Halo for PC - Gone Gold!
Monday, September 15th, 2003, 8:07 AM
Bling Bling! Halo for PC has officially "gone gold". Time to roll out the welcome mat! After what must seem like an eternity, Master Chief is coming home. Home to the PC that is. When Microsoft acquired Bungie Studios and annouced that Halo would become an Xbox title, the promise was made to gamers everywhere that eventually the game would indeed surface on the PC. Today, Bungie Studios, in conjunction with Gearbox Software, has delivered on that promise. (the Mac version isn't too far behind either... more on that later)
For the past few weeks we've been getting regular updates from Bungie Producer Michel Bastien on the state of the project and its progress. Now that the game is gold and is only a handful of days away from hitting retail shelves, there really isn't much updating to be done. So, Michel has put together this special update which answers questions submitted by Halo fans over at halo.bungie.org.
Halo PC - Gold Update
by Michel Bastien
Holy crap... What was it? I think it was Wednesday, yeah, last Wednesday. Sketch and I were bouncing ideas for content to tie-up with the announcement of Halo going gold. In all honesty, I was in a terrible mood – something about PR and the timing of the announcement. To make a long story short, we had to sit on the news for a couple of days. Anyways, Sketch had a number of suggestions for b.net, one of which was to gather a couple of questions from the forums on HBO and have me put together a Q&A-like article. I accepted.
On Thursday afternoon, he e-mailed me 48 questions.
While I’m not necessarily surprised by the number of questions, I am blown away by their diversity and quality. Answering them all would take me hours so I am warning you: some of you will be disappointed to find their question(s) left unanswered. However, I’ll keep them around. Perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to come back to the list in the coming weeks. Even better: speed reading through the questions, 3-4 of them struck me as being sufficiently "deep" and complex enough to require multiple paragraphs answers. Whenever Sketch harasses me for words, I’ll use them to spark inspiration if need be!
The first question comes from Phatcorns . He asks: "When and how is the decision made that the game is done? Is there a point where everyone is satisfied and just can’t find anymore bugs?"
Specifically for Halo PC our goals are different from what they would be for an original game, so our development schedule was driven by our two biggest technical challenges: writing a new networking architecture and getting the game to run, look and sound good on a wide variety of systems. We called these "done" when we reached some hard-set objectives. Many months of hard development work were required to reach these goals. Then, it’s all about bug fixing. Bug fixing is challenging partly because in a group, regularly, you will not reach a consensus about the priority of the bugs and even about whether you simply should or should not fix any given bug. The more time you spend in bug fixing mode, the higher "the bar" gets for deciding whether a certain bug should be fixed or not. When you think about it, it makes sense – if the bug took 3 weeks to find, with 20 testers playing 10 hours a day, how many people will actually run into the issue? Of course, certain crashing bugs can take that long to be uncovered and they can be a symptom of a much deeper and serious problem so every bug gets attention and investigation. Once your understanding of the issue is thorough, "punting" it (the action of not fixing it!) can be the right call.
Following a couple of weeks of bug fixing, your goal is to reach a milestone called ZBR (for zero-bugs). Some call it a milestone but I like to think of it as a concept. Basically, it means that for a moment, you have a total of 0 issues you wish to address and you can pretty much stay in that state for 24-48 hours (when a bug comes in, after investigating, you choose not to fix). Feeling good about your ZBR, you get into the RC cycle (Release Candidate – see my previous update for more details) until you have a Master, which you send out for replication.
As you can see, the answer to your question "when and how is the decision made that the game is done?" can happen at different step of this process (which I’ve described simplistically), depending on how you define "done." I like to think it’s not "done" until you have your Master in hand but realistically, once you’ve hit ZBR, odds are you will not take a single change that will affect the game experience. Some might feel the game is done at that point too (even thought there’s still a gigantic amount of hard testing work happening post-ZBR, with the support of the whole team).
