The Halo Bulletin: 9.19.12
by bs angel
19. September 2012 22:00
Au is on the horizon
Our eyes are bloodshot, our work areas are full of empty energy drink cans, and our beds have filed a formal request to spend more than two hours per night with us. Our spirits remain high, though, because we're almost there. Au is on the horizon ...
As we work around the clock to put the finishing touches on Halo 4, our studio is focused on three main things: finding bugs, fixing bugs, and arranging a cage match between Caitie and Hoop (two of our developers on services). Actually, we're trying to arrange a triumvirate of events, which includes the aforementioned cage match, a Gangnam Style dance off, and a Nerf war but either way, my money is on Caitie. Primarily because I like the thought of keeping my money.
Our PR and Marketing teams are also going full speed ahead, as they prepare to kick things into overdrive. I snuck a peek at their calendar for the next few months, and let's just say they have more than a few surprises up their sleeves. Some of those things you will see in stores, others will aid you in your eternal quest for nourishment, and a few of them have the potential to blow your mind. (I say potential because they will blow your mind if you like awesome things, but maybe not if you don't like awesome things. Take that as you will.)
By the way, Halo 4 launches in less than 50 days. If you're not ready, I suggest you get ready, and what better way to do that than by learning about the Covenant weapons you will soon have at your disposal?
Halo 4's Covenant Weapons
The Covenant weapons in Halo 4 presented us with an interesting design challenge. Traditionally, they haven't been as popular as their UNSC counterparts, and they get much less use across the board. From a high level, we still wanted them to feel alien, futuristic, and technologically advanced (or at the very least, foreign) when compared to human weaponry, but we also wanted them to be equally viable choices.This was not an easy problem to solve.
There are a lot of gameplay specific reasons why Covenant weapons function the way they do. The blue/purple/pink color schemes and higher-pitched sound effects are intended to contrast the UNSC weapons and make enemy fire stand out. The projectiles are intentionally slower so that when fighting AI, the player is able to react and dodge them. They also tend to drain shields faster than armor health because it adds tension and creates situations where the player feels like they are escaping a fire fight by the skin of their teeth. In short, the weapons were designed to be fun to fight against, and some of these properties work against making them fun to use.
So how did we resolve these issues? On the aesthetics side, we felt like the shiny textures, bright colors, and flawless models of the past made them read a bit too toy-like, so we tried to make everything slightly more grounded. We did that by showing more wear and tear (such as scuffs and imperfections) and using new textures that made the guns look like they were created from hard metallic alloys (instead of plastic). The audio for all Covenant weapons went through several iterations until they felt a bit more punchy and visceral, while still sounding alien. As far as gameplay goes, we changed the weapon properties to make them better equivalents to UNSC weaponry. For example, the projectile speeds are drastically increased when the player uses them so that they are easier to hit targets but when AI fires them at the player, they are slower so that they are still fun to dodge. Finally, we spent a lot of time on the interface components. Two such examples are the zoom scopes, which were made to have a much more alien feel when using the guns, and the digital displays and reticles use of a similar alien language.
Halo 4 features nine Covenant weapons, with a mix of old and new. Take a look at them in action by watching the following (brand new!) video, and then we'll chat a bit about how they feel when you're using them on Halo 4's virtual battlefields.
If you're interested in the audio side of things, get your headphones ready and crank up the volume because we'll be releasing the version without music shortly.
Frank O'Connor (Franchise Development Director), David Ellis (Spartan Ops Designer), and Chris King (Lead Sandbox Designer), along with Jeff Guy, Jayce Diaz, Joel Gifford, Kynan Pearson, Ali Zandi, Alyson Szymanski, Todd Colby, Josh Lindquist, and Chris Howard joined me to share their thoughts about this particular subset of weapons. The Covenant utilizes the following base weapons:
Directed-energy weapon capable of semi-automatic firing and a scaled-burst effect which disables electronics.
