Departure death anomaly
Posted November 6th 2016
Associated movies… BCM204
At the start of the level, two marauding Banshees spawn when you get about halfway over the bridge. Subsequently, three things can trigger their departure. One is if you advance far enough, crossing a trigger line in the vicinity of the ground troops who lie in wait in the higher ground (the line is approximately indicated in two pictures here). Another is if you destroy one Banshee, causing the other to leave. Thirdly, departure is also triggered by a timeout mechanism. On PAL Xbox it's triggered about 3:43 after the Banshees spawn.
Regardless of how departure is triggered, something very surprising can happen afterwards - as shown in BCM204. The pilot of a departing Banshee may suddenly be killed by the game! More specifically, the pilot is instantly moved to just outside the Banshee (still in a lying posture), then the game kills him, for which there's an associated flash effect (which you get when the game kills off covies in other situations). This 'departure death' anomaly is something I discovered the day after releasing BCM203, and I now believe it was responsible for that pilot's death.
Departure death results in a vacated Banshee, but sadly you won't be able to board it; none of the Banshees in this level have a boarding prompt. But at least it's fun to see pilots falling dead in mid flight!
Departure death seems random and infrequent. In the case where both Banshees are still intact, it usually only happens to one of the pilots, but on rare occasions it happens to both (I saw it happen only twice, out of more than 50 plays in which the death anomaly struck after I crossed the trigger line).
Based on my experience when crossing the trigger line (usually at the near end), there's a minimum delay of about 4 seconds before death can occur. I kept a tally of the approximate death delays, and 4-5 seconds was most typical. More generally, a 4-8 second delay accounted for most deaths, but it's also possible to have longer delays, all the way up to very 'late' deaths occurring when the Banshee is about to turn right to go around the cliff out of sight. The longest such delay I had was about 20 seconds.
When crossing the nearest part of the trigger line - as seen extensively in BCM204 - I'd estimate the chance of seeing a non-late death as better than 1 in 8. But when I was instead crossing the far end of the trigger line - as seen in the movie's opening clip - it felt like the odds were considerably lower - which is the main reason why there's only one example in the movie. So perhaps the odds relate in some way to the area in which the Banshees are flying at the time? They seem more prone to death when over or near the higher ground (the area with covies in it).
The first Banshee - the one which heads your way after spawning - may be more susceptible to being struck by the anomaly. I can't say for sure, but out of 34 plays in which the death anomaly occurred after crossing the trigger line, pilot 1 died 23 times while pilot 2 died only 13 times.
When triggering departure via Banshee destruction, it felt frustratingly rare to get the anomaly. Indeed, I think it took over 30 tries before I finally got it for the first time. This makes sense if, as I suspect, the chance of departure death is independent for each pilot. In that case, if you have two departing Banshees you've got two chances of departure death.
Sometimes death has seemed to occur when a Banshee collided with the cliff, making me wonder if such a collision helps the death anomaly occur. However, in many such cases a close examination of recorded footage reveals that the pilot exited the Banshee slighly before the collision; and other cases could've been mere coincidences of timing. So I'm not sure about this.
Long time no see
The death anomaly occurs so readily that I'm rather surprised I never saw it happening before. But then again, in normal play I'd typically be destroying the first Banshee fast, which I suspect greatly reduces the odds of getting a departure death. I do think there were a few times the anomaly struck without my seeing it, however. I believe it was responsible for the empty Banshee in BCM203 (which I originally ascribed to a freakishly bad collision with a tree), and I expect it was also responsible for a time long ago when I came across an empty Banshee in the area of the waiting covies and thought it must've bashed into the cliff.
Why does it happen?
Have you ever wondered what happens to the Banshees after they fly off around the corner? Well, it's possible to see, if you stand at a suitable place along the cliff edge. When they're a long way off, the game kills each pilot, one at a time, and the mechanism looks to be the same as seen in the death anomaly. So perhaps the anomaly is linked with this? Perhaps some bug is causing this pilot killing to occur prematurely?
'Shooting a pilot out' explained?
I've occasionally heard people say that they shot a pilot out of his Banshee. I've always been sceptical of this because (a) I've never experienced that in all my years of attacking Banshees, (b) I've never seen footage of anyone else doing it, and (c) I've had situations in which a Banshee was trapped motionless, enabling me to take potshots at any and all visible parts of the pilot, without success.
Now that the departure death anomaly has come to light, I think it may be responsible for the claims - at least if they were made for this part of the level. If you happen to be shooting at a Banshee when the death anomaly strikes, you could very easily think you shot the pilot out. I included an example of this in BCM204 (around 4:37) to illustrate how convincing it can look (see the picture here too, taken from that footage). It could look even more convincing if you happened to fire only a single shot, at just the right time.
Old reporting from FrogBlast
Update - March 2017. I've come across something from FrogBlast dated February 2nd 2002. In his picture sequence Downed Banshee on Level Two he shows an empty Banshee and the dead pilot. Other pictures indicate how he got it, hiding behind a rock. I believe this article is following up on an HBO forum post, in which he said "What would happen is when they got the command to leave the first area, one of the banshees would just drop." Evidently he was seeing the departure death anomaly (albeit not in the most efficient way). In fact he got it the same way that I initially did myself: namely after trying to get a Banshee stuck by lurking behind rocks in the waterfall area! He also realized that you could get an anomalously circling Banshee.
I've also found a slightly later forum post from Gorehead (now Kermit), who got an empty Banshee twice.