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12 September 2012
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The Halo Bulletin: 9.12.12

12. September 2012 22:00

Pressing Matters

Halo 4 Press Event Halo 4 Press Event

Select members of the press from around the globe have been visiting the studio the past two days, October 11 is New York Comic Con, and November 6 will be the day you take Halo 4 for its first official spin in your disc tray, plus a few surprises we can't talk about just yet. We're ready for these things... are you?

While you won't see the results of this week's press visit until late September, we do have a very special treat for you today in the form of a brand new behind-the-scenes video. The majority of you have probably stopped reading and are now frantically scrolling, searching for that magical play button. For the two of you that are still reading (thanks, Mom and Dad!), I thought we could talk a little about why we invite the press to our studio.

Over the past several months, we've worked hard to get Halo 4 into the hands of as many people as possible. From being playable at events to hosting numerous community parties to inviting fans to participate in private playtests, we've used every available opportunity to get, and then implement, player feedback. We can only reach so many individuals in person, though so we try to give the press regular sneak peeks at the game so they can share what we show them with all of you. Think of it this way: We want to reach out and touch every single of you, and press visits help us with that, if only virtually.

Enough about our wandering hands, though. Let's talk about the return of the Forerunners, shall we?

The Return of the Forerunners

Halo 4 Screenshot

As soon as we started concept work on Halo 4, we started looking at potential big pillar features. One of the things that came up early on was a good way to refresh the overall campaign experience, so we decided to create a new enemy race, applying the fundamentals of what makes Halo work to them. While we understand the importance of the Covenant's role in the game for continuity purposes, we didn't want to focus solely on those particular species. Thus, the idea for the Prometheans was born.

There were a bunch of initial ideas the team had come up with, but the real spark of where they're at today came around discussions we had about if the sandbox is ultimately what differentiates Halo from every other FPS, then what does it mean to the way the legacy AI works and how can we make that better? That very quickly evolved into a theme of adaptive AI.

Our goal was to design a type of enemy that is highly adaptive from a tactical standpoint, basically transforming the player's idea of how the world and combat works in order to try and gain the upper hand. If these are advanced beings, it seems like they would be intimately connected with the world they made, so the Prometheans can manipulate their environment and themselves in a way that makes them part of it. That is where you get to the final end result of Forerunners being able to spawn in and out of the world, spawn other creatures, phase back and forth, and environments moving around. They are able to manipulate things in a way we haven't seen before, and they complement existing mechanics and change the way the player engages in the combat encounter.

According to Scott Warner, Lead Designer on Halo 4, creating an entire new enemy class was a daunting task. We started with, for all intents and purposes, a blank canvas where anything could happen. There was a super-brief glimpse of Forerunners in Halo Legends, but we wanted to do something different from that so we took as much as we could from already established Forerunner language and put it on the Prometheans. For instance, when you see a Knight idle, there are small and large bits attached at the elbows that are not physically connected but linked in a different way. They have a mystique, a gravity-defying look, similar to Forerunner structures.

Halo 4 Concept Art
800x600, 1024x768, 1280x720, 1920x1080

We had several goals in regard to the appearance of the Prometheans, but the most important ones were to make them relatable and resonate with the player. To achieve that, we went through weeks of brainstorming and iteration. That process went a little like this: Senior Concept Artist Gabriel Garza would sketch a sheet of character models (which often included up to 20 different variations), and, upon completion, would send it around the studio. Designers, animators, and every other relevant group in the studio would then chime in with feedback. Often times people would react strongly to the same models, so from that initial 20, Gabo (as we call him around these parts) would then grab five and make another 20 out of that five. It was a long and tedious process, but one that is necessary when designing new alien characters.

There was a lot of design and creative and artistic flux there, where people just didn't see eye-to-eye on things. Subjectively, it took us a long time to get everybody to a place where they were truly happy with what's on-screen. Even going up to E3, we weren't sure how people were going to perceive them. Getting the forms to be something that met the design requirements of what was important and getting people to appreciate their aesthetics was a challenging process.

After the concept phase was over, we then had to determine what works in-game. One of the very early takes on the Knight included long, folded arms with tentacle-like fingers. It looked awesome, and incredibly menacing, but if it was holding a weapon, its range was extraordinarily (and freakishly!) long. So while it looked great in concept, it wasn't functional in-game. Every character has to move around, aim, and communicate things to the player, and because it couldn't do those things effectively, that take of the Knight was taken back to the virtual drawing board and iterated upon again, until we perfected what you see today.

