The Tragedy of Halo 3: ODST | Game Maker’s Toolkit

The Tragedy of Halo 3: ODST | Game Maker’s Toolkit


Back in 2007, when you thought of Halo, you
thought of this guy: Master Chief. He’s a seven-foot tall, genetically enhanced
super soldier, and primary protagonist of the franchise. Which is why it was so bold of developer Bungie
to make a game where Chief didn’t appear at all. At the height of Halo mania in 2009, the studio
released Halo 3: ODST – where we ditch Master Chief in favour of the titular Orbital Drop
Shock Troopers. These guys are human, they can’t duel wield
weapons, and they have to pick up med kits to patch up injuries. But what really set ODST apart from the first
three Halo games, was its wildly different tone, and structure. So you primarily play as the rookie. And, at the start of the game, you and your
crew – Buck, Dare, Romeo, Mickey, and Dutch – all drop down into the alien-occupied city
of New Mombasa. But an EMP blast sends your drop pod off-course,
and knocks you unconscious for six hours. When you finally wake up, the city is practically
deserted and your crew has disappeared. It’s now your job to scour the streets and
figure out what happened. It’s here that the game slips into an eery,
melancholic vibe. It’s dark. Pitch black in places. There’s a smoky jazz soundtrack, reminiscent
of film noir. And you’re completely alone, meaning it’s
often better to sneak past Covenant forces, than fight them head on. Throughout New Mombasa, you’ll find scraps
of evidence from your missing crew mates. Like Dare’s helmet, lodged into a computer
screen. Or Romeo’s sniper rifle, dangling from a
telephone wire. And finding one of these things kickstarts
a flashback. Which are actually, the game’s missions. These fling you into more traditional Halo
fare. You know, flanking snipers. Defending a point with a turret. Dogfights with Banshees. A boss fight against a Scarab. Shotgunning a Warthog with the, uh, questionable
friendly AI. They’re short, sharp, tasters of classic
Halo action – like a greatest hits album. When you’re done, though, it’s back to
New Mombasa. For the first time in a Halo game, you can
actually explore these streets with complete freedom. You can hunt for audio logs, which tell the
story of the Covenant invasion from the perspective of a civilian named Sadie. You can find supply caches to gear up. And you can find the clues, and play the flashback
missions, in practically any order you like – making it also the first non-linear Halo
game. So the first two missions – Tayari Plaza and
Uplift Reserve must be played as so. But the next four – Kizingo Boulevard, ONI
Alpha Site, NMPD HQ, and Kikowani Station – can be played in any order you like. And when you’ve finished that lot, you can
play the final two sections, and finish the game. There is a lot to like about ODST. For starters, there’s a prevailing sense
of mystery in the game, which is a great way of keeping players engaged. Each mission comes with the unresolved tension
of not knowing what happened to each crew member. Like: how did Romeo’s rifle end up here? Well, you’ll need to play through this mission
to find out. And the entire game comes with these lingering
questions of how many of your crew are still alive? And will you meet up with them again? A similar premise, and that sense of mystery,
can be found in the wonderful Gone Home. Here, you play as Katie Greenbriar, who comes
home to find her family’s new house completely deserted. By reading notes, letters, books, cassettes,
shopping lists, and more, you can piece together the narrative of what happened to her family. I think video games, as a medium, are particularly
good at this sort of archeological story-telling because you get to explore the world freely. So you will find clues completely out of order. Or maybe not at all. And to figure out what happened, you must
put these bread crumbs together yourself to form a coherent story. Everyone who finishes Gone Home will know
what happened to Katie’s sister Sam, because her story is told quite explicitly – but the
more subtle narratives of Katie’s mother and father might be less obvious if you’re
not paying attention. And the darker side story of Uncle Oscar is
actually completely missed by a lot of players. Likewise, Halo ODST’s full story can only
be completely understood if you take the time to track down the audio logs. And playing the missions out of order brings
up questions that get answered in other flashbacks. For example, if you play Kikowani Station
first, you may wonder why Romeo is injured. That will end up being explained later, at
the end of the earlier mission NMPD HQ. Setting the story in the past also lets you
explore the city and pick missions as you please – because flashbacks are actually a
great way to reconcile a strictly authored narrative with more freeform exploration. That clash, between story and exploration,
is why The Legend of Zelda changed course. The first game, on NES, was completely open:
you could explore Hyrule however you wanted, and dip in and out of dungeons at your leisure. Starting with A Link to the Past, though,
the games got more strict about structure, with Miyamoto telling a magazine back in 1992
that the “the problem with making an ‘open-ended’ version of Zelda was the messaging and plotline. If you ignore structure like that, then the
plotline can quickly get screwy and NPC messages start to not make sense”. I wonder what the Japanese word for “screwy”
is… Anyway. It would take Nintendo about 25 years to finally
stumble upon a satisfactory answer to this problem, in Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Like ODST, Link is also in a deserted, war-torn
world, and he’s missing his pals. And the game’s narrative is almost entirely
told through flashbacks that can be found by stumbling onto memorable locations in the
game’s world. Having the story be set in the past means
the narrative can’t change, and thus it doesn’t matter in what order the events
happen. Now as much as I admire ODST, it unfortunately
runs into some significant issues. For starters, you might not even realise that
you can do missions out of order. After each stage, the game helpfully plops