While sure, we can reach a point where everyone is satisfied, getting into that state is painful, in part because you will punt on features or bugs that you feel should be addressed and these won’t be the same for everyone involved – and it’s necessary. Not doing so would pretty much mean development of the game will last indefinitely. Halo on the Xbox had its hard-punts, so did Halo PC.
As for just being unable to find anymore bugs, no, there is no such moment. Bug-free games don’t exist and whoever tells you otherwise is lying!
Speaking of bugs, Alexis asks: "during the development phase, what were some of the big 'show-stopping' bugs you encountered?" I’d say anything that will screw up the game experience is a show-stopper.
Example of a non-show-stopping bug: in the UI, go to Profiles, create a profile named 1, create a profile named 2, delete the profile named 1, go back to the main menu, click Settings: nothing happens – bad. Go back to Profiles, select profile 2 again, go back to the main menu, click Settings: you get in – good. The UI got confused about its state and about its selected profile. While this is annoying, the workaround is intuitive, simple and pretty much doesn’t screw anyone up. (I don’t remember when we found this bug, and I don’t remember if we fixed it! Give it a shot when you get the game)
Example of a show-stopping bug: any rendering bug that lies about the state of the game or players, such as the light bridge in the level "Halo", the active camouflage or the night vision screen effect (to name a few). These were initially written specifically for the Xbox. Converting them to the PC was challenging because of the many different combinations of video cards, drivers and system configurations out there. For example, we wrote the active camouflage for all pixel shaders 1.4 cards and a new revision of drivers broke it, but only for a subset of cards. We found some of these rendering annoyances up until very late. Luckily enough, these are usually low-risk fixes but they’re still show stoppers and they certainly are the ones we experienced on a regular basis.
Moving on to a pair of questions from Miguel Chavez , starting with the easy one: "Has anyone figured out who was the jerk that leaked the beta?" Good one Miguel! Nah, we don’t know who it was. It really sucks because this build was not the most glorious build we’ve put together. On the other hand, I’m not surprised at all by the leak... I’ll say no more!
Second one: "What was hardest to keep true to the 'Bungie Way' when porting to the PC? Let me rephrase that... Bungie has a distinct personality when it comes to their games. And while solo play was considered sacrosanct, MP obviously was an open field for revision. Was there stuff that folks wanted to do that you had to 'rein in' a bit to keep it from diverging a little too much from the Bungie path?"
This is a very tough question, and certainly a good one. I’ll start by making an important clarification: MP was not an open field for modification. The game play experience of multiplayer Halo is very well defined and the PC version had to remain true and faithful to that experience while enhancing it. Funnily enough, the Red VS Blue guys have described the experience in a simplistic, yet accurate way, by asking the question "why are we here?" in Blood Gulch. I mean, they are right: Halo multiplayer pitches a bunch of colorful Master Chiefs in different environments, disconnected from the fiction of the single player campaign, and makes it fun to lead a team assault on an enemy base, carry flags around driven in a Warthog or hide and snipe targets in the distance (to give only few examples). Gearbox successfully created engaging environments, added weapons and vehicles, to emphasize what makes playing a multiplayer Halo game so fun. The experience itself is true to the original Halo multiplayer experience. (in so many good ways...)
Certainly, we’ve discussed ideas about how we could revisit that experience, about new unexplored directions we could steer it in. However, for different reasons varying from time constraints to the actual challenge of getting all the various systems running on the PC, we’ve decided to leave them on the ice. Will we revisit them? At this point, I can’t tell. We’ll see...
About the "Bungie Way" and keeping true to it while developing Halo PC... I certainly am not the best person to answer that question – of all involved in Halo PC, Hamilton would be the one with the insightful answer to this one. Because Miguel knows much about Bungie and its people, he knows I’ve been around for only about a year. So Halo PC was an interesting experience where I got my initial taste of the "Bungie Way" while clashing it with a third-party partner, which has their own way. Bungie certainly does things and manages itself in a way that can appear challenging when looked at from the outside – but the same holds true for about any organization.
