Game Developer Conference
Next week, the 2008 Game Developers Conference will kick off in San Francisco, California. Besides being a giant, social mixer for various developers and publishers in the videogame industry, the real draw to the conference are presentations given by different members of the development community. This year, Bungie is sending a pretty hefty group of folks to the conference in addition to giving a bunch of presentations. Shortly after GDC concludes, those presentations will be available for folks to check out at the recently-launched Bungie Publications portion of Bungie.net – we’ll definitely let Bungie.net readers know when the presentations pop online.
It’s important to keep in mind that these presentations, while incredibly useful for industry professionals, may be a bit tricky to wrap your head around if you are a technical maladroit like I am.
Environment Design in Halo 3: Mike Zack (Lead Environmental Artist, Bungie)
Thursday, Feb. 21, 9 a.m.- 10 a.m.
This session will describe the mission development pipeline and process for Halo 3. It will show how roles and responsibilities were delineated, give an overview of some of Bungie’s thinking about space design as it relates to gameplay and demonstrate the iterative process for making a game environment beautiful.
Building a Better Battle: Halo 3 AI Objectives: Damian Isla (AI Lead, Bungie)
Friday, Feb. 22, 4 p.m.-5 p.m.
Focused on the problem of how to choreograph a large battle that can be attacked and dismantled in almost any order, the Halo 3 AI Objectives System (H3O for short) turns the techniques used in previous HALO games on their head: rather than a designer imperatively ordering groups of NPCs to certain physical areas and then transitioning them to other areas as the battle progresses, H3O allows the designer to specify a set of tasks in the environment – things that need to get done, as it were – and then comes up with an optimal distribution of squads across those tasks.
The flow of battle is achieved by turning tasks on and off, by specifying task-capacities, and by adding filters and other constraints. Through all of this, the designer is assured that his or her vision and intention for the encounter is respected while leaving the system to take care of the details. The structure that controls this process is a hierarchy of prioritized tasks, which on the surface is similar to the Behavior Trees we presented in our GDC '05 talk. This structure differs in that (a) rather than controlling a single NPC it controls a grouping of NPCs and (b) the structure of the tree is generated by Design for each encounter depending on its own specific story, pacing and gameplay needs. Some details of the algorithm for finding good distributions will be shared (the interesting parts, including the fact that at heart, the H3O algorithm is a form of the famous "Bin-Packing" problem, which is NP-Complete!) While not every game will necessarily use tasks as a representation of space, the hope is that attendees will recognize a problem common to many Next-Gen games: that of getting a large number of NPCs to perform a complicated set of tasks in a coherent and coordinated fashion -- a "task" might represent something very different to an RTS, for example, but the decision-making algorithm behind it could well be the same. There will also be a demo of some of our encounter-construction tools, which will demonstrate how easily engaging battles are put together using H3O.
Lightmap Compression in Halo 3: Yaohua Hu (Engineer, Bungie)
Friday, Feb. 22, 2:30 p.m.-2:50 p.m.
The lecture first gives an overview of Halo 3's irradiance lightmap's concept and its challenges. Then, the philosophy of its compression scheme is proposed. It is separated into signal based compression and data based compression.
New Dog, Old Tricks: Running Halo 3 Without a Hard Drive: Mat Noguchi (Engineer, Bungie)
Wednesday, Feb. 20, 9 a.m.-10 a.m.
The Xbox 360: a giant leap forward for game developers everywhere, but a giant challenge for Halo 3. With multiple SKUs and configurations without hard-drives, Halo 3, a game optimized for a hard drive, has to run off a DVD. Fortunately, it does. This session will cover the design and implementation of that work, from a high level approach to understanding content usage to how designers can create levels that run off a DVD effectively to the low level details of a high performance I/O engine. The Halo 3 streaming engine touches on almost every aspect of the game, and this session will provide a unique perspective into how everything works.
Life on the Bungie Farm: Fun Things to do with 180 Servers and 350 Processors: Luis Villegas (Software Design Engineer, Bungie) and Sean Shypula (Software Design Engineer, Bungie)
Thursday, Feb 21, 2:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
Today's games are very large and the processes used to build them are very complex. Binary and content builds can take several hours to run, and rendering tasks can take much longer. To keep iteration time low and developer productivity high these tasks can be subdivided and processed in parallel. In addition, some of these processes are so complex that automation is necessary to reduce the possibility of human error. In this talk Bungie will present the tools that were developed to address its increasingly complex content creation pipeline. In particular the talk will discuss Bungie's in-house distributed system which is used for binary, shader, and content builds, as well as for lightmap rendering and other more generic workflows. This system has evolved over several years and Bungie will discuss the motivations behind each iteration, and the direction that the system will be taken in the future. Additionally several commercial packages that have been designed to achieve the same goals will be examined and compared to Bungie's distributed system.
Lighting and Material of Halo 3: Hao Chen (Engineering Lead, Bungie)
Thursday, Feb, 21, 4 p.m.-5 p.m.
The lecture first gives an overview of the Halo 3's unique lighting and material system and introduces its main components. Then it presents key innovations in the following areas: spherical harmonics lightmap generation, compression and rendering; rendering complex materials under area light sources; HDR rendering and postprocessing. Lastly it presents implementation details, practical problems and solutions, and discusses key lessons learned.
