The Library Level Should Have Been Cut From Halo

Halo is a pretty good game – to put it mildly. That is not a controversial statement; almost everyone who has played Halo: Combat Evolved loves it. It’s one of the (many) reasons the Xbox brand ended up being so successful. Indeed, the name Halo is almost synonymous with Xbox. It’s one the best first-person shooters on a console even to this day and one of the first to introduce so many game mechanics we consider standard today. Aim-assist, regenerating shields, even the standard FPS controls – all introduced or heavily innovated by Halo. It’s safe to say that Halo is a historic game and has had an astonishing and undeniable impact on the console gaming world. But it is definitely not without its flaws.

The Library is the seventh level of ten and represents an absolutely disgusting lapse in quality during such an otherwise high-standard game. If you can, I would wholeheartedly recommend that you skip this level; it adds nothing but half an hour of tedium and frustration.

In order to fully understand the failings of this level, it is important to examine the rest of the game as a whole. Halo’s other levels are vast, expansive and varied. In most missions, there’s not too much of a sense of repetitiveness about them (apart from when there is). In an age of endless corridor-shooters, Halo stood out as a game with huge sandbox levels that were both fun to fight in and also nice to look at, with only a few endless corridors. Each level has its own purpose – whether the purpose is to convey some story element or to teach the player about a game mechanic, most levels feel required and useful, which is important to the player’s enjoyment of a game like Halo.

What, then, is the purpose of The Library? I’ve seen it said in forums and comment-sections that The Library is used to convey the overwhelming nature of the Flood. As the Master Chief moves through the level, he must fight the ever persistent Flood, which come close to overwhelming him by their sheer numbers. It, in theory, sounds like a good way of conveying why the Flood are so feared and a disaster if they get off the ring while following the story-telling rule of ‘show – don’t tell’. But wait – hasn’t the game already done this? Level 6, ‘343 Guilty Spark’, is the level which introduces the Flood – and does quite a good job of it, too. In that level, Master Chief delves deep into an installation looking for Captain Keyes, only to find both Covenant and Human soldiers dead as if they had been mutilated, and no signs of the Captain. Suddenly the Chief is hit by a wave of Flood – and another, and another. The only way he can survive this is to run away as fast as possible through the corpses of his companions and enemies, it is not required of him that he kills all of the Flood, buts that’s up to the player. Sounds to me like this idea of the Flood being overwhelming and almost undefeatable has been conveyed quite well, while also providing an entertaining experience for the player. So, bearing that in mind, what is the library for? Is it to reinforce the plague of the Flood idea? If it is, it is done quite ineffectively, makes the level ultimately feel redundant, and takes away from the impact of the flood because too much time is spent on conveying that one idea without expanding it or giving the player any new information – it’s all just repetition. The player learns not to fear the Flood, but to be frustrated and bored by them.

So the level has no point, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth anything; it could still be fun and simply act as padding to make the game another half an hour long. And that would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that this level is awful owing mainly to the almost comically-bad level design. The level starts by putting you in a corridor. Run forward for a bit while you get attacked by a wave of flood. Wait for Guilty Spark to open an unnecessarily oversized and slow-moving door. Congratulations – do that for ten more corridors and you’ve done the level. Three groups of corridors are broken up by two also very large lifts, and a couple rooms where you get locked in and have to fight the Flood for a bit. Every corridor is an exact copy of the last – obviously literally copied and pasted to make the level longer, but occasionally a slight alteration is made, making the level feel extremely repetitive. The result is a player who feels like they have been going around in circles for 30-40 minutes. A feeling of being lost is very common in this level, which was probably not deliberate.

It all just screams laziness – Bungie made a couple of corridors, a lift, and the final room and then just seemed to settle for looping them over and over again until the level felt long enough. The whole level design is boring because you’ve seen the whole thing about 30 seconds into this half-an-hour level. This is especially bad because Halo was supposed to be a game that moves away from closed in corridors and into vast open levels, so The Library feels a bit counter-intuitive in that regard, being a level almost entirely composed of corridors. The level gets completely boring about two minutes in, and carries on for over half an hour.

