Bungie Weekly Update 5/18/07
Posted by Frankie at 5/18/2007 10:27 AM PDT
lukems writes:

Frankie is still flitting across the European Commonwealth showing Halo 3 (due September 26 in Europa) to various ratings and approval boards. This means the Weekly Update rests on my shoulders. As mighty as that sounds, all it means is that I am tasked with writing a brief, slightly humorous (depending on your funny bone) introduction to Frankie’s 1,500 word missive on Germanic tribes, Doctor guys and Betas going live.

All of that is followed by significantly less funny outro accompanied by a dismal facsimile of Mister Chief.

Here’s the message from Frankie’s bottle:

The Beta is Live!

The Halo 3 Public Beta went live to the general public on Wednesday, and things couldn’t have gone smoother! Everything worked exactly the way it was supposed to and…oh no wait a minute! It wasn’t!

For a while, we were as helpless as you guys, and probably just as PO’d. To be honest, there’s little we could have done differently – we sprang into action the second it happened, made calls, started helping where we could and so on, but the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes collapse in a steaming pile of bork.

This was just such an occasion. If we could have done anything differently, we’d have warned players specifically that a rollout of this scale might run into problems. We got lots of mails and calls from folks expressing outrage, that they’d taken the day off school or work to play and that their day was literally ruined.

Much as you guys will still be steaming mad at the tech folks in the backroom, I have to express my thanks to them for working hard to fix it in what (under those difficult circumstances) was a very short time. Now it might have been a short time to make a complex fix, but it was probably an eternity to some gamers.

Our mea culpa – and the generosity of Bungie’s Studio manager, Sparky, actually gives you three extra days to play and as Sketch pointed out, two of those are a weekend, so that might salve some of the wounds of work and school truants.

Some folks are still having the odd issue with the Beta – occasionally not seeing text for the interface. There’s an easy fix for that problem, repeated here for reference:

No Text in the UI Fix:

  • If you encounter this issue, you can fix it yourself by doing the following:
  • Restart your Xbox 360
  • Boot up the Halo 3 Beta
  • While the Halo 3 Beta is loading, immediately press up on the D-Pad and hold the A button until you see the Bungie logo. If you perform this correctly a dialog box will appear confirming maintenance has been done to your system.
  • Resume the Halo 3 Beta!

The “Game Over” screen problem – and some of the issues with file sharing and slow matchmaking – were related to our servers being overwhelmed and should be drastically improved by the time you read this. The great thing about a Beta test is that it helps everyone identify these types of hiccups BEFORE the final game ships. So, thanks everyone for slamming our back-end infrastructure. This is the precise reason we needed such a large scale beta in the first place.

And again, we’re sorry for the inconvenience and headaches from the past two days and we hope the fun you have playing the game makes up for the drama.

For the folks complaining about the Rule of Three emails (and not receiving them), we tried to help as many folks as we could last night (Sketch's fingers have calloused over from all of the codes he typed and mailed to people, last night) but it we were overwhelmed by sheer volume. We are working with Microsoft to find a solution, but there's nothing we at Bungie can do for you going forward. Please refrain from emailing BnetBugs@microsoft.com regarding the 3 Way to Play issues - we are unable to help any further. As soon as we hear more from Microsoft, we'll have an update for you at Bungie.net.

One last note on the beta. Tons and tons of dudes have asked questions on our forums about the Beta, but before you run to the Internet with your head on fire, check out the Halo 3 Public Beta guide, many of your questions are answered there.

Doktor Spieler!

So I’ve talked about the USK before.. Actually, last time I mentioned it was about this time during the production of Halo 2. Die Unterhaltungssoftware SelbstKontrolle is the German video game ratings board. That’s where I’ve been all week – touring Europe to get Halo 3’s age ratings Now, the USK gets a lot of flak. Which is almost entirely unfair.

Marek Klingelstein (or Von Klingelstein, as he laughingly refers to himself as), who’s effectively the lead reviewer at this government-linked ratings board, keeps a wall of unfair press clippings above his test station. The number of mentions of David Hasselhof is the most astonishing part. Apparently David Hasselhof is our (America’s) automatic response to anything German culture does. He claims of course, that David Hasselhof isn’t anything like as big as we think. But maybe Marek just isn’t on the cutting edge of German music fashion.

He also has a picture of David Hasselhof hugging some puppies, so the jury is still out on that one.

Most of those clippings contain stories about “banned” games, but in fact, the USK doesn’t ever ban games. If a game, for whatever combination of reasons, fails to meet their criteria for violence, or -blam!- content or language (but mostly violence) they simply don’t rate it. Even then, that doesn’t mean the game can’t be sold.

Gears of War is perhaps one of the most famous examples. The USK could not rate the game in Germany because of the violent content, so they simply did what their mandate demands – they gave it a “no.” Microsoft then took that opinion seriously and did not release the game in Germany – their choice. This is often the simplest and best option, since press and public reaction can make selling an unrated game very difficult.

The game instead went on sale in the much more lax Austria, fully localized in German and legally available for import into Germany. Of course, not being available for sale in Germany is problematic for developers and publishers – Germany is a big market of dedicated gamers – but sometimes it’s more annoying for the consumer. However, as I mentioned already, it can be imported in a correctly localized version from loads of retail and mail order places. And German consumers are savvy and prepared to do just that.

Gears of War was one of the biggest ever console games in Austria – thanks in large part to import orders from Germany.