How it feels:
Frank - Absolute beast, tempered by the fact that you'll deplete your charge quickly and are brutally punished for running around with it pre-charged all the time. I had it in one of my go-to loadouts on a semi-permanent basis but I've kind of moved away from that, except where early vehicle domination seems likely.
David - Let me answer your first question: No, we're not introducing the Halo 2 Noob Combo as a standard loadout in Halo 4. While the Plasma Pistol still strips shields, in my experience it doesn't track nearly as much at a distance when compared to previous titles. It's still very useful against shielded enemies (UNSC and Covenant alike) but as Frank mentioned, pay attention to your remaining charge.
Chris - Don't be deceived by the toy-ish looks. This is a powerful gun! To be effective with the normal shot, you will need to use it at close ranges because the projectiles are extremely slow relative to other weapons. And since players spawn with it from the get-go as a secondary weapon, we've had to retune the number of charge shots down from the past (when charging, the energy drains pretty quickly in multiplayer compared to the past). It's still a great choice, though, especially on vehicle maps. If you are a fan of the Noob Combo, I'd recommend trying to scavenge a Magnum as a backup. The Halo 4 pistols all have faster animation timings than in the past, allowing you to switch to them faster than any other weapon in the game. Charged Plasma Shot + Magnum headshot = WIN!
Jeff (Test) - The Plasma Pistol continues its role as one of the strongest utility weapons in the Covenant arsenal. Its ability to strip enemy shields or disable enemy vehicles makes it a dangerous and deceptive weapon in the hands of the right player. There's something so satisfying about landing a charged shot against a Banshee and watching it fall from the sky, the pilot helpless to avoid his descent to an inevitable barrage of fire from your appreciative team members. The soaring green blasts in any PvP match are a reminder that you are only one good shot away from being defenseless against headshots. The sound of the charged weapon rounding the corner as the player un-crouches from cover to engage you stops your breath for a moment. The sting to a Spartan's hands when the weapon overloads from charging too long is a bittersweet reminder that the weapon remains destined for the hands of the tactical player.
Exotic guided-munitions weapon firing crystalline shards that home in, impale, and detonate on soft targets.
How it feels:
Frank - The Needler is not my favorite weapon in terms of efficacy - and you'll see that in my Reach stats, but as something I used to only use in cases of last resort, I'm finding it more and more useful in Campaign and Spartan Ops than ever before - and taking out Elites and Promethean Knights by supercombining can be a great way to break up strategic logjams in big encounters.
David - Here's some friendly advice for your Legendary Campaign runs in Halo 4: make friends with the Needler. For clearing out Elites and Knights, it has quickly become the pick-up weapon of choice at higher difficulty levels in both Campaign and Spartan Ops.
Chris - The Halo 4 Needler is probably the most powerful version of the gun to date. I love the new, more mechanical firing sounds of the gun as it feels more visceral. One of the big changes this time around is that the needles stick to shields again (in Reach, the needles only supercombined when shields were down). This makes it deadly for sure. However, its effectiveness is tempered by the overall faster pace of the game, which gives players a better chance of avoiding the needles. If you catch an opponent off-guard, they are in for a world of hurt.
Chris H. (SDE) - The Needler has received a damage and speed boost, which definitely makes it more powerful this time around. It's always been a fun gun to use, but now it's extremely satisfying and almost always a good idea to pick up if found on the battlefield.
Josh (Senior SDE) - The Needler is so bad-ass, some of us call it the "noobler". It feels like the Halo 2 Needler to me. It will wreck your -Yoink!-
Fully automatic, directed-energy weapon, widely considered the successor to the traditional Plasma Rifle.
How it feels:
Frank - This isn't accurate in terms of power or performance, exactly, but in a way I am reminded of the Brute Plasma Rifle from Halo 2 in terms of ferocity and sheer visceral pleasure. Of course it doesn't work well at long range and can't be dual wielded, but that's my snapshot impression, if it makes any sense.
