We're in the final phase of readying the auto update, which is a short way of saying, we’re getting ready to hand it off to the kind folks in Certification, where, like Ivan Drago, the AU will be run through a series of rigidly scientific tests that last for indeterminable amounts of time. That said, barring catastrophe and disaster, the auto update will be injected into your Xbox 360 later this month.
We've solidified what will appear in the auto update in addition to the oft-mentioned adjustment to Halo 3’s melee. There’s a bunch of uninteresting behind the scenes fixes that will likely be completely invisible to the player and a handful of more pronounced changes coming to Halo 3:
OMG Fix Mayleeey, Bungle!
Multiplayer Design Lead Tyson Green checked in with a lengthy explanation of the melee system in Halo 3, how it’s different from Halo 2’s what worked about both versions, what didn’t work and how it’s being addressed by the auto update.
"The Short Version
Melee contests will only produce a winner if he has a sizeable health advantage over the loser. Otherwise, both players may die in the clash.
What Halo 2 Did
Put simply, in Halo 2, whoever threw the first melee won. Sounds perfect, right? Not quite.
Get your Einstein on, we’re going to talk about relativity. Specifically, the relative observations of host versus client. In Halo 3, across our entire population, we observe an average latency between host and client of around 80-100ms, which is around three frames. Assuming 90ms of latency, consider what happens when the host and client both throw melee attacks at exactly the same time. The host will see the client’s melee attack as many as three frames later, while the client will see the host’s melee attack three frames later. Who attacked first?
Well, in the halcyon days of Halo 2, the host made that determination. Which means his melee was first and the client lost the melee fight far more often than they should have. And in the event of two clients attacking simultaneously, the one with lower latency to the host would appear to have attacked first, and would be the winner. In a peer-to-peer environment with latency, it is nigh impossible to determine exactly who attacked first.
Over Halo 2’s three years online, many people adapted and got used to preemptively throwing a melee, but it was still fundamentally unfair in favor of the host or people with faster connections.
So, to be clear and upfront, we will not be returning to those days of letting the host win when the outcome is in doubt, aka. first melee wins.
The Halo 3 “Fix”
In Halo 3, there is explicit special treatment for what is called a “melee contest”, which occurs when two melee attacks occur almost simultaneously. Specifically, when the host starts to throw a melee attack, there is a short window after that (three frames, or approximately 100ms) during which the host will watch for a retaliatory melee attack. If one arrives inside that window, it is a contest. Besides smoothing out the latency differences between clients (it works the same way when one client melees another), this allows a client with a ping as high as 100ms to compete with the host on a far more even footing than Halo 2 allowed.
So now we have the contests, but how are they resolved? Having determined that we cannot trust timing in an environment with latency, we instead use the remaining health (including shields) of the contestants as the tie-breaker. This is about as fair as you can get, within the conventions of Halo—the guy who did more damage comes out on top. Specifically, the winner of the contest still takes melee damage from the loser, but is protected from death and lives to fight another day.
On paper, this method addresses the host advantage (among others) and is scrupulously fair. There’s just one problem:
The Fatal Flaw
Halo 3’s system is inscrutable. This is most famously illustrated by a splitscreen film (eliminating latency as a factor) of two players running at each other, firing, and throwing melee attacks on the same frame. One drops dead, and it isn’t clear why, so the result is declared to be random. The real reason is, of course, that one player landed one or two more bullets than the other, but that isn’t anywhere near obvious.
Any time you have a game system which players cannot understand, it might as well be random. No matter how fair the tiebreaker may be, if a single Assault Rifle bullet can slip by and decide the outcome, it might as well be random. And randomness is a poor substitute for tactics and skillful execution.
Addressing the Flaw
We considered and ultimately rejected some ideas that could have made melee contests produce a less inscrutable result. A major consideration was that we wanted to minimize the impact on how Halo 3 plays to the greatest degree possible, while still addressing the problem. Radically changing the mechanics of melee combat is not something we want at this point.
Ultimately, the change is targeted at the unpredictable outcome of a contest. Simply stated, it works like this: when a melee contest occurs, and both players are close to the same health (including shields), no special protection is given to either player. This means the outcome of a close melee contest can be death for both participants, but that a player who decisively injures his opponent prior to closing for a melee will continue to enjoy the victorious outcome.
