June 07 2011
The Halo Bulletin: Inaugural Frankie Edition
I'd just like to precede the inaugural 343 Halo Bulletin with a note to say that it's very, very nice to be back, talking to Halo fans directly, after a couple of years of relative quiet. And today, you're going to find out what we've been doing, with all that quiet.
Halo, E3! It's finished!
In the first ten years of Halo, Bungie created a universe so compelling, gameplay so absorbing, controls so natural, that a phenomenon was birthed, raised, and honed into Spartan caliber. And to celebrate that decade of innovation, excitement and involvement from a community like no other, 343 Industries finds itself tasked with continuing that franchise and building upon its strong foundations.
The first celebration, and the one with which opened the Halo conversation at E3, is the game that started it all, albeit reimagined, retouched, remastered and remade. Halo Anniversary, as we call it for the purposes of brevity, is that game.
It's been a long time coming - and frankly, the single most requested item from the Halo community. More, even, than the legendary, mythical Grunt Plushy. But we couldn't just remake it, there'd be no point. For starters, the game Bungie made in the first place is practically perfect, and it's available, verbatim, on disc and Games on Demand for Xbox 360. It runs smoothly and at a higher resolution.
What we had to do was modernize it in meaningful, useful, exciting, practical and valuable ways. And we had to honor it, properly. So how to do all that?
Firstly, we had to consider what it was people truly loved about Halo. And so we did. For months. The main list is obvious - gameplay, story, universe, physics, controls. Bam. But there were other, less objective things. Atmosphere, music, tension, joy, acrophobia, agoraphobia and claustrophobia. Feelings, in other words. So all of those had to be replicated, retained and somehow enhanced.
So we did not DARE touch the gameplay in Halo. As a matter of fact, the gameplay engine, the physics, the controls (with some minor changes for the 360 controller and the aspect ratio) are identical. It is, in short, the Halo CE engine, but with a second graphics layer, a separate engine in fact, running on top. You can see this phenomenon yourself by pressing the back button at any time. The game will switch from old graphics to new, and back again, in real time. That in itself, is a bizarrely fun feature - one we constantly used to check to see if things truly were identical, or more frequently, simply to compare the two generations of hardware and see how far things had come. Although perversely, sometimes we switched back only to remember how good the original looked.
We've definitely made some changes in how the new graphics affect the game. For example, the Library is still scary, eerie, dangerous - but now, with some clever use of textures and colors and lighting, it's a bit easier to navigate. There are visual cues to orient yourself by, as you battle the bad guys who now inhabit that space.
There are tiny little differences that do in fact make the experience fresh, even where it should be verbatim - subtleties that deep, hardcore fans will notice, like extra vegetation making headshots just a shade more challenging, or the remastered audio making some encounters a bit more shocking.
And on the subject of audio - everything has been remastered - sound effects beefed up and remixed, but more importantly, we took Marty O'Donnell's industry-changing soundtrack and gave it some deep, smoove loving, with a re-orchestration and brand new recording with the Skywalker Orchestra. So the perfect melodies, the movements and the themes are intact, but just glowingly more rich and lavish (and expensive). Anyone who's heard the similar project with Halo Legends will know sort of what to expect, but expect it to be better.
All the work on the improved graphics layer for Campaign (and a ton of other elements, not to oversimplify things) was created in partnership with our friends at Saber Interactive and we're incredibly proud of the work they've done and the hurdles they've overcome.
And multiplayer! Well that was the challenge. We ached over this one. Do we build peer-to-peer netcode for Halo 1 and simply update the graphics? Do we disrupt the Halo: Reach player base and community ecology? Or do we invest in the loyalty of those players, and the amazing new features Reach has brought to the table? It was a super hard decision, but ultimately the thing that tipped the balance in Reach's favor was this simple fact: If we added netcode to Halo CE's console gameplay, it would change it irrevocably. It would NOT be the same game you remembered - it would be a compromised vision of it, with the pros and cons that lag, latency and more can bring. Oh, and everyone would whore the pistol 24/7.
So Reach it is. And that helped us define which maps to choose. Obviously Blood Gulch would be a bit redundant. And obviously Beaver Creek was a no-brainer. You'll also see a new Covenant-themed version of Damnation, a glimpse of another old fan favorite from Halo CE, and one map that while famous and awesome, has never been seen on console before. I'm sure you've figured it out by now.
There are seven total multiplayer maps, and we'll reveal them over the next few months. But one of them and another factor that pushed us towards the Reach engine is a Firefight map - a Firefight map unlike any you've ever seen before. One thing I can tell you is that this one is particularly appropriate to Halo: Combat Evolved but will do things that no Firefight map has done.
We plan to support these maps fully and appropriately in matchmaking - making sure that the nature and nostalgia of those maps are honored in how they're included. We haven't finalized all those decisions yet, but think about how "classic modes" work now. All of our multiplayer work is done in partnership with the incredible folks at Certain Affinity, including of course, Max Hoberman, who is himself a walking celebration of classic Halo.
I can also admit we've been spying on you guys a bit. A forum question here, a thread there. Trying to gently find out what Halo players, both current and lapsed, really wanted from a renewed, revitalized Halo experience, without sending those questions into the sterile environ of a focus group. This game is a gift to the fans and a celebration of ten years of epic community. We wanted that to be enveloped in the product itself.
And it's a great value - something else we wanted to be sure about. At $39.99 I personally feel you're getting more than a full-priced game's worth of content - and without the slightest risk that after spending sixty bucks, the game simply isn't fun. But we dogpiled on the value. What else have we added? Well, lots. Some we'll talk about, some we won't. There will be Achievements - hilarious, easy, hard, cool. There will be Terminals - but on a scale of ambition you might not expect. These Terminals will add a really fascinating glimpse into the deeper heart of the Halo universe and make important connections between our past games, present novels and future titles.
We're adding tons more too. Including Easter Eggs and surprises. We're adding functionality that will give players reasons to replay time and time again. And there are a few other tidbits we're saving for later. And we'll share more of those at Halo Fest, during Pax Prime in Seattle in August. That will also be the first chance for players to get a hands-on experience. And Halo Fest is coming along just fine. There's going to be amazing stuff there - panels, tournaments, contests, exhibits, discussions, surprises, celebrities and celebrations. And more information about our other announcement from E3.
Halo 4. Phew. As news leaked slowly about Anniversary, we smiled rather than cried. Because it helped obscure the real secret we've been keeping. A game that a very large and very talented team has been working on for quite some time. The beginning of a new trilogy and the return of the Master Chief.
The teaser is, as tradition demands, brief and titillating, but the Halo hardcore will see an awful lot of detail in the vacuum and chaos. They will understand where our story begins and they'll have some questions answered. But just as many raised. What's that weapon the Chief has? What has happened to him? Where is he? All of these questions (and more) will be answered in good time.
I'll be back from time to time, probably to talk about water technology, but for the most part, your regular Halo updates in the Bulletin will come from the infinitely smarter and more nicerer, bs angel.
By the way, I think we're just getting started…