Thursday, October 4, 2007

visualizing... Halo 3!

(Disclaimer: I am a Halo fanboy.)

The PGA Tour has been visualizing golf stats for a few years now with their ShotLink-powered TOURCast tools, so why not try it with one of the most popular video games around?

With the recent release of Halo 3 on the Xbox 360, I've been getting in to tracking my stats on, the very robust web platform associated with the game. Maintained by Bungie (developers of the Halo games) and Microsoft, provides not only standard community-minded features like forums and game development updates (as well as hosting a wide variety of user generated content that can be uploaded from your Xbox 360 to the website), but also tracks every single statistic of every single game of Halo 3 being played on Xbox Live every single day. We're talking millions of games a day. After playing a few matches online, you can head over to to review the results, with detailed statistics for every player involved (number of kills, favorite weapons, medals earned, etc.), just like a golf match!

Recently, much to my delight, Bungie has begun experimenting with visualizing some of this data. Their more high-profile example is the one pictured above (click for larger version), a geographic map of the (real) world that greets you upon logging in to Xbox Live in Halo3 (or visiting indicating the locations of everyone in the world currently playing Halo. It's pretty simple but effective, and watching the global distribution of Halo players change over the course of the day can be mildly entertaining (and informative).

Their second foray into visualization, which is unfortunately less developed, is the Halo3 Game Viewer. When reviewing the statistics for any Halo3 game (ever!!!) on, you have an option of bringing up several images (from different angles) of the map on which the game took place, which is then overlaid with player icons indicating where each player was standing when they scored a kill (or were killed), with arrows pointing towards their victims. In principle, you can follow a player's movement through the map as they played, perhaps learning the patterns and tricks of a skilled fragger!

Unfortunately, in practice the Game Viewer is not particularly usable. First it is a static, non-interactive image, but it tries to encode time-based data. Second, the player icons are so small that it is difficult to identify who is who. It does allow you to filter down to only a single player, but even then it's hard to relate the temporality of the game to the spatial distinctions on the map. Above is an original Game Viewer image of my most recent game. The icons represent players (I am the dark-blueish-on-gray "cube" icon), the arrows point from killer to victim, and the bar along the bottom is a rough timeline of events (top row indicates killers, bottom row victims). Here is a marked-up version that tries to explain what's going on (click for larger version). Either way, it ain't obvious:

This is something I would love to see Bungie develop in to a more fully featured tool. As I mentioned, the PGA Tour has been using ShotLink to virtually re-create the activity on the golf course for a while now; a similarly functional tool for Halo would be great for going over your strategies and learning from the best players! Visualization of all the other recorded stats would be fantastic too. There is a built-in audience here for useful public visualization. So hook it up, Bungie!


Nathan said...

Hey Mike,
found your post very interesting (big halo 3 fan myself)
I wrote a very similar post on my blog i write for work - all about information/data visualizations.

I'm going to bookmark your site - Keep up the good work and looking forward to more posts

mike_d said...

Hi Nathan,

Thanks for the comment! If you're interested in visualization in games, I recently had lunch with the guys at Orbus Gameworks, and they are doing some neat stuff in that area. Check out their site here.