The Bungie crew got the chance to go play one of our ostensible "rivals" games this week. It's another 360 game being published by Microsoft this year and if you put your brain in gear you can probably figure out what it was. To make a long story short, they loved it, and were excited about its promise.
Of course we've been playing plenty of Halo 3 too. I am downloading debug builds of the game daily. Currently it's split into multiplayer and single player builds, so I have to get both. This is how the development process worked during Halo 2 - it meant that the multiplayer build could be grabbed quickly (it's obviously a much smaller file than the entire campaign) and tested independently.
Our debug kits have enormous hard drives, so we can store several builds at once - which is handy, since a feature that may be working on one build, might well be disabled on another. For example, you may download a fully lit, massively populated, adventure filled Campaign level on Monday, but the version you get on Wednesday has all the encounters removed because they're doing some performance testing.
Lars, one of our multiplayer designers, told me to go get the latest version of one of our new maps, because some significant changes had been made. He's right, and they're the kind of changes that will make the hardcore objective game players from Halo 2, have a small but pleasant heart attack.
Lars is my carpool buddy, so we often talk about stuff on the way home. Like the Kirkland Cougars. We talk about them a lot. Last night though, we were talking about the properties we apply to "special" players in the game - Flag Carriers, Juggernauts etc. The trick is making it fun to be the special player. Nobody would want to be the flag carrier, for example, if there wasn't the opportunity to cap the flag and get the point. Otherwise you're just a slow, powerless jerk.
Getting extra health seems like it would be enjoyable for the player who can't shoot, or is moving slowly, but not if that simply guarantees a slow, protracted, meaningless death as the enemy slowly eats away at your energy shield. That is actually worse than having normal health and weapons. To take the bullet, as it were, there has to be a reward for the "special" player - be it an ability or some kind of glory.
Naturally we were having this conversation in the context of how it affects one of the new multiplayer modes. Lars had some interesting solutions that hopefully I'll get to try out in the coming days.
Polish is starting to happen to some of the MP maps, and a couple of them look totally finished, but I found a brand new map the other day - I'd seen the map name in the selectable map list before, but it had always been "empty" until now. In I popped and found a medium sized, building-filled complex that should appeal to fans of Turf. We played some King of the Hill in it and I had a blast. In fact, it was immediately "natural" feeling and I was able to navigate around it after about two minutes. There's another level in the game, about the same size, that I ALWAYS get confused in. Actually, same thing still happens to me in one of the canyons on Burial Mounds. I just get turned around. I need a compass!
Stosh (who started here as a kind of Shishka/agdTinman replacement just a week or two ago) is working on some new goodies for the company store, including T-Shirts AND the first ever Mylar piece of Halo 3 concept art. It'll be available at the Bungie Store very soon. Here's a sneak preview. Hot? yes. It's provisionally entitled "Ark Storm" and is the work of our very own Isaac Hannaford.
Here in our writing pit, we've been busy working on story bible stuff. Rob McLees just finished the scale chart for all Covenant and Human vehicles and characters. It takes the form of nicely scaled silhouettes and renders, sitting side by side. This will be used by among others, WETA Digital to make real versions of things.
And speaking of WETA , we've got no movie news, but Stuff Magazine (the New Zealand edition, appropriately enough) does. In an interview with Peter Jackson, the director revealed that Halo shooting may start early in 2007.
"Jackson said Halo was likely to start shooting early next year – and it was possible Halo and Dambusters could be shot about the same time." You can read the entire interview at www.stuff.co.nz
I recorded more temporary voiceovers for combat dialog today (until the real actors come in and tape over our retarded stuff). I get to be a Brute (you'd be surprised) and a gruff Sergeant (less surprised). My voice hurts from Brutalizin', but some of the guys here are pretty good actors and sitting in the audio booth listening to them record can be a blast.
Jeremiah's latest matchmaking playlist resulted in very few complaints (a couple of bannings from the forums for some very childish idiots) but he shared some of the results with us.
The August matchmaking update was deployed early last week. After having over a week to settle in and allow players to familiarize themselves with the changes and new hotness, we start to examine usage data. This data allows us to determine how many players are participating in each playlist as well as how many games are actually being played. When we merge these factors the result is our population distribution figures.
As you can see, Team SWAT is still holding strong just behind Team Slayer. The popularity of this playlist remains solid before and after the changes we made in the August update. You may have heard rumors of Team SWAT becoming ranked, but we haven’t made any decision regarding that issue. If you’d like to let us know how you feel about that particular subject, or any other playlist issue, please visit the Optimatch forum.
Moving down the line we have Team Snipers, still holding strong in third place, followed closely by the new Team Carnage playlist. For those who don’t know, Team Carnage is a new rotating playlist which will feature configurations and gametypes designed by organizations in the Halo fan community. As usual, new hotness tends to debut fairly well in terms of usage, this is no exception. We’ll be keeping an eye on its popularity over time, but since this playlist will be changing significantly with each iteration, it’s likely to spike and dip in usage unlike any other playlist.
Overall, each playlist that we currently have in the lineup is functioning well. Even the three lowest playlists, in terms of usage, are still well within the boundaries of being successful. We’ll keep you up to date when these figures change, in the Optimatch forum, so please stop by and check them out while you share your feedback on playlists with us!
We're still tinkering with the format for our long-promised podcast. We want it to be something cool, so we're going to take as long as it needs to get it right, and frankly, the later it arrives, the more we'll have to talk about. That said, we did a couple of practice interviews with some Bungie multiplayer guys and you can listen to them here - but just remember to right click to save as, and that this is some mildly interesting interviews and not secrets about Halo 3:
Ninja on Fire and Lars! 16+MB of mildly interesting multiplayer discussion!
The actual podcast, when it arrives, will be a lot bigger in scope and scale, and we'd LOVE to hear from you guys about what kind of content you'd like to hear. Make sure to discuss that in the forum link at the end of this post.
And finally, it's Pinkuh's Mister Chief. I warned you it was going to be scary, and it so is. Huzzah!