Last week’s update was miserably slim, because everyone was out of the office. To be honest, little has changed, nor is it likely to in the next few weeks. Lots and lots of travel and antics are distracting us from feeding you morsels of tasty info, so we’re forced to toss you scraps from the table.
This week, at least, I’ll endeavor to tell you what there is to know. First and foremost, the game went gold. The literal definition of this term is that the game is finished and ready to be manufactured. The broader, more lyrical definition is that an incredible team of talented geniuses just put the finishing touches to three years of herculean effort and shipped a concluding chapter to our trilogy, that everyone here is proud of.
Halo 2 was a fantastic game, evidenced by its review scores and the fact that about 300k people still play it every day. But it contained compromises we could never have been happy with. There were compromises that many would never have noticed nor complained about – and there were compromises you did notice and were entitled to complain about. After all, games aren’t free. Hard as we work to make them perfect, we never forget that they cost you money. We understand that we’re not doing you a favor. For your hard-earned lucre, we’re providing goods and services and we owe you the highest quality for both.
With Halo 3 however, there are no glaring compromises, and almost no invisible ones. We’ve not only executed on all the stuff we wanted to for Halo 2, we’ve executed on a bunch of stuff that seemed like pipe dreams three years ago. The shopping list of features is crazy. Campaign, 4 player co-op, Team Scoring, Saved Films, Forge, Multiplayer, File Sharing, the new Bnet. We already encountered a problem with this as we planned out review events.
The fact is that even if you end up not liking Halo 3, you probably won’t argue that it doesn’t contain a lot of stuff. I hope the reviewers like it, because otherwise they’re going to be pretty mad by the time they get done plowing through it.
And speaking of review events, they’re going on over the next week or two. Press in various regions will be invited to various locales to play the finished game – we can’t send ‘em out for logistical, XBL-related and security reasons, but we can provide a safe, well-lighted place where reviewers can play through the Campaign, play through co-op, make saved films, tinker in Forge and try out Multiplayer. Luke is getting back from one of those on Tuesday and here’s his report, redacted for top secrecy.
Euro Review Event!
Chris Opdahl and I are in London this week overseeing an all-too brief European review session for Halo 3. On Tuesday, Chris and I oversaw the set up of the "LAN/Multiplayer lab" this lab consisted of 16 machines linked over System Link and set into 8 on 8 pods. Each pod had headphones, a retail console, HDD equipped Xbox 360 and Halo 3. In another corner of the room was a 4 player campaign co-op area set up for four players at a time to play through the game. Additionally, each member of the European press had a Sharp HDTV in their room with a 360 and 5.1 Surround Sound headphones.
Press began to arrive at 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning, as soon as they arrived, Chris and I elected to have them start through the Campaign on Heroic and then they could take their HDD up to their room to continue playing in the comfort and privacy of their own space. As the room filled up, however, folks simply couldn't be pried away from the 360 for anything other than snacks, of which there were plenty of fancy-ish Eurosnax and bottled sodas and beer. The press wouldn't leave their stations and kept playing, the room was pretty silent throughout the day (headphones do that to a room). Opdahl and I started every player on Heroic and tracked their progress, one player started on normal and was blowing through the first four missions in the game -- however, from BLAM! to conclusion things slowed down DRASTICALLY, he finished "BLAM!" at midnight when we closed the lab.
Additionally, during the day I did a demo of Saved Films for a bunch of the reviewers, I showed them a playthrough I'd done that morning of BLAM!, mouths were agape when we examined the BLAM! explosion up close and letting the press watch the game through the eyes of the Covenant with some camera work seemed to open their eyes to the possibilities of Saved Films. I explained Screenshots and demonstrated them, and was pleased this morning to see members of the press going through their own campaign films from the day before and taking screenshots. I made sure to go around and save films from their campaign and multiplayer experience to try and make it as easy as possible for the press to check out these key features.
Earlier on Wednesday, Opdahl set up the exploding Behemoth in Forge, so I thought using a Saved film of that would be a good follow-up to a Forge demo that I did for folks in the early evening. It takes a bit for Forge to click, but I definitely saw some "honor games" being constructed in the morning. The Euroz seemed impressed with Forge, but it is so hard to explain without letting folks play themselves, it’s better to simply let them tinker.
At the end of the first night, each journalist took their HDD up to their room and presumably finished the campaign, the following morning a handful of them returned at 8 a.m. During the first day we talked about skulls and scoring and got some players to test it out, but in the a.m. of Day 2, players began to mess around with it on their own. A handful of guys wanted to play 4p co-op with skulls on, so I loaded up Sierra 117 on Legendary and turned on: Mythic, BLAM!, Thunderstorm, Tough Luck, BLAM! and one other. We started making our way through Jungle. The reviewer I was playing with was loving BLAM!, but we weren’t making as much progress as I liked, and I wanted them to see the AI and just how different the game feels, so I turned off BLAM! and turned on Catch. Everyone was laughing at chain grenade explosions and general carnage. The only skull I saw a player find during their first playthrough, was Mythic.
Chris and I did a bunch of Interviews with European press, many of which will likely be translated into things like "Luke said there would be campaign Forge in Halo 17" and "Chris says that the love story between Cortana and the Master Chief is a key theme in Halo 3" -- oh, wait, of those two things one of them actually was said.
