Unfortunately our maestro of Weekly Updates is out sick today so I'm taking the liberty of filling his shoes to keep the information tradition alive (figure of speech since Frank actually doesn't wear shoes on most days). As you're reading this, please take a moment to wish Frankie well as he battles the viruses that have invaded his body. If you have any proven home remedies for burning, itching and scurvy-like symptoms, you may want to send a personal message to Frankie to help him get better. I've actually heard that going to great lengths to ridicule and tease someone in this condition can do wonders for the natural healing process. We'll see.
As Frankie recuperates I'll try to give you an update on what's happened in Bungieland this past week…
Bungie Weekly Update
For the most part, it was a pretty quiet week around here. There was a small little announcement about some guy producing the Halo movie and another bit of news which revealed that Dead or Alive 4 for the Xbox 360 is going to feature a character from the Halo Universe. All in all, a pretty slow news week really…
Ok, who are we kidding!? For Halo fans, it was perhaps the single biggest news week since Halo 2 was first revealed. First off we get news that acclaimed director and awesome movie-maker Peter Jackson is going to take the helm as Executive Producer of the Halo movie! OMGWTFBBQ!? Obviously it's a natural choice as a "ring" plays a pivotal role in both Halo and LotR. At our last team meeting, this news was met with cheers and applause as Joe outlined the improved plan for movie-world domination. I personally can't wait to see Jackson and his WETA team's vision of the Halo universe on the big screen. "This plasma sword burnsssssesssesss…"
Unfortunately neither Frankie nor I were picked to make the trip to New Zealand to meet with the movie team but I'm sure Joe will bring back a full report of the awesome things he sees and hears. And I'm also sure that Parsons will do something completely fanboyish that will embarrass us all. Stay tuned, we will do our best to keep you all up to date on movie developments…
The other exciting tidbit that hit the internet this week was a confirmation that Team NINJA's upcoming Dead or Alive 4 for Xbox 360 will feature a special hidden character and that character is in fact from the Halo universe. This project, codenamed "Slugfest" for internal secrecy, has been underway for many months now. This was a partnership forged by two game developers who are fans of each others work who wanted to do something cool for our fans. We can't really say anything else right now for fear of actual ninjas being dispatched to enforce the code of silence. We thought our ninjas were bad... imagine a whole team that's based exclusively on NINJAS! For now my lips are sealed but rest assured that you'll be hearing and seeing more about this in the very near future. All I can say for now is... Wow!
Other than those two bombs, there's not a whole lot else I'm able to talk about today. We're still getting settled into our new command center and today we received a ridiculous amount of furniture that has been strategically placed around the studio in our "break out" areas. The Bungie Princess picked out a festive assortment of fabrics and colors that will surely raise the spirits of our team during the dark hours of crunch (ok, maybe not, but they are at least mostly comfortable). And the cold hard concrete floors that cover our building have been somewhat softened by the addition of new small round green rugs that vaguely resemble mini-golf putting greens. If we're not content with our desk chairs or one of many conference rooms, we can get up, walk 2 feet, and all huddle up in a small carpeted circle to discuss future projects. It seems like one of those ideas that sounded really good at the time… Frankie and I still want to do another video tour of the new building once things are a little more organized and cleaned up. Stay tuned for that.
Matchmaking Playlist Update
Last week Frankie revealed some information about the next Halo 2 Matchmaking Playlist Update, including the all new "Team Hardcore" playlist. Testing concluded this week and as long as no last minute issues arise, we're hoping to release this update early the week after next. Why so long? Well, our goal is to roll out updates approximately every six weeks. During that time we work on building the spec, getting feedback from our community and internal team, building the actual files, getting the descriptions localized for all languages, testing everything on "Partnernet" (the test version of Xbox Live), hooking it up to Bungie.net and then coordinating the release with the Live team. It takes about six weeks to do all of those things while still allowing some buffer in case something goes horribly awry (like a Banshee showing up on Ascension in Team Rifles!).
This new playlist will be "ranked", meaning that all players will have a number next to their name that indicates their relative skill in the playlist and is used to match them with equal opponents. However, there will not be a new Leaderboard added to Bungie.net.
The issue of leaderboards is something we've spent a lot of time talking about and the consensus from the community seems to be that they're just not that interesting to the majority of players. Considering that the vast majority of people who actually make the top 1,000 do so by taking advantage of cheats and exploits, the value of displaying that information is questionable. Unfortunately there are a variety of ways people can manipulate their Leaderboard standing and to fully investigate every single player would be a full-time job for a small army of enforcers. If you think about the very small percentage of people who will ever actually be impacted by the leaderboards, it's a lot of work for very little return. We'd rather focus our efforts on gathering feedback for new playlists and keeping the online gameplay experience fresh and fun (not to mention entirely new projects).
To this end, there will come a point in the very near future where ALL existing leaderboards will no longer be displayed on Bungie.net. You will still have your rank and nothing else will be changed with the matchmaking system. The only difference is that the top 1,000 players for each playlist will no longer be specifically listed. We are still talking about alternate forms of content we could add to the Stats page to fill the void.
