Frankie's Bungie Updates
(Last update: November 5, 2004)
Friday, November 5, 2004 (TeamXbox)
The Last Update!!!
This really is the last Halo 2 Weekly Update ever. Starting next week, three important things will happen. One, Halo 2 will come out. Two, the former weekly updates will become something quite different. But still weekly. And three, there will be a lot of interesting stuff on this website that might even distract you from reading the updates. You can see some of it right now by clicking on our all-new stats page.
- Now, the stats you're seeing right now are kinda placeholder. The games you're seeing and Gamertags are largely test cases, but we've been playing at home against other Bungie folks, so a lot of the games are legit. Come next week, however, we're going to add a whole new layer to this that will literally make your face fly off and stick to the ceiling.
The stats that ARE there are pretty cool though. Feel free to explore them, and don't worry too much if they disappear from time to time this weekend. We're going to reset them before the real games start on the 9th (Yes Kiwis, that means your stats will be counted early).
- Remember to go pick a Clan on the 9th. Lots of them will be taken very quickly. We've picked a couple early, but most everything will be available. And you can only have one Clan, so take care of it and make it a thing of awesome power and beauty.
- The reviews are all coming out, and some of you have seen the scores, so you know we're pretty stoked. We worked incredibly hard on the game and we think we got it right. We finally got our own retail builds of the game (long after French pirates!) and we've been playing at home every night – ostensibly to gather test data – but really to kick ass and get our asses kicked. We are, at the end of the day, fanboys.
- Next week, you're going to have a LOT of questions. We are expecting literally DOZENS of people to be online playing Halo 2. We're sure all 24-ish of them will have questions. We're going to be updating a lot of the site content – as well as adding aforementioned surprises and try to keep Halo 2 an organic, growing experience. If you don't normally visit Bungie.net, but you are planning to play on Live, you would do well to sign up and join Bungie.net – since it don't cost nothin' and there will be some very specific benefits regarding your Xbox Live functionality. You'll be able to see your stats, track friends, build a Clan, all that kind of stuff. But you can't do that unless you sign in. So do it.
- It's been a long time. I've been here to witness just a fraction of it. These men and women have always done everything they could to make Halo 2 the best game it could be. They have worked incredible hours and made huge sacrifices. Their families too have shared all that burden and to them and theirs I say thank you. The game is a wonderful achievement and a thing to be proud of.
- On the street last night, as rain started to fall on a crisp fall evening, a surly businessman looked at my Halo 2 T-Shirt and suddenly brightened. "Taking the day off on Tuesday, buddy?" he winked.
Well, I actually won't be taking the day off, but maybe I'll see some of you on Monday at the launch FanFest event. And if I don't, I'll see you online. Probably in Lockout. You'll know me by the constant stabbing. STAB! Anyway, it's been an amazing year, and a privilege talking to you all. Thanks for your support and your kindness throughout.
And here's Mister Chief, frozen in Carbonite. Who knows what will become of him...
Friday, October 29, 2004 (Red vs Blue)
This was originally posted at Red vs Blue - we mirrored it (and so did HALOChat) for folks who couldn't register there because of free email accounts.
- Red Vs. Blue came in today. They're great. They're great in a way that works independently of Halo and Halo things. As a matter of fact, it troubles me sorely that they could up and leave us any time, and make their amusing pastiches of human foibles on some other game. Seriously. They're smart and talented enough to make Red Vs. Blue work on any game with pro and ant agonists. Conceivably, Red Vs. Blue could be done with Pac-Man and Blinky. Obviously it would be called Yellow Vs. Blue, but I digress.
They came in for a preview of what they can expect for future generations of the series. Think about that. They now have access to emblems, custom colored armor and even Covenant models. All the new levels and features might give them something to think about - like an explanation for the fan in Zanzibar...
Now, I can't pretend to know what they're going to do. All this new stuff might inspire them, or they might simply look for ways to hide it all. But what I do know, is that while they were positioning characters, working through script ideas and planning the next episode of the series, Cam, our marketing manager, blundered into their game and started sniping them. We somehow don't expect that footage to make it in there.
- Mat Noguchi is bored. Which is roughly equivalent to a wasp being angry, or a pitbull being bitey in terms of its overall effect on a household. He wanders over here, on the hour, every hour, to announce that he has nothing to do. Normally Mat is in charge of tools for the game, which means he's up to his elbows in audio, engine and graphics code. Mat, as it turns out has a mind exactly like his desk - filled to the brim with everything he comes across. One unexpected bonus on that front is his knowledge of cool Halo 2 secrets. He showed us something on Old Mombassa that made us pee, just a little bit.
Mat, to sate his thirst for distraction from the boredom of an empty office, is going to be answering your questions either today, or early next week. That should be interesting.
- Brian and I are still working on marketing and PR support. All those print ads, TV campaigns and magazine articles need information, and we're the gatekeepers for a lot of that. Which means that every time we check our email, somebody wants a 600 word description of something. Or a render. Or our blood plasma. And we give, generously.
We're also working on a heavy content schedule for the launch of the game. When a bunch of our online stat and clan features go live, we're expecting heavy traffic to the site and we want to be prepared. There are some neat features in stats - including one (and this could change before launch, guys) that lets you see what emblem you were wearing when your individual stats were recorded. Cool and useful.
- Piracy and spoilers continue somewhat abated. Most players are either hiding from spoilers or doing their best to avoid accidentally seeing stuff they don't want to. We've had a couple of readers point out that they think the TV spot is full of spoilers, but we can assure you, it's not. There's a lot of teasers in there, but nothing to ruin a plot twist or surprise. It was carefully vetted and edited with that in mind, so feel free to go through it frame by frame if you like.
Halloween is coming, so our office is decked out all spooky by Amanda and Alta, the only two real adults in the studio. Now, as some of you may know, I'm foreign, so while we had Halloween in Scotland, it was a very minor business and there was no trick or treating. Not when I was a nipper, anyway. So when the children of Seattle get to my door and I hand out hot steaming morsels of fun-size Haggis, eat it up and you'll grow up to be pale and angry, just like me.
So, in this, the penultimate update before the game launches, we appreciate the spookier side of Mister Chief, and happy birthday to Shishka.
Friday, October 22, 2004 (Subnova)
Short and Bittersweet
- I'm all alone. Sketch is out of the office today because he just got back from a New York press thing, and his dog's face had swelled up to the size of a soccer ball. Meanwhile, Halo 2 is all done, and our work continues apace on the new features for the website, and they are COOL. Zach, Doug, Roger and the rest of the web and web test guys (currently the only employees here on a regular basis) have been slaving away over hot keyboards trying to implement not just detailed stats and clan stuff, but some genuine surprises.
- With any luck, Halo 2 on Live and Bungie.net will become like peanut butter and jelly. Like cookies and cream. Like Ben and Jerry. I feel suddenly very hungry...
- The countdown to launch is excruciating. Now even the staff (who could technically play whenever they want) are jonesing to get their hands on the finished game. There's a difference between playing at the stark, dull confines of your desk and sitting in the comfort of your own home, screaming abuse at the TV while some stranger pumps SMG rounds into your already shattered corpse. So, in a very real sense, we know exactly what you're going through.
- The PR department at MS made that 1.5 million preorders announcement earlier this week, and I have to tell you, that feels just a little bit unreal. Like they're talking about someone else's game. We're massively superstitious and as a rule, kinda pessimistic. We're always trying to keep our heads down and just do our best, but you hear numbers like that, and it's suddenly a lot of pressure! Sales figures are for other people to worry about — right now, we're much more concerned that people genuinely enjoy the game.
- Cam just told me that the TV campaign starts next week but he won't tell me (or doesn't know) what channels, times and dates there are. So I guess I'll just have to suck it up and watch America's Top Model and Dawson's Creek in the vain hopes of catching the (rad) 30 second and 60 second TV spots. There's something simultaneously cool and lame about seeing a commercial for a game or movie you like. I guess at heart I'm a fanboy.
The ads will run globally, starting this week and next, and we've also been hammering away on a couple of TV shows for the launch period. They should be pretty cool. Lucky viewers will get to see how tall, handsome and luxuriantly coiffed I am. Think Tom Cruise with the brutal charisma of Sonny Chiba. Totally hot. We had to play a lot of multiplayer, record tons of cool footage and you'd be surprised how easy it is to convince the team to get online for a few taped games...
- Butcher came and watched us playing today. He said he couldn't even look at my screen because of my play style. He noted that I can watch the screen or the motion tracker, but not both simultaneously. It's pretty depressing to have your entire gameplay skillz pwned by a Halo 2 lead.
Boll, who is actually a talented artist, made this sad, poignant guest rendering of Mister Chief, who realizes, that on November 9th, when people have their Halo 2, he will no longer be needed. And so he will fade away....
Friday, October 15, 2004 (R.net)
You ever have one of those weeks? You know, the kind of week where you try to start your car, and it explodes in your face because the mob wired it to blow up and hurl your broken body across the street and through the plate glass window of the local acid factory? Well that was kinda like my week this week, but with the following metaphorical caveat — my broken, glass filled, acid-ruined body became a perfect fertile bed for a glorious, colorful display of flowers.
What is Frankie going on about this time? The horrible leak of the French PAL build of the game, and the impressive, wonderful, heartening reaction from our fans — who have been closing forum threads, slapping posters on the wrists and even reporting folks who broke the law. Community sites are all over it, and the big sites have been helping too, so a HUGE thanks to all of you guys.
Whoever did this is a criminal, plain and simple, but this isn't a pulpit from which to spew a sermon. Suffice it to say that stealing a traceable, Live Aware video game isn't the smartest thing you could do. But the way our community rallied to our support yesterday and the day before was incredibly gratifying. And a note to otherwise regular folks who might be tempted to download a copy — don't. It's really not worth the risk. Fines of up to $100,000 and all sorts of other legal remedies can be assessed against even individual downloaders.
You know, we're not Metallica. The cost of this is emotional, not fiscal (jerks would just hack and pirate the game on Nov 9th anyway). Bungie is mostly concerned that this event is going to ruin the plot of the game for the 99.9999999999% of fans who buy the game on November 9th. As you know, we've spent three tortuous years preventing story leaks, hoarding screenshots — not because we want to — but because they'll reveal twists and surprises. Now a few jerks have ruined that for everyone. It's one thing to sneakily pirate software — quite another to yell spoilers from the rooftops. As Napoleon Dynamite would say, "IDIOTS!"
Anyway, I'm making myself vomit with my combination of preachy outrage and quilted two-ply, absorbent love. Back to the matter at hand — the Bungie locomotive. Let's call it more of a monorail right now, since about 80% of the office is in Hawaii (if they're smart) or in Rainhole, Alaska (if they're married).
- This week was another out of the office week. I accompanied ten copies of Halo 2 to San Francisco so that they could be reviewed over a period of nearly a week by gathered luminaries from various gaming, entertainment and technology publications from all over the US.
Everyone who played seemed to have a good time. Everyone had LOTS of questions about plot twists, new characters etc. I had to help out once or twice when people got stuck, but mostly it was eerily quiet, as the journos sat around in our special E3 chairs, with wireless surround headphones on, in front of 30 inch widescreen sets (CRT for maximum awesomeness and maximum Teamster complaints — since they weigh 200 pounds.) Actually, widescreen is a very cool feature, since the multiplayer game can then split vertically (for two) giving each player a great deal of real estate in co-op or MP.
The event was long enough for people to finish the game on NORMAL difficulty level, but then go back and try HEROIC: "Wow, that was freakin' hard!" And then they tried LEGENDARY: "What is wrong with you people!?" We should note that nobody completed it on LEGENDARY or frankly, more than a couple of levels. LEGENDARY is a whole new sick twist on game difficulty. LEGENDARY includes bizarre stuff like perma-death for co-op players — meaning that you can't hopscotch like you can on other difficulty levels. Once a player dies on LEGENDARY, both players are hurled back to the last checkpoint. It's brutal. Also, that place where you encountered two grunts and a flowerpot on NORMAL? Well now they're Hunters, high-ranking, sword-carrying Elites, and they're all PMS-ing. Seriously, sticking your head around a corner on level two can get it shot clean off.
Multiplayer was a blast. Like we'd hoped, players spent a long time exploring new modes, and enjoying them. As suspected, Swords is a huge favorite, but we (I was only HELPING!) played a lot of Assault, Territories and Juggernaut. Folks love NinjaNaut — Juggernaut where the Jug is invisible, has triple overshields and is the only player with a motion detector — you don't event WANT to find him!
Nobody would tell us what they thought, so I guess we'll find out in a couple of weeks.
Special props to Mister X — who, having only 24 hours to visit, played the game as a speed run, and pulled in the fastest completion time — though he missed about half the game doing that, and Mister Z — who, being hardcore as all getout, completed it on Heroic — and in a pretty respectable time. Epic, considering that was his first time playing.
Anyhoo, this week was short (game is done folks) and a downer, sorry, so here's a sad picture to make you feel even worse
Monday, October 11, 2004 (bungie.net)
The special video edition of the Bungie Weekly Update is here and ready for your viewing pleasure. Get a glimpse inside Bungie as Frankie and I give you a virtual tour of the Studio and chat with a few familiar faces along with way.
In light of Halo 2 going gold, we decided to up the ante for the latest weekly update. Mere text alone just wouldn't suffice for something of this magnitude. So, we've harnassed the power of Windows movie maker and our trusty handicam to bring you inside Bungie for a personal tour. You won't find any beautifully choreographed shots or well timed cuts and fades in this video. To be clear, Joe Staten had nothing to do with this. =) Instead you'll find me shakily walking around laughing in the background as Frankie unleashes some comedy gold. Hopefully you'll enjoy watching it as much as we enjoyed making it.
Currently we've only got Windows Media Player versions available for viewing - a big one and a small one. Our friends at HBO and Mythica.org are working on creating additional formats as well as setting a BitTorrent seed to faciliate easier downloads. We didn't want to make you wait a second longer so while they are busy doing that we're going to release what we've got for now.
You can download the following by right-clicking the link and choosing "save as" or you can simply click it and let it stream to your computer. And don't worry about the bandwidth, these are hosted deep in the depths of the Microsoft data center, well beyond our own servers.
Without further ado, here's the video:
Windows Media Hi-Res (640x480 90 MB)
Windows Media Low-Res (320x240 40 MB)
Saturday, October 9, 2004 (HBO)
This week, because our fingers hurt from typing obscenities, we decided to not only do the update in video form, but also to give you a chance to tour the (admittedly empty) Bungie offices, see who's still around now that most of the hard work is out of the way, and let you in on a few staff secrets. But something happened today, something so awful that we can't begin to describe it.
Wait a minute. That's a lie, I can totally describe it. So, we made this video update, with all this cool stuff in it, and then the Webmaster shows up. You know the Webmaster right? Drunk dude in Gorilla suit?
So we have two problems during our Halo 2 is Nearly Done Sushi Party. The first is that there's no sign of the Webmaster. The second is that the pressure on the keg is off. We have a fresh keg of Asahi Super Dry for the party, and there's no pressure. The beer is dribbling out like a bad prostate, and the crowd is getting angry. They want their beer. Then Sketch looks under the keg. Webmaster is there, passed out, having used a second copper line that he had wired into ours to steal all the booze. You have to admire his ingenuity, but he could have just asked...
Anyway, to cut a long story short, the Webmaster's state of disgrace means that you'll have noticed our site has been acting CRAZY all day long. As a result of the high craziness, we were unable to post our long-planned spectacular video update. So to make it up to you, here's a sneaky little screenshot from a new Multiplayer map called Ascension, which you can read all about (and see more exclusive shots of) in the latest issues of XBN and EGM magazines, both available to subscribers right now, or very, very soon.
As for the update. It's gonna be there on Monday. And it's gonna be HUGE. The biggest, most important update ever. Now, there. No pressure...
Friday, October 1, 2004 (bungie.net)
Septultimate: The Last Update
It isn't literally the last update of course, since there's lots to do and say between now and November 9th, but I can honestly say that there's no more updating on the progress of the game, since the game is done. Finished and shipped to a nebulous region known as RTC (Release To Certification) where it will be dumped from eight digital tapes onto a DVD and go through some final testing. Usually that's just a matter of routine, but we'll be watching our email carefully through next week...
- Roger handed off the tapes in LA yesterday, and as I write this, Alta, the Bungie Princess, is picking some discs up at Seatac Airport. And the office is eerily quiet – the calm broken intermittently by the rustle of a tumbleweed, or the rhythmic "barrrrrump" of a Parsons Sushi fart. Terrifying as it is to me, Parsons ordered Sushi for the celebratory lunch today.
- There are still many steps between now and the game's arrival on shelves, including the not-insignificant process of actually manufacturing MILLIONS of copies of the game.
- Yesterday was a total loss – everyone who was here simply sat around playing Halo 2 all day. There were some epic CTF battles, lots of Assault games and a ridiculously long fight between Artists and Programmers (thanks for booting me out of the game, Noguchi. You just made yourself a terrible enemy.) that ended with a programmer victory. Now I know why Noguchi (programmer) kicked me off the ART team. Actually he has a point. The only game style I can win regularly is Swords. As a matter of fact I have a Halo 2 profile on the Xbox called "Stabby," with sensitivity jacked up to like, a squillion.
- Folks here are starting to pick clan names for use here on Bungie.net, and we imagine that good ones will be snapped up pretty quick. I myself have dibs on Deathkillaz: "We Kill Death!" and "FrankieNauts: "Make with the stabbing!" although I am a spaz, and will probably forget to register them. You guys should seriously start thinking about clans now, since when the game goes live on November 9th, you'll want to pick a name right away.
But don't just pick a clan and let it languish. If you create a clan, do it because you intend to use it, and enjoy the camaraderie that Clan membership brings. We have systems in place to deal with "dead" or unused Clans. Unpleasant, pointy systems that reek of rust and blood and horror. Think Silent Hill meets Autocomplete.
- Folks are taking off on vacation. Most people will take a week or two, some up to a month, but almost everyone will be back here in time for the game launch, to witness it first hand. Keep an eye out for roving Bungie employees at midnight madness events here in Washington. We wanna see the folks that love our game, up close, personal, and maybe just a little bit stalky. You'll know us by our lack of hygiene.
- Sketch and I are now fully swamped with PR and marketing stuff, as the wave of publicity and promotion enters its main phase. We'll be traveling to places good and bad, and basically being used, abused and spat out by the dainty PR ladies (yes, that includes you Shon).
- We're also entering our busiest phase of site development. The sadly neglected Bungie.net is about to emerge like a butterfly from a chrysalis as we work towards the full integration of Halo 2 and bungie.net. This, for example, is where you need to come to build, maintain and track your clan, although clan creation is built into the game.
- The guys have been playing enough variants of the myriad gametypes that I'm starting to settle on some favorites. I LOVE Assault, but only on certain maps, and I love Fiesta King of the Hill (we'll reveal what Fiesta means later) on ANY map. And Fiesta Crazy King is totally mental. But where on Halo one, my fave event was CTF on Blood Gulch – this time it's leaning towards Swords on Lockout. I can't get enough, although Sketch has a homemade variant he calls pistols that's pretty fun.
- As for single player, I am getting my ass handed to me by Legendary. I got to a spot, about ten minutes into the game normally, and have spent three hours trying to beat it. I am not kidding. I foolishly wasted some weapons early on, and now am paying the price. I may start again, take a deep breath and hit it more strategically. Or get someone to coop with me...maybe even Jen from PR or Alta, who actually learned how to play. Finally.
Next week's update will be kinda special, so keep an eye out for it, and in the meantime, we'll keep you posted with every granular detail of what to expect from Halo 2. And it wouldn't be an update without the Mister.
Friday, September 24, 2004 (Subnova)
This week's update comes from Frankie who is in Tokyo showing off Halo 2 at TGS. He has spotty internet access so I'm posting this for him. Enjoy!
BUNGIE WEEKLY UPDATE
- So Parsons comes up to me and he says, "Frankie, do you like kimchee?" But more on that later.
- Hao Chen and Roger Wolfson are working with the cinematics guys to build a predictive graphics routine that lessens or eliminates the occasional pop-in as the level of detail on objects increases during cinematics. This little engineering project addresses one of the weird vagaries of making your cinematics use the game engine. Since the camera viewpoints in cinematics can hop from point to point instantly, it's tough for the CPU and GPU to predict what areas of the geometry need to be drawn next.
- Marty and the guys are often pigeonholed as another part of the art team, creating something that can live independently of the game. Now elements of that are true, but the audio is usually, and particularly in Halo 2, part of the gameplay (as indeed are the graphics). Not only are the lines of dialog amusing, or atmospheric or scary, they're often essential to the mission at hand. When Sgt. Johnson yells, "They're coming in high," he is not simply letting his lips go flippety-flap, he is telling you that if you don't look up, that scary new alien is going to stab you in the face with whatever that is he's holding.
The game sounds fantastic in stereo, and the stereo balance is such that you can use positional cues to figure out where trouble is coming from. But to fully enjoy the Halo 2 experience, I'd personally recommend using a Dolby 5.1 system, and totally crank it. As each day passes, the changes to the game builds are smaller and smaller. Invisible bug fixes, small elements of gameplay tuning and lots of new sound and music mixing are typical elements. Now, when Sgt. Johnson tells you to smile, he sounds like he's standing in front of you. Unless of course, you turn your back on the good sergeant.
- I have actually turned my back on the Studio for a week, to head out to the Tokyo Game Show, which takes place over three days at the sprawlingly futuristic Makuhari Messe, which is no more in Tokyo than Poughkeepsie is in Manhattan. Here, Japanese game developers will show off their wares to a completely suspecting public. Unlike the glitzy marketing hoo-hah of E3, this glitzy hoo-hah is open to the public. I loves me some public. We're there to show off Zanzibar again. I know! I know! Zanzibar! But it's the only thing we've got that's functional to show to the public. It's grating in a way because we have much more advanced stuff that just isn't set up for public consumption. Until November 9th, that is.
That said, the first day of TGS went off swimmingly. The Japanese press and the few consumers who saw it today - Friday - seemed to love it. We did some interviews off of the show floor, and the Japanese press seemed to be very interested in storyline, plot, clans and the localized Japanese build (which is my favorite foreign language build). Interviews were a little embarrassing, because I had to act (truthfully) as a member of the Bungie family but bask (untruthfully) in the talent of the team around me. But everyone seemed to enjoy it.
One slightly embarrassing moment was playing in a short multiplayer game on Lockout, against one of the Japanese Halo champions, who, having never played the map,. The rules or indeed, Halo 2 ever before, proceeded to own me, 25-20. We now refer to this situation as being, "j'pwned." And believe me, it'll happen to you guys every now and then when the game goes live.
So this week has been frantic - late to bed, early to rise, rush hour Tokyo traffic, complete with white gloved attendants shoving is onto trains. But the funny thing is, back at the ranch, things are starting to cool down. Some people amazingly, even have nothing to do. That's only a few people, but gosh-darn it if that Halo 2 game ain't nearly finished...
- So, about that kimchee. If you're a regular reader of the updates, you'll know that within Parsons beats a tiny black heart, shriveled by eons of relentless evil, fluttering inside his ribcage like a frantic vampire bat. Well, nothing makes his heart swell (admittedly to a slightly less papery husk) than acts of purest evil. He tells me I may have to fly from Japan to Seoul, Korea, to get the game rated. It's midnight here in Tokyo, and I'm at his mercy. More news next week.
- "I'm bored," says one of our artists. Admittedly, even now, that statement is something of a rarity, but it's a fair generalization to say that this week, the pace for some has cooled considerably. Artists are slowing down. Animators are making slight adjustments to cinematics, and even engineers are easing back on the throttle, just a little bit, as the game goes from insane crunch mode, to dense bug-fixing and final testing.
- This new easy street, is not, of course, for everyone. Poor old Joe Staten is still hammering on cutscenes and cinematics, as last minute direction goes into making drama resonate and humor pop. Marty, Jay, C Paul (congrats, by the way on C Paul's new permanent full time position with Bungie audio) are swamped. All the music composed, all the dialog recorded, they must frantically balance out voices over music, reposition some 5.1 effects and generally apply a thick coat of aural paint to the house the rest of the team has built. Audio is always the last major chunk to go into the game, and requires delicate fine tuning. Last, but not least is the mighty Bungie test team. Fueled by an enormous appetite for ice cream and pizza Harold and his band of test brothers are using the latest technology to try and see what breaks so the team can fix it. In the final stretch the test team is kicking truckloads of ass and working nonstop to polish the game and make it the best it can be. Multiplayer system link games, online games, solo campaign and co-op sessions are underway and literally everyone on the team is helping out in one way or another. And keep in mind there are 8 different versions of the game - all needing thorough testing. It's a daunting task but luckily we're dealing with the best of the best...and free beer is a great motivator.
Until then, another trackpad-creation, and if I do say so myself, the worst Mister Chief ever. I'm kind of proud. And Lorraine will be pleased.
Friday, September 17, 2004 (bungie.net)
Bungie Weekly Update : Special Q&A Edition
For the latest Weekly Update we decided to mix things up a bit and try something a little different. With poor Frankie stranded in LA going on his fourth day without sleep and everyone else in the studio madly crunching away on the game, a traditional update looked very unlikely. So, instead of Frankie's usual insightful and witty commentary on the latest happenings within the studio, the forums were used to take questions from Bungie.net members. The flood gates were opened around noon and within 2 hours we had over 16 pages of questions. Then, for the next hour, Frankie and myself went into New Mombasa and did our best to answer as many questions as we could.
To make things easier to digest for those who weren't here to experience it live yesterday, I'm recapping the whole thing here in this handy top story. And, as an added bonus, I'm even going back and answering a few additional questions! (though obviously there are dozens and dozens that we can't or won't be able to answer just yet...)
So, without further ado, here's the special Q&A addition of the Bungie Weekly Update!
- Q: KPaul asks: Does Shishka still have that evil look in his eye despite the fact that he's working at his dream job?
A: Shishka is as evil as ever.. in fact, he's got a new nickname courtesy of Frankie : Evil Lord British (look it up). Though his eyes are now mere narrow slits due to his lack of sleep and being overworked like a kid in a Cathy Lee sweatshop.
- Q: TRfeuer asks: uhmmm...exactly how many guns will be usable in multiplayer?
A: We're not able to give a specific quantity for this, but if you do some research with all the coverage from the recent Beta, you'll see quite a few covered. (the latest reveals are things like the Covenant Carbine, the Covenant "Beam Rifle" (aka Cov Sniper Rifle), the Brute Shot, Magnum (pistol), etc..)
- Q: Sticky Fingaz asks: Can I block the plasma sword?
A: No, you can dodge it, but there's no block button. Quick horizontal dodging is essential. And you need to remember that they can dart at you vertically very quickly.
- Q: ApoX asks: Is it still possible to do wacky stunts? Is it still a mind blowing game without Live?
A: Yes and Yes! Frankie himself has already launched Warthogs way over the sea wall in Zanzibar and we've had fun blowing ghosts through the wheel. With explosives and a little creativity, let the good times roll.
While there are a lot of new features designed for Xbox Live, rest assured that the team has spent a lot of time ensuring that Splitscreen and System Link games are better than ever. With up to 16 players on a system link, LAN parties will now be taken to whole new levels.
- Q: akba asks: Will the shade be featured in multiplayer for the Covenant? I've never heard or seen anything about it in a while, so I was just wondering if it's been dropped.
A: A Covenant turret does still exist and yes, it is able to be used in multiplayer. Turret type can be configured via the variant customization settings, which now have a lot more options compared to Halo 1.
- Q: Smoke Dog 4 Ever asks: Will there be more than the Ghost in terms of flying vehicles?
A: Nope, just the Banshee. The other flying vehicles are humongous and would basically carpet bomb the whole map at once. Which would be fun, we admit. But a little unfair.
- Q: doesitmatterno asks: Will there be the old version of the Assault Rifle in Halo 2?
A: No, the assault rifle as it was known in Halo 1 will not be back in Halo 2. For high rate of fire shenanigans, the SMG is now the go-to gun. The Battle Rifle also rocks and is better suited for longer ranged opponents though the rate of fire is slower.
- Q: Hammurder asks: How exactly does the Guass Hog work? It seems to me like it would be overpowered, at least in multiplayer. Is the Wraith's cockpit open like the Scorpion or closed like in Halo 1? Can the Banshee fire it's weapon while boosting?
A: 1. The Guass Hog is indeed powerful, though it requires precise aiming and doesn't have much of a damage radius. The designers put a lot of testing time into making the game as balanced as possible so you won't see something like the pistol from Halo 1 this time around.
2. The Wraith has a closed cockpit, like in Halo 1, but it can be boarded still.
3. The Banshee, like the Ghost, can not fire weapons while boosting. It's a trade off.
- Q: mr2t159 asks: Will the Banshee in Halo 2 have a plasma mortar like in the PC version?
A: Yes, it will. As a matter of fact I just pulled off a nice barrel-roll and plasma mortar bomb in Campaign mode.
- Q: BadKarma asks: what's the word with the health system?
A: You've probably read this already in the flood of beta coverage that's come out recently but I can clarify a little bit... There is no health meter like in Halo 1. You now only have a shield meter. As you take damage your shield meter will deteriorate until it runs out, then it flashes for a few seconds and you can only take a little more damage before you die. If you retreat and take cover, your shield will fully recharge within a couple of seconds.
- Q: MasterChief420 asks: 1) I know and understand (I think) the ranking system that Bungie is implementing, and I think its a good idea. However, will Halo2 still track indvidual stats, such as total kills/deaths, number of melee kills, or number of times I've been splattered under an enemy's 'Hog tires? Since Halo2 is using an 'experience point' kind of ranking system, tracking these kind of stats seperatly when playing with your buddies is possible, right?
A: The post game carnage report has been beefed up from Halo 1 and will feature a lot of new tidbits of information about the game you just played. On Bungie.net, we will be tracking a variety of player and clan stats, but the final details aren't locked yet. The good news is that we can continue to roll out new goodies on Bungie.net even after the game has been released.
- Q: Battlecruiser asks: Can you import your own emblems for use on Halo 2?
A: No, because the first emblem imported would be either a swear or boobs, neither of which would make it past muster. He also asked if players could high-five each other. Which I will not dignifty with an answer
- Q: mrbuchanan117 asks: why didn't u guys release a demo of Halo 2 to the public?... I could understand not releasing a single player demo, but I thought u guys should have released a multiplayer demo...
A: There are a number of reasons why we didn't release a public demo for Halo 2. Like Halo 1, it's possible one will come out sometime after the game is released. Creating a fully self sustained polished demo takes a lot of work and is a big distraction from working on the core game itself. It would have been a big drain on our resources to split off and focus on a demo and frankly, it's not really necessary.
- Q: EastBeast asks: Wow, thanks Bungie! I'd like to know more about the Bungie team's background. Where did everyone go to college? What did they major in? Do you guys have days where you wake up and smile because people like us love you?
A: Well, we have a big and diverse group of people that come from all over the place... Some people have posted some info about themselves on our bio pages here on Bungie.net and you'll also get a behind the scenes glimpse at the team in the upcoming Halo 2 bonus DVD.
I wake up and smile every day because my job kicks ass. Right now people are exhausted and not too many smiles are going around. However, in a few weeks, we'll be all smiles. =)
- Q: Spartan287 asks: will old multiplayer maps like Blood Gulch still be in the game?
A: We're not ready to commit to the full scope of the maps but the team has heard everyone's wishes and requests for some of the old favorites so who knows, it's definitely possible.
- Q: LooseShooter asks: Can you use all vehicles on all levels?
A: No, like Halo, you can only use vehicles on levels to which they are suited. You cannot for example, use a Tank in Lockout. On levels where vehicles are enabled you will be able to customize them with any vehicles that we've tested to work well on that map. Just like Halo.
- Q: Rcop asks: How much better is the shield on Mark VI than on Mark V?
