Our chums over at Ensemble Studios are busy working on Halo Wars, the RTS game set in the Halo universe and one of the 360 games I’m most looking forward to personally. They had some Microsoft bigwigs down to visit them in Dallas recently (including Shane Kim – and boy, you should hear the man trash talk during Halo games…), and the lucky blighters got to play with the ever-more polished Halo Wars. You can read about that here at their (merely) monthly update: http://forums.halowars.com/1/42345/ShowThread.aspx
And one other interesting thing to note, is some kind of scrambled transmission seems to be decoding itself slowly in Thunder’s sig… coincidence? Maybe.
Chetz N Hax
I’ve been playing a lot of Campaign now, partly because it’s much more playable these days, and partly to go watch the layers of graphics appear magically before my eyes.
When I play through Campaign mode, I have a number of cheats at my disposal to allow me to proceed, unimpeded through what could theoretically be an arduous journey of hours, all to get to a single object or event. Sure, you can fly straight to some of these places, or simply “teleport” straight to that mission, or sub-mission, but often you need to trigger events to make other events happen. Nothing more anti-climactic than zipping to what’s supposed to be an epic battle against a giant foe, only to realize you skipped rescuing somebody important, and so the foe never appears.
So we cheat. With a simple button press (that obviously isn’t in the retail game, so don’t bother mashing your controller in the Fall) I can drop any weapon or vehicle. I can make the Chief invincible, or give him unlimited ammo. My two favorite cheats, because they’re immensely satisfying, are “Omnipotence” and “bottomless clip.” The former, means a one hit kill for any creature, using any weapon, from any distance. You still have to actually hit your target, but they always drop. The latter, is an endless supply of ammo, with no reloading ever. And that also goes for grenades.
I have played through an early level with unlimited grenades several times now, and it never gets old. There’s several places in the very first part of the level, where you’re not even supposed to have grenades. So while cheating makes those parts a little too easy, there’s nothing like hurling a single plasma into an unsuspecting group of Grunts, fresh off a Phantom dropship, and seeing them scatter, literally like screaming bowling pins. My favorite spot to do this is a verdant, sunny cliff edge that ensures any Brutes with them, take a fatal plunge into the lake below. The only glitch in this plan is that sometimes a Grunt gets stuck, and comes racing out of the group, thus saving most of them. The reverse can happen too – stick a Grunt and watch him panic and charge straight back at his (former) buddies.
Brutes are less easily panicked right now. Stick one, and it sends him into a rage. And guess where he’s headed next? If he doesn’t see where he was stuck from, you’re a little safer, but in really packed firefights, you have to carefully consider if sticking the big guys is the right thing to do. Plasma grenades have a way of coming back to haunt you. And there’s another plasma surprise that relates to Grunt behavior. We’re saving that one, but let’s just say it’s one of the funniest, yet scariest AI behaviors I’ve ever seen.
I usually don’t turn on Invincibility, because I want to keep things somewhat fun when I’m cheating my way through a level, but I have been known to turn on “Medusa” which basically kills every bad guy you look directly at. Now that isn’t fair at all. But it’s handy for getting through obscenely large battles, while still triggering checkpoints and events. Your Marine buddies seem a little miffed to have missed all the action, but it usually means you get from one side of a big encounter to the other, with a LOT more friends in tow than you might ordinarily. They’re so ungrateful.
The really fun thing about “Omnipotence” over “medusa” is the ability to take out vehicles, including Phantoms (and more) with a single pistol shot. Now THAT’S superbadass.
It also means ridiculous amounts of vehicle wreckage gets strewn around. And yes, I do play through “honestly” too. I’ve been tinkering around with new ways to approach encounters. Although I am a mediocre Halo 2 player, that does imbue you with enough skill to take on Halo 2 campaign with relative ease. So tuning difficulty levels for advanced players as well as newbies, is one of the primary challenges for designers.
All I can tell you is that Legendary is going to be a ferocious nightmare, but smoother and less “unfair” than last time around. But seriously, bring your skills.
Weekly Water Update
The programmers and artists are playing around with the properties of our water as it applies to objects in the game. So here’s an example I watched this morning, which may or may not make it into the final game, but it’s there right now. If it does something stupid, we’ll yank it – but here goes. If you die, in deep-ish river water in Valhalla, you’ll float briefly downstream until your Mjolnir armor becomes waterlogged and you sink to the bottom. You’ll tumble down the small-ish slopes with the flow of water, and make for some amazing death animations.
Now, the same thing happens to dropped weapons, depending on their weight and properties, so it can have an effect on gameplay. In High Ground, which has some ocean frontage (and it may not be the only map with that feature) a dropped weapon can roll up and onto the beach with the tide. There’s a lot of tuning to be done to make the visual effect not be stupid, but combined with the ripples and flow around vehicles and people, the water’s behavior is becoming more and more fantastic, which fans of this update will know is a big deal to me.
A week or two ago, I mentioned that Marcus was talking about muddy rivers. Well I found it. Actually, it had been there all along. But now part of it is muddy. Logically muddy – where it’s churned up by fast flowing river and then flows into murky pools. Follow that flow for a while and the “sediment” lessens and is diluted by the flow, and becomes clear enough to drink. And no, the X button is not the drink button.
That said, it looks like a lot of the X Button stuff is sorta done, and with any luck, you’ll be pressing X every now and then when you play the public beta.
