Now that the dust has settled on the Beta release announce and the Vidoc reveal, we thought we should go over some of those questions we raised. We’re purposefully leaving some stuff as either a surprise, or a deeper revelation, but we should definitely give you guys props on your sleuthing. The number of things you discovered from single frames, or blurry moments, or distant sketches on whiteboards – astonishing. Of course, there were almost as many cockamamie theories as correct ones, but we’ll let you figure out which were which in May and then again in fall.
We did show off a few levels. Three of them you’d seen before – Valhalla, High Ground and Snowbound. Those are the three that comprise the Beta and you’ll be playing them yourselves in about a month. One of them, which I’ve seen described as everything from a “Forerunner castle” to a “remake of Gephyrophobia” and it is in fact neither, although the latter is a fair assessment of its bridge-like structure. In fact, we didn’t show off the most interesting part of that level.
You also saw some concepts, placeholders, prototypes and things that were never planned for inclusion in the final game. You saw some fake and placeholder and ancient UI (my favorite thing was a fan video where they thought they’d discovered how many campaign levels were going to be in the final game.) and loads of other accidental red herrings.
So, almost all of the reaction we read was positive, but there was some grumbling about the graphics. You can decide for yourself if you like the look of the game in a few weeks, and you’ll certainly recognize moments and areas from that footage. All three levels however, have undergone significant improvements since that footage was taken, months ago, including lighting, decorators, textures, and my favorite – water effects. I don’t want to overpromise here and set your expectations too high, so I am deliberately capping the type of language I use to discuss these improvements. A good example however, would be the water in Valhalla.
In one moment of the Vidoc, we see a Spartan launch out of the Mancannon and meet a sorry, embarrassing end in mid air as a sniper uses him for target practice. Now in that footage from old build, he tumbles into the river and slides splash-lessly into a boring placeholder water effect. He won’t do that in May. He’ll do something neater.
You guys did see the final revelation of the mysterious X-Button. It’s what’s known (at the moment) as Equipment. The two very plain examples shown in the Vidoc were the Bubble Shield and the “Tripmine.” Both can be used in all manner of strategic and hilarious ways. There might have been another, but you can wait a month to see that one.
First, I’ll address some of the panic about the balance issues inherent in the implementation of an all-new feature. I read many mails and posts about how Bubble Shields would littler the landscape like an Igloo village. Well, they won’t. A piece of equipment will be a rare and valuable find. It will be located, you will pick it up and you will choose when and where to deploy it. As you can see in the HUD, it’s indicated that you’re carrying it. Pressing X will drop it – not throw it.
In the old alpha footage you’re watching, the shield generator actually rolled downhill and the player protected inside it had to walk backwards with it to enjoy its shelter. In the beta, it won’t roll. We’re still playing around with things like that. It’s also possible to simply walk inside the shield and fight the inhabitant. It only protects them from explosions and projectiles. Vehicles and people can wander right through. If you die without deploying it, you’ll drop it, just like a gun or ‘nades. Someone else can then pick it up and use it.
In the Beta build, it has a short-ish lifespan and in fact, can be destroyed. You stand inside the bubble and shoot the generator til’ it explodes. Usually, there will be just one available on a map at any given time. Same thing goes for the tripmine, and any other equipment items we may or may not include in the game. Rest assured, they are incredibly fun to use, and add a subtle layer of strategy, without fundamentally impacting any of the typical Halo “flow.” In fact, it improves it. There. I said it.
One weird detail I kept getting asked about is, “do you hurl them like grenades?” The answer is no, you just drop ‘em – but that means if you stand on a cliff edge, you drop it over the cliff edge. You choose where you drop it, in other words.
Folks spotted other things in the Vidoc too. A new weapon. I saw it referred to as the “chain gun” but I ain’t talking. Although I will tell you that no, you can’t pull the chaingun off the back of a Hog. They saw the Spike grenades in action. You cycle through the grenade selection just like in Halo 2, only you use the LB button this time (depending on your chosen control method) and yeah, you have to think about which grenade you’re using next. I usually plan things out in advance before taking off on a grenade spree.
The movie stuff – the Saved Films feature shown in the Vidoc is going to be huge. We showed a pretty advanced version of it in the Vidoc – which you won’t get to play with in its entirety during the beta. We’ll give you a wee taste however, allowing you to save films and view them, we’re just going to limit your camera controls. I think the saved films feature is going to make Machinima fans delirious, but more importantly, regular players are going to use it for entertainment and skill improvement. The ability to see how someone beat you, and analyze it, is a fundamental improvement, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
We’ll have map guides, and more info around the time the Beta goes live next month. But lots of stuff happens this month too.
The Halo 2 AutoUpdate!
Matt Priestly came up with some very useful hints on how to deal with issues you may have encountered since we made the Halo 2 autoupdate this week – and some hints on getting the two new maps next week. The Autoupdate was designed to fix problems with cheating, folks bridging for host and a bunch of other crap that people do online to make your life suck. The upside is that things should be much better for all honest, decent players. The downside is that there will be some initial teething troubles before things even out and improve.
