User Friendly: Halo 3
We take aim at Halo 3's revolutionary suite of creative tools.
So you bought Halo 3, shot rockets at huge scarabs, fragged brutes, and played a few online games with your friends. But aside from the crazy bubble shield, electrifying gravity hammer, and gazillion-dollar marketing budget, you may not have discovered what really makes Halo 3 special.
We're referring, of course, to the new box of tools, such as the "forge" level editor, that players can use to make their own custom content and then distribute it. While it's likely that putting such instruments in the unwashed hands of the masses will probably result in tons of bad screenshots, maps that reveal Harry Potter spoilers, and a couple (billion) teabagging videos, there will also be a handful of staggeringly brilliant works. If you aren't ready to enjoy these pearls when they're formed, you might as well be playing Halo 2.
Of course, user-generated content is hardly a new concept. For instance, BioWare's Neverwinter Nights introduced a robust suite of content-creation tools in 2002 that allowed users to create their own Dungeons & Dragons modules for play by millions of other people. But BioWare's idea was about five years before its time, and its tools were too technical for your average video game dilettante. But with Halo 3 in stores and games like LittleBigPlanet and Spore fast approaching, the time for user-generated content has finally come.
Records your last 25 rounds, matches, and levels; Can view the action from any angle; This is where screenshots are made!
The controls are unintuitive; Can't add elements like music; Can't easily convert clips to a PC format
We usually think of recordings as 2D windows into 3D realms, but the ones in Halo 3 are composed of raw data. As a result, you're able to assume the perspective of any recorded player, or just zoom around within the recording as a bodiless ghost while the action takes place all around you.
This makes the theater an amazing asset to players of all levels, whether you want to snap screenshots to share with friends or look for insights into your professional team's weaknesses. You can also easily send any screenshot or movie clip to a friend in your list, or upload them to Bungie.net to be seen by the masses. At first, you can only share six files, but for 750 Microsoft points you can increase that number to 24. If you mean to be a serious creative force in the Halo 3 community, the upgrade may be worth it. Otherwise, don't bother. On top of all that, the theater automatically saves the last 25 games you play, so you can almost always go back and relive a favorite moment. Real life needs features like this.
There are a couple of downsides, but they're greatly outweighed by the positives. Foremost, your control over the action can be a little imprecise, especially if you want to rewind. In fact, you can't rewind material recorded from the campaign at all, due to loading issues. On the flipside, if you go slow-forward, everything gets really choppy. And finally, since the games are recorded as code, there's no way of converting them to a format your PC will read without the likes of a capture card.
We know these sound nitpicky, but that's a good thing, because there isn't much in the theater worth complaining about. Bravo!
Custom Games Mode
Lets you tweak tons of variables; Save your configurations for easy access; Create new game types!
Must work within the framework of preexisting types; Can't edit games while playing; Divorced from the forge; Can't be match-made
The custom games editor is a good tool that you can use to customize your very own games. You simply pick from one of the preexisting types and edit its variables until you've made it your own. In conjunction with the forge, you can create completely new Halo play experiences.
For example, one new match type we downloaded from Bungie.net is called Rocket Race. It feels like a Halo version of Mario Kart, and is even more addictive than stealing somebody else's Skittles. It's a modified VIP match with several teams of two. Everyone is invincible, armed with bottomless rocket launchers, and supplied with a mongoose. When the game begins, a goal appears on the map, and the first team to reach it gets a point. Then the goal moves to another random point, until a team captures enough of them to win the game. The whole time, rockets are flying everywhere, mongooses are flipping wildly, and everyone is literally having a blast. It's sweet.
If only making new games were as exciting. There are two major obstacles between you and an awesome, playable invention. For one, the custom match editor is a multilayered menu filled to the gills with options and details, yet you can only see one layer at a time, so keeping track of your gravity levels, spawn times, damage ratios, and point values is nearly impossible. It's also difficult to kick your imagination into high gear when you're faced with something as pragmatic as a menu system.
This should be where the forge comes into play, but alas, the forge and the games editor are divorced. You first have to make your match, and then make a corresponding map in the forge. If these two features were integrated, they'd both feel much more useful.