I have to set the record straight on this one: Captain Spark asks: "Halo has been out for nearly two years now and outside of hacking the Xbox with a mod chip and hacking the Halo maps, I have wanted to be able to "cheat" while playing the single player campaign. Louis reported after his visit to Gearbox that cheats are enabled in the PC version. How will the players be able to get a complete list of the cheat codes?" True, when the FanFest happened in August, our plan was to leave the cheats enabled in the game. Unfortunately, we ran into numerous stability issues with the cheats, often leading to bad game states or crashes, on top of having to be absolutely certain these would never be available in multiplayer games (pretty much ruining the experience instantly). In the end, priorities and time constraints didn’t make it possible to go back, thoroughly test these cheats and address the issues. At launch, there will be no cheats in the game.
While I can’t make promises, it is definitely our hope that we can roll these out later to the community, who certainly will be more "forgiving" than the general public if their game crashes when messing around with cheats.
Another popular topic is the multiplayer "Join Game" interface:
Miguel asks: "There has been discussion here at HBO forums as well as other forums about the network interface that Halo is using. The ability to randomly jump into games, thereby possibly (through no fault of the player doing the 'jumping') disrupting a team's strategy and chances of winning has been discussed, as well as more standard concerns about being able to properly organize teams and the like. Whether or not you agree with these sentiments, is it safe to say that development of the network model in Halo will continue to evolve even once the game is shipping? Are there already plans that have been earmarked for Halo PC/Mac 1.1?”\"
and dolbex similarly asks: "Quite a bit of questioning has come from folks in my corner and other groups in the Halo community about the online "join game" interface that is currently included in the beta version. Many requests have been made to alter this interface to enable two ways of joining a game; one being the existing "instant" join and the other being a "waiting room" similar to that of Myth II's waiting room. (A place where teams could be decided, chatting amongst teams could take place, and a general sense of "ready, set, go" could happen for online tournament games.) How does Bungie/Gearbox feel about spending further development time on providing this option for its tournament and team gamers?"
First, Miguel, we completely agree with the sentiments you’ve described. Someone jumping in a Team Race game at the very end of it will screw it up. That’s a fact!
At launch, the best way of organizing games will be to use password protected servers (you can set a password on a server after a game has been launched). Even during the Beta, we’ve seen it on a few dedicated servers. Then, once in a game with your friends, you can freely adjust teams and enjoy a game that will not be interrupted.
For the future, we certainly have our list of functionalities / features we’ll want to revisit and betterfy. We are looking forward to complementing this list with feedback from the community. Some form of lobby and an update on how team balancing / locking works are already on our list!
The length of this Q&A is getting out of hand… ;) and that’s really only answers to 7 questions.
Let’s try a sprint: there’s a bunch of these questions I can answer with a yes or a no (or at least, very few words). Ah! The nightmare of all PR representatives... You know, they want you to "touch and go" – meaning, touch on the answer to the question and then, direct the discussion where you need it to be to get your key messages across. Beautiful! You’ll find none of it in the following answers:
Dmack asks: "will there be new armor colors or a custom colors?"
Yes, as there is on the Xbox version!
Dmack asks: "Are ghosts and banshees now exploadable in multiplayer?"
Supernova asks: "will Halo PC come equipped with a program that allows voice communication?"
Not built-in, no. However, http://www.ventrilo.com/ offers one of these, so does http://rogerwilco.gamespy.com. While we haven’t done any testing with these applications, they usually work with most games and applications.
Supernova asks: "will MP have the ability to lock or password protect servers to prevent instant joiners or to allow friends in?"
Supernova asks: "Are there any hidden handicaps/auto aim in HALO PC, like there are in Halo Xbox, such as the one that automatically follows a target with your gun to a small degree even though you are not moving the sticks?"
Supernova asks: "For those of us pure console gamers, are there any hints about releasing a PC compatible Xbox controller that would ease the transition into HALO PC's controls?"
