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9 January 2013
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The Halo Bulletin: 1.9.13

01.09.2013 18:00

I feel like we haven't talked since last year

Halo Holidays

Greetings and salutations, dear reader, and welcome to the first Bulletin of 2013. I wanted to write you an eloquently penned introduction, full of cleverly-crafted phrases intended to evoke emotional responses relevant to the recent warm and festive holiday season, except I couldn't remember the name of the traditional party favor typically used during celebratory occasions. So I opened up my favorite search engine, typed in "things you blow at parties", and proceeded to get lost in the deepest, darkest depths of the intertubes. Suffice it to say that it wasn't safe to go alone. Thankfully I wasn't truly alone, because after a few weeks of operating at partial capacity, 343 as a collective entity is officially back and running full steam ahead into the anxiously awaiting arms of the New Year.

Earlier this week, as people across all disciplines of the studio readjusted to the daily grind, we took several hours to get together as a group and sync about what we accomplished last year and what we hope to accomplish this year. As we looked back at 2012, we called out the positives, talked extensively about the negatives, and eventually switched gears to everything that is and will be 2013. I'll touch on some of the lattermost things shortly but first Frank would like a few minutes of your time. When he initially mentioned he wanted to write part of today's Bulletin, I was all, "You want to do half of my work?" And he was all, "Yes, but only half. Don't even try to pawn the whole thing off on me." Then I was all, "Whatevs, dude. Just start writing already." And he did.

From the face of Frank

2012 was supposed to be the end of the world. Instead, it was the beginning of ours. Halo 4, despite being the seventh or eighth game in the Halo series (depending on how you count them), was our first game. That is to say, our first-ever fully fledged title, built from the ground up creatively and technologically. So let me save you the trouble of trolling my statement: We have a lot to learn. We made a lot of mistakes. We can do better. And we know this, and we will. But I don't want to spend the first moments of the year thinking about the negatives, because frankly, I am incredibly proud of both the team and the game that team created.

And for a first effort, it wasn't half bad.

Stepping into Bungie's oversized shoes would have been difficult, even for a well-established team. The challenge of wrangling that engine, that universe and that community was dizzying, even withering. Four years ago when our charter began, the challenge of starting the seed of a development team and then creating a sequel to Halo terrified us. A small group of us - names you know, like Kiki Wolfkill, Bonnie Ross, Kenneth Scott Josh Holmes and other characters who have moved on to different projects, different places - was tasked with doing something that was almost impossible.

But the team grew. And we learned. And we're still learning. And the game arrived and it succeeded. Halo 4 is the best and fastest-selling Halo game in the series. It won critical acclaim. It won awards, from Best Graphics at the VGAs to Game of the Year at the Inside Gaming Awards. We altered the engine. We expanded the universe. We innovated in storytelling, technology, and even marketing. It wasn't flawless by any stretch of the imagination, but by most objective criteria, it was a resounding success. So we know we have a lot to do. And we know we have a lot to learn. But we also know that we now have the capacity, the teamwork, the technology and the experience to do much better next time.

But my point is this: If you'd asked me three or four years ago if we thought we'd be where we are now, I would have looked doubtfully at you and said, "That's a lot to ask." But the team, through miracles of collaboration and individual contribution - and lakes of blood and tears - waded into the challenge with gusto and worked obscene hours with passion and verve to get it done. And now we're beginning to really understand what "it" is.

I think that, perhaps perversely, rather than being looked at askance with doubt and cynicism, in some corners we've been given extra latitude - the only benefit of low expectations. And then the ability to exceed those expectations.

There are a ton of things we wish we'd done better: Features that didn't make it into the final game. Glitches that emerged. Missteps made. DLC fiascos. Communication breakdowns. But there were things that went astonishingly well - the creation of a genuinely competitive AAA studio chief among them. A collection of talent and souls that can do something genuinely amazing on this and next-generation hardware. The overhaul of an amazing game engine - but one that really needed to be overhauled - and an amassed education on systems, people, code and audience that will stand us in great stead for the future.

Some of the high points of the last few years have been products as well as people - like Halo: Anniversary and Forward Unto Dawn. There have been amazing events - Halo Fest, the E3 debut, ComicCon - all blurring into a sea of faces, excitement, light, and noise.

