There’s a big red LED countdown clock hanging above our kitchen. Tick tock. Tick tock. Every time we walk through the Snack Zone™ to refuel or scamper down the nearby hall to, uh, de-fuel we’re reminded that a major milestone is coming in hot. What was once an ethereal wisp of smoke against the distant horizon has now become a blazing meteor cutting a fiery line through our starry, starry night time sky.
I’d gauge the overall mood of the studio’s denizens for you, but it’s been quiet. Too quiet. The entire team is gathered together in the back of a rapid transport vehicle, commando style, thick camo grease smeared across their determined faces, combat knives honed to a razor’s edge, weapons hot and at the ready.
Recent Alpha status updates from the field indicate that they’ve already laid waste to an unbelievable number of insectile adversaries. Much like our fictional supersoldiers, every discipline is now fully engaged, cutting a brutal swath through anything that even remotely looks like a dumb bug. Internal Alpha is just hours away now.
Those recent efforts not only bear fruit for the game’s more overtly ocular features, the ogle inducing stuff you love to set eyes on, namely graphics, art, animation, and special effects, but they also translate directly into a better gameplay experience across the board. As more and more bugs are squashed, more and more systems begin to work exactly as intended.
It’s as if the team has unleashed a pent up beast that’s been caged for far too long, both figuratively and literally.
Perched at cliff’s edge, the Elite surveys his troops as they secure the civilian structures below, carrying out their orders without question. Overhead a Phantom drop ship breaks the silence, the whir of its engines masking the sound of approaching footsteps. This is the perfect time to strike.
The Spartan leaps out of the shadows and sprints hard to close the distance, lighting the Elite’s energy shields the whole way with short bursts of Assault Rifle fire. Though caught off guard, the Elite is more than ready for a fight. He spins, leveling his weapon, and immediately returns fire.
Blistering bolts of plasma scorch the air as the Elite’s elongated legs crisscross over one another, toes splaying as they grip the ground for purchase. The Spartan adjusts to the surprisingly speedy strafe, focusing on the opponent’s menacing gaze to stay in lock step with the agile alien.
The Elite’s energy shields have begun to swell, but just before they burst the warrior jukes hard. He dives. The Spartan cannot adjust. In the blink of an eye the beast has evaded the Spartan’s deadly intentions, regained his footing, and earned an infinitesimal but invaluable moment to recover.
The Spartan sweeps his rifle right to relocate the target. Running low on ammo, he burst fires into the Elite’s torso again and the alien’s shields finally crack under the sustained fire. But the Elite does not fall. He’s used his small window of opportunity to his advantage and quickly darts behind a small rock outcropping, out of fire.
The Spartan needs to reload. He lobs a grenade near the footing of the rock, hoping to finish the job, or at the very least, to buy himself a moment to safely reload his weapon.
Rifle ready, he carefully sweeps around the backside of the rock, hoping to find a corpse. Just as he steps around the far side, he hears the Elite’s shields regenerate, and on the wind, the sounds of approaching enemy reinforcements.
So yeah, reading about how we’re bringing the Elite back is one thing. Seeing it in action? A thing of beauty.
Almost brings a single, emo tear to my eye.
Word went out internally this week in response the long asked and incredibly important question, “Will Elites be fun to fight again?” It’s no small task. After being absent from the Halo universe as an primary adversary for the span of two games, it’s a legitimate question for the team. So it’s comforting to receive an email with nearly a thousand words dedicated to the progress that’s been made to bring the Elite AI back up to speed.
Here’s the gist:
The return of the Elite has been a huge focus for the team and there’s already been a ton of work done to ensure that when you come face to chest with the Sangheili warriors in Reach, they’ll be just as cunning, vicious, and worthy as you remember. And of course, they’ll have learned some nasty new tricks as well. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
“It’s the single most important special effect in the game.”
Steve Scott, Bungie’s Lead Effects Artist, has just fired a magnum round, center mass, into a Spartan model and halted the onscreen action with a quick keystroke. Using the controller, he breaks the camera free and begins to slowly rotate around the character model now locked into a state of suspended animation.
The energy shields continue to pulse, blooming with a golden light that ripples against the Spartan’s thick armor plating, further defining the soldier’s iconic outline.
“If you remember the shield effects in Halo: CE, when you took damage, it would swell and eventually burst. We lost that functionality in Halo 3. In Reach, we’re bringing it back. You can see perturbation around the vertices now. It’s an extrusion of the render mesh.”
Something about my countenance, perhaps the look of abject stupidity or the slick of drool that’s sliding down my chin, lets Steve know he needs to dumb it down for me.
“It’s wobbly. The energy shield effects envelop the character.”
For Halo 3, Steve goes on to explain, the effects team wasn’t able to fully realize their ultimate vision. They were happy with the end result, especially from a design perspective, but the shield effects were a little bit flat and bulky for the team’s liking. Worse, they obscured the character art.
Now that the 3D models for Reach have been dramatically improved, their desire for a more elegant solution has returned to the fore. Working closely with graphics engineering guru Chris Tchou they seem to have hit their mark.
“The goal for the Reach shield tech was to keep all of the design functionality without taking away anything from the character art. The game state of your targets is really important and the shield effect is instrumental in relaying that information to the player. Halo has always done that really well. Once you’ve landed the first shot, it’s easier to land the second.”