A: The Chief's new Mark VI armor kicks ass. The biggest difference in the armor is the new faster recharge rate on the VI... plus it just looks cooler.
- Q: Juicy Poot asks: Is there going to be a way in multiplayer to choose which weapons u can have in the game, like lets say i just wanted to take the rocket launcher out and leave the others in. Is that possible..... And is there a way to take the goodies out like the overshield and camo. If not there definetely should be a way to take those out for your own gametypes.
A: The different settings available to be customized in multiplayer games is greatly expanded over the options in Halo 1. You will have control over various starting primary and secondary weapons and various weapon sets. And you can also choose whether or not to have power-ups in your game.
- Q: Vmax asks: Will Bungie staff be playing on Live?
A: Yes, as a matter of fact, Sketch and I both plan on pwning people for about a week or so while we have the advantage of knowing what the heck is going on. After that, we'll be doing some public events, secret enkillenating sessions and maybe even tournaments.
- Q: Several people asked: Will the Boxer control scheme be available in Halo 2?
A: Yes, Boxer is back.
- Q: Swift asks: ok well my questions are what is the best part about working for bungie and about how much do you get paid?
A: I'm sure everyone here would have a different answer, but for me, the best part of working here is just being a part of this awesome group of incredibly talented people making kick ass games. Playing Halo 2 every day for months and months before it gets released is a very nice perk. =) Huh? They pay people to do this?
- Q: AtlasGod asks: How does the targeting on the Wraith plasma mortar work?
A: Think of it like launching a grenade - you practice until you can shoot three point plasma shots accross the map. There is an arc indicator on the reticule, but you'll eventually learn to shoot instinctively.
- Q: RCOP asks: Who does the MC voice in Halo 2 and can I see the person's picture?
A: The same voice actor from Halo 1, Steve Downes, is back again as Master Chief. And no, you can't see him.
- Q: Spartan 42 asks: Will there be a map editor on the bonus DVD?
A: Nope. As a matter of fact the bonus DVD is a real-life DVD, NOT an Xbox game disc. It contains documentaries, featurettes and galleries deadling with the making of Halo 2. And it's rad. There is no planned map editor for Halo 2. We will have downloadable content in future, however.
- Q: Durandal217 asks: Now that you guys are so close to the wire, what are the things you guys are tweaking? Are damage values for weapons and all that basically set in stone? Are there any features in danger of being cut?
A: The end is in sight, but fine tuning and balancing will continue up until the last possible minute. The guys here are total perfectionists and will literally use every last second to make the game as good as it can be. Right now a lot of bug fixing and testing is commencing - people are playing the game with a magnifying glass looking for the occasional weird texture or unproperly lit corner of a room.
- Q: Mjo1nir Hammer asks: What is the first thing ya'll are (Bungie people) going to do when the game is relesed?
A: I'm sure it's different for everyone and we're all on different schedules... some people will be taking time off in just a few weeks but Frankie and I will be gearing up for the various marketing and PR stuff surrounding launch as well as finishing work on all the new Bungie.net stuff that will debut in November.
When the game is out, I'll be playing it online, taking advantage of my 1 year head start and pwning noobs as much as I can before everyone catches on and eventually eclipses me. =)
- Q: Halodude12344 asks: Ok...Will there be downloadable content? If so, how much?
A: YES. Halo 2 will take advantage of Xbox Live's downloadable content functionality. Exactly when and how much hasn't been finalized yet. There will be enough there on day one to keep everyone happy for a while. I'm sure we'll have more to say about this in the months ahead, stay tuned.
- Q: TriGun TTR asks: How many guests can I have on my machine on Xbox Live?
A: You may have three other players, using split screen on Xbox Live at this time. The game is of course still under development, but yep. Three guests, plus you.
- Q: The Twist asks: When is Bungie going to do a sequel to ONI or Marathon?
A: Actually, ONI belongs to Take 2 Interactive now, Marathon we can't rule out completely, but there are no plans at this time.
- Q: pckl300 asks: Why does the Halo 2 earpiece/headset cost about $50?!?
A: I have no idea. The Halo 2 cutom earpiece/headset is made by Plantronics. We don't have anything to do with it. I can say that it's a super high quality headset like what you would find at a high volume call center. I can only assume that such a high quality comes at a higher price. For what it's worth, it is comfy and has better pick up and sound than the generic Live headset.
- Q: Clefton Twain asks: Since vehicles are able to be destroyed, will they respawn in multiplayer or are they gone forever?
A: Well, it depends. When you create a game, you can specify some vehicle respawn times and options in the game variant settings (similar to Halo PC).
- Q: RCOP asks: Will the grunts still be cowardly and scream hysterical lines?
A: Yep, those lovable Grunts are as funny and cowardly as ever, though some have learned a few new tricks since the last encounter.
- Q: Halo2UMan asks: Can I just tool around in multiplayer maps on my own?
A: Sure, you can do it two ways: Start a System Link game and never fear any intrusion (unless a burglar is upstairs and plugged into your LAN) or start a Live game on your own.
- Q: Ringer asks: Nades - Capacity, still 4 conventional and 4 Covenant?
- Q: empy asks: Are there enemies, guns and Vehicles that haven't been shown in any demos, magazines and websites interviews etc. Basicly are there more secrets :)?
- Q: Metaphyber asks: Can you dual-wield a wepaon and a flag?
A: Nope. You can't. Then it would play more like Team Slayer than CTF. There has to be a balance. Plus, that flag is heavy.
- Q: Warbow asks: 1. Having seen Frankie's luck with women have you considered shaving your head? 2. Did the prizes for the Avatar contest ever get sent out?
A: 1. Luck? You apparently don't know Frankie that well....
2. And regarding the avatar contest... My apologies to everyone who worked so hard to do a great job making killer avatars. I'm not gonna lie - between being slammed at work and then being out for 2 weeks to get married and then being slammed again, I have not mailed out the promised prizes yet. Rest assured that those of you who did get back to me with your mailing info WILL GET A PRIZE. This year. You have my word. I hope to get those prizes out by the end of this month.
- Now here's a few bonus questions we didn't have time to get to on Friday:
- Q: slothboy asks:To what degree will we be able to edit gametypes in Multiplayer? For example, will be be able to specify different combinations of vehicles, i.e. Chaingun 'Hogs and Ghosts only, or Scorpions and Banshees only, and etc.? Or will it be more akin to Halo: Combat Evolved?
Also: Should we wear boxers, briefs, or "go commando" whilst playing Halo 2 Multiplayer?
A: I talked a little bit about some of the variant options above, but yes, you will have a greater ability to control the vehicles that appear in your multiplayer games. Right now you can pick a primary and secondary light vehicle in addition to choosing which heavy vehicle you want (i.e. Scorpion, Wraith, Random, None, etc..) The player definitely has more control than in Halo 1.
I'm not sure I'd recommend going commando while playing Halo 2 MP, in fact, I might recommend a good pair of depends, because you just might soil yourself when things get crazy (as Frankie has been known to do).
- Q: videogamespaz asks: Will there be unranked games on XBL just for nice games of multiplayer you wanna play uncompetitively with friends?
A: Absolutely. If you don't want to play in a ranked/matchmade game, you can easily just create your own game, set your own rules and invite your friends in for some fraggin' fun.
- Q: Logical Mayhem asks: How many whiteboards do you have in the studios and how many of them are used primarily to write mike is a tool (or other tom-foolery.)?
Does everyone at bungie have naturally colored hair or do some of you have purple/green hair (Or scalps in Frankie's case ;) )?
A: Let's see...including the whiteboards in our conference rooms, we currently have 7 primary whiteboards (no, really, we do). Most of the ones in the conference rooms are used for real work-type stuff like meeting notes, level designs, etc.. but the public ones tend to gravitate more towards the tom-foolery of which you speak. The two boards across from Dave's desk are generally the funniest/most offensive.
We don't have anyone with purple or green hair at the moment, but hair changes pretty frequently around here (not just Alta). Yours truly has even dabbled in some colors outside of my normal dull brown. There are also a couple more folks sporting the clean shaven head look in addition to Frankie.
- Q: Shiach writes: I was wondering what software you guys use to create the graphics for the game? Maya, 3dsmax, other?
A: Quite a bit of different software is used depending on what's being done. 3d Studio Max, Maya, and Photoshop are all used liberally in addition to some custom tools and programs.
- Q: dali the llama asks: How will the aiming reticule work when dual wielding?
A: It works just like it does when you are holding one weapon. You will always have one reticule and you can only shoot at one target at a time.
- Q: Dinaden asks: Will there be 2 different Human Pistols in the game? Redone M6D, and a "Magnum". Or will they be one in the same?
A: There is only one Human pistol. The Magnum is the new pistol. It's fun to use, but as has been said already, it is not the overpowered death machine it was in Halo 1 and it can non longer zoom. However, with good aiming (i.e. at the head), the Magnum can still dish out some pain, especially when wiedling two at once.
- Q: Frenck asks: Will the HUD change much until release? Is the MP HUD different from the SP HUD? Can the tank be destroyed?
A: 1. The HUD is done. However, the HUD that was shown in the Beta has changed.
2. Yes, the MP HUD is slightly different - if you saw the Beta HUD, you probably noticed that a score indicator appears in the lower right corner.
3. With enough punishment, the tank will eventually get destroyed.
- Q: GhaeleonEB asks: It has been stated that to begin dual wielding, you need to "walk over to a weapon that can be dual wielding, and hit Y." My question is, can you be carrying two one-handed weapons (say, two pistols) and toggle from single to dual-wielding without picking up a new weapon?
A: If you are carrying two pistols, you can drop one by doing a melee attack. If you press Y to switch to your secondary weapon, you will also drop the pistol you were dual wielding and be left with one.
- Q: OmegaProtoman asks: Of the weapons revealed so far, what is your favorite?
A: Personally, I'd have to say the Sword. There's just something extremely satisfying about dashing into battle and killing your opponent in one deadly slice. My next favorite is probably the good ole' Battle Rifle - I just love the way it feels and sounds.
- Q: zechs12 asks: Are the remote control plasma grenades still in that we heard about from a magazine?
A: I'm not sure which magazine said this, but there have never been any remote controlled plasma grenades in Halo 2. Sorry.
- Q: Drox asks:When your on Xbox live to talk to ONLY your teammates do you have to hold down the white button or can you toggle between team speak and the other type?
A: You don't have to hold down the white button to team speak. When you press it once, it opens a "channel" to your team and you can then begin talking. Once you finish talking, the channel will automatically close. You can't toggle between teamspeak and proximity voice.
- Q: impurity asks: Will we be able to use our Bungie logins as our screennames for multiplayer? Or do we have to stick to our gamertags?
A: While playing on Xbox Live, you will always be known by your Gamertag. Obviously when playing a system link or split screen game, you can go by whatever name you like. =)
Whew...There are now 26 pages of posts in the original question thread. Unfortunately we can't answer all the questions right now. If we didn't get to yours, it doesn't mean we don't love you, it just means it was either covered in another question already, we can't comment at this time or we simply ran out of time. A big THANK YOU to everyone who got involved and submitted some great questions for this experimental Q&A. I have to say that this worked out very well and we'll definitely have to do this again in the near future.
And the Weekly Update wouldn't be complete without Mister Chief, so here he is! Note: Frankie had to create this masterpiece using the touchpad on his new laptop, which explains why it's his best one yet. =)
Friday, September 10, 2004 (Halo Babies)
I had to catch a 6am flight this morning, and it was full of giant chicks. Seriously. I don't know what the deal was, but there were about twenty women, of various ages and demographics, whose only common feature was sheer giganticness. Seriously, the smallest one was about six foot two. And they weren't basketball players either they ranged in age from about 15 to 70. But they were humongous. I was totally afraid. What if they were planning on jacking the plane and flying us to their giant Lady Kingdom?
- Speaking of flying - I'm lucky enough to go to Japan at the end of the month for the Tokyo Game Show - so we may have a brief intermission between updates. The schedule is kinda brutal though - I fly there, arrive exactly in time for the start of the show and leave exactly as it ends. Book-ended with 11 hours each way in coach, middle seat, near toilet in back. But as usual I will try my best to grin and bear it as I am crushed between a perspiring real estate salesman flying to Japan for the Grengarry Reads, and a drug-addled linebacker from the '76 Broncos. So if anyone from United can get me a free upgrade, I'll make it well worth their while...
- As I write this, I'm in a video editing studio in LA putting the last finishing touches to a number of projects. One of them you already know about - the special limited edition DVD. The documentary stuff on there is really cool and perfectly captures the mood and drama of daily life at Bungie. It's 100% realistic with the following exceptions: Hardly any swearing and all of the really obscene graffiti from the whiteboards has been cleverly removed.
The documentary was a real eye-opener even for me. It gives a true insight into the process here: The ups, the downs, the struggles, the triumphs, and the constant drive to make everything great. And Parsons' spastic-colon gets a whole chapter. I expect the FCC will kill that part.
- The documentary footage is being mixed, edited and perfected at a studio in Santa Monica, and I'm just down here to make sure they get the latest footage from the game to implement in the video, and also help with a slightly weirder project - the attract mode.
Most video games have some kind of attract mode - the part of a game's title screen where it starts some kind of footage loop, showing off cool moments and teasers from nifty parts of the gameplay. So I'm down here to play, test and make sure the guys have everything they need. It's an awful lot of effort for a couple of minutes of footage, but like everything in the game, the Bungie team is obsessed with making sure all the details are taken care of.
The attract mode will be cool, but pretty much what you'd expect - moments of single player, multiplayer and Live, strung together with some bangin' choons and fast paced cutting. What's more exciting (to me) is the nifty backdrop we've created for the main title screen. I heart it. And it goes beautifully with Marty's new music, all of which is composed (but still being implemented in the game and cinematics.)
- The cinematics too are reaching a final level of polish. A lot of them are 90% done and are being tweaked and tuned. They're also adding things like depth of field effects, fog and clever lighting. They're light years ahead of the old ones, and tell the story with more fluidity and drama. Joe Staten is a genius. Wait, that's hyperbole. Joe Staten is OK I guess. And one of our PR people actually teared up at a scene (no conspiracy theorists, it was NOT a death, she cries at almost everything.) thanks to its stirring music and immense drama!
- Marty O'Donnell is OK I guess too. And I am especially into saying he's OK I guess, because he just cave me all the music in MP3 format to listen to. Here, I'll hum you a bit: "Aaah, ooooh, ah, ah, ah, ooh..." which is from an as-yet unnamed track. Marty is letting me help choose names for the pieces. He thinks very literally while composing, to get into the meaning of the music, so his original titles are things like, "Sad Voices" or "Fast Drive" and then after the fact, he comes up with better, more appropriate names, and he's letting me help. So expect tracks to be called stuff like, "Space Shenanigans" and "Astro-Ass-Blaster." I'm basically a poet.
- Now here's a warning. If you pre-ordered the special collector's edition, with the metal box (I call it InfiniSteeluminum to make it sound like it's from the future) then you should be aware that the DVD that accompanies the game contains tons of spoilers. Seriously, big-time spoilers that could ruin the plot. So don't watch it 'til you've played it! But then watch it hard-style, since it's going to be packed full of really cool stuff.
- You know what else is packed full of really cool stuff? Apart from Parsons body part fridge, that is? The game. This week I downloaded the first build of the game with every level, every cinematic and every encounter in it. That was a pretty big deal. That meant I was finally able to play through the entire thing at the correct pace, fighting bad guys where I was supposed to, watching the dramatic cinematics when I was supposed to, and getting a true feel for the length of the game. Which I will not discuss here. Because I've been playing the levels out of order, I had entirely the wrong idea about the pace, and instead of doing my normal crap - that is, playing the bits that the job requires me to in an order that isn't always best suited to the narrative. I've been diligently going through one level at a time, in the correct order and watching all the cutscenes in their entirety (another first for me). I love them.
- So that's it. I've been out of the office so long, I don't really know what's going on anymore. Sketch is back next week, and things should get back to normal, but seriously, this game is nearly finished. I'm super excited. And wicked busy.
So until next week, here's Mister Chief, enduring airplane horror.
Friday, September 3, 2004 (HaloPlanet)
Today is officially designated "Final Push" day, which means that there is about a month of hardcore development left, followed by success and joy, with any luck. Which means this update is short!
- Screenshots! We've been taking screens for upcoming magazines and we had to enlist some help. Brian is STILL getting married, or making a baby, or whatever it is you do, and so we're short handed. So we press ganged a lucky (kinda!) old school 7th Column member who was only too pleased to run around some multiplayer levels, blowing stuff up, sniping Lorraine and generally causing cool stuff to happen so we could take screenshots of it. We also forced him to sign an NDA so restrictive, that he has to breathe a certain way for the next six months, and is only allowed to wear elastic-waist pants.
Asked to describe the game in three words or less (and remember CENSORED has seen things nobody else has, he replied, "Oh. My. God."
- The game continues to come on in leaps and bounds. It's advanced enough that we were even able to start work on an upcoming strategy guide. Certainly the multiplayer aspect of the strategy can be written right now, since very little is going to change in terms of rules, weapon placements or map layouts. Multiplayer strategy itself is a cavernous, never-ending thing. There are so many rules, gametypes, variants, weapons and vehicles, that even a simple list of "things" takes up a few pages, never mind the strategies that accompany them.
Single player strategy is another matter entirely, but lots of stuff is pretty far along, and some levels are being described as mostly finished. Yesterday I found a Carneyhole* that let me wander the rooftops of Old Mombasa, making hairier and hairier jumps. It was kinda scary, and completely pointless. But I do love a good Carneyhole.
- Nathan's has two 6am deadlines coming up. Both Saturdays. Now think about that for a moment. 6am? Saturday? Who schedules deadlines like that? I mean, why not noon on Friday? Or 10am on Monday? Does anyone even know what 6am on Saturday looks like? For all I know (and I am colossally, impossibly lazy) 6am on Saturday could be bright green, covered in Chia and spew flaming Pez into a sky filled with barking helicopters.
Anyhoo, Nathan's two deadlines are - content complete for gameplay, this Saturday, 6am. That means, any animations or animation fixes for gameplay, will be complete, on Saturday, at 6am. The next deadline is the same thing, but for cinematics. If you look at the gameplay right now, you probably wouldn't be able to spot a single problem with animation (which is good, since his deadline is in about 12 hours) but there are still tweaks, additions and fixes to be made to the cinematics, which are coming along beautifully.
- Mat Noguchi's desk is like Satan's underwear drawer. If you want to know what the universe will look like when the Big Crunch finally sucks the entropy back to a singularity, just go over and look at his desk. Honestly, it's like a Hieronymous Bosch painting of Toys R Us. It is the messiest desk of all time, piled high with garbage, layers of paper, veins of old snack substances, and supported by an intricate network of columns...well, technically they're half full cans of Mountain Dew. Soon it will collapse, and certainly it will destroy us all.
Ironic then (you knew I was getting to a point, right?) that Noguchi spent this week cleaning up Halo 2 code of what he calls "Two years of crap that people filled up our code base with." Basically Noguchi's task is to ensure that the game fits on the disc, which won't affect the game performance (none of the extraneous messages to PookySchnookums, dead-end utilities or unused graphics actually affect code) but it may have some effect on loading speeds, since the disc sectors are bound to be more efficiently jammed with Halo goodness.
Mat promises never to clean his desk, saying that he will instead "wait 'til it becomes something new, evolves and escapes from its terrestrial prison."
- Adrian Perez has been fixing little gameplay exploits - or "features" as cheats call them. One of these is one some, but not all of you will know about from Halo one. If four players stand on the respawn point of an active camouflage power up, and they are all there at the same moment it reappears, you guessed it, all four become simultaneously invisible and take off on a rampage of destruction. Halo 2, for what it's worth, checks to see how many jerks are standing there, and awards the power up to whoever is most on it.
- The manual shipped. Completely. Now I'm getting more of those strange requests from Japan asking what "jerk-face" and "ass-clown" mean. The manual looks great. I think. Anyway, if you enjoy the manual, just remember, it's about the only aspect of your Halo 2 experience I had anything positive to do with. Congrats to the UX team for going above and beyond the call of duty. On November 9th, you'll have a better idea of the hard work and talent they put into it.
- Jay points out that they still have dozens of scenes of cinematic foley to implement, but was glad to report that they had recorded a crowd scene at last. The crowds in this case being Jackals and Grunts, played by Bungie employees, yelling at the top of their voices in an acoustically correct makeshift recording studio. Much to the annoyance of the people working in the offices connected to it.
- Marty is putting music in the game. He is 95% composed. And by that, we mean of course that he has composed 95% of the music, since he himself may or may not be composed. I have only seen him once this week, and he was gripping his coffee cup very hard, so I was scared to ask how he was. Jay says the final deadlines for audio are about a week away, but that he and the audio team will be tuning, tweaking and perfecting until Harold physically drags them away. Technically, all the raw data should be done in about a week, but there will then be lots (a relative term these days) of time to manipulate stuff that's already in the game.
- Jay brought his inflatable queen sized bed. He had to measure his office first to make sure it fit. It does.
He also recently added some effects to the Rocket launcher projectile sound. The new-improved noise includes a kind of hollow echo as the rocket tube empties. It basically sounds a lot more dangerous. The rocket itself sounds absolutely terrifying and leaves you in no doubt that it is headed straight for your face.
- Dave Dunn and the invincible environment artists are fixing bugs. Bugs of course in environment art can mean all sorts of things, including missing textures or odd lighting effects. No new content is being created, except to patch holes in things, or fix faults. But the basic upshot is that apart from some wacky lighting and two or three transparent green placeholder crates, all of the environments look finished, to my eye at least. The artists, being artists are lovingly poring over every pixel.
Carneyhole* - Imaginary hole placed in geometry that Chris Carney hides in his multiplayer maps so he can hide, popping up occasionally to snipe. The hole is full of guns and health and ammo.
So here's Mister Chief, searching, futilely on Zanzibar for Carney.
Friday, August 27, 2004 (bungie.net)
Although there's more than a month of actual mind crushing work left, this week is a real milestone in my mind, and so we bring you a special, extended update, because Halo 2's campaign mode is not only playable, it's fun. Actually, fun is the wrong word – since some of the levels left me sweating, awed and terrified by turns. Caveat: As well as an employee, I'm still part fanboy, so read this with that in mind.
- BUS STOP
I've been getting up very early, coming in and playing the latest test build. It's always full of surprises. One bizarre way to tell how advanced it is is to look at the buses. They started as large oblong crates, completely flat but with the candy-cane default texture that's used for unfinished objects. One morning I loaded it up and the candy cane texture was gone. Replaced with a sort of vaguely instructional "Large Dias" emblazoned across it. A few weeks later, it kinda looked like a crate with wheels. Then, a passable bus. This morning, it wheels, glass, and does something very cool if you lob enough grenades at it. It's a bus. Keanu Reeves would drive it. But like, you can't really drive it. Before you ask.
Surrounding the bus, which I admit is kind of a boring thing to watch over a period of months, is some dramatically detailed city environment and architecture. You've already got some idea of what the landscape of Earth City looks like, thanks to the year and a half old E3 demo, but there are varied elements to the city environment, and there are plenty of graphical and environmental surprises in store for you. You'd be surprised what a difference a few power cables make.
- BUILD QUALITY
The system kind of works like this: We have a general resource at Bungie where the latest builds of the game are located. One is recommended as stable by the test department, while others may have been built to test or debug a specific problem. The testers get the stable build and rampage through it, looking for any problems, "bugging" them (that is, saving their exact position in the game, noting what the problem was, and entering it into a database.) and then play on, looking for problems.
Parsons has asked Brian and me to get stuck into that process as well. He thinks I'm basically stupid though, so while Brian has been asked to look for "clipping errors, instance geometry problems and physics anomalies," Parsons told me to "watch out for colors that aren't pretty," or "scary things that make you want to go wee."
- Speaking of Brian, he's getting married today. So congrats to Brian from everyone on the team, except the hardcore dudes who're all like, "Dude, you're gonna be so whipped man," and "this is the end of the party, brah!"
- Harold the test manager, who's as evil as Carrot Top's Y-Fronts , explained that he's basically been staying until 3am and then arriving again about four hours later. He's opening and closing bugs at a ferocious rate. One horrible thing he did this week to the test team was open 478 bugs at once, using an automated process. That far outstripped the entire output of the rest of the test team. You could hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Still, they were minor fixes. Hundreds more will be opened and fixed between now and the game's ship.
- MANUAL TRANSMISSION
Speaking of ship – the game will leave these hallowed halls weeks before it arrives in stores. It takes a long time to manufacture and distribute that many games. I'm no logistician, but I reckon they're going to have to make DOZENS, no, HUNDREDS of copies of the game. With that in mind, I am pleased to announce that the manual, one of the few things pertaining to the actual game that I have anything to do with, is complete and going through its last round of revisions.
The manual is a complicated beast, since it has to be complete before the game. So matching features and interface details is tricky. The UX team (User eXperience) in charge of manual production has been a dream to work with, and you can tell they're used to creating manuals for works of progress. The manual is also a good example of how detail-oriented Bungie is. It should, if we do our job right, be a cool thing in itself, with one or two surprises for people when they first open their copy on Nov. 9th.
It's also been going through a ton of translations by our localization group. Occasionally I'll get email questions from other countries asking for detailed explanations, like, "What do you mean by 'Nipple'?" and "What does, 'Where the sun don't shine mean?'"
Every major language gets its own version of the manual, and there are even four Nordic language versions of the text, so you can imagine how much work that takes. Be sure to let us know, if you're French, Spanish, German, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Norwegian et al, how cool you think it is in November. Or stupid. Whichever you decide.
- HEADSHOT HEAVEN
Nathan and the animation crew are making final tweaks and modifications to the in-game animation – for example, there's now a very nice player reward for good headshots (not excited about saying this), but much of their work in the last stretch will be creating entirely new animation for the cut scenes and cinematics. Although all of the cinematics happen in the game engine, the cinematic events contain motions, movements and events that simply don't exist in the largely hand-animated game code. They've also been handling and managing the contract animators.
So the animators have a hefty, but rewarding task ahead of them (with constant dips back into turning game animations) as they make the cinematics dramatic, foreboding and occasionally funny. Recently, the animation on the cinematics has increased exponentially. Characters that formerly slid down corridors now walk or skulk. Characters who once stood static above their script captions, are now eerily lip-synched to real, acted dialog. Poor old Joe Staten, he's been putting this cinematic stuff together forever, but he and CJ get no props in the weekly update, because everything they're working on is plot-related, and therefore secret.
- The voice stuff in the cinematics is astonishing. We've picked some brilliant voices for the game. My favorite voice sounds like (but isn't) John Hurt (we should ask Joe about this) and the sheer variety of voices is outstanding. This becomes especially important in scenes where there is more than one alien character – it becomes easy to identify who's speaking by voice alone, which in turn lubricates the drama. And it is dramatic, I guarantee it. It helps now that the voices are lip (or mandible) synchronized, and of all the graphical improvements over Halo, cinematics may have benefited the most – if only because they were done under fierce time constraints for the first game.
- MARKET THIS
Cam and the marketing team have been going all-out, with new consumer events, trade shows and demos in the works. TGS is coming up soon and Bungie will be there in some form, showing off Halo 2 to Japanese press and gamers. Cam also had the pleasure of doing the first consumer gameplay demo at Leipzig in Germany. Brian and I did the second (kind of) with a mini tournament at an MLG event last weekend. Both events used the E3 Zanzibar build, which now looks kind of old and crumbly to us.
Actually, we were very pleased by the reaction of the Japanese and Korean press when they played the beta build at a recent press event. I got the feeling they really enjoyed the competitive aspect of the game and would literally cheer when a skilled player pulled off some cool stuff, like vehicle-boarding or especially violent swordplay. Hopefully they'll enjoy the new multiplayer stuff we'll show at TGS too. I think the old stereotype that the Japanese don't like first person shooters is either fading, exaggerated or plain wrong – since some of the guys and girls who visited us from Famitsu and other magazines, were pretty good players.
Cam's been tracking weird Halo 2 mentions in the media, and noted that famous chick magazine, "Jane" ran a piece on the game in its September issue (go buy it guys!) saying, “The Halo 2 game is finally here. Tough-chick Cortana is still calling all of the shots.” And running a nice little shot of everyone's favorite hologram.
- ART ATTACK
Lorraine is SWAMPED. I mean, hardcore swamped. Since Zoe left (and moved outta town, and got her work ripped off by some jerk on eBay) Lorraine is the sole go-to girl for art needs. That means marketing, PR, advertising, internet and random jerks from the street all demand art and assets from Lorraine. She's posing 3D max models, fixing huge Photoshop files and still trying to find the time to make new screens for the launch time frame.
She's been hustling on our coffee table art book, which should be available at game launch, and features lots of really cool concept art and stuff from Halo with a little Halo 2 thrown in for good measure.
- MULTIPLAYER MADNESS
Chris Carney, he of all things multiplayer is, and Parsons will HATE me for saying this, nearly finished. Multiplayer is almost complete. From 2pm today, when some final lightmaps are applied, the multiplayer game will be all but content complete. That means the maps are finished, the layouts complete and everything after that will be fine-tuning and testing.
Chris says that the multiplayer team will even have some time (a rare commodity) to go in and do some extra tweaks and additions they didn't think they'd have time to do, including res-ing up some textures, sharpening some graphics and improving some visuals just for the hell of it. Of course, there's still lots to do in terms of testing and tuning of gameplay on those maps, but some of the new levels are amazing.
The use of big, big maps is going to make for some very interesting scenarios. One particularly massive map has enough indoor and outdoor locations for totally different game styles to break out. There could be Banshee dogfights going on in the sky, shotgun deathmatches in a building and sniper matches on the rooftops, all while Warthogs race each other around the same level. It is considerably bigger than the relatively large Zanzibar.
There's even an indoor space big enough for vehicle fights and full of potentially explosive moving objects. Which ought to make for some interesting and pyrotechnic matches. And all told, the biggest spatial innovation in Halo 2 multiplayer, is the increased use of asymmetrical maps, which makes objective-based gametypes, like CTF, all the more fun. Also, asymmetrical maps tend to "feel" more like real places. The varied architecture and geometry in Halo 2 MP tends to be much more realistic than some of the very simple, older maps from Halo.
Dave Dunn and the environment guys are also reaching a stage where they're not really creating new art or objects, merely fixing problems with existing spaces. Asked which of the levels was the furthest from completion, Dave paused, reflected, ran his hands over his plush new Mohawk, and said, "Well really, there isn't a space in the whole game that hasn't been 'touched.' There's a couple of things here and there, but mostly we're fixing bugs."
- PERFORMANCE TUNED
The most visible ongoing process from here on out, will be performance tuning. Lots of things affect frame rate, stability and general performance, and these are going to be addressed until the last possible moment to make for the best possible experience. Increases come from all over the place. The engineers and designers are making very specific speed increases with code changes and tweaks. Moving objects, fiddling with AI, everything has an effect on speed and frame rate so performance increases are coming from all over the place. My favorite bit of performance overall, is the loading speed. Like Halo, we load bits of levels on the fly. In Halo there was a brief pause. In Halo 2, there's no significant pause at all, at least, not one that I noticed.
- MUSIC MAN
Marty has been busy, stressed and busy. Now that the game is in a state where he can properly score it, he's been pretty much locked away in the studio. When he does pop out, he looks much older than his 26 years would imply, and it's usually to ask about paper towels – something that's becoming a sore spot around here.
Anyway, there's music in the game. Music! For the first time, the compositions are being dropped into the missions and the difference is astonishing. A previously exciting and fun mission now takes on mysterious overtones as the music foreshadows events that are about to happen, or suddenly kicks into overdrive when the crap hits the fan. Before joining Bungie, I was a huge fan of the Halo music – not just the actual melodies, but the way they integrated with the pacing and the drama. I have to say, I'm a bigger fan now.
