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The beginning of the week brought with it a lineup of carts topped off with dozens of devkits, each and every one loaded up with the post-milestone aftermath otherwise known as the Halo: Reach Take Home Milestone 3 Playtest. Catchy name, eh? Really rolls right off the tongue.
Nobody’s too worried about the nomenclature, though. All night long ‘til the break-a break-a dawn (10pm PST) this Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, Bungie was focused on one thing and one thing only: putting the latest and greatest multiplayer spaces through the proverbial paces.
We’ve chatted you up about the importance of playtest at Bungie in past updates, but since this is the first time in a while we’ve publicly talked about putting the new multiplayer hotness through our internal ringers, we figured we should probably linger a little bit and let you Experience the Magic yourself.
Relax your shoulders, open wide, and GET SET for a mouthful of hot multiplayer playtest. I’ve got a duo of scantily clad designers, Derek Carroll and Lars Bakken, and a lone but seasoned engineer, Luke Timmins, ready to step on stage and deliver all the juicy details about why they do what they do, what exactly went down in everyone's living room this week, and why in the world Chad was allowed to do placeholder voice work.
Q. Why are we running a playtest already? Isn’t this what the public beta is for?
. Technically this is our third “Bungie-scale” playtest, where we hand out a ton of devkits across the studio and tell people to go home and play matchmaking, but in reality the test team and MP/UI engineers have conducted a few dozen mini-playtests in the last half year or so.
Playtesting at people’s homes is really important part of the MP testing ecosystem. We have tools to simulate real world connections (packet loss, latency, disconnects, etc.), but there is no substitute for the real deal.
. It is super (and I mean super, duper) important that we are playtesting our stuff all the time. It's how we make stuff extra sweet. To that end, we are always making sure our games play well, whether that's in a lab or over Partner Net. So, we're already playing the game on a daily basis. The public beta is a great way for us to stress our Matchmaking and other sub-systems on a much bigger environment. In a takehome playtest we're lucky to get 80 people together to play on a Wednesday night. With the public beta, we're talking about millions of people having access, so it's a scale that's closer to what it would be like when the game launches.
. We actually run playtests every day in the lab. Lots of new stuff goes in every day, so it’s important to test our work in the game to answer the only question that really matters: Is it fun when you actually play it? This week’s big take-home playtest represents several months of work all tied up with a bow for everyone in the studio to play without a lot of hand-holding.
Public betas are an important source of feedback, but by then it’s about polish and tweaking. This playtest is about us feeling good moving forward as a team.
Playing at home is a totally different experience from playing in a lab with a bunch of co-workers, so it can be very instructive. Things you may not see while at work become obvious when you’re sitting on your couch in the dark, blastin’ fools. Also: Subwoofer.
Q. Without going into too much (any) detail, talk a bit about what’s being stressed in this takehome. Are you looking to find and fix bugs, test out how players respond to design choices, put updated code through the quality control paces, defile my ears with Chad’s placeholder VO?
- It's really about networking and people's funny connections. In the real world, there are all sorts of crazy things people use to get online. Maybe you hook directly into your modem, maybe you use a router, maybe you're running wireless. We need to test these things in real world scenarios. My connection SUCKS. So, even though I hate it; Timmins jumps for joy every time I play in a takehome. We're also looking to find bugs. Some things you won't see until you are trying out the systems in real-world situations. Oh, and Chad's placeholder VO is precious.
- For the MP/UI pod, the focus is finding bugs in our matchmaking system as well as our different networking models.
Of course we also want to sit on our couches and play Reach. :)
- That VO isn’t placeholder. It’s gold
Q. What kind of feedback are you looking for from the team, how do you collect it, and how do you then go about parsing it and applying it to the end product?
- We have an internal website we use to channel feedback. It’s broken up by design feedback ("that was not fun") and general bugs ("I got dropped from a game, wat").
We also have automated data collection as people are playing, which we use to help track down issues with networking.
- We have some pretty elaborate feedback gathering systems that help us out in that respect. We rely on a couple homebrew things internally from the test team, but we also have the sweet MS User Research guys helping us out as well. We couldn't make the game happen without them. They parse the data and hand it to us in a easily digestible form. We can pour through it and make decisions based on that.
Q. Any really crazy stuff go down in any of the games this week?
- What, other than Chad's sexy VO??? Well, there was one thing that Chad did in our takehome last night that made me smile. I wish I could share it, I really do...but it would give too much away. It was so
- Nothing that doesn’t directly refer to something we haven’t announced. Which is awesome.
