Pi Studios dropped in to give us a little insight into the company bringing you multiplayer content creation tools for Halo 2 on Windows Vista (mapmaking, for the neophytes and fans of clear language).
Can you tell us a little about the history, people and accomplishments of Pi Studios?
Robert Erwin, President:
We started back in March of 2003. The founders came from a number of different studios (Raven, Rogue, Gearbox) and all of us had radically different skill sets. Activision gave us our first break, namely Mark Lamia and Bill Anker (who is no longer there).
You can read more about the team and the studio at
Can you describe broadly the tools you’re building for creating user content?
David Mertz, Lead Designer
: Those familiar with the Halo tool set will be able to start editing right away. Bungie has made some great improvements to the tools, and we are building upon those improvements to make the tools easier to use and (somehwat) more accessible to average users.
Bill Roeske, Lead Programmer
: The tool path right now falls into three categories - importing, editing, and population. The importer,
, is responsible for translating raw level geometry from modeling programs and images for textures into an optimized tag file format that the game engine can read.
, the next stage, lets the user configure parameters within imported tag files, fine-tuning how the game engine will interpret it. A good example of that would be changing the type of compression used on an imported texture map.
is the tool that is used for populating a multiplayer level after its geometry and textures have been set up. Map designers have a fully navigable view of their level exactly as it will look and sound in the game to use for placing spawn points, weapons, vehicles, sound effects, territory goals, oddballs and everything else that makes a Halo 2 level uniquely Halo (probably the easiest feature for regular Joes to use).
What will be the extent and limitations of what players will be able to build?
: The end-user will be provided with everything needed to create custom multiplayer maps, complete with new textures and it even lets you customize shaders from Halo 2.
What are the challenges and opportunities in working with Vista versus XP?
: One of the greatest opportunities has just been working with the operating system itself. We're really excited to see solid features like 'Previous Versions' come in Vista that will provide community map developers with functionality akin to the professional tools that we use in-house.
Probably the most significant challenge presented with working in Vista has been making sure that the tools are properly adapted to run under the default limited user account. For example, the original Halo 2 tools were designed to only work on files in subdirectories below where they were installed; with most users likely installing the game and tools into the Program Files directory, restrictions like that had to be lifted.
"The focus has always been to gear the tools and associated examples and tutorials towards the average player"
How easy will these tools be to use for the average user?
: With Halo 2 Vista, the plan from the beginning has been to release the tools, tutorials and examples with the retail release of the game. This means that the focus has always been to gear the tools and associated examples and tutorials towards the average player. To help ensure that the tools are easy to use, Pi Studios has pulled on the knowledge gained from the Halo CE and Halo Editing Kit (HEK) releases, our individual experiences with supporting modding communities, as well as making use of other resources that have been made available to us by Microsoft (usability data, focus group testing, etc.).
How will this set of tools compare to the ones available for Halo: CE?
: Halo CE and the HEK were an unsupported release made after the retail ship of the game. The tools that were later released with Halo CE had modifications and clean-up, but were basically the same tools used by the developers. With Halo 2 Vista, the tools are available right out of the box. This means that they are both officially supported by Microsoft and will have gone through all the testing, localization, and usability scenarios that is required for a professional software release. As a result, not only will the tools be dramatically more user-friendly, they'll also be much more stable and polished.
"It's nice to see a resurgence of interest in multiplayer content from a major publisher."
How do you think these tools will impact the gaming and tournament communities playing H2V?
: Their impact will be simply how much power they give to the end-user. Players will have the ability to create and share new content customized to the demands of the Halo 2 Vista gaming community. We really look forward to seeing what new content will be created, not just for the casual player, but for the competitive and tournament Halo 2 Vista communities.
: Dave's absolutely right, it will do quite a bit for the community. A lot of things have happened to modders (the good kind, not the cheating kind on Xbox Live) and garage developers because of the push to consoles, and not all of it has been good. It's nice to see a resurgence of interest in multiplayer content from a major publisher. We have a lot of MP fans here at Pi, not to mention a vast amount of development experience in that arena.
When Microsoft came to us, their intention was to try to bridge the gap between the experienced modder and what we call the "casual gamer," giving a wider range of players the ability to create content. We're excited to be on the cutting edge of all of this and are really hoping this trend continues. It can only be a good thing for everyone.
Name your two favorite existing H2 maps, and explain why.
: My kids always own me on Coagulation and Lockout. We have a lot of fun on those maps.
: For me its Turf and Relic. With Turf, I love the urban setting of Old Mombasa and the level looks great visually. I really enjoy the medium to close range combat that occurs in the level, as well as the fighting that occurs between players on the streets and surrounding ledges. What I enjoy most about Relic is the variety of game play that occurs; the vehicle-on-vehicle combat as well as the player-versus-vehicle combat feels great and balanced. For me, the level is a perfect size in that it gives the player some breathing room to maneuver and adjust their tactics. On top of that, the level looks great and the central Forerunner structure makes a great landmark as well as a point of conflict.
: Oh, and for what its worth, my two favorite maps are Lockout and Zanzibar.
"Our experience has been that people learn best by example."
Will Pi Studios be creating any example or extra maps to go with the tools?
: Absolutely. Our experience has been that people learn best by example. We are providing detailed tutorials and examples that not only walk end-users through the level or content creation process, but also provide a final result for end-users to compare to their own work.
What in your mind is an excellent example of a current user content creation suite and why?
: Our developers have a quite a bit of experience with the content tools developed by id Software and Valve, and we have a great deal of respect for not only the tools, but for the level of support these companies give to their modding communities. We hope to leverage what we have learned from our experiences with those tools and communities and bring that to the Halo 2 Vista community.