Although there are some familiar cues (as with any good movie sequel) there's an awful lot of completely new music here, some of it associated with new characters, some with new environments, but all of it perfectly suited to what's going on.
But lord knows, the last thing Marty needs is unqualified praise, so maybe I should point out something mean to even it out. Hmmm. Yeah, where's the Halo 2 ringtone Marty? Get on the stick you lazy communist.
One last thing - A big shout out to the Fable team this week, as their game shipped to manufacture, and the first reviews started rolling in. It's getting great scores, and, speaking personally as somebody who never likes RPGs, I am loving it. Lots of action, and lots to explore, which is the way I like all my games.
And one last thing. We're going to be at PAX – the Penny Arcade expo on Sunday, so keep an eye out for us there, and make sure you have a great time, it looks like they've got a lot of cool stuff lined up.
And one other last thing. Mister Chief is off this week, replaced by his brilliantly-named evil counterpart, Evil Mister Chief.
Friday, August 20, 2004 (HBO)
After the phenomenal success of last week's Bungie Princess update, we decided to keep the momentum going with a special in-depth superlook at Bungie Hair. First up, the highest maintenance haircut - NOT what you'd think. Although Alta's is often the most complicated aesthetically, it's actually Frankie's that requires the most upkeep. Bald, thanks to a bite from a radioactive turtle, Frankie is forced to shave his head each morning, except when he's hungover. He also rubs it with balms and ointments to make it shiny and smooth for "the ladeez."
Brian's hair is newly shorn so that his fiancée will agree to go through with it. The wedding that is. He gets married next week, so ladies, he's off the market, like old fruit. Based loosely on the relaunched version of Duran Duran his new hairstyle borrows heavily from lead singer Simon Le Bon's coif of choice and stopping just shy of feathering.
Alta has been switching rapidly from loose curls to neat bob, with a nifty purple streak, which while sounding garish out of context, is surprisingly subtle and almost elegant. Amanda's is currently tied back for efficiency, while Lorraine sports a layered bob, with bright, caramel highlights.
Now, if you read this far, you probably pay attention to things, understand English and have that rarest of gifts, patience. Unlike the giant wad of flamethrowers who went bananas last week when the update was posted by a guest star. An update I'd like to point out that we provide, voluntarily, free of charge and with frightening regularity. So for you, the proud, the patient, we now present a regularly scheduled update. And I'd also like to mention, just for the heck of it, that calling people names because they don't do exactly what you want them to do, is what very small children do. In supermarkets. Just before they pee themselves out of spite.
- But today is actually a pretty big day. Harold, our test manager has mandated that we have to stay here until midnight to finish up some really cool milestones. That means tomorrow morning, extra cool stuff will be available for me to play around in.
The graphics have taken a massive leap since I went on vacation. It was kind of nice to come back and see levels that I'd previously enjoyed with placeholder graphics, suddenly populated with dust, smoke, trees, grass, trucks, roadsigns - all the detail and drama that makes a level exciting visually.
There are tons of new effects in the game that give it a new layer of flavor. Water, for example is a lot more detailed, while particle effects like the aforementioned dust and smoke add atmosphere and gameplay subtleties in equal measure. On one early level, the addition of distant buildings, telegraph poles and overhead wires and cables makes an astonishing improvement to an already pretty level. I often find myself pausing the game and just checking things out. More than cool looking, the buildings and objects look convincing, like this is a real, working city in the 24th century. Albeit one that's been smashed all to hell by marauding Covenant scum.
- The pace here has picked up tangibly. Bungie people always put in crazy hours, but from now until the game ships, it's going to be hardcore. People will eat, sleep and breathe Bungie. Food will be eaten on site, people will sleep on beanbags, and hopefully find time to shower. It's going to get crazy.
Speaking of eating here, Alta, the Bungie Princess, and Amanda, the Bungie Baroness, went to get a month's supply of snacks for the Bungie snack station. She took a photograph to emphasize the sheer amount of wanton snackoonery that goes on here. Note: Snacks may include beer.
- Marty and the audio guys have basically gone into hiding. Although music scoring happens very close to the end of the process, there's now enough game for Marty to really get his musical (false) teeth into. We've already been treated to some sneak peeks (listens?) and it will not disappoint.
A lot of the other audio stuff is near completion. All of the voice recording is done and dusted (there may be some teeny additions or changes) and has been implemented in game. That means the cinematics are in a watchable state. Some of the voice acting is a revelation - you're going to hear some quality acting in this thing without a doubt. After years of badly dubbed Japanese games, and plenty of lousy US ones, it's always nice to hear good acting in a game. It helps you forget that you're just playing.
As far as the updates are concerned, that means that people will have less time to talk to me, and less bandwidth to report what they're doing. We'll try to keep these as detailed as possible but it's going to be insane.
- Lorraine McLees Implied...
I threw a kick at the advertising guy. In jest of course, but he didn't look none too happy. But apparently, the kick was authentic enough that his companion (who had been trained in martial arts) asked me if I presently studied. Sweet! I shouldn't have been honest and said that I study martial arts... flicks. However, the largest sharp-edged weapon in the studio is in my cubicle...
I had to say good-bye to a very talented 3D artist and web designer on Monday. I hustled off reference material to the sculptor for the next round of action figures and am trying real hard to get through the second pass of the art book without passing out. The workload is not easing up. I finished the geometry to something that will hopefully make it in. Shi Kai was pleased to see it and hopefully will be able to mount it on a Brute's shoulder. With luck, the highest LOD of the little thing might make it into a cinematic sequence somewhere...
Hey, we're averaging about 100 hours a week here!
- Ryan Hylland Said...
Doing some testing, you know
Beta ends this weekend
Played a lot of CENSORED 1 flag CTF
Test team opened tons of bugs that we will close
- Michael Wu Quoth...
We're going to land without wheels. Making our final pass on some polish items. CENSORED work here and there. Lots of lighting added to several BSPs - to make it spooky. Earthcity gets it's final pass from me today and then it's on to CENSORED.
- Robt McLees Whispered Softly...
This week I suddenly realized that most of us are working 100+ hour work weeks - I put in 116 hours last week. I've been looking to the future, polishing weapons, stenciling crates, abandoning facilities, repurposing trashcans, bad-mouthing journalists, dredging up the past, juggling corpses, narrowing my eyes, crushing bugs and providing liquid refreshment for all my buddies.
- Chris Butcher Starkly States...
Been working on performance this week, trying to cram as much cool stuff into the buffer as possible. I am working on the game simulation side while Ben Wallace is working on the graphics side. We have a lot of new things in our game and with all the added stresses on our engine it's starting to creak at the seams. Still only a 733 MHz processor in this thing, but we will work it out. Our three biggest consumers are animation, AI ray tests for perception, and visibility / rendering. The test guys keep posting graphs of framerate over the course of a level and I'm going to make it all better.
- Jen Martin Silkily Implied...
So - PR is feverishly working away on any possible coverage at all...doing our best to ensure world domination by the Halo franchise.
We've come up with a new campaign - which is to get Halo as an officially sanctioned sport in the 2006 winter Olympic games.
We think it's actually a fabulous idea...and are ready to pitch to the IOC any day now...
- John Butkus Grimly States...
Okay, since I haven't contributed to one of these things in who knows how many weeks, I'll give it a shot this week. Since we last spoke, I've just finished my 12th minute of cinematic animation with an average of 6 characters in each scene. Naturally, my eyeballs are pretty much melting out of their sockets and I've developed this nagging face-ache in my right cheek/temple area. A tumor, perhaps? The animation is looking pretty good, but of course the perfectionist in me wants another six months to polish it to death. Bill and Mike are also working their asses off on cinematics, and Mike just finished a scene last week that looks $#@#$%!! sick. Actually, my face hurts right now and it's kind of a throbbing sensation, so for all I know a family of spiders could be living in one of my sinuses and they're just waiting for an opportune moment to erupt from my face in a geyser of filth and horror. Where was I....oh yes - Bill is working on what has to be the most difficult cinematic of all time, and it's looking great. The light is at the end of the tunnel, so soon it'll just be miscellaneous bug fixes and polishing work until we ship. After we RTM I plan to do three things... F, RT, DN. In that order. I think one person out there knows what that means. I'll let the rest of you figure it out.
And last, but not least, here's Mister Chief, unhappy at his latest hairdo, which we call, "The Scout."
Friday, August 13, 2004 (bungie.net)
Note: Frankie is out of town this week and the Bungie Princess is our special guest author.. (I'm just posting it). Now brace yourselves for the most fact-filled top-secret-spoiling update EVER!...
BUNGIE WEEKLY UPDATE - August 13th
Frankie's in Mexico and I'm in charge! So, listen up...we are taking a break from all that blah-blah about Halo 2 and we are discussing a truly important topic...HAIR! I will be devoting several hours of my Saturday to some serious "diva-time" along side my best friend at Joel's salon. There will be lots of girly-girl talk and wine to be had for all. The only dilemma is what color should I do my hair? Anyone who has known me longer than about a month knows I absolutely love to change my hair color. It is a running joke around here. I am currently blonde, but am thinking it is time for a change. In the spirit of by-passing all that typical video game talk I think we should devote a forum to helping me choose my new hair color. But seriously, I am supposed to be giving you some weekly information about our big project over here in Bungieland.
- Biggest news of the week involves the rancid Bungie refrigerator. We are bursting at the seams over here and need to find some space to sit some more people helping out on the game. So, I figured what the heck why not the fridge...that is some prime real estate. But seriously, the dev team doesn't know it yet but they have lost the battle of the fridge and it's pungent odor will soon be seeping onto their side of the room.
- I ate dinner with the boys tonight (frightening). Have you ever had the pleasure of attacking a taco bar with 70 hungry men...hhhmmmm, let me be the one to tell you this is not a pretty site. Amanda has quickly learned that food is the precious commodity in this office. The way to a man's heart is most certainly through his stomach. We will be making the ever dreaded Costco trip next week to stock up on goodies. The people at Costco, employees and customers alike, hate me. When I roll up to the check out lane with two industrial size carts stacked to the point of towering over my head and a flat bed stock piled with beer in tow...let's just say I am not typically greeted with a warm "How are you?" but rather an overwhelmed look of panic.
- So, my week has not solely revolved around food and nasty refrigerators. In addition to feeding the masses, Amanda has been hard at work helping Harold keep a running inventory of about a thousand computers...man, these guys are expensive. She has also called all over the world in search of elusive Xboxes from other countries...so if you have one that you don't need, feel free to send it in...kidding. I just got the 2nd pass of the art book back...looking very cool guys...keep your eyes open come November 9th (oh yeah and Halo 2 will be on shelves as well). The rest of my time this week was spent modeling Dunn's ever-growing collection of crazy hats. I have been a cowgirl, a gardener and Frank Sinatra so far.
Okay, okay enough my drivel, here are some updates straight from me to you on this game everyone keeps talking about (stage whisper..."Hey Brian, what's the name of that video game we're working on again....oh yeah...Halo 2...thanks!)
- So Butchie put the beta out on a branch this week and really wants the code to stay jolly and happy until he goes to RTM...wherever that is...and what is he doing taking a vacation anyway?! All of the levels are undergoing performance reviews (are they even eligible for a raise?) and things are shaping up nicely. Even though Jaime's running around his level with ¾ of his screen filled with debug info, we still have trouble getting him to stop playing so Butchie can run his analysis tools. He's evidently having a blast, and that's a good thing.
- Luke has been integrating our aiming code withhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, huh!?!? Ooops sorry drifted off there where was I...something about sniping and intending to shoot ...I don't know sounds, pretty cool and I guess the Counter-Strike and Quake people will really like the fact that you can't snipe through walls. Which seems kinda lame to me, I think Master Chief should have x-ray vision and be able to snipe through walls, because then he could really wail on those damn Elite bastards.
- Ryan, a very verbose gentleman, a man of many words has this to say regarding test:
Testing next beta update
Emblem Pass (it failed but no bugs encountered)
Working on test cases for release
Thanks for that lovely, in-depth update Ryan, it was truly moving.
- Apparently, Adrian has some serious termite problems at his house because he is fixing bugs like a machine and patching all the holes in the drywall. He is having a really hard time determining if his house has too many holes or too many walls, but says it is gonna be so cool, so he must be having fun! Keep us posted Adrian and let me know if you need some help selecting new paint color and curtains when you're done patching those walls.
- Last, but certainly not least, Nathan would like to take a jab at "Pistol Pete" -- Pete apparently did some dorky thing when he introduced himself to someone last week and made pistols out of both hands and pointed and said "Pete Parsons"...I personally did get to witness a later revival of the pistol gesture and it is pretty lame. Nathan also mentioned something brief about "his first man hug with Chris (butcher)." Aaahhhhh.
Well, boys and girls, that's it for me this week. I am sure you are sitting on the edge of you seat waiting for the next installment of the Weekly Update with special guest writer Bungie Princess...So far we haven't heard a peep out of ole Frankie and it's highly likely that he's in a small village in Mexico lying in a bathtub filled with ice minus a few internal organs. Don't worry, I'll keep bringing you the best updates ever until he surfaces again!
Friday, August 6, 2004 (VideoGamesNewZealand)
I'm back, and so is regular style weekly update stuff. Next week I'm gone again, in the Yucatan Peninsula. I may report from there. An update for conspiracy theorists: I've sorta been following the fuss - too busy to really get into it, but Halo 2 will still release on Nov. 9th in the US and most other places, and Nov. 11th in the UK. Nor will we release a playable demo, anytime soon. In fact, we're so busy with the game that there's no chance we'll even think about a playable demo until after Halo 2 ships. And that is official. It isn't happening folks. The game is however, happily on schedule for November 9th. As this week's update will demonstrate.
- Greg Snook's Plea
DEAR GOD HELP US (and send Pocky!)
Send all Pocky (including unusual Pocky variants to: Greg Snook, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052
- Michel's Crunch-Nearing Antics
Michel Bastien, in full producer mode, has been as busy as a wasp-like honey-gathering creature, but still took time to note some of the team's achievements this week:
Michel pointed out that the 3D artists are supporting the environment artists for final polishing on two of the single player missions.
The animators are almost all working on character animation for cinematics, meaning that more than 95% of game play animations have been put to bed. Jeremy is holding the fort on the gameplay animation front, and authoring cool combat dialog animations.
Chris Carney decided to come back from his trip. he's back to close on MP maps with Cotton and they've been working on a very cool secret map, that everyone will love.
Hao is supporting the artists with scene-specific lighting.
- Chris Butcher's Authoritay
Chris, we should mention to the New Zealanders reading this, is FROM New Zealand. Go New Zealand!
I've been finalizing the beta, working on adaptive network detection code, arguing with beta testers on our newsgroups. Just making sure we can ship.
Damian has done a bunch of cool stuff lately, including making the AI know how to pathfind up and down gravity lifts which is super cool.
- Nathan Walpole's Laundry List
We are off our rockers over here.
The team has been doing some killer motion and cinematic ownage. Stuff is starting to get really exciting. John Mike and Bill are heavily into the cinematic glut while I am working on special Brute stuff and another wicked CENSORED...um...thing. Jeremy Fones, our resident resident - no I did not stutter - is firing on combat dialog animations for all necessary characters. I am so excited about animation in Halo 2.
It is a very electrifying time of development around here, where everything becomes better, broken, bombastic and beautiful all at once...bursting your bubble with a big bang...we are abuzz with fun and fury!
I am starting to get nostalgic about the days when I was merely a Halo fan, before I became a part of the team. I guess the current state of the game, with all the elements coming together led to the return of this fanboy! Coupled with a frenzied AI, animation is going to rock. It has every opportunity to make you feel like the center of attention, which could lead to an interesting laundry day if you are wearing your Sunday best. I cannot wait until November 9th.
- Mat Noguchi - Audio Wizard
Haha. I called him an Audio Wizard because that's the kind of thing a newspaper that really didn't get it would call him. Anyway, Mat points out that localized combat dialogue is in the following condition: 4526 File(s) 4,170,768,287 bytes
And that's only the European languages. No Asian included yet.
Mat interjects, "Oh, I also spent the last two weeks making the sound engine 1,000,000,000 times better. That's right, a billion."
Score between Mat Noguchi and Jason Jones: 1 - 0 respectively. No further explanation necessary or impending.
- Max Hoberman's Update within an Update
The past couple of weeks have been alternately thrilling and frustrating. Getting close to the end is bittersweet. On the one hand you get to see a ton of hard work come to fruition. On the other you have to make some tough decisions, weighing finishing the game and making sure there's time to polish what you have against adding new features and changes that you know would make the game cooler, more fun, more user friendly etc. We're now almost beyond the process of making it cooler, friendlier, whatever, at least in significant ways, and are in the midst of shifting to the process of making it work and getting it done. Fortunately for all you weekly update readers Halo 2 is already damn fun!
Lately it has been a crazy mishmash of work in multiplayer and UI land. Dave had to tear out a system in the UI visuals that he put a ton of work into, but fortunately it's on the way out to make way for something much bigger. Bigger is cooler, of course, but I'll always have a little nostalgia for what we had, it was ... slick. Dave has also been knee deep in bugs, including a lot of fine tuning work on the HUD, UI changes to make room for localization, blah blah blah. After we ship remember to ask him about that damn shield meter.
In the meantime Steve has been a busy wasp-like honey-gathering creature, putting the polish on a big outdoor map that I can't talk any more about for fear of excommunication. Suffice it to say it's looking damn good! I'm looking at a reflection on the ceiling right now. Ooh! Ah! Where was I? Oh yeah, it seems like the rest of the project will be finishing polish for Steve. I think that's in his job description. Of course polish for multiplayer is more than just visuals, especially since we'll be online. I was just using an analogy I stole from Charlie and repurposed, about how our maps should be like a watertight container. Well, not that they should look like a watertight container, but they should certainly behave like one when it comes to restricting where players can go. (Sorry, taking all the fun away, I know.)
Carney just got back from a research expedition to North Carolina, where he was gathering valuable information on weather systems. We had to call it a vacation to get The Man to give him leave, that's how dedicated he is. Oh wait, did I say weather? That's a big thumbed nose to the censors. Bleep that out, I dare you! Bring it! Anyway, he's back and back to work on our final and our grandest multiplayer map. This one is coming in a little late, but considering the fine state of our other multiplayer maps we're pushing it some. It's going to be worth it, but there's still a lot of hard work to be done.
Wow, a lot happens in two weeks. Well, I'm making up for Frankie hijacking last week's update. I've been up to my neck in 1) continuing to help drive the Beta and gather useful data, especially about matchmaking and stats. Yes, that involves a certain amount of playing the game on the Internet. Far and away the hardest part of the day. 2) Trying to save the tiny handful of relatively easy UI and MP features that are on the chopping block. 3) Making our multiplayer game fun fun fun fun fun. The way the weapons, vehicles, starting locations, etc. are configured play an enormous role in the enjoyability of a map. Take Zanzibar, for example. Our first playable version of the map, before E3, started with the defenders having a whole slew of vehicles to counter the attacker vehicles. CTF games invariably turned into giant confusing vehicle smashfests. While these certainly have their place in our game, we also care a great deal about making Halo 2 a thinking man's game. Strategy is king, and in this case shifting the vehicles all to the attackers and giving the defenders the tracking rocket launcher to counter made all the difference. I just made a change on another map that I suspect will do the same.
- Brian Jarrard's Ahi Feast
Wow, there's so much going on lately it's a whirlwind of crazy excitement around here...As launch nears, a number of events are popping up, like the media shindig we hosted here last weekend. We had over 60 members of the press come in and spend the day playing our ongoing internal Halo 2 beta. The entire room was macked out with flat panel TVs, bean bags, Bose systems and plasma screens...basically gaming nirvana. Some of you may have even witnessed some of the action via our webcam which was stealthily placed at the front of the room. After a quick speech (which got translated on the fly into Japanese) and some rules of engagement, we turned the unsuspecting press loose amongst our thousands of frag-thirsty testers. We had a blast and everyone left with big grins on their face...even Frankie, who finally found opponents worthy of his skillz (i.e. noobs). Also, it's now official, "Swords" is an International hit. We've got a lot more events coming up, near and far, as the Halo 2 hype machine picks up momentum.
Beyond that, I've also been busy with the Bungie Princess working on cool stuff for our upcoming brand new Bungie Store, getting the Halo 2 strategy guide off the ground, testing take home builds as often as I can and of course, herding a few goats here and there. Good times.
Well that's all for this week folks, and in preparation for my trip down Mexico way, here's a "tribute" to Mexican artist and icon, Frida Kahlo. I call it Frida Halo.
Querido Mexico, disculpame por lo de Senor Chief, y por ofender a la memoria de Frida Kahlo.
I also promised I would give a shoutout to Halobabies. And here it is.
Halo Babies Right Here
Elle est magnifique, ses cheveux sont rouges comme les feux de l'enfer, et cela décrit également à quel point elle chaude est. Scout.
Friday, July 30, 2004 (bungie.net)
Bungie's Euro Dash
First things first, this is an unusual Halo update. It's unusual because there's almost no Halo 2 info here, thanks to the fact that the team was on a very intense crunch to complete a very important stage oif development. So if that's the kind of thing that makes you mad, relax, take a week off and things will be back to normal next week. But if for some reason you're curious to know what I was up to this week, then read on.
It began not with a bang, but with a whimper. In this case, the whimperer was Parsons, known colloquially, for terrifying reasons, as "Mango." Mango, you might be aware, is the Studio Manager, which gives him unlimited power. When he barks, we mew, submissively. Now, as Spider-Man noted, with great power comes great responsibility. Parsons must have been watching a chick-flick that day however, since he's about as responsible as a drunk Terminator in the John Connor Children's Library.
"Frankie," he says, his eyes narrowed to hide whatever emotion might be lurking in his beady, reptilian eyes. "Do you have a passport?" he enquires.
"Why yes, I do!" replies I, still bubbly with the effervescence of youth and stupidity. That was a big mistake. As a matter of fact, from now on, when Parsons/Mango asks me a question, I shall simply respond with the opposite of whatever the truth happens to be that day.
"I need you to run a little errand," he says. "To London, and Germany, and you need to leave on Saturday." This was of course, Friday afternoon.
So the next day, I'm off to dear old England, with a bag full of underwear and a relatively complete (although sometimes broken and occasionally untextured) build of Halo 2 on the hard drive of a large and suspicious-looking Xbox Development kit.
The build I took was picked from the last few days of progress for the simple reason that all the blood, expletives and crunching noises were functioning perfectly.
Most of you probably have experienced the joy of carrying an Xbox around. Well a dev kit is heavier, bulkier, and impossibly, sharper. I actually have grooves on my shoulder from lugging it around Europe. But we're not in Europe yet, so we'll get to that.
Going through airport security with anything sharper than a Nerf hackey-sack is cause for much wand-waving, shoe-searching and sphincter-tightening these days. Going through with a huge, heavy, electronics packed box of mystery is always a crapshoot. On one hand, if the security inspector is a young guy, you might squeak through with a couple of game-related questions. On the other hand, if it's an older lady with a distractingly large mole and a bad attitude, you're headed for the ergonomically correct cavity-search station.
At Seattle's security station, they've seen plenty of Xboxes. "That's weird," says the inspector, "The debugs are green and the dev-kits are usually crystal. Why's this one two-tone?" he asked, with altogether too much expertise.
"I don't know," I replied, "I think it's because it's a Euro version."
"Aah, PAL devkit with SCART video kit. Gotcha." He says. Creepily.
So onto the airplane I get, for a ten-hour flight in coach class, near the rear of the aircraft (See: "Mango"). Luckily my view of the toilet was partially obscured by two hysterical toddlers, who proved that kids actually will not stop screaming when they're exhausted. As a matter of fact, eight hours into the flight when one of them paused for a minute, the wit in the seat in front of me muttered, "Thank God. One of them's died."
So why am I going to Europe, you probably asked about a minute ago? Well, the game has to be certified for sex, violence and mild antics by European censors. In this case, the Video Standards Council in Borehamwood, near (allegedly) London, and a German outfit known by the catchy title, Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle, or USK for short.
Now the problem I faced was getting to Borehamwood from Heathrow Airport, since the one train service that goes there, happened to be on strike that day. Cue hilarious race across London and then through ever-narrower country lanes (think Death Star trench sequence), stick-shift, right-hand-drive and wrong side of the road escapades. Everything was fine until I hit my first roundabout (four way stops are an exceptional UK rarity) and totally forgot which way to go around. As the old dude in Indy and the Last Crusade said, "You chose....poorly." Sorry London. I promise not to scare everyone next time.
If they check the left hand side of that car they'll see that I hit every curb in central London as I hilariously misjudged the width of the car.
The demo in London was fairly straightforward. I sat with two very polite English chaps and ran them through much of the game. I was especially careful to show them how many human allies you could kill and using what brutal methods to do so. I had to force some characters to swear. One of the marines, as you'll find, doesn't take too much prodding.
Actually, I noticed, going through single player for the first time in ages, that the Marine voice work is awesome. Not so much what they say (some of it is incredibly funny though) but more the way they react properly to circumstance. Even staring at a character for a long period of time will illicit different responses, depending on the circumstances.
The VSC was totally unconcerned with the murderization of Covenant forces. Apparently, if the game didn't allow you to turn on your allies, we'd have gotten the UK equivalent of a PG, regardless of the galloons of alien blood we had flooded the Galaxy with. Britain is now completely unconcerned with bad language, as I discovered watching BBC TV in the hotel that night. Just as well, since every other word out of our game seemed to be bastard., asshole or bullshit.
I did point out that technically, you can kill tens of thousands of Grunts, Elites, Brutes, Jackals and "others" while playing a typical game. "No problem, as long as they don't look human," said one of the chaps.
As I liberally coated every surface of New Mombassa with human blood just to show it could be done, the two fellows hummed and hah-ed, but clearly knew exactly what they were doing. Just as I was explaining that you could continue to blast corpses after they'd fallen, but that they wouldn't move, an animation bug kicked in and caused the poor cadaver to twitch horribly, whether I blasted him or not. It has been fixed.
In the end, after seeing tons of game, checking out a few very shocking twists, and finally agreeing that it was not in your best interest to kill all your buddies, they let us squeak by with a UK 16 rating, thanks to blood, swearing and violence.
To be honest, I was glad to get out of London. The city itself is hip and cool, but airport hotels SUCK and the only local entertainment was a gas station. I did play a stupid amount of single player Halo in my room, but I was too jetlaggy to enjoy it. I ended up being frightened and confused and couldn't remember whether I inverted my controls or not. And I was pining for some multiplayer by the end.
So off to Berlin. Now, when you're flying to Berlin, on business, it's hard to not feel like a spy. I tried to look especially international and dangerous. Don't know if I pulled it off or not, but nobody gave me any guff at Tegel International Airport. Berlin, if you haven't been there is pretty awesome. Beautiful old city, interspersed with some truly horrible communist-era buildings and intersected by pretty canals, a river and lots of cool modern buildings. AND the most graffiti you've ever seen. "Ich Bin Ein Berliner," might actually be German for, "I have hella spray cans yo." Berlin is awesome, but it needs a wipe.
So to kill time before prostrating myself before the German censors, I wandered around the museum district, and absorbed myself in the German culture. I speak just enough German to make ein arschloch of myself, and more than enough to order huge plates of meat. Which I enjoyed thoroughly. Meat, cheese and mustard for breakfast. No wonder the Germans drive so fast. They're trying to reach the next bathroom.
The Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle is located in a modern office building, but to get to it, you have to walk through an especially shady looking couple of blocks. I began to suspect that Mango was having me whacked. I saw a comic array of efficient German prostitutes and a gang of actual Skinheads. My head was freshly shaved and one or two of them actually nodded agreeably. I nodded back and quickly hobbled away, the 30 pounds of Xbox and 200 million dollars of software loaded on its hard drive, weighing heavily on me, all of a sudden.
I thought it prudent at that point, to refrain from expressing my disagreement with their politics, but wondered why German skinheads put such stock in the British Union Jack flag.
It was a relief to finally reach the USK building. Now, the British office was stacked high with software, paper, ashtrays and full of cigarette smoke and semi-organized chaos. The German office was almost stereotypically efficient. But things took a turn for the strange rather quickly.
So I thought it was going to be the same deal. Show the guy some gameplay, answer his questions and take off, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Remember the scene in Superman the Movie, where the hovering blue faces pass judgment on General Zod? Well that was the quorum of German "experts" that passed judgment on Halo 2. Hovering, blue, the whole deal. As far as I remember. I was pretty spazzed by then.
They asked a lot of very specific questions, including, "Why is this Master Chief so aggressive in his actions against the Covenant?" It got very weird, very fast. So after showing them as much blood, gore and horror as they could stomach, I was finally permitted to leave.
Berlin's subway system, as far as I could tell, appears to operate on the honor system. I never once had to show, display or wave the stupid ticket I bought at the hotel. So remember kids, when in Berlin, cheat them out of five Euros.
Good news on the way back. I had to spend one more night in London, and a cab driver, irate that I only wanted to go to the airport hotel for a measly 10 quid, called me the WORST SWEAR WORD IN THE WORLD, and when I asked him to repeat himself, said literally, "Nuffing guv'nor." Then when I took my seat, he muttered, "Bloody yanks, they've got *#%#@$* buses for *#$@%! like you." Aah, dear olde England. And its honest cockney cab driver. By the way, I'm not American, I'm Scottish.
The flight back from London was bizarre, because I was actually hallucinating from jetlag and lack of sleep. Sick of flying, I suddenly remembered that I have an eight hour flight to the Yucatan Peninsula in exactly seven days and had a near panic attack. But I got through customs, shaking and sweating like my bowels were packed full of heroin and Swiss currency. They paid me no mind, however, and so Halo 2 is safe for kids (16 and over) in the UK and Germany.
When I got back, Mango asked me if I'd ever been to Singapore...
SO next week, back to normal, lots of new Halo 2 info and real events, but until then, here's a look at the localized version of Halo 2.
Friday, July 23, 2004 (bungie.net)
It's been a busy, busy week. So busy in fact, and so crunchtacular, that basically nobody is really available to chat this week. Sorry. Don't yell/flame/freak out.
- Sketch was out in New York being a muckety-muck all week, and I got roped into another classic Parsons travel-trap. It involves a passport, and some international shenanigans. Think sauerbraten. Anyway, lots going on in the studio, and I've been playing through a very nice-looking build of the game. I noticed the skyboxes are looking amazing. Skyboxes are basically the sky (duh) designed to look 3D with flitting clouds, translucent fog and a feeling of real space and height. One in particular made me actually gasp as I looked up. 'Gasp!" went I.
The skyboxes are often fixed later in the polishing process and a bunch of the placeholders have had big holes in the center for a long time. Probably the ozone layer or something. Anyway, placeholders are becoming rarer and rarer. There's even a placeholder sound. A startling, yet melodic tinkle accompanies any footstep on an undefined texture - that is to say, a texture that hasn't yet has a footstep sound associated with it.
I kinda miss the tinkle on multiplayer maps, since it loudly announced when somebody was walking in certain areas. Which you would then blast. With a Brute Shot. "Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle. Whump, whump, whump. Blam! Blam! Blam! Ow."
- Marty also let me hear one of the new pieces of finished music from the game. It was perfect. Totally inspiring, a soaring cavalcade of angelic ecstasy, tempered with just a hint of mournful longng, and all this to a totally danceable Euro-technobeat....I'm just kidding Marty. It was great.
- Last week's experimental foray to the Penny Arcade forums was a roaring success, if that is, you judge success by the number of flames, death-threats and pictures of distended sphincters you get. The Penny Arcade guys (who fear to tread there themselves and are super-nice) actually warned me, but by then it was too late. I read about 40 pages of angry flames before I realized that I had no idea what they were mad about. They were complaining about the arrival of the "noobz" yet only a couple of percent of the posts were actually by "noobz." It was a self-powered nightmare, but we all had a good laugh.
