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17 October 2012
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The Halo Bulletin: 10.17.12

17. October 2012 22:00

Every time someone spreads a leak, an angel loses its wings

Every time someone spreads a leak, an angel loses its wings. At least that's what I'm assuming is happening, considering my backside is suddenly bare. Oh yes, there's no longer any junk above my trunk, I've lost the adonk from my badonk, and Sir Mix-A-Lot no longer likes me.

Despite the absence of flying apparatuses, my spirits are still soaring. Why, you ask? Because in less than three weeks, you will finally have Halo 4 in your hands. Whether you start with Campaign, Spartan Ops, or the multiplayer mayhem that is War Games, you will soon be embarking upon an adventure - one that we've spent years crafting for you, and one that we hope you'll enjoy immensely.

Regardless of whether your road to launch includes getting touched by a spoiler, nothing will compare to the moment you feel the familiar weight of the Battle Rifle in your hands as you're welcoming back your old friends, the Master Chief and Cortana. Speaking of the Chief, I can neither confirm nor deny that in Halo 4, he decides to mix things up a little. I can tell you, however, that he just may attempt to shoot his way out.

Enough small chat, though. We have a lot we have to cover, in not a lot of time. This week's topics include Meltdown (one of the multiplayer maps shipping with Halo 4), the Mantis (dat mech), a complete list of Halo 4 skulls (now with pictures!), Halo-themed pumpkin patterns (in case you're planning on carving a jack-o'-lantern this year), and a few other interesting tidbits. Shall we begin? I think we shall!


Evolution of the Master Chief

Evolution of the Master Chief

As the video game industry advances, so does its tools and techniques, and that is readily apparent when looking at the Master Chief's evolution over the past ten years. Each iteration of our favorite Spartan super-soldier has been distinctive yet similar, but don't confuse design with canon - the Chief is the Chief, just with the details and idiosyncrasies based on what each time period and toolset has to offer. So embiggen the picture above by clicking on it, and enjoy the walk down Master Chief Memory Lane. Just don't wander off too long, because some brand new Meltdown screenshots are anxiously awaiting your attention.



Halo 4 Screenshot Halo 4 Screenshot
Brand spankin' new Meltdown screenshots 1 and 2!

DESCRIPTION: While most Forerunner technology appears to support safe usage over immense passages of time, the failure of specific systems can cause a cascading effect which dramatically impacts a site's foundational composition. This frigid moon's icy conditions once served to control a Forerunner reactor's intense heat, but those days are now long gone.

The main objective when creating Meltdown was to design a medium size level that catered to both infantry and light vehicle combat. Early on, several paper maps were drawn in the attempt to find the best possible solution to these goals, and ultimately a figure eight-style took the crown. Though it had several iterations through its design, the figure eight vehicle path and base locations always stayed the same. The largest changes were adding more infantry paths (like the caves) and making simpler base interiors.

Initially it was difficult to tell what side of the map the player was spawning on because of the rotational symmetry. We solved this with the level's theme: Using the core meltdown of one of the base generators, one side of the level was essentially melting from the heat and the other remained covered in snow and ice. While the original concept took place in a canyon-like environment similar to Beaver Creek, this new theme solved many issues with environment identification.

Meltdown is built around a looping layout with upper and lower pathways. The lower path is focused on vehicles (which tend to run loops around the map and perform hit-and-run actions on enemies), and the upper path is focused on infantry (which tend to move across the light bridges into the center combat space and use cover to ambush enemy players or move around the cliff walls and fight at range from the high ground). Throughout the design process, our goal was to make infantry feel on equal footing to vehicles. This is where the tighter vehicle paths, plenty of cover and numerous foot paths come into play. With this in mind, we wanted a level that felt like a large vehicle map while staying the size of a medium infantry map. Unlike the normal large vehicle maps that are usually seen in Halo, the tighter vehicle paths and prevalent infantry areas make it much easier for the player to traverse on foot without feeling vulnerable to snipers and vehicles. It's also possible to run from one side of the map to the other within a short amount of time, similar to other medium-sized maps.


Halo 4 Screenshot Halo 4 Screenshot
Brand spankin' new Meltdown screenshots 3 and 4!

As a large, vehicle-heavy map, Meltdown spawns a wide range of power weapons. Games on this map typically kick off with big explosions as each team spawns near both a Railgun and an Incineration Cannon. During the matches, Infinity keeps teams well equipped with the Incineration Cannon, Scattershot, Sniper Rifle, SAW, Rocket Launcher, and Fuel Rod Cannon.

Despite its size, Meltdown does not spawn the Banshee by default. This helped us create unique vehicle combat, focusing on the clash between the high ground on the cliffs and bridges and the low ground below. Without the Banshee, it means getting to the high ground advantage is even more important in combat encounters. If you can't live without the flying purple dealer of doom, you're free to forge a Banshee for yourself for even more varied gameplay.