Now grass ain’t water, but it’s worth mentioning. There’s a new type of grass in the house. And by house, I mean beach. Because it’s most definitely some kind of reedy beach grass. It looks amazing. It still looks like Halo stuff – I mean, it adheres to our art style, but it’s so freaking detailed. Best of all, after a period of senseless jumping around, I noticed that the grass was being properly shadowed, with the shadow dipping in and out of the individual blades. It’s really hard to describe, but it’s exactly the kind of crap I get fascinated by. It was even bent in the correct direction for wind and weather on that level, although it does move slightly in the breeze too.
Chris Carney was talking about where it should be placed and oriented to more accurately reflect the conditions of that terrain. Looked fine to me. Actually, a lot more than fine.
And speaking of wind and weather – one of the new, as yet unrevealed MP levels has blowing ice and clouds billowing through it. And it looks really cold. In fact, it makes Lockout look like Hawaii.
I also noticed a considerable change – I would call it a massive improvement – to the Brute Shot. Apart from looking a lot sweeter (both in its 3D model and the effects of its blast) there are some gameplay changes that should make it a real go-to gun in Halo 3. More on that in a future update.
Folks keep asking about the Halo 2 maps we have planned, and they’re an enigma wrapped in old newspapers, but inside a box of mystery, padlocked with an obfuscatory lock. But Sketch was excited enough about them to submit this:
New Maps and Monkeys FTW!
So as you’ve probably heard, there are some new Halo 2 multiplayer maps being developed by ex-Bungie multiplayer guy Max Hoberman and his new company, Certain Affinity. We haven’t had much to say about them thus far, and regrettably I still can’t spill the beans, but I can tease and taunt you with my own impressions after two separate internal play tests the past week.
In a word – FUN! The maps I saw were really shaping up and played great and are looking great as well. I admit it was a little tough at first to go back to Halo 2 after playing so much Halo 3 but it eventually came back to me (enough so that I dispatched producer Matt Priestly my first game back), like riding a bike I guess. However I didn’t fare so well in a game of rockets on my next match on a different map. As geeky as it is, my favorite part of the maps overall was the ambient sound – in particular, one map features some awesome monkey noises. I don’t know how I ever played Halo without monkeys. There was something else… something that felt strangely familiar… but I can’t put my finger on it quite yet.
Stay tuned for more info – we’ll be able to provide some concrete details relatively soon, promise!
Animation is coming on in leaps and bounds (lol, literally amirite?) and I just dropped a line of Spartans into multiplayer to watch their idle and breathing animations. The cool thing is that there’s enough natural variety in those animations that even a row of otherwise identical Spartans look like individuals thanks to simple differences in timing for the animation. Get close up and you see that the soft surfaces flex and change under the armor plates. It’s leaps and bounds better than in Halo 2 and there are more points of articulation anyway.
Nathan (Bentllama) was explaining some of the changes and enhancements to me (one of which is top secret because it’s so obvious and cool that someone really might steal it) and walked me through a sweet animation for a Jackal kill. We shot the unsuspecting Jackal through his dome, and watched him first fall (in a nicely hand-animated motion) and then, as his body reached about three quarters of that sequence, it was actually above a rocket blasted hole in the roof – so ragdoll takes over at that point, and the Jackal tumbles over the edge, cracking its bones on every object it hits on the way down, all in a horribly realistic fashion.
Next to Nathan was the new Elite model. And it is quite lovely – something that, were it in multiplayer, for example, you might want to play as. Tyson promises that the Elite model will be more fairly apportioned this time around. The current Halo 2 Elite models have some idiosyncrasies that make folks choose Spartans way more than they might ordinarily. It’s not a true balance issue, per se, but it’s being tuned as we speak for H3. And rightly so. Elites look superbadass. Real word. Look it up. If you can’t find it, maybe your dictionary is too liberal.
Marty’s in LA, still recording (and even editing) dialog. He’s been absolutely swamped with work and is sending sweet stuff back at a blistering rate, via the magic of FTP. However, he took time to pose with a couple of folks vital to the Halo 3 audio soundscape. One of these non-Marty’s is a famous actor with an impending voice role, who's never been in Halo before, the other a Bungie luminary. Can you guess who they are? No prize for the winner, but will be interesting to see the speculation. And the face under the middle Marty is normally quite lovely. Not that Marty’s face isn’t lovely.
Can you guess who Marty's companions are? Or which one is the real Marty?
One thing of Marty’s that is unquestionably lovely, is his music. And you can go hear it live at the upcoming Video Games Live concert in San Francisco. Here’s the details and take our word for it, even if you’re only halfway interested in game music, these things are a blast.
EXPERIENCE HALO LIVE IN SAN FRANCISCO!!
Presented in association with the Game Developers Conference, Video Games Live is coming to the
NOB HILL MASONIC CENTER in SAN FRANCISCO
1111 California Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
Video Games Live™
Next Friday, March 9th
Doors 7pm for Costume Contest, Games, and Prizes
Legendary Nintendo Composer Koji Kondo to Perform Live & Meet Fans!
MEET THE INDUSTRY'S BEST KNOWN COMPOSERS AND DESIGNERS AFTER THE SHOW
List TBA Soon!
So last but not least, we want to know what you guys call all your unnamed Halo stuff, like your favorite custom game types, for example Not going to explain why exactly, but after the forum jump, you’d be helping us out if you simply list all the names you call stuff in Halo when WE don’t have a name for. Make some lists, and don’t be afraid to be honest and or colorful. Don’t swear please, or use any terms you KNOW will be offensive to people, but do list all the home grown terms you use for stuff in custom games. Head all the way to the bottom for the forum link.