- I've actually been playing more and more of the single player campaign, but last night, playing multiplayer, through my own crappy connection, I noticed nothing. No slowdown, no lag and no garbled voices. It was like playing on a LAN. Wonders never cease. I hope that's typical of how it will be in the retail game.
In single player, I'm being distracted by the lovely environments of course, but also by the amount of interaction there is in the levels. There's a lot more use of cover, by both good guys and bad guys, but there are other ways you interact with the environments that are both novel and old-school, simultaneously....
And on that graphics whore note, I noticed two new types of water. One shallow, one deep. Both lovely. Splish splash. I sure do love game water. My favorite all time non-Halo game water? The icy pool in Dead or Alive 3. Brrrr!
- Adrian Perez
Adrian's bug-fixing has reached something of a crescendo.
"Every week we get closer to finishing, which means that every week the bugs I'm fixing are less and less critical. This also has the unfortunate side effect of making them less and less interesting to talk about. I added a few gravy features to the HUD so that Dave can work his magic, fixed a few lightmap problems that have been plaguing us since the beginning of time, and fixed a couple dozen miscellaneous bugs. One cool thing I did was allow the designers script control over the damaging of specific sections in a model. If they want some scripted event where the left tire of a warthog explodes and goes tumbling away, they will have a lot more control."
- Chris Carney
Our multiplayer maven is tweaking, tuning, fixing and hammering on the multiplayer levels.
"Concerning updates, Steve "Land of " Cotton and I have been spending our waking moments trying to finish up all of new content by next Friday (i.e. content complete). Included in this last mad dash is some familiar lands, and yes, I can not be more specific. But let's just say that we have been spending some serious time with some old friends. In addition, we are going through all of our maps to try and finalize any outstanding game play elements, and are also deeply involved in polishing the art in the environments to a fine glossy sheen. One of our major goals in Halo 2 multiplayer is to have at least one or two of the new maps look as shiny as Butkus's car."
- David Candland
Our User Interface maestro is getting seriously down and dirty with icons, iconography and iconification.
"This was the week of icons, icons, and more icons. First off, I updated the Xbox Live icons in the friends, clan, and players menus. We needed a special icon to represent a specific team member. Max suggested adding a large sombrero or foam cowboy hat to the friend icon. Although I laughed initially nothing better popped into my head. Fine, sombrero it is...for now.
Next, another throwback to the Myth days. Our player level system is getting icons based on the Covenant caste structure. You will soon be able to see how good a player is just by looking at his rank icon.
Lastly, I'm working on refining some of the custom player emblems that don't read well at small sizes. Sorry, but I'm afraid the shrunken head has got to go. Event horizon is borderline. Flaming Ninja has won the battle of emotional attachment over legibility. He's in.
So, that's it until next week, when I'll recount my mysterious trip. I know it was short, and a bit limp, so I'll make it up to you next week. Until then, here's Mister Chief reacting to a skybox. It's more of a scream than a gasp...
Friday, July 16, 2004 (Penny Arcade)
Short and sweet this week? Why? Because by comparison with last week's update, anything will seem short, but more importantly, many Bungie team members were lost at the mouth of hell, the delightful location where we had our first company photo in ages taken. At least it wasn't Snake Village. Then nobody would have returned. But that said, there's plenty to chew on here as Bungie staffers discuss matters as diverse as water, physics and yacht club etiquette.
- Tyson Green's Autobiography
Tyson started this week asking for a pair of shoes to borrow, since he'd arrived for a top-level meeting in his bare feet. "Fortunately, Michael Wu was kind enough to loan me a pair. Unfortunately, this cost me the opportunity to walk around a ritzy yacht club in my stockinged feet.
Still grinding on levels, with a bit of weapon experimentation on the side. Most of these side projects will never see the light of day, but sometimes one slips through and gets some schedule love.
Biggest thing this week has been getting a huge new vehicle up and running. I was pretty worried about some animation issues, but Eamon stepped up and made some code changes that help mitigate that. Today and over the course of the weekend, the related encounters will finally begin to take on a final form."
- Chris Butcher's Collected Shorts
The game becomes steadily more fun. Jaime mocked up a fake multiplayer game with some Master Chief AI that just stands around and lets you shoot it - so I spent about half an hour exploring some new physics in-depth.
The beta is a lot of fun, we're getting the chance to do a lot of in-depth playing of a single fixed build. This is a really important part of the process - in order to understand your game in a deep way, you have to have a lot of continuous time with a build that isn't changing. We're coming out of the beta with a ton of changes that we want to make to the physics and weapon balance for the final game.
- Adrian Perez's Masterful Tales
* We have a big milestone this week so I spent a lot of it crushing through the last few bugs I had. One neat one is now the artists can specify random damage to get applied to objects when they spawn; they can just say "I want 3 busted warthogs in this area" and the game will determine an appropriate and different level of bustedness for each one.
* The new hud has finally grown to the point that we can remove the old hud. This frees up some data and memory to the rest of the game. The shader that renders the Halo (1 and 2) shield meter (a fancy 1-texture 1-pass mux shader) will be studied by archeologists thousands of years from now as evidence of the insanity of the early 21st century; maybe they'll understand it better than I do.
* We were >this< close from cutting one of our new gametypes. But I implemented it in six hours and now it's essentially finished (read: harder to cut). It's a gametype explicitly designed for those people who have friends but not live; something fun that 3-4 people can play. One other type didn't make the cut, unfortunately.
* Worked with the graphics guys to generate better lightprobes out of the lightmapper. Hao has this crazexy precomputed radiance transfer system he built to help light our BSP's, and to make them mesh into the world correctly we render little lightprobes. That way if a bright red object moves past it, it'll look the part, with a nice red hue on one side of it. It's a really hard problem to solve right, but it'll really help make the spaces seem more real. It's a hell of a long way from how we lit objects in Halo 1.
* Gave some more sweet love to the training system. The more people we bring into test the game, the more stuff we find that needs training. For example, if people have never learned how to zoom they can accidentally click the right thumbstick without knowing it, then not know how to get out of it.
- Nathan Walpole's Dubious Diatribe
Tensions were high in the animation pit this week, but were quickly lifted in anticipation of our visitor. Christopher Walken is a really great guy. He taught us how to pause our animation gently between words this...week. He was damned...that he...would help... us out. So after Walken was tired from giving us great reference for animation we went to dinner. At the dinner table the waitress did not know who Christopher was, so we had a little bit...of fun...with that. All of these shenanigans led to a fun night on the town. We drank some Kokanee. Seattle is a crazy place with a Hollywood star and a bunch of rowdy animators on the loose.
So in short, it was just a normal week for animation.
- Lorraine McLees' Largely True Tales
Just busywork this week - but lots and lots of it. I'm finding art book materials can double as images for the manual. The Brute looked pretty enough for me to take shots of though. Conceptualizing covers, marking up and approving stuff; art book, mini Warthog that comes with a Master Chief and a Marine (that looks strangely like Matt Segur)....
- Ryan Hylland's Penny Dreadful
Beta, beta, beta, beta, beta update
We've been testing the update and honing our test cases for the code complete
We are now up to 22 CS testers and 4 FT testers, getting 7 more next week I think. That will be a total of 34 testers I think, and that is not including Harold or the SDET team. The army is filing into their ranks, anticipating the death march.
- Michael Wu's Meandering Fable
Water and weather - we're messing with Hao's new systems for getting environmental effects in. You'd be surprised how much more complex these systems are compared to Halo 1. Earth City uses 3 types of water so far. Fortunately some of the improvements in our tools makes it easier to propagate our settings from one scenario to another. So generally one of us has to figure out the settings for a given type and then the rest of us can copy it and then tweak it until we're content.
If the lightmap farm ever crashed, we'd be sunk for a day, because that means we wouldn't have an accurate representation of our previous day's work. Unfortunately it happened this week so that set us back a bit. Zach figured out what caused the crash and put it down, so hopefully we won't crash again. At this point every hour counts.
Xbox development and our engine changes so often that if you don't keep up you'll have no choice but to wipe your dev kit and resync - a process that can take almost 2 hours. Yesterday it took 4 people to identify and fix one such dev kit in our art pit.
Somebody documented Paul Russel's Halo 1 "Michael Wu don't like it" Easter egg on the web and now you hear it in the environment art pit whenever somebody doesn't like something.
- Max Hoberman's Dusty Tome
We just got CENSORED working and it's da bomb! No wait, that's a different game. But this game is going to be damn damn fun, especially for people with just a single box and no Xbox Live, but a bus load of controllers and lots of willing, friendly, yet competitive friends. And to think, we almost cut it! We also got CENSORED working earlier this week thanks to Adrian's magic coding fingers, although that game takes a larger group and larger maps to test, and everyone has been so busy with this Beta and with other looming milestones that we haven't really had time. Yes, it's possible to have too much cool stuff to do at once.
This week and last we started playing on our final two multiplayer maps. One is in some ways the wacky love child of Battle Creek and Hang 'Em High, but so much prettier than either. The other has no comparison from Halo. It's asymmetrical like Zanzibar, but big like Waterworks, and it's going to knock your socks off! Anyway, we're going to take a break on these maps and playtest them for a bit, and in the meantime Carney and Cotton are sneaking a little work in on CENSORED AND CENSORED. It's amazing what one can do with a shovel, a bottle of sun tan lotion, and perhaps a little too much time spent in the sun.
Ooh yeah, this one's good. Stefan got clan support working in the UI this week. Clangina? Or was that Clan Mangina? Whatever floats your boat, Stefan. We simplified the system a while back, but let me be the first to say that sometimes simplification is a good thing. A few quirks here and there, but overall the UI for this thing is very user friendly and very much at your fingertips. Speaking of UI, we can't forget about Dave. <looks over at Dave> Looks like he's working on what is absolutely the most boring part of our whole UI. But hey, it looks damn good, way to go Dave!
- Cam's Bucolic Recollections
It's been a hectic week. Spent 3 days in London (+ 2 days traveling) meeting with the product managers for all the European subsidiaries to talk about how the global marketing plan translates into their markets. Lots of great ideas for those markets, and the global launch of Halo 2 is going to be very cool. Now that I'm back, I'm way behind on everything, which sucks since Sketch and I are headed to NYC for 3 days next week, which will put me further in the hole. However, it's exciting right now because a lot of stuff is all happening, with regards to marketing. The cinema teaser trailer starts today in 1500 Loews cinemas. The final packaging for both the metal box and the standard SKU are all nearly done. The next set of print ads is nearly complete. Most of the pre-launch POP is locked and loaded for retailers. Our global PR event calendar is looking good. A cool hardware licensing deal is moving along. There's still TONS of work to be done, but we've gotten a lot done. The hard part is carving out enough time to play the beta. "Enough" would be all day long, every day, but right now it's just a couple hours at night if my wife and kids fall asleep early. Plus being out for 5 days hurt my stats.
Until then, here's Mister Chief, expressing this week's mood in graphic form.
Friday, July 9, 2004 (HBO)
Mammoth update this week kids. So enough with the intro - dig into all this good stuff:
- Greg Snook
I'm going to go out on a limb and say we have too many animations in this game. Most people would consider that a good thing, but when your job is to make sure all those animations fit in memory and play back silky-smooth; having this many animations just sucks. Perhaps it's a problem with Canadian math skills, but Butkus has authored some 881 animations for the Elite alone. We have more characters than the original Halo, and each one performs far more actions than the previous game. The end result is a fine looking game which requires the memory of three additional Xboxes :) So, this week was spent looking into new animation compression schemes and devising a system to cache animations off disk while the game is in progress. Luckily, much of this work was already in place to handle the metric ton of geometry and textures we have, so caching animations slipped right in. The end result is that the levels now fit in memory and look fantastic. W00t!
Joseph and I killed three videomatics this week, which could be a new record for us. The first one was the intro to CENSORED, which has a touch of grunt comedy, and should get some laughs. The second one is also in that level, and has nearly every major character in the game in it, which was...uh..."fun"...to set up. The last one is the cinematic that proceeds the final CENSORED, and should nicely build the tension before that fine piece of gameplay. We are also starting on a short one this morning, so maybe we'll try to get four done this week! Woohoo!
We are starting to get cinematics back from the animators all polished up, and they look GREAT! It's really cool to see these cinematics come back, because we've gotten so used to seeing them in their basic animation form. The final animation makes all the characters really come to life, and makes them much more fun to watch. Now if we can just get some lighting in there...
- Nathan Walpole
Wow, what a week. I have been putting out fires, starting new ones, making friends, making enemies and eating crappy food...ain't crunch-time grand?
Animation this week has been working on a variety of things. John is still going strong on cinematics, Mike is pounding on what could be one of the coolest characters ever known to man - and taking boarding to the NEXT level. Bill is hard at work finishing the Grunt and the CENSORED and will be pitching in his great timing sense towards Brute animations. I am hard at work on the Brute, and the CENSORED...both of which are shaping up to be formidable and unforgettable. Nat King Cole 'Unforgettable' it will not become, the Brute could never be that smooth, but they should be unforgettable nonetheless. Jeremy is trucking away on varied bug fixes and miscellaneous animations in the game.
So we have a god amount of work ahead of us. Yes, I said a 'god' amount of work. Normally we would need to be Gods like Vulcan to be able to pound out this massive charge. Gods we are not, but Cananimators and Amanimators we are...
Oh, just one more thing. I would like to publicly remind Paul Bertone to stop pinching my nipples.
- Chris Butcher
Been working on the beta... the data mine gives us the tools to analyze our users' play patterns, see which bugs they're encountering and whether they brushed their teeth in the morning.
- Tyson Green
The Living Room Simulator is now open and ready for business, and many of the single player missions are to the point where we are getting polish level feedback.
Aside from grinding on my levels, in the past week I've been picking up some odds and ends. The Pelican received an update, and can now do more than just look intimidating when it enters a hot drop zone. Ditto for its Covenant counterpart. Both dropships are now moving around entirely of their own accord thanks to Damian and Jaime (and a little Eamon), which means we're updating our levels to make use of that ability.
During some downtime, I spent a bit of time making a human vehicle more drivable, and even more destroyable. Happily, it behaves almost exactly as you'd expect when someone takes one of its wheels off. Before the day is done, I hope to have it a little more stable when taking hard corners—it rolls like an SUV right now.
- Adrian Perez
* Been working with the graphics guys on lightmapping the 'sets' that will appear in some of the cinematics. They're not BSP level geometry, they're made as objects (so it's easy to use them in multiple levels). Also I've been working with the artists on specific problems with the lightmapper and fixing them.
* Did some more work on the player training; the user testing we've been doing has been really encouraging. We had a gamer who had never played an FPS the other day, and after half an hour the game had taught them enough that they were ready to smack down Marty. After another half an hour they were ready to start tackling the game on normal.
* A bunch of nitty little bugs and features for single player were implemented this week. Example, if you pulled the trigger back during your ready animation the plasma pistol wouldn't start charging when it was done with its ready animation, things like that.
* In between all that I've been working on the gametypes and the game engine in general. King of the Hill is back in, just need to get the rendering of the hill re-done with the new shader system. Started work on re-doing one of our new gametypes, Also been sneaking in little multiplayer polish things, like when you get into a vehicle it shows the names of the other passengers over their heads for a second.
- Jaime Griesemer
I am convinced that the primary reason Halo 1 was a success was that it was extremely approachable. Many games are almost sadistic in the way they abuse novice Players. They throw you into a confusing high-pressure situation with almost no guidance and then punish you with long load times and loss of progress when you inevitably fail. Halo, on the other hand, was a greased slide that took novice gamers, hooked them, introduced them to the controls and the game mechanics and taught them how to have fun with the game. When they die, Halo gets them back in the action within seconds, without losing any progress or abilities. It doesn't punish them or make them feel incompetent. That means that Halo was played by a lot of people that would be turned off by most game experiences.
The way we made Halo into a greased slide for novice gamers was user-testing. Lots of user-testing. We brought people in, put them in front of the game and watched them from behind one-way glass. We recorded them, analyzed them, questioned them and then we took all that information, changed the game, and did it all over again.
So that's what I did this week. Adrian got the first version of our training system working and we brought in a bunch of people to try it on. I'm not talking about hardcore Halo fans. We brought in a 40 year old mother who only plays games to make sure they are appropriate for her young children (guess what, Halo isn't) and an 18 year old RPG gamer that doesn't like anything that isn't turn based and a 55 year old City Councilmen who only uses his console to play golf games during the winter. Then we threw them into a free-for-all deathmatch game and see how well our training system worked.
It's painful to watch. You want to go rip the controller from their hands and show them how to play. You want to ask them why in the world they aren't reading the help text for dual-wielding. You want to shake them and force them to use the look stick and the move stick at the same time. But you can't because if they can't figure out how to have fun on their own, then nobody else will either.
Luckily, our tests went really well. We had some rough spots, but the 40 year old mother was gunning folks down with dual-smgs within 20 minutes. The RPG gamer was intentionally giving the enemy his Ghost so he could board them and take it back. The City Councilman decided that leaping down on someone and shotgunning them in the head was better than putting for birdie. We've got a long way to go, but Halo 2 is on track to be as user-friendly as the first one. Next week we put the tutorial in the labs, and since it's only half done, I guess I know what I am doing this weekend...
- Roger's LA Oddyssey
"12 Hours in Los Angeles"
Last week, when Harold, our Test Manager, asked me to make a quick trip to Los Angeles to prepare for our upcoming internal-only Halo 2 beta, I was perfectly happy to go. The plan was, I would pick up the master data tapes from Microsoft's lab on Wednesday afternoon, hop on a flight to LA, drop them off at the DVD manufacturer around midnight, get a little sleep, pick up a sample batch a few hours later, give them a quick test to see that they worked, and escort about 200 DVDs back to Redmond after about 12 hours in L.A. It would be a nice way to wrap up the week before a holiday weekend, right?
Got the rental car at LAX, along with fairly flawed directions on how to find the highway. After driving for about a half hour and getting the feeling that this wasn't the way I was intended to go, I turned around to head back. (When I finally got to my hotel, morbid curiosity had me pull up Microsoft MapPoint with the data overlay of crime rate; I wasn't too pleased so see where I had just been. It reminds me of that time I got turned around in Dallas last summer, where in the course of the time it took me to make a U-turn in a gas station, I saw three drug deals...)
Found the highway
Got to the manufacturer, about 50 miles away, and dropped off the tapes around 3AM. Found a hotel with Internet; spent an hour on the phone with tech support helping them analyze their packet flow to trace a connection problem before giving up and using a modem. Found out that the DVDs wouldn't be ready as early as we thought, so I changed my return flight to a later one.
Got a call that the DVD process would take a little longer than planned. Changed my plane ticket to a later flight, again.
Decided to spend the afternoon in Santa Barbara, since the weather was nice, and the DVDs were delayed, again.
You know you should have packed a shaving kit when a street bu... ehem, "person on perpetual vacation from employment," tells you that you need a shave. (I was supposed to be home 3 hours ago, ok!?) Got a call that there was a delay, so I changed my ticket a third time.
Another delay, until the morning. Changed my plane ticket for a fourth time. Went to Target for shaving supplies.
Got the test batch of 250 DVDs, but found out that our delays had pushed us right into the middle of a maintenance window for the beta Xbox Live network, so I still couldn't test. Changed ticket a fifth time.
Live came back online and I started testing. It took just a few minutes to find out that something was wrong, and just a little longer to find out that it was a problem in the way one of the game files was signed for Xbox usage. Which means, the master tapes were useless and we'd have to start over. At least they only made a small test batch of DVDs so far.
Found out that due to the previous day's delay, they had already made all 8000 DVDs without waiting for us to give the OK. Changed my return flight a sixth time, with a slim chance that the problem could be fixed on the server side. I needed an internet connection to test from, so I returned to my hotel and asked if I could get a room for just an hour. The manager gave me a funny look, and I explained that I need to test some computer equipment and needed the internet connection. She referred me to Kinko's, but I added that I actually needed the TV, too, which got me another funny look. I ended up taking the room for the full night, and as I left the lobby, I heard the manager say to another guy at the desk, "So, you think he'll have a girl with him?" Actually, I was quite pleased to hear that as much as I had protested that I was traveling on business to test computer software, she still saw me as a lying guy on a tryst rather than a computer geek. Or something like that.
Heard that the problem couldn't be fixed server-side, so I arranged to meet Frankie at the Burbank airport in the morning to pick up a new batch of master tapes, and stay in town to test those. Changed my return flight for a seventh time. Went to Target to buy some fresh clothes, etc. Heard from Bungie that we need those 8000 DVDs by Tuesday morning, and if they couldn't find a shipper, I'd have to buy luggage and get them on the plane somehow (!)
Got the new tapes from Frankie and headed back to the manufacturer. Round trip, 140 miles of driving before 10AM!
Delivered the new tapes, but found out that the DVDs wouldn't be ready until 1AM. Changed ticket an eighth time. But at least they found a shipper, preventing me from having to tote about 700lbs. of luggage and discs back with me.
Picked up the new DVDs for the test pass - they work!
Much to my surprise, I actually boarded a plane out of LA! It's been a long 12 hours...
Mission completed, 250 DVDs delivered to the office, and time to sleep.
So Parsons sticks his head out of an office at around 7pm on Friday night, just before 4th of July weekend and says, "Frankie! Is Mrs. Frank in town this weekend?"
I was all, wow, the bossman is gonna invite us to his BBQ! Career advancement here I come!
So Parsons instead tells me he has this "Great opportunity." Which as it turns out is the "chance" to wait around until 3am for replacement code to be ready, stay up all night and then fly it to Roger in Burbank at 5am on Saturday morning. I was then trapped in Burbank airport from 9am til 2pm. And the airport's single espresso machine was broken, so I couldn't even get a coffee. Thanks Parsons. Still, 12 hours of screwing around with tapes, DVDs and no sleep is still better than a Parsons sushi fart.
- Michael Wu
OK, so something magical must have happened to the lightmapper or the lightmapper farm - you'd have to ask Adrian and Zach to find out - but my lightmap jobs are flying through the farm these days. Now, I changed a couple settings, so maybe it was as simple as that, but I haven't had a failed job in a week. This is how Boeing must've felt when their test planes stopped crashing and they just flew. I mean my jobs went from all night long to about 4 hours. This compares very nicely to Halo 1's 12-36 hours per BSP. Plus our BSPs are much bigger than Halo 1. So this is very good.
Could be better though...
Work is progressing on Earth City very nicely, but there's still so much stuff to do -- it's a little nerve racking when the guys you're counting on to help you are stuck on their previous levels debugging features with the programmers.
- Ryan Hylland
Shipped the beta
Posted the autoupdate
Kicked some n00b asses
So one last thing: Check out THIS LINK for an amazing opportunity to win a Halo 2 LAN party.
And check out this hideous vision of Mister Chief enjoying his time in LA. Sorry bout the Speedo...
Friday, July 2, 2004 (HaloPlanet)
So, this week was a mighty important week. We finished and started to manufacture the internal Halo 2 Beta. That means that lots of lucky Bungie and Microsoft employees (and we mean lots) will be playing a few multiplayer levels from Halo 2, for a few short weeks. Like the Alpha, we'll be using this to test things like networking and data speeds, but unlike the Alpha, it's also our first major gameplay test for multiplayer.
We'll be grabbing data and opinions on gametypes, weapons, even the few level designs that are out there. The main part of the test though, is to see how some of our Xbox Live features - voice, matchmaking, all of that, work in the real world, with real players and real situations. All of the data and information that comes back from this beta test, will be used to make the game as close to perfect as we can before we ship it on November 9th.
We also have the mixed blessing of playing the single player game. Why's that a mixed blessing? Because it is RUINING the plot! Wah! Still, Brian and I keep interrupting each other to say things like, "Ohmygod did you see what that Elite just did?!?" Anyway, on to the short and sweet update:
- Stefan's Stiff Resistance
Stefan tells us he created the first ever Halo 2 clan. They're called BMF. I cannot tell you what that stands for. We also can't tell you anything more about the clan or how it works, but if he says it's the first one, then so be it.
Coolest thing Stefan saw on the Halo 2 Beta this week was: "Consecutive "Running Riots" with the plasma sword on FORMER SECRET LEVEL NAME, err, CURRENT SECRET LEVEL NAME... glorious."
- Butcher's Kiwi Fruits
Chris Butcher is a busy, busy man, but still found time to illuminate us just a bit: "Damian got CENSORED with AI working, it's fun, but we run the risk of having CENSORED turn into a CENSORED. A CENSORED with attitude, but it does make CENSORED less CENSORED which isn't really a good thing."
Coolest thing Butcher saw on the Halo 2 Beta this week was :"The coolest thing I've seen so far is that I got to play with some guys from Australia and kick their asses. Score one for Kiwi pride!"
- Lorraine's Brain Drain
Lorraine says, "Zoe and I double-teamed on the Halo 2 Point of Purchase and box cover. I'm also getting the Halo 2 action figure packaging done too so I can't say much more...
But despite how busy it got, I managed to take home a build and play 1:1 with Robt. He said he was panicky in spots, even though he won 25-16. The two coolest things that happened while playing in the SECRET LEVEL NAME. Robt was jumping from one alcove onto a platform, I was running sideways and backwards, keeping an eye on the motion tracker and the screen. I made a big guess and tossed a plasma grenade and stuck him in the ankles while he shot downwards with the rocket launcher. He missed, but my little blue friend did his job and all that nice ammo came raining down. Robt also swears I'm psychic - that or I have virtual eyes on the side of my head. I was running on the mezzanine, trying to figure out where he was. I hear the sound of the rocket launcher and I immediately jump. I hear it again and I jump while running and trying not to fall off. Apparently, both times I jumped, I avoided certain SPNKR death. Ha!
- Hylland's Hy-Jinks
Test team created and handed off the beta disk and are now working on testing and building the auto-update.
We didn't do anything cool.
Coolest thing: watching Butcher as last man standing on our team of three in an elimination game kill all three of the other team after the other two of us had been killed.
Or perhaps being surprised (unpleasantly) by Jones crouching with a damn sword as I rode to the top of the elevator on SECRET LEVEL NAME. Needless to say, I was diced.
- Cuban's Conundrums
"This week I've been doing a slew of stuff, up to and including:
- Resurrecting some of the Halo 1 gametypes to work in the Halo 2 engine. I forgot how much fun Oddball was; Our streamlined implementation needs a few more features to flesh it out but otherwise it's sittin' pretty. King of the Hill is almost back from the dead.
- Optimizing the lightmapper. I've been working with the artists a lot this week addressing problems they're having lighting their spaces (if someone had told me that one of our levels would take place in a miles-wide valley I probably would have made decisions a little differently). The lightmapper is generally about 30% faster than it was last week, which is neat
- Working on player training. We have a much more elaborate training system than we had in Halo 1 - but elaborate hopefully doesn't mean annoying. The objective with this system is that any seasoned Halo player won't get bogged down by player training (except maybe for the one that teaches you to press and hold the action button to enter vehicles) but a newbie player will be gently led through the paces
- Fixing a ton of little nits.
The coolest thing I've seen in the beta this week is the design of SECRET LEVEL NAME, one of our new maps. The more I play in it the more I like it."
- Jay's Audio BaconWrap
Jay has been working through a lot of dialog. He also handed off the entire dialog to the localization guys, who can now turn all of the combat dialog into seven other languages. That's Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French, Spanish, Italian and German. Times seven. That's a lotta crazy foreign guy talk!
Jay also did some last voiceover sessions with Seattle, Chicago and LA actors, some pickups and just a little bit of new stuff.
So far, there are 15,107 lines of combat dialog recorded and implemented, with just a little more to go in.
- Staten, Stat!
Joe spent the entire week fixing a... [HEY! Wait Joe, I can't even TYPE what you just said to me. That is the MOST SECRET thing I ever even heard of. I ain't even typing that, I'll get my ass fired for even thinking about it too hard. -Frankie]
Joe also got into a knock down drag out Dynasty-style bitch fight with Marty O'Donnell over something so feminine, that neither dude would tell me what it was. I figure either make-up or tampons.
Joe also mentioned that John Butkus finished the animations for one of the longest and most complicated cinematics in the game and more importantly, running in the game engine. And the animation DOES feature the thing that I censored Joe on, two paragraphs ago.
- Robert's Rebuttal
"You are already at least partially aware of what I've been doing this week (editing manual text), but did you know that I was also writing difficulty-level-sensitive level dialog, supplying environment artists with broken down couches, rusty dumpsters and generic box vans, slaving over bug fixes (recognized and un-recognized) and robotically grinding out LODs?
Bonus: Female marines. Because I've been trying to get women (as active participants) into a Jones driven game for almost ten years now! (I had one minor success: the Fetch. But they had to wear the skins of men in order to get snuck in.)
Bonus Shoutout to tru7h.co.uk and GoWeb.
And until next week, here's Mister Chief, celebrating, and blurring the line between deliberately bad art and regular bad art.
Friday, June 25, 2004 (MLGPro.com)
Bungie Weekly Update
- Lorraine's Sordid Shower Scene...
This week was full of back-to-back deadlines and "Your Attention Is Required Right Bloody Now" matters. The two big things were the POP (point of purchase) art for big stores like Toys R Us and box art. Needless to say there is never enough time. The YAIRRBN matters beyond those big pieces of art were more art or things regarding the game manual, Halo and Halo 2 action figures, the Making of Halo DVD, the art book, and some, uh... sensitive matter with Marketing and the advertising team. I didn't get to go home last night — hey, lookit that, the file is now actually writing to my hard drive — but that meant I get to eat a hearty breakfast from the cafeteria. Now if my hubby can get over here soon, I'll get to eat it too. The buttermilk pancakes smell awesome and the scrambled eggs are quite good (I had to give a taste!). Oh, and last night I discovered that the towel service in the shower room is being discontinued next month. Bummer. And the other thing th — oops. The file is saved and the screen has redrawn the image. Gotta go.
- Michael Wu's Long Panoramic Shot
In general the enviro pod has been hammering away from late morning (recovering from night before) till late night (when the security guards come over and play Street Fighter) on texturing and lighting their levels. I'm working on New Mombasa (with short forays into Old Mombasa to help on the single-player milestone). I'm actually working on a lot of geometry finessing before I get to texture and light the city. In general we feel like we have just enough time to finish, but I mean barely!
- John Butkus' Tight Close-Up
Well, I figure I might be the only animator chiming in today so I'll throw you a bone and let you in on what we've been doing. For the past couple of weeks I've been working on the CENSORED cinematic. I think it's the second longest one in the game at somewhere around CENSORED minutes or so... it has CENSORED different characters in it so I'm basically animating my ass off every day. It has two CENSORED and CENSORED CENSORED the CENSORED into the CENSORED chamber to face CENSORED and CENSORED. It's coming along pretty nicely and I should have CENSORED's part mostly finished by the end of the weekend. It's nice to have the final dialogue in the game, but when you're animating it you have to listen to it frame by frame or scrub through it quickly both forwards and backwards so after a while you go a little nutty. In fact, I've lost it. I'm gone. No I'm not — yes I am! Stacey has been working on a cinematic with the chief jumping across these huge beams as nasty shit is going down behind him and then there's this sick-ass explosion and CENSORED. Mike and Bill have been troopers and are putting the finishing touches on a lot of vehicle and character animations, and Jeremy has been a massive help with finishing off a lot of stuff for the Chief.
In other news, it's Friday and that is so sweet. I've also discovered that 2 out of 3 Americans do not appreciate the taste of ketchup flavored potato chips, which I find odd since they are so damn tasty.
- Ryan's Artsy Short
"Bunch of testing for the internal-only beta."