Unlike the other maps, this particular playspace has the bases built into the outer walls. With these large, integrated bases, Meltdown is built to support Dominion (but Big Team Battle is also a studio favorite). Teams spawn inside the Alpha and Charlie bases and then contest the center, which is a large contrast from Longbow, which has players attacking and approaching all three bases from the start of the match.

In the end, Meltdown became a fun level for both infantry and vehicle fans, and stands out in objective game modes. But look out for the Mantis, which has the ability to rip you a new one when you're not looking...


The Halo 4 Mantis

We first introduced you to the Mantis through the above dubsteppy, Spartan-stompy, teabaggy video. While it made the majority of people excited about piloting this particular bad boy, a few were concerned it was overpowered when compared to the rest of the Halo 4 sandbox. To quell that fear and talk a little more in-depth about this brand new vehicle, Ali Zandi, a Systems Designer here at 343, stopped by with more information you could ever want to know. And then some.

The Mantis is a new UNSC bipedal weapons platform, fully equipped with a high caliber chain gun mounted on its right arm, multi-rocket system on its left arm, and UNSC's energy shielding technology. The chain gun is effective up close, but has significant projectile spread and heat when laying on the trigger for long periods of time (once the chain gun overheats, it goes into a cool down sequence for a few seconds, disallowing the weapon to fire during that period). The rocket pod delivers massive direct impact damage, as well as moderate amounts of splash damage to infantry and armor. It has two firing modes, one being semi-automatic, and the second being a full volley of however many rockets are loaded in the pod. A total number of five rockets can be queued up by holding the weapon's trigger down, or fired individually by latching the trigger. Once all five rockets are depleted, the Mantis initiates a reload sequence, replenishing the rockets after a few seconds.

The Mantis has two variants - Campaign and Multiplayer - which differ greatly in terms of damage, spread, and projectile speed. The Campaign version of the chain gun deals much more damage as it uses higher caliber rounds, and the rocket system is anti-aircraft.

Inspired by Halo Legends, the Mantis started out as an armored exoskeleton that Spartans would equip, augmenting their abilities. It had numerous weapons, roles, mechanics and shapes, and featured a dedicated shield. It also had the ability to jetpack, use thrusters, and fire a Railgun. We even had an early prototype that consisted of the Chief riding in a giant scaled-up Chief (Yo dawg, we herd you liek the Chief, so we put the Chief in your Chief so you can play as the Chief while you play as the Chief). The idea then evolved into an actual mechanized vehicle, which was more epic in scale and fit the UNSC better.


Halo 4 Mantis Concept Art

Once the concept was finalized and the Mantis was modeled and rigged for animation, we hooked up the bare systems to allow the weapons to fire and players to occupy the seat. During that time, there was massive animation work done to get all the parts moving and animating. It was difficult because there was nothing in the game engine that contained any logic for a mech. It was not easy iterating on values, because if we cranked the knobs on movement speeds or stomp delays, for example, the animation team would need to iterate on the animation content for the walk cycles and the stomp animation to compensate. Communication was crucial.

We ended up using a biped/vehicle hybrid, and there were significant amounts of content and code work done to bring this to life. After that phase came the heavy animation work and iteration process on the timings and numbers to get the legs feeling and behaving correctly in all the different possible situations across numerous maps. The team focused heavily on the Mantis' legs and foot pinning to make sure the legs would behave when walking across various elevations and obstacles. Once we felt good with the timings and animations of the movement, we starting balancing health, weapons, and numerous amounts of other magical systems for Campaign and Multiplayer.

During the balancing phase, we discovered players were having a hard time knowing if the Mantis was reloading or not from certain distances, because the silhouette remained the same. To address that issue, we decided that it needed some sort of visual feedback to show when the weapons were temporarily down. It was definitely interesting and challenging to decide how we could animate the arms without it sorting into itself at different torso rotations and pitches, or looking like a Jersey Shore fist pump. Once we got the animations down, we found that it was extremely useful to players on foot, because it visually conveys the windows of opportunity infantry has when the Mantis weapon systems are down.

Overall, it's slightly similar to the Scorpion tank in terms of health and armor, but it trades firepower for maneuverability, allowing the Mantis to be more agile than the Scorpion when needed. Also like the Scorpion, it is capable of being boarded by enemies and EMPed by a Plasma Pistol charge. One notable difference is that the Mantis is capable of using its weight to deliver a devastating stomp to crush enemies in front of it by pressing the melee button. Time your stomp carefully though, and remember that it's a risk reward. If you miss and or use it carelessly, you leave yourself open to being boarded.

