OMG! Haloz 3 iz hurr!

I suppose I can’t avoid it, that it must be done.   OMG! Haloz 3 iz hurr!   Yes, a resounding chorus of similarly eloquent expressions resounded across messageboards and headset mics Tuesday when “Halo 3” finally shipped to stores after three years of waiting and untold millions spent in development.   Now, frat boys and 13-year-olds can scratch their itchy trigger fingers until they wear away to a nub.   I was recently asked by an acquaintance unfamiliar with the world of video games why the game’s online multiplayer inspires such fanatic devotion.   If I were a representative of Microsoft Corp. my response would have gone something like this:   “Working in concert with Xbox Live on Xbox 360, ‘Halo 3’ builds upon the unique social multiplayer experience and innovative, evolving online gameplay of Halo 2.”   However, I instead chose to put it more succinctly.   “You shoot other people.”   Yes, indeed the glory and greatness of the Halo franchise is that it has succeeded in making it exceedingly fun to gun down other players with a variety of weapons or vehicles.   If you are shocked by this crude distillation of the game’s purpose, you obviously do not know anyone who plays Halo.   In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably acknowledge that I have never played Halo apart from a few random matches. Plus, I have a grudge against the game that is set to ruin my ol’ friend Sony’s Christmas holiday.   So, bearing my own bias in mind, there are many things that Halo does quite well, but first I have to get some gripes out of the way, lest people think all videogamers would march like lemmings off a cliff for Halo.   First off, let’s talk sales. Halo (surprise, surprise) broke records when Tuesday became the biggest day in U.S. entertainment history by garnering an estimated $170 million in sales during its initial 24 hours (   While this number is quite large and indeed impressive, some further thought reveals Master Chief’s grip isn’t quite as far-reaching as you’d expect.   For example, the media has made a lot about comparing the game’s sales to the tickets and popcorn of “Spider-Man 3,” which held the previous record at $59.8 million, or $151 million over the three-day weekend.   However, the going rate for a movie ticket these days is somewhere around $10, while “Halo 3” comes out in three editions ranging from $60 up to $100 for the deluxe version.   That is quite a substantial margin. After doing some quick (and likely inaccurate) math equations, at an average of $76 per game, “Halo 3” sold 2.2 million copies compared with the 6 million tickets Spidey pulled in to make his one-day haul, or 15 million tickets for the three-day period.   So, while “Halo 3” pulled in a mound of cash, it doesn’t have the pervasive influence over American culture Microsoft wants you to believe it does.   If you take a look at the feature set of “Halo 3” and its previous incarnations and compare them with the long history of PC first-person shooters, you realize that everything Halo did, a PC FPS did first (see “Half-Life” 1 and 2).   The most prominent example of this is much-touted new “Forge.”   “Forge” allows players to take maps and drop in vehicles and weapons and spawn points where they like, within a certain limit.   While this is a nice idea, it is not an innovative feature. It is an attempt to capture the essence of the modding community that exists in PC games and has created some wonderful variations of the original property (again, see “Half-Life 2,” Gary’s Mod.)   And perhaps this is my main gripe about “Halo 3.” It is not a revolutionary game. It has done nothing or did nothing that hasn’t been already duplicated or represented somewhere else.   I can’t help but shake the feeling that its most diehard proponents have a limited worldview, so to speak.   The credit Bungie deserves is for its ability to take all the disparate parts of what makes good gameplay, good story and good interactivity and place it all on one HD-DVD.   There are many games out there that are exciting and interesting on the first play through because of one or two stand-out features. Excellent games require the focused combination of these elements, from start to finish, opening screen to in-game interface and character design to gameplay mechanics.   And it is because of this process that video games have grown up from the simple yet functional world of Pac-man mazes to the epic, expansive and immersive worlds of games such as “Halo 3” or “World of Warcraft.”   Thus, like all great art (yes, video games are art), great games build upon the concepts of its predecessors while forging new paths.   You can’t just slap together a bunch of pixels and shaders, give it a crappy control scheme, a shaky story and expect to be lauded for your efforts.   “Halo 3” proves that both commercial and critical success in video games takes skill, dedication and teamwork to create.   In the years to come, video games will continue to evolve, and their ability to tell a compelling story, reflect the myths and archetypes of our time, and create an interactive experience will improve.   Like art, video games are developing their own style and schools of presentation and play. This ability to make games in different shades further reinforces its rightful place among poetry and prose.   Though I, in my heart of hearts, am a Sony fanboy, I must admit that Halo’s greatest achievement will not be its record-settting sales or attractive gameplay, but the fact that it is one step closer to placing video games in the halls of the Louvre.

 Lake Sun Leader

If writing about “Halo 3” is what it takes to make Frank Johnson a syndicated columnist and published in newspapers nationwide, then pass him the Mountain Dew Game Fuel.