The level design may be bad, but that alone isn’t what makes this level so hated. The other main problem is the combat. The Flood are awful to fight. It’s hard to imagine anybody actually enjoys fighting the Flood, and if they say they do, they are wrong. The Flood are essentially zombies with guns and therefore have no regard for their own safety, and as a result, the Flood fight you stupidly. They’ll ignore cover, they’ll run straight at you to hit you a lot or stand still shooting endlessly. You’d think this makes them easy to fight, but you’d be wrong, because in order to make them a challenge, Bungie made them do a frankly over-the-top amount of damage, and also put what seems like a million of them in a level at once, completely surrounding the Chief. They don’t try to keep their distance or try to defend themselves like the Covenant do – they get closer, they sneak up behind you and blow up to take your shields out (à la creepers from Minecraft fame), they hunt the Chief down and run at him – making trying to hide from them almost impossible. Exactly one gun is effective against the flood – the shotgun. You can fight them with other guns but you’re not going to have a good time doing it – although, you’re not going to have a good time whatever you do, but it’ll be much better with a shotgun. This means that the best way to fight them is to run at them while they run at you and shoot as you go, except they’ll overwhelm you if you do that so you have to sort of run around in circles, trying not to advance too much at once and clean-up the level as you go. All of this combined makes them very challenging – but not in a fun way, and after you’ve died to them a few times you’ll start getting suicidal over how tedious this whole act of fighting them is.

The combination of a boring, uninspired, repetitive level design and an enemy which is painful to fight in great numbers makes this level possibly the worst level in Halo history. So what should have been done about it? I like to take the ‘brutal editor’ approach to this and would suggest cutting the level entirely and replacing the little storytelling it conveys with extra lines of dialogue in other cutscenes, or even create a new cutscene where the level previously was; it wouldn’t have taken very long and would have drastically improved the overall quality of the game – and, incidentally, this is precisely what Bungie did multiple times while developing Halo 2 (although that was because of ridiculous time constraints rather than anything else). The level could also have been drastically shortened and altered, but this would have to be to the effect of pretty much completely changing the level design, structure and even the objective – essentially the same as cutting the level, except a new one would be put in its place.

The game would have arguably been seriously improved if the Flood were more fun to fight, however that could run the risk of losing the emphasis of how the Flood will destroy the entire universe unless wiped out, and thus the main driving force behind the whole plot would be lost. The Flood are at their best when the player is running away from them, not when the player is forced to kill them all; it both makes more sense in terms of the plot and world-building that has already been established, and can provide quite dramatic and memorable sequences.

The Library level is hard to enjoy, even for the most veteran Halo fans. It’s boring, it’s tedious, and it’s far-too brutal. If it were just boring but not very hard, the player could just zone out while playing it and it would be forgotten, but when it’s both boring and difficult, the player must focus on a repetitive slog through a seemingly infinite set of corridors. This level takes place in Halo’s second half, which is often said to be where Halo starts going downhill in terms of quality, but The Library is a rather sheer cliff-face of a drop-off. The quality recovers immediately after but never quite reaches the same standard set at the start of the game. Halo is a really fun and historic game which everyone with an Xbox should play – just skip The Library if you can.