The US review events are happening very shortly and fairly close by, and we’re really excited and terrified to set those up. So far, all of our events have been under either our literal or ostensible control. We’ve decided what to show and when to show it. In a review scenario however, we can’t interfere. We have to let the players access every single corner of the game at their own pace. All we can do is be on hand to answer questions. It’s really scary.
One of the things I am personally really excited to show reviewers, or anyone who’s interested really, is the all-new Bungie.net. I think that we’ve outdone ourselves this time. Halo 2’s relaunch of Bungie.net blew my mind last time, in terms of detail and features, but the version for Halo 3 is a brain melter. When Zach, Chris or Tom demo the features to me, I have a genuine sense of disbelief. Watching someone take a screenshot in game and Autoname and Save it and then turn to a PC and bring up their Player Stats page on Bungie.net – and seeing that screenshot appear in their gallery almost instantly – is crazy.
Better yet, all you do is click on your screenshot preview and the giant version opens up (or saves to your desktop) and is ready for wallpaper, or emailing evidence of your awesome victory to your friends.
The File Share area is a dream come true. See a file you’re interested in, be it a Saved Film a Forge variant or a Game Variant – just flag it and it’s downloaded to your 360 automatically, next time you log into Live. We’re going to have more on Bnet stuff in the next couple of weeks, but here’s a couple of screenshots to whet your appetites. Note that these are not from the final build and contain a few graphical inconsistencies and debuggy early stuff.
In addition to review events, we also have teams deployed around the globe for all sorts of pre-launch PR activities. Steve and Francois just got back from X07 Canada where they showed off the Halo 3 campaign and saved films to members of the Canadian media. Joe and Carney finally completed their whirlwind tour of Asia where they made a stop in Taipei and Seoul to meet gamers and help promote the game. (Joe promises an in-depth report and photos for Bungie.net sometime next week) Sketch just got back from a trip to Leipzig Germany and the world's largest game show. Here's a quick report:
Games Convention Report!
As Frankie says, I just got back from a trip to Leipzig, Germany where Paul Bertone, Chris Opdahl and myself spent a few days amongst the crowd of nearly 100,000 gamers to promote Halo 3 and get recruits for the Bungie Underground Army. I was at the show last year under different circumstances - helping the Hired Gun team show Halo 2 for Vista. While the game may have changed, the show certainly hasn't. The Games Convention is one incredibly massive show. Unlike E3, this show is open to consumers which is awesome because we get to talk and hang out with actual fans rather than non stop media. Don't get me wrong, I like the media folks too and actually spent two solid days doing demos, but sometimes it's just nice to talk to the "real" people who help make Halo what it is today.
We met a ton of people over our 5 day stay and even though we could barely communicate with them, we all had a common ground in Halo and Bungie. I promised I would give a shout out to the guys from the Bungie.de fan community as well as the members of UCO (www.uco-portal.de). You may be surprised to know that in Germany the Halo fans are just like you are here in the U.S. - they ask about the Halo 1 pistol, about the disappointing ending of Halo 2 and attempt to pry the secrets of the Forerunners out of our brains. We also discovered that they are damn good at Halo 3 already, thanks in part to a lot of time with the public beta a few months ago.
We were setup out in the parking lot in two big tents with 16 stations of hands-on multiplayer. As people exited a giant Ferris Wheel (see Kotaku for a report on "Halo 3 : The Ride") they were treated to 7 to 10 minutes of play. Usually we had them playing Sandtrap, a huge map that's perfect for these large games. I spruced it up a bit and gave the German crowds world-exclusive playtime with "Sketchtrap" - my Forge modified version that includes Wraiths, Scorpions, Prowlers and a few more anti-vehicle weapons. Mass chaos ensues.
Paul Bertone and I, on team pink, spent the better part of Saturday destroying fans at Halo 3 - two teams of seven players each. 14 vs. 2. Just the kind of odds we like. Mind you we felt really bad about it but we were having too much fun to stop. We employed a few shady tactics but mostly we just grabbed a Wraith or Scorpion each and proceeded to dominate the map... and yeah, so maybe we destroyed all the other vehicles on the map before the players even got their hands on the controller but that was only a temporary disadvantage for them. At one point I had 38 kills before I died once. Over the few hours we played, I think Paul and I earned every single medal and accolade possible in multiplayer, including an "Invincible!" that I admit I'd never had the joy of hearing before.
Before we shut down on Saturday we played a few 2v2 matches against some of the fans we met - first on Narrows and then on Guardian. It was a really close fight - each match being decided by 5 points or less. If not for the fact that we knew the maps and weapons and they didn't, I don't think we would've fared so well. Before we shut down we decided to do one more match, but when they weren't looking I switched the lobby to Forge and quickly launched High Ground. Now if you aren't paying attention, you'd think we were just playing a game of Team Slayer on High Ground. And they did... until we started dropping fusion coils on their head and I gave Paul a sniper rifle and proceeded to fly him around the map, "flying carpet style", as he rained down death from above. We gave them a small taste and then it was time to close shop.
Paul and I came back on Sunday but Chris stuck through and ran the show all day Sunday by himself. We've yet to see him but I hear he eventually surfaced in London to help Luke with the review events. In closing I'd just like to thank all the fans who supported us at Games Conference and all over Germany as well as the fine brewers of delicious German beer and the GC officials who set the policy on the allowable levels of nudity for "booth babes." See ya next year!
Thanks Sketch! And finally, it wouldn't be an update without...
p.s. only 25 more days to go!