Making of the Halo 2 E3 Demo
Friday, June 20th, 2003, 4:01 PM
When the Bungie team sat down to plan out what would be shown at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, one thing was clear – A typical gameplay movie would simply not suffice. The team had loftier goals. They wanted to unleash a real-life, in-engine demo that would be played live in front of the fans. This demo would be the first real glimpse into the actual heart of the game and fan expectations were off the charts. The bar was set. It was time to deliver.
In the months leading up to E3, buckets of blood and sweat (and probably a few tears) were poured into making this demo something spectacular. Many of the guys literally stayed in the office for days straight, catching cat naps in the sound studio or under their desk when they needed to recharge. These guys are used to it – laying the foundation for world domination doesn’t come easy. It takes an enormous amount of work by a variety of different teams to pull together all the elements that make up this demo. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sitting down with various members of these teams to get some insight into their particular roles during the development of the E3 2003 demo.
First up is the Design Team. The Designers are generally responsible for everything that "touches" the player. Everything from level design to gameplay mechanics falls into their court. I sat down with Jaime Griesemer and Tyson Green to find out a little more about their part in pulling this demo together...
As the Designers for Halo 2, what was your role in creating the E3 2003 demo?
Jaime: As the Design Lead, I was responsible for determining what new gameplay features we should show, and I also helped Joe determine the scope and rough plot for the demo as well. I left all the grueling difficult parts for Tyson...
Tyson: The detailed planning and execution of gameplay sequences were my responsibility. In this context, whenever the player interacts with the world via his gun, it's a gameplay sequence, and that's what I took care of.
Can you briefly walk us through the process, from concept to final build, of how this demo came together?
Jaime: We started planning for the demo back in February, and since we wanted to have as little impact on our overall schedule as possible, we wanted to use a level that was already in production. Of those levels, EARTHCITY had the largest range of gameplay options since it had infantry and vehicle combat. It was early in the game, so it wouldn’t reveal any major story secrets, and it had most of the vehicles and characters we wanted.
The best part about using EARTHCITY was that it was a natural place to pick up after the announcement trailer. It re-introduced the Marines and the Warthog, as well as providing a good place to bring in the Brutes. It was the obvious choice for the location.
Then Joe and I came up with a plan for the demo’s storyline. It’s surprising how closely the final demo is to the original plan. We had to abandon some of the really crazy ideas, but the main flow is the same.
Tyson: Once an overall plan was in place, I started to experiment and flesh out finer details while helping guide the creation of the New Mombasa environment. How much we can do isn't always known at first, and the earlier we can find out, the better.
The process of building the gameplay sequences (broken into what we call "encounters") is incremental. Try something, scrap it or refine it, repeat the process as often as possible. As new features, new content, and player feedback become available, the encounters are revised to integrate them. Eventually, the focus turns from creation to optimization, and the encounter building process ends with bug fixing.
The whole time I was also working with Joe to achieve the cinematic flow of the demo, as well as doing everything possible to make it bulletproof, for times when Pete had to show the demo. The latter two steps are present in every level process, but were of particular importance for a high profile demo like this one.
What types of challenges did you encounter when designing and implementing an environment like "Earth City?"
Tyson: Tyson: "Earth City", which is actually named New Mombasa , is a pretty substantial departure from any previous Halo environment. Determining whether or not it could actually be done in a fashion we would be satisfied with was difficult. Designing a city which is both feasible in terms of content and performance and believable as a 26th century arcology is challenging.
Some little details turned out to be very important. For example, a flat street is boring to drive on, so we built up the distinctive sidewalks to give the streets a more interesting profile. Unfortunately, that made the corners very dangerous, flipping even good Warthog drivers. We eventually solved the problems, but it took several revisions.
Design-wise, what are the biggest differences between working on this project as opposed to working on the original Halo for Xbox?
Tyson: Experience. Halo showed us what people liked doing, and what they did not, and that helps us to improve the game.
For me personally, more involvement in the design of levels which I am populating. Halo 1 mostly saw me implementing levels already designed (including the infamous Library.) With Halo 2, I have opportunities to build levels like New Mombasa from the earliest stages, which is definitely a greater responsibility.
Jaime: In Halo 1 we had a very basic set of tools which we had to use in every situation. An Elite assaulting a group of Marines behaves exactly like an Elite retreating from the Flood. In Halo 2 we have much more sophisticated tools to customize the AI to a situation. It may sound subtle, but the effects are substantial.
Were there things you wanted to include in the E3 demo but weren't able to for one reason or another?
Jaime: There were some things in the original plan that we did cut, but there is still a good chance that they will make it into the final game, so I’m not going to tell you what they are.
Tyson: The technology was mostly there to support what we wanted to do, so it really came down to time. Given more time, I would have liked to polish more, and fill in some content gaps. Things like a roughly textured wall, or a missing character animation. Also, it would have been cool to show off more of Halo 2's physics capabilities.
Will all of the elements we saw in this demo carry over to the final release of Halo 2?
Tyson: No, probably not. Most of them, certainly the major elements, but nobody should expect a final level which plays or looks exactly the same as the demo we showed. That said, changes will be made to improve things, and not because the demo does things that we cannot actually do. Players looking forward to experiencing something at least as good as the demo will not be disappointed.
And remember, there was only five or so minutes of gameplay in the demo. The final level will be much larger.
Lastly, what's your favorite part/aspect of the E3 demo?
Tyson: Honestly? Explosions. Sometimes you hear critics pan "exploding barrels" in shooters. They say they're cliché. Well, here's a secret: people really like to see things explode. Give them quality and variety, and some people will blow things up all day long. Fully integrate it with your combat model, so that your gun can blow up the car and take out the two guys who ran for cover behind it, and you end up a deeply satisfying experience. The demo was full of fun and exciting things, but the best moments always seemed to involve something exploding.
Jaime: My favorite part of the demo was the section where the Brute boarded the Warthog and knocked out the Marines, followed by the Chief boarding a Ghost and kicking out the driver. It was a great example of an idea that sounded insane in a brainstorm session, but got implemented anyway and looks like it will become an important part of the game.
To be continued...
Design is just one ingredient required to cook up something as tasty and scrumptious as the recent Halo 2 demo. Next week I’ll be talking with Joseph Staten, Director of Cinematics, to get his perspective on the demos creation. See you then!