One Year of Windows 10

I was holidaying in Sweden on the 29th of July 2015, the first day of Windows 10. Of course, I stayed up all night watching my laptop, waiting for the message telling me it was ready to upgrade. I wasn’t aware of the system Microsoft was using, which meant that Windows 10 wouldn’t install on most machines straight away unless you force it. I ended up forcing it as a result of a life-long, crippling impatience. On this, the day after the day after the anniversary of that day, I thought I would find a selection of tweets to illustrate that day:

And then, many hours later:

So, then, Windows 10 has been with us for a whole year. The free upgrade offer (as far as I know without actually checking) is over. It’s been a rocky metaphorical road of good times and bad, of moments of “wow – that’s nice” and also “why did they do that?” I can say that I’ve overall been very pleased with Windows 10. I would describe it to any fool who has not upgraded yet, as a mature, more developed Windows 8. Indeed, some outraged people commented that Windows 10 is what Windows 8 should have been in the first place. However, if you believe the theory that every other version of Windows is doomed to be a failure, then there was no way that Windows 8 had to happen. Incidentally, I actually quite liked Windows 8; it was just misunderstood.

My joy for windows 10 did not last forever, however, as is apparent in this poorly typed tweet (“iven” should have a g in front of it):

It was true that Windows 10’s development was the shortest of all the Windows versions. And some of us felt that Windows 10 could have done with a bit more polishing before it was released. As a response to this, Microsoft released the first big update in October which added a multitude of things, fixed a bunch of issues and generally made the OS feel more like a version of Windows I like. It’s the version we’re currently all using if you’ve been updating your computer like a good human. Soon, there will be a new update – on August the 2nd to be precise, and it will add many, many more thing – some of these things you might actually use!

This update will not include two things I’d really quite like in Windows 10, and my trademark impatience is growing. I, like most issues I care about, have tweeted many times about these things.

This is the first thing. In Windows 8, you could look at the entire contents of your OneDrive right from File Explorer, even the files you haven’t downloaded. This is a system which worked really well in Windows 8 – you could directly interact with your OneDrive files without ever having to open a web browser. Now it’s gone and even a year later I still miss it; it was what made OneDrive the best cloud storage service. It’s gone now and OneDrive has become just another cloud storage service.

Another thing I’d quite like is something I care about far less, but It’d be nice:

I don’t have much to say about this. I think it’d look cool. That’s all.

Overall, I’d say Windows 10 has been better than I thought It’d be, and I was hyped. I’m looking forward to the many big updates we’ll be getting to Windows 10 forevermore, but slightly saddened that I’ll never have the experience of building up to a new version of Windows; it’s always something I enjoy – it’s the anticipation and the waiting that makes the experience of waiting for a big update very exciting, and the gradual updates just don’t have the same magic about them. No, I don’t have many friends, why do you ask?

I hope you enjoyed my blatant advert for my twitter account. Please follow me at @sammysquirrel12. I have 70 followers now, I’m hoping to break 100 by the end of the year. Support my cause!

Why I’ve Switched From Windows Phone to Android

Two years ago at this time, I was given the choice of a new phone. I was excited; it would be the first proper smartphone I’d ever owned. True, I had had a smartphone before – a Samsung Galaxy Ace. Possibly the worst thing in the world. It was super slow and almost useless as a smartphone. It wasn’t a good introduction to Android for me. I’d been handed a Windows phone by a friend of mine, being told that Windows Phone was actually a pretty good operating system. After a couple hours of use, I completely agreed. The thing that blew me away was the speed. The phone he was demoing this on wasn’t a pricey phone, it was fairly budget. I must stress this – Windows Phone is snappy as hell, it’s really very impressive and nice to use. The UI is cool, funky and impressively simple – I’ve never gotten lost on my Windows phone. So when my Father asked me what phone I wanted, I replied “Any Windows Phone.”

The phone we settled on was the Nokia Lumia 820 (this was before Microsoft bought Nokia). This is on the cheaper side of the Lumia spectrum but packed with nice features and not-too-shabby specs either. It’s got a 5″ screen and an 8mp camera. Okay, so that’s not great – but you need to remember that this was two years ago and this wasn’t an expensive phone.

