Halo 2 Humpday Challenge: Bungie vs. Korea
The latest Bungie Humpday Challenge is a departure from the normal formula. Aside from taking place last Friday instead of Wednesday, our latest match had global impacts as we faced off against Halo 2 experts from Korea. Several months ago I visited Korea (along with several other countries) as part of a Halo 2 promotional tour. During my visit, I had a chance to meet Halo fans and see how our game and our universe is perceived across the globe. While Halo itself may not be the most popular game in Korea, there's no denying that you'll be hard pressed to find any other country that embraces and enjoys video games (of all types) as much as they do. In general, RPG and RTS games seem to be the predominant flavor of choice but rest assured that there are indeed Korean Halo players and they take the game as seriously as you or I.
Once I returned to the U.S. I began talking with some of the Microsoft folks I met in Asia and we began kicking around the idea of a worldwide Humpday Challenge. Admittedly, many of us were still licking our wounds from our last Asian match but despite our trepidation we accepted the challenge. The match against Japan had humbled us and proved that we weren't nearly as good as we thought we were.
This time, it would be different. This time we would practice, we would form a closely knit team; we would play in the same room. This time we would redeem ourselves and carry out the latest strike in our plan for total world domination…. Or would we?
On Friday evening at approximately 7:00 PM PDT (which is approx. 11:00 AM on Saturday in Korea) we received an online invite from "glassheart" of Team Korea. The community corner of the studio was converted into a war room as our team set up stations and had been warming up and enjoying pizza prior to the match. On the Korea side, things were a bit different. The match was taking place inside a public games center with spectators, journalists and tons of hoopla. I imagine both sides were nervous, but for us it was a bit easier not having a TV crew standing over us. I'm not going to lie – nobody here at Bungie gave us any shot at winning this match. Based on our Humpday record and our severe beating by Team Japan, it was a given that we would be crushed. Even our star player New001 was choking in practice, potentially falling prey to the immense pressures riding on his shoulders. We really wanted to win but honestly we all sort of assumed we'd lose in the end.
The format was a four vs. four, best-of-five match. Team Bungie had two extra players who we rotated in for certain games. Here's what the rosters looked like:
Joseph "New001" Tung
Mat "Shunji" Noguchi
Jeremiah "Ninja 0n Fire" Pieschl
Chad "Shishka" Armstrong
Luke "Abe Froman" Timmins
Brian "Ske7ch" Jarrard
All eight players joined the lobby and we exchanged a brief hello to one another. There was a slight delay as we could hear what sounded like an announcer getting the crowd fired up on their side. On our side, it was all business, aside from the occasional Noguchi expletive. It's game time.
Game One: Team Slayer on Midship
Game Duration: 6:55
General Tone of Game: Cautionary
The first game was a straight up match of Team Slayer on Midship. For this round, Team Bungie was represented by Joe, Shishka, Jeremiah and myself. Our plan was simple – stick together in pairs, control the BR/PP combo and try to own the Sword and Shotgun. As expected, things kicked off fast with both teams scrambling for leverage and weapon ownership. On a map this small there's not a whole lot you can do once the action begins. Sitting in the same room definitely helped as we could easily talk to one another to coordinate our attacks and even better, we could continue talking after we were dead. For the most part, our plan worked. We operated as a team, moving across the map with lethal efficiency. Team Korea put up a great fight and at any given point each side was only separated by a handful of kills. Lucky for us, Joe brought his A-game and unleashed hell on anyone unfortunate enough to get caught in his crosshairs. In fact, Joe alone accounted for nearly half our entire kills. It was a tough fight, but we felt a huge wave of relief wash over us once we secured our first win.
Final Score: Bungie Wins (50 to 42)
Game Two: 1 Flag CTF on Zanzibar (4 rounds)
Most Kills: New001 with 23
Most Medals: New001 with 13
General Tone of Game:
Our second match was the old classic 1-Flag on Zanzibar. For this match, we altered our rosters slightly to bring in our stronger objective game players - Luke, Joe, Shishka and myself. We started on offense and went with the tried-and-true "RUSH!" tactic. Two players sped off in Ghosts and were inside the base in a matter of seconds. Unfortunately Team Korea was ready and quickly shut down our assault. We managed to regroup and coordinate another push but they were too dug in and did a superb job of denying us.