For those of you uninterested in the precise details, the upshot is this: if you close for a melee attack and are at a clear advantage (or disadvantage), the outcome will be clear. If the outcome is unclear, too close to call, you will likely trade kills with your victim. But you should no longer watch your opponent saunter away for no clear reason (and if you do, check the film—it tells all.)
The Nitty Gritty
If you’re still reading, you’re probably interested in some details, so we won’t skimp.
A player in MP has a grand total of 115 hit points (to adopt a common term.) 45 of these are body hit points, 70 are shield hit points. For reference, a single AR bullet does 7.5 points of damage, and a BR bullet does 6. A melee attack does 70 for most weapons, with some weapons (notably the Brute weapons) doing 72.
When entering a melee contest, the combined body and shield hit points are compared. If the difference is above a threshold, then one player is determined to have won decisively and is protected from death. After testing with a variety of weapons, we settled on a threshold of 26.5 hit points (slightly rounded.) This translates into 4+ AR bullets worth of damage to decisively win a melee contest, instead of simply having 1 more hit point than the other guy.
There is one more wrinkle to this: your invisible body hit points do recharge, but at a different rate from your shields. While ordinarily this is a non-issue (we’ve always made this largely transparent), it can affect the outcome of a contest. For those of you keeping score, body hit points start regenerating 10 seconds after last taking damage, at a rate of 9 hp/sec. So if your shields are up but you’re fresh from taking a beating, you could still be in trouble in a contest.
Despite our best efforts, this system cannot cover all cases: if your latency is beyond 100ms, you can still get into situations where the host legitimately believes that your melee did not arrive in time. In testing, we did catch a couple of films where perfectly balanced, simultaneous melee attacks produced an unexpected winner. But these were films recorded by the client—the host film told a different story, showing a very late melee.
The moral: when in doubt, check the host’s film, because latency still matters. Just a whole lot less than Halo 2.
Also, while we were in there, we excised a BXB-style glitch before it gathered popularity, and fixed that strangeness where bodies would be hurled with unearthly force by a mid-melee death. We sincerely apologize to people who enjoyed the latter bug—it was pretty funny."
While there haven’t been nearly as many Whambulance-related mails for Halo 3 as there were for Halo 2 – the enthusiasm for cheating has been curbed pretty well by our auto-detection system, that doesn’t mean we’re resting on our laurels, either. We’ve seen pretty frequent abuse of the EXP system and attempts at gaming the Rank system and AU1 will introduce even more preventative measures to further reduce attempts to find glitches in the system.
Additionally, cheatery that involves network manipulation will see some firmer restrictions and swifter punishments. As is always the case with discussing cheating, we’re sorry for being even more obtuse and confusing than usual, but we can’t really let on to what we’re doing, because then the Internet’s industrious youth will try and find ways to circumvent those measures and the cycle’s inevitable continuation is accelerated. We have a variety of different bans ranging from account-level bans from matchmaking to negating players’ abilities to host games, when we discover host manipulation attempts or frequent network issues for other players in the game. In addition to the copious amount of statistics taken by Bungie.net from your game, we have pretty detailed information about game conditions and network data as well. Culling through that data has allowed us to continue to make improvements to the system.
Bennett, I thought you were dead
The longstanding “Elite Commando Shoulders aren’t unlocking with the achievement” bug is being resolved in the auto update. The shoulders weren’t unlocking when the Steppin’ Razor achievement was acquired. In the post-auto update era, the Commando Shoulders will be unlocked for everyone, regardless of the status of the corresponding achievement.
A Host Migrated
Our playerbase across the sea has oft leveled a completely reasonable and sound complaint about the performance of peer to peer hosting in Halo 3: when entering Matchmaking, often times, they are matched up with U.S. players and their game quality may suffer depending on the strength of the U.S. players’ host, resulting in higher pings and latency. In the auto update, we’ve retooled the Matchmaking option “Prefer Good Connection” to cast a wider net to find better hosts for players in Halo 3, and will also improve host conditions for players outside of America.