The most impressive thing about this phone is the screen; the colours are bright, accurate and vivid. I love looking at this screen and I love using this phone. The OS is snappy, quick and easy to use, and is bursting with features I still wish were in Android. The phone, in true Nokia style, feel indestructible. I’ve thrown it around in my time, and it’s barely scratched. I could beat someone to death and then call the police with the same phone. This is not an exaggeration.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been given a new choice. My two-year contract was up time for a new phone. Time to make the choice: stick with Windows or go Android. At first, the choice was simple for me, I was going Windows. But my internal voices, multiplied by time, wore down my confidence. Also, my brother has some ungodly power to convince me to do things. I asked myself whether I was really prepared to spend another two years on windows. I eventually decided that I was not. I went with Android.

Why then? I was so positive about it. I raved to my friends about how much I liked my phone and how everyone should use Windows because it is the best phone OS out there. I actually convinced one of them to get one, and he seems pretty happy with it. How can someone so enamored with Windows peel off and fall into the net of Android so simply? Well, I’ll tell you, Windows is almost there. It’s almost at the point where I could honestly say that it’s the best. It is, in fact, irritating close – there are just a few things which need to be fixed in Windows for it to be great. But Microsoft isn’t getting the point.

Let’s start with the little things, because the little things are the biggest problem.

I’ve recently started my first year at University, so I’ve never had this problem before now, but now it’s there it’s the worst thing in the world (besides the Samsung Galaxy Ace). The WiFi network on my campus has a login system. That means I have to enter a username and password to get online. Most operating systems would be like, “No problem, Henry, I’ll just save this in my settings and you won’t have to worry at all about connecting. You won’t even notice it happening.” Windows desktop does this, Android does this, iOS (I assume) does this. Windows Phone says, “I can remember one thing – your username or your password, take your pick”. Why? Why is this an issue? When the Windows Phone team implemented the WiFi feature, why did they design it like that? Why should I have to enter my password every time I go near the network? What’s worse is it beeps at me every half an hour until I enter it, or tell it I don’t want to. Oh, and if the WiFi drops for a second, I have to enter my password again.

Another small problem, which some would regard as being quite a large problem, is the complete and utter lack of a proper multitasking function. Windows does have a vague form of multitasking, which stores any open apps in memory until it is manually closed by the user. It doesn’t give those apps and CPU time unless it is being looked at and on the screen. This is great for if you’re trying to squeeze the battery for all it’s got but awful for productivity. The result is a multitasking system which is very slow because it has to resume operations of the running app when you switch to it. If you don’t know what that means, it means that when you switch to another app in multitasking, you have to wait a few seconds for it to remember what you were doing. Other OS’s actually run the app in the background. They may give priority to the app you are currently using, but the other apps you have open are actually open and talking to the phone. The whole experience isn’t a deal-breaker for me, but it is bloody annoying at times – especially when you aren’t in a patient mood.

The biggest problem which people always jump to when they are asked about Windows Phone is the apps. Or, put more accurately, the lack of apps. Most of the essential apps are currently available for windows phone, but that’s only because Microsoft is sensible. Facebook and Twitter are absolutely essential, and when neither company expressed interest in making apps for windows phone, Microsoft got permission to do it themselves. The apps Microsoft make are okay. They clearly aren’t as good as the official ones and are constantly behind. This is because Facebook and Twitter have dedicated teams working on their apps, while Microsoft doesn’t, and they have to keep up with the updates of the official apps. This is, I think, a fundamental problem with the development of Windows Phone, but more on that later. I’ve always told people that Windows Phone is for the individual who doesn’t really use apps, or doesn’t consider apps as an important part of their lifestyle. I think this is true, but this individual would have to go from not using most of the apps their phone has to offer, to someone who has locked them self out of the availability to those apps.

Microsoft is trying their best to combat the ‘app-gap’ by using the ‘universal app platform’ what they came up with. Microsoft noticed that a lot more people use apps on their desktop PC than then number of Windows Phones out there. They had the quite good idea of giving the developers the ability to, in one fell swoop, make an app for desktop Windows and Windows Phone. They make one app which works on desktops, phones, Xbox, and tablets. I think this is something which could very well work. It all depends on how much windows store apps on the desktop take off. I don’t ever use them and never have – but that’s just me.