David - The Storm Rifle fills a role similar to that of the UNSC Assault Rifle, but somehow the Storm Rifle is just plain more frightening to come up against. Early in development, there weren't a lot of people using this weapon, despite how effective it was at close range. That changed overnight when the weapons effects and sounds started to come online.
Chris - This is a fantastic close-range weapon, once you figure out the rhythm on the overheat. I especially love using this weapon on smaller maps or in tight areas as it's incredibly lethal. It doesn't have the range or accuracy of the AR but if you manage the heat well, you can continue firing for quite a while and it will give you a significant advantage over other weapons that require longer reloads. It takes some getting used to, though. If you just hold the trigger down and let the gun reach its overheat state, you are faced with a long cool down penalty.
Alyson (Producer) - The first level of the campaign is set up really nicely for the Storm Rifle. Use a charged shot on the Plasma Pistol to knock down the Elite's shields, then pop him with the Storm Rifle, and finally finish off the fodder of Grunts. Then pick up the Plasma Grenades for yourself. Mwhahahaha!
Todd (UI) - Before Halo 4, I was lukewarm on Covenant weapons. I never felt like I got the meaty feedback I got from UNSC weaponry. The Storm Rifle has converted me to the Covenant arsenal - half of my loadouts are customized with it in mind. Its rapid fire rate makes it perfect for run-and-gun, and covering teammates has never been so rewarding. When I engage enemies with the Storm Rifle, it's like I'm repeatedly slapping my opponent in the face with a thousand fruit roll-ups. Delicious victory.
Notable semi-automatic mid-range accuracy, firing ballistic rounds unlike most other Covenant weapons.
How it feels:
Frank - It's the Carbine. I have always felt it was a perfectly good sub for BR and DMR and indeed sits somewhere between the two in terms of its utility for my style of play - but I have tended to avoid it every now and then because of the super-visible contrail. For some reason, in Halo 4 that hasn't been much of an issue for me - or it was my imagination to begin with, but I have been using it more and more and in Campaign, it's essential.
David - I can't decide if it's the size of the bolts you fire or some other intangible, but the Carbine feels (to me) like the most accurate weapon in the game. I find it especially useful for when I'm waiting to launch an ambush. Against inexperienced foes, the barrage of rapid fire shots can cause enemies to panic and make mistakes... to their doom. As Chris mentions below, it's great as a finishing weapon. I would recommend pairing it with a Plasma Pistol or Storm Rifle.
Chris - Mathematically, this is the most lethal long-range rifle in the game in a one-on-one encounter. It fires extremely fast - double the rate of the other rifles. But it doesn't have the range of the DMR or LightRifle, and each individual shot is relatively weak. A player that can land the bulk of their shots and manage their ammo well can be extremely successful with it, though. Because of its headshot capability, it is also a great weapon for playing cleanup with teammates (have them drop opponent shields and then score the headshot). I love using this weapon but I can only use it in short bursts. The firing rate is so fast, it makes my fingers tired after a while!
Joel (Test) - The Covenant Carbine is an absolute terror when going up against unshielded foes. Bringing it into Spartan Ops missions against Grunts, Jackals, and Crawlers allows you to quickly drop waves of enemies, provided you can land the headshot. In PVP, it has a little trouble getting through enemy shields, but the precision and high rate of fire allow you to constantly bombard your opponent.
Ali (Systems Designer) - It's my go-to weapon on the Covenant side because it's the anti-Grunt and Jackal weapon from a distance, and it caters to my somewhat stealthy play style. I enjoy the firing rhythm and the punch it delivers.It's fascinating compared to UNSC rifles because the look, feel and audio feedback are unique and alien, especially when scoped in.
Extreme-range sniper rifle, charging ionized hydrogen gas into a lethal beam of accelerated particles.
How it feels:
Frank - The Beam Rifle always felt a bit more solid and frightening to me than at least one or two iterations of the UNSC sniper. Now I prefer the UNSC sniper overall, both aesthetically and in terms of performance, but the sonic impact of the Beam Rifle is super satisfying. Like the Carbine, they seem to be easier to find in Campaign than human snipers. It's also a bit easier to know where you're being pinged from [with the Beam Rifle].
