There has always been a very special feel to Halo multiplayer. Part of it is just the player mechanics: a fairly slow, cat-and-mouse game is a rarity these days. Even past that, though, was a layer of structure within each match that dictated the flow and pace of a match. A large part of this structure consisted of carefully set on-map weapon placement and respawn timers. Map designers were able to establish fairly predictable patterns of player movement and behavior coalescing around set locations on the map at set times. This ensured that a strong team was required to employ some degree of movement around the map in order to maintain their lead over the enemy. By separating power weapon spawn locations and powerful points of control on the map by distance and letting the system by which the weapons spawn be fully understood by every player in the match (provided they take the time to learn it), the designer can give both teams a fighting shot, and thus the tide of the match can be reinforced or turned by player action.
Halo 4 did away with static weapon spawn locations and timers, replacing them with a system labeled Global Ordnance. In the Global Ordnance system, a single power weapon will spawn at a single location on the map every two minutes, rain or shine. It appears at a glance that different weapons have different weightings, and single spawn locations can have their weapon pool tailored to them. For example, on Solace each Random Drop point has a single weapon assigned to it. Rear right of each base will always be a Sniper Rifle, front left of the snipe ledge will always be an Incineration Cannon. Meanwhile, most of Haven’s Random Drop points have three weapons each: the Sticky Detonator, Needler, and Scattershot. There are a few exceptions, where either an Incineration Cannon or Sword can spawn, and two in particular that can only spawn Binary Rifles. There are two possibilities for how a Random Drop point is chosen for a Global Ordnance drop in a match. Either the system chooses a spot and then uses the tailored list of weapons for that spot to determine the drop, or it looks at the total list of weapons that can drop on every point on the map, picks one, and then picks a point that the weapon in question can be spawned at. Given that a system in which every weapon has an equal weighting and a Needler is no less important than Rockets sounds totally asinine, I’m currently leaning towards the latter. This allows for the weapons to be weighted based on their impact on the match.
However, given that the drops on symmetrical maps are usually…well, symmetrical (meaning that the possibility for a drop on one side vs. the other is nearly always 50/50 on these maps), there is no guarantee that one side of the map won’t get every single drop in the match, which pretty much hands them the victory in a majority of cases. While this is absolutely a fringe scenario, it serves as a decent introduction for one of the biggest problems of the system as a whole: in no way can any player ever accurately predict what point is going to be picked at a given 2-minute interval, and the predictive element of Halo multiplayer is gutted as a result. If such a player exists, please direct him to the nearest casino, because someone who can predict the outcome of a dice roll made behind closed doors needs to use their talent for something more gratifying than a video game. The system as a whole is so opaque that the information I’ve given you in the last two paragraphs is the most I think anyone who doesn’t know what the code is can without rigorous gathering of data points to try and find a trend. What this would require is essentially a Forged testbed with a Random Drop point for each and every weapon to try and test their weightings. Then, hundreds of hours of sitting… and waiting…and watching would be required in order to gather thousands of data points (to eliminate the effects of the random element) and determine rough weightings for each weapon and the rules the system uses (Can a point be chosen twice in a row? Can a single weapon be chosen twice in a row? Is everyone totally off-base with their theories about the fundamental underworkings of the system?) And that’s a big issue. If the system is so opaque and impossible to grasp by the end user, then as far as I’m concerned, it’s not a satisfying system because it cannot be manipulated. Video game systems are satisfying to the user because they are able to discern the constants and variables, then manipulate those variables in order to achieve a favorable outcome. When a system basically closes the door, tells the player to input their command through the mail slot, and then something magical happens inside with no transparency, those variables and constants remain a mystery to the player. Even in something dice-based like tabletop gaming, there are known constraints placed on the dice rolls, and the rolls take place in full view of the player. When you’re able to see the system at work, even if it is not a precise system, the player is able to better grasp how the system makes its decisions. Global Ordnance fails to make its inner workings transparent to the user which is frustrating, to say the least. In our small community, we’ve seen highly competent players, who would otherwise be fully capable of understanding whatever system was in place, pulling out their hair because some variables behind the curtain, on the backend, may or may not have changed. We have no way of knowing, and for my money, I believe that these users are simply seeing unique tendencies of the random system that may never show up again and that are being seen instead as a change in the system’s rules.
That’s not the only issue I have with the system. I chose the words “predictive” and “reactive” in the title for a very specific reason. Those two words represent the dominant tone of mid-to-high-level player behavior in older Halo titles and Halo 4, respectively. Let me explain. With a system in which all constants and variables are exposed, such as static weapon spawns, the player and his team are able to make very accurate, useful predictions about what players will be doing at specific points of the map at specific times of the match. By enabling players to change their tactics on the fly when they see that the enemy is running up the rock arch on Beaver Creek and allowing them to know that Rockets are about to spawn, you have given them the tools to change the pace of the match while not favoring one side or the other inadvertantly. The tone of such a scenario is predictive because the player is able to use his knowledge of A) the map and B) how players behave in a predictable system and know the other player’s goal and his next step of action. Even something as small as that flash of insight allows the player to compensate and try to gain the upper hand, before even a single shot has been fired.