Getting a “dirty disc” message, failing to load a map, or having a party member fail to load a map:
As you play Halo 2, your Xbox makes copies of the maps on your hard drive. Getting the auto-update cleared out those copies, so the maps need to load fresh copies from your DVD. If your poor old disc has suffered abuse and scratching since the last time these files were cleared, you may run into problems. Try cleaning your disc and see whether that helps with the issue. If your disc is badly damaged, you can probably borrow a disc from a friend until you load all the maps for the first time, then switch back to your own DVD. You can force the maps to load one at a time by starting local split-screen games before you go online. It’s also a valuable reminder to take good care of your game discs…
Slow, or laggy games on Xbox Live:
The auto-update cleared everyone’s online playing history, so at the moment some consoles with bad networking are being chosen as host even though they shouldn’t be. This problem will solve itself in a week or two as consoles with bad networking drop themselves from the host pool and a better “history” is built up on a per console basis. This happens every time we do these updates and sorts itself out to your benefit, very quickly.
Failing to get the update (or the maps on Tuesday) when using an Xbox 360, a VGA connection, and a PAL television
The Xbox downloader and update programs needed to get AU5 and the new maps (when they arrive on Tuesday) don’t properly support PAL-60 TV on the Xbox 360. This is simply because the backward compatible part of the dashboard was never updated for that resolution and it means you can’t use VGA to run these programs. However, fret not - to work around this, switch over to the composite (yellow) cable that shipped with your Xbox 360, get the update and the maps, and then you can switch back to VGA and play happily like nothing ever happened. Of course, if you’re using a VGA monitor, it does mean you’ll have to connect to a regular TV to complete that process.
Getting dumped back to Stage 1 of matchmaking after finding a full group, or having hosts drop out of the game just after it starts.
These are signs of the new anti-cheating features in action. Somebody was trying to cheat, in all probability.
Getting the Maps
The new maps available next week are $4 in the US. To get ‘em, you simply load up Halo 2, and go to the DLC part of the UI. Then you have to enter a credit card number and so on to actually purchase the maps. Now, the main problem we’ve heard is from (usually) kids who don’t have a credit card of their own, so our solution is to send me cash, or alternatively have a parent let you make the purchase on their card. Now you can also buy various types of pre-charged Visa gift cards – these will also work, I am told.
Now, since there will be new maps, there will also be new Matchmaking playlists. We apologize again for the necessary inconvenience and complexity this introduces. But here’s the latest info from Sketch:
New Map and Matchmaking Update!
It’s official – both Tombstone and Desolation will be available for purchase on Tuesday 4/17 starting at approximately 2:00 AM PDT. Remember these maps are old school so they aren’t available on marketplace. You’ll have to purchase them via the Halo 2 in-game downloader. Just select “Content Download” from the Xbox Live menu and you’ll be good to go. They will work on Xbox 1 or an Xbox 360 – however, the downloads are box-specific which means if you play Halo 2 on two different boxes, you’d have to pay for and download them twice regardless of whether or not you use the same gamertag. Good news is that the maps are suh-weet and there’s never been a better time to dust off Halo 2 and dive back in for some online action.
The new maps will not be available in matchmaking immediately.
We’re going to wait roughly a week to allow people time to get them downloaded before we roll out our next playlist update. This is currently slated to happen around 4/24 to 4/27ish but we’re going to wait and see how things are going online before locking that down. We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, the new maps will obviously work just great for online custom games, system link or split screen play.
This next update will bring a few changes to the Halo 2 matchmaking scene – most notably the inclusion of the new maps (duh) but we’re also consolidating a few things to tighten up the population. And, as we mentioned last week, this update will be accompanied by a full reset of all rankings in light of the new online landscape and maps. It’s important to note that before his departure for a luxurious vacation, Ninja on Fire helped me create the latest update (so don’t direct all your hatred towards me J). We want to offer the new maps into matchmaking for people who purchase them but we also don’t want to totally penalize people who aren’t able to buy them right away. With that said, here’s how the new update is shaping up:
- Rumble Pit – Unranked – FFA – New Maps Required!
- Double Team – Ranked – 2v2 Teams
- Team Slayer – Ranked – 3 / 4 vs. 3 /4 - New Maps Required!
- Team Skirmish – Ranked – 3 /4 vs. 3 /4 – New Maps Required!
- Team Training – Unranked – 3 /4 vs. 3 /4
- Team Snipers – Ranked – 3 / 4 vs. 3 / 4 – New Maps Required!
- Team Hardcore – Ranked – 3 /4 vs. 3 /4
- Team SWAT – Unranked – 3 /4 vs. 3 /4 – New Maps Required!
- Big Team Battle – Unranked – 5 / 6 vs. 5 /6
As we’ve always said, as the online population shrinks, we’re going to have to consolidate some playlists and take measures to ensure we’re maintaining a critical mass and allowing people to easily match into games. This update will see the removal of BTB Skirmish and BTB Slayer and the return of a modified Big Team Battle which will contain a combination of Slayer and Objective (with a little more weight on the Team Slayer variants). Also, due to underwhelming usage, we’re cutting Rumble Training. Over time we’re going to continue monitoring online statistics and user feedback and adjust the playlists in future updates accordingly.
And finally, Rob Bava, a photographer and artist of Malton, Ontario, submitted his own Mister Chief, built in the PC racing game, Live For Speed. You can see more of his stuff here: http://280dg.com/portfolio/