Now it was our turn on defense and we quickly ran out to grab our respective weapons and take up our positions. As expected, they pushed pretty quickly and were on the base in seconds. With the rocket firmly planted in our stairwell, we drove them back several times. Finally, in a coordinated surge, they broke through and managed to get the flag outside, in route for the wheel. As anyone who's played Zanzibar will tell you, once the flag is that far out, it's almost a guaranteed score. Almost. Somehow, someway, our team rallied and swarmed the sea wall. In one of the most amazing moments in Halo 2 history, we managed to thwart their scoring attempts mere inches from the flag stand. Words can't describe how awesome that was. (for some odd reason the Gameviewer doesn't seem to accurately depict this struggle, trust me, it was EPIC)
Invigorated after our amazing defensive stand, we were poised to strike and secure a score for our team. We kept the same plan – rush the base and get the flag out as fast as possible. Our initial rush was a bit more successful as the flag did end up near the doorway. We regrouped again and pushed, inching the flag out the door and ultimately across the wheel. With our entire in tow, the flag was delivered to the beach, putting us in the lead.
For the final round, Team Korea brought it hard and did an admirable job of carving away our defenses and getting the flag out of the base. Once again, they threw everything they had at us and slowly moved the flag towards the beach. And, once again, led by the insane marksmanship of New001, our team rallied and stopped the score inches from the flag stand. This was one of the best fought and most intense games I've ever played on Zanzibar and we managed to win.
Final Score: 1-0 Bungie Wins
Most Kills: New001 with 23
Most Flag Saves: New001 with 5
Game Three: Team Swords on Lockout
Game Duration: 5:15
General Tone of Game: Frustrating
We were already up 2-0 going into this match so our spirits were high. However, if there's any game that can quickly get away from you, it's Swords. We adjusted our roster again with Shishka, Mat, Jeremiah and Luke tagging in. The strategy was pretty simple – try to stick together in pairs and stab them before they stab us. As expected, it was a frantic game with encounters being decided by a millisecond difference in button presses. Team Bungie hung in there but managed to trail by a few kills the entire match. Every time we'd close the gap, Team Korea would rally and move back ahead again. Ultimately we just couldn't pull it off and Team Korea handed us our first defeat.
Final Score: 50-36 Korea Wins
Most Kills: Glassheart with 16
Best Spree: Glassheart with 6
Game Four: Assault on Ivory Tower (4 rounds)
Game Duration: 8:05
General Tone of Game:Fevered
Despite taking our first loss, we remained focus, intent on closing out the match once and for all. We switched players around once again bringing in Luke, Joe, Mat and myself for what could potentially be the final match in the series. Our first offensive attempt went well as we grabbed the sword and pushed to the right side of the map. They did a good job shutting down our initial rush but we managed to get the bomb into position. On a follow-up assault, we pushed and bit by bit were able to arm the bomb and score.
Once on defense, we split into twos, with each pair guarding one side of the map. Communication was critical as we called out bomb locations and converged to shut them down. They made a valiant effort and had some superb sniping but ultimately we managed to prevent the score. If we could score one more time, we'd secure the game and the entire match. And that's just what we did. After another coordinated assault and a series of follow-up strikes, we managed to plant the bomb and take a 2-0 lead. For Team Korea's last chance on offense they once again made a strong effort and had us back on the ropes with the bomb inches away from being armed. However, we continued to fight and managed to stop them about 1 second before the bomb was armed.
Final Score: 2-0 Bungie Wins
Most Kills: New001 with 20
Most Medals: Ninja 0n Fire with 16
Somehow, someway, we managed to win, despite our own predictions. Was it our practice? Was it the fact that we focused on communicating more? Was it luck? Who knows but we'll gladly take the win. We have to give a big shout out to Team Korea for playing such a tough match and giving us some of the best games we've ever played.
