video mp3 ripper download microsoft office enterprise 2007 download download windows xp professional sp3 futuremark 3dmark 06 advanced download ashampoo powerup 3 microsoft office visio professional 2007 xilisoft audio maker 3