I theorize a quick search on Google with keywords such as Xbox, USB, PC and converter holds the answer to your question...
illum ‘FoOks asks: "Will there be a spectator mode in multiplayer?"
Not at launch.
illum ‘FoOks asks: "Will there be a demorecord thingie (always fun in Q3 and UT tho)?"
Not at launch.
illum ‘FoOks asks: "Will there be a good community / support for the “pro” players?"
illum ‘FoOks asks: "about the previous question, in what big events will Halo PC be played? CPL / WCG?"
The first major confirmed event is the CPL Winter Tournament (check out http://www.thecpl.com for details).
Alexis asks: "Will the editing tools eventually have the ability to edit single player content?"
Undecided at this time.
Scimitarex asks: "Will it be possible for an editor to create a map which will support more than 2 teams for team-based games (i.e. 3-team Odd Ball, or 4-team Team Slayer)?"
Wouldn’t that be sweet? That’s more than a tools job – it’s a deep-in-engine job. Odds are thin but not non-existent.
Scimitarex asks: "I read somewhere (please correct me if I’m wrong) that Halo 2 will have all the weapons of the original Halo. Since the Flamethrower and Fuel Rod Gun are new weapons in Halo PC, might Bungie use those in Halo 2? Is that Gearbox’s decision?"
Which weapons will appear in Halo 2 is Bungie’s sole decision. Keep in mind the Fuel Rod Gun was in the original Halo on the Xbox (you couldn’t pick it up but Spec-Ops Grunts sure as hell fired it at you!) and the Flamethrower was removed from Halo Xbox late in its development cycle.
Scimitarex asks: "If there are any official expansion packs for Halo PC, does Gearbox have to have Bungie’s permission to make campaign mission add-ons? Say all-new missions?"
Yes. Should there be any official expansion packs for Halo PC, Bungie’s permission is required and Bungie will be closely involved.
VezRoth asks: "When is the Halo PC Strategy guide going to be out?"
If I’m not mistaken, no later than 9/30.
Pico asks: "Will there be Easter Eggs in Halo PC?"
Like the Xbox game, you want to play through “The Maw” on Legendary. We’ve got a couple of well-kept surprises, which, hopefully, we can roll out in the future...
Alf-Life asks: "Will the game come in a special ‘wrapped in bacon’ collector’s edition?"
Time to wrap this up...
I try to keep these updates about the games and about Bungie because really, that’s what you guys care about. However, I’ll make an exception and I’ll take two personal questions. First one, from MereCatfish : "How stressful was this project?" On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being “not stressful at all”, 10 being “very, very stressful”, try 12. Second one, from RipFire : "When do you guys get to take your vacations? ;)" Ah! Thanks for asking – as this text is posted, I am on a plane, returning from Colorado where I’ll have enjoyed every minute of 2 nights with Ed Harcourt, Wilco and REM at Red Rocks. Then, I’ll probably be out of Bungie for 2-3 days, before diving back into patches, dedicated server upgrades, demo versions and Halo 2.
And there you have it! Halo is GOLD and on its way to store shelves. Michel has answered many of your outstanding questions and is enjoying a much deserved hiatus from the world of Halo. Somehow I doubt that's the last we'll hear from him though. As he mentioned, we have patches, demos and then of course there's the wide open expanse of the mod community. Who knows where these pioneering players will take the Halo experience. I for one can't wait to find out!
In honor of Halo PC going gold, we've done a massive update of our Halo PC content. Be sure to check out our updated screenshot gallery as well as the new Desktops
Also be sure to check out the Gearbox site for loads more screens and a detailed FAQ on Halo's MOD functionality.
Halo for PC will start appearing in stores across the country by September 30, 2003. Halo for Mac will be out shortly afterwards and we'll bring you the latest updates as they become available.
Stay tuned to Bungie.net in the weeks ahead for more info on the new PC maps, multiplayer strategies, developer commentary, tournaments, modding, and more.