- Brian's Gotham Flick
This week I was recruited for a top secret mission to escort Halo 2 Zanzibar discs to a special event taking place in the Big Apple. As you've read in other updates, Bungie is uber focused on security our builds are never made available to anyone or any group outside of our Studio. So, when the marketing folks stumble across an opportunity to promote Halo 2 and a build is needed, we're called on to deliver the goods and make sure not a single trace is left behind. Duty called and I endured 11 hours of cross country air travel for what amounted to about 1 hour of actual Halo 2 involvement. I can't reveal the specifics of this mission but if it works out, the fruits of our efforts will be revealed sometime in CENSORED. Ask me about it then and I can share some stories! Equally exciting was just strolling through Times Square and getting stopped by dozens of people who noticed my Halo 2 t-shirt. "Halo 2 is going to rock!!" "When is Halo 2 coming out!?" "Can I have a free shirt!?" "Sweet soul patch dude!" It's cool to see so many random people familiar with and fired up about Halo 2. And no, you can't have my shirt.
- Marty's Stirring Score
I still remember the first Halo Weekly Update. I was just a wee lad of 64; none of the others who are here now are old enough to have been around back then. That is the advantage of being "The Elder". In those early days I was making music for Halo on a ukulele. Now for Halo 2 I have the power of a Mac SE and an Electronic Casio Keyboard. Progress is a wonderful thing. The dialog files for Halo were around 27 unique vocalizations, all by just one actor (Joe's father) and now we've recorded over 112 different sayings by up to 4 different actors (including Joe's father's son Joe)! All the weapon sounds for Halo were made by pitch shifting one mouth noise I had recorded by accident in the bathroom (...don't ask). Now for Halo2, we've been able to recorded, pitch shift AND filter mouth noises made by not only me, but Jay and C Paul! Who knows where we'll be by the time we celebrate Halo2's 200th Weekly Update?
Marty The Elder
(I'm not losing it,,,)
- Butcher's Auteurism
I've mostly been working on weird boundary cases and stabilizing for the beta. Our matchmaking system is coming up and it's almost playable which is the suckiest period, because you are really excited when it works and very sad most of the rest of the time. In other news, I was excited to see that the first ever New Zealand game developers conference kicks off this week! http://www.nzgdc.org.nz/
My favorite bug this week: One that allowed a player who was booted from a CTF game, but was able to rejoin with his old score intact, and the mysterious and useful ability to see any player, friend or foe, from clean across the map — through objects, buildings, whatever. And as a bonus, he could see both flags, no matter where they were.
Only 24 hours remain for us to fix bugs in the beta.
Frankie's Autobiographical Epic
What have I been doing? Well, apart from neglecting the site content, I've been crunching with the UX guys on the manual, which is half-joy, half-horror as we struggle with how to describe dual-wielding in a way that a mom can understand, or explain the difference between a game-type and a game rule and then just when we think we have something finalized, the team points out that they added an entire game feature that you didn't know about.
Describing the new weapons is fun too, since it means I know pretty much every weapon, vehicle and device that's going to be in the game, how they work, which ones boost, which have secondary fire, what the zoom levels are and what it is exactly that shoots out of them. This doesn't necessarily mean I know how to use them...
We also went and did a Zanzibar demo at a Microsoft job fair thing. J Allard was trying to hire the cream of the crop from all over Microsoft plenty of them whooped and cheered when the Halo 2 demo started.
Anyway, that's it for this week, more next and until then, enjoy the awesome poster for the Mister Chief movie, When TriSquids Came to Eat Earth Because it Smelled of Prawn Cocktail
Tuesday, June 22, 2004 (bungie.net)
Bungie Weekly Update
- So, I just watched the cinematics for a level in the middle of the game, and they have the animation applied. looks great!
Real update on Friday. As usual.
Friday, June 18, 2004 (343GS.com)
Short and sweet this week, since I'm cranking on the manual and some other stuff.
- Ryan's Slaughter
Ryan Hylland, test freak and well-known spawn camper has been working on my favorite thing in the universe. Take-home tests. Where Bungie employees take home Halo 2 and playa against each other, enjoy social interactions and learn colorful new swears. This is Ryan's week in brief:
- A bunch of game variant settings. Slayer specifically. Ah, the CENSORED and Scorpion on Waterworks, such a beautiful thing.
- Had a couple of "take home tests" to check out how our fragile child-game performs in the high school play ground. I think we only got one black eye...
- CENSORED and CENSORED tests.
- User Interface pass for the next build of the game.
- Tons of test case workbook house cleaning (thanks to Joe).
- I think we took some names too
- Are you ready to get your ass kicked tonight in our take home test?
- CJ Cinema!
Been cranking along on the videomatics...We're closing in on having all the cinematics of the game videomatic'd out. Which means most of the game's cinematics now have timing and camera work that is locked down, as well as basic animation for the animators to work off of. Even better, most of them actually work in engine, which is a miracle in many different fields including nuclear science, landscape architecture, and dominoes. This week I finally started blocking out the videomatics for one of the last levels of the game that we haven't worked on previously. It's cool to start on these, because we know these cinematics will be seriously building the story tension towards that glorious climax when CENSORED finds out CENSORED! Joe and I also went in and cleaned up some silly issues that we hadn't gotten around to. Like re-exporting the Phantom's cinematic animations with the NEW Phantom that has a different number of bones than the OLD Phantom. Weeeee! Other than that I spent the week unleashing my Chris Christmas video collection on the unsuspecting Bungie crowd. Vote Chris Christmas instead of Santa this year, boys and girls. He's the man.
- PARSONS NOSE
So Parsons comes over, says he has something for the weekly update, eats his lunch noisily, lets fly with an eye-watering air biscuit and takes off, saying, "That's a sushi fart."
Thanks Parsons. That's great.
- LORRAINE'S ODDYSSEY
Since we're expanding, and new faces keep popping up, it should be no surprise that desks are moved around to accommodate. Lorraine was forced to move and entire desk over, and quickly set about rebuilding her unassailable tower of anime, weapons and robots.
- Jaime Jams
Jaime says they've finished adding "boarding" seats to all the vehicles. That means that quite apart from the vehicle-jacking stuff, every vehicle that can be boarded, sat on or otherwise utilized, now has functioning seats for real-life multiplayer and AI single-player modes. One thing hardly anyone at E3 noticed, was that when you board a Warthog, instead of taking over the driver seat immediately, you simply yank the driver out you then have to hop into the Warthog manually. A two-stage process designed to create interesting encounters on the slightly more boardable Hog.
Jaime also showed off the largely complete HUD which has moved everything around dramatically, but should still be recognizable to Halo folks. Obviously adding dual wielding makes this challenging, but the new HUD handily shows off the ammo/charge left in a gun, and more importantly, it tells you what your reserve, or third weapon is. THIRD WEAPON!!!? WHATCHOO TALKIN ABOUT FRANKIE? Well, if you're holding a weapon in one hand, and you have another "holstered" you can dual-wield a third. That means the reserve weapon simply stays put when you pick up the dual-wield weapon. Effectively that lets you have three weapons at one time.
Of course, that means that for newbies at least, it can be tricky keeping track of what you've got. To be honest though, after an hour or two of play, you stop thinking about it.
There's also been something of a separation for church and state as far as the shield level and health meter are concerned. You'll see in good time how that works, but it makes a big difference.
One cool new graphic feature being played with right now is water. The briny deep demoed at E3 is not the final water. In fact, several techniques are being experimented with, but I saw a cool one yesterday in a Zanzibar test level. Only it was deliberately broken. So when you jumped, the level literally filled up with water. It was kind of funny to go inside the control room part of the level (where the defender's flag normally sits) jump once and flood the place with sparkly, gorgeous, reflective wet stuff. Did I mention I loved video game water?
- Alta's Rival Princess
Look, Alta is awesome, obviously. And the Bungie Princess is even more attractive than Nathan! However, Alta has help. New-girl Amanda is a princess-rival. For example, we now have a keg of beer. Now I'm not saying that Amanda is responsible for this new beer-status, but it IS a big coincidence no? Anyway. Beer. Keg. Kegstand. Most practical way to consume beer.
- Max Rules
Seriously, Max Hoberman rules. Here's why:
" A bunch of the artists, including of course our multiplayer SWAT team, are just finishing up a 48 hour "lovefest", time dedicated to polishing a handful of multiplayer maps. It's amazing what 48 hours of relentless man love will do to a level. Steve Cotton, the newest member of our multiplayer art team, was just showing me the purple underbelly of a CENSORED, one of our multiplayer levels for the upcoming milestone. I can hardly believe this is the same kooky level I sketched over a year ago in Illustrator, it looks so damn good. Right smack in the middle of the map is an area that I'm convinced, once combined with a little magic that Adrian snuck in for me waaaay back, will be the ultimate King hill. Not for those with weak stomachs though. Too bad we're not working on King of the Hill right now, I can hardly wait! In the meantime Carney has taken our very first ever Halo 2 multiplayer map (also the map that's gone through the most complete revisions ... lovingly dubbed "Space Toilet" in its youth) and turned it into a real treat. Our goal from day 1 with this map was to capture some of the fun of an old favorite Marathon map, Mars Needs Women. It's looks absolutely nothing like that map, but people keep telling me that it feels like it. Awesome! Not only does it play great, once they get the "neighborhood" in this map is going to look incredible!
Dave has the new HUD in and looking mighty fine. It's a change from what people are used to, but there's good reason for the change and we're confident it's the right decision. In fact, Jaime just got back from a usability test and is standing at my desk telling me just that. Oh, and of course we have the new multiplayer scoreboard in as part of the HUD! Woohoo! Dave and I are also working on cleaning up a whole slew of UI in time for the milestone. Mat Noguchi is just now checking in the magic code that makes players on Xbox Live look like more than just a name, I'm psyched! Our Xbox Live UI is going to make people jump with joy, and I don't think I'm exaggerating. Once you try it you'll never go back. Anyway, way too much to do, currently 38 bugs on my plate for this milestone. Gotta get back to work!"
Anyway, CJ's obsession with Chris "Christmas" Rodriguez (google it) has rubbed off on the chief.
Friday, June 11, 2004 (Forerunners)
Can you feel it? Getting closer? Halo 2 is in the home stretch, just a few short (or long) months to go, and the game code is fatter, phatter and finished-er. Every week that goes by brings it closer to completion, and Bungie staff are playing it in earnest as you'll see below.
Nathan Walpole, lead poutine-wrangler, Flyers fan and all-round baldness champeen, is bursting with excitement and information. Let him inspire ye:
"Animation is abuzz with the addition of two animator mercenaries. Stacey Moore joins us from sister MS studio FASA to aid in polishing the brilliance of cinematic animations while Jeremy Fones comes to us to help in tackling remaining in-game animation with the zeal of an assassin. While their time here is short, on the force for about two months, the effects of their firepower will be felt with shock and awe.
In other animation news, all in-game animation is getting closer to complete and cinematics are revving their engines for the Rally ahead. All first person animations will be finished this week, allowing us to focus on the effects of that arsenal on the Master Chief and his supporting cast.
Harold Ryan, king of testing has been hot and bothered this week, as he imported and setup 300 Xbox kits for Halo2 automation, blew the power in several rooms of the building and raised the temperature of the earth by 5 degrees.
Brian Jarrard, Community Manager, master of your future Halo 2 stats and all round Frankie-killer, has had a cool week:
"The best part of my job, besides interacting with so many great people in our community, is obviously getting my fill of Halo 2 hands-on play. As many of our Bungie.net members know, Frankie and I have an ongoing rivalry (of which I now lead 9 to 0). Yesterday's highly touted match was another great battle and though the score doesn't reflect it (20-11), it was actually a closely fought game. And, to those of you who voted against me in the ( http://www.bungie.net/Forums/posts.aspx?postID=159192 ) poll. asking who you thought would win, don't think I didn't notice that. You're on my list.
During the weeks surrounding E3 I've only been playing the Zanzibar build that we brought to the show. While that level and those elements were being polished, the rest of the game continued to move forward and yesterday was the first time I got to see what I've been missing out on. Some of the original maps that I played long ago are now barely recognizable due to a big overhaul in the graphics and design departments along with the addition of refined HUD elements, additions to the UI and even some new goodies that I dare not mention. For months now we've been taking boxes home at night to play and test online but now, as we enter into the final stretch, I can really start to see everything in its full glory. Wow. That's all I can say. I can't wait to strap into the real deal and experience the online goodness with all of you! In the meantime I will continue to hone my skills by beating up on Frankie. "
Mat Noguchi complained, "I got to work on yet another thing that no one outside of Bungie will ever care about, namely, improving our tag system to allow for smaller Xbox tag builds and faster load times."
Well Mat, in defense of your deal, I had the pleasure of playing a tag build last night and it loaded quickly and efficiently and in a way, Mat is my hero.
Poor Lorraine, sick as a parrot, and busy to boot:
"I got sick. Spread germs around that I chased with some disinfectant wipes and yelled "I got cooties. Nya nya." And threatened people with germs."
Lorraine continues, "But other than that, the art book is wrapping up (at least the assets dump is dwindling — until I found the STACKS of storyboards from Staten on my seat on my day off, even.) I had to wade through the two-ton folder. Took hours to get to my seat to check my e-mail and see if a file-transfer worked. I put a shelf up on my desk early in the week to help me declutter and prettify my now 'cozy' desk, but only to find I'm probably moving in a couple of days. But that's okay, if I guess correctly, I can shoot spitballs out towards the environment artist pit whenever I want now (darn, I should have taken advantage of the perfect line of sight I have now at the back of Frankie's head!)
Oh! I helped a bit with combat dialog for um... a set of characters that cannot be named, I think? And am trying to get another big project started that involves cool art and words and will probably be found at bookstores... (I'm really excited about this project!!)"
Chris Butcher is always good for some juice, and he fails to disappoint this week:
"Luke (Timmins) has our proximity voice in which is awesome. my favorite uses of it are in order:
- To thank dead foes for giving me their shotguns
- Next time I'm fighting them, to ask them if my weapon maybe looks a little familiar
- When I'm stalking someone with a shotgun, call out their name and watch them stop and look around in puzzlement
- To run up behind someone, yell "BOOM!" and then a second later pull the trigger."
Ryan Hylland's been busy too:
- We've gotten about 100 of the 300 automated boxes delivered, networked, re-imaged, re-named, live accounts created, and in automation. We ran out of power in our room otherwise we would have had more!
- We've been running playtests every night in the multiplayer lab testing out voice (my taunting skills have elevated now that proximity voice is in), new maps and game variants and their settings.
- Take home tests have begun!
- Testing matchmaking (see above) and leaderboard ranking"
Jay says that a fan got into his head a couple of years ago that he would catalog every single piece of combat dialog, he got to 1000, before Jay took pity on him and admitted there were 6,000. Well, that guy better get his pencil sharpened, because in Halo 2, we're looking at about 15,000 lines of combat dialog. There are lines of speech for every eventuality.
C Paul's favorite line is for when other Marines are pissed at the Chief for betrayals. "Don't shoot him in the head, you might hit Cortana. She's hot. She's blue, but she's hot."
So that's it for this week. One other snippet of news is that we got our rating from the ESRB. We'll tell you what it really is later, but this is what it could have been...
Friday, June 4, 2004 (Subnova)
Creepy. Now when I ask people what they're up to this week, they're like, "finishing this" or "completing that." Nobody is actually starting anything. Which is both exciting and frightening. Although it's five months 'til the game is on shelves, it's only three or four months 'til we're complete. Scary! So naturally, everyone's swamped. Here's the deal this week:
- Cam's Castle
We never talk to the marketing guys, because all they do is drive around in black Porsches, buying martini lunches with their expense accounts, while their Armani suits are tailored and cleaned of weird white powdery residue. That said, without the sharks, there'd be no mystery in the deep blue ocean of Halo 2 development, not to mention metal boxes, TV campaigns, magazine ads, cool storefront displays - in short just about everything related to getting Halo 2 in your face and into your Xbox. So we asked Cam Payne (seriously, that's his name) what's been going down in the world of mktg., for short. This is what he said:
"Do you consider lots of meetings and hundreds of e-mails as something cool? Mainly this week was a lot of the day-to-day stuff for a game coming out in five months: Coordinating with agencies, reviewing advertising and POP (Point of Purchase) creative, planning and generating assets, working out the details of specific PR (Public Relations) tactics coordinating with the dozens of subsidiaries (countries that is) across the world that will market and sell Halo 2, and so on and so on
I do get to fly down to LA today for a Friday night meeting with Joe, Marty and one of our agencies. A quick 15 hour trip, as I come back tomorrow morning at 6:30 am to go see the Dora the Explorer (hyperviolent Japanese anime) show in Seattle with my kids (elite squad of Ninja assassins).
In order to save time, effort and transportation costs, I'm staying tonight in the same hotel where Marty and Joe are staying. Well, you know Marty and his need to be well pampered and taken care of—this means I get to stay in a nice fancy place where every room is a suite that's bigger than my last apartment. In fact, I mentioned I was traveling with Marty when making the reservation and they called back and wanted to know if I wanted the peeled grapes and hand massages when I arrived or Saturday morning."
- Environmental Impact
Dave Dunn didn't have much to say, but what he had to say was tremendously important. The environments and the geometry are done. That is to say, there is a building, a door, a wall and a floor everywhere it's supposed to be, you can run through the entire game without finding any gaps, and now he and the guys have moved on to polishing. They'll be tweaking textures, futzing with lightmaps and tweaking things here and there, but now they're on a different type of schedule.
The geometry and environments guys have been pretty much left to their own devices for a long time, but now they'll have a lot more to-ing and fro-ing with the designers as they tweak bits of environment to suit gameplay requirements. Dave says that while it may seem like they're cutting it close; this is a lot further ahead than it was on the first game, by comparison and with a whole heck of a lot more environments!
- Cuban's Casa
Adrian "Cuban" Perez describes his week: "This week I've done a bunch of stuff, some might be more interesting to the outside world than others..."
- The damage handling code now pushes around the cause of the damage (i.e. what weapon it came from, what vehicle you were hit by, which sniping weapon you were just headshot with). This is something we've been meaning to do for a while, now enough people at the end of the damage code pipeline (multiplayer messages, stats) want to know said info that we've taken care of feeding them.
- I made a few changes to the lightmapper that will let the artists iterate their lighting faster. The fact that the lightmapper is much faster than the Halo 1 lightmapper is irrelevant since the artists have made much more detailed geometry with much higher res lightmaps, completely nullifying any speed advantage and making the iteration times just as long. The kinds of spaces that the artists are lighting are so different than what we were trying to do in halo 1 that I've had a hard time making the lightmapper keep up with them.
- I did a couple of small changes to the weapon/damage code to handle a bad guy too nuts for the existing systems. Nuts in the sense that he has CENSORED where death comes out of and two separate CENSORED. Oh yeah and he's big and mean, kind of like a Tyrannosaurus.
- The new HUD is in and working well enough to do all of the new weapon huds. We've been arguing back and forth a lot over the best way to integrate dual-wielding into the HUD; I think the system we have is supasweet and will be both discoverable and useful, kind of like a Tyrannosaurus.
- Butkus' Barn
John Butkus explains this week's bizniss: "Nothing too exciting this week...mostly miscellaneous bug fixing and making sure that the elite and marine work as vehicle passengers with all weapons and that their hands are properly locked on the warthog and scorpion hand rails. I know. Fascinating.
I also animated the first-person CENSORED (both single and dual shot), so that should be in the game and working now...it looks pretty cool, but it's definitely a lot weaker than CENSORED and it has CENSORED now, so people are probably going to CENSORED and CENSORED. Oh well, all's fair in the cruel world of gameplay balance."
- Walpole's World
Rival Canadian Nathan Walpole gives another Cananimator view: "Not much has gone on this week that differs from the regular attachment of animation excitement. All of us are still working hard and resisting the urge to bust home early to play Full Spectrum Warrior. We do have some current news to report. Two new animators are coming on board to help us bring the fans some incredible motion. We have a mercenary animator on loan for 2 months from a sister Microsoft studio, FASA (By the way, thanks for sharing your peeps with us - feel free to make a giant Robot in Mechassault that looks like a Grunt...). He will be helping us pound out some riveting storytelling in our cinematics. We also have a new contract junior animator starting out next week that will be helping make the in-game animation tighter than a walrus' butt hole. Oh, and the FASA mercenary happens to be Canadian too, so 50% of the animation in Halo 2 will remain Canadian made. Go Canada. Go Halo 2!"
- Hoberman's House
Max is typically reserved this week as he gives a hint of what to expect from Halo 2 on Xbox Live. I know specifically what he's talking about though, so I can tell you he's understating its coolness!
"Not a very exciting week for those on the outside, but I'm incredibly psyched. For the past several weeks we've been reviewing all of our UI and Xbox Live plans. This is the hard part, polishing the design and solidifying the final specs. Should have happened sooner, but we've always known we were on to something cool, and now I'm even more certain that Halo 2 on Xbox Live is going to be incredible. I'm mainly referring to the whole LAN party over the Internet experience, or as we sometimes refer to it the Halo 2 "virtual couch". It's going to take some getting used to because we're doing things that have never been done before. But once people are used to it I'm confident everything else will seem broken."
- Butcher's Bivouac
Chris Butcher, watching over all manner of programmy shenanigans lets us know what code craziness went down: Luke Timmins has voice communication working in game for real, and has done some very neat stuff with player CENSORED and team voice stuff.
Bart is busy doing automated take home networking tests, it's cool, we all take the boxes home and plug them into our networks and they just play games over and over all night, silently recording the results to our data mine server (unless they crash or get stuck).
Chucky and Ben went to a technology conference yesterday, which should be important for future Bungie games.
Cuban did the damage type reporting so the game engine can have different messages appear for Melee kills vs. Sniper kills vs. Needler kills, plus we track them as separate stats which is cool.
Jason Major is back from paternity leave and immediately did some cool distortion particle FX.
And to finish, here's a pic of an early Spartan technology:
Friday, May 28, 2004 (bungie.net)
Smallest, lamest update in weeks, thanks to missing staff, deadlines and the crazy 3D shot we put up today. Sorry.
The community team has been swamped this week - the net guys put up some new forums, and expanded the number of avatars available and basically got dragged into anything that wasn't related to actually programming or designing the game!
- One cool thing that I got to do was look at Joe Staten's awesome dialog for single player "events" like what characters say when they get in and out of vehicles, or when they retreat from Covenant, or even, sniff, die. Gripping stuff, but going over Joe's scripts also serves to illustrate how complex the AI reaction to events is. There are like six different possible lines for a character getting into the passenger seat of a vehicle! Crazy!
Joe's dialog is very cool too, and just skimming over the scripts gives you a sense of how epic some of these encounters are going to be. Joe's researched this stuff pretty intensively, and let me borrow one of his research tomes - a fat book devoted entirely to war slang. My favorite line? DILLIGAF which is an acronym for, "Do I Look Like I Give A..." and I got cut off before I read the last word...although I'm pretty sure it was probably "fudge."
- Parsons' Crazy Theory
OK everyone. Deep breath. Studio manager Parsons has a theory, that the unkind might refer to as crackpot, but he's thought it out, so we'll go along with it for a bit. So his theory boils down to this fundamental premise: "If you want a flying car, you must buy a Roomba." Now it gets more complex than that. Parsons thinks that the Roomba's tech is cool, but relatively inconsequential, but its social impact is of paramount importance.
Now a Roomba, for the uninitiated, is that robotic vacuum cleaner. He thinks that if you're cool with leaving a Robot, or SuckBot as I call it for short, to rampage around your house while you're out, then you'll be cool with all sorts of AI in your house and life. Like a fly-by-wire robot-driven car.
I'm sure there's a lot more to it than that, but that's the gist of it. I would counter that obviously Robots are good at one thing: Rampaging. And there are further problems. For starters, they never have hands, always claws, gaping sucking maws, or lasers. None of these implements is useful for hugging, massaging or any other things you think you might want in your house.
- Nathan and John's Tower of Tweening
Not much from animation this week...but Nathan reports from the side of animation with the best hair situation, saying that John Butkus has started the first cinematic! Which also means that the animation team will move to cinematics very soon, collectively! Which means that most of the regular character animation is done! Kinda. They'll be going back and forth for sure, but obviously this indicates that the bulk of that work is over. Cinematics of course require lots of NEW animation - often more complex too, since the cinematic scenarios are different from the gameplay ones. That said - the cinematics don't have the same capacity for cluster***** that game animations do.
John's first cinematic features everyone's favorite angry officer, Sgt. Johnson - who delivers a very powerful line in this scene, and it has nothing to do with "God's own anti-sonofabitch machine"
Nathan also mentioned that Mike is beavering away on animation for one of the secret characters, and will be bringing a fun, and previously unmentioned weapon to life next week. Bill is finishing up on the Grunt...his food nipple is laden with steroids, whey powder and Creatine now...
Nathan himself, has been working on Brute animations and listening to the horrible sounds from the local country music station to get in the proper rage mindset and transferring those feelings on over to the Brute. Nathan angry! Nathan smash!
Bigger news should happen next week...
- John's Perspective on the same thing....
"This week I was working on the Earth City intro cinematic with Chief, Johnson, and a couple of marines. It's going pretty well, and it's a big effing help to have CJ lay out the characters in the scene and lock down the camera moves before we even touch it. I was on another project where I had to do all that stuff and it was really time-consuming, so the cinematics guys are my heroes right about now. Other than that, I'm working on bug fixes and miscellaneous elite moves that I haven't had time to do because making unique animations for vehicle seats for five different weapon classes on the same character sure is exciting stuff compared to cinematics work....but it needs to get done, so here I am."
Carney, while not hiding Carneyholes in multiplayer maps, has been doing some very cool stuff to everyone's favorite sequel. Well, my favorite sequel at least. He's currently working on an Earth City-based multiplayer level with cool geometry, lots of hiding places and plenty of tall, futuristic architecture. It's part of a group of four maps that Chris is concentrating on right now. In addition to that, Steve Cotton, the new multiplayer artist, has been working on what Carney calls a "small Team CTF-type map" that has much more of a Covenant feel.
Here's Mister Chief. Fearing progress:
Friday, May 21, 2004 (HBO)
What gives!!?? HBO two weeks in a row? Not really. Last week's came off sounding fake, and there was no Mister CHief. So we OWE HBO this one.
I can't even tell you how excited everyone was after E3 - a mixture of fatigue, elation and excitement meant for varying degrees of glassy-eyed wonder when the small contingent we sent there arrived back. As planned, the E3 demo was a minor speed bump, hardly interfered with production at all, and in fact helped tremendously with some feedback from players and reaction to new stuff. Personally, I had a great time. People love Halo, and I got to bask in some of the reflected glory. But back at the ranch...
- SONIC THE GRIESEMER
Right after E3 Jaime went to work tweaking the physics on vehicles.
Mostly he has been building on what we showed at E3. Some of this involves tweaking, including the addition o fan extended camera shake for all the grenades so you can feel them from farther away, reduced the number of needles requires for a super-detonation, that kind of thing. He's also added some new weapons to the mix, which of course we can't mention here, but both are VERY different from each other. Once you have a solid balance, like we did for E3, you have to add new elements very carefully so you don't throw it out of whack.
Jaime and the team are also working on a final calibration of some of the fundamental systems like time, damage transfer, gravity and collision damage. These are broad, sweeping systems that you have to nail down fairly early. Jaime says he feels like we know enough about our missions and gameplay to do this now, which is important because we won't be able to re-visit them later. He says it's hard work but it will form a solid foundation for the rest of the game.
Jaime says we recorded a ton of combat dialog. And he says that our combat dialog plan is basically insane. Jaime argues that the combat dialog in Halo 1 still holds up well, but that Halo 2's dialog will make it look primitive. He says that the AI is so much more aware of what is going on around it, we couldn't help but take advantage of that with more dialog. He's pretty sure we recorded more unique lines for one character than we had in all of Halo 1.
Jaime's also been spending a lot of time this week setting up a brand new Covenant vehicle. He thinks it is the coolest-looking Covenant vehicle so far and he can't wait to get it into the game. He wouldn't tell us if it was single, multiplayer or both.
BONUS QUESTION: Jaime - what was the coolest thing you saw at E3?
For the first time in 5 years I didn't get to go to E3. I was too busy writing combat dialog and wrangling the character behaviors. The new Zelda looks damn cool though. Link is a total badass.
- SUPER BUTCHER BROS.
Chris has been working diligently been working on time control for PAL vs. NTSC builds... he says that sounds lame but it might let us do some cool in-game slow-mo features if we so chose, but only if they were implemented in some cool, non-clichéd way. And he's been planning for an epic Halo 2-related project, which is going to be fricking insane. Australasian, European and other territories will be pleased to hear that we're doing cool stuff with the PAL versions to make them look good AND play nice with NTSC over LIVE. PAL time control is very important to Chris so that he can play against his 56-year old father on Xbox live. He lives in New Zealand, so the ping might be a bit hard to take, but Chris will let him host. :-)
Other stuff... Chris says not much else that's really that cool, other than the fact that we've been doing flythroughs of some of our levels over the past few days and they're beautiful. Why are they so beautiful? Chris says the artists have had a lot more time in Halo 2 to concentrate on things like line of sight and vistas, and in Chris's own words, "Zanzibar can't have any truly gorgeous visuals because it has to be a multiplayer map, there is stuff coming down the pipe that makes it look like hang 'em high by comparison."
And on E3: "Coolest thing I saw on the web as e3 coverage was God of War. Beautiful, beautiful animation. Makes me wish we could show off our new animation system with a third person fighting game... I miss Konoko."
- BUBSY THE BUTKUS
We asked John Butkus, the tallest animator, what cool stuff he'd been up to (this was Thursday night, Hockey fans...):
"If you consider re-doing all the Elite animations with him holding a Brute weapon cool, then yes I guess that is cool shit. Let's see, since we spoke last I've finished up a large, intimidating alien, given the elite a Brute weapon, given him animations for that and for the driver and gunner of a new Covenant vehicle, and another Elite's first-person animations for the Brute weapon as well.
The pace has been kind of frantic for the past few weeks and I didn't really let up last week during E3, so I kind of feel like death warmed over right now. You know when you're so tired, that you forget what day it is and you can't even form coherent sentences? Yeah, it's like that. I've been trying to work extra fast so that tomorrow I can get all the details on the cinematic I'm hopefully going to be starting some time tomorrow afternoon. I'd like to get it started tomorrow so that I can plug away at it on the weekend a bit. It's the first cinematic being done for the game, and it has Master Chief approaching a bridge...and it's going to be so friggin' cool, it's not even funny.
Sorry, getting a little sidetracked because I'm monitoring the Lightning/Flyers NHL game right now. I'm a diehard Flyers fan, and if they lose tonight they're out of the playoffs...so if that happens, I will be 'sick' tomorrow i.e., hung-over from drowning my sorrows, so I hope they win tonight and force a game 7.
As for your bonus question, I didn't go to E3 so I didn't see anything cool. Oh okay, I did read the internet a bit and the PSP looks hot as hell and I will probably buy one even though I'll only end up using it like three days out of the year."
- STATEN THE TIME SWEEPER
Joseph Staten, our very own director of cinematics has been a busy, busy bee!
"The last few weeks have been all about combat dialog. I have some favorite lines, but I don't want to give anything away. OK, maybe just one...
(One of the marines' responses to being stared at by the player for a long time)
"Most people don't like having a gun pointed in their face. Me? I love it."
Our cast is pretty locked-down. They'll be some returning favorites, as well as a whole bunch of new very exciting, very talented folks (most of whom are big 'ol Halo fans - an unexpected benefit!).
CJ and I continue to crank away on the videomatics. This week we're revisiting some of the moments in the Halo2 announcement trailer, and putting them into their final context. I'm only authorized to say three words: ride the pickle. Let the fans chew on that!
And the coolest thing I say at E3? Well, since I was only there for the press-briefing it's a toss-up between the really cute Edelman PR woman manning the power-point presentation (her blue sweater, in particular), and Muhammad Ali.
Clearly, I have priority problems."
- AERO THE WALPOLE
Nathan reports from the dark precipice of the animation station:
Mike Budd is still trouncing on some great animation of a secret character and it looks damn good.
