Frankie's Bungie Updates - July 9, 2004
Originally hosted at 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 a40 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...
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