In order to access “Prefer Good Connection,” the host for a matchmaking game needs to press X once at the Matchmaking Menu to adjust “Matchmaking Options.” This will bring up a menu that includes “Quickest,” “Good Connection,” and “My Language.” Scroll down to the option you want to use in Matchmaking and Press A. Each time you enter a new hopper, the setting will clear, so make sure to reselect it.
Hammered and Nailed
With the vast volume of maps and gametypes being created by our Community, a natural evolution of Matchmaking Playlists would be to create a hopper dedicated to Forge creations – user maps like The Great Wall, Anvil and Cell Block 71 – and highlight Community-created gametypes on those maps, or on existing Bungie-built maps.
The auto update will streamline and solidify the back end and allow us to pull Community-generated content into our Matchmaking Playlist. No, this doesn’t mean that Your Favorite Playlist is going to go away; in fact, it just means that in the foreseeable future there will be a playlist dedicated to your creations.
Decorators Love Center
The next batch of Halo 3 maps continue to chug along in various stages along their development cycle. Cotton Balls skybox continues to fill out, now giving players who paid attention in Halo 3 some pretty exhilarating context in regards to “where” they are. Frankie says “the skybox has been there all along, you’re just too blind and stupid to see it – abres los ojos.” I wanted to include a really, REALLY small screenshot, but PR would react as though the brown note had been sounded from the Apocalypse Trumpet.
Additionally, there have been some large, guarding, ominous and natural structures added to the background, stretching upwards into the heavenly skybox. The towering natural spires are foreboding and moody. They are correct.
OK Corral is getting slathered with layer upon layer of polish, just this week while playing another of our near-daily “Battles for Ultimate Destiny” Frankie and I noticed a ton of new visual highlights and decorators being added. What began as an abandoned shed in the middle of a partially overgrown thicket has progressed into something quite different.
Walls are marked with scoring from explosions, cement slabs have been blown apart by fierce explosions, one room in particular, with its God-rays streaming in from a plant-covered dome has been the site of some terrible carnage. An explosion ripped a hole in the floor, stripped part of the walls and blew out an entire wall. Another explosion shelled parts of wall off, displaying wooden struts and heavily water-damaged cement underneath. Outside, more blast scoring and water damage stains the cement and foliage growth will give players an idea of just how abandoned OK Corral has become.
Again, I really wanted to include a small image, especially of this particular area, but Frank said no.
Time of the Season
Next week, folks all over the world over will celebrate their love for one another with diamonds, chocolates, baguettes, romantic nights out and then wives and girlfriends will then proceed to get headaches and go straight to bed after dinner, so what will the husbands do? Hopefully log in to Halo 3 and check out another one of those seasonal treats we’re putting together.
This Valentine's Day Massacre Hopper will launch next week and is testing a variety of things for us. First, we're planning on rolling out a number of hoppers that will appear in regular, short intervals, generally over a weekend period, and this hopper, which will begin on next Wednesday and conclude at 2 a.m. pacific the following Monday, is designed to test that.
The secondary purpose of the Valentine's Day Massacre is to look at the tournament system and our ability to collect leaderboard information for a series of online tournaments we'll be holding next month. The Valentine's Day Massacre hopper will be a Ranked, lean, Team Slayer-focused version (it will have a Team BRs variant, as well) of Team Doubles.
It’s no Mister Chief, but one of the guys TT L Burritoh from Tied the Leader made a bunch of panoramic shots from this week’s games. I saw them when I was checking their write-up for deception. After the wall of text that has been this week’s update, some images would probably be an Excedrin for your eyesore.
Download a monstro hires version here.
Monstro version is available here.
Comongo version available here.
Frankie actually made this to sell on the Internet for charity. In association with our friends at Halo.Bungie.Org, the proceeds of the auction will go to the Brian Morden Foundation, an organization working toward a cure for Ewing's Sarcoma. To see the auction or participate in the inevitable bidding war click here. Claude from HBO kindly set up the auction for us.
"Here lies the last sip of the bourgeoisie malaise consommé." -2007, Pastel on Canvas, Francis O’Connor
In case you've missed it, go to the Auction for the above item here