They also are working on some converter-me-bob machine, which developers can feed their Android app into, and get a Windows app back. This is actually a pretty good idea, and may solve a lot of problems, depending on how well it works.

I have a theory about why it is that Windows Phone feels half finished. It has the same problem that Linux has. It’s not popular. People who use it love it, but that’s only about 2.5% of people who have phones. Most developers can’t be bothered or don’t think it’s sensible to spend the money on developing apps which will reach such a small number of people. If real money is involved, you ain’t gonna get that back from Windows Phone. What it needs is more users, users want more apps in the store to go to Windows phone, developers won’t make apps for a platform with do few users. And the cycle goes on and on. What can Microsoft do? They’re trying to make windows phone as attractive as possible for developers. It’s entirely free to get your apps on Windows Phone, which makes it attractive to young and hobbyist developers who don’t want to spend money on their apps. But this results in a load of low-quality apps. It’s not a good situation at the moment. And it’s not gonna get better until Windows Phone has more users – and we’ve already been through the problems with that.

Windows Phone currently has a market share of around 2.5%. That’s barely anyone – it’s only a little better than Blackberry. BLACKBERRY. I’m surprised they even still exist and that person actually buys from them! As far as I’m concerned, Windows Phone only still exists because Microsoft has some plan for it. Satya Nadella has said that Windows Phone isn’t dead yet. To me, this meant that Windows 10 for Phones is gonna fix everything. Windows 10 will save everything and make the OS the savior we’ve all wanted.

Windows 10 for phones is almost out, so I’ve downloaded the beta to see if this is the case. Microsoft has made some very big improvements – to the UI. The one thing I had almost no problems with. Of all the things that needed work, the UI was not one of them. Obviously, add a few things, like the new wallpaper thing, but please focus on the other glaring problems! Windows Phone has some big and small problems at the core, a lot of under-the-hood issues which need fixing. Microsoft seems to have fixed nearly none of them. This is very disappointing. Perhaps they will fix these things in later updates, I believe this is the plan. But I don’t think I can wait for an undisclosed amount of time for these problems to maybe be fixed.

So, why am I switching to Android? I’m taking a break from Windows. I want to use a complete OS until Windows is at a point where I feel like it is complete and works perfectly – as well and effectively as its competitors. I can see windows phone following two paths, depending on what Microsoft do next: It will either have a massive cash and resource injection and get the attention it needs to become what Microsoft supposedly want it to become, or it will fizzle and die over the next few years. In its current state, I’d be surprised if it’s still around by 2019. Then again – I’m very surprised that BlackBerry still exists. At least Windows Phone isn’t as bad as the Samsung Galaxy Ace because that is literally the worst thing in the world (I’m gunning for an inside joke, here).

The Microsoft Band Is a Great Fitness Tracker

…but not a great smart watch. I bought one of these devices last week having been told many times that it makes a great smart watch and will change the way  you use your phone and therefore your life will change forever. I’ve always liked the idea of a smart watch, as long as they aren’t too expensive, and as the Microsoft Band is only £145 on Amazon I decided to get one.

When researching the band I found myself confused; a quick peruse of the official web page will tell you the Microsoft aren’t really pushing it as a smart watch and more focusing on the fitness band side of things. You would have thought that the band would be advertised more as a smart watch considering the Apple Watch (or is it iWatch?). Microsoft could immediately put forward their smartwatch to show people their alternative, with very little effort. After all, it has basically all the  features of a smartwatch and is much better at tracking your heart beat and general exercise than the Apple Watch. I put this down to Microsoft, as usual, being a bit stupid with their advertising.