The final problem with custom matches is perhaps the most frustrating--you can't access them from the matchmaking menu. So if, for example, you really want to play Rocket Race but none of your friends are online to join a game, you're out of luck. Then again, if you're having people over to play, Halo 3's custom matches will surely be the life of the LAN party.
What are you getting out of your Halo 3 experience? Leave us a comment and let us know!
Freely swap in or out any items in the game; Your friends can come along for the ride; Mostly simple interface
You can't edit game variables on the fly; Simple tasks can be really difficult; You can only work with items
The forge is simple by design. Rather than shellacking you with a big, crazy level editor, it lightly invites you to float around, placing objects to and fro, or blowing things up as you go. The first thing you'll probably do is build a huge pile of vehicles, pack it full of propane tanks, and blow it all to smithereens. Both piles and explosions are easily on demand in the forge.
And so are your friends. By entering the forge and inviting them over, you and yours can run about, spawning weapons and killing each other in exotic ways to your hearts' content.
But as soon as you try to get really creative, the forge's significant limitations become readily apparent. For starters, you can't actually edit the terrain of a level, just the weapons, vehicles, atmospheric objects, and objective markers contained therein. There's plenty of room for creativity, but you have to think outside the box, because your building blocks usually aren't blocks at all.
As a result, it can be tough to realistically focus your efforts. Fortunately, there is help. Rather than futzing around cold with a difficult two-part system, check out the work people have done on Bungie.net, and definitely take a gander at Bungie Favorites. To find it, just hit start in the main menu, and download the five maps and custom games handpicked by Bungie. Once you see what other people are doing with Halo 3's tools, it's easier to imagine the interesting uses you can put them to.
Tons of free content; Share your work with the world; Download straight to your 360
Weird forum format doesn't make sense; Can be hard to find what you're looking for
Bungie's Web site is the main distribution point for all the content Halo's legions of users produce. You can easily upload your own pics, clips, movies, games, and maps, as well as download those of other users. The place is basically a hub of free, Halo-related content, and since all of the files it deals in are Halo 3 code (except screenshots), you can't download any of them to your computer.
Instead, you simply select them and they'll download to your 360 whenever it's on. It's a wonderfully easy way to grab some new game types, and if you want to see how the pros do it, just download a couple of their clips.
In spite of all this fascinating and unique cross-platform functionality, Bungie.net has some extremely frustrating shortcomings at the time of this writing, though hopefully these will be fixed at some point.. For example, the entire file area is composed like a forum, so rather than searching through maps or movies, you're searching through threads. Even though everything on the site is rated, there's no apparent way to search for content according to rating. You can't even filter the forums by author, if you find a person whose work you admire. And finally, forget about the search option--it can't be set to search the files forum.
While Bungie.net's forum format presents obtuse obstacles for its browsers, it also represents a daring attempt at letting console users freely share their wares. It isn't perfect, just perfectly unique.
Albums worth of screenshots, at least two of which are awesome; An entire archive of films and clips; A few interesting game variants; Maps, maps and more maps
Lame rocket race knockoffs; Forum English; Screens of warthogs "doing it"
Yes, you. After all, user-generated content is only as good as the user. So how good are you? So far, not bad--prolific and enthusiastic, to say the least. You've put up some good screenshots, movies, and game variants, even if the good ones are awfully hard to find. But hey, that's Bungie's fault, not yours.
For all that content, though, it seems like we're seeing too much of the same thing. Don't make a baseball variant, baseball's old news. And please, please describe your works in legible, concise English. We're interested in what you've done, but if it reads "OMG IM PWNZ0RZ" we'll just assume you're teh lamez.
Until Bungie implements better tracking and rating features, following your progress will be a tricky and tedious task. But that won't stop us from trying, and it shouldn't stop you either. Halo 3's user generated cyber armor has its share of chinks, but the fact that it exists to be dented is itself a minor miracle. With so many utilities and players, it's only a matter of time before you generate more awesome, free content than we could track with alien search technology. So what are you waiting for? Get to work!
What are you getting out of your Halo 3 experience? Leave us a comment and let us know!
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