The process itself is perfectly fair. They look at violence in its proper context – is it war? Crime? Adventure? Is the gore necessary? Defensible? Punished? Rewarded? Marek leads a team of reviewers, who’re kind of like philosophical beta testers. They certainly make recommendations and suggestions and pass on useful context, but in the end, the decision comes down to a panel of government and civilian experts. Including the aforementioned Doktor Spieler. And it's very important to note that the USK testers play through the entire game themselves - my role was simply to drop off the build and answer the occasional question.

He heads up the USK, providing guidance and management, and running an interesting office (which starts to become enormously busy at this time of year) and he has access to one of the most comprehensive libraries of video games you’ll ever lay eyes on.

As anyone with a vague understanding of German will know, “Doktor Spieler” is English for “Doctor Gamer.” This might sound like a kind of flippant nomme de plume for someone with such a serious responsibility, but I LOLd. It’s not a crazy nickname, or a branding exercise. It just happens to be his real name. He’s a Doctor. And his real surname is “Spieler.”

For Halo 3, we simply played through the entire Campaign, bugs and all, and thanks to the fact that our game is still a ways away, it was pretty buggy. However, all of the content was there, every mission and character and encounter – and the graphics, while far from polished, were correct to those that will be seen in the final game, certainly as far as gore and so on are concerned.

In these cases, the USK gives you a “preliminary” rating, meaning that if the final game they see differs significantly, they can (and occasionally do) change the rating. Funnily enough, although I’m not going to share our preliminary rating at this time, one thing that concerned the USK was “atmosphere and scale of encounters.” To which I say smugly, “ganz gut!” But we won't know our rating 'til close to when the game arrives and the USK has made its decision.

Incredible Berlin Facts:

  • Berlin is awesome
  • Berlin has too many Kebab places
  • They put creamy dill sauce on everything in Berlin
  • Hot chicks ride bicycles wearing short-shorts.
  • Dudes do too, so it’s nasty
  • When they knocked down the Berlin wall, teenagers moved all its graffiti onto other buildings.
  • Everyone in Berlin has 12 friendly dogs.
  • A burrito purchased in Berlin is definitely wrong, but still tasty.
  • People in Berlin really do consume significant amounts of sausage.
  • Berlin is hopelessly flat, and the giant famous TV tower is in the center, and therefore not terribly useful as a landmark except for telling you how far you are away from it.
  • All the toilets have push button flushes set into the wall.
  • Berlin has a four storey David Hasselhof museum, called Das Hasselhof HeiseMusischeundknightrideren palazenplatz*
  • The longest German word is a word for a steam boat captain’s hat. I do not have enough RAM to type it. I do have enough RAM to question why that needs its own word.

*No, of course it doesn’t. You great balloon.

After that, it was the simpler, but similar process for the UK. Forms are filled, demonstrations are given and ratings or recommendations are awarded. In the UK, there are actually two boards to visit – the Video Standards Council in sunny Borehamwood which actually supplies the famous PEGI European ratings, and then the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) which supplies a specific British classification. How did we do?

Well, you’ll find out in September.

Luke, could you put some stuff in about the Banhammer?”

The Return of the Banhammer

We’re not going to explain how the hammer gets swung or what happens to you when it does swing, instead, as our population on Xbox Live continues to climb we’re offering some quick pro-tips courtesy of Multiplayer Producer (and Duck Hunter) Joseph Tung, on how to avoid the Hammer’s wrath and keep your Kleenex free of salty tears.

Q: Since this is a beta, we’re not going to be pulling out the Banhammer for glitches and exploiting (in fact, that’s what we’re hoping you try and do), but we have fabricated the banhammer for a reason. What could jerks get into online that would result in a visit from Ninjas?

A: There are a number of Bungie employees out there playing the Beta everyday with their fingers on the Banhammer. We aren’t going to ban people for friendly trash talk, corpse-humping or polite requests for more chocolate milk, but racist or otherwise offensive language or behavior will earn you a ban (duration of our choosing) to contemplate repentance. Likewise offensive gamertags will get reported to the Live team for forced name changes. Considering the limited duration of the beta, people may want to try to generally be nicer when they play.

Q: But, but, that was my little brother playing?

A: Sucks to be you (and, presumably, your little brother).

Q: If someone is yelling upstairs telling mother to bring them another Hot Pocket, is there a fix for this annoying bug?

A: We’ve made it a lot easier to mute the whiners and singers (though personally, I have been known to enjoy a good tune). At any time (pre-game, in-game, post-game) you can select a player in the roster and choose to mute the annoying ones immediately.

Q: Joe, you play a lot of Halo 3, regale us with a tale from Jerkdom and tell us what happened to said infractor.

A: Last week one of the kids in our pool of Friends and Family had a racist gamertag. I reasonably suggested that he change it and he reasonably suggested that I blam! off. When I let him know he was heading for a ban the dude was like, “GUESS WAT I WORK FOR XBAWKZ SO ENJOY YOUR BANZ.” Genius.

While you’ll evade the Banhammer for trying to uncover a double melee during the Halo 3 Public Beta, don’t forget it’s dull thud with collapse your brainspace if your Xbox 360 has modded content on it. Additionally, remember to use the Xbox Live feedback to report jerks and their infractions against your fun.

If you do manage to uncover a double melee, get standby'd, jump out of the map, or something else breaks your experience,  log in to Bungie.net and report it in the official (and heavily policed) Beta bugs threa here.

While Frankie was in Deutschland, Mister Chief was in a mountainous region looking for his hammer. He found it.

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