Frankie's Bungie Updates - May 14, 2004
Originally hosted at 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.
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