a waypoint onto your compass that will take you by the hand to the next beacon. Which plays out the story in chronological
order. If you want to change that order, you’ll
have to manually pop into the map screen and switch the waypoint. Where you’ll notice that the layout of the
city means that for some mission starting points, you’ll actually have to walk straight
past others. You have to be quite stubborn to break the
game’s default sequence. Compare this to Zelda, where the Divine Beasts
are found in the four corners of the map. And how the four waypoints appear on your
mini-map at the same time, to encourage you to travel across Hyrule as you see fit. You could, of course, ignore the waypoints
in ODST and just wander off the beaten track and explore the city yourself. But, you won’t want to do that. New Mombasa is a nightmare to explore. It all looks the same, it’s full of dead
ends, it’s too dark to see most of it, and it’s crawling with enemies. It’s also obvious that Halo’s engine wasn’t
made for open world exploration, so the city is blocked off into tiny hexagonal chunks,
separated by giant blast doors that mask the loading screens. This simply isn’t a place that’s calling
out to be explored, unlike, say, the excellent hub world in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Also, those moments where information from
one flashback gets changed or confirmed or recontextualised by another, are few and far
between. Compare this to the excellent detective game,
Her Story. This is a game about watching a woman give
interview testimony – but in seconds-long clips that you drag up with a search query. The game actually lets you see the entire
story in any order. You might even stumble onto some of the most
telling video clips right at the start! But the tale is so complex and interwoven
that you can only get the full picture when you put together all of the disparate facts. Information you hear in one clip changes meaning,
when paired up with the context of another clip, and there’s a fascinating escalation
of revelations that comes from piecing together all of these mixed up clues. ODST never really has that – maybe because
it’s only got four missions to play with, or maybe because it just requires very clever,
very creative writing to set up these interlocking clues. ODST also has a pretty flat difficulty curve,
which might be seen as a necessary evil when it comes to non-linear games. Because if players can pick any mission, the
stages have to be equally challenging since any level could be your first. This is complete bunk, of course. Games are dynamic things that can change depending
on what the player has seen and done. As I’ve shown before on this channel, Uncharted
Lost Legacy secretly swaps around these three puzzles so whichever of these three towers
you climb first, you’ll always find the easiest version of the puzzle waiting for
you at the top. ODST could have done this with things like
the number or strength of the enemies. But as far as I can tell, the game doesn’t
do this. The final issue that ODST has to deal with,
is the fact that because these missions are predetermined flashbacks, this does limit
your ability to make choices during those sections. It’s why you get a game over in the 1960’s
thriller Metal Gear Solid 3, if you kill Ocelot – because he needs to be alive in 2005. And we can actually see the difficulties of
dealing with this in ODST itself. So, as Rookie in New Mombasa, you’ll come
across a wrecked Warthog. And then, after finding the drone fighter
optics and playing through Dutch’s mission at the Uplift Reserve, you’ll see that this
wreck is actually Dutch’s Warthog that he crashed into the wall. However, you can also change vehicle during
that mission and finish the chapter on a Ghost – and while the final cutscene is changed
to reflect this, the wrecked Warthog is not. I know this is silly, but it’s a good example
of how playable flashbacks can get complicated. And I’m not really sure how to fix this,
to be honest. If you stop letting players make choices so
as not to change anything that happened, the game might become as restrictive as a Rockstar
story mission. But let players mess with events in the flashbacks
too much, and you’ve got to change events in the future to reflect this, taking us right
back to that complex branching narrative stuff that scared Miyamoto in 1992. It’s probably better to solve this creatively,
and simply limit the connection between the flashbacks and the present day events. So I think Halo 3: ODST is a really potent
idea for a game. Exploring a dead world and finding clues about
what happened there is obviously a popular structure for video games – but then having
those flashbacks actually be playable is a stroke of genius. You get two very different types of game – a
bombastic action adventure, and an isolating open-world detective game – that slowly come
together as the enticing central mystery unfolds. But ODST doesn’t quite stick the landing. For the issues I talked about in this video, and
others. You don’t spend enough time with these characters
at the start to really care about their fate, and they’re difficult to tell apart. And these chaps are not actually that different
from Master Chief, making the whole ODST thing kinda superficial. You can still rip off turrets and flip over
Warthogs, after all. But I’ve got cut ODST some slack. It actually started life as a piece of DLC
– just one that grew in scope and ambition until it was better to release it as a standalone
game. So it obviously didn’t have the same time
and budget as a proper Halo entry. But, most importantly, there’s the fact
that all of the games I talked about in this episode – Gone Home, Her Story, Lost Legacy,
Breath of the Wild – they all came out years after ODST. Proving that in this case, Bungie was way,
way ahead of its time. Hey thanks for watching! Bit of a random topic for you today, but you
never know what to expect from Game Maker’s Toolkit. GMTK is almost exclusively funded by people
who support me on Patreon, so you don’t have to watch ads, or bits where I talk about
audiobooks or VPNs or mattresses that conform to the shape of your butt.