Halo 4 has a very rich ecosystem of enemies, but ultimately we wanted to give you something you haven't seen before that is fun to shoot and kill. And hopefully that is exactly how you'll feel come November 6.

Now, without further ado, here is what you've been waiting for: the Return of the Forerunners BTS. Enjoy. :)

From the desk of the Community Cartographers

Halo 4 Screenshot

For those of you who need an introduction, the Community Cartographers are members of the Halo community who work directly with the 343 Industries Matchmaking Systems Team to bring the best community maps out of the shadows and into the Matchmaking spotlight. They recently gathered together to sponsor a community challenge, and below are the results of that contest.

From the Community Cartographers:

Well, we made it. After two months of downloading, reviewing, and playtesting, the Community Cartographers Forge Contest has finally come to a close. Today we are happy to share with you some of the finest community maps we have had the honor of reviewing throughout this process. Sorting through 281 maps proved to be quite the task, but the gems that ultimately shined the brightest really made this a worthwhile endeavor.

We'd like to start this announcement by thanking all of you who participated, supported, and helped us make this contest a reality. We were lucky enough to have a talented Forging community that made the playtesting and review phases of the judging component of this contest an absolute pleasure. Our purpose as Community Cartographers is to highlight individuals like you who really make Forge into something greater than any of us ever thought imaginable. We are happy to dedicate ourselves to you and guide you in your quest to one day see your map featured in Halo: Reach's Matchmaking. In order to accomplish this feat, your map must meet some pretty stringent guidelines, which is why we built the contest guidelines and criteria the way we did. Please take into consideration that while we saw some unbelievably creative and imaginative maps from this contest, we judged them based on these criteria because we want to see your maps ultimately featured in Halo: Reach's Matchmaking. As promised, we are taking our top 10 finalists and reviewing them with 343i's Matchmaking Sustain Team for possible integration into Reach's Matchmaking suite down the road.

We are now happy to share the winners with you! For a first-hand look of some of the submissions we had the pleasure of reviewing, and some awesome action-packed gameplay of the three finalists, check out our official announcement video prepared by one of our very own, petetheduck.

In 3rd place, we present to you:

Halo: Reach Screenshot
Timberline - By Eshcka

Congratulations, Eshcka! Enjoy your prize package:

3rd Prize: Anniversary Bundle

  • Anniversary Map Pack
  • Anniversary Theme
  • Anniversary Avatar T-shirt
  • Top contender for Matchmaking integration

In 2nd place, we're proud to share with you:

Halo: Reach Screenshot
Cedar Hill - By umd z

Nice work, umd z! Your ordnance will be delivered as promised!

2nd Prize: Reach DLC Bundle

  • Noble Map Pack Code
  • Defiant Map Pack Code
  • Anniversary Map Pack Code
  • Top contender for Matchmaking integration

And finally, The Community Cartographers are proud to present in 1st place, the Grand Prize package winner:

Halo: Reach Screenshot
Crossdraught - By Lethal Exactor

This map truly was the cream of the crop, and we know you will all enjoy it as much as we did. We are happy to present this Grand Prize package to Lethal Exactor. Congratulations!

Grand Prize: Halo Bundle

  • A signed copy of Halo 4 by team members of 343 upon release
  • Reach GonD Code
  • Halo 3 GonD Code
  • Halo Wars GonD Code
  • Top contender for Matchmaking integration
  • Front page feature in Waypoint News section + Q&A with author

To get a little one on one with Lethal Exactor, our Grand Prize winner, please look below as we pick his brain on where he drew his inspiration to build this award winning map as well as some other informative hints and tips on how to repeat his success.

What was the inspiration for Crossdraught and its name?

Crossdraught draws inspiration from some of Halo's most memorable and popular multiplayer maps, including Battle Creek (quite obviously), Midship, and The Pit. These maps are all excellent for mid-sized Team Objective games, and that is what Crossdraught aims to emulate.

I chose the name "Crossdraught" because it represents the long, cross-map sightlines that characterize the map. Draught of course refers to a breeze, and if the map was a real place, I imagine it would be quite windy and cold (hopefully that doesn't reflect my personality).

