Lights. Camera. Action!
Posted by Sketch at 6/27/2003 2:45 AM PDT

Lights. Camera. Action!

By SketchFactor
Friday, June 27th, 2003, 9:45 AM

Cinematics. Cutscenes. In-game movies. Call them what you will, but with a plot line as rich as the one found in Halo and Halo 2, there’s no denying the importance they play in conveying the story to the player. If you've seen the video of the Halo 2 E3 demo (you have seen it, right!?), then you've already got an idea of the impact that cinematics will have in the game. But how did these "movies" come to be? This week I spent a few minutes with Joseph Staten, Bungie’s Director of Cinematics, to find out how it all came together...

What were your goals for this demo?

Joe: : The most important goal was to cash the huge check we wrote with the announcement trailer. We promised people that playing Halo2 would be as exciting as leaping through space onto a marauding alien battle-cruiser, and this demo needed to deliver on that promise. The demo needed to exceed expectations. It needed to raise the bar. It had to give people and even bigger rush than they felt watching the announcement trailer, and that was no small task.

Can you talk a little about the differences between the Halo2 announce trailer and the E3 2003 demo?

The E3 demo is just that: a real-time demonstration of Halo 2 gameplay. The announcement trailer was rendered in-engine, but was never played live, before an audience. Whereas the announcement trailer was designed to show off our new technology and re-introduce the Master Chief, the E3 demo was designed to show people how much fun it is to play Halo2--how much fun it is to wield two SMGs, take down a Brute with a melee combo, or board a Ghost and boot its driver to the curb. Both presentations are firmly grounded in the Halo2 story, but the E3 demo brings the story to life in concrete, gameplay terms.

Can you walk us through the process of how this demo came together? For example, does it start with a storyboard artist, then the programmers/artists make it real, then you start playing with it in-engine, etc..

Each time we put together a trailer or a demo our process becomes more refined, and at this point we have our act pretty much down. Everything starts with the script. The script serves the basis for storyboards on my side of things and a clear list of tasks for the engineers, artists and designers. This demo was really a mission-in-miniature, so while Tyson was working on the gameplay section, I assumed my usual role as the "bag man"--collecting and assembling cinematic assets as they came on-line, and eventually delivering a "frame-accurate" version of the entire demo to Marty and Jay for music and foley. Throughout this assembly process Harold and the rest of the test team pounded on the demo checking it for stability, and it's interesting to note that the build never crashed during its 150+ showings.

How different was the final script for this demo from the original starting point?

Not very different, actually. Which isn't necessarily a good thing. The original script was pretty ambitious, and we were crazy enough to stick to it (much to the detriment of our sleep habits, hairlines and marital harmony). We really only cut one thing...and I'm not allowed to talk about it. Let's just say if you thought the Brute boarding the Warthog was cool, this would have been, without a doubt, too cool for school. Or at least too big to fit into the classroom.

What’s the biggest challenge in putting together something of this magnitude?

Coordinating the efforts of dozens of guys across a number of functional areas. The E3 demo was truly a team effort. Very few people sat this one out, and it gets complicated when lots of folks are trying to cram art, code, etc. into a single build in a limited amount of time. Ideally you want to stagger things--have assets hit in a nice, neat, predictable order, but that's very hard to achieve. Inevitably there's a mad rush at the end as people try to get as many cool things into the demo as possible--not the best thing to have happen when Marty and I are trying to lock things down, and spend some quality time together polishing the dramatic details.

Do you have a particular favorite moment or aspect from this demo?

That would have to be the re-introduction of the Elites in their insertion pods. I wanted to create a moment that would have as much emotional impactful as the Chief launching himself out of a space-station, but more visceral--a moment of exceptional danger that, if it were to happen during the course of a level, would make anyone who's played Halo think "holy shit, how am I gonna fight my way out of this?!" And, well, nothing says danger like an Elite with an active energy-blade, let alone six like-armed Elites.

Is there anything significant about the demo or anything that people might miss?

Unfortunately, the thing that's missed most often (not by people who watch the demo, but by me who's playing it) is one of the damn Ghosts that appear right before the Marines' medical tents. The goal was to shoot the second of the two Ghosts in the air as it flips off the hood of the other Warthog, but invariably I would choke and miss "the shot" as it's become known around the office. Initially, I tried to convince people I was missing intentionally--that I was "cleansing my palette" for the next, and final pair of Ghosts. But when it became apparent that I couldn't make the shot even when bet significant amounts of cold, hard cash I had to admit that I (as Hamilton so politely put it) had no clutch. Indeed, in the run-through of the demo we're releasing on the web I miss the cursed shot, and one can almost hear the hearty jeers of my so-called Bungie brothers as I flail to explode the Ghost well after it hits the ground.

Come back next week for Part 3 as I interview another development team about their role in building the E3 demo. Be sure to check out last week's story for an interview with the design team.

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