First, Frankie writes of his travels in Barcelona:
Hay guys! What’s going on? Did I miss anything this week?
I’m writing this from Barcelona, Spain, where Sketch and I were sneaked off to, partly to show off the excellent Halo 2 for Windows Vista, and of course partly to absorb the impact of Halo Wars, the Ensemble RTS and Peter Jackson’s announcement that he’s going to be creating a new Halo adventure for the 360.
In a frothing fanboy dream scenario, we got to meet with the director of King Kong and Lord of the Rings, and even play some (lots of) Gears of War with him. The man knows his video games, and he knows his movies too. In a panel on Thursday morning, he, Peter Molyneux from Lionhead and Greg Zeschuck from Bioware discussed the future of storytelling in video games.
It was great to see a brain trust like this one engaged in a fascinating discussion and I can promise you that all three guys have some amazing stories to tell us over the next couple of years, and of course the ones we’re most attached to, will come from peter Jackson and the Halo universe in the shape of both a movie and a new game experience.
I had the pleasure of moderating the panel, and I can tell you I was awe-struck, star-struck and maybe went a little in my pants with nervousness. Who’s to say?
The RTS has been universally well-received, but has raised as many questions as it answered. One common theme in our forums, in spite of the fact that we telegraphed the answer over and over again, was that this was somehow going to impact Halo 3. It is not. Halo 3 is exactly on schedule, and the RTS is not costing us one US minute of development time. It is as simple as that.
We’re not making the RTS, we’re not programming it and we’re not designing it. Our trusted friends at Ensemble, who have more than a few super successful RTS under their belt, are handling it beautifully. We’re making sure it stays faithful and true to the Halo universe and letting them take care of the nitty gritty. We have played it and I can tell you, it’s going to be amazing.
The Peter Jackson project is shrouded in a level of secrecy that makes us seem like blabbermouths. But Mr. Jackson’s vision, imagination and passion for the project both impressed and surprised me and Sketch. The man loves his Halo and more importantly, he totally gets it. His plans for the Halo universe and Wingnut Interactive are stunning and I wish we could tell you more.
We also spent some time playing the games of our friends and partners – and jaws were dropped when we tried out some four player death match on Gears of War. Crikey, those are some startling graphics and the huge, impossibly detailed multiplayer levels had us gasping.
Alan Wake is also a graphical powerhouse, with the most realistic environments and lighting I have ever laid eyes on.
We also played a bunch of the “controversial” Shadowrun, and let me tell you (and I know Sketch agrees) there is no controversy required: Shadowrun is a blast. It has a way higher learning curve than Halo, yet we found ourselves tearing around a multiplayer CTF match in no time at all. Sketch, I should note, pwned me at Shadowrun, but I totally shot his face off in GOW.
I loves me some HDTV and HD content. Don’t get me started on how annoyed I am at having owned an HD set for five years, but that I can only buy content for it now. That’s why I’m super-excited about the Microsoft HD DVD drive I just played with.
MS announced that the thing would ship in November at a retail cost of $199 US, and will include the fancy multimedia remote, as well as a bundled copy of Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Doesn’t matter if you own it already, since you NEED the HD version if you’re buying the drive, right?
The HD DVD drive is very, very quiet, and since the 360 drive doesn't run while playing HD DVDs, the whole thing is relatively silent (lord knows the 360 can make a noise when everything is running all at once). It has a small, laptop-style external supply, but that is not final. I assume that means the final one will be smaller, if anything. And I don't know if it will even definitely be external. I assume so, but it’s tiny, and the drive connects to your 360 with a simple USB cable. Speaking of which, it also has two USB ports on the back, so that you can re-attach your wireless adapter to the drive and not have to sacrifice the space on the back of the 360.
The thing starts up, from disc insertion to movie playing, in less than 10 seconds. This will be interesting news to owners of existing HD DVD and Blu Ray players, some of which had startup times of up to a minute! Ouch. The fast built-in OS of the 360 seems to be the deciding factor here.