E Pluribus Unum: Matchmaking in Halo 3: Chris Butcher (Engineering Lead, Bungie)
Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
The online multiplayer mode of Halo 3 features an automatic matchmaking system to place players into games. Players may join individually or with parties of friends, and are quickly matched into groups. This presentation describes the algorithms behind the peer-to-peer matchmaking model, and its implementation over Xbox Live. It examines the impact of matchmaking on the Halo online community, and provides techniques for shaping the player experience and discouraging cheaters. The tradeoffs of an automatic matchmaking system compared to traditional multiplayer game browsers will be discussed, and illustrated by some results from the first months of Halo 3's operation.
The Halo 3 Cinematic Process: CJ Cowan (Cinematics Lead, Bungie)
Thursday, Feb 21, 4 p.m.-5 p.m.
The process of creating cinematics at Bungie was completely re-worked in the early phases of Halo 3 production with an overall goal of reducing iteration to near instantaneous. See our improvements to Maya and how they allow us to layout and iterate on our cinematics with ease. Watch a demonstration of our brand new in-house cinematic tag system that auto-generates our cinematic scripts on the fly, and allows us to change nearly anything via a custom GUI. See how our new in-engine tools allow us to examine our work as we make changes in real-time.
Audio Post-Mortem: Halo 3: C. Paul Johnson (Audio Design, Bungie), Marty O’Donnell (Audio Director, Bungie), Jay Weinland (Audio Lead, Bungie)
Wednesday, Feb. 20 , 4 p.m.-5 p.m.
Marty, C.Paul and Jay Weinland discuss the implementation of audio in Halo 3.
Mixed Team and Party Restrictions
Since Ranked Big Team Battle went live, we’ve witnessed slower-than-expected matchmaking times in that particular Playlist. The reasons behind this are numerous, in addition to doing our due diligence with finding acceptable hosts among 16 players, our Party Restrictions were resulting in slower matching times for players.
The Party Restriction system is a measure designed to keep solo players or smaller teams of two or three players from matching up against full teams of eight players. Initially, this system was configured so that a team of eight players would always have to match against another full party of eight players. This was done to ensure competitive matches and decrease the likelihood of players quitting (a la the Social Big Team hopper experience). An unfortunate side effect of this is that while a team of eight is waiting to find another team of eight, they could’ve matched against a team of seven and a solo, but the system wouldn’t allow it.
We’ve made a change to the Party Restriction system in Big Team Battle that should ease the challenge of getting a game. Now, the team restriction is set to seven players, meaning a team of seven will be able to add an eighth player (a solo player) and match against a full team of eight or another party of seven players and a solo player.
Another element that is slowing down matchmaking in Ranked Big Team is the mixed party system. Because there are so many players of varying skill levels, often falling outside of the 10-level gap that the system allows before deeming your party “mixed,” matching slows down while the game searches for other mixed parties with a similar skill spread to your own.
Mixed Skill game data is currently regarded as less important to your True Skill rating, meaning, players in Mixed Skill scenarios aren’t having their games factored deeply into their True Skill rating. This was implemented because of rampant level boosting in Halo 2. Right now we’re internally testing adjusting skill matching parameters to ensure a proper balance between high quality matches and rapid matching.
The aforementioned changes are NOT part of the autoupdate, which is on track for release next week.
At long last, we tracked down a build of "Moonlight Sonata" that had received some lighting. Sure, there have been builds with this lighting for a while, but us finally uncovering it was this week’s magical moment. For ages and ages and ages it’s been a black, barely illuminated, series of interconnected platforms, but now a gentle glow warms this otherwise chilly, isolated structure.
Steam is ejected into the skybox which resembles the night sky from the opening of Sierra 117, but what’s under that sky is far different than a lush jungle. Far different. Or is it? Yes, actually it is.
In this week’s Humpday Challenge we mentioned a map called "Spacecamp" and its aesthetic beauty. Folks saw that and thought we were mentioning a brand new, never-before-talked-about map. We weren’t, the map we called Spacecamp is actually the map we’ve been talking about for a while now: Moonbase Alpha. While there are undoubtedly other maps in production, we didn’t just give away mention of a new one, we’re at least somewhat careful, sometimes.
Moonbase Alpha’s lighting, decorators and general aesthetic continues to impress each time a new build pops up on my dev kit. A small garden of Ivy embraces a shrine in memory of the creators of the Shaw Fujikawa warp drive. And there are crates, oh yes, there are handsome crates.
Next week, while folks are at GDC we're set to release the first bits of vague-free information about the long-discussed map OK Corall. And by bits we mean we'll have some images for you to eyeball and some text for you to oogle.
Bungie.net Upgrades like Beyonce
Once an underused asset, the Inside Bungie page has been completely remixed and remastered both for job-seekers and Bungie fans alike. Now, from the Inside Bungie page, folks will see a recent list of what jobs we’re hiring and we’re hiring a brojillion people right now, so you should check the brand-spankin’ new (Chris Gossett, Tom Gioconda and Stosh have been working tirelessly to get Inside Bungie and the Jobs page revamped) Jobs page for a complete listing and see if there’s an opportunity for you at Bungie.
In addition to those two pages, the History of Bungie pages have been remade and outfitted with a whole mess of new, never and rarely before seen images.
Special thanks to everyone who bid on Frank’s Mister Chief for Charity. The auction net over $6000.00 for the Brian Morden Foundation.