Happy Halo Day!
Today marks the five-year anniversary of Halo and to commemorate this occasion, Microsoft just revealed a few tantalizing announcements for fans of the franchise. You may have already read the details online elsewhere but we thought it’d be best to recap these events ourselves and perhaps shed some additional light on what’s ahead.
For starters I’d just like to point out that all of you out there in our beloved community are now officially coined “Halo Nation.” How do you like your new moniker? I suppose “Underground Army recruits to further Bungie’s goals of World Domination” just didn’t have the same ring to it. But between us, we know that’s what’s really going on. For now we’ll all agree to go along with this ruse.
Halo 3 Commercial!
Now to the business at hand – There’s some juicy Halo information to absorb and process. First up is the announcement of an exclusive worldwide Halo 3 TV commercial set to air during Monday Night Football on December 4th. Naturally we don’t want to spoil the fun but we did want to clear the air on a few points up front to set your expectations appropriately. As the press release mentions, this ad will feature CG scenes that are being built by a 3rd party agency (known as Digital Domain). Now you may be thinking to yourself – “CG!? But Bungie doesn’t do CG!” – and you would be correct… until now.
For the purposes of this holiday commercial and knowing the tight timeline with which it had to come together we decided a long time ago that utilizing real, final, actual gameplay just wasn’t the right thing to do. As you know, we’re very protective of our baby and we will only show it when we feel it’s ready to be shown (and even then it’s sometimes pried from our protective fingers). We all agreed that a cooler thing to do would be to move as far away from gameplay-style footage as possible, and make something more movie-like. Let our fans see what the Halo universe looks like in a photo-realistic fashion.
We didn’t want folks to think we were trying to pull the wool over their eyes, when we had such a great opportunity to do something cool and worthwhile.
Now don’t get me wrong – just because this ad isn’t gameplay doesn’t mean it’s not really cool. In fact, we provided the folks at Digital Domain with all of our new in-game models and assets. They then polished them up to movie CGI standards, animated them and rendered them to a degree of stunning beauty. There will be a lot to like in this ad and we’re happy with how it’s turning out. Just because you’re seeing a kind of “real-life” representation of Halo 3 doesn’t mean you aren’t seeing real gameplay elements from Halo 3.
Of course you’ll also hear Halo 3 as well, with new music composed by our own Marty O’Donnell. We’ll leave it at that for now. After the commercial airs on television, it will be available on Xbox Live Marketplace in full 720p glory for you to dissect and discuss.
Shortly after the commercial airs, we’ll be treating our fans to the next installment in our “making of” documentary series on Xbox Live Marketplace. This next “VIDOC” is going to give some new insights into elements of the campaign and will peel back the curtain on a certain prominent character in Halo 3. We’ll talk more about this in the coming weeks.
New Halo 2 Maps!?
Another bombshell that was dropped today was the announcement of upcoming new multiplayer maps for Halo 2. There are a ton of details we simply can’t reveal right now but we can confirm that this content will be coming out sometime next Spring and it will cost something to download. We can also confirm that this new content is only going to be available on Xbox 360 and that you’ll need a hard drive to download them (which is also required to play Halo 2 on 360 anyways).
That last point is probably going to rub some of you the wrong way. And frankly, we can’t really blame you for potentially being a little upset at this news. We’re really excited that these maps are coming together and we have the opportunity to give our fans some new content over two years after the game shipped but ultimately, when it comes to pricing and timing and distribution and exclusivity, it’s not up to Bungie. We make games and in this case we’re making maps. Microsoft Game Studios is our publisher and they have the final call on the when/where/how part of the equation.
We’ve seen a gradual shift in our online population more and more towards Xbox 360 but I know there are a lot of folks out there who haven’t made the switch yet. Does that mean you’ll never get to play these new Halo 2 maps? We can’t say for certain, but ultimately we hope to find ways to make the maps more accessible to more fans over time. We have in the past, after all. But again, the final outcome of those decisions won’t totally be up to us.
These maps are shaping up to be really cool and once we can start talking more about them, I think our fans are going to be very, very happy with what’s in the works. With several hundred thousand people still playing Halo 2 on Xbox Live, it’s clear that there’s still high interest in our game, which is awesome. We’re eager to get this new content in your hands as we have folks who are putting a lot of hard work into making something really cool.
One positive of all this is that the team responsible for the backwards compatibility on Xbox 360 are going to go back and look at Halo 2 again. Many of you are aware that a few bugs exist when playing Halo 2 on the new platform and we’ve gotten indications that work is being done to try and improve that experience.
And ultimately, if you want to play Halo 3 next year and if you want to take part in the OTHER big bomb that was dropped today (see below), you’re going to have to upgrade to Xbox 360. There’s still some time and hopefully between now and then, getting a 360 will be more viable for you and there will continue to be more and more reasons to convince you it’s worth the upgrade. (if Halo 3 isn’t already enough)
Halo 3 Public Beta!?
Perhaps the biggest bomb that was dropped today, the MOAB of press announcements, was the indication of a public beta for Halo 3 coming next Spring. What exactly does this mean? Well, again we can’t really get into the details quite yet (notice a theme here?) but we can confirm that our fans will have an opportunity to play Halo 3 multiplayer over Xbox Live BEFORE the final game is available. You’ll be playing a little multiplayer and simultaneously providing us with some valuable data to help our development team. We’re still working out the details on timing and scope and there will be a lot more info coming in the weeks ahead. We can confirm that you will absolutely be required to have an Xbox 360. Probably not a huge surprise.
As you can see, 2007 is shaping up to be a HUGE year for the “Halo Nation.” And if all of this and ultimately Halo 3 isn’t enough to satisfy your Halo cravings, there’s even more on the longer term horizon like Ensemble’s “Halo Wars” and the Bungie-Peter Jackson collaboration project that will result in some new adventures in the Halo Universe. In the short term, we have the upcoming release of Halo 2 for Windows Vista which should be landing on a PC near you sometime early in 2007. In addition to delivering Halo 2 in stunning hi-res glory with online optimizations and a custom map editor, it’s also the only way to get precious Live achievements.
We’ll continue to keep you abreast of the latest developments in the world of Halo and of course our ongoing progress with Halo 3 through Frankie’s Weekly Updates. In the meantime, you can satisfy your Halo jones right now by checking out Eric Nylund’s latest, “Ghosts of Onyx” and grabbing the new issue of EGM for a first look at some new multiplayer elements in Halo 3.
But Wait, There’s More!
And finally, in celebration of this special occasion, we are happy to present this brand spankin’ new screenshot from Halo 3. Some folks may already have noticed this image in the current issue of Newsweek but it’s small and puny. Now we bring it to you in full hi-res glory (click for big version!).
A quick note about this shot - this is an actual screenshot taken from the actual game within an actual campaign level of Halo 3. When the MGS PR team asked me to give them a new image for an upcoming issue of Newsweek magazine, this is what we came up with. It's intentionally not meant to really reveal anything - we just wanted to give a glimpse of the latest Master Chief model and I thought the level that environment artist Frank Capezutto was working on provided a great backdrop. What's not to love about next-gen rusty beams and pipes? And best of all, it gives away absolutely nothing. We told you that Halo 3 was still very much in development and work continues on making the game look and play great. I think this is a cool snapshot of where the team is right now. We hope you enjoy it! :)