Bungie's Euro Dash
First things first, this is an unusual Halo update. It's unusual because there's almost no Halo 2 info here, thanks to the fact that the team was on a very intense crunch to complete a very important stage oif development. So if that's the kind of thing that makes you mad, relax, take a week off and things will be back to normal next week. But if for some reason you're curious to know what I was up to this week, then read on.
It began not with a bang, but with a whimper. In this case, the whimperer was Parsons, known colloquially, for terrifying reasons, as “Mango.” Mango, you might be aware, is the Studio Manager, which gives him unlimited power. When he barks, we mew, submissively. Now, as Spider-Man noted, with great power comes great responsibility. Parsons must have been watching a chick-flick that day however, since he’s about as responsible as a drunk Terminator in the John Connor Children’s Library.
“Frankie,” he says, his eyes narrowed to hide whatever emotion might be lurking in his beady, reptilian eyes. “Do you have a passport?” he enquires.
“Why yes, I do!” replies I, still bubbly with the effervescence of youth and stupidity. That was a big mistake. As a matter of fact, from now on, when Parsons/Mango asks me a question, I shall simply respond with the opposite of whatever the truth happens to be that day.
“I need you to run a little errand,” he says. “To London, and Germany, and you need to leave on Saturday.” This was of course, Friday afternoon.
So the next day, I’m off to dear old England, with a bag full of underwear and a relatively complete (although sometimes broken and occasionally untextured) build of Halo 2 on the hard drive of a large and suspicious-looking Xbox Development kit.
The build I took was picked from the last few days of progress for the simple reason that all the blood, expletives and crunching noises were functioning perfectly.
Most of you probably have experienced the joy of carrying an Xbox around. Well a dev kit is heavier, bulkier, and impossibly, sharper. I actually have grooves on my shoulder from lugging it around Europe. But we’re not in Europe yet, so we’ll get to that.
Going through airport security with anything sharper than a Nerf hackey-sack is cause for much wand-waving, shoe-searching and sphincter-tightening these days. Going through with a huge, heavy, electronics packed box of mystery is always a crapshoot. On one hand, if the security inspector is a young guy, you might squeak through with a couple of game-related questions. On the other hand, if it’s an older lady with a distractingly large mole and a bad attitude, you’re headed for the ergonomically correct cavity-search station.
At Seattle’s security station, they’ve seen plenty of Xboxes. “That’s weird,” says the inspector, “The debugs are green and the dev-kits are usually crystal. Why’s this one two-tone?” he asked, with altogether too much expertise.
“I don’t know,” I replied, “I think it’s because it’s a Euro version.”
“Aah, PAL devkit with SCART video kit. Gotcha.” He says. Creepily.
So onto the airplane I get, for a ten-hour flight in coach class, near the rear of the aircraft (See: “Mango”). Luckily my view of the toilet was partially obscured by two hysterical toddlers, who proved that kids actually will
stop screaming when they’re exhausted. As a matter of fact, eight hours into the flight when one of them paused for a minute, the wit in the seat in front of me muttered, "Thank God. One of them’s died."
So why am I going to Europe, you probably asked about a minute ago? Well, the game has to be certified for sex, violence and mild antics by European censors. In this case, the Video Standards Council in Borehamwood, near (allegedly) London, and a German outfit known by the catchy title, Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle, or USK for short.
Now the problem I faced was getting to Borehamwood from Heathrow Airport, since the one train service that goes there, happened to be on strike that day. Cue hilarious race across London and then through ever-narrower country lanes (think Death Star trench sequence), stick-shift, right-hand-drive and wrong side of the road escapades. Everything was fine until I hit my first roundabout (four way stops are an exceptional UK rarity) and totally forgot which way to go around. As the old dude in Indy and the Last Crusade said, “You chose….poorly.” Sorry London. I promise not to scare everyone next time.
If they check the left hand side of that car they’ll see that I hit every curb in central London as I hilariously misjudged the width of the car.
The demo in London was fairly straightforward. I sat with two very polite English chaps and ran them through much of the game. I was especially careful to show them how many human allies you could kill and using what brutal methods to do so. I had to force some characters to swear. One of the marines, as you’ll find, doesn’t take too much prodding.
Actually, I noticed, going through single player for the first time in ages, that the Marine voice work is awesome. Not so much what they say (some of it is incredibly funny though) but more the way they react properly to circumstance. Even staring at a character for a long period of time will illicit different responses, depending on the circumstances.
The VSC was totally unconcerned with the murderization of Covenant forces. Apparently, if the game didn’t allow you to turn on your allies, we’d have gotten the UK equivalent of a PG, regardless of the galloons of alien blood we had flooded the Galaxy with. Britain is now completely unconcerned with bad language, as I discovered watching BBC TV in the hotel that night. Just as well, since every other word out of our game seemed to be bastard., -blam!- or bull-blam!-.