Billmation is giving the Grunt some glory. You will respect the little ones this time around guys.
*Frankienote: Yeah - Butcher showed me the grunt animation in slo-mo and it was totally badass.
John has finished off a secret character that will be great fun to play around. I wish I could say more. Oh, he has been doing some more Elite stuff with a new vehicle...
I have been working on the Brute this past week. After the recent E3 crunch it is nice to move back onto a vastly different character. I have been working on some animations for some cool AI behavior that is guaranteed to have players pooping themselves, changing their underpants only to poop themselves again... I have been watching some biker movies and National Geographic films for reference. Mr. Brute, may I introduce you to your cousins Black Rhino, Silverback Gorilla and Brian Bosworth?
As far as E3 goes I am excited over a few games. Full Spectrum Warrior is a game that I will either love or hate, but I would definitely give props to the dev team. There is lot of great detail in Full Spectrum Warrior. A few titles like Rise of the Kasai and God of War have me yearning to do some fun animation like that and may see me picking up a PS2 to play them. They are beautifully animated games!
So that's it for this week folks, and we'll lead you out with something so horrible, Mister Chief refused to be a part of it...
Friday, May 14, 2004 (HBO)
Bungie Weekly Update E3 Special
So as you probably know, a bunch of the Bungie guys have been at E3 this week, showing off a level of multiplayer action to press and a few lucky members of the public. The good news is that the vast majority of the Bungie guys stayed right at home, working hard on halo 2 so that it ships on November 9th, the finally announced launch date.
We also showed off a few other things this week, like the metal box for the special edition. This update comes to you live from the show floor. Well, live from a back room at the show floor. Right now I'm sitting next to a generator and a pile of boxes.
- The demos we've been doing are really cool. We could have had the game on the show floor and let swarms of players at it, but it would have been a mess. The game type we chose to demo was turn-based single flag CTF - just imagine the chaos if we'd let people on the floor jump in and out. It would have been a team-killing flag losing, warthog crashing catastrophe. So, instead, we built three rooms with ten machines each, playing five-on-five, Covenant Vs. Elites.
Just to give you some info - and no doubt some of you have read bits of this on the various game sites - we showed off one level - Zanzibar. In the year 2552, it's a small East African industrial town, 20 clicks north east of New Mombassa. At its center is the fan assembly of a giant wind powered generation facility. It fronts a long, rocky beach, strewn with debris from the initial Covenant assault. Inside its fortified sea walls are a large empty courtyard, abandoned control facilities and plenty of battle damage. The main base, where the flag is located, is a twisty maze of ramps and corridors. Rooftop turret emplacements help defend it from attack, and the creaking groan of the fans and the sound of heavy industrial equipment gives the place a menacing air.
Inside the base, turbines spin endlessly, flickering with electrical discharge. Plate glass windows surround its central hub, and its warren of tunnels exits and entrances make it tough to secure. A breach in its outer walls makes the job almost impossible. In short, I reckon this level is one to rival Blood Gulch - but that's something only time will tell.
Although the quality of play varied throughout the show, we were surprised how quickly people picked up the new features - like dual-wielding and boarding - one guy even figured out how to blast out the struts on a corrugated iron storm window - the iron panel swings back down, protecting base occupants from sniper rifles - but players can still poke their heads out, moving the panel on its hinges.
One guy realized that he could roll the explosive fusion cores off the base rooftop and drop them on incoming rocket hogs - basically a homemade bomb. People really seemed to be having fun with the game's intricacies, and almost every player used or made an effort to use the Covenant Energy Sword.
Apparently things in the game are pretty self-explanatory - even the waypoint icons in the HUD. It's possible for example to see from anywhere in the map if a player has the flag, or if one of your buddies has been killed - the waypoints even show you where he died.
Destructible environments were a big hit. The bulkheads in the Flag base are fully destructible, and we found defenders blasting away at their own base just because it blew up so prettily. We also had to tell defenders not to open the gate to their facility - they just seemed to enjoy activating the control panel and watching the gate slide open and unfold - but that of course left them wide open to attack.
Although the demo stations were set up for ten players - the game actually supports 16 - great news for LIVE, but even better - it supports 16 players for System Link too. Finally! Everyone gets his or her own screen, one way or another.
The multiplayer stuff is going to rock. We think that through a combination of Tijuana Mama-infused secret Bungie sauce and some collaboration with the bitchin' Xbox Live team, that we're going to be able to recreate the social experience of a System Link game. We'll tell you more about that later.
The game is going to have all the stuff you'd expect. It'll support voice communication, you can even leave voice messages when you're trying to set up a game. You can form clans - your can customize emblems - sharp-eyed gamers might have noticed a Spartan supporting a Ninja on Fire emblem, a blue metal suit, with yellow secondary colors. Being able to customize your player is kind of awesome. Naturally, Covenant Elites can do the same thing.
Speaking of Space Jerks, the Covenant Plasma Sword was a massive hit. You can use it with normal melee attacks, but if you get close enough to a player and your reticule turns red, you have a lock-on. Press the right trigger and you leap forward, as if pulled by the sword, and instantly kill anyone unlucky enough to be in front of you.
Other little changes impressed too, like the destructible vehicles (you can shoot off the Rocket-Hog's hubcaps) and the interactive environments. Basically, if it's not nailed down, you can move it. We watched players roll barrels around, blast piles of debris skyward with grenades, and basically mess around with the environment. One player bounced up and down in a corridor, head butting a light fixture and making it swing wildly, casting light and shadow in a crazy pattern.
People who crashed vehicles in the fan assembly often got a nasty surprise. As the fan turned, it would scoop up wrecked vehicles, lifting them 80 feet above the ground. Then, when the blade reached its apex, it would spill its cargo of explosive partially wrecked Warthog or ghost onto the heads of unsuspecting players.
New article effects kicked up dust and sand on the beach. A grenade flung into the ocean would raise a cataclysmic explosion of water, and the new decorator system blends beautifully with the textures to create realistic organic environments.
Multiplayer battles looked vastly improved thanks to the new animation (which actually has a lot of improvements to be implemented post E3) and as the Spartans or Elites took off in group formation, they looked totally natural and realistic (or as realistic as eight foot tall aliens can).
The players also figured out the new tracking rocket system. A locked on rocket can follow a speeding vehicle in a vicious arc, It's pretty depressing when you think you're safely out of range and you hear that "WHOOOOOSH!"
But boarding was a hoot. It makes those close up vehicle skirmishes all the more frightening. If you try to smash another player against a rock wall, there's always a danger he could jump up, board you and kill you with your own ride. We also watched a new phenomenon - the Rocket Hog parasite. Since you can board any part of a vehicle, a red player can board the rocket turret of a Blue-driven Hog. The blue player's only recourse is to abandon the hog, or drive the enemy rocket jerk somewhere he can do less damage - then of course they have to square off against each other. Results can be hilarious.
Fans of Warthog jumps will be pleased to know that they can roll explosive fusion cores into a pile, park a Hog and basically light the fuse (with a few well placed Battle Rifle shots). Results may vary...
And speaking of the battle rifle, people seemed to enjoy its intricacies. When in normal mode, it fires short bursts of fire, but zoomed, it fires single rounds, reminiscent of the pistol. One weapon with two distinct modes adds more strategic stuff than you'd expect.
At Thursday night's fanfest event - we surprised the assembled group by letting them into the back rooms to play for a half hour each. Since these were the hardest of the hardcore, we basically didn't have to explain anything. A surprise guest at the FanFest was Char - he of Halo 2 Alpha fame. Naturally he OWNED. I watched him play for a bit. He could throw a grenade into the tailpipe of a speeding warthog as he jumped backwards through a plate glass window (there really is breakable glass in the game of course). But most uncanny was his reload timing. I never even thought about that too much but he was reloading with the same efficiency most people snipe.
Sgt. Johnson made a guest appearance, getting big laughs from the crowd as he continually messed with Sketch's intro. Lorraine McLees made custom drawings for raffle winners, creating original Halo art on the spot. She probably has carpal right now.
Hamilton Chu signed autographs, Jay mingled with the peeps, and everything was going swimmingly until a stern-faced officer of the law showed up asking to speak to Marty O'Donnell. Fearing that Marty's 8-track smuggling business had finally caught up with him, Jay led the officer to the Bungie maestro. "Mr. O'Donnell?" asked the policeman. "I'm a HUGE fan of the Halo soundtrack..."
The fanfest ended on a high note, as everyone got the chance to play the game, enjoy some cool sodas, bask in actual air conditioning, and were there to witness the discovery of the worst pizza known to science. It is bad enough that it might end up becoming a tradition.
- THE CREW
Hard to express enough how awesome the small but perfectly formed Bungie crew was. Everyone chipped in and we mean, carrying boxes, gluing crap together, doing endless game demos standing on their feet for ten hours straight - they're all troopers. Sketch organized things so that fanfest went off without a hitch, Harold and Ryan made sure all the Xbox systems were working and the flat panel displays were calibrated, Parsons and Hoberman got their hands dirty with the demos, Lorraine showed up and helped run things behind the scenes, Jay was all over it, and Michel showed up to kick ass with the demos too. Alta, Bungie Princess and house den mother ensured that nobody had to worry about anything but feeding his or her face. I'm sure I forgot some peeps, but basically everyone rocked.
No Mister Chief today - thanks to limited resources - but I'll update this next week with a deluxe Mister Chief.
Sunday, May 9, 2004 (BGH)
What a week. OK, we can finally admit it, since you'll find out next week anyway. We have been working on something neat for E3. And we sincerely hope you like it when it's unveiled. And as usual, it's been a juggling act between making something cool, and trying to interfere as little as possible with the game's ship date.
- Harold and Mods.
Harold Ryan has been a busy chap this week, listing among his accomplishments the following:
- Making movies for marketing (his favorite thing)
- Releasing the HEK (Halo Editing Kit) into the wild, so that users can now make their own Halo-PC multiplayer maps.
- Quadrupled the IP address space of our network, to handle the gigaplex of Xboxes we need to test Halo2 multiplayer. (Though the change won't take affect until after E3)
- Caught a bass.
- Killing people for not updating their security stuff.
Harold says that at E3, he's looking forward to seeing Worlds of Warcraft, and finding out what Sega's been up to.
David Candland, our User Interface maestro has been doing what he refers to as "boring stuff." Which includes getting stuff fine tuned for E3 and attending meetings planning really cool things that dare not be uttered yet - Which again he alleges makes his comments boring. On a personal side, his Dev Kit contracted a serious terminal ailment, so David had Harold take it out back and shoot it. That Development Kit was responsible for about 90% of the Halo imagery on Bungie.net. Now it's headed to the glue factory.
As for what he's looking forward to at E3, David reads a big list: "Of course, everyone's looking forward to Doom 3, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Half Life 2 -myself included. What I want to see are some unexpected surprises: Duke Nukem Forever in retail boxes; the announcement trailer for Wizard of Wor 2004; seeing games based on movie licenses like Sky Captain, Casshern, or I Robot -and them not sucking; seeing someone announce a good side-scroller on the Xbox; I love getting surprised. Last year I was yawning."
- Cuban Bazaar
Adrian "Cuban" Perez describes his week: "I've been building up my Halo rage a bit as we've been working hard 'testing' a new build. Also I was doing a slew of small little bugs that will make the experience even better. The multiplayer spawning rules (which trust me, are much more nuanced and hopefully much less exploitable than Halo 1) were tuned a bit, to work better with the changes we've made to how vehicles are put together. The logic that governs when the timer freezes in a timed CTF game works well enough that, combined with Carney's excellent map design, make almost every game end with an orgasmic, euphoric triumph or a spirit/bone crushing defeat.
We're pretty happy with the changes we've made to the in-game waypoints; you'll know much more about your teammates and what they're up to in the field, but without any of that annoying text cluttering up your screen. There's this annoying thing you get in FPS's where you can talk where people just panic and can't adequately describe their position. No more "help! I need cover!!" "where?" "over... over here! By that thing! With the glowy - shit I'm dead"; the game will take care of a lot of that for you.
As for E3, I'm looking forward to seeing how all the big guns are coming along - Doom 3, Half Life 2, Killzone; I hope that we get to find out a little bit more about MGS3 than that weird enigmatic trailer from last year. I'm also really excited to see what the Fable guys have been up to - of all the games trying to cash such novelty oversized checks, Fable's hey-I-think-I'll-get-a-haircut-and-a-Frappucino-then-slay-a-dragon check, is really on a whole different level. I'm really looking forward to it."
- Parsons Knows
Parsons, Studio Manager and Whoremonger extraordinaire has been working on final E3 preparations, to make sure what we have to show there is cool. He's also been practicing total sensory and sleep deprivation by not going to bed, or even going out in the sunshine. He amusingly left the lights on his nasty-looking Ford hooptie on all night with predictable results. His car is so old and busted that not only is there no warning chime for lights-on, there's also no safety equipment. In fact, for a passenger side airbag, Parsons simply stuffs his glove compartment with bubble wrap and donuts.
Parsons says he's looking forward to seeing more on Half Life 2, Conkers, WoW, and Doom 3. For strictly non-competitive reasons, he says.
- Task the Cananimators
John Butkus' odyssey of animation continues, as he explains, "Okay, this week I've been bouncing between three characters...Hunter, Marine, and CENSORED. I think the CENSORED will be a lot of fun because he's like this big CENSORED on a stick, so he's very top-heavy and CENSORED. I've also been working on kicking Carney's ass on an Earth-based MP map, although we have teamed up and become quite formidable at guarding the flag. As long as everyone remembers to 'do their job', then playing defense on that map can be quite fun and I would say it's easier than being on offense. Steve has also started on the new iteration of what was a fairly finished map, and we had a great lunchtime match yesterday with Carney and Ryan...you know you have a great Slayer map in the works when it's just a bunch of flat-shaded cubes and planes, and people are already screaming 'F***!!' after they lose a close-quarters SMG shootout. I think this new one will be a rage-inducing map indeed.
Back on topic, so I'm on the secret character, Mike has started on a new Marine, and Bill is back on the Grunt. We haven't really broken stride from the E3 crunch and I think we're going to have to keep this up 'till the end. It was good to see new people coming into the studio (and downstairs at the meeting) and playing the game and really enjoying it...it kind of gives you that extra kick in the ass to sit down and work extra hard to put more great stuff in the game. Oh F***, I almost forgot we were doing some cool shit with transitions between animations this week...so instead of a marine standing still and then suddenly popping into a run cycle, he now has a transition animation where he'll drop his weight and then get up to speed and vice versa when he's slowing down to a stop. It's working pretty well so far, and it'll definitely help add that extra bit of realism to the game. I did some for the marine, and Mike did some for the Jackal and the Elite.
So what am I looking forward to seeing at E3? Well, I'm not able to attend this year and I was really looking forward to telling G4TV's Tina Wood that I have a massive crush on her...next year, I suppose. Oh, you meant games. Well, of course I want to see how Half-Life 2 and Doom3 are coming along, and I hear Viewtiful Joe 2 might be making an appearance. I always like seeing what the new crop of hockey games are looking like (please NHL, let them include realistic fights...pleasepleaseplease), and I like seeing how the projects my friends at other studios are working on are coming along."
- Bringing the Payne
Cam Payne, our little-heard from marketing guru, has been swearingly busy this week, as he explains: "This week's too CENSORED busy and crazy and CENSORED nuts to CENSORED even take the CENSORED time to CENSORED talk about it. Somebody please shoot me.
Last year I had tons of fun playing Conker on the floor, and can't wait to play the new build. There are also a few "big" 3rd party titles I'd like to see, whose names I need not mention here."
- Butcher Bray
Butcher has been making sure we can do all the stuff we're committed to doing! One problem he pointed out with Halo One is that when you're the Master Chief, you face your head, point your weapon and turn your feet in the same direction when you run. The end result is that from a distance, a sidestepping player appears to "slide." This is especially noticeable after a player death, when you view the action from the brief "afterlife" cam.
So Butcher has connected Greg's cool animation system to the player control system, and now that little animation problem is all but eliminated. It seems like a small thing but it makes a heck of a difference when you're watching a lot of characters on screen at once, and it works brilliantly when Chief transitions from walk to run.
And for this E3, Butcher's looking forward to Full Spectrum Warrior and Riddick.
It's FanFest time again. And this year, the Bungie faithful are assembling once more under the hot glare of a closed E3 convention center. What will they see? Who will they meet? Who will faint first? Only time will tell. But we'll try to bring you a full FanFest report next week.
Expect a giant update next week, with lots of the stuff I can't tell you about this week. Until then, here's a preview of what's REALLY happening at E3 next week...
Friday, April 30, 2004 (bungie.net)
Short and largely pointless this week, as the team crunches, the marketing guys are swept into the maelstrom of E3, and just about everyone this week, not coincidentally, is working on a secret part of the game that they can't even really hint at.
- Nathan's Animation Station
Nathan's on a roll this week, saying, "I think I saw John's knuckles bleeding this week. He was talking to his knuckles too...it was either to give them congratulations from really hard work on the Elite, or gently spoken murmurs of encouragement before John pops me one. I am unsure which is true, but I do know that the Elites' animations are very tight.
Buddman has been working on another top-secret character while taking some time out to calm the Jackal...quiet and collected, Mike Budd trudges through the toughest characters to make them awesome. I wish we could say more about his secret character, since it will rock harder than a quarry when you see it in-game.
The Billmation studio is still going strong. While working on Grunt animations we occasionally get blessed by poorly done Christopher Walken impressions coupled with a nice rendition of "Can You feel the Love Tonight" as sung by Nathan Lane. The scariest part is the Nathan Lane as Christopher Walken impression. I wanted to run away but couldn't since I had just soiled myself from laughter and slipped on my own feces.
I have been tightening the multiplayer Spartan animations, addressing bug after bug. I am thinking of changing my name from "bentllama" to "Orkin Man", though I don't think I will need the hardhat. I also have blisters on my palms from those damn S controllers. They have this plastic seam of razor along side them that really dig into your hands while clutching the controller in anger. When the multiplayer maps get to a stage where everyone is getting angry, then you know they are fun. Mark my words Jaime, I will get you back...you and you pony named 'One trick'!"
- David's Bells and Whistles
David Candland, User Interface master and all around superhuman, says, "This past week or so was devoted to experimenting with new elements into the Heads-Up Display. Right now in the HUD, there are new bits mixed alongside old bits. We're trying something different with the look of the health and shield system people knew in Halo 1, so eventually that is the biggest difference people will notice. We're also toying with an icon system instead of text to warn you about low ammo, reloads and no grenades. Cuban has been huge in getting these working slick. We're also bringing back a favorite feature that has been missing in Bungie games since the Myth series.
In UI land, we've been getting all the half-built, work in progress menus to look un-broken. And- as Frank knows, I've been going back and forth with Parsons (I'm winning) about what we should reveal about our secret Xbox Live plans that will change the way people play online forever. Not only have we got a system that fixes the bad things about playing on Live, but one that makes the experience even more fun. We're shooting to make playing on Live as close to the amount of fun as playing at a friend's LAN party. This plan will put an end to war and poverty. It will align the planets and bring them into universal harmony, allowing meaningful contact with all forms of life." From extra terrestrials to common household pets... OK maybe not. But it will be cool. You saw it first here, kids."
No update from engineering this week, except to say that they've been fixing bugs and tuning something you'll see in a week or two.
- Butcher's Block
Chris Butcher has been working on performance fixes. Framerates are pretty smooth right now, but Chris has been finding and eradicating "stupid little things" taking up valuable CPU time that shouldn't be.
Chris and the guys have been arguing a ton over the balance of vehicles versus infantry, but points out that it's really fun now. Other big arguments going on right now on exactly how a level should be lit. The way it is now is fantastic (says me) and it captures the blazing yellow of a mid sunrise, complete with the bloom and glare you get when the sun is still low in the sky. Better yet, you look straight up, and there's the pale moon, still visible before full daylight. Very atmospheric.
That level (on Earth) also has tons of cool structures that obscure and reveal the glare of the sun as you run around. Looks coooool. Don't know what they could possibly be arguing about, to be honest.
The bump-maps in Halo 2 are really very clever. The stuff in the original Halo was pretty cool - you know, the big metal bulkheads with their ridges and extrusions, but the art and the tech for that stuff has come on a long way since then.
For example, I was just taking a close look at a yellow/black warning decal on a barrier, and it was very slightly bumpy, just like painted cast-iron, with a gorgeous specular highlight. I can stare at that crap for hours. I also find myself "skimming" close to wall surfaces, pock-marked, cratered pavements, trying to "beat" the optical illusion a bump map creates.
Even the Chief is nicely bump-mapped, with the not coincidental side-effect that this frees up more polys and memory for enhanced animation. As a matter of fact, the new Chief actually uses fewer polys than the old one. Which to me, is kind of a mind-BLAM! Because he looks about seven console generations better. To me.
Another funny thing about our bump, texture and light maps is that every time I load up a build, something I thought was finished and gorgeous has been replaced by something better, and I invariably find that an old texture I thought was finished, was a placeholder. The upshot of that is that the environments are a lot more varied and organic than I expected.
Until next week, which if anything, will be even more mental than this, enjoy Mister's pop art debut.
Friday, April 23, 2004 (Halo Center)
I've only been here a few months, but I can honestly say this is the busiest, most spastic week since I arrived. Everyone is grinding - programmers, artists, designers, marketing, everyone. Going bananas. There's lots of activity everywhere you look and best of all, every screen you look at has something cool on it that you never saw before. Might just be a pretty tree, could be some spectacular bloom lighting, and might even be some in-game object that moves around in a fun way. But the level of graphic polish seems to be "sudden."
Things that had previously been flat untextured objects, or textured, but unlit, are now springing gloriously to life, with multiple effects being applied. Those range from bump maps to reflections, to simple lightmapped lighting or the occasionally startling dynamic lights. Actually, you probably saw some of this in the E3 demo last year, but our dynamic lighting isn't necessarily static...
- Animation Alley
Nathan has been crunching on tons of multiplayer "triage" which is basically the prioritization of bug fixing, and this week that includes first person weapons (we thought you might want these back) as well as a new melee animation system "that is gonna rock the cheese off a 20' submarine sandwich..." Nathan's dietary habits aside, it's a jammed week in animation.
He's also been tightening the vehicle boarding animations, and I can tell you, they look very cool. And the control system for that is pretty nifty too.
As for characters, according to Nathan the Grunts look way better, courtesy of 'Billmation' (Bill's animation).
"Billmation is the process where bill takes 100% sass and curdles it with dynamic motion to create lickable content...better than 80's scratch n' sniff stickers I say..." says, Nathan.
John Butkus, also animating like crazy, is fixing bugs and polishing existing animations for an upcoming milestone. He's been tweaking and tuning Elite animation, and you're going to see a far more articulated, convincing Elite this time around. They look much more distinct and animalistic this time around and his melee attacks (duck!) look terrifying, and the way the Elites reload now is almost too much detail.
John claims it wasn't anything too earth-shatteringly exciting this week, just a matter of making sure that everything is working right, while Mike has been working on the animations for an updated Elite model, and created a totally sick rocket launcher melee attack for the Chief.And as Nathan pointed out, Bill has been hard at work on the Grunt, and it definitely shows...the Grunt is looking awesome. Did we say how awesome the Grunt was?
- Print Shop
Lorraine is cranking on an Art book project, collating old concept art from Halo and trying to organize and account for all the Halo 2 art that exists, or is still being pumped out. Grind! She's going through literally hundreds of pieces of art and picking out the coolest of the cool.
Lorraine ran into a snag with the Halo 2 action figures (had to figure out what to move to where when a piece was changed in the game) But good news is, a new bad-guy action figure is done and ready for manufacturing. And she's figured out which next three to do...
Lorraine actually saw the final version of the first stage of the Halo 2 logo. Second and third stage needs some tweaking, but time is running short.
Lorraine received samples from another company to do a different kind of action figure and the possibilities are intriguing. Maybe it's kung-fu grip with a one-two punch!!!
Oh, and she hung her Banshee up over her desk to catch tall people in the forehead. Blam!
Oh, and this week (and some of last week, but I guess I can cheat about it), we also found out that Zoe can do wonders with Halo 2 3D models.
Lorraine, in short, is swamped.
- Parsons' Projects (sorry)
Parsons thinks his combination of number crunching and marketing speak is boring, but really, Bungie is a rock band, and Parsons is the bass player. So, he might have a point. But he's been busy, no doubt, here's his breakdown:
1. Fun with numbers! Budget is in the air and the bean counters are scurrying around asking stupid questions like, "Do you really need the four-person mini-sub to get your job done?" ...Always remember. The 52' Plasma TV for Parsons' palatial office suite goes under "Misc Product Development - Other." 2. Robt and I are working on something pretty cool for the mkt guys (I think it's pretty funny to use Robt and mkt in the same sentence - funny until he kills me that is). 3. Really busy this week doing a whole bunch of mildly unpleasant things that nobody else would want to do
- Environmental Protection
"I'll give you the whole run-down on the environment side. I've been working with Paul Russel on the *CENSORED*. The *CENSORED* bay where the *CENSORED* was, specifically. Mike Zak and Frank C have been slamming away at *CENSORED* and have some real beautiful combinations of indoor and outdoor spaces. Justin, Michael Wu and Chris Barrett have been doing some real nice work on *CENSORED* including some real nice gardens as well as some cool interiors. Don't know how helpful that was."
Dave *CENSORED* Dunn
- Down in the Engine Room...
A letter from Chucky in the boiler rooms.
We've been making new multiplayer maps and game-types work and polishing everything to a nice golden shine. Cuban's new HUD system is in place (but what it looks like is a secret!) - it uses all our graphics goodness now instead of being a hard coded custom rendering path.
Michael's working on something that will help build the kind of community for which we're known. Eamon's been working with Carney and Steve to get a bunch of sweet physics stuff. Butchy did a bunch of profiling and performance work so that we're way closer to where we need to be. Bart is testing and tweaking all kinds of MP code he wrote and he did some performance work as well. Ben and Hao are pounding away on under-the-hood rendering infrastructure that'll allow us to cash the crazy checks the designers are writing.
Luke's been making a bunch of features like breakable glass work over the network. Greg's closing out animation and boarding bugs. Bernie's fixed some old bugs with the first person model rendering. Stefan's slaving away on Max's mad UI plan. Mat's closing out sound features and fighting fires. Damian's off in the corner talking with his AI. And of course I'm management overhead, and doing a #%#&* fine job of it. :P
And that's all for this week folks, hope you take a moment to check out the host site, and we'll chat again, real soon. Bye! Oh, one more thing, they even censored Mister Chief this week...
Friday, April 16, 2004 (bungie.net)
Welcome to another Bungie Weekly update, hosted right here on our brand new forums. Things are getting busy around here. The pace is quickening, the late night Indian food is flowing and our completion date looms on the horizon (whatever you want to write here). But here's a glimpse at what's going on in-studio.
A week or two ago, I went on and on about BSPs, describing these alleged "Binary Separation Planes" and their effect on the world. Turns out I was misinformed, and after programmers galore rolled their eyes at me and snorted when I passed them in the hallway, one approached me with the same embarrassed care of a co-worker explaining that I might have BO. Thanks Cuban.
So a BSP, as it turns out is actually a "Binary Space Partition," which is a whole different egg. Not only that, it's an incredibly complicated algorithm that has no simple analog to a real life situation, so after toying with descriptions of coat hangers rotating inside a glass cubes, or Imperial Star Destroyers parallel parking in Manhattan, I gave up. Suffice to say, Halo 2's got 'em and they're cool.
Although I've grown quite fond of the placeholder trees in one of the environments, I spied a "real" tree on an environment artist's monitor just a day or so ago. It was the best tree I've seen outside of RalliSport 2, so let's hope it finds its way into the game somehow. After all, the Ewoks we're introducing into the game have got to live somewhere...
Joe Staten is very pleased with a new technique he's incorporating into cinemas for the game. Thanks to some code-wizardry, he's able to render a camera-image to a texture,. In this case, it was a view of an epic conflict through a window of a human ship. Joe says the engineers claim the technique can be applied to any surface, and one programmer told him he could do it on a biped. So, like, we could display an entire cinematic on a Grunt's eyeball!
Anyway, the point is that instead of flat-looking video outside the window, or on a video screen, we'll be able to show the actual, alternate 3D scene.
What was the dramatic scene in question? Well, Parsons calls it a pant-filler, I personally would call it a diaper-bulger..
John Butkus, animator-deluxe, has been working on Elite animations, so that when they throw plasma grenades at you it looks totally convincing. Even cooler is their melee attack animations, which John is making weapon-specific rather than generic. That means that when you run into a crowd of Elites, they'll smash in your visor with total realism using a Plasma Rifle or a Needler.
The turret animations are also being honed so that a player manning a turret looks even more badass. Right up until he gets sniped, that is. If you want to see what John's up to now, there's a webcam, slung low in the animator's pit, so you can make sure they're working (without seeing what's on their screens) and luckily, none of them wears a kilt.
Jaime Griesemer, always a beacon of hope for the weekly update, didn't disappoint, and tells it best himself, "The Ghost handling is final. Eamon made it bank into turns, so it feels more like a physical vehicle and less like a magic floaty one. It's also much lower to the ground than Halo 1, which increases the feeling of speed, makes it react to the ground more and makes it easier to run people over. Shiek also added some ground effect lights which "connect" it to the ground even more."
Woot! Ghosts rule! But Jaime has more to say, "We've almost got a final list of combat dialog triggers in preparation for recording in a few weeks. I'm pretty excited because we're pushing the system a lot farther than we did in Halo 1.
And he continues, "I've also been spending time with Dave and Paul working on one of the human-themed levels. We're trying to make a real, sensible human space with a believable structure, instead of the ant-hill type environments you usually see. That means that rooms and halls fit together to fill the interior space, all the walls have reasonable thicknesses, all the hallways lead to actual places, all the rooms have purposes and are connected to the other rooms logically.
C Paul and the audio fellas have been doing some very, very, very cool stuff. Fun with real audio, if you will. C Paul and the guys have been tuning the sounds for Ghost and Warthog. Lots of crashes, smashes, explosions, scrapes and sizzles. The vehicle damage is a noisy business!
C Paul has also been thinking about soundscapes, noises to put in one of the new multiplayer levels. To illustrate, the Lockout multiplayer level you've seen has some of my favorites; wind whistling through narrow walkways, really eerie, lonely sounds. They mute of course when you enter a building, but that simply makes you feel more exposed and afraid when you're out in the open. It's a subtle but brilliant touch, and a lot more organic and natural than the sounds in the original Halo. And of course there are simply more of them.
Other than that, the sound guys have been drinking too much coffee and talking about Marty's plans to become a legendary wedding march composer - a reader sent in a brilliant movie of he and his gorgeous wife being introduced at their reception - to the stirring choir and strings of Marty's Halo intro.
- CP Use
Butcher hooked up some new multiplayer code, and as usual, has been toiling away at bug fixes to make networking for Live more stable and robust. One really tough project this week was to finalize a "budget" for how much CPU time each game system is allowed to use. As you can imagine, it's essential that little detail gets nailed down properly...
We relaunched Bungie.net, to some acclaim, a few complaints and lots and lots of visitors. We don't kid ourselves that they came to see me and Sketch, we know they came for the new screenshots and the slick new look. I have to say though that the amount of work the web and test teams put into the site is incredible. Brian and the guys put in sick hours to make the site look and feel the way it does. The designers and the art team made it look fantastic and the test team made it work! Mostly! After all, I did just about everything you can imagine to break it. Including the only ugly page on the site. The Weekly Update archive.
That's all for this week folks, but there's plenty of other junk to check out on the site, and check this nasty crap out...
Friday, April 9, 2004 (Sector 7)
After last week's miserable performance, we're happy to announce a more interesting Weekly Update. This time we'll chat about dialog, sound effects, animation and Xbox Live!
