Halo 2 Multiplayer Madness
Last week, a couple of incorrect dates appeared on a retail website, and more tellingly, Microsoft's own Xbox.com site in Korea. What it revealed was that we apparently had a multiplayer add-on planned for Halo 2, and that it would be for sale in stores. Of course, like a lot of internet stuff, it was partly true. The dates were off, and subsequent rumor mongering went off on all kinds of tangents - some frighteningly accurate, some way off.
Bungie was caught off guard - we were waiting to tell you the whole plan when the powers that be (which is now) were ready. That put us in the unfortunate position of being forced to clam up until it was safe to talk!
The official press release from MS can be found over at Xbox.com
For those averse to press releases or simply needing clarification, we'll break it down for you:
So the basic details for the new map release plan go like this:
We're releasing a total of nine new multiplayer maps.
All nine maps will eventually be available as Live downloads
as a normal boxed game disc - available at retail for $19.99 (US).
The release on Live will be staggered, some paid, some free!
The first two maps are free and coming in a few short weeks. (late April)
The same day the 2 free maps are released, 2 additional maps will be available for purchase.
The remaining 5 maps will be made available as a paid download on the same day the retail package goes on sale.
The retail disc will contain extras, including a documentary, a cool project from our cinematic and animation team, every Halo 2 update released so far and possily one or two otherlittle treats.
By late summer, ALL the maps will be available for free.
It is complicated, but the vagaries of matchmaking playlist rollout, the precedent set by making Live content available to non-Live users, the implementation of anti-cheat fixes and the support required to make the whole experience work smoothly, are somewhat unique in the annals of Xbox gaming. So please, bear with us.
What we can say with some confidence is that we're very proud of the new maps. They're cool-looking, fun, well-balanced and tested to destruction. They offer a wide range of gameplay types and are suitable for some modes you may not even have tried before. We can't wait to share them with you.
The First Four New Maps!
In late April, you'll be able to download two maps for free - Containment and Warlock. At the same time, two additional maps will be available for purchase - Sanctuary and Turf. Each map represents a very different experience, from massive team battle, to intimate and intricate skirmish zone. Here's our breakdown of the levels:
A massive, mostly outdoor, and somewhat symmetrical environment set in the frozen tundra near Sentinel Wall, on Delta Halo. The icy terrain is a walled valley floor, scarred by a massive trench, running between two enormous Forerunner compounds. Each of these structures acts as a base, and each base is itself large enough to drive a vehicle around in.
The bases contain a heavily fortified flag capture point which presents a tough challenge for an unorganized offense. To even the odds, it's possible to open vehicle access to these bases by activating a switch - exposed to sniper fire in the center of the map. Above this switch is the teleport exit for each base.
The rapid access enabled using teleporters and vehicles means that while this is by far one of the largest Halo maps ever, it's also one with a large number of transit options, on foot or in vehicles.
Caves, ridges and tunnels provide stealthy entrance to enemy bases, while the jagged central trench is a great spot to take cover. Above, the exposed, icy fields are littered with the most explosive cores in the game. Default vehicles include Hogs, Scorpion tanks and Banshees. Containment was built from the ground up, with large scale objective games in mind, especially CTF. If you like Coagulation, and were a fan of Sidewinder, you'll love Containment!
Set in the rain-soaked ruins of an ancient Forerunner structure, nobody knows if Warlock is a temple, a castle or even a dwelling. What we do know is that the architecture predates the Halo itself, and that it must have been moved here, brick by brick, with obvious reverence by the Forerunners themselves.
A small to medium sized map, Warlock is ideal for close-quarters fights, Slayer matches and thanks to its four way symmetry, multi-team Territories battles. Warlock's mix of obstacles and open areas makes it a perfect spot for more chaotic matches like Rockets. Sharp-eyed players may note its resemblance to the map Wizard, although it has been rebuilt from the ground up to take advantage of Halo 2's new graphics and gameplay features.
Warlock is filled with nooks, crannies and other hiding places, and while the ground is a warren of obstacles, it's possible to reach any other point in the map by taking the high road - a series of platforms and ramps that stretch across the map, with a temple-like center structure dominating the arena.
Teleporters dot the walls allowing you to evade pursuing enemies, or take instant shortcuts across the map.
The surrounding streets and evacuated buildings of Old Mombasa make it a dangerous warren, with potential assassins lurking in every shadow and around every corner. Dusty storefronts hide mazelike interiors, and narrow walkways above street level make this shadowy part of town a sniper's haven.