Here are a few reflections from the Bungie folks who played:
Jeremiah:"The most memorable moment for me was not while I was playing. It was watching New0001 running down the wall on Zanzibar from anti-Froman tower, passing through the wall tunnel and jumping over the ledge *while* zooming in and sniping, taking out the flag carrier in mid-air just feet away from the capture point… and then holding off their team until backup arrived.
It was a good set of matches with some close games, I felt we were most successful due to our constant communication and rush tactics. The skirmish games on Zanzibar and Ivory Tower were definitely the highlights of the event for me, I wasn’t playing in them but there were some superb maneuvers and very close encounters which could have gone either way."
Luke:"Overall impression was that we were really well matched. Every game was really close, and the assault and CTF games could have gone either way.
All I remember about Midship was Joe being in a Zen-like state and getting 23 kills.
The two stops we had on the beach when the flag was like four feet from the post almost made me cry. And everybody did their jobs.
We got pwned in swords.
The final grind against the bomb when we were on defense was insane. They had the bomb on the left post, probably half armed, with a good sniper on high, and they were rushing the hardwoods. There was a lot of close combat with the sword and rockets; I’m not sure what really happened, but they didn’t score."
Mat:"I don’t think I’ve released that much aggression in a long time."
Joe:"The Zanzibar game was one of the best CTF games I’ve ever played. The first stop on the beach went like this: AnaFuge was jumping down the stairs with the flag and I was at the seawall sniper spawn. All sorts of -blam!- was blowing up around me and my shields were at zero. I still had the sniper rifle and managed to get one shot into AnaFuge before he dropped below my line of sight. After the shot, I instinctively swapped weapons thinking that I could take him out with a single BR shot now that his shields were down. Sadly I had forgotten that my secondary weapon was a shotgun, i.e., I might as well have been standing there with my #@%^ in my hand as AnaFuge hit the bottom of the stairs. Jumping down to the beach from the top of the stairs I chucked a hail mary plasma grenade quite literally as AnaFuge was jumping mid-air down onto the cap point. He blew up. I cried.
Sometimes in Halo when your synapses are firing just right you feel something like omnipotence about what is going on around you. Friday was definitely one of those times.
Please make it clear Luke was playing as me in the swords game :)"
Shishka:"I spent the week terrified of the coming match. The scars from our games with the Japanese team are still visible, I suppose.
The games were intense. The Zanzibar match took five years off my life. I was bummed we didn’t do the snipers match, though I’m sure that’s looming on the horizon. Overall, I’d say Korea challenged us with a good team; but we had found that teamwork that we had lacked in previous humpday challenges. We took this game very seriously. Usually the people that play in the Challenge don’t get a lot of practice outside of Wednesday night, but this time we had official scrimmages and everything. Instead of the usual method of everyone playing from the comfort of their home, we turned the community team’s corner into the war room. With everyone so close, we didn’t need the mics, and we could work as a tighter team. While the Korean team was able to speak to Brian, every time his mic turned off we were discussing strategy. We had specific roles and specific strategies for every gametype. We were just “on” this time."
Until Next Time…
And with that, we walk away amongst the cheers and adoration of those who doubted us to a well deserved ticker-tape parade across the Microsoft campus. Well ok, actually it's just those of us who played patting ourselves on the back and our parade consisted of two of us walking down the hall to the kitchen. Still, Friday July 8 th will be remembered in Bungie history as the day we overcame all odds and proved that we actually CAN win.
Thanks again to the fine folks who played against us and everyone in Korea who is a supporter of Halo and Bungie!
In two weeks Team Bungie is back in action to challenge teams from Taiwan and Hong Kong! Stay tuned to Bungie.net for more details. Now if you'll excuse me, we have more practice (and gloating) to do….
Team Bungie strikes a pose for a Korean PR photo. (from left, back row: Shishka, Shunji. front row: New001, Abe Froman, Ske7ch, Ninja 0n Fire)