Steve hits a key and the game resumes. He drops an Elite and shows off some subtle differences between it and the Spartan model. When he freezes the action again, he’s caught the beast in a rage. Its shields are lit up bright blue. There’s no question that it has taken damage, but Steve is right, I can still make out all the intricate details that compliment the character: the tense posture of muscle and armor, the splayed mandibles, even the fearsome stare comes blazing through. None of it is lost beneath the revamped shield effect and it all conspires to look oh so beautiful and all kinds of menacing.
I scribble down some stuff in my notebook (”zomg!”) as Steve turns and asks Chad (Foxglove, Senior Effects Artist) if he wants to show off the stuff he’s been working on over in his neck of the woods. What’s on screen is jaw dropping, drool inducing, and something I’m afraid I can’t get into. Not yet
When I stand up to leave, Steve actually thanks me for dropping by. He tells me to swing back soon so he can show off some other special effects magic. I think I will, Steve. I think I will.
You, patient reader, will be seeing it soon yourself. Stay tuned.
From the 1 vs . 100 Blog:
“On February 9th, we've got our second-to-last 1 vs 100 Live event. As a special bonus, the live game is followed immediately by an exclusive first: an Extended Play episode of Halo-themed video game trivia!”
For those not familiar with the Xbox LIVE phenomenon that is 1 vs. 100, it’s a trivia game that pits one player against a “mob” comprised of one hundred others. If The One can answer a series of questions correctly, they’ll systematically eliminate the mob and ultimately secure a sweet cache of prizes. In the case of Extended Play, all participants (that’s you) are allowed to compete, and doing well might earn you a spot in the mob of the future, or even as The One in an upcoming show.
For those not familiar with Marty O’Donnell, he’s the guy who wrote the Flintstones™ Vitamins theme song. Used to have magnificent mullet. Likes to wear tights on occasion.
If you want to pit your Halo knowledge against his own – which I should warn you is quite extensive and considerable– you can get some more details over at the official 1 vs. 100 web zone at Xbox.com
Since we’re on the topic of players pitting their skills against one another, this seems like a good place to note that Sketch and I are going to be throwing down against one another on the looming alpha maps and throwing some of the details your way soon. We tried to kick off our inaugural match earlier this week, but the build we were operating in wasn’t keeping score correctly and one particularly awesome, unrevealed weapon was so amazingly powered up that once I got my hands on it, it was game over. Once our competition concluded, I marched over to some people who can do things about that kind of stuff and promptly learned that this particular thing’s real ultimate power had already been well documented and thoroughly quenched.
It was fun while it lasted. I’d say the score was already one to nil in my favor, but that’s hardly fair given my unabashed abuse of the unstoppable death dealer (coupled with the fact that Sketch was, par for the course, sending emails for the majority of the match).
Score stays at zero. For now
Halo 2 fans take note - you have ten weeks left to play multiplayer games over Xbox LIVE before the service will be discontinued. Microsoft announced today that as of April 15th they will no longer be supporting the original Xbox console or software on Xbox LIVE. This also applies to original games being played on an Xbox 360.
You can read their official announcement HERE
We're all saddened at the realization that an era is coming to an end, but looking back we're incredibly fortunate to have had such a great run and such strong support from our fans. Halo 2 has been at the top of the Xbox LIVE charts for original games since it launched over five years ago. We're extremely thankful to everyone who has played, enjoyed and supported Halo 2 over Xbox LIVE. We've had some great fun together, including far too many Humpday losses to even recount.
That said, mark your calendars now - on April 14th let's all rally to go online for one last hoorah. One final farewell and one final opportunity for all of you to kick all of our asses at Halo 2.
Stay tuned to Bungie.net in the weeks to come for more details. We’ll see you on the battlefield soon. (Please be gentle.)
After last week’s emblem expose, we saw quite a few obvious jokes hit our email bin. Some submissions played directly off of our own crummy jokes. Like this one:
Others made us feel like total jerks. Like this one:
Throw us a bone here! It totally looked like someone’s twig and berries!
But of course, regardless of our transparency and clear warnings, some submitters still attempted to slide one in unnoticed. No dice.
I am a monument to all your sins.
My, what big eyes you have!
Yeah. We’re not biting down on this bone. Kung Fu grip is a nice touch, though.
All joking aside, we’ve got a pretty good crop of contenders already in the mix, so if you’re still planning on submitting, you should step up your game. If you’re reading all this and wondering what in the world I’m on about, you should read more updates. I put a lot of work into these things. At least thirty minutes a week. I’d appreciate if you gave ‘em a good read once in a while.
Dave Candland’s Halo: Reach Community Emblem Contest
(Scroll down to “Make Your Mark.”)
When Stosh isn’t growing Soffish or fiddling with the webcams, he makes it his business to find cool stuff in our community files collection. His life for you. Like what you see? Awesome. If not, you know good and well who to blame.
Potentially terrible news this week on the Oonsk front, folks. Word has reached the community pod that AgdTinMan and the illustrious L. M. Smith are planning to file a bona fide bug to rid us of Oonsk for all eternity. One might imagine that these two wondertwins also planning on growing thin black mustaches to twirl maniacally while they strap our beloved Oonsk to the terminal tracks so they can power their fun hating locomotive of fun hating hate right through our defenseless hero’s incomprehensibly cute neck and several vital sections of his lower torso.
All I know is that if Oonsk disappears, we’ll be looking for more Photoshop fodder to take his place at the end of each update.
And that’s it for now. You should stop by more often. We like having you around. Next week would work really well for us. See you then?