UNGGOY// Sensors at Balaho indicate stability, no off-planet transport recorded since Solipsis. Runners are claiming that Buwan has been abandoned as well, but we're keeping our eyes on it anyway. Moderate Unggoy populations have been observed in Sangheilian systems at various intervals.

Halo 4 Screenshot

The biggest challenge when designing the Mantis was making it feel satisfying both for the players piloting it and players fighting against it. The goal was to have an awesome new vehicle in Campaign and Multiplayer, and not have it pulled off the Multiplayer boards because it's impossible or too easy to counter. Through rigorous playtesting and prototyping, we pursued the "less is more" approach and simplified the Mantis into a much more focused experience.

One of the more effective roles for the Mantis in Multiplayer is base defense. It does especially well in close to medium ranges against both infantry and vehicles, but it's good to have some cover just in case. You don't want to be caught out in the middle of the battlefield in your big giant robot when the other team has a Spartan Laser. If used in an offensive operation (for example, escorting teammates toward the enemy flag), it is extremely critical to have a team supporting their fellow Mantis, killing potential boarders and anyone targeting the Mantis with a power weapon.

While piloting the Mantis is an enjoyable experience, so is blowing it up. Hooking up and polishing all the numerous little bits and doodads that splinter off the Mantis when each section starts taking damage and breaking apart was definitely the most fun (and time consuming) out of all the vehicles to setup. Each destruction asset piece is tuned to give proper visual response when popping off its parent region. There is a lot of attention to detail, and we made sure that the destruction is granular and satisfying.

Oh, one more thing to all you budding mech pilots: Watch your back, because she can be boarded from behind. And yes, that's what I said.

KIG-YAR// Eayn's native population continues to grow and expand within reasonable governing parameters; its economic and social lines have stabilized in the wake of the war. Muloqt, Kaelarot, and Valyanop, the primary interplanetary colonial sites, all remain static, with little notable movement. There are rumors of mercenaries operating alongside a handful of more conservative Sangheili states, although that has yet to be substantiated.

Section 3


Please remember to take out the garbage.

SANGHEILI// Most intel here originates from ground contacts, but sensors have assisted with validation. The primary issue with the Sangheili is that of discordant cultural symmetry. It is difficult to assess military growth across several dozen active colonial vectors all with disparate political structures. Nevertheless, any and all visible military activity appears to be internecine in nature.

Halo 4 Skulls

Halo 4 Skulls

Skulls are a longstanding tradition in the Halo series and one we're excited to continue. Modifying gameplay and multiplying difficulty, the Skulls in Halo 4 will behave like the ones you already know and love from Halo: Reach. In Halo 4, they will be available in Campaign and are automatically unlocked from the start. For the uninitiated, you can find the names and descriptions below. By the way, if you're the type that leaves no stone unturned in your quest for hidden secrets, fret not, because the Domain Terminals will scratch that itch... and more.

Famine - Weapons drop much less ammo.
Tilt - Enemy resistances and weaknesses are increased.
Mythic - Enemies have increased health.
Catch - Enemies are grenade happy!
Black Eye - Shields don't recharge unless you melee enemies.
Tough Luck - Enemies always go berserk, always dive out of the way, and never flee.
Iron - Co-op: Back to previous checkpoint on death. Solo: Restart mission on death.
Thunderstorm - Major upgrade to the capabilities of enemies.
Cloud - Motion sensor is disabled.
Cowbell - Acceleration from explosions is increased.
IWHBYD - Rare combat dialogue becomes more common.
Grunt Birthday Party - Headshot a Grunt, HAPPY BOOM TIME!
Blind - The HUD and the first person arms and weapon are hidden.

NOTE: A cluster of Sangheili frontier worlds saw a sudden and anomalous convergence of unregistered ships, largely cruisers of varying classes according to a handful of remote relays stationed nearby. By the time sensors were deployed, the ships were gone. The relays can't assess numbers or strength, but the readings we have indicate that this wasn't an expeditionary voyage or something tied to a single state. It appears to have been much larger.

Carve this way

Halo Pumpkin

Last year we provided a variety of pumpkin carving patterns perfect for your Haloween-related festivities, and this year we're doing the same. Below you will find seven different patterns, some relevant to Halo 4, some specific to Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, but all somehow related to this crazy thing called Halo. So choose your difficulty, pick your favorite pattern, print it out on a paper-like product and carve it into a large orange fruit (the white portions signify areas to carve while the gray patches should simply be scraped). Then, once you've completed the aforementioned activities, share it with us via the "Submit News" button on the front page. Yes, we want to see it, because we kind of sort of like you. And your gourd-like creations.


Halo Pumpkin Pattern Halo Pumpkin Pattern

Halo Pumpkin Pattern Halo Pumpkin Pattern

Halo Pumpkin Pattern Halo Pumpkin Pattern

And that wraps up yet another Bulletin. Until next week...

bs angel

P.S. Discuss.