100 thoughts on “The Tragedy of Halo 3: ODST | Game Maker’s Toolkit

  1. As a little kid I hated ODST mainly because it was too hard but as I grew up I came to love every part of it. The darker tone, the soundtrack, the charachters, the whole theme. In my opinion ODST is an amazing game.

  2. I love ODST. Best soundtrack in the whole series aside from possibly CE. The gameplay is good, but Mombasa should have been made a bit more interactive and interesting.

    Also, a PC port would have been nice. Maybe Microsoft will finally do that?

  3. Did you change the name of your channel? I swear it used to be called your name (Mark Brown). Or am I going crazy?

  4. This was definitely one of my favorite halo games. Definitely deserves a high rank on the halo games list.

  5. I find your comparisons to be incredibly unfair to ODST. Most if not all of the games you used for comparison were released years after ODST.
    They could have simply learned from the mistakes made by ODST, or even been inspired by it. Come on man; you can't criticize the past by comparing it to tomorrow.
    While your criticisms are correct where the devs made mistakes, to use other more recent games as examples of 'good work' is just discrediting from you.
    Seriously though, that wrecked warthog issue always bothered me.

  6. I remember odst was announced. I was hoping for a tactical team based game.

    Rainbow six gameplay meets the halo universe. I was so excited.

  7. I listened to the WoFF before I originally watched this, and both Mark and the Woff guys really hit on the most frustrating part of this. While the tone isn't regular Halo, you dont ludically feel like an ODST, or that you're solving a mystery.

  8. Spartan 4s should be ODSTs. Theyre the mid point between the real Spartans and the normal soldiers and I hate the downgrade

  9. Halo 3: ODST is my favorite Halo in the entire franchise because the story, tone, setting, and meanings are my favorite.
    Change my mind.
    I don't like any of these games presented better than Halo 3: ODST. Not because of the Halo combat, but because of the story. The atmosphere is better than any other game.

  10. Does anyone think 343 could pull off a a new ODST style game??? Same idea but fixing some of the flaws of the first???

  11. This game was probably one of my favorites besides reach because of its focus on something a little bit smaller than all of humanities destruction. Though playing through it now I realize that the games open world (one of my favorite parts long ago) is quite boring and static, you just walk from a-b only sometimes killing enemies. Exploration is encouraged but not well. the most you will find is a couple grenades or a slightly better weapon. Power weapons are basically non existent throughout the game except in the end and a couple missions

  12. The type of storytelling discussed in this video restricts the player to be most of the time a past observer. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it cuts out a lot of momentum on how a story unfold while the player experiences the moment.