Why did you choose Multi-Flag CTF and Neutral Bomb as the best for your map?

Crossdraught was designed primarily with Multi Flag CTF in mind, so that was a natural choice. Neutral Bomb is probably my second favorite objective game type, and I think the two-base-style of the map really suits the ebb-and-flow of a Neutral Bomb game. These two game types were also the ones that I completed the most testing for, and the map has therefore been shaped heavily by feedback from CTF and Neutral Bomb games.

Did you run into any difficulties during your map's development? If so, briefly describe them.

Quite a few. Although the bases have remained relatively unchanged since the early versions of the map, the side structure and the center of the map have seen many revisions. I had many different ideas floating around my head, but the value of testing proved itself when I saw the shortcomings of most of those ideas in-game. The final layout that I settled on isn't perfect, but it's certainly the best of the many that I tried.

If you had unlimited control of your map in the future (graphics and all) what would you do with it? What would it look and feel like?

I'd definitely take the Covenant route. I was a big fan of the visual style of Assembly in Halo 3, and I think the Covenant theme has been under-represented in Reach. The skybox would be a stormy, electric blue and the map would be flanked by dark, barren and windswept mountains. Overall it would be a foreboding place where you felt you were in a real struggle against both your opponents and the elements.

Tough question, but what would you change about your map if you were to re-create it? Phrased another way, what do you dislike the most about your map and how would you fix it?

I'm quite happy with the map overall, but if I were to make it again from scratch I'd probably fiddle around with the side structure a bit more. One of the main dilemmas I faced during the final stages of testing the map was whether or not to directly connect those two side rooms, but I decided not to in favor of them acting as spawn-havens for each team. But I think I made the right choice, so I'd be hesitant to change it.

In your opinion, what would you say the most important aspect of level/map design is?

Definitely balance. Structural balance, weapon balance, spawn balance, it's all essential. Each team needs to be given an equal opportunity to win, regardless of whether the map is symmetrical or asymmetric. Each part of the map, and every weapon, needs to have both advantages and disadvantages associated with its use (e.g., a Shotgun may spawn in an open area with long sightlines, as it does on Crossdraught, but is a great help if you can get it inside one of the bases).

If you could add a feature to Forge, what would it be and why?

I would, without doubt, add the ability to create and alter terrain. Forge World was incredibly diverse, and I thank Bungie for that, but on the other hand they probably could have preserved a lot of disc space if they'd given the player the tools to create their own terrain (not to the extent of Forge World). For any of you who have spent time in Far Cry 2's map editor, you'll know what's possible.

Is there anything you are looking forward to in Halo 4 from the information that we've been given so far?

I'm hyped about a lot of things in Halo 4 but I'm probably most keen on trying out the new weapons, abilities, and specializations. Like a lot of people, I'm a tad nervous about the direction Halo is taking, but I'm willing to try new things if they add to the experience, and I think they will.

Any tips for forgers out there reading this interview?

With the imminent release of Halo 4, and therefore Forge 3.0, I think the best advice I can give for those serious about forging is that you must be sensible and neat. With features like coordinates, magnetism and so on, there's no excuse for messiness. Choose your objects and weapons carefully, and make sure they all serve a purpose. You don't have to have a clear idea of what your map will be when you start, but if you're sensible and neat, chances are it'll turn out pretty well. Good luck!

Is there anyone you would like to thank for the success of Crossdraught?

I'd like to thank all the good people at Blueprint who helped me test the map and gave me plenty of constructive feedback. I'd also like to thank the Community Cartographers for their efforts in administrating the contest out of their own free time. You're all awesome!

Thanks for taking the time to participate in the Q&A, Lethal Exactor! Hopefully our Forging community can use your advice and inspiration to mold their Forge creations into beautiful masterpieces as you have.

And with that, we conclude The Community Cartographers Forge Contest. We are so thankful for everyone who participated, as well as 343 Industries for supplying these top-notch prize packages. We can't wait to see what your talents will create in Halo 4's Forge this November!

Thank you so much to the Community Cartographers for hosting such an amazing contest, and congratulations to the winners. We'll be playing on these maps in one of our upcoming playdates, so stay tuned for more information about that particular event.

And that wraps up today's edition of your weekly Halo Bulletin. See you next week! Through the scope of a Covenant weapon, if all goes according to plan...

bs angel

P.S. Discuss.