Although it was designed primarily with Territories and CTF in mind, Turf's wildly varying situations - open streets, large buildings, narrow passageways - mean that it's surprisingly flexible. In spite of its size and complexity, the level even works well as a cat and mouse one-on-one map.
Although the tight alleys and streets are initially confusing, there are plenty of vital landmarks - a downed Covenant Scarab, a makeshift Human military base and a massive warehouse, complete with huge swinging doors. Players can knock down catwalks to control ledges above the streets, and a well-parked Warthog can lay down covering fire for the team quick enough to grab it.
A walled grotto defines the center point of this Forerunner habitat, from which aqueducts span out, like the hands of a clock. It perfectly obscures a clear line of sight between two more robust temple buildings primarily used as Flag capture bases.
The map was designed to be perfectly symmetrical and used for smaller, team based objective games, like CTF and Assault, but its size and layout also make it a perfect spot for Slayer matches and slightly more frenetic types like Territories and Oddball. The tunnels at the sides and the open areas in front of the bases make for frantic firefights and nerve-wracking chases.
Stop for a moment to admire the scenery and you'll see a complicated system of waterfalls, canals and pools. Splashing water and the chirp of birds help define the sound scheme of this otherwise peaceful environment.
Larger versions of these images have been added to the Halo 2
WEEKLY WHAT'S UPDATE : SPECIAL EDITION
Now that you've got an overview of the plan, we know you have questions that need answering. For this week's "What's Update", we take a stab at the the most pressing questions before you even have a chance to ask them...
Why is Bungie charging for these maps when they should be free?
Well, the answer for the retail pack is simple - it costs money to make the maps, press a disc, put it in a box and get it to retail. For downloads, it's the exact same development process, plus bandwidth, support, all that stuff. You make things, they cost money to make, you have to charge for them. At the end of the day, Bungie doesn't have much involvement in the business side of things, although we are very pleased this stuff is going to be available for free download in the long run. And we're pleased that two will be free immediately. The other cool thing is that by working with retailers we can put these maps in the hands of gamers around the world and those who do not have Live.. These maps are not just about Live play, but for all those who play in LAN tournaments, etc...
But nobody else charges for content on Xbox Live...
Actually, almost everyone charges for downloadable content on Xbox Live. Some of that content later becomes free. That's where our plan falls into line. The simple fact is that it costs us money to make the content - resources, staff, snacks, even rent. This is not designed as a massive profiteering exercise, rather it's simply a way to get our maps in the hands of everyone, recoup the costs and justify the production of a significant project. At the end of the Summer, all of the content will be free for everyone to enjoy, and that's what matters most to us.
This plan sure does seem complicated...what gives?
It is complicated, but then so is the process of manufacturing, matchmaking and even playing on Live. We make games, and we make multiplayer maps, and guns and graphics and music and explosions, but ultimately we leave the sales plans to the MS experts.
Why is the map release staggered?
Well, we wanted to reward our players with the free maps - so they had to be a standalone download. Mountain Dew helped make that possible. The rest of this schedule was decided by marketing and Live ops teams - downloading all nine maps on the same day would be a recipe for melting the whole internet. We also needed to make gradual changes to our matchmaking playlists so that the new content is supported in matchmaking.
How was the price point determined?
By the marketing team, accountants, bean counters, various shaman and folks we don't even get to meet.
$19.99 for the retail disc seems really pricey for just a few maps. Why should I buy this?
Nine maps is actually a lot of Halo maps, and these new ones are in many regards, more complex graphically and technically than the original batch. The disc is also a very good way to archive the content, should you ever need it again (if you replace your Xbox, for example). The disc comes with a couple of nifty extra collectibles too -a documentary about the process of mapmaking and a short piece of animated fiction - a Halo 2 sidestory. it's also a rare opportunity for offline System Link and split-screen players to access previously online-only content.
Also, for the first time ever, non Live users will have access to game updates that were previously only available to Live subscribers. All of the prior Halo 2 updates along with the update slated for release in the near future will be included on this disc. Things like map exploit fixes, improved support for 480p, the improved split screen HUD update, and every other improvement and tweak that has been released on Live will be available to non-Live users.
The discs and the software are tremendously expensive to program, design, manufacture, package, ship and distribute. That's what you're paying for, should you decide to buy it. Xbox Live players pay a premium to use that service, and one big benefit to them for subscribing to the service will be getting their hands on four of the maps earlier than anyone else. Another important benefit is the eventual release of these maps for free.
What does Mountain Dew have to do with the first 2 free maps? And what's Bungie's relationship with Mountain Dew?
