Frankie's Bungie Updates - February 13, 2004
Originally hosted at 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...
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