  13. Thank those who supported GMTK on Patreon for keeping us from audiobooks and VPNs and the thing that can form the shape of my butt !

  14. I wish Breath of the Wild had playable flashbacks. As it is now, the story and gameplay feel disconnected

  15. I love Halo. And ODST has a special place in my heart. I was so impressed. Mark didn't mention, but, aside from all the cool narrative stuff, there's also a brilliantly designed shooter, with awesome enemy encounters, criative veicle sesegmets and one of the best soundtracks to ever be in a videogame.

    Sorry for the grammar, second language!

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  17. I had no idea you could do those story missions in whatever order. It was obvious they tried to make the characters personable, but they seemed a bit overdone, and not enough time was spent with them, as was stated. The atmosphere was great, the soundtrack was great, and it was cool to have a game where nighttime felt like nighttime, not being able to see well and all, even if it got annoying at times. It’s a neat game

  18. "Hm, maybe ODST wasn't as good as I remembe–" *hears Rain from the OST* "Nope, nevermind. Still great"

  19. I liked ODST, i remember it ending after 5 hours and me feeling it was too short but it was a great game.

  20. I have saved this video at the end of April, forgot about it and I watched it exactly 1 month after the video was released. xD

  21. Her story is SO GOOD. Not many people I know have played it though and I have tried to encourage them to. 🙁

  22. Halo ODST from DLC to full game didn't become for being bigger than they thought at the start, it was so that they could become independent from Microsoft more quickly.

  23. I gotta admit until I played it last year I thought ODST was just the Halo greatest hits soundtrack… I realize now my mistake.

  24. Are the soldiers called Orbital Drop Shock Troopers in reference to their skydiving because using the real life term High Altitude, Low Opening would've made the title a bit awkward?

  25. I absolutely loved ODST, for me it is on the same level as Halo 3, the aesthetic of it is just so damn good.

  26. Bungie made game ahead their time many times. But sometimes much ahead. Oni still didn't get any analogs

  27. Halo would be great with more spin off games line ODST. The lore is so rich with great story's to tell and characters to meet.

    Still waiting for a ghosts of onyx game

  28. I always loved ODST, it's probably my favourite aside from CE. I guess the new moodiness of it was just a nice change. And the soundtrack is one of the best ive ever heard.

  29. A Link Between Worlds draws a much better Balance between story and exploration thank BotW which kind of drops the ball on story

  30. I played the first Halo back in the day, and I really don't remember Master Chief being a character at all.

  31. I think in many respects, ODST is actually a better story than Halo 3. A bit clunkier in places, but a more interesting narrative.

  32. Gee, Zelda/Nintendo ass kissing of a very flawed masterpiece.

    SO surprising from this channel. /s

    also, you think the hub world in the last DE game is good? Jesus.

  33. "Games aren't dynamic things that can change depending on what the player has seen and done". Puts up RE4 that does exactly that regarding the difficulty. Awesome easter egg!

  34. ODST might just be my favorite Halo. They really nailed that feeling of loneliness, isolation, mistery and dread of being a lone ODST behind enemy lines. The soundtrack was phenomenal, as well. And the VISR mode looks really cool, just like the (few) new weapon designs. But the coolest thing of all is the Superintendent, which helps you traverse the city safely and guides you towards the next clue, not only to the fate of the ODSTs, but also Sadie's.

    Also I enjoyed exploring New Mombasa way more than Prague in Mankind Divided… man, that game was a trainwreck

  35. Good video, pretty clickbait title. A tragedy? You literally say "Bungie was way ahead of it's time with what they did.

  36. The closest word for "screwy" in Japanese is probably 捩れる (ねじれる, nejireru)which means to be twisted or to get twisted, distorted, or complicated. It's a verb but it's intransitive so it can be used to describe a state that something is in much like adjectives do in English. Anyway, thanks so much for this video, GMTK is my favorite game design channel ever!

  37. It is very telling that the simple piano riffs still give me goosebumps. I have to go on a YT deepdive about the goodness of halo music again.

  38. While it is of course much less action-oriented than Halo 3: ODST, What Remains of Edith Finch does a fantastic job of telling a narrative through playable flashbacks that all feel unique and interesting.