- Bungie Depot
Next week, we're doing something cool on the site. Tune in Tuesday for a small surprise. It should be cool - a little thing that the community team has whipped up.
- The Griespit
Jaime has been very busy, finalizing Ghost and Warthog handling so the sound guys can work with confidence. The need to make sure that sound ties in correctly with motion is obvious, and all of the sampling, including the gravel on tires recording done with the poor Subaru Outback we abused, is ready to be applied and processed. The Ghosts in particular (in my opinion) are starting to sound brilliantly "alien" and cool.
Jaime has also been finishing up the connections between rooms for one of the early levels with Paul and Dave. He wouldn't elaborate on which level, BUT I can reveal that you might have seen something like it already.
Jaime is also figuring how CENSORED will work on (gasp!) a new CENSORED!
When he wasn't doing that thing we can't talk about, he was working on new triggers for combat dialog. So that Marines and others will say cool stuff when they're supposed to, and won't just blabber away when they're not supposed to.
But one of the coolest things Jaime was doing this week was adjusting the scale, type and shape of damage done by a new weapon. I've tried this one before Jaime's ministrations and it is BRUTAL. And no, that's not a pun on the word Brute. It's just a vicious bone hammering bastard of a weapon.
- The Animation Station
John Butkus has been animating his ass, or perhaps more properly, his elbow off. Monday and Tuesday he was going through older (Halo 2) elite/marine animations and just making sure they worked with all weapons when sitting in various vehicle passenger seats. Weird stuff happens with weapons in different scenarios, and as new ones are introduced, it's important to make sure that they look cool under all circumstances. John had a busy week, though...and probably created somewhere in the region of about 80 unique moves. His aforementioned elbow is killing me and he says, "my eyes feel like someone has thrown sand in them, but I wouldn't have it any other way."
- Our Princess is in another Castle
Alta, the Bungie Princess, is working on secret goodies as well as a certain annual tradeshow, as she tells it herself, "This week has been chaos! In addition to taking care of the boys as usual, I have been busy working with some different people on some cool things that will start showing up as we get closer to launch. Fans will love what we have in store."
But back to the tradeshow, as Alta continues, "E3 is right around the corner...so I have been dashing around making arrangements for that. We have some cool stuff planned and I am wrapping up details for a mystery guest at Fanfest. There is definitely a buzz around the studio with E3 coming up and the countdown to Halo 2 launch. In the mean time I am just going to get as much time in the sun (yes sun in Seattle) as possible before the true chaos hits. That's all for me this week. Cheers!"
Alta, please, for the love of all things holy, don't put me in a room with a snorer.
- Max Power
Max Hoberman is an exercise in frenetic activity, as he explains, "Sure. I've been swimming furiously, trying to keep ahead of the enormous tidal wave bearing down on me! We got a new multiplayer map playable for the first time yesterday, though the programmers decided it was a convenient day to make some major physics changes so we didn't get a stable build to test. Since this map is dependent on big moving geometry that pretty much screwed us. Everything is fixed now, so we're going to play the map for the first time today. I'll let you know when we do."
"I've also been experimenting with a rocket warthog that tracks, fun (but deadly!) stuff. Oh, and planning for the in-game UI and HUD, something that has been a long time coming! Adrian and I are psyched and he's already started coding for it. Besides that more gobs and gobs of planning for the rest of the summer," says Max.
He continues, "At the same time Dave is working on polish to some of the riskiest, but coolest aspects of our Live UI, our new guy Steve is putting close to finishing touches on textures and lighting for another multiplayer map, and I'm trying to not let anything slip through the cracks. That means lots of meetings about Xbox Live features and a ton of thought into how we're going to finalize some of our most complicated features."
- Grudge Be-atch
The Kiosk is back! You know those Xbox display units you get at K-Mart and EB? With the Xbox under a plastic shield, usually demoing recent games? We've got one, and of course, it's got a debug with Halo 2 installed on it. This is where, at any time, staff members can throw down for grudge matches on any of the new multiplayer maps. One such long-running rivalry is between John Butkus and Chris Carney - animator and multiplayer designer respectively. The smack talk is as voluminous as it is colorful.
The most recent match between Carney and Butkus ended in what was described as "an ass-beating" by another staff. Butkus lost badly, but that's hardly surprising. Carney DESIGNED the levels, and rumor has it that he secretly hides geometry imperfections all over his maps called "CarneyHoles" and that he can pop up from these at any time, like an evil wack-a-mole to snipe otherwise superior players. Word also has it, that Carney fills these CarneyHoles with health kits, shield power ups, invisibility and weapons. That's the rumor, anyway.
- Staten Station
Joe Staten, cinematic guru and friend of the poor, has been making story stuff happen, saying, "This week revisited Earth-City. I finalized the storyboards for a super-duper, "event" intro, and CJ began creating the videomatic."
On other fronts, he's begun to work with the level-designers to organize and flesh-out their "mission-dialog" (basically, all the interesting things that get said in first-person that isn't part of the combat-dialog system) as well as help Jaime and Damian finalize the combat-dialog spec.
Marty, Michel and Joe have also begun to plan for the second dialog-recording session (late May) that will cover cinematic pickups and all mission and combat-dialog. This is going to be a whopper of a session, and will likely necessitate a week or so of hotel-time with Marty (lucky Joe).
Marty claims "lots of things are making noise." Little metal pieces of things get blown off of other things and drop in the mud, grass, or sand make little sounds like metal dropping in mud, grass, or sand. It's cool. The tires sound like they're rolling on gravel, mud, water, you name it and sound like they're skidding at just the right moments. Basically everything is beginning to sound like you think it should sound, which means you won't really notice it. Cinematics, combat, and mission dialog are coming along nicely. We like our cast - a lot.
Music is bringing up the rear as usual. More on that later.
So, that's all for next week, until then, Mister Chief appears to be away, but he's left a clue...
Friday, April 2, 2004 (BGH)
Yesterday's April fool's shenanigans were met with a mixture of delight, mild amusement and abject fury. One reader, posting, perhaps ironically, on the fake website he was mad about, was incensed that we were cavorting and gamboling through the fields of whimsy, when we should have been taking screenshots and movies of Halo 2. Even though he went on to say that all of our screens so far are faked. He also described me as the "unfunniest person on Earth" so while he's wrong about screenshot fakery, he's clearly no idiot. That said, screenshots have been a big deal for us this week.
And I know this week's update is teeny. So don't hassle me, man. I'll make it up to you next week.
Brian, Zoe, Stephen and Lorraine have been fiddling around with some cool new tools that make taking screens a bit easier. That and the fact that the recent builds of the game look better and better, means that future screenshots are going to look even more glorious than they did before. The combination of our new lightmapping and dynamic lighting gives stills an unearthly, painted-looking quality, yet still weirdly photorealistic. I love that aspect of the game's look reminds me of how video games used to carry their own distinctive "look," like Capcom SNES titles, or the PC version of Doom.
The new Jackal model looks fantastic. His plume is actually composed of individual strands of vaguely insectoid barbs. Zoom in close enough (use your sniper rifle) and you can see that the plumes even have "joints." You'll also get to see how ugly and bump-mapped he is. They really do look manic and ferocious.
And not to dwell too much on Mr. Jackal, but since they invariably carry shields, you might be pleased to know that the shields are more detailed and transparent, so you should be able to hit that little shield notch more easily to take out the ugly cretins.
Marty stopped by to talk about the new music and Dolby stuff going into the game. Marty usually works with the (near) finished product exactly like a top movie composer (he says) so he will be sitting down with finished game and cinematics to score it properly. "Sometimes I'll hear the audio in a game, and just know, right off the bat that it was composed and scored before the game was finished. I can't work like that."
If you remember the Star Wars Episode 1 "music video" with John Williams conducting a live orchestra in front of a screening of the movie that's how Marty works, only with a smaller screen and more computers.
Marty's been concentrating on the Covenant musical themes for Halo 2. The Covenant, as you know, is overtly religious, very formal and very serious. Expect to hear all that wrapped up in a ball of alien noise.
Marty has also built a bunch of Dolby surround mixed ambient sounds instead of having them be processed on the fly. That means he can build an ambient creepy noise in a room, imagine tinkling metallic alien technology, mixed with a constantly swirling noise of rushing air. Having that kind of control over the ambient sound means that "live" sounds, like a generator your walk by, or a whooshing elevator nearby, can be processed on the fly. Marty says that serves no purpose other than to sound "sweeter."
Chris Butcher sorted/is sorting out a problem with melee combat that lets you use one BRAND NEW weapon and improves other NOT SO BRAND NEW weapons. He's also making melee combat "much more satisfying" in multiplayer modes.
Chris also has a stack of bug to deal with, as high as an elephant's eye. Trawling through this is par for the course at this stage of development. Everyone has bugs to sort through and fix, even the web team. Stupid bugs!
Our new lighting guy, Hao, who actually joined us from the Amped team in Salt Lake City (and if you've seen the lighting in Amped, you know how cool an addition he is) has been lighting BSPs (Binary Separation Planes) and I just saw one with everything turned on bloom lighting, bump-mapping, ordinary lightmaps and dynamic lighting. It was the single biggest shift I'd seen from Halo 1 in terms of sheer contrast. The way light changes from inside to outside buildings now is perfect, and the effect of running from inside a structure to outside is akin to that feeling you get when you leave a movie theater on a sunny afternoon. Only, it doesn't make you need to pee.
That's all for this week folks, and apologies for the shortness. We'll make a longer update next week, with any luck. And below is some insult to injury. Plus, mad props to MakaVeli4LIfe1 why? Because he asked me to.
Friday, March 26, 2004 (HBO)
Welcome mah friends, to another weekly look inside the machinery of Bungie Towers. Enjoy. Or be mildly distracted. Whichever.
- Mon Frere!
Michel (who's a handsome French Canadian and a huge hit with the ladeez thanks to his combination of Gallic charm, sexy accent and excellent nationalized health care system AND the angriest 23-year old in the world) talked to me about moving BSPs today. A BSP is a Binary Separation Plane, or in other words, a great big chunk of level. The thing about a BSP is that it's all one giant piece (they can be small too) that's interconnected and joined at every seam. That means it's all rendered in one go, and can be manipulated at will if there's enough processor power. And that's been one of the things the team has been optimizing big moving BSPs.
The BSPs in question contain some future surprises, but a good example would be say, a drawbridge (nope, the bridge we talked about a couple of updates ago is NOT a drawbridge) with like, a tollbooth, some gun emplacements and a bouncy castle. It's one thing to draw those objects as a Static BSP quite another to move them around. Optimizing things like that frees up more processor power for AI and other tasks, so it's important to get it done before the gameplay is tuned on those levels.
It's also a weird mix of programming and design since in a way, a moving BSP acts more like a character or a vehicle than a building or a level. Often the various departments can just get along with polishing their bits, but in an instance like this, close-knit cooperation is a must.
Michel has also been working out the nuances of the weather system with the environment guys. Mmhmm. Weather system. It won't be a big surprise to say that there's going to be rain and snow (it is Earth after all) but weather isn't always wet and cold. One level is set in a dry climate where dust, wind and sand all play a part. Filling out the levels with weather makes a tremendous difference to how "alive" the spaces feel. The snow and swamp levels in the original game are still some of my favorite levels. Rumors of a lava and minecart level are to be ignored.
Parsons, our Studio Manager, hates making big promises (except about how he's going to crush me to death in a rat-filled refrigerator), so I won't tell you what Michel said about how much better the weather effects were this time around, I'll just say they're a "bit" better and leave it at that. To avoid the crushing.
Crack-Cananimator Nathan is pretty much happy with the dual wielding on SMGs, and not much, if anything is going to be done to those, but he's particularly pleased with the way the dual Needlers work. The gameplay subtleties that are going to be introduced as a a result of dual-wielding totally boggle my mind.
Actually, the gun models themselves look super-cool too, and tuning has progressed on the look and feel. One Covenant gun has been altered subtly to make it look better in first person mode there were some complaints that part of the stock "looked like a shark fin" and was obstructing the view too much.
- Sweet Crimeny Jeebus!
David Candland sent around a "virtual" version of the user interface for testing and feedback. It's actually a little PC app that lets you play around in the Halo 2 interface without actually playing the game. You can scroll through the various options (you can change your control setup in mid-game now! Woo-hoo!) and best of all, check out all the Live options.
Scrolling through the various Live functions regular old Live functions - but in the Halo environment, was weirdly thrilling. I was almost literally dumbstruck just seeing a game invite icon and a Friends List in the Halo interface. The visual look and feel has been hugely overhauled, and everything is tight and together, but it still seems like Halo, straight off the bat.
It's going to be one of those days when the game ships do I play through Campaign right away? Or do I dive right into a new multiplayer map for some rocket action? I honestly don't know which one I most want to play.
The interface is being tightened up so that it¹s always easy to get where you want, from anywhere in the game. Sketch was saying this morning that it's nice we're thinking of the user interface as a part of the game, rather than an afterthought navigating to a game choice or an option shouldn't be more annoying than playing through the Library with a depleted energy pistol.
- Scorpions Rock!
I got a look at some new vehicle models today, including the Scorpion tank. Few things I'd love to tell you about that but can't. I can probably tell you about the new Pelican model however, and it's a doozy. It's fully bump-mapped, impeccably detailed and features a real 3D cockpit, complete with joysticks. You can't fly it of course, but it looks so much better than first time around. My favorite feature, apart from the detail added by bump-mapping everything, is the new glass shader. When you pan around the cockpit glass, it shimmers and reflects convincingly. Adding the extra depth makes it look much more like a working vehicle than in the first game. When I saw it, it was having damage applied to it, so expect to see one or two of them smashed up in Halo 2.
There's also polishing work on grass, water and other objects. One test area featured big clumps of spiny, fleshy plants Earth plants though, and they'll be featured as decorative bits of Earth City. That test area also showed off some of the new ground and "lawn" texturing, all of which is going to be brought to life in new and interesting ways. A big reflective pond showed off some calm water with convincing transparency (based on the depth of the water) and I've already seen an impressive wave/reflection effect for the choppier bodies of liquid.
- Manual Madness!
What do I do over here, apart from observe people with actual talent and ability? Well, one of my tasks is to liaise with the UX (User Experience) group on the Halo 2 manual. And we're working on it. It'll be cool. Full of instructions! And ESRB info. Hurrah for me! But seriously, the UX group is wicked smart, and planning a manual every bit as cool as the game it describes.
- Jaime Griesemer's Patented Brain-Bending Cranium Tonic and Bum Lotion!
Jaime, as ever, blew my mind with the usual stream of stuff we can't talk about, but he's also working on something we CAN talk about. The tutorial! Jaime liked it the first time around, but for the new game he wanted to concentrate on stuff that you need to know to play the game, instead of the usual this is your shield, this is how you crouch kinda stuff. The example he used was that flanking is important, so the tutorial should "force" you to learn how to flank, without interrupting the flow of gameplay or narrative. Then you'll learn and know how to apply that the next time you find yourself in a similar circumstance.
Jaime is also pleased to announce that they've beefed up both the Battle Rifle (in an unspecified way) and the Needler. The Needler will now be a gun you look for, instead of one you use as a big purple boxing glove in melee situations.
That's all for this week folks, but watch out for inclement weather, even in dry climates.
Friday, March 19, 2004 (bungie.net)
We have a couple of important guests coming in today, so the update is tight and taut, not to mention shorter than usual.
The environment artists comprise my favorite area at Bungie. Why? Because they speak in a language I can completely understand. "Look Frank, a building is kind of like a square with holes in it so people can walk in and out." Sure, they're patronizing me, and even making fun of my accent, but they still do cool stuff. Why just this morning I was admiring a building on an Earth level when I noticed that there was ivy hanging from it. It wasn't hanging there last week, and here it was, green and leafy. One of the artists pointed out something neat too the ivy only hangs on one side of the street, the shady side. That's because ivy won't grow in ferocious, constant sunlight, which is just one of those details that makes a place feel more real. Actually the shadows on one side of the street make for a compelling gameplay experience too, since your foes dart in and out of the shade, making themselves more difficult targets. Jerks!
And that's just one example. The ivy in this case is just one of the things that are placed carefully in the world to make it more "organic," like shrubs and grass and plants and stuff. The ivy is actually a BSP (Binary Separation Plane) with an alpha channel to make the gaps between the leaves transparent, but not all decorators will use this technique, some will be 2D sprites, some shader effects and others simply textures. Basically whatever looks best in any given circumstance, or causes the least impact on processor overhead.
The levels shown featured very nice lightmaps, but look even more impressive with the addition of dynamic lights, everything that's turned on improves the big picture.
The Animators have been going through lots of different animations, tweaking, tuning and adjusting some for purely aesthetic reasons and some tied directly to gameplay. The short struggle that happens during vehicle boarding is just such an example. It has to be clear what's going on, and the animation has to be tied in directly with the pace of the game. All Bungie animations are hand-animated, and that's a time-consuming process. Motion capture has its advantages and disadvantages, but hand-animated stuff gives Bungie animators much more control over the process, and motion capture doesn't help when your character is a three foot alien with back problems.
They've also been fiddling around with the way Chief holds the flag. That's right, the flag is being improved! The animation for his run while clutching the flag is being tuned, and the way he grasps it is definitely improved from Halo. Perhaps more interestingly (not that the gripping's not, wellgripping) the flag has improved cloth physics! Har, not exactly mind-blowing, but since you're going to see an awful lot of the flags in CTF, they may as well look cool, right?
One of last week's tasks the dual wielding animation is now getting close to perfect. The change we mentioned in a previous update, to show more sky or ground, depending on where you're pointing, is complete, now the guys are tightening up his arm movements. I have to be honest; it looked pretty much perfect to me already. He also, I should point out, throws grenades in a much more convincing way this time around.
Harold and the test teams he heads up both Halo 2 test AND the new Bungie.net re-launch test teams, have been attacking bugs on both the game and the site. The test team basically checks both the game and the site for bugs, checks those bug into a system called Product Studio and passes them on to the appropriate person to get it fixed. A bug can be anything from a typo to a hard crash, and the testing process is really the blood of the production cycle. Without hours and hours (literally man-years) of testing, nothing could ever really get fixed. Wrangling that process is an epic task of cat-herding proportions.
- Other Stuff!
Jaime has been working on enemy AI, tuning the aggressiveness primarily to make them melee-attack a little more. My efforts to prevent this fell on deaf ears. I'm scared of Elites you see, ever since that one jumped out at me on Truth and Reconciliation. I nearly filled my pants
Jaime is also working with the team on honing weapons, including the Battle Rifle and the Rocket Launcher, the latter of which has been improved upon in a number of significant, but non-jarring ways. Basically you should enjoy using it more, without knowing exactly why. The Battle Rifle is of course brand new, so you'll probably just enjoy the experience. Right now it's my second favorite weapon. Can't say what my favorite is. But I can tell you that the Battle Rifle makes one of the best noises ever. Brap!! Blapp! Blam!!!
No sign of Marty, probably drunk, but Jay let rip with some cool new stuff. The cinematic dialogs have all been recorded and the actors' voices are being implemented and processed into the engine. But cooler yet, the sound dept. are working on a new way of doing surface/object interactions. In the first game the noise of tires on gravel was one sound in Halo 2, it is, appropriately enough, two sounds. One is the tires and one is the gravel. And they interact. The result is not only better sounding, but technically more realistic. A similar thing is happening with DSP effects for noises. Picture the scene you're in a massive pitched battle and you quickly duck into a building the sound of the continuing battle outside, is processed correctly so that your building muffles it. Not just turning down the volume, but adjusting the acoustics on the fly so that the shift is realistic. The noise of an ongoing battle outside is really atmospheric, instead of just quieter.
Like I said, I ran out of RAM today, so Mister Chief is a lo-rez render today.
CLICK HERE TO WITNESS THE HORROR
Friday, March 12, 2004 (Halo Babies)
Short and sweet this week, just the way you like it.
- Nightmare Armor Guys!
Two of the guys from Nightmare Armor, Justin and Sid popped in to show us their latest build of the Master Chief Halo armor. They nearly caused a mass conniption. First we gave them a hermetically sealed tour of the office where they get to see our microwave oven, Laffy Taffy stash and no Halo 2 whatsoever - and then Sid (who's pretty intimidating in the flesh) suited up and went on patrol.
With his giant Frankenstein shoes and vast hulking mass, Sid really looked the part. The suit was almost perfect, and we couldn't have been more pleased with how it looked in real life. The overall effect was awesome. Bungie old-timers giggled like sissies as he stomped around the office, posing for photos like some lethal Mickey Mouse. Sid was a great sport too, stopping to corpse-hump a fallen BentLlama.
We then took him into the Microsoft Game Studios Cafeteria, where he nearly caused a riot. People actually cheered when a seven foot Master Chief ringer unexpectedly popped in for a Pesto Wrap and a smoothie. Sid, sweating it up a storm inside the (un-air conditioned) helmet, continued to be patient as Justin begrudgingly adjusted a dangling crotch strap. The gun he's carrying is a one-off 3D model of the battle rifle we conveniently had laying around.
Seeing the detail and lovingly crafted accuracy up close, was kind of mind-blowing, right down to the brilliant blue LEDs glowing in the leg parts. Makes us wonder how they got that through airport security.
We've been preparing for two separate visits from two big gaming magazines. Each will run a story some time in the near future on different aspects of the game. We've got a lot of work to do preparing assets and taking screenshots (yes, it's laborious and sloooow) and as the game progresses, the people who can help us are getting busier and busier. The upside of that is that Brian, Zoe and I are able to get our hands on versions of the game with everything turned on.
Currently we tend to play single and multiplayer builds with bits missing like textures that are turned off while an artist tweaks them, or levels with Joe Staten yelling insane inanities in place of real speech. But pretty soon, we're going to have very polished versions of the little bits we'll be taking screenshots of. Multiplayer we're used to, but I can't wait to get my hands on plot-ruining sections of the Campaign mode.
We also have to round up some very busy, very stressed animators, programmers and designers, so that they're available to chat and well-prepared when these crack (smoking?) journalists show up and ask them supertough questions, like, "What's your favorite color Marty?" and, "Will Master Chief fall in love this time?" Luckily they've been "media-trained" so they don't accidentally give away playable builds and hard drives full of source code. Because that's what they'd do you know.
Joe Staten has been polishing and editing cinematics. The new game engine looks glorious when it's applied to the cinemas, and one, the intro to a mid-game level, looks astonishing. Although some pieces of the cinemas are missing, like certain animations, they're very polished looking and now they have the actual actor dialog instead of Joe and Co talking.
The cinemas are tricky for animators, because they contain a ton of animation that isn't in the game, so that has to be custom-created. In the game the characters have a (huge) set of animations that they cycle through as the AI demands, but in cinematics, two characters, say, shaking hands, has to be hand animated. It's time consuming, but rewarding.
A lot of that work is done, and Joe is busy editing the cinemas for style and impact. One scene was cut yesterday a cool, but ultimately redundant interaction between two Elites. Must be pretty heart-rending to chop out a week of work, no matter how much smoother it makes the scene play out. But Joe's job is to keep the story bouncing along, and that's exactly what he's doing. Readers complain a lot about the lack of specific information we give here but I can tell you for certain that Halo 2 is exactly 183% more dramatic than the original.
- Idiot! (Me)
Zach set me up with a web server, now I can see my horrific mistakes on the new version of Bungie.net (still coming soon etc) before I post them.
- Genius! (Everyone Else)
Aaron and Luis have been automating the stress testing. That means they have about 35 debug Xbox systems running overnight, with Master Chiefs running around pretty much randomly, tossing grenades and jumping around blasting aimlessly. In theory, if he gets near a vehicle, he could jump in and drive it around too, but since the system is automated, nobody's actually around to witness the insane nocturnal antics of 35 Master Chiefs.
The purpose of all this is some very useful data gathering. The guys can come in first thing in the morning, see if anything crashed, look at a newly compiled database and see exactly what caused the crash or at least what master Chief was doing when the crash happened. In the long run it means that testers are getting more stable builds of the game and reducing test time is a big deal. A similar reduction in lightmap rendering time is also saving time time that will be filled up making the game better and better.
Just watched a cool aerial dogfight Banshees, turrets and a bigger Covenant ship. Big buildings, cool textures and some genuine surprises. Upside is that months of playing PC Halo mean I should be better at flying Banshees next time around.
All New Mjolnir "Fabulous" Series Armor:
Friday, March 5, 2004 (HBO)
Busy, busy week at Bungie! Tons of stuff going on! Number of deadlines all converging! No sleep for many! I managed to stick my head in the middle and glean some goodies though. Check it out:
- Michael and the other environment artists have been tooling around with some very human geometry. A gorgeous bridge, worthy of a glossy spread in any architecture magazine, has been profoundly torn up by Covenant attack. The futuristic surface of the bridge is composed of bonded interlocking panels of a space-age material, and the damage is being carefully honed so that it reflects the rending blasts of Covenant energy weapons and the warping of the structural panels and concrete elements.
The bridge can be driven on too, so the gaping holes have to be both obstacles and gameplay elements, so some of the bent panels can be used as ramps. That means there is a profound danger that you could eat it and plummet into the sparkling waters below either through the gap itself, or as the result of a poorly aimed jump.
And on the subject of water (a personal favorite of mine) the placeholder water I thought looked pretty freaking good, is being replaced with what the graphics guys say is a much more convincing wave-based shader system. It's so far below that most of it will go unseen - but the designers know that players will go take a closer look when they get a breather, possibly with a sniper scope, so they're making sure everything looks good from any distance.
Why bother with realistic placeholder water at all? The designers could make their job a bit easier by simply inserting a big blue sheet of nothing. It's so that when designing levels, and tuning graphics, everything has the correct context for color and geography.
- Over at the Cananimators' lair, things are progressing shockingly well. Looks finished to me boys! Ship it! But no, tons of work still to do, although you wouldn't know it to look at the brilliant new dual-wielding animations. Nathan has been tuning the idle animations and aiming stuff - and he's made a few subtle, but vital changes.
Two identical guns now look wholly natural, instead of just kind of stuck out in front of you. They reload convincingly, Chief will make slight turns and angle changes as he's blasting, and it's kind of hard to describe how much more realistic the difference in animation between hands makes it look. Just more organic, I suppose. The same thinking is being applied when you hold two different weapons, but that always looked more natural anyway.
An even more subtle thing is the way Chief raises or lowers his arms when you look up or down, respectively. This lets you see more of the screen so that your arms aren't blocking what you're trying to swing and aim at. It's a teeny, teeny change, but it's going to make looking up and down much more natural - rather than simply improving how it looks.
He's also been working on a Covenant weapon that has been shown before - but never discussed. The first person animation looks great, and the weapon has a zoom mode too. Nathan wants to see a really cool alien interface for the zoomed view, but that's something that's still being discussed.
- Rob (who does the designs for almost all the Halo weapons and vehicles) has been working all this week on the same weapon Nathan is animating. He's changing little details on the way the gun looks, and also building in the geometry for the collision detection - so that the gun can bump into walls, or if it's in the way when the Elite holding it gets shot, the gun itself is struck, not simply the creature wielding it.
You know, getting to design weapons and vehicles all day - that's a pretty freaking cool job.
- The sound guys have been working on alien Covenant noises. And alien voices as a matter of fact. Expect to hear a lot more artistic nuance in the voices of all sorts of alien scumbags, including a very cool surround based effect for a particularly epic encounter.
Mat Noguchi has been working on "an intractable problem, the equivalent of proving or disproving the existence of God." He wouldn't elaborate, claiming that the very revelation of the problem would destroy any possible solution. Which is pretty esoteric, to say the least. Maybe he's been trying to give kitty treats to Schrödinger's Cat.
Mat is also pondering some kind of amusing "promotion" for the escalation of grenade explosions. That may or may not happen, but you might want to try playing around with ridiculous numbers of grenades when the game ships, just in case something cool is attached to a cataclysmic escalation of explosions! You know, apart from the epic amount of destruction.
- Marketing guys have been going bananas with packaging issues all week - one of the items being designed right now is the box. I've seen a mock-up with one of the proposed illustrations and it's very cool and when you see it on the box, it looks even cooler.
- Chris Butcher chatted about the Live stuff that we're planning and it's all pretty cool. Some of it is secret, but some of it simply takes full advantage of Live's already stellar features. The way your Halo games will find the best and closest servers (for Quickmatch) is going to have some excellent options attached to it, especially for groups of friends who want to play together.
The Xbox Live datacenter is actually located here in Redmond, so all of the matches are filtered through here - even for European, Australasian and Asian gamers. But naturally that's not ideal for connection speed - so once you've found, filtered and started a match, the connection is much more direct. In fact, Live will check for the closest geographic location, and often try to match up service providers - so if two guys are using a Comcast cable modem in the same part of town, there's a higher likelihood they'll find each other in a quickmatch. That's stellar news for ping times and of course, the dreaded lag. That matchmaking isn't totally unique to Halo 2 of course, but the game is going to do some cool and radical things to take advantage of it.
- Faxing is stupid. As a technology, it's right up there with square wheels and turd-filled pizza crust. So not only can you never be sure that what you just faxed ever went through, the recipient actually has to go look for it. Imagine if to check email you had to drive to a bad part of town and stick your hand down a dark hole? That's what faxing is like. Kinda. Anyway, while I was faxing something this week, I wandered around the corner from the fax machine and discovered heaven. For me anyway. The Microsoft Game Studios TV Lab. Drool.
It's literally set up like a museum. There are rows and rows of TVs for testing and reference, with little cards that explain the technology and the purpose. They range from an RF-only--capable black and white set, to a giant Sony Plasma display. There are also TVs from other countries - a Japanese NTSC HD set - a UK PAL set with digital capabilities. They just go on and on and on. I tried to sneak out of there, but the receptionist knows that I don't have a 42 inch rectangular physique.
One last thing: I wonder what Mister Chief will look like after Halo 2 ships?
Friday, February 27, 2004 (TeamXbox)
About the Fake Weekly Update
Some Halo fan put up a reasonably convincing fake update this morning on a forum and caused a minor tizzy— needless to say, it wasn't us. Basically, if you're suspicious, just check out www.bungie.net — if we don't link to it from there, it's probably fake. Here's this week's short and sweet update.
- Working on the lightmap farm.
Zach just told us he's been working on the lightmap farm. Maybe it's because I've had a brutal head-cold, but I suddenly imagined him, sleeves rolled up, ruddy-cheeked and up to his elbows in the dirt, reek, and good honest work of a lightmap farmer. Of course, what Zach actually does is build a utility to make some computers share a tedious workload. It allows numerous machines (mostly Compaq rack servers) working diligently, to do some boring, time-consuming, but ultimately vital lightmap rendering, so that all that geometry is properly lit when it gets spat out at the other end. Some of the better lightmaps are starting to trickle onto current Halo builds and the results are very pleasing. The biggest difference I see, apart from an overall improvement, is really convincing bright sunshine, and therefore better transition into shade. You almost want to cover your eyes when you step into the light.
So I peek into the lightmap farm, just because I'm curious and Harold, who's the cigar-chewing Teamster-type who runs all of test said that I should get the hell out of the lightmap farm; "Toasted buttercake like you wants to be careful around these here computers. Wouldn't want to get your face elctrificuted, wouldja?" He's working on porting over old Marathon web content to the new Bungie.net. We're kind of doing that in reverse order — moving Halo 2 stuff, then Halo, then Halo PC stuff, working our way back through gigabytes of ancient materials. There's some really cool old pre-Xbox Halo stuff hidden in there, that even people here hadn't seen. We'll let you look at it one of these days...
- Mat's Secret Sound Stuff
Mat Noguchi says he's been having some fun with the chaingun. I gotta go find out what he's been doing...
