Remember, remember, the 3rd of November. That’s the day I switched from being coy, secretive community robot, to frothing fanboy. I’m actually reminded of when I first started at Bungie, when Halo 2 was just about playable. I foamed and frothed and twitterpated. My palpable excitement palpitated. I was seeing, gasp, wireframes of Halo 2! And playing it. That was the honeymoon, and then it was back to hard work. But a 2nd honeymoon is upon me, started by the creeping realization that Halo 3 is definitely, demonstrably, positively going to be more fun to play than Halo 2.
It’s not just the new weapons, or the new maps, or the new variations of old favorites. It’s not the new vehicles, map features or AI. It’s not the tuned control scheme or the new thing the X button does. It’s the way the game feels.
Don’t get me wrong, it feels like Halo. The journalists we invited to play the stripped down multiplayer session a few weeks ago were able to pick it up and repeat almost exactly their current level of Halo 2 skill, but the vital addition of the enhanced Assault Rifle (occasionally known as the ultimate spawn weapon in these parts) makes the first three seconds of every Halo 3 MP match quite different than Halo 2. Because when you spawn, there’s no need for a panicked weapon search. You are ready to distribute significant damage immediately.
Interestingly, I will often choose the Assault Rifle over the Battle Rifle in a mid-sized map with any kind of indoor locations – which is hardly surprising, but what is surprising is that I will use it in open areas too – pulsing my trigger finger to keep it accurate, and hammering an opponent in the process. The grenade accuracy and predictability also helps.
As of now, immediately after flinging a grenade, where it’s gone, and whether or not it’s going to work. Fans of grenades that stick to things (note the plural) will be very excited to hear that the sticking prowess is far fairer now. No longer will a sticky seem to side off a target you feel it should have adhered to.
It’s dangerous to bring that stuff up, because tuning, balance changes and adjustments change things like this all the time. It’s possible for example, that stickies could be too “powerful” and the slipperiness adjusted. Keeping them like this seems like a no-brainer to me though. Also, I should point out that I used to always instantly cycle to Sticky Plasmas as soon as possible – that is no longer true. Read the new EGM to find out why.
But the single biggest psychological switch for me, I realized, was Halo dreams. I started having Halo dreams. Mostly just a jumble of floaty nonsense, but all set in my new favorite level, and one of the three released in EGM and other magazines in the coming week. We will have hi res versions of the pics featured in the mags coming soon, so you can pore over them ‘til your heart’s content, but until then, you’ll just have to take my word for it that the new levels are among the best we’ve ever created. One in particular will be a favorite among the objective-game fans – CTF, Territories and perhaps other modes…while another will be a smash hit with the competitive guys.
We always try to make maps that work for both Slayer-oriented and objective-based games, but of course certain maps are designed with one or the other in mind from the get-go. A good rule of thumb is that the more vertically complex and asymmetrical a level, the more suited it is to objective game types. Of course, like anything, it's more complex than that.
One thing we tinkered with in multiplayer that has a surprising affect on gameplay, is respawning fusion cores and other explosive devices. Remains to be seen if that will become permanent, a toggle feature, or removed entirely, but it does add a layer of strategy to gameplay that I certainly never expected. In Halo 2, you blow them up and they’re gone for good. I think MP fans will be very pleased with what we’re adding in terms of customization and gameplay flexibility. Certainly FAR more tweaks will be available to players than in Halo 2, along with some interesting ways to present and use those tweaks.
A multiplayer feast for sure and one that should satisfy everyone – Halo > Halo 2 fans as well as their opposites. If that sounds unlikely, then tough – you’ll just have to take my word for it. We’ve put the question to both types of players and both types of players prefer it.
Of course it’s not all multiplayer. The Campaign game continues its inexorable progress towards completion. The most obvious changes from build to build are certainly graphical. One level had an entire mountainside removed to reveal a large body of water beyond it. The effect is mostly atmospheric – that particular area suddenly bursts from oppressive gloom to an epic and illuminating vista, yet still forces you into complex battle situations, since you can’t very well plunge into the murky deep, so you’re hemmed in on two sides regardless. In that particular area, the only way forward, is through a very large crowd of angry Brutes and for the moment, brave Grunts.
Affecting enemy AI group behavior by targeting specific bad guys and in specific ways, is satisfying, tactical and will make for oodles of replay value.
I’m the biggest ever water-fan in the history of video games. It started with the compelling waves found in Pitfall 2 on the Atari 2600. I was hooked. From then on, I became a voraciously addicted connoisseur of video game aquatics. I just saw Hao Chen’s new water tech. He’s not there so I can’t ask him about it, and I’m not even sure that’s what we’re using, but it was astonishing. Water flowing around objects and creating eddies and turbulence. A far cry from the shiny default placeholder in the MP demo EGM played.
Hao’s work on “atmospherics” is dropping in daily too. That is to say, particulates in the air that dramatically and subtly affect the quality of light and realism of the atmosphere. Objects in the distance are obscured by a realistic haze rather than fogged out or knocked out of focus. Some of this can be seen in the H3 announcement trailer, but in normal gameplay environments, it makes a big difference. It’s possible to achieve anything from a dry and dusty plain t a close, humid forest in terms of visible atmospherics. We won’t hit you over the head with it, but it’ll be there!
The atmospherics and lighting are also used to amazing effect in the single most terrifying Halo moment I ever saw. I literally yelped. Something really, really bad happened in the Campaign story, and something really, really scary ensued. Joe screamed when he saw it. I admit I peed too.
Anyhoo, that’s it for this week – we’ll go into detail, huge detail about the EGM stuff after the mag actually ships, and remember there’s a couple of new items in the Bungie Store – ones I actually bought! A Halo themed USB hub, which is handy for your 360 stuff that you have plugged in all over the place. It also has a flip top case, which keeps it small and discreet. Better yet, a heat-activated “Carnage” patch that you can basically iron on, rather than sewing (even though I know most of you are able seamsters and seamstresses.)
And finally, here’s an artist’s impression of the MP map I have been dreaming about. And see if you can spot Mister Chief.
My rendition is missing a turret – because they is hard to draw.