I'm genuinely surprised that this hasn't made a bigger splash yet; Bungie completely revamped Halo's matchmaking system for local players, making me happier than I could ever realize.
As I'm sure many people have noticed, it's becoming more and more difficult to play games locally anymore. You know what I mean; sitting physically with somebody (Oh the humanity!) playing the same game on the same television at the same time. Games that do feature local play (Scott Pilgrim, New Super Mario Bros Wii) are often mocked for having little or no online feature.
Bungie is one of the few companies that still respects local gaming, and they cemented that position with Halo: Reach.
Halo: Combat Evolved featured an extremely in-depth set of split-screen options. Play the entire campaign with a buddy, or of course competitive multiplayer. Halo 2 extended that feature, but also moved the whole shebang online, as did Halo 3. And thankfully, you did NOT need two, three, or four Xbox Live accounts to bring your buddies.
However, one of the more irritating things about that was the gulf between ranked and unranked matches. I of courseunderstand the gulf in one sense; how does one track the rank of "guests"? What ended up happening was that there were two broad categories of game playlists; ranked, and unranked. Of course, you could bring guests into unranked, but not into ranked games. If you did have two Xbox Live accounts, you can bring 'em both into ranked playlists, except for playlists like Lone Wolf, which are free-for-all. Lots of good times were had in Team Doubles. Still a bothersome situation; some of the ranked playlists (Team Slayer, Team Doubles) were fantastic, and I don't always want to play Multi-Team or Team Actionsack (Correction: I never want to play Team Actionsack). The social playlists tended to be more "fun", but sometimes you want genuine competition. Of course, you not only need two active Xbox Live Gold Accounts, but they must both be on the same Xbox; if my friend All In Vain's account is on his Xbox at home, we have to "recover" it at my house, then he must re-recover it when he gets home. It's just an unnecessary hassle and cost, not to mention awkward to understand (For people who aren't knowledgable with Xbox Live and how it works, it genuinely is confusing; they can play with four friends in this playlist, why not this playlist?). This also creates stupid playlists like "Team Slayer" (ranked) and "Social Slayer" (unranked). This shouldn't be needed.
Enter Halo: Reach.
In a brilliant move, Reach's playlists no longer have independent rankings. Each playlist simply has a "Local Players" count, which is quite easy to see. Thus, in a team gametype I can play with my three non-Xbox Live friends, but in a one-man score attack it clearly indicates that no local players can enter. Thus my buddy doesn't need to recover his Xbox Live account for the two of us to play Arena Doubles. Of course he needs to recover his account if he wants the credits and ranking, but he might not care. Besides, there's nothing Bungie can do about that; the atrocious account recovery system is all Microsoft. It makes the entire system much more transparent, easy to navigate, and it allows my friends and I to choose between Team Slayer of Multi-Team without having to fight it.
The other advantage is that you simply have a rank, rather than a rank for each playlist and an overall rank. You also have an Arena Rating, but that's something much more hardcore and essentially unrelated to this post. Bungie posted anextremely interesting look at their Arena Rating system on their website; if the phrases betrayal penalty and arc tangent in the same article make your heart all a-flutter, check it out. This removes that unusual situation where you see somebody with an extremely basic rank, but then you look them up and find that they're a General who gets more kills in a day than you've achieved across your entire life. As amusing as that could be, it really wasn't when they destroyed you.
Of course, it also completely disregards the Xbox Live standard of "Player" and "Ranked" matches. The whole Xbox Live "Trueskill" is in there in the background . . . somewhere. I have no idea what Microsoft thinks about their entire system being bofrangled by Bungie, especially since Trueskill was in part derived from Halo 2's Optimatch matchmaking system.
In general, I'm quite happy that me and my buddies, sitting on the same couch, are allowed to play Halo: Reach online with minimal hassle. The same can't be said for most games these days.