I got my band last Monday and started wearing it constantly. I enjoyed my time with it, but after a while, I started noticing some irritating problems. But first, let’s talk about some of the positives. My favourite feature of the Band is the sleep tracking. Before you go to sleep you simply have to tap the sleep icon and press the ‘Action’ button. I’ll bid you goodnight and the screen turn off. When you wake up, you press the action button again and the sleep tracking ends. Immediately it’ll tell you if you had a good night’s sleep, how many times you woke up, your resting heart rate and more. What do you do with this information? It’s up to you, but I’ve found it useful when people ask if you’ve slept well. You can give them some very specific information about your night’s sleep and even hand them a graph on your phone for them to see for themselves. I’m sure this gets old eventually.

I had optimal sleep that night!
I had optimal sleep that night!

Another feature I appreciated was the step tracking tool. You can set a daily goal for steps you want to be walking a day. Microsoft (I think based on my height, weight, and sex) recommended a daily step goal of 5000 steps a day. Sounds like a lot? It really isn’t. I achieved that goal by vaguely wandering around my house. I increased this goal to 8000 steps a day which was slightly more than I would be doing anyway. When you reach this goal the band buzzes on your wrist and congratulates you. It does work; I wanted to make the band praise me for being a great guy for reaching my goal, and 8000 steps sound like an achievement to me. If I ever get used to that goal, I can simply increase it even more. It encouraged me to find reasons to go out walking and add some steps to my count. In terms of accuracy, it’s pretty good, but not exact. I found that I could increase the step count by viciously waving my arm around in big circles. Somehow this doesn’t feel like cheating the system when the method requires such physical exertion.

My daily step count last week.
My daily step count last week.

The band does these fitness and health things pretty well. It can also track your golf games, bike rides, and runs. It also has quite a cool ‘Guided Workout’ feature, which basically makes the Band buzz and tell you when to move on to the next stage of your workout, then afterwards it’ll tell you stuff like calorie burn and peak heart rate. This would be great, but I’m not a fitness guy – I’ve never been to a gym or done a workout without being forced (I’m talking about school, not anything weird).

What it ain’t so great at is all the basic smart watch stuff. When I got texts my phone would buzz but my wrist wouldn’t, at least not until I’d read and replied to the text on my phone. I’d get a phone call and my wrist would do nothing. This is quite annoying because it makes you feel like you can’t actually trust it to tell you anything. I wouldn’t leave my phone on silent with the vibration off because I would definitely miss a phone call or a text message. When it does tell you about a phone call, text message or email, it pops up on the screen and buzzes, you dismiss it and then the icon concerning the notification will have a big number on it demanding you acknowledge the notification again. This became mildly irritating after a couple of days of it. It seems to forget when you’ve read a notification and when you haven’t.

Moving on to the actual hardware of the band, I have a complaint about the shape of the band. A band would normally be a circle which wraps around your wrist and it feels very comfortable. The Microsoft Band is a square. It’s designed with the heart rate monitor on one side and the screen on the other. Both sides are completely flat and reasonably wide. This makes you wait feel more like it’s had a vice attached to it, only a little bit more comfortable than that. This is something which you can bear for a while and eventually get used to. It would be so much better if the screen were curved just a little bit to fit over your wrist more comfortably.

I was amazed how quickly the band picks up scratches. In one week I looked after it pretty damn well and tried pretty hard not to scratch it, and it seemed to pick up scratches like nothing else. This is why the band comes with a screen protector already applied. It’s not a big problem; you can’t see the scratches on mine unless you’re looking very closely and with direct light, but that’s only after a week, what about a month, or even a year?

Some of that is smudged fingerprints.
Some of that is smudged fingerprints.

I suppose that’s it. I had fun with my band, but it’s not what I expected. I’d like it a lot if I were really into fitness, but I wanted a smart watch, and it just doesn’t fit the brief there. I’m serious, get this if you want a great fitness band, don’t if you want a smart watch. If you do want it, why not have mine? It’s on eBay right now! (Ends 20th of September 2015)