  39. Just had to point out that showing Halo 5 footage while saying “proper Halo entry” gave me a bit of a chuckle

  40. Even with all it's issues, ODST is still my favorite Halo game to date. Such a different feel to it, that piano bit gets me every time. So moody.

  41. While most of the halo games are blurred together in my memory because they all felt the same more or less, for me at least. ODST sticks out and has a very special place in my noggin. It's another one of those games that break away from the main series proper and does its own thing and kind of falls flat for it but still, I appreciate that it does just that.

  42. Great video. I agree it's kinda silly they allow missions to be played out of order (maybe to avoid linearity). However Halo games have never really been about giving the player choices. Sure in the well balanced games you had choices in the gameplay.

    There were different ways to deal with encounters if you were good enough. You could choose how you go about that encounter. But as for story changing desicions, those are non existent in Halo.

    Yes ODST was one of the easier games as well. I don't think making every mission equally hard would have been a great idea. Sometimes players kinda need a cool down. Just be able to sit back, relax and enjoy the game. Kazingo is an example of that cause it's a tank mission.

    Trust me, as a legendary player for ODST (and some other Halo games) and having some world records for challenges in those games, it would not have been cool if they boosted some of the enemies health and their numbers.

  43. That idea of changing difficulty of an individual section in a non-linear game based on progress is brilliant.

    I'm actually in the middle of a playthrough of a game that does that exact thing: On my Game Boy emulator, I'm playing a romhack called Pokemon Crystal Clear. It's a remake of Pokemon Crystal that removes the need for certain progress flags, and gives the game the most open world of just about any pokemon game. The way it does that, though, is brilliant. It increases the difficulty of the gyms in scale with the number of badges you have. Once you reach certain milestones, though, you can retry any previously beaten gym at any difficulty level. As in the original games, you only need 8 badges to take on the elite four, and you can have any combination of badges, such as four Johto and four Kanto, if you want to, so long as you meet the minimum of 8 total. But you can also hold off on the elite four if you wanted to, all the way up to challenging them when you have all 16 badges available in the game.

  44. I think this game was possibly the best one within the franchise. The atmosphere and world building elements combined with the soundtrack make it have a feel that no other game has. While some things like the Mombasa Street sections still feel like your character is too powerful for a game that wants to nerf the player. I agree that there are elements that fell flat on its face but I think that's more due to Bungie wanting to retain the classic Halo feel to playing it. On the whole though, I think the game is good enough to simply overlook its flaws simply because of how good the game at its core is.

  45. I think the plargest problem is with the plot–and how in some sense it is a coherent one that heavily reliant on player interpretation and at the same time, doesn't have enough meat in it to make the game truly as impactful as it should have been. It's the one thing you could ignore at the cost of having a potentially better game.

  46. Did you ever hear the tragedy of Halo 3, the ODST? I thought not, it's not a story 343 would tell you, it's a bungie legend. ODST was a non-linear game, so powerful and so wise it could use it's interesting design to tell stories. It had such a knowledge of story telling that it could even keep the players it cared about from boredom. the non-linear side of game design is a pathway to many talents some consider to be… Unnatural. It became so powerful, the only thing it was afraid of was other games using similar design, which of course, they did. Unfortunately, it taught other designers everything it knew, then they killed it in its sleep. Ironic, it could make other games extremely suitable for free-form exploration, but not itself.

  47. I love odst, but the restrictions of the game engine really hurt it. Some parts of it are near impossible to navigate because of the lighting and the clunky map discouraged me from exploring the city more and completing it in a non-linear way

  48. What really holds the game back is how much it reuses assets from Halo 3, and possibly the Campaign's length. I understand why they used the engine from Halo 3, but I really don't understand why they couldn't make the Brutes any smarter or tougher, or buff up most of the weapons from Halo 3 (let's be honest, Halo 3 has the most inconsistent weapon sandbox in the series, period). You're right that the squad isn't given enough characterization — I find that to be due to how short the game is, and that the majority of the game is focused on the Rookie.

    Still, I think ODST deserves more credit than it gets. The soundtrack is easily one of the best out of them all, and Firefight was a blast to play. It was a brave and creative attempt by Bungie, it just needed some more of a push.

  49. Gone home was trash and completely unoriginal. Don’t reference it like some troll game blog site as it being anything else. You earned the dislike.

  50. the soundtrack alone makes those other games look like crap. ODST is quite possibly the most underrated game ive played.

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