The interface for disc eject and play is very simple and easy to use - a small circle split in two that lets you play or eject a disc from either drive. That of course means you can have a game and a movie in at the same time, and simply pick between the two. That interface may not be final, but right now it’s a boon if you’re playing one game frequently.
Anyhoo, moving on, there's been a lot of activity here in the studio. Obviously the announcements were kind of a big deal. I've spent the majority of my time the past few days absorbing the reactions of the Halo community. As Frankie's experienced in Barcelona, most people are excited about the prospect of a Halo RTS. RTS fans are especially excited about the fact that Ensemble is making it.
In case you're unfamiliar with them, they're responsible for the highly awesometastic Age of Empires series. I have personally wasted hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of my life playing various iterations of AoE - mostly Conquerors and AoE 3 - so I'm excited to see what Ensemble can do to realize the original vision of Halo, which was in fact an RTS, then a third person action and then finally the FPS that we know and love today.
There are definitely a lot of people concerned as well. Their concerns run the gamut from the very concept of an RTS on a console to more in-depth concerns about the gameplay such as resource management. Obviously it's too early to address the latter, as we haven't really addressed gameplay other than to state that it's an RTS. The RTS on a console concern is a valid one, though it's reminiscent of the reaction to FPSes on consoles. People didn't really think it was possible to enjoy an FPS on a console, but after Rare kicked some major butt in that category that belief was dismissed.
One thing that has been universally agreed upon, according to the latest figures on dislocated jaws from the American Medical Association, is the ass-kickery of the trailer. Just about every one thought it stole the show at X06. In case you're just coming back from spelunking, you can find the trailer at www.halowars.com as well as in the Xbox Live Marketplace. Right now it's in the Featured Downloads section, but if it moves, it'll be under Game Demos and Videos --> Game Videos --> Bringing It Home --> Halo Wars.
While we're still on the issue of X06, Halo 2 Vista did make a strong showing as promised. The screenshots released at X06 were posted in our Halo 2 Vista section a few days ago, but what we haven't pointed out yet is the interview with Sketchfactor posted on Xbox.com earlier this week. It's available in both a high and low resolution stream for those of you who want to see Halo 2 Vista in action as well as hear Sketch talk a bit about the game. Initial impressions from around the net seem pretty positive thus far, H2V is definitely shaping up.
There has been no slacking off in the studio in light of the recent milestone. Work continues apace; new and exciting things continue to show up in new builds that blow my mind. Recently, we've begun to test some of the multiplayer maps for balance. Lars Bakken and Tyson Green have assembled a team of top men to test these issues. Our directive in these tests is to win at any cost. Spawn-camping, weapon-whoring, verbal abuse and generally exploiting any situation to our advantage. Biological warfare via sushi farts (aka, Japanese Crop Dusting) is yet to come into play, but I wouldn't put it past this group.
Primarily, we're testing spawning. Weapon spawning and player spawning. It's amazing how that can change the entire dynamic of a game. One weapon spawn can totally change your goals in a slayer match and force you to concentrate on a completely separate area, whether you know it or not. It's been a really interesting look at this side of game development. Some of the post-game discussions have been really enlightening. Seeing the designers discussing their thought process and then re-evaluating it after seeing it tested and then listening to the reaction of players is a fascinating experience.
I promised you cake, didn't I? Now, there have been a lot of Halo cakes before, but none quite like this. This past weekend Tex, a frequent visitor of irc.bungie.org, had a birthday party and for it she made this awesome recreation of Lockout. There's an insane amount of detail, using melted blue Jolly Ranchers to create the glass and green Jolly Ranchers under it to make the green glow. Wow.
Click either image to see the full-sized version
Speaking of random images people send to us, we received these very cool images from a Halo fan on the Zune project in Microsoft. I'll leave you with what he or she may or may not have sent us.