Brand New Heavies
Today, we announced and revealed the last two Halo 2 maps – Tombstone and Desolation. They’re remakes of Hang ‘Em High and Derelict. We’ve been working with Certain Affinity (Max Hoberman, formerly of Bungie’s new joint) to make sure that we didn’t just slap together a port of an old map, but rather, lovingly craft a last salute to Halo 2 multiplayer as we move toward Halo 3 in the fall.
Lots of folks are asking us in direct terms, “why make maps for Halo 2, when Halo 3 is just around the corner?” Well, because we love Halo 2 and we love our fans. They’ve continued to play Halo 2 solidly for three years, in vast numbers, and we owe them it. Not enough to give it away for free, but Max has to buy snacks for his team, after all. Pulling the plug on Halo 2 (metaphorically, it won’t simply vanish when H3 arrives) without giving the fans Hang ‘Em High would have been, well, rude.
The next most popular question was, “Why Derelict?” Easy. Right now, some of the most active players are competitive players. They get a lot of use out of these smaller symmetrical maps, since the tightly tuned variants they play require a certain amount of predictability. Derelict made the perfect foundation for that. Now, while Tombstone is a cool 90% remake of Hang ‘Em High, Desolation has been significantly altered for competitive play.
Gone are the meaningless upper floor tunnels, replaced instead by ramps that allow easy access to the ground floor, and create tight close quarters battles, and occasional grenade traps. The teleports have been replaced by rapid grav lifts, more direct and quicker to use than the ramps. Graphically it’s changed quite a bit as you can see, but it will feel familiar to Halo CE fans, although we dare say, much better.
It’s faster and far less confusing thanks to the removal of teleports. In some ways it’s a good replacement for Midship, although it certainly feels larger.
Hang 'Em High is now Tombstone. And it rocks. Hard style.
Now, did I say that Tombstone was 90% Hang ‘Em High? I did! There are some subtle and some not so subtle differences. Obviously the graphical look is very, very different. Gone are the senseless pieces of geometry with no context. Now it is perfectly obvious, even to an idiot, that the giant crane put them there. We won’t go into why. It just did.
The massive main ramp has been changed too. It was something of a death trap in its Halo CE form, so now there’s a grav lift that boosts you past the really dangerous part (although the grav lift noise will give enemies some indication that you used it) and the internal corridor structure has changed on that side. There’s even some new areas up there, but they’re pretty small. And we’ve added another way into those corridors, you’ll just have to see when you play.
Fall damage is not important as it turns out. I played for weeks without really ‘feeling” that change. I guess I just don’t fall that often, and jumping down is discouraged by the wealth of useful weapons and shortcuts up there. Jumping height is different in Halo 2, so some scales have been modified to allow for that. In the most part however, you should definitely feel like you’re playing your old favorite.
Derelict's cool mix of symmetry and speed should please hardcore and competitive players.
Now, about the downloading and payment and compatibility and all that. It works on Xbox and 360. It was originally scheduled to be a 360 only game, but it just wasn’t going to work out. Number one, there are a lot of Xbox players out there who can’t afford a 360, or are waiting for a birthday or holiday gift – so they wouldn’t be able to play. Worse still, we’d have to split the matchmaking playlists differently and that wouldn’t have been fair either. So in the interests of fairness and an easy life, it’s on Xbox and Xbox 360.
Because of that, we can’t use Xbox Live Marketplace – it obviously doesn’t exist on the old Xbox. So this will be one of the last times you use a credit card proper to buy a map. In the Halo 2 game interface, you simply select the download option from the main interface, and it will show the new content there. This likely won’t ever be available on a disc, like the last maps, so this is your only method for the moment. These maps could in theory be made free eventually, like last time, but the truth is that we’ll have moved on to Halo 3 by then and it won’t be a priority. So don’t hold your breath. If you don't have a credit card, simply buy a $4 Visa gift card at a supermarket. Bam!
The upside is that more people will be able to play. There will be an interruption in this halcyon joy – the Public Beta. We expect some folks to migrate to the Beta for the full period it runs, and then return to H2 stuff for a few months after the Beta is over. It sounds complicated on its face, but the reality is very simple for anyone who plays Halo 2 – and the original Xbox owners who don’t have a 360 won’t feel so left out while the Beta is going on.
You WILL have to pick which box to install it on. It’s tied to the box you download it to, as well as your Live account, so you effectively can’t have it on more than one system. Sorry.
It’s all part of our plan for world domination. At no time this year should you waste brain cycles thinking about anything other than Halo. Honestly, you should set up a standing order with Dominos and wear a diaper from now til’ fall. And stock up on air freshener.
Now, the graphical work that Certain Affinity has lavished on these maps is second only to the careful design tweaks. I say “tweaks” but that’s a misnomer, since each map had to be basically recreated from scratch, and then overhauled to work with Halo 2’s newer “systems” – jump height, fall damage, weapon balance and so on. A lot of people think it’s just a matter of “save-as” but anyone who’s tried their hand at mapmaking, using Halo or Unreal tools for example, knows that there is nothing simple about it.
Ironically I think the challenges Certain Affinity faced with these two – tuning to recapture the experience of Hang ‘Em High – and completely rethinking Derelict to make it work as a hardcore competitive map (while still being approachable by nubs) were harder challenges than making something from scratch. I think Certain Affinity is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the next few years, with the wealth of talent it has amassed in such a short time – and then delivered with. Bam.
The good news (or bad news if you don’t have $4 ) is that there will be almost full integration of these maps in Matchmaking (in playlists that they’re suitable for), shortly after they become available for download (we’re giving folks time to actually get the maps before rolling ‘em into matchmaking). If you don’t have the map – you’ll see the same message you see now if you don’t have a map – namely that you can’t play it and you need to download it. You can also continue to play in a good selection of other playlists without the new maps. Hopefully, we’re striking a nice balance for everyone.
COMICON, EMERALD CITY!
This weekend, in Seattle, is the so-called Emerald City Comicon. A few Bungie artists will be there, in artist’s alley, so that would be the perfect chance to get your Halo Graphic Novels, trapper keepers, or bewbz signed by Bungie celebs. Lorraine McLees, Kentarou Taya and Milton Cadogan are confirmed, but there are always other unannounced artists at Comicon, so keep your eyes peeled between 10-6pm on Saturday, and 10-5pm on Sunday. You should have no trouble finding them.
And finally, somebody asked me what my all-time favorite Mister Chief was. That's easy - it was this one: