Departure circling anomaly
Posted December 11th 2016
Associated movies… BCM209
In my article Departure death anomaly I described how a Banshee pilot is sometimes spontaneously (and seemingly randomly) killed by the game, a while after being triggered to depart. But while working on that, I also cottoned on to another interesting phenomenon, which I'm calling the departure circling anomaly. And it provides a great deal of fun!
If the Banshees are departing and are fairly close together before turning right to head out of sight around the cliff, they can interfere with each other, causing a Banshee to veer away from its desired flight path. And once that happens, it often ends up circling indefinitely, which is strange indeed! My guess is, the pilot is still trying to leave, but because of constraints in departure flight behaviour, he keeps being unable to break out of the circling. In particular, maybe each time around, he's overshooting his exit opportunity, and hence enters another orbit.
Usually the Banshee is circling leftwards (left banking), whereas right-circling seems rare. On PAL Xbox the period always seems to be about 5.7 seconds (actually, 5.672). I'm guessing it'll be slightly less on NTSC/PC, because Banshees fly faster. The orbit can wander around a little, but only slowly. By eye alone, you're unlikely to notice any change. The Banshee won't attack even if you shoot it.
Occasionally, a Banshee which starts to circle may manage to resume departure; but if that happens at all, it normally happens quickly, before a second circle begins. The only exception I've seen is when a Banshee right-circled for almost 40 seconds then flew off. Perhaps the break-off was due to orbit wander?
Despite how long it's taken me to observe the circling anomaly, it's not super-rare at all, when you're trying to see it. Any time the Banshees are close as they near the turning point, you're in with a decent chance of circling. I guess the reason I never saw it earlier was because usually I'd destroy at least one Banshee, if not both. But even when I didn't destroy either, it's unlikely I would've been watching their departure.
Is it possible for both Banshees to end up circling? That would be nice, but I haven't seen it so far.
Fun with a circler
Once you've got a circling Banshee, you can get a handy checkpoint and have a lot of fun destroying it in various ways and from various locations; e.g. on top of the big rock, which gets you as close as possible. The great thing about the situation - almost a unique thing really - is that the predictability of the Banshee's flight path enables you to learn amusing and impressive looking destruction tricks. See BCM209 for examples.
One obvious thing to try is tagging. It's a difficult throw though, and you'd best have multiple plasmas ready so you can successively modify your aim and timing. Then maybe you'll manage to score a hit before you run out. But in time you can learn appropriate aims and timings to use for a particular position, and score hits more easily.
Another enjoyable challenge is to try and destroy it with a plasma ball or plasma pip. Not easy because they travel so slowly. You can get a plasma pistol from a Grunt of course. For a given position and aim, you can learn the appropriate timing needed for scoring a hit. In BCM209 I was judging the timing by where the Banshee was in its orbit. I'd wait for it to reach a certain point, then fire.
Much easier is to destroy the Banshee with a pistol of course, because the shot speed is high. But shooting it fast can be a challenge, because it's orbiting so tightly. There's a definite skill to it, and it's quite enjoyable. You can use pistol shooting also for rapid weakening, ready for finishing with a plasma ball or plasma pip.
The AR and plasma rifle are viable too, but not so satisfying and not so good for tricks. Thus far, I haven't really bothered with them.
By destroying the Banshee at the right moment in its orbit, you can get the wreckage or pilot to fly off in a particular direction, and then try to score a tag or plasma ball hit for fun, on the wreck or the pilot - a few examples of which are included in BCM209. There's quite a lot of potential there, for doing amusing 'secondary' things.
Note: You can get up onto the rock from two sides. In BCM209 I used the easy side (seen around 4:05), but I later realized you can also get up on the near side, which is quicker but requires a bit of a knack.
Getting a circler efficiently
It can take quite a few tries before you get a circling Banshee. Here's my advice for working efficiently.
Head swiftly to some part of the departure trigger line. You may need some evasive action along the way. Watch the Banshees and try to cross the line at a good time, so they'll hopefully be close together by the time they're nearing the distant right turn. This isn't easy because when you cross the line, they don't react until about 3.5 seconds later. So, what you need to estimate is what the state of the Banshees will be in a few seconds time. Once departure is triggered, monitor the Banshees, and if it becomes clear that they're not going to get close enough, immediately revert for your next try.
In regard to which part of the trigger line to use, I did some testing on Normal and preferred the far part (used at the start of BCM204) to the nearest part. It felt easier to judge when to cross the line, because of how the Banshees fly, but also you don't get attacked by the covies in the high ground. Measured over 10 successes, on average it took 17 minutes (and 13 tries) per success, compared with 20 minutes (and 17 tries). On higher difficulties maybe the nearest part would be better though, because you can more easily dodge into cover if you need it - a bigger concern on those difficulties.
One other thing I'll mention is that if you use the nearest part of the line, Banshees often go into the area of high ground, where they seem more prone to being struck by the departure death anomaly - which obviously isn't helpful.
Getting a handy checkpoint
After getting a circler, it's possible to get a handy checkpoint to enable repeated fun. Here's how - and you can see it demonstrated in BCM209.
Ideally maintaining full health, progress past the covies in the high ground and drop down. As you advance, a checkpoint is triggered and you hear a dropship around the corner. Importantly, consolidate by saving this checkpoint. If anything doesn't work out in the rest of the procedure, you can restart from here.
Tackle the dropship's troops. When they're all dead, a checkpoint is triggered but it's fully delayable (the first such checkpoint of the level, which is why we're using it). Start jumping to keep it delayed. Wait until Marines run up to you and start talking, then head back to the Banshee, continuing the checkpoint delay. The point of waiting was to ensure that the ominous droning will end - which happens within a minute (not long after you get a prompt saying "Protect the human survivors").
To get back up the first 'step' you'll need to do a grenade jump, but it's quite easy (tip: the step is lowest at the far left). Have good health for it though; you can use a medkit at the installation if you need to.
There's a possibility that the game will have removed the Banshee, doing some clean-up of old 'junk'. This seems random and I'd say the odd are against it. But if it's gone, just revert and try again. This has always eventually worked for me.
When back near the Banshee, you may have some covies to kill to make the place safe; so do that if needed. For the forthcoming fun, make sure you have four plasma grenades. I also advise having a pistol ready with 12 rounds in the clip, and a plasma pistol with the most charge you could find (dropship Grunts sometimes have one with full charge). Those are the best weapons to have. However, you could also position an AR and plasma rifle for convenient pick-up, if you care to take the time.
To finally get the checkpoint, you'll need to be out of enemy threat as judged by the game; so you can't be too near the Banshee. I find that the closest place you can get it is hiding behind the tree nearest the bridge, as shown in the picture.
Note: Any time prior to getting the checkpoint, you have the option of weakening the Banshee, to prime it for being destroyed more easily and quickly in certain ways. In BCM209 my Banshee was weakened with two pistol shots, though that wasn't really planned.
Music tip: If you instead delay the checkpoint associated with the final two dropships of the installation fight, and use that one, you can have battle music playing continuously when having your Banshee fun.
FrogBlast saw it years ago
Update - March 2017. It turns out FrogBlast was getting circling Banshees back in 2002. See his picture sequence Downed Banshee on Level Two, which I believe followed up on this HBO forum post. That post may well be the first place anyone mentioned the anomalous circling. His method involved hiding behind a rock, but as should be clear from my article, that wasn't actually important.