...back. He HAS been having fun with the chaingun. Along with Jay and the other sound guys. Basically they've been tuning surround sound effects so that when debris kicks up around your feet and scatters, the sound effects are parsed correctly into 5.1. The effects will apply to any surface for ricochets and debris — dirt, snow and so on, but even cooler is the sound of flybys. In Halo, when a bullet whizzed by your head, it was actually a stereo effect, so you couldn't use the noise to tell exactly which direction it had come from — that's fully fixed for single and multiplayer this time.
There will be different effects for each weapon, and some of them are artistic rather than realistic. A real sniper bullet for example, would make a very short-sounding noise if you were lucky enough to hear it miss. In Halo 2, for the sake of gameplay — they actually chose a longer, louder noise so that you'd be able to associate that sound with that weapon. Much more detail later!
- Chris Creates Life!
Chris Butcher has been tweaking and refining the controls for dual-wielding. As you can imagine, coming up with a scheme that doesn't alienate Halo players is tough, since every button was used in the original game. Suffice it to say that so far it works great and gives you plenty of options for swapping weapons, going back to single-wielding and tossing grenades. Naturally there are limitations — Master Chief can't dual-wield everything — why for example would you want to use two sniper rifles simultaneously? Anyhoo, of all the major game changes — I think this one will be the most smoothly implemented, based on what I've seen and played. It'll be second nature after one or two games.
He's also been playing around with implementing — gasp — ambient life in the new levels. And I mean ambient, you know, bugs, birds, that kind of thing. As opposed to rampaging herds of Triceratops. Small elements like that can really bring an area to life — and combined with the ambient sound effects, it'll make for a much richer environment. But as about thirty people mentioned to me, ambient life would be the first thing to get chopped if it didn't help the game, or if it became problematic for the schedule.
- Lorraine in Toy Shocker!
Most of the Bungie team are perversely Halo nerds. They love Halo T-Shirts, mugs, posters, stickers and other junk. No surprise then that their favorite Halo memorabilia is the toys from Joyride. They're cool-looking and actually fun to play with. A few Halo art peeps contribute to how the toys look, but Lorraine McLees is the point person — and hse takes it very seriously, which is why it was a relief when she was delighted by the final prototypes of the new Chief, Grunts and Warthog.
The characters are the three-inch tall variants, and Chief gets to sit in a correctly scaled (and therefore giant) Warthog. Best of all, it's the LAV version, with the triple-barreled rocket launcher. The new armor is fantastic looking, and seeing it in real-life is kind of startling. Makes you realize just how imposing the Chief really is. Plus, he's carrying the battle rifle!
And here's the Chief, all three inches of him!
- New Multiplayer Map!
Obviously there are lots of new multiplayer maps, but I just tooled around in a big, new, cool one that I predict will be as beloved (by me at least) as Blood Gulch. Of course, I haven't actually played against anyone in it yet, but it's my favorite kind of map — huge, and full of surprises. Just for context, my fave current maps are, Blood Gulch, Death Island (for PC) and Hang 'Em High. I think this new one has the coolest elements from each. If anyone gives a crap, I'll say which one it was after the game ships.
That's all for this week, more next, until then, here's a pastoral scene to help you relax:
Friday, February 20, 2004 (343GS.com)
Hello, and welcome to the February 20th edition of the Bungie Weekly Update, where we open the window just a crack, on the antics and shenanigans going on at Bungie Towers. The weekly updates are designed to illuminate Bungie and Halo fans on the game development process - not the product per se.
- The team has a big milestone coming up. A milestone is a thing invented by a grown-up about twenty years ago to make sure that programmers (in those days, fragrant hippies with bits of cheese and mice in their beards) quit sucking on bongs long enough to actually finish programming a game. These days of course, a programmer is a very different animal. Taut, lean and ripped, with cat-like grace and deadly martial arts skills, they'd be Special Forces infiltration operatives were it not for their l337 haxorz skillz.
The object of a milestone is to first, prove that a team of 60 people hasn't simply been sitting around watching Spongebob and winging Twinkies at each other, and second - to produce a reasonably complete section of the game. In this instance, it's a very important level from later in the game (don't read too much or too little into that kidz, we don't always build levels in order).
The best thing about a milestone (apart from the fact that I just get to observe the process from the safe distortion of a beer glass) is that when it's done, we get to watch it and play it. Some of the biggest Halo geeks I've ever met are sitting right here, making it, and every time a milestone is complete, the guys here enjoy it every bit as much as you would.
- Poops are back. Well, not that they've been anywhere, but now they're behaving properly and playing nice with the non-player character AI. Poops, if you didn't read the prior update, are pieces of "instance geometry" like columns, planters, just things you might encounter in a real space. Poops are much easier to position, edit and move around than the more complex building structures and other objects — but populating a world properly with poops can really bring it to life. Damian and the guys have been implementing them in the levels, but with little attention to how they affect AI and physics until now.
Of course properly implemented poops mean that characters now behave differently than before, and this will give both testers and designers something to think about as they see how the AI responds to the new pathfinding challenges.
- Greg and the animators have been working hard to get Dual Weapons properly implemented in Multiplayer — the problem of course isn't putting them in, it's making them balanced. Early implementations basically turn Master Chief into an unstoppable force of evil and matches can end far too quickly — as if everyone suddenly had rocket launchers. The fine tuning and balancing required to make dual weapons an advantage, but not a ridiculous advantage, is a tightrope the designers will be walking for months.
For me the coolest part is seeing how the two weapons interact — control schemes are being fiddled with there's a whole bunch of stuff I would love to tell you here, but can't. I can tell you that Master Chief right now holds each type of gun in a totally convincing way. The other animations — for reloading, crouching with two weapons and switching them, look buttery smooth. I want to PLAY this.
Personally, I don't see anything wrong with suddenly becoming a horrifyingly powerful superplayer...
- Gaze Tracking, or the, "What the hell are you lookin' at pal?" system is in, and it looks great. In multiplayer games, the characters will now turn their heads to follow either you, or the object in their reticule. That means that you can probably start to feel rightfully uncomfortable if some jerk on your team starts to stare at you. It will also have a very subtle effect in multiplayer battles, where you can see what else a multiplayer opponent or teammate is looking at, literally by following their gaze.
You may not even have noticed that in the original halo, characters simply pointed their faces straight ahead. Not a big deal until you see how it compares with this new alternative. Little things like that sound small in isolation, but put all these tiny factors together and they weave quite a tapestry. Of death. A tapestry of death.
- The scripts are finished and the first round of dialog is almost all being recorded this week. Joe Staten, the cinematics guru, lets Bungie folk pore over the scripts and make suggestions or changes — you'd be surprised how tightly thought out the Halo universe is. A staffer could for example note that a bit of military terminology is being used incorrectly, or that an Elite would never say, 'Ooh, Master Chief gave me an owie!"
Seeing the script, the writing and the dialog are among my favorite aspects of the job — but it does kinda suck knowing what happens at the end. I mean, who'd ever have suspected that Master Chief was a ghost? And a chick. A ghost chick! Seriously though, it's hard to know whether to be disappointed or excited by scripts. Part of you is like, "Holy crap, this is so amazing!" and the other part of you is like, "Aaw man, I just read 20 pages of spoilers."
Most of the dialog is being recorded in California but a couple of actors are based up here, and a couple more in Chicago so Marty and Jay and Joe are juggling that aspect too. I wanted to be a voice in the game, but my best baritone still sounds like a wasp farting through a harmonica.
- Paul Russell just showed me a hole in the ground between two parts of a level, and pointed out that thanks to the sheer scale possible in the new engine, he could literally fit all of the geometry from the first game, inside the hole. Of course, scale is relative, but that's the general idea.
- Lorraine, resident Bungie artist, has been porting over reams and reams of content from the old site to the future Bungie.net — a job as necessary as it is tedious. Lorraine actually created a lot of the art, and is very protective of Bungie's graphical assets. More interestingly, she just approved the base for the Flood Carrier Form action figure that was debuted at last week's Toy Fair in New York. We'll all get to see the action figures next week so they can be approved for production.
- Lorraine has also commissioned artist Eddie Smith to create hi-res images that we'll use for "assorted promotional purposes." Eddie's stuff is fantastic and he works fast, so we can't wait to see the results.
Next Week: More of the same, plus some different stuff, plus a few things that are similar, but not identical. And naturally it'll be on a different forum. But until then, "enjoy" Mister Chief's near identical dual-wielding problems.
Friday, February 13, 2004 (R.net)
I get a lot of mail here. Some of it asks perfectly reasonable questions, about multiplayer Halo 2 features, or what it's like working at Bungie, that kind of thing. A lot of them are explicit or implied death threats, or impossible requests to store outlandish objects in uncomfortable places. I tackle it all with gusto, like a red-faced optimistic German tour guide. "Ha, ha, I am so jolly to enjoy your correspondence!" But a lot of the letters ask things like, "Why don't you put movies in the updates?" or, "Why don't you run this column on the front page of IGN?"
Well it's simple — the weekly updates are (and always have been) designed to be a window on the process and people here at Bungie. It is not some official geyser of Halo 2 information; for that very reason, we post in occasionally obscure Halo and Bungie fan forums. If we went up on the front page of Gamespot or MSN every week, people would have warped expectations of the weekly update. Of course, the update gets mirrored immediately, and that's cool ; we want lots of people to read and enjoy the updates, but they're here for folks who're curious about the process not so much the product. Nearer the game's release, there will be fountains of really gritty Halo 2 stuff, but until then, the Bungie Weekly Updates will continue in the vein they have been.
- The Web Team is entering a phase that can only be described as ballistic. Long hours and brutal deadlines are just part of the process in our plan to bring you a new-improved Bungie.net, without sacrificing any of the charm, community or functionality you've come to expect. A lot of programming work has been completed (and we're excited to unveil some cool new features in the near future) but a lot of the time consuming work at this point is graphical, as Zoe and Lorraine work hard to create pages that look fully Bungiefied.
- Brian is heading out to LA on one of the biggest community events ever to happen in the Halo universe; it's the finals of the World Halo Championships, with participants from all over the world battling it out for ultimate Halo dominance. We'll bring you a full report on the events next week.
- One of our readers decided to make an HOMAGE to Mister Chief, which is as I had feared, another reason to flesh out the Mister. You can check out the fully playable, 3D, Mister Chief's Mayo (do NOT want to know what Mister Chief's "mayo" actually is) and pick up ammo, blast Covenant only slightly better drawn than Mister Chief himself, and eat ribs to refill your energy bar.
- The marketing guys take a lot of flak, but they really do work hard in some of the most unpleasant circumstances in the gaming world. This week for example, Cam and the guys had to make a trip to Manhattan, to choke down Martinis and steaks with ad execs on Madison Avenue, while discussing Halo 2 tie-ins: You know, like, "Viagra and Halo — the Two Biggest Things This Year" or, "Halo 2 Toilet Roll: Wiping the Galaxy Clean!"
They are actually working on some cool tie-in promotions, and later in the year you'll start to see the fruits of that labor. This time around Halo is very well known quantity, so other products want to get a piece of the marketing action.
- Tyson has been working on animation and AI issues on a giant piece of geometry. Since the geometry has edges and drop-offs, the trick is getting the AI characters — in this case Grunts — to fight and dodge successfully, without actually falling off, or getting confused by the boundaries of the object.
- They don't work for Bungie, but two guys are racing those Minimoto bikes around the parking lot. We're very jealous. If only there was a Miniwarthog.
- Marty and the audio guys are always a wealth of information. This week they've been tuning the script; a lot of the lead voice over work is being recorded in LA next week and everything has to be super tight. There will of course be some returning favorites, like the Chief and Cortana, but there will be lots of new actors and talent too, so Marty's going to be working with a lot of new people, explaining things to them like, "No, Grunts don't sound like James Earl Jones, squeak it up more!"
- He's also been trying to pin down final sounds for objects. The Warthog, for example, is being continually tuned for gameplay, so they're making teeny adjustments to acceleration and RPMs; problem is that Marty's sound effects are all tied into that, so anytime a tweak is made to gameplay, some slight overhauls of how sounds work have to be done. Marty's concerns are slightly different from gameplay — his Warthog has to sound satisfying while still accurately describing what's actually happening on screen. That's a careful balancing act.
- Adrian, who I am basically related to thanks to an in-law in New Jersey, is working on lightmaps for the game. Specifically, he's fixed the "incident radiosity vector." Halo 2 has a ton of real time dynamic lighting, but a lot of basic stuff, like big stretch of open city or grass, can be lit using lightmaps — basically a way of applying "fake" light sources by coloring and shading objects rather than wasting pointless amounts of processor overhead doing it on the fly. If you know how an area is always going to be lit, there's little point doing it on the fly — especially when you want to save CPU cycles for more interesting stuff.
Lightmaps are rendered an object or an area at a time — the color and light information isn't just painted on, it's carefully and painstakingly calculated (to be real-world correct) by a bank of (currently) 20 servers. The room they're housed in is a balmy 94 degrees right this second (and under constant supervision), but Adrian's very pleased by the exponential increase in rendering speed over the original Halo. A lightmap that once took three days to render can now be calculated in a couple of hours. On the last game, that meant that if a lightmap wasn't exactly perfect, good enough would have to suffice. This time there's opportunity to redo anything that isn't perfect.
The lighting decisions also affect how bump-maps look, so Adrian's looking at what direction a bumpmap should "shadow" when the final light passes are made. In short, the lighting in Halo 2 is a heck of a lot more convincing than that seen in the first game.
- Rob McLees was busy in his corner — too busy. When asked what he was up to, he looked up, barked, "More guns!" and went back to his screen.
- Pete Parsons claimed that he couldn't tell me what he was doing this week because it was so top-secret. However, he later admitted it was because it was boring.
- Bill O'Brien is in tunnel-vision mode, animating a new type of Covenant soldier. Can't tell you much more about what kind of Covenant it is, but you know it's alien and you know it's bad. This guy has actually been partially-complete for a long time in design and AI respects, but now Bill's challenge is to get his transitional animations, when he stops, slows down or changes direction suddenly.
This particular varmint/critter/monster is presenting a number of fairly unique challenges for animation and AI, as well as some tricky problems for the player to contend with.
So until next week, check out what it would be like if Mister Chief had his own game! Even though now technically, he does...
Friday, February 6, 2004 (BGH)
It has been a busy week. We're going bananas building and designing the new website (more on that in the coming weeks) and generally having a ball seeing the game come together. Animation, sound, environment and gameplay are all frantically combining into a delicious soup.
- The Cananimators have also been working on very subtle transitions between walking, running and sprinting, so that the movements look fluid and natural. More impressive, bizarrely, is the animation for stopping and turning. The trick is going to be finding a balance between its usefulness and playability - which is true of almost any game feature.
- Joe Staten and CJ Cowan have been very busy bees. Yes, the same kind of bees that Homer's nightmare dog spits out. They've been working diligently on game-engine cutscenes and transitions between levels. Using the game engine helps keep the player anchored more firmly in the game world. There have been some tweaks and modifications however, so the cutscenes will look sharper, thanks in large part to the use of the new graphic engine's features. Specular highlighting, mad bump-mapping etc.
- The cutscene I watched had been put together fairly recently, and was for timing and positioning of cameras, but looked pretty finished. The only way to know it wasn't done was the fact that none of the characters had walking animations, they just kind of glided around.
- None of the actor voices (unless you count Joes Staten yelling, "I'm fighting!" in a high-pitched voice) are attached to the cutscenes at this point - more on that next week, hopefully. The cutscene in question is actually a tremendously important one. Email me months from now and ask me which of the many shockers it was and I'll tell you.
- "He got the POOPS working!" You'll be relieved to know that "POOPS" is not an acronym, rather just a term Chucky, one of the programmers, uses for "instance geometry." Instance geometry is a term that covers what Chucky describes as "low level" stuff. You might describe it as bits of the Halo world. Instance geometry "objects" aren't strictly objects at all, at least as far as we define them. They're things like columns, planters, basic world objects. As far as getting the POOPS working, Chucky simply got them all to behave the way they should in terms of AI reaction, shot ricochets, player collisions - all that kind of stuff.
The beauty of instance geometries is that while they're textured, lightmapped, bump-mapped - the whole nine yards - they seldom involve much work for the level and environment guys. Often they can simply be placed in the right spot and left to do their business. Normal objects have to be sealed and carefully implemented into geometry - instance geometry is a whole lot easier to deal with.
Normally these things are pretty ho-hum, but anyone who's been in a campaign firefight, or a game of rockets on Hang 'Em High knows that POOPS are pure gameplay. They're places to run, hide, dodge and take cover, and they often breathe life into a level.
- Mat Noguchi is up to something pretty special too. He just perfected a neat technique/tool/trick that allows the player to hear all the important game dialog in a completely natural way. No longer will you sprint by an event and miss a vital clue from an NPC (Non-Player-Character). We can't tell you exactly how it works, suffice it to say that when it happens, it'll make perfect sense.
- Marty O'Donnell and co., have been tooling around with footsteps, trying to make sure that when Master Chief walks, runs, sprints crouches and creeps, that an appropriate footfall is heard (or not in the case of creeping). Right now, thanks to some experiments with Dolby surround, it's occasionally possible to think your own footsteps are someone else's. That little "feature" is very easy to fix - but one issue with surround sound is that there's no "down" so Marty's feeling is that footsteps should cue from the front and center speakers since they handle "close" sounds better. But you will be able to detect a subtle difference between left and right footsteps.
Of course, all these sounds are based on the surfaces you're moving on - so different sounds and effects are going to be applied for metal, indoor environments, echoey spaces, gravel, you name it.
- A big meeting this week happened to get the manual process in gear. One thing you might not know about Bungie, under the auspices of Microsoft, is that this studio gets an amazing amount of control over every detail of the project. That includes action figures, poster art, Grunty Thirst mugs and of course, the game manual. The Halo 2 manual will be awesome. Maybe, dare we say it, a heck of a lot more awesome than last time? Working on a manual is pretty brutal too, since you have to cram so much information into a space small enough to fit in a DVD case. If it were up to us, it'd be 500 pages long and bound in holographic Mylar. With an LCD panel on the front. So far, the only section finished is the list of multiplayer levels which are...no wait, I can't put that here.
Finally, I would like to thank Alta, the Bungie Princess for hooking us up with food all the time - people here are putting in crazy hours at both ends of the day (except for Parsons, who rolls into the parking lot in his Ferrari around noon on a good day) and totally kicking ass. Anyhoo, enjoy the new objet d' horror and we'll see you next week! For more! Bungie! Update! Don't eat stuff off the sidewalk.
Friday, January 30, 2004 (HBO)
Well, as you'll see all over the INTERNET this morning, this has been a very big, very busy week for Bungie, and the building excitement in the office is almost tangible. There's so much momentum at every level in the building - in the graphics department, in the sound studio, everywhere you look, people are working on solid, playable, great-looking bits of Halo 2. So here's a quick glimpse at what folks were up to this week.
- Brian, me, Lorraine, and a bunch of other lucky staffers have been impossibly busy this week, basically taking a kickass SCREENSHOT of Halo 2.
It's really important to point out that this screen is straight from the current game engine. The resolution is a little sharper thanks to the way screens are dumped from the frame buffer, but this is entirely representative of the lighting, polygon counts, bump-mapping and particle effects. There's no trickery or BS here. And of course, this is early stuff, so things will change and improve between now and launch. We basically played the game and took a ton of shots until we finally picked the one that rocked the hardest, and best represented what playing that level was like.
Of course this is a multiplayer level, and no doubt you'll be scanning the shot for details, clues and hints about what to expect from the game. We did deliberately try not to give too much away, but sharp-eyed Halo fans will see plenty. Working with the multiplayer build opened us up to a lot of the cool technology that it's built around, and just about every step revealed some amazing new facet of the game - everything from the animation on the Warthog wheels to the bump-mapping on Master Chief's gloves. We barely even begin to comprehend the labyrinthine depths of this software and its associated tools. And special thanks to Chris, Ben, Mat and the guys for helping show us what's possible and how best to use it.
- Over at the environment department, where tree-love is all the rage, Paul "Evil Paul" Russel and crew are working hard polishing up two specific levels. One is a "Really incredible, massive space" and Paul is busy fixing and polishing elements that have already been tested for gameplay. That means, for example that a big cube that once said "rock" is now a sand-textured monolithic boulder that's being properly tweaked and textured and lit so that it looks perfect.
- In testing, artists and designers will often place approximations of the required geometry in an environment, so instead of a broken-down car, you'll see a box at the same position and angle, with the legend, "Broken down car" written on the side. These pre-textured levels are actually pretty surreal.
- Because of the timing for the pieces they're working on, the environment guys have been pulling pretty long hours, often here until midnight, where they amuse each other by arguing the pros and cons of Marmite versus Vegemite, without the decency to include Bovril on the list. It should be noted that Chris Butcher has suggested that Vegemite is more manly and coarse than the effete syrupy consistency of Marmite.
- And we must also note that Mike has gone from "pupil" to "protégé" under Paul's mentoring/tutelage.
- As you know if you've been following this stuff - we're redesigning the Bungie.net website. Doug and the web guys are getting ready to make sure that the new Bungie.net can deal with all the extra traffic, get the new news section working and make sure the forums are integrated. The new look for the site is also being polished and buffed to a shiny gloss. You'll be pretty surprised at the difference between the current site and the new one.
- I personally just saw something Halo 2-related that literally made my jaw drop. Like in a cartoon.
- Marcus Lehto spent the week fretting, worrying and then relaxing about cool new ways to improve the cinematic cutscenes. He relaxed in the end because some of the solutions are perfect.
- Michel Bastien has been meaner than usual, but this week he's been working on localization of Halo 2 for non English speaking countries That way French Canadians won't get their knickers in a twist, and Korean players won't have to wait two years to find out what all the fuss is about. Michel only handles the planning, as opposed to more technical stuff like making sure it runs properly on PAL or SECAM Xbox systems.
Well that's it for this week - next week I will ask for some movies of new levels and see how long it takes before someone actually punches me in the face. I can't promise any movies (ever) but I can promise you next week's Update will be the best yet. Probably.
This week, we got a lot of speculation on what "Goin' Ribs!" means. It does not mean this:
Friday, January 23, 2004 (Subnova)
Holy crap! Last week was apparently just a slow introduction to the whirling vortex of thrills that is Bungie. Now I've been flung in at the deep end, and all the allowances they make for n00bz have been thrown out like bad milk. It's a weird combination of frenetic, stressed, exciting and fun. Like being kicked in the groin by a fairy made of peanut-flavored light. Approximately.
I also just took a close look at a Prophet for the first time. I didn't realize it was a Covenant deal. I just glanced at it and I thought it was HotTubGuy*. I even invented a whole mythology around him. Like, that maybe he'd knocked an 8-Track stereo into his hot tub and traveled through time. Shows what I know.
Anyway, I've been witness to a tremendous amount of Halo 2 related activity this week, and I'll tell you what I can about it.
- The whole web thing is getting crazy. We're relaunching Bungie.net soon-ish, and we're trying to assemble, create and collate all the content for it. It looks super cool. Brian is taking point on a lot of that stuff, and he's also been rounding up the n00bz for today's pentathlon. We'll let you know the results on Monday, but basically it's a contest between various layers of the Bungie hierarchy. Grizzled Ancients, Old Skool, Middle Skool and Noobz. We won the Summer Pentathlon last year but I reckon the grizzled ancients are planning to cheat this time around. The events include EyeToy and Mario Kart, but we're all pretty psyched to play Halo 2. That's right. Different multiplayer maps and different game styles, including CTF and Slayer, of course. We're trying to learn one of the more complex maps, provisionally called Burial Mounds. Favorite new Halo 2 expression? "He's goin' Ribs!"
- Lorraine, our artist, has been incredibly busy. Some of what she's doing is punch-in-the-face secret, but she has also been working on the Halo 2 logo. It looks SWEET. It rocks harder than meat-flavored toothpaste at a British dental convention, but Lorraine isn't quite satisfied and has been tuning it. She reckons the next version has a 50-50 chance of being the final one, which means there's a 50-50 chance you'll see it soon. She's also been finishing a Gold Elite action figure, which will be available soon, and an amazingly detailed special edition Master Chief, which will only be available in one exclusive place (details to be released soon).
- Greg Snook and the animators are doing some really cool stuff with the Chief's walking and running animation. Right now he sidesteps convincingly, has a real walk animation (instead of just a slow version of the default run set) and even cooler, he crouches and crouch-walks much more convincingly. It sounds like a small thing, but if you go back and look at Halo compared to this new stuff, the difference is astonishing.
- The coolest stuff going on this week though has got to be the way the animation and AI are coming together. You watch demos of the technologies interacting with each other and you're thinking, "This LOOKS incredible." Then you take a step back and realize, "Oooh. This is GAMEPLAY." The demo we watched was running in realtime, basically a huge warehouse filled with objects, obstacles and Covenant. The AI sends a mixture of grunts, Elites and more, charging across the cluttered map to see how they deal with obstacles and each other. Grunts typically sprint around fallen beams and boxes, but Elites are frighteningly smart, making fast, natural and athletic maneuvers and Hunters will simply charge through the map. We watched this happen from a Chief's-eye perspective and it's pretty frightening.
- Ryan and our multiplayer test team, , have been almost impossibly busy. Tons of post mortem meetings to discuss what went wrong and what went right with various test builds. How's the networking holding up? What problems are we encountering on DSL connections - the office is set up with a variety of broadband connections for test. They've also been busy accommodating Bungie employees with their own multiplayer builds and Xbox systems to pad out the test process. As you can imagine, it's not difficult to convince someone they have to play Halo 2 as a part of their job. The testers have also been on call for ad-hoc testing ¬ -- running around in mostly-complete levels to test specific systems and problems - a physics thing here, an AI issue there. That and like everyone else, they're training hard for the Pentathlon - and they're testers, so they've played more Halo 2 than anyone else...
* Next week, more, bigger, better stuff from the maelstrom of excellence that is Bungie. Until then, enjoy this artist's impression of Mister Chief and the HotTubGuy.
Don't eat stuff off the sidewalk.
Friday, January 16, 2004 (HBO)
We'll get to the update in a second, but I wanted to just tell you what my first week was like before I dunk you into the fiery vortex of the Bungie experience.
So, after my first real week at Bungie I can honestly say that part of my new morning routine is the application of an adult-sized diaper. Let me explain.
Before I started here, Brian Jarrard, our Community Manager and Pete Parsons, our Studio Manager, were rightly insistent on secrecy. Before I was hired, I knew practically nothing about Halo 2. Sure, I knew about the bits you may have read in OXM or EGM magazines, and I had some background on where the development process was at, but I didn't know any secrets.
I guess I was expecting to slowly absorb the development pace, learn a few tidbits here and there and figure out what I could from spying on Bungie monitors when artists and designers weren't looking. It's because I was still thinking like a sneaky, good for nothing games journalist. So imagine my surprise (delight?) when Brian and Pete deliberately tried to blow my mind during my first hour as an employee.
I was taken on a tour of the building, stopping at various stations and departments with the ostensible goal of "just bringing me up to date." Brian looked just a teensy bit amused, but Pete's face was split by a hideous rictus grin, the kind that you might see on a Frat boy holding a cricket bat, or a Manhattan plumber handing you a bill. Either way, I knew something was up.
Plot. In a way, my Halo 2 experience is being ruined. By the time the game ships, I'll know a lot more about the story than I want to. People working on The Sixth Sense or The Lord of the Rings movies must have felt the same way. But it's a fascinating process, seeing how carefully managed, how cleverly written the story is.
Seeing real character development is an eye-opener in an industry where Pac-Man is still the most charismatic leading man. When you're reared on dialog like, "Take the key for coming in" or, "I am the master of unlocking," it's very easy to be skeptical. But Halo 2 is to game scripts what a rocket launcher is to a Faberge Egg collection.
And then there are graphics. I'm not just a graphics whore, I'm a graphics burglar, murderer and molester all rolled into one. I would happily run around in a video game as long as something bright, shiny or vertexy was there to distract me. Ask anyone. During game demos I'll stop earnest developers in their tracks and ask if they wouldn't mind "walking over there so I can see the water." Seriously.
So two minutes in Bungie's art department(s) would turn a Graphics Nun into the skankiest Graphics Whore on the strip. If I'm bludgeoning you with brutal metaphors, tough, I'm simply trying to tell you how it is. I was shocked to see everything was bump-mapped. Sounds dumb given that Bungie promised to bump-map everything, but when you see it - you'll realize immediately why. As the art department is fond of explaining, everything looks the way it does for a reason, and the overriding reason in Halo is to tell a story. Nothing is done for show, or simply because "it's there." Every single applied graphics technique advances Halo's story and its characters.
And the technical side is staggering. Almost every aspect of Halo 2 is new. This is NOT based on the Halo One engine. You will not see a single repeated texture, skeleton, bitmap or particle effect. It's all new. The robust, imaginative design anchors it firmly in the universe you've grown to love of course. Massively improved or not, you'll recognize it instantly as Halo. You could walk up to a textured wall until your helmet was mere inches from the surface and recognize somehow that it's Halo. It's kept its flava.
But there's so much here that's new. It's so much bigger than I'd anticipated. So much more ambitious, that it takes a while to wrap your head around. I think it's going to redefine my expectations for a sequel. I think that after Halo 2, more tracks, more characters, different music - that's simply not going to be enough.
But really, you didn't come here to read about me (even though I'm super-awesome) you came here for the resurrection of the Halo 2 Weekly Update. Here's what's going on:
- Marty O'Donnell is very excited about how the physics engine is interacting with sound effects. "I just wasn't convinced by it. I'd listen to how little details sounded, like metal rolling on stone, or rocks on sand and I wasn't convinced. But now I think we've got it down. I'm really pleased. Chucky (Gough) and Eamon (McKenzie) are just doing incredible work with the techy physics stuff."
- Marty also has the dubious distinction of being the current Bungie Halo 2 champeen, thanks in part to a faulty stat measurement. Don't get us wrong, Marty is GOOD at Halo 2 multiplayer, but the fuzzy math they used to compute the winner was faulty. Since he played the most games (when he wasn't composing music) he was busy getting killed a lot more than he was killing back.. In fact, his kill to death ratio was among the worst on staff. Luckily for Marty, I'll be playing next week, so he'll be off the hook (I SUCK at Halo 2 because I don't know the maps).
- Hamilton Chu cut his hair. And we don't mean a little off the sides, we mean four feet of silky man-hair. Samson had nothing on this guy. Luckily it seems that so far Hamilton's powers are intact. If anything, he's more powerful than before.
- Brian, Zoe and Claire have been working hard on the new website. Fixing bugs, but mostly trying to fill in missing chunks, and organizing stuff from the present site that needs to make the jump to the new one. And the new one is something else. There are going to be some very cool new features and content, but I wish you could see how cool it looks. I mean, you will soon enough....
- Lorraine has been super busy. A beautiful poster that I wish you could see*, has been created for product placement. That means that if Freddie Prinze Jr. is in a movie about teenagers or baseball, he might use that poster on his wall. We'd be disturbed but we can't control that stuff. She's also recently approved paint jobs for the new Grunt action figures. More interestingly, Lorraine is making design decisions about the new Halo 2 action figures. Not too much we can say there without revealing plot points, but they're going to be epic.
- Alta, the Bungie Princess has been coordinating voice talent, as well as organizing the annual Bungie Pentathlon, voting on what games we'll play in an epic contest that happens on the day of our belated holiday party. The contest is split into teams by tenure, and last year, us noobs won. Snacks galore, a cup of beer to be shared, and roast salmon as the entrée. Plus vegetarian stuff. Yumzorz. Alta will be sporting a sleek black cocktail dress by Miguel Palacio, with perfect line and just a hint of salsa flair!
*Or you could just look at my artist's impression of it. I had to give him a lightsaber because guns are hard to draw. Lightsabers are as easy as snakes.
Well that's it for now. More next week. Sorry I wasted so much of your time on preamble, but next week will be straight to the point. And by then, I may be less exciteable.
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