Friday, April 27th, 2007
There’s an ancient Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.” What I wouldn’t give for a week of boring times. Mind you, an ancient Chinese proverb also says you can’t find ivory in a dog’s mouth. What is that all about?
There have been a number of irritating problems for folks trying to download the Halo 2 "Blastacular" maps this week, and for that reason, we have delayed the rollout of the Matchmaking update (and the accompanying rank reset) until next week. We’ve actually figured out why some folks are still having difficulty downloading the maps, and in most cases, those folks probably have some inkling of why their chosen method of getting the maps might have failed…
Some people have reported on various forums that there was initially a glitch in the billing system that allowed people to download the Blastacular maps for free. This bug was quickly fixed but anyone who still attempts to circumvent the billing system will actually end up locking themselves out of the maps entirely with no way to download them. The Xbox Live team is pursuing a fix to enable downloads again for these vagabonds, ne’er-do-wells and hooligans.
In a few other cases, the problem is caused by a kind of disconnect between this generation of Xbox Live and last, as far as age ratings are concerned. Basically the system thinks you’re too young, even if you’re not. Those problems are being fixed as we speak. Again, the reason this has been a less than perfect transition has an awful lot to do with insisting that the maps are made available to both 360 and olde Xbox owners. It has never really been done before, so we apologize for our teething troubles.
Most of our multiplayer activity recently has revolved around testing the Public Beta. As some of you may already know, an internal Microsoft Beta has been running for a while. We’re using that for a very different set of tests than the public version. Number one among those tests is scale.
We have to make sure that Halo 3 scales well to a large population, and that will help us improve and test our netcode, as well as try out one more feature that we’re including in the Beta. A feature that definitely requires a lot of stress testing in a big population. Conspiracy theorists can drop their 128-player game theories at the door. Halo 3 is still a 16-player game, and the reality is that most people prefer smaller games than that.
No, this feature we’re testing is for the moment, just a fun addition, that’s planned to grow into something pretty amazing by launch, and that feature is Saved Films. The version you’ll try in the Beta, is very, very, very limited. We just want you to play around with the general concept. You’ll be reading more about this in the gaming press in the next month or two, and of course you can try it out for yourselves in less than a month.
As for the Public Beta itself, it’s pretty close to finished and a lot of folks have worked really hard to make it happen, with late nights, early mornings and a constant diet of Cheetos and evil. So to those brave men and women who sacrificed themselves on the Anvil of Bungie, under the Hammer of Crunch, we salute thee. Your smeared remains will be remembered.
Although the Public Beta may seem like a simple sampling of the MP levels from the finished game, extracting those and packaging them into a playable bundle, with off-schedule bug testing, gameplay tweaks, code fixing and netcode support, is a herculean task. Hopefully it will pay dividends and players will get tremendous enjoyment from these maps and game types.
Since we’re testing matchmaking, you won’t have the kind of control you’re used to with custom games, but we’ll be there to guide you into a very nice selection of Matchmade game types – and don’t worry, the playlists will almost certainly have your gametype in there, in some shape or form.
You’ll also be pleased to hear that split-screen will be an option, although limited to two people in the Public Beta. We’ve also done something cool with the splitscreen display for HD monitors – instead of stretching the horizontal or vertical axes into big, scary too wide or too tall horrors, we’ve sensibly windowed the action, maintaining lots of screen real estate, but preserving a proper, playable aspect ratio.
Jub-Jub, (codename for one of the secret Multiplayer maps) is coming along beautifully. Steve Cotton has been decorating it with…well, that would probably give away the theme. But I will mention that right now it has birds in it, flying around in a convincingly flock-like fashion, but don’t get too used to that idea. If there was ever something superfluous to gameplay, it would be a flock of birds wheeling around in the far distance. If it so much as twitches, it gets cut.
Perhaps more enticing is the mention of a VERY large map that went from being just about the most empty, soulless placeholder geometry in the entire game, to one of the moodiest, most atmospheric and beautiful maps we’ve ever made. It’s also the single largest multiplayer map. You pretty much need a vehicle to get around in it, so luckily, destroyed vehicles respawn super-fast.
We’re very excited to show off the second part of our Halo 3 image branding. This one is known colloquially as “Emotion” and it’s just a lovely, stirring piece that speaks to both the fiction and the atmosphere of the new game. The more you look at it, the more you get from it. The Chief model was built and posed from the game, and rendered out in this mixed media piece, which is part CG, part painting and a healthy dose of Photoshop thrown in for good measure. The background holds some interesting atmosphere, from the skeletal wreckage of the fallen Mombasa space tether, to those hauntingly familiar eyes in the background. Anyway, that’s enough talk – here’s a pic. This one will be appearing soon enough, in various locations in both landscape and portrait orientations.
Click through for the hugeness, or check out both the portrait and landscape versions in our updated Wallpaper section.
I read a bunch of random rumors this week and since they had bunched up, I feared that they would clog the series of pipes comprising the Internet. The last thing I want is for the Internet to back up and spill foul smelling data into your living room, so I will do some Roto-rooting of my own.
May 11th was mentioned in a San Jose Mercury News blog as an “unveiling” date for Halo 3. Of course Halo 3 was in fact “unveiled” at E3 a year ago. The May 11th date simply refers to a Public Beta preview for the press so they can get their stories done for the real Public Beta launch a few days later.