David - First off, I love that a proper Covenant sniper weapon is back for Halo 4. It's been sorely missed. Secondly, the new HUD elements on the Beam Rifle when zoomed in really help to sell this as a piece of alien technology. As before, the meta-game of managing the heat of your rifle and firing on enemies means that every shot counts. Get too hasty and you'll be looking down at your dead body in the flash of venting gas.
Chris - I love the Halo 4 version of the Beam Rifle! This thing is ridiculously large and imposing looking, and it has a really mean firing sound. Because of its enormous size, it does have a decent amount of recoil between shots but the firing rate is the fastest of the snipers and if you manage the heat state of the gun, you can get off all shots in quick succession without an overheat or reload. One other pro-tip on this one: it's the best sniper rifle for hip shots in Halo 4!
Kynan (Lead Multiplayer Level Design) - The Beam Rifle is sick. What's not to like about being able to clear out an enemy team with a single weapon that when used correctly doesn't require a reload... and the sound is so satisfying.
Similar to other Covenant mortar weapons, firing explosive bolts of plasma at close-range to mid-range distances.
How it feels:
Frank - I have always found this weapon to be useful in close quarters combat and even against vehicles as a "confuser" - and I think the combination of fireworks and physics does a tremendous amount to add chaos and doubt to a battlefield. While I don't use it except in desperation in Campaign, in MP I will absolutely grab it as a secondary, or when I am out of ammo on a primary.
Chris - The Concussion Rifle and Brute shot have always been somewhat controversial in that players either love them or hate them - there doesn't seem to be an in-between. The biggest change to the Halo 4 Concussion Rifle are the stronger physics impulses from the explosions along with faster projectile speed, which makes it work better in more open spaces and from a longer distance. That being said, I wouldn't recommend trying to use this in a duel with a DMR from across the map. I love the firing rate on this weapon but IMO, the best part about it is the emergent sandbox moments you can get from the strong physics impulses on the explosion. Try drilling a speeding enemy Warthog from the side, and watch as hilarity ensues!
David - I suppose you can put me in the latter of Chris's camps as I still haven't quite been able to wrap my brain around this iteration of the Concussion Rifle quite yet. It's great against vehicles and the physics impulses are great, but I suppose I'm a simple man and I like blowing stuff up in a shower of fire and brimstone.
Jayce (Spartan Ops Designer) - Against AI, it can topple vehicles and has a fast enough firing rate to scatter large groups, and against other players it has the uncanny ability to cause confusion and pain at a safe distance. It is the ultimate noise gun, a disruptor that can leave enemies in complete disarray before they die.
Chris H. - I am impressed with the precision the AI can wield the Concussion Rifle with in Spartan Ops. They are really good at juggling my lifeless body after they obliterate me.
FUEL ROD CANNON
Typically used against heavy armor by launching charged fuel rods which violently detonate upon impact.
How it feels:
Frank - A great weapon, not exactly a Covenant Rocket Launcher, but not too far off - also one of the weapons that oddly enough, really shows off some of the environment mapping on our surfaces. You really get a "feel" for whatever space you're in based on the reflectivity and the way it catches color and light.
David - For me, the Fuel Rod Cannon sits somewhere between the Rocket Launcher and the Brute Shot, with regard to how I use it. Against Covenant or Promethean forces, you can clear out the cannon fodder with relative ease, but against more evenly matched enemies, expect to need multiple hits to drop them.
Chris - Traditionally, the Fuel Rod hasn't gotten a lot of love in Halo multiplayer. This has changed in Halo 4. This is another case where I am really excited about the direction the audio and FX teams went in with the weapon. It's not drastically different but the changes just make it feel that much more satisfying and visceral. As with the other "area of effect" weapons in the game, the projectile speeds have been increased on this one, and we've fine-tuned the blast radiuses just a tad. Despite the faster speeds, you will still need to land a couple fuel rod shots to finish off an opponent, as an individual blast isn't powerful enough to kill someone. Because of the large magazine size on this one, it's also great for area of denial as well.
