“Don’t play profile Frank. That build doesn’t log all the debug data. Play the ‘Play’ build and then if you get a weird crash, we’ll have all the data we need. Just don’t use profile.”
Oh really? They don’t want me to play profile eh? They forbid me to play this magical profile build of theirs. Well we’ll just have to see about that.
Minutes pass. You can hear the distant babble of conversation and the hypnotic tock-tick-tick of a noisy office clock. Then a plasticky clunk as I take off my surround sound headphones and yell, “JOE! HOLY CRAP GET IN HERE PROFILE IS ALL SMOOTH AND AWESOME OMG.” Note that when I say, “OMG” I actually say, “Oh-em-gee” out loud. I find it has a sexy impact you can’t get from saying “Double-you-tee-eff.”
Joe comes a-running. “Profile, eh?” says Joe.
Minutes pass. He’s laughing. And then, “Frank, I can’t believe I am actually enjoying this encounter more than anything I ever played in Halo one or two!”
He was enjoying it, as was I. In fact, about five minutes after I heard him make that exclamation, I got to the same point he did. It was a battle of such ferociously large scale, that it stood out even in the newly embiggened Halo 3. I mean, scale. Scale of combat and literal, physical scale. There’s a couple of things I’m not at liberty to reveal about that encounter, and the one immediately before it, but it was big. Think dozens of fiery explosions, plasma fire coming from everywhere. Aerial combat in the skies above. Jerks with turrets on the ground below. Rockets flying everywhere and dozens of ways to approach the combat. It was epic and mind numbing, and still 100% Halo.
But graphically, this level was sort of a shock to me. Some of the interiors were apparently totally complete. Lit, shader effects, proper detail, atmospherics, audio, everything. The exteriors still needed some polish, but sweet crimeny Christmas. It looked amazing. Last week I talked about how we were adding all this hyper realistic stuff, while still trying to keep it true to the look and feel of Halo. The evolution of those ideas is that some of the test screenshots we took for an internal presentation, looked exactly like their concept paintings. Not just in terms of scale or detail, but the actual color palette. It’s rich and vivid and full of life.
As a matter of fact, we ran the screens back to back with concept paintings, and sometimes you had to blink to distinguish. Don’t get me wrong, the graphics have a painterly quality, sure, but this is more to do with the impression they leave you than the details. A game’s a game’s a game. We’re not going cel shaded or oil painting-y.
I’ll go back to the smoothness. At this point it’s sort of relative. Sometimes you’re playing the game at a solid, smooth frame rate with all that crazy stuff going on in an immense, complicated environment. Other times you’ll load up a big empty canyon and it’ll chug along at 5 fps because you’re in the wrong build, doing the wrong thing, at the wrong time, with the wrong settings. But damn it all if it’s not all buttery smooth in Profile mode. I will get in trouble for using profile, but it didn’t crash, so no harm, no foul. They’re not missing any valuable data.
Water update is short and sweet this week: They added a huge rippling splash for when you shoot a Banshee plasma mortar into the water.
Joe and Robt and Sketch and I are going to play a grudge match on one of the new multiplayer maps where one of the bases will be forever called, “the cold base” and the other, “the warm base.” And no, it’s not Snowbound. But suffice it to say that the atmospheric effects on that level pretty much define its deal.
Microsoft put out a press release this morning, and finally revealed the awesome new packaging for the Legendary Edition of Halo 3, along with the red-faced admission that it’s going to be $30 more expensive than the estimated retail price used by retailers for pre-orders. Much as they telegraphed the fact that this price and content could be subject to change, it’s fair to say that these things usually don’t change. So apologies for that, but I think hardcore collectors (at whom the Legendary Edition is squarely aimed) will be pleased with the end result. The thing is truly lovely in real life, from the finish of the helmet itself, to the operation of the box and its sleeve. It reeks of quality and attention to detail (as it should at that price) and for fans, it’s probably worth every penny.
Of course, nobody’s forcing this price on you, and you can always buy the regular or Limited Edition and forego the thrill of your very own Spartan helmet. And for those of you who felt like it was a bait and switch, I can tell you from our involvement in the project, that’s not the case at all. This was always a tough thing to price and pin down, since it had simply never been done before. You can read more about the ambition, scale and love that were poured into this collectible next week, when Sketch brings us a report from the designers and manufacturer of the Legendary Edition, complete with photos from the artisans and the factory itself and an in-depth explanation of the kind of quality processes used to assemble it.
You’d probably be very surprised to hear how many Bungie staffers have actually pre-ordered it from regular retail outlets. The Legendary edition is limited enough (and individually numbered, no less) that we’re simply not guaranteed to get one. Yikes. We are trying to secure a couple of the more interesting numbered editions (you can do the math) to give away as prizes near launch.
The other froth was caused by the revelation that the Limited Edition would contain one piece of content that isn’t in the Legendary Edition. Well, don’t worry about that at all. The Legendary Edition purchasers will be pleased to know that they will not have to live without that content at all. More on that later (some of the details are still being worked out), but it should be smiles and sunshine. Seriously.
Again, tune in next week to see how the legendary Edition was made, and why it’s worth all that moolah.
Click the image to see it in redonkulously huge detail
Max, our AI guy, is working on making vehicles more sweet and awesome. And they’re already sweet and awesome to begin with. But wait, vehicles don’t have AI! They’re vehicles. Well no, they don’t, but their drivers do. I mentioned this a while ago, that it seemed to me that while driving a Hog, for example, your AI driver seemed to be doing a better job of targeting. Well now it’s even better than that.
The AI improves the predictive targeting of an AI gunner, so that now, he’s going to shoot where he thinks you’re looking, with a frightening degree of accuracy. Balancing that in Campaign would have been problematic in Halo: CE or Halo 2, since it would have been too powerful a weapon, but in Halo 3, there is simply so much going on, and so many targets to focus on, that improving it is actually necessary to stop the game being too hard.
It works especially well in letting you steer the vehicle and the camera to tempt the gunner into targeting an individual. So if a brute is giving you a really hard time, lobbing Brute Grenades, for example, you can easily cause the gunner to pick that guy as your next target with simple steering and looking. And it doesn’t matter if he’s in the center of a group of five or six Grunts. If you’re aiming correctly, the AI gunner will know the difference and concentrate on the Brute, not because it’s a Brute, but because you’ve chosen him as the target.
Other vehicle behaviors have been vastly improved too. When you drove quickly up to Marines in Halo 2, they used to scatter and dive out of the way – which is cool, but not too convenient when your intent is to cruise up to them and tempt them into a vehicle. Now they’re far smarter about knowing where you’re aiming and how fast you’re going, and will only dive at the last second if they sense real danger to their livelihood. They’re also way faster and more logical about getting in and out of vehicles. It’s almost as if they know there’s a war going on….
Next week, fingers crossed, the new website launches, so theoretically, now’s the exact moment to archive and save your groups data if you don’t want to lose it.
Speaking of valuable data, one of our testers was playing in a build with faulty item spawning. Result: Standing on a crate and shooting it spawned as many crates as rounds shot at it. Instant tower of crates, growing up and under you. This pink-ified vector shot is from Valhalla. This could be the dawn of the crate-gun…