Sunday, August 15, 2010

Communication: The Difference between "A Beast" and "The Best"

If you were to ask someone to define what they considered to be a good Halo player, most people would begin by thinking of tangible, measureable details. High kill-to-death ratio and usage of power weapons are certainly important stats to strive for. Some people may venture to less flashy stats, but still attributes trackable by stats, like objective scoring, wheelmen, assists, even map positioning.

All of the above stats are important toward helping your team win, as well as being a good player. A player with a high KpD ratio, a lot of assists, and excellent map positioning is often referred to as a "beast" colloquially. And they deserve the title. You unleash them in a direction on the map and they're sure to kill what you need them to.

But when it comes to truly being a great player, wise Halo'ers know there is one more feature you must have. Communication.

Now, often you'll find some really solid slayers that can kill anything that comes their way, but they won't tell you when something bad happens to them, or if they see a power weapon they need help getting. So you're probably thinking, "Yeah, if (x) made call-outs, they'd be the best player ever!"

Call-outs are great. They help your team know what they're up against, or at least what you're up against. They let your team know what happened to that laser you had on your back when you died, that no one would've known you had if you hadn't called it out. They help your team finish off the guy with no shields who botched a push and tried to escape.

Some of the players in the "beast" category make call-outs, but they're still not communicating at the level that will really show they've mastered the game. Even if you make constant call-outs of enemy current locations, you're still missing some of the other important information that needs to be spoken throughout the game.

The first of these is enemy spawns. This is a small branch of call-outs that are made before the enemy is actually there. On maps like Sandtrap, Sandbox, or Standoff, knowing where your enemy is going to spawn before they do so helps any vehicles you have get into position to stop them. On Valhalla, knowing when the enemy is going to spawn close to the hill can allow your team to be more aggressive and leave less people on the hill to control it. In MLG, it can help you set up to run a flag with as little resistance as possible.

The second facet of communication is vehicle and power-up timing. Enemy banshee down? Okay, when did it die? 16:20ish...or maybe 16:10? Aha! You weren't paying attention were you? You just cost your team a shot at stealing that Banshee the second it spawns next time. Vehicles are relatively easy to time in Halo 3, because the moment they EXPLODE (or de-spawn, if they were left alone, or fell of the map and didn't explode) is the moment their spawn timer starts. Banshees are always on three minute timers, as are hornets. And Warthogs are usually sitting on a 60 second timer on the maps where they're important. Most players know these, and time them when it's pertinent. Since power-ups always respawn at a specific interval after they're picked up (Most of these are 3 minutes), they belong with vehicle timers.

Now, we've covered the two basics that are relatively easy to keep track of. Now let's move into what separates those who call out from those who truly communicate.

The next part of communication relies entirely on ally positioning. A beast positions himself well to get a lot of kills. The best position themselves and their teammates in ways that they can constantly cover one another. Quotes like "I have your help!" or "I'm going -here-, you go -there-" or "Fall back, stay alive" to help a teammate out all go a long way toward helping your entire team. Without suggestions from one another within a game, players tend to fall back on an individualist approach to the game, and unless your team has perfect chemistry, this can mean conflicting playstyles are going to clash. Helping to keep your nearest teammates in position to help you or vice versa separates someone who calls out from someone who communicates.

After that, we have weapon timers. In MLG settings, weapon timers are usually pretty easy to keep track of -- they spawn at specific times over the course of the match. However, in regular Halo 3 settings, the weapon timers operate on a much more convoluted, confusing system that Bungie applied to the game to attempt to keep the more hardcore players from learning the system and gaming it versus weaker players.

A few extremely dedicated Halo 3 players figured the system out (along with MLG's "dirty" weapon timer problem), and a handful of others have received the shared wisdom. Based on my experience, I've seen very few people who actually know and take advantage of this system. Because of this, those that do know how weapon spawns work have an even greater advantage. Keeping track of weapon timers requires you to be aware not only of the actual timer of the weapon, but other factors ranging from enemy's movements, allied deaths, or whether the weapon was dropped just to even begin to track when it will respawn next.

In MLG, weapons are sometimes picked up in a manner that causes them to take on Halo 3's default weapon timer system -- a process called "Dirtying" by most players. Being able to track dirtied weapon timers is a valuable trait in an MLG team's fifth man, the Coach (a player on a team who is literally just there to communicate).

Being able to properly track weapon timers and relay the information to your team is a hard to understate trait. Rather than your team expecting the laser on Standoff to be up "some time after 16:30" when the first laser was picked up at 19:30, imagine knowing "The next laser will be up at 16:13." It frees up at least one of your players from having to keep an eye on that general area, to allow them to move around until the weapon spawns, then pounce on the fresh ammo.

We've established that a player who tells you there's a guy at your Rockets is better than a player who just died with laser at your rockets, and now we've gone over why a player who can track weapon timers and keep your team's movements all on the same page is a step up from the player who can tell you that one dude at Rockets isn't there anymore, now that he's respawned. After all, if you had someone making sure your laser person at Rockets was covered, the guy at rockets killing him would've died before the call-out was needed, possibly even in time to save your laser person.

However, we're still missing one thing. Undoubtedly, from a playing perspective, a player who can slay with the best of them, and transmit all this collected data I've discussed is an amazing player. But to truly be the best, there is one more characteristic of their communication they must possess.

No matter how seriously you take the game, no matter how competitive the game is, and no matter how tense things get with your teammates, remember one thing: it's still just a game.

The best Halo player will always keep that in mind, and keep his (or her) teammate's spirits up. Whether it be through random encouragement for good plays, random jokes throughout the game during lulls in need for call-outs and communication, keeping quiet when he wants to express frustration, or pointing out the ridiculous antics a teammate/opponent is doing, our Communicating Best will remember he (or she) is just playing a game, and the goal should ultimately be to have fun, and relax.

And Audley Enough, sometimes I have to remind myself of the last one. Fortunately, here at Master Theory, I've got a group of those who have mastered that last portion of communication, and can remind me when I need to just have a laugh instead of a groan, or need to mute myself instead of shout.

If you made it through to the end of this inaugural Audley Enough article, I'll go ahead and promise you that not all of them will end with as sappy a tone as this one. I'm not always fun and games. And I know this one went through a lot of stating the obvious. It was just a message bearing on my mind today, as I found myself thinking on who may be the best players in Halo 3. Next time, we may get into some nittier and grittier details on whatever grinds my gea--err, I mean... whatever I find to be, Audley Enough, important.

1 comment:

  1. Great read. I have learned something here for sure, I'm going to be studying this and applying it to Reach.