Composed of superheated plasma, this sword remains the preferred close-quarters weapon of specialized Elites.
How it feels:
Frank - I am just eating it with this right now. I thought universal Sprint would give me a huge advantage, but the reality is it flattens it out for me. I used to go on crazy tears with the sword, but now I find myself being stopped short - that "gun game" thing people are referring to more and more seems to be hitting me where it counts during would-be sword sprees. I do find myself on the receiving end of it a fair amount, however.
Chris - To Frank's comment, I think one of the mistakes I see people making with our sword is that now that players move faster with Sprint by default, they assume they can just run at opponents and kill them with the lunge from far away. This is a mistake - you still need to be somewhat sneaky with it. That being said, if you can restrain yourself from going all Rambo and just use it in tight spaces, it's as lethal as ever. Important changes include making it swing much faster than it has in the past and eliminating those pesky melee parries (no more "CLAAAAAANG!" unless the other person also has a sword). One final pro tip: when sprinting with normal weapons, if opponents shoot you, the shots will slow you down a tad. A sword wielding player is immune to this!
David - It's big, it's made of hard light, and it will wreck your world if you're not paying attention to your surroundings. I think Frank and Chris covered everything else.
Kynan - I love the sword in combination with the Thruster Pack. There's no better feeling than sprint jumping off the roof of a building into a crowd below and then thrusting to dodge or close distance, putting you perfectly in range to cut through them all like butter.
Crude yet formidable close-range Brute weapon, substantially improved by way of a powerful gravity drive.
How it feels:
Frank - For me, it's kind of the opposite philosophy from a lightsaber, an inelegant weapon for a more barbaric time. I love the fact that the splash effect can buy you some distance, even when you whiff it badly. I love the fact that a direct hit is a cast-iron guarantee of success, and I love the fact that you feel almost exactly like Donkey Kong for a similar amount of swings at the "barrels" the sandbox presents you. And yes, I know Mario is the one swinging the hammer, but it's important to make the Donkey Kong analogy sing!
David - I think this says everything.
Chris - The saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" applies here. This is one of my all-time favorite Halo weapons. There aren't a ton of changes that we made to it - more like nuanced tweaks. The animation speeds are a tad quicker, the area of effect has been expanded, the damage tuning tweaked but overall, it's pretty similar to past incarnations. Probably the biggest change comes in the form of the physics impulses - they are much more powerful now to compensate for the beefier vehicles in the game. This has the awesome side effect of making the Gravity Hammer ragdoll players and objects much more than it has in the past. In short, you should expect the hammer to function similar to past versions, but with more showboating flair!
And that wraps up today's feature about Covenant weapons. Don't leave yet, though, because we're about to breakdown the different editions of Halo 4. Join me, won't you?
A breakdown of the different editions of Halo 4
On November 6, there will be several different options available for those interested in purchasing Halo 4. As this information came out in waves, there has yet to be a central location for seeing all the relevant details in one place. Until now.
Below you will find the different editions of Halo 4, along with what each edition comes with. Clicking on some of the fields will open a picture or take you to an article with additional information. Completionists worrying about the fact that exclusives mean certain items may never be available to them have been noted, and we're definitely considering ways to make the entire gamut of items available at some point in the (relatively distant, since we obviously wish to give our retail partners plenty of room) future.
It's also worth noting some readers have noticed that GameStop has stopped taking Limited Edition pre-orders online - and we suspect GameStop gets the lion's share of US pre-order Limited Edition units. Some overseas retailers have also stopped taking Limited Edition pre-orders so without jinxing it, we can confirm that this generally happens when they run out of inventory. We'll keep an eye on that situation and keep you apprised.
And that wraps up this week's edition of your Halo Bulletin. I'll see you next week, when you may or may not be getting another new video. Until then...