In Halo 4, players are not able to make that kind of prediction because they cannot prejudge what spawns where. It instead becomes a very reactive game, where an event, such as rockets spawning on the bottom of Abandon’s tower, and everyone scrambles to get there as fast as they can. What this leads to is players not leaving the best point of control (in this case, top mid of Abandon) because they are in an ideal spot to start their scramble to whatever the game decides to spawn. In many situations, one team is handed a gift by the system in the form of a sniper or Incineration Cannon landing on their doorstep, while the other team gets nothing at all for two minutes, and may be granted something as insignificant as a Needler on the next drop interval. Two minutes may not seem like a long time, I get it. When two equally skilled teams are trading pushes in a game of CTF, though, it’s a lifetime, and an Incineration Cannon is nearly a guaranteed capture if used competently. If you’re on that losing team, how can you see that drop’s effect and not feel like the system punished you for not being on the right team as you stare at your respawn screen while your flag exits your base? The game did not give you any notice as to what was dropping where (though this is alleviated through the Drop Recon perk, which still does not in any way make the system acceptable), so there wasn’t any way to beat the enemy team to their own base, and outplaying a power weapon is still a very difficult task, as with all Halo titles. I can best sum up the change in tone for a Halo match by paraphrasing common radio chatter on a given team per game. Past Halo titles: “Rockets are going to be up on the arch in 20 seconds, I’m heading there now.” Halo 4: “All right, something is going to spawn somewhere in 20 seconds, get ready to rush it.” It’s a change in the ability of the player to be specific about what they think is going to happen.
Global Ordnance arose, as far as I can tell, from good intentions. 343 stated that they wanted to increase movement around the map and give newer players a chance against veterans. But was this the right way to do that? There used to be several circuits between power weapons and points of control on the map that would be continually active as power weapon spawned throughout the match. Since each weapon had a different spawn timer, the circuits would stagger their activity and often a few were active at the same time. There was map movement ingrained into the static weapon spawn system. A team holding the top of Ivory Tower could not just stay put for the majority of the map. At least one of them had to give up their position of power to gather rockets, the Overshield, and the sword. Priorities had to be set and hard choices had to be made about whether or not it was the right time to push for a weapon or if doing so would compromise their high ground. If that decision wasn’t made quick, the enemy team had an opportunity to grab the weapon in question and make a push. With Global Ordnance, only one circuit is open at any given time, and there is no continuous movement, just one reason to move every two minutes. People still have to make the decision whether or not to give up that point of control during those moments, but on the whole a dominant team is able to hold that point more easily because just one weapon is spawned at a time, and there is no guarantee that the weapon will be worth going after. In that case, the dominant team just needs to play what is essentially a 2 minute round of Firefight, holding their high ground against the enemy team’s advances. If the weapon is worth pursuing, the dominant team is in a superior position to do so by merit of having constantly strong map control. Take Abandon as an example, as it is the most obvious I can think of. If a team is holding top mid, they don’t have any reason to move if the game spawns a Needler somewhere. If it spawns rockets, they are in a fantastic position to quickly drop down, grab them, and return to the high ground. If it spawns a sniper on the beach, they can send one guy there and use their line of sight to the entire map to cover him and suppress the enemy team while he grabs it. This still happened in classic Halo, don’t get me wrong. But there were more moments of opportunity for each team with those multiple weapon/movement circuits, whereas the focus now is on a single loop at a time. As for giving newer players a chance against veterans, that’s the matchmaking system’s job. In my eyes, these systems should be designed with the idea that two relatively equally skilled teams will be going against each other, not that a rookie to the series will be playing against an MLG player. Even then, such a dramatic change in such an important pacekeeping system doesn’t seem necessary. Introduce a forced playlist that uses those fancy HUD overlays 343’s so fond of to show new players what the weapon spawn times are. Give players a series of maps with weapon placements in the game’s menu, rather than saving them for the Official Guide to Playing Halo: Two Hundred Pages of “Push Up on the Stick and Shoot the Aliens,” or for the website like Bungie did. Or if you’re hellbent on keeping the random system, give everybody the Drop Recon ability by default so that players get some warning.
What does it mean for Forgers? Spawning weapons using the traditional tools doesn’t work anymore. The weapons will refuse to spawn. You can use Initial Ordnance items with the Resupply Time slider to approximate the old system, but then you have a mess of waypoints cluttering the player’s HUD and you can’t change the ammo per weapon like you could with the other tools. Forgers are now having to accomodate an entirely different style of play when they make their maps, one where they can’t really predict how the loops are going to work in a given match. Not necessarily a bad thing in its own right, but having the option to at least make a classic map would be nice.
I’ve been asked if I think the ideas present in Global Ordnance are totally incompatible with those present in static weapon spawns. Of course not. The issue isn’t that the system exists at all, it’s that it exists in replacement of something that was so important to classic Halo. With Personal Ordnance, I can stop playing those two playlists and be away from it. Global Ordnance is…well, global. There are some ways you could presumably integrate the Global Ordnance system and traditional static weapon spawns, and the key is moderation (on both ends). Having largely static spawns but one or two (symmetrical) key Global Ordnance spots that would spawn a specific class of weapons seems like a decent compromise. If you were playing Haven, and knew that one spot was going to resupply every two minutes with something, it would be better than having no predictive abilities at all. If that doesn’t float your boat, even just having Ordnance drops on a set rotation (or even a series of rotations where matches could play out differently) would be preferable to me, as long as the Random Drop points are in more or less neutral positions. Introducing variety to an often-stale formula is a noble goal, but not when that system overrides player agency to the degree that Global Ordnance does. As with so many things I’ve written about, execution is everything.
Please note that unless otherwise specified, most examples are intended to exist in the context of a Slayer game, as it is a fairly “vanilla” background without any additional elements influencing player behavior.