Odds & Ends
In closing I'd like to give everyone a quick update on the "Fight the Flood" charity auction that was announced several weeks ago. This is still happening and right now we're waiting on artwork to get framed and matted so people can actually see what they're bidding on. This process, along with disruptions caused by our office move, has taken longer than we anticipated but we are still committed to pulling this off (with our friends at HBO) and we truly have some very special items for Halo fans to bid on. As soon as we get the final items back we'll have more info on this! Next week we will also be delivering a check in excess of $165,000 to the American Red Cross. We'll have a full review of the awesome success of this program next week. None of that could have been possible without your generous outpouring of support, so THANK YOU!
Fans of the recently released Far Cry for Xbox might be interested to know that some people are already hard at work creating Halo-inspired maps for the title. Our own Evil Otto just spent some time playing with the latest map creator, who happens to be all the way in Israel. Apparently his renditions of "Backwash" and "Lockout" are pretty damn cool and our guys wanted to give a shout out to "Galgool" for his creations. You can get more info over at their blog.
Lastly, if you're a fan of Halloween and pumpkins, check out the annual 343 Guilt O' Lantern contest over at halo.bungie.org. We kicked off this tradition in 2003 and last year HBO took the reigns and it's now turned into a major event within the Halo community. You have a few weeks to produce your masterpiece so get over to HBO to read the rules and get started!
And in case you were wondering what poor Frankie is up to in his weakened condition, here's an artist's (AGDTinMan's) interpretation of "Frankie teh Sick."
But Wait, There's More!
Just as I was wrapping up this update on behalf of the ill-stricken Frankie, I get an email that contains the real Weekly Update. Considering he was on his death bed, I assumed he was too sick to write anything this week. Since I already wrote this, I’m leaving it as is, but I wanted to include the update that Frank wrote as well… So, here's a second helping of Weekly Update, properly sanitized and passed on from Frankie's bed to your computer:
Frankie's Weekly Update
So I am home sick, sweating like a burglar, and in no doubt whatsoever that I have contracted the first avian-human bird flu, as opposed to regular kind.
It’s been a busy week. First the DOA thing. It was so cool working with the Tecmo guys. We still have little bits and bobs to do, but we’re not going to talk about it – this is really Tecmo’s thing. Later on, we’ll go into some detail about working with Team Ninja and Itagaki. Suffice to say it was fun.
What’s just as fun – is reading the speculation about who the hidden character is – Cortana, Sgt. Johnson and the Arbiter being the most popular candidates. If Game Informer hadn’t confirmed that it’s NOT the Master Chief, we’re guessing that would have been the number one pick by far.
I’m really looking forward to playing this game – I’m a huge fighting game fan, my faves include Street Fighter, King of Fighters, Virtua Fighter and Tekken. But I love, love, love Dead or Alive. I like the staccato, rapid-fire pace and the piles of eye candy that are poured on. Knocking someone out of a window and having them smash through an exploding neon sign is so much more satisfying than a plain old ring out.
At a console launch, you owe it to yourself to get the games that show it off best. That’s why sales of driving games are so high at launch time – they show off what your new system can do so beautifully. We’ve all had that moment, where you try to show your mom or your girlfriend how cool something looks, and they’re all, “Yes, that’s nice dear.”
But even that bombshell was overshadowed by what we had planned for Wednesday. With all the hoopla about the XO5 exhibition, we slipped in a little announcement about a certain moviemaker’s involvement with the Halo film.
Really, he should be called, “Peter Freakin’ Jackson.” Freakin’ should be his official middle name. After you see the brain-fiesta that is King Kong, you’ll be in no doubt at all. Jackson is going to be the executive producer, working closely with his equally talented wife, Fran Walsh who’s written the screenplays (and occasionally stories) for all of Peter Jackson’s movies.
That also brings another fringe benefit. WETA Digital – the effects, creatures and models workshop that brought The Lord of the Rings and King Kong to brilliant, imaginative life. Look at the costumes and creatures in say, Return of the King. Now imagine that skill and talent applied to a Halo movie. Imagine how MC’s armor is going to look, or the weight and heft of a Covenant Plasma Rifle visualized and built by WETA. The mind boggles.
I’m especially excited (and this is contingent on all kinds of factors) to see what a Forerunner structure would look like. Or a Warthog. Dang. What if they build a working one? Maybe they will let me drive it. Or a couple of Hunters fighting marines. Gack! It’s funny. Until the Jackson/Walsh/WETA announcement, every time I envisioned the movie, I kind of just saw the game playing in my head. This is going to take it into a whole new realm.
Seeing our baby reported on venerable movie fansite AintItCool.com was also weirdly cool. Sure the story was picked up by Reuters and the Associated Press and all the usual behemoths, but seeing AintItCool’s Quint use 16 exclamation points to describe the project was the most satisfying report of all.
And speaking of movies, we just found out that the captain of the smuggling, ahem, transport ship Firefly, Captain Mal Reynolds, plays Halo. Check out the interview here.
Since we’re giving out props, special props to Charlie, Noguchi and the programming team who’ve been pulling monstrous hours on the creation of essential tools for our next project. You can’t help but feel guilty rolling out of here at 6pm when you know those guys’ work day is really just getting started.
Our Hardcore playlist announcement was greeted warmly last week, even by the hardest of hardcore. The MLG guys ran a really nice article on the upcoming Hardcore playlist and the widely imagined “rift” between Bungie and MLG. You can read what they thought over here.
Anyway, that’s all for this week. I am going to bed to sweat more. Luckily my pet pigeons, chickens and crows will snuggle with me and keep me warm.