I did point out that technically, you can kill tens of thousands of Grunts, Elites, Brutes, Jackals and “others” while playing a typical game. “No problem, as long as they don’t look human,” said one of the chaps.
As I liberally coated every surface of New Mombassa with human blood just to show it could be done, the two fellows hummed and hah-ed, but clearly knew exactly what they were doing. Just as I was explaining that you could continue to blast corpses after they’d fallen, but that they wouldn’t move, an animation bug kicked in and caused the poor cadaver to twitch horribly, whether I blasted him or not. It has been fixed.
In the end, after seeing tons of game, checking out a few very shocking twists, and finally agreeing that it was not in your best interest to kill all your buddies, they let us squeak by with a UK 16 rating, thanks to blood, swearing and violence.
To be honest, I was glad to get out of London. The city itself is hip and cool, but airport hotels SUCK and the only local entertainment was a gas station. I did play a stupid amount of single player Halo in my room, but I was too jetlaggy to enjoy it. I ended up being frightened and confused and couldn't remember whether I inverted my controls or not. And I was pining for some multiplayer by the end.
So off to Berlin. Now, when you’re flying to Berlin, on business, it’s hard to not feel like a spy. I tried to look especially international and dangerous. Don’t know if I pulled it off or not, but nobody gave me any guff at Tegel International Airport. Berlin, if you haven’t been there is pretty awesome. Beautiful old city, interspersed with some truly horrible communist-era buildings and intersected by pretty canals, a river and lots of cool modern buildings. AND the most graffiti you’ve ever seen. “Ich Bin Ein Berliner,” might actually be German for, “I have hella spray cans yo.” Berlin is awesome, but it needs a wipe.
So to kill time before prostrating myself before the German censors, I wandered around the museum district, and absorbed myself in the German culture. I speak just enough German to make ein arschloch of myself, and more than enough to order huge plates of meat. Which I enjoyed thoroughly. Meat, cheese and mustard for breakfast. No wonder the Germans drive so fast. They’re trying to reach the next bathroom.
The Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle is located in a modern office building, but to get to it, you have to walk through an especially shady looking couple of blocks. I began to suspect that Mango was having me whacked. I saw a comic array of efficient German prostitutes and a gang of actual Skinheads. My head was freshly shaved and one or two of them actually nodded agreeably. I nodded back and quickly hobbled away, the 30 pounds of Xbox and 200 million dollars of software loaded on its hard drive, weighing heavily on me, all of a sudden.
I thought it prudent at that point, to refrain from expressing my disagreement with their politics, but wondered why German skinheads put such stock in the British Union Jack flag.
It was a relief to finally reach the USK building. Now, the British office was stacked high with software, paper, ashtrays and full of cigarette smoke and semi-organized chaos. The German office was almost stereotypically efficient. But things took a turn for the strange rather quickly.
So I thought it was going to be the same deal. Show the guy some gameplay, answer his questions and take off, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Remember the scene in Superman the Movie, where the hovering blue faces pass judgment on General Zod? Well that was the quorum of German “experts” that passed judgment on Halo 2. Hovering, blue, the whole deal. As far as I remember. I was pretty spazzed by then.
They asked a lot of very specific questions, including, “Why is this Master Chief so aggressive in his actions against the Covenant?” It got very weird, very fast. So after showing them as much blood, gore and horror as they could stomach, I was finally permitted to leave.
Berlin’s subway system, as far as I could tell, appears to operate on the honor system. I never once had to show, display or wave the stupid ticket I bought at the hotel. So remember kids, when in Berlin, cheat them out of five Euros.
Good news on the way back. I had to spend one more night in London, and a cab driver, irate that I only wanted to go to the airport hotel for a measly 10 quid, called me the WORST SWEAR WORD IN THE WORLD, and when I asked him to repeat himself, said literally, “Nuffing guv’nor.” Then when I took my seat, he muttered, “Bloody yanks, they’ve got *#%#@$* buses for *#$@%! like you.” Aah, dear olde England. And its honest cockney cab driver. By the way, I’m not American, I’m Scottish.
The flight back from London was bizarre, because I was actually hallucinating from jetlag and lack of sleep. Sick of flying, I suddenly remembered that I have an eight hour flight to the Yucatan Peninsula in exactly seven days and had a near panic attack. But I got through customs, shaking and sweating like my bowels were packed full of heroin and Swiss currency. They paid me no mind, however, and so Halo 2 is safe for kids (16 and over) in the UK and Germany.
When I got back, Mango asked me if I’d ever been to Singapore…
SO next week, back to normal, lots of new Halo 2 info and real events, but until then, here's a look at the localized version of Halo 2.