Griffball can be summed up easily in two simple sentences spoken by the Halo 4 announcer at the beginning of every match: Smash enemies. Score points.
On the surface, that’s about it. Each match of the popular Halo gametype is raw, adrenalin pumping fun as you bash the enemy team with gravity hammers or run for dear life as the ball carrier, bobbing and weaving between opponents to reach the goal. It’s easy to see why the virtual sport is popular, but there is another reason as well, a more symbolic one. Griffball represents the creativity and the connectivity shared between the Halo fans and Halo developer Bungie and now 343 Industries that at the time was something new for console gamers.
The origin of the gametype goes back to Rooster Teeth productions, the creator of the popular Halo mahinima Red vs. Blue. In one episode of the show the red Spartan Sarge is taking pot shots with a sniper rifle at Orange Spartan Griff. Sarge , enjoying himself, exclaims “This is the best game since Griffball!”
Griffball didn’t actually exist at the time, but Rooster Teeth began wondering what exactly a game of Griffball would be like. What they came up with was a game similar to rugby, but with more hammers. Also, an exploding bomb.
The objective is simple – pick up the bomb and plant it at the enemy’s goal. Each player is equipped with a gravity hammer and an energy sword to help kill the enemy team and protect/ kill the ball carrier, depending on which team has the ball. Whoever acquires the ball becomes “Griff” turning orange in color and receiving a speed boost and an over shield. Matches are divided into 5 rounds, resetting the map after each point. The first to score 3 wins the match. Upon scoring, everything near the goal explodes, including Griff. True to the initial idea of the sport and character of Griff, no matter what happens, whether he is hunted down and beaten to death by the enemy team or arms the bomb and scores a point, Griff loses.
As with anything though, there is an abundance of hidden strategy, tactics, and teamwork required to be a successful team. Gravity hammers can help launch teammates across the map to score, or if you aren’t careful can accidently catapult the enemy ball carrier into your own goal. Knowing the right time to swing the hammer or when to swap to the energy sword is essential and requires on the fly thinking from every player. Every point scored is a huge team effort. Players not in possession of the ball serve as blockers for the carrier, keeping enemies at bay and attempting to forge open a path for the carrier to sprint through and score a goal.
Rooster Teeth crafted the sport using Halo 3’s Forge gametype and map builder and debuted it to the Halo community. The simple fun of bashing players with hammers combined with the surprising depth of the game led to competitive leagues for the sport, such as the National Griffball Association and American Griffball League of America, popping up all over internet. It didn’t take long at all for the “disease” to spread. Griffball was a huge hit.
So huge a hit, in fact, that developer Bungie took notice. Bungie created a specific Griffball playlist in both Halo 3 and Halo: Reach to accommodate the demand for the sport. The rest as they say, is history.
So why is this important? One word – community.
Community created gametypes and mods were nothing new to the PC gaming crowd. They’d been doing it for years, but consoles weren’t so lucky. Never before had console gamers been given the tools to contribute to their favorite game. Bungie was among the first console developers to allow gamers to not only modify the game, but to improve it. This sense of community and sharing of the game made many a loyal Bungie and Halo fan, myself included.
Griffball and other popular community game types such as the zombie gametype Infection, continue to be some of the most popular gametypes in the Halo matchmaking. The Halo 4 Griffball playlist launched just last week. Developer 343 Indsutries took Infection to the next level with Halo 4, turning a gametype that for over 7 years games existed as one team of Spartans versus another team of Spartans into Spartans versus actual flood infected zombies.
343 Industries, like Bungie before them, understands what makes Halo so special to so many. Without the great community created maps, movies, gametypes, and more, Halo would be just another shooter. Instead, it’s something more – it’s a community. And Halo is much stronger, better, and important than it would be otherwise because of it.