Bungie Weekly Update: 03/20/09
Posted by urk at 3/20/2009 4:05 PM PDT
Inching ever closer to the release of the Mythic Map Pack, we've got plenty to spout off about this week, from office reshuffling to our official Facebook page.  If you came for a feast of information, break out the bib, there's bound to be crumbs this week.

Halo 3: ODST


It's been quite some time since we've issued any kind of progress report on Halo 3: ODST.  Our lips have been zipped for good reason.  Heads are ducked down and new builds are being kicked out at a blistering pace.  More on that in a moment.

The studio underwent some changes this week, with one of our more auspicious spaces once reserved exclusively for playtesting the new hawtness undergoing an abrupt and violent gutting.  No worries, it's been born anew, the interior retrofitted for a new and paramount purpose. 

What was a once a swank lounge boasting more monitors than most people could dream of is now the Official Halo 3: ODST War Room boasting slightly less monitors than most people could dream of.  The Halo 3: ODST Project leads are locked inside with and won't return to the studio's fold until the All Clear has been sounded, signaling the completion of ODST's post-production.

So how long will these folks be hunkered down, you might ask, looking for any glint of information that might lead you to the retail release date of Halo 3: ODST?  Nice try.  Fall 2009, friend.  But, divorced from any terms that would reveal, remark, or even hint upon a hard and fast release date, we can answer the question on its own merit.  How long will they be hunkered down?

It's Anybody's Guess


Well, not anybody's

Late last week, Engineering lead Ben Wallace issued a traditional challenge to the studio's programmers at large.  Participation promised "cash, prizes, and fame."

The rules are simple.  Entry costs five bucks, each contestant responds with the number they think will be assigned to the final build of Halo 3: ODST, and the programmer that ultimately hits closest to the actual mark walks away with all the cash.

This project's contest began as Halo 3: ODST reached build 13686.  To put that in some perspective, albeit from a clouded vantage, the last time we charted a build in the weekly update was on January 30th of this year, our brief examination peering into portions of build 13262.

Good luck to all the contestants.  Not only will the lone winner get some cold, hard cash to jam into their pocket, they'll also earn the "envy and distrust of all their peers."  How's that for payout?

Mythic Map Pack

For those looking for news pertaining to something closer to the here and now, we're going to continue our lead up to the Mythic Map Pack with a look at another unique Sandbox