ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Confessions of a Staff Captain —

Some time ago, I mentioned I play Halo 3. I never played Halo or Halo 2, and I just happened to stumble into this thing, and I find it a relaxing side hobby, in between film renders and other stuff that makes me have to take a break for a while. I love logging in, getting into a game, and then hauling ass or having my ass handed back to me.

About 50% of the fun of the game is the game itself, and the rest of it is the social aspects that I like studying. The game has the ability of people all over the world to hear each others’ voices and interact quite a bit along the lines of shooting other people in the face, so there’s a lot of room for interesting interactions. Some of these are, of course, ugly.

When you play Halo 3, you get two scales of your achievements. One is your experience. The experience comes from playing games, grinding away. As you play more, your experience inevitably goes up. Maybe it’s a point a game, maybe a couple points, maybe zero points. But ultimately, it just climbs up, given enough games, regardless of your performance.

The other scale, however, is your skill level. This one’s a little stranger. If you win a lot, it goes up, but it doesn’t always go up, and sometimes it can go back down again, depending on your performance or your team’s performance. It initially goes up very fast (starts at 1, and you can end up with a score of 3-5 very quickly) but as the Skill number climbs, it will eventually sort of plateau out and it’s very difficult to go up in skill without just winning and winning, with no lost games.

Eventually, this combination of skill and experience will set your Rank. Your rank starts out at Recruit and goes along about 13 general Rank headings. Each of these Rank headings also have grades. So you can be a Grade 2 Lieutenant or a Grade 3 General, or whatever. More importantly, though, either increases of skill OR experience will increase your Rank. This means that if you play enough, you will gain rank, rising through the various levels as you go. Here’s my various ranks I’ve had.

Eventually, though, pure experience stops being too relevant a metric. You eventually have to raise your Skill level. This level is Captain.

Some time ago, I hit the maximum of what a person can do just through playing. Now, when I play with buddies or whatever, sometimes I win or sometimes I lose, but we have a good time. But since I’m not winning over and over, I am what’s called a “Staff Captain”, the highest level Captain you can be. It’s quite recognizable, with the three gold bars at the bottom.

Thanks for sitting through all this. Now for the interesting situation.

People fucking hate staff captains.

Being a staff captain means you are not a consistently winning player. You have not risen to sufficient skill in any variation of Halo 3, and you are a holding pattern, and therefore unpredictable.

And, with the additional bonus of people seeing Ranks when a group is assembled for a game, the insults come raining down. Nasty, nasty insults.

“Oh fuck, a staff captain. Jesus, why are you even playing this game? What the fuck’s wrong with you?”

This does not encourage the nicer aspects of my personality.

The question, of course, is where Bungie is in all of this. What they now have is a system that breeds a level of nastiness far and beyond mere pseudo-jingoistic team puffery. In game after game, I and others with the three gold bars get called all manner of sub-human, targeted and criticized by others, being told that because we haven’t taken the steps to specifically win a number of games in a row, we should get the hell out of Halo. Surely they can’t be delighted this is happening.

I’m sure there’s no way they knew it was going to end up being this way, that how the game was would trap a specific set of folks in a grinding situation with no easy escape, set up to be ridiculed consistently and nastily. I doubt they’re proud of it. If they are, they’re not the same style of programmers/designers I see in evidence elsewhere in the game, with its attempts to keep games fair, opportunities many, and variety the rule of the day.

How amazing just a few chosen parameters in their work would be the cause of so much ire.

Categorised as: Uncategorized

Comments are disabled on this post


  1. Shii says:

    Reminds me of that episode of “The Office”, which I watched just recently, where Jim has to play Call of Duty with the rest of his branch but has no idea what’s going on.

    He teamkills and gets stuck in corners but he just plays it cool and rolls his eyes at the obsessives taunting him.

  2. nowak says:

    I can’t imagine that Bungie cares. Not this late into the lifecycle of a game. At this point, they’re more interested in keeping the “hard core” player entertained and the “tournament ready” types still playing. This is why most of the recent playlists that they’ve added emphasize so-called “tournament play” — including the Battle Rifle starts and the “Team Hardcore” and whatever.

    This is, of course, to the detriment of the goofier game types that seem to only really come out on rare occasions. I *like* those game types because they’re less competitive and more, duh, fun. And when the likes of king of the hill and oddball, when they show up in the regular playlists, often get vetoed because they “lack skill.” Which is a shame cause I’d rather play those.

    The “pro” tournaments, of which Halo is a big factor, really encourage this hypercompetitive asshattery. The best solution is to find some friends to play with, but this far removed from the release date it’s proving harder and harder.

  3. Gifa says:

    I am also stuck at Staff Captain. I don’t much care for campaign play, and thus, learned how to play in ranked team slayer. I also play split screen with my husband (who offline I like to sarcastically call Captain coordination due to his lack of coordination). In addition to that, very early on in the game we met up with a few people we love playing with. One of them is also a Staff Captain now, and the other is a Major.

    So, how does Bungie matchmaking match for us? Lets see… 24 staff captain, 25 staff captain, 25 staff captain, 33 major…

    Oh, lets match these guys up with a bunch of 40s. Or hey, how about a bunch of people who got up to level 50 and then started new accounts… so, their skill and rank do not reflect their skill and rank and then we get completely owned by “level 10s”.

    Now factor in bad games (we’ve all had them), lag, dropped games, and lots and lots of alcohol (a.k.a. drunken Halo night with the regular crew), and you are going to be in Staff Captain purgatory forever.

    But I love going into social and getting taunted in the pre-game lobby for my rank (they usually say, fucking staff captains and then laugh), only to completely own them in game, and then get back out into the post-game lobby and say “fucking staff captains” and then laugh.

    One thing we did start doing though, was in response to someone taunting us for being staff captains, we’ll just submit a bad player review after the game for lacking skill or quitting early, because those piss them off more than trash talk or overly aggressive.

  4. Wolverette says:

    I am a staff captain too. It’s pretty awful. I started off playing not so well, and cause I play with a bunch of friends who aren’t that good we usually play social. Lots of XP, which means it’s ten times more difficult to rank up. Usually I play alone on ranked which means it’s harder to win. To add to all this, factoring in the lag problem that Halo 3 has and all the rank 45’s who have created second accounts to play on, getting to level 30 on my account seems impossible.

    These days I’ve gotten so good that I generally beat people who are much higher ranked than me (Brigadiers etc.).

    I just take pleasure when I play and get insulted for being a staff captain, start the match and end up getting MVP.

    Still.. I win game after game after game and don’t go up. Lose one and go down. It’s awful.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I know how that feels.. I’m also a Staff Captain, and people just hate you for no reason.

  6. some guy says:

    yeah, i am not quite a staff captain, but am getting there. it’s because i play a lot of social 🙂

    i like the look of the rank, and i love to totally own people who are way higher, with a lot of tea bagging, just to show em who’s boss.

    but soon i will be a 30 and then maybe a 35 but probabbly not a 40. it takes about 3 wins for me to go up, and i am currently a 28 in lone wolves and a 25 in doubles.