Wired Magazine’s editor in chief, Chris Anderson, revealed in his blog a couple of pages of script dialog that he’d recorded. Interweb sleuths thought they’d discovered some plot points. Sad to say that other than the dialog itself and the names of the characters on those script pages, just about everything else is a red herring. So don’t read too much into it.
Then there was the “secret email from the Argo” which folks had mistaken for some sort of Bungie or Halo 3 viral campaign, or ARG. I don’t know what it really is, beyond fan-fic, but it’s not from us. These ARG rumors are going to get really common between now and the fall, so by all means enjoy them, but don’t assume they have anything to do with Bungie or Halo 3.
The strangest rumor of all was that MS was “forcing” Bungie to make Halo 3 60 fps at 1080p. Um, it was one thing to see that on a forum, but it was strange to see it on regular news site.
1080p at 60 fps is awesome for fighting games and barely a stretch for Live Arcade games. But if you want epic battles, dozens of bad guys, huge vistas and colossal structures, with advanced AI, HDR lighting and explosive physics, then you’re not getting those at 1080p at 60fps. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate – Halo 3 will display at 1080p through the Xbox Elite with its scaler and HDMI port, but not natively. We’ve seen it do just that and it looks utterly lovely. So if you have a 1080p TV, enjoy it yourself in a few weeks. Most people, and I mean the VAST majority of people don’t have a 1080p TV, so it would be foolish to sacrifice even a single feature for a bullet point number on the back of a box.
UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that all 360s, even the "vanilla" Core 360 will display games at 1080p over component, if your TV accepts a 1080p signal over component. We were simply describing the setup we use in our test lab. You don't need an Elite for 1080p, just cables and a compatible TV. There are some 1080p capable TVs that won't accept 1080p over component, however.
The only number we’re committing to is that our number one priority is to make Halo 3 look awesome, smooth, detailed and innovative, no matter what resolution you run it at. Although that said, it does look significantly better in HD, so maybe you should convince the powers that be, that now is the time for a set upgrade?
Actually, HD resolutions are one of the tougher things to account for when building a console game. PC game makers are used to supporting multiple resolutions and we do have lots of experience in this regard. But when you add it to the test cycle, it becomes this enormous amount of work. Every aspect of the game has to be tested at 480i (normal, ancient TV resolution) all the way up to 1080p resolutions to check for everything from graphical glitches to controller lag. And the odd thing about HD resolutions is that they aren’t even necessarily “correct” to begin with.
For example, most folks running an image at 720p, are doing so on a screen with a native resolution of 1280 X 768. The HD resolutions were all decided on during the heyday of the CRT tube, so the introduction of fixed pixel displays brought along with it new problems and inconsistencies. We have to build graphics and gameplay to work with everything from that ancient wooden RCA in the basement to a 60 inch Pioneer Elite. I think that one of the real payoffs of all this testing is that it looks pretty damned good and “next-gen” even on a cruddy old set. I actually know someone who uses a 360 via a crazy RF adapter. Now that is hardcore!
I’m in the midst of redoing my gaming rig at home, and now that I have my 5.1 sound system just the way I want it, I actually found myself using Halo 3 to adjust the settings. This part is embarrassing, but folks who’ve moved their setups around might be able to relate – I unplugged all the speaker wires, and in the transition lost track of which rear surround was left and which was right. I loaded up the Halo 3 Beta and tossed around a couple of grenades. I had in fact switched the wires by accident. Dur. Thank you grenades.
Last week’s Humpday Challenge brought with it another challenge. Quickly getting used to Halo 2 controls after months of playing Halo 3. I thought I would take a moment or two today to run you through the Beta control scheme (it will certainly change or improve between now and launch, after all) and so below, you’ll see a diagram of the current default scheme. Don’t worry, the Beta will include all the standard setups that you’re used to. And this diagram does not include some of the functions available from the Start and Back buttons, since they require a quick dig-down into the interface.
This layout is subject to change, but will give you an idea of what to expect.
Now, the single hardest thing to get used to, by far, is using RB to board vehicles, open doors and so on. It also reloads depleted weapons. That may sound like a lot of functions, but it isn’t really, since it’s contextual – you won’t reload instead of opening a gate, for example. Once you get used to RB – everything else is a breeze and pretty intuitive. Independent reloading of weapons is a blessing when you’re dual-wielding. It means you can fire one, while reloading the other.
The X-button is second nature. You’ll know when you’re carrying equipment – it’ll appear in your HUD, and all you do to use it is press X. On that note, I saw another meme pop up, and not an unreasonable one at that: You might be able to drop a shield on a vehicle and then drive around shielded. Well, nope. Cool as that might look, it would probably make a vehicle way too powerful. You should try playing around with what you can and can’t do with shields (and whatever else you find) in the Beta. It’s a blast.
One other advantage to the X-Button/RB switcheroo is that a thing that happened to me last week will be avoided – accidental ejection for betrayal. Everyone heads for an Oddball with X held down, tossing grenades at the bad guys, so when an accidental betrayal happens, everyone is mashing “X to eject” the entire time.
Xbox.com’s very own TriXie was the hostess with the mostest at last week’s Halo 2 All Nighter – an event to enjoy and celebrate the new Halo 2 map downloads. You can read about some of the antics and community reactions here: http://www.xbox.com/en-US/games/friendsofxbox/gamerspeak/2007/0427-halo2allnighter.htm
And finally, you'd think I wouldn't go there, but I totally did. I regret nothing.