For some time, Mountain Dew has had an ongoing marketing relationship with Xbox Marketing, and they arranged the opportunity to sponsor the first two free maps with Xbox Live. Mountain Dew was heavily involved with Xbox Marketing on promoting Halo 2, with contests, ads, Slurpee cups and the like, and this is a continuation of that relationship. All that stuff goes through the marketing guys, so we don't have any direct exposure to Mountain Dew. We do have a Halo 2 Mountain Dew vending
(that occasionally also works well as a cold beer dispenser).
You say the maps will become free to everyone over time...how much time? When can we get them for free?
By late Summer, with the support of Mountain Dew, all the maps will be completely free. This does two things - it's a nice gift to the players patient enough to wait and it will also improve the matchmaking options available to those who have been playing those maps for a while, since we can then roll every suitable map into every suitable playlist. The specific timeline and details will be released soon, once they are finalized.
What are the other 5 maps going to be?
Terminal, Relic, Elongation, Gemini and Backwash. Each offers a distinctly different look, feel and game type suitability. Stay tuned to Bungie.net over the next few weeks for lots more info.
Wizard is being ported as 'Warlock', sweet! Does that mean we can expect Hang 'em High as well?
Brace yourself...Nope. Sorry. While everyone here is aware that Hang 'Em High (and to a lesser extent Sidewinder) would be massively popular, our preliminary tests with Hang 'Em High proved pretty quickly that the changed weapons and physics made it far less fun than you remember it being in Halo: Combat Evolved. Since each map was being lovingly crafted, polished and tested by a full team, we felt the resources were better spent on new maps. After all, if you loved Hang 'Em High, you can still play it on Halo CE.
Why has it taken so long for these maps to get released?
The work on these new maps, from conception to completion was started after Halo 2 shipped. Almost immediately in fact. Not one of these maps incorporates anything from "unreleased" Halo 2 stuff. They were each created from scratch. We're actually still doing final testing and cleaning up the odd texture. So it's taken as long as it's taken. We have NOT been sitting on these as some have suggested. We don't just slap these things together - specifically, we actually had more resources after the release of Halo 2 working solely on multiplayer maps than we did for the original 12.
How will the matchmaking playlists work once free and premium maps are added to the mix?
We're still finalizing our plans but we can give you a general idea of what to expect. The existing core playlists will remain intact. The first two free maps, Containment and Warlock, will be integrated into the appropriate existing playlists. Since the 2 premium maps are "premium" and won't necessarily be on everyone's Xbox right away, we can't add them to the core playlists without creating all sorts of problems. Instead, we will be rolling out a special short-term playlist that will only be accessible for people who download the premium maps. Players interested in getting into matchmade games on Turf and Sanctuary will be able to do so via this special playlist. Eventually, as Turf and Sanctuary become free for everyone, they will be added back to the core playlists and the premium playlist will go away.
When the remaining premium maps become available in June, a similar process will occur except we will have more than one premium playlist to accommodate the 5 new maps. Over time, as those maps become available for free, they will be integrated into the core playlists and the premium playlists will be phased out.
Throughout all of this, please keep in mind that players are always able to enjoy the new maps on their own via custom games with other friends who have the maps.
We are still working out the final details, gametype lists and dates for the life and death of each playlist. In addition, we are working on some contests to incorporate into these short-term playlists for added enjoyment. Stay tuned for more info in the weeks ahead.
When is the matchmaking playlist update going to happen?
The first playlist update will take place right after the new maps become available. Please also note that this update will not just be adding a new premium playlist - we will be adding variety to existing playlists, integrating the 2 free maps and adding an entirely new 2v2 playlist. Much more information will be coming soon.
When is the Live Autoupdate being released? When can we get additional info about the rest of the maps and anything else coming up?
The Live update will be released shortly before the first maps. The update itself will be a relatively tiny file, but contains significant changes to address cheating, glitching and other exploitable bugs. We also took this opportunity to improve split-screen display support and do some fine-tuning on melee and grenade combat. We'll be releasing more detail about this in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can read more about it in the "Weekly What's Update."
The Autoupdate is currently scheduled for release some time in April and shortly before the first maps are available.
Is it true that Frankie is to blame for all of this?
That part is true. He also deleted all the assets for Hang 'Em High so that it could never, ever return. Yes, anything you don't like, that was Frankie's fault. And he nearly introduced a wacky smack-talkin' extreme hamster sidekick named "Gusto" in Halo 2. We're also pretty sure Frankie had something to do with the famous Myth hard-drive erasing bug as well as adding the famous "Combat Evolved" tagline to Halo.
And finally... a reader asks,
"What would Mister Chief look like if he ate all the pies?