You know, it was
pretty awesome. Aside from the slightly creepy and amazingly off-putting live action role playing Chad added to the mix, of course. The folks who worked their asses off to get the milestone into playable shape do mighty fine work.
So what exactly did we play? Something you would expect, something you should expect, and something so new it came with instructions. And yes, David Allen, I did make sure to pop into the [redacted] to check out the new [redacted]. And why yes, it was
And no, every single person on Twitter who wanted to know if we needed more playtesters – we got this covered...for now. We'll make sure we touch base with you next year though. Deal?
Wouldn’t it be wild if there was an official, one stop online shop where you could get your grubby little hands on all manner of Bungie gear? I mean, even just t-shirts would be pretty cool, right? Yeah. So, this ain’t an official announcement, but if it were, we’d probably couch it in some sort of ass-covering statement, like so:
We’re planning on bringing the Bungie Store back really, really soon in some kind of pre-alpha-like fashion. Sometimes stuff happens—we’re not in full control of the tubes just yet—but if everything goes to plan, you might see a resurrection of everyone’s favorite place to purchase t-shirts woven of the finest cotton, cavernous sacks for cinching, and tubular systems for staying totally hydrated.
So, you know, just in case you happen to see such a website go live…yup, it’s legit. When exactly should you expect to be able to shovel all of your digital cash over our way? Well, soon
...Halo 3: ODST-themed Xbox 360 avatar awardables. Lots of folks have been asking us if we’ve been doing work on the Waypoint front or if we're planning on delivering any avatars extras that can be unlocked through the Awards program. Yup, our Visual Design team put together some avatars awardables you’ll be able to snag via some achievements attached to Halo 3: ODST.
While we can’t take any credit for the work that went into powering Halo Waypoint – we didn’t have any direct involvement in its development – we are totally down with creating and delivering some cool stuff to the fans of our titles and Waypoint provides us with an opportunity to work with 343 Industries and Halo Waypoint to offer a nice, retroactive bonus for players who picked up and played Halo 3: ODST.
If you’re a part of the Xbox LIVE Preview Program, you already have access to this new suite of Awards (and all the other stuff that program entails). If not, you won’t have to wait much longer before Waypoint goes live. When that switch gets flipped, here’s the achievements that'll unlock the corresponding new duds:
- Tourist – Black ODST T-shirt
- Dark Times – ODST Hoodie
- Campaign Complete (Normal) – Rookie’s Helmet
- Good Samaritan – ODST Body Armor
- Vidmaster Challenge: Endure – Dare Recon Helmet (Female), Recon Helmet (Male)
If you’ve already snagged these particular achievements, you’re good to go. Awardable unlocked.
Get it? See, I dropped the second “l” on the intentional, thereby forming a cleverly misspelled variant of the word Halloween that references the Halo franchise. Neat, huh?
Also neat, some of the screenshots submitted for the Forge-O-Ween screenshot competition we kicked off last week. Here’s a small sampling of the treats you stuffed into our tiny plastic bucket:
It's a Trap!
Gimme Some Candy!
We’re finalizing the selection process, picking winners, and if you made the cut, you should be getting a PM early next week with instructions on how you can claim your prize. Same goes for the random cross-section of “winners” we’re plucking out of our stupendously large pool of survey participants.
Luke Smith, upon inflating his Jabba the Hutt Halloween costume: “This is my finest hour.” To commemorate this grand achievement, Lorraine McLees broke out her camera and snapped as many photos of Luke and the rest of the costume clad members of the team as possible. From her lens to your eyeballs.
Stairway to Heaven
Stick 'em Up
It Ain't Easy
Beam Me Up
Good. Bad. Gun.
Our Kind of Scum
Like a Hole in the Head
Laughing at You
Laughing With You
Once You See It...
Out of Retirement, Into Orthopedic Shoes
Safety First (Please Don't Call the KPD)
Smilin' and Survivin'
This is My Rifle (These are my Chucks)
Thousand Yard Stare, World's Tiniest Violin
Vick is Not Amused
Rule #1: Cardio
We already warned you, but in case you missed our early heads up, we’re going to be purging screenshots from the community files collection. If your screens live in a File Share or a Gallery proper, you have nothing to worry about. If they're floating about elsewhere, say, in a File Set or only accessible through a direct URL, it’s time to save them off to your local hard drive.
Stosh didn’t dress out for Halloween, but he did dig up this screenshot.
Get out of here. Go get yourself some free candy or something. Don’t talk to strangers and don't do anything that we wouldn't do.