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Halo: Anniversary Q&A, E3, 2011

Halo: Anniversary During E3 2011, 343 Industries franchise development director Frank O'Connor, executive producer Dan Ayoub, and producer Dennis Ries took a few minutes out of their busy schedules to answer some detailed questions about the Halo: Anniversary project, due to be released in November 2011.
Update: Three new questions (and answers, of a sort) have been added as of 4pm EST, June 12 - jump here to see them.

HBO: What's in the package for $40? One disc, or two? Are multiplayer and campaign separated like ODST, or are both on one disc, allowing switching in a lobby instead of swapping discs? The Reach DLC is not included - but are the original Reach multiplayer maps? If the only Halo game you owned was Halo: Anniversary, what could you play, exactly?

343i: This will be one retail disc, 39.99, everything launches out of one menu. It's kind of like a one-disc ODST - obviously it doesn't have the other DLC, because most people who buy this are going to have Reach already.

It just has the 7 new maps - Reach's original multiplayer maps are not included.

If you just have Reach, and you don't want to play this, we will make these available for separate purchase eventually. We're not saying how long 'eventually' is right now, but it's not an amount of time that will upset anyone.

There will be a playlist for just these maps. Reach players will be able to directly play seamlessly in that playlist, and those maps will also be integrated into other playlists. We'll try and make a very central place to play just these maps, so there'll be a good population, but eventually they'll end up in all lists. We're going to do significant stuff with matchmaking playlists to make sure that these are respectful of original system link-type games. You know how there's a Classic playlist right now? Imagine that, but plus-plus, and some other stuff we can't talk about right now.

HBO: You've said that this game is using original Halo code - yet you've announced online coop. Have the additions to allow this been created completely separately, or are other portions of the netcode changed?

343i: All of the Reach extras - Saved Films, Forge, etc - are available for the multiplayer maps, but not for the single-player campaign. The coop code is separate, and allows 2-player cooperative play over Xbox LIVE, as well as via System Link and single-box Split Screen.

HBO: You've said that you've re-recorded the music - but the voice acting is the same. How about the sound effects (environment, weapons, vehicles)? Are they re-recorded, as well, or just remastered from the original? Does the visual toggle between old and new extend to an audio toggle?

343i: Every single audio sound effect has been redone. Some of them have been re-recorded, others have been remastered. Dialogue is the same - identical. (We're cleaning it up, so it works better in 5.1.) All of the music is being re-recorded by Skywalker Orchestra - the same melodies, though there'll be some slight tweaks because it's a full orchestra. It's richer, fuller, much more expansive production values. Some of the synthy stuff will be less synthy. We're trying to retain a lot of the original flavor, rather than just replace everything. It'll sound like the Halo soundtrack, but just richer, fuller.

When you jump back to the old game, you have new audio. You've already got two engines runnning. You have the old gameplay physics and AI engine, and the new graphics layer running on top. We couldn't run a third engine to do audio emulation, as well. Think about the loading. You see the slight pause, when it switches? Audio files are some of the biggest files - waiting for the switch would be just unpleasant. It's not jarring at all, this way - when you switch back, if there's an ambient effect, it just keeps going. We never gave audio serious consideration for that flip, because it would have been a dissonant experience.

HBO: How fast is the toggle? Can you swap back and forth really fast, to sort of see a combination?

343i: Some of it's cached, just like a level is cached, so it gets faster each time you switch - and the switch back is instant. But there will always be a delay going from new graphics to original.

HBO: Is the Master Chief armor 'done', in terms of what's going to be in the package, or can this still be tweaked before release? WILL it be tweaked before release?

343i: We had to make something to put in the trailer, but it wasn't quite finished, so we're still tweaking it. (We realize this doesn't guarantee that everyone will like the final product - just that if you're unhappy with the version in the trailer, you can enjoy that it's not final.)

HBO: The Terminal concept we were shown yesterday seems to be created in the style of the motion comics that Waypoint's been releasing for the past year. Is this going to be a consistent style for all terminals, or will there be a variety?

343i: Yes, that's the style we're using for the terminals.

There's a terminal on every single level. If you think about that, in terms of what the levels are, and what species those locations belong to - even that's a part of the story.

We'll be careful about where we put them. They'll be in gameplay - but you should be able to access them without dying.

HBO: Are you removing any eggs from the original game - and if so, why?

343i: It's possible that some eggs might be removed or changed a little from the original, out of respect for the creators.

We've added plenty of our own eggs.

HBO: You've said that the new graphics are an overlay, running on a separate engine; are these purely visual in nature, or do they alter the collision geometry of the scenery? (For example, in Silent Cartographer, some standard pillars in the first structure you get to had been used for jumping - they've now gone from fat pillars to curved, narrow structures. Does this change how you interact with them?)

343i: Every jump we've tried so far has worked. We haven't looked at every existing trick, but what you're talking about SHOULD still work, because of how the collision model overlays - but in a worst-case scenario, you can switch to classic mode, make the jump, then switch back to see the results in the new engine. One of the big tests for next week is the Tower to Tower jump that was just completed last week - we hadn't thought that was possible, so we didn't try it out, but now that we've seen it, we're going to give it a shot. The tops of the towers are still flat, so there's no real reason it shouldn't work.

HBO: Did you add any soft barriers to keep people from getting to spaces they were able to get to in the original?

343i: We added no soft barriers at all. If you could get there in the original, you can get there now.

HBO: Some tricks relied on exploiting bugs in the original code - are those bugs still there? (Examples might be overloading the engine to remove geometry, or using the timed blasts from the Forerunner towers to get past dead zones.)

343i: We're emulating the same RAM space as the original - but the 360 DOES have more memory than the original Xbox did. It's POSSIBLE that some bugs that used to be exploitable are no longer available - but we consciously tried not to fix anything that had been 'broken' before. We understand that a significant chunk of our audience for this product will be using it for these kinds of tricks, and we made sure that they'd be able to do most, if not all, the things they could do on the original.

Extra Questions, added 12 June 2011

HBO: Just to clarify - will the in-game cutscenes receive the same graphical upgrade as the regular gameplay? And will the back-and-forth toggle exist here, as well?

343i: Yes, the cutscenes will use the new graphics engine, and yes, you'l be able to jump back and forth.

HBO: The original Halo played differently on NTSC and PAL systems - some guns fired at different rates on the two systems, fall height was altered, and more. These were all due to the fact that gameplay was tied to on-screen resolution and refresh rate. Do these differences still exist, or have the problems been 'solved'?

343i: PAL issues are all solved, per Xbox 360 norms. (This means that guns fire at the same rate on both systems, and fall damage is applied to both formats equally. These rates and heights are the old NTSC rates and heights, so PAL players WILL see a difference compared to their original Halo discs.)

HBO: If I own Halo: Reach, and I buy Halo: Anniversary, will I have a way to play ALL the maps (the original Reach maps, any DLC I've purchased, and the 7 new maps) at once, without having to swap discs?

343i: Yes, this will be possible. Details will be forthcoming before release.

Thanks to Frank, Dan, and Dennis for their time, and all the clarifications!