But the most important aspect of our success, and our efforts now and in the future, has been this community - a demanding, imaginative, engaged, vocal, varied and intelligent swarm of personalities, groups and individuals, each with subtly to radically different interests in this vast and varied universe we're charged with. That isn't lip service, nor is it pandering. You guys pay for the privilege of playing our game, and you have every right to have a voice in its development.

It may not have ended up precisely the way you imagined - there are simply too many voices and perspectives to make all of the people happy, all of the time - but we think of the community as a direct and democratic extension of the team and, indeed, of the development process. A litmus test, a pH strip and a sounding board for ideas and innovations, you are the tension between the need for change and evolution, and the necessity of inertia.

Technically, this should be a retrospective, but it's safe to say I'm more excited about the future than the past. Excited about what this team is already working on. Excited about what this team is capable of. And excited about the future of Halo. A future we want you to be a part of. A future we're building for you.

A look at early 2013

While Frank's words present the perfect note to end on, I'd like to share a little about the future he spoke of. One of the best parts about being blessed with the caretaker role of such an expansive universe is the opportunity for exploration, and books play an important role in that. Halo: Primordium came out in early 2012, and Halo: Silentium, the third novel in the Forerunner Saga written by Greg Bear, is slated to be released on March 19, 2013. Here is a little about it, for the fiction fans amongst you:

In Halo: Cryptum, Greg Bear began a three-book arc set in the era of the Forerunners, the ancient and enigmatic creators and builders of the Halos, which continued in Halo: Primordium. Now, in the last years of the Forerunner Empire, chaos rules. The Flood, a horrifying shape-changing parasite, has arrived in force, aided by unexpected allies. Internal strife within the ecumene has desperately weakened Forerunner defenses.

Only the Ur-Didact and the Librarian, a husband and wife pushed into desperate conflict, hold the keys to salvation. Facing the consequences of a profound tragedy, one of them must commit a great atrocity in order prevent an unmatched evil from dominating the entire universe.

As far as Halo 4 goes, we have some fun stuff planned for late January and beyond. After the Infinity Challenge concludes, regular Matchmaking updates will start up again (and that includes the return of the second half of Spartan Ops Season 1, which features brand new stories, missions and locations). It's important to note the below scheduled is not finalized and could very well change, but as of right now, here is what we're tentatively planning:

Week of 1/21
Spartan Ops Episode 6: Five new missions and an accompanying new CG cinematic.
"Forge Test" playlist (name not final): A rotational hopper featuring small Forge maps such as Relay. Help us test these maps by providing feedback and reporting bugs that will assist us in getting them ready for Matchmaking!
Specializations: Pioneer and Pathfinder Specializations unlocked for all players.

Week of 1/28
Spartan Ops Episode 7: Five new missions and an accompanying new CG cinematic.
Grifball playlist: A rotational hopper featuring everybody's favorite virtual sport. Catch the disease!
Specializations: Engineer and Stalker Specializations unlocked for all players.

Week of 2/4
Spartan Ops Episode 8: Five new missions and an accompanying new CG cinematic.
Team Doubles playlist: A rotational hopper for those of you that like action of the 2 vs 2 variety.
Specializations: Rogue and Tracker Specializations unlocked for all players.

Matchmaking updates go live every Monday, and potential playlists for the month of February include both FFA and a new and improved version of Team Snipers. Late February will also bring both a Title Update and the Majestic Map Pack (which includes two small maps and one medium-sized map) to Halo 4 as well. Expect more information on all of those things next month.

While we're excited about our upcoming Matchmaking updates, I'm also excited about some of the things that may be low on your priority list but are high on mine. Take communication, for instance. I believe we need to work harder to get you information. We communicate through Bulletins, blog articles, social media channels and our forums. While that may sound like a lot, there are still numerous people asking questions about information that is already out there. That means we need to work harder to make sure the information is where you are. We've already started this effort on the forums (which is the first and most important place we look for feedback). We launched a "News" section, where we provide links to all headline articles, press releases, and blog articles we publish on a daily basis. There are also threads in that section where you can suggest a topic (Battle Rifle bulletology, anyone?) or ask a question for a future Bulletin. We'll continue working on our communication, and you can gage our efforts by keeping an eye on the following forum accounts:

Forum Team: General support
MM Systems Team: Matchmaking information
bs angel: General updates

For now, I'm going to let you soak up all of the above information. Fret not, though, because we'll meet again. Same time, same place next week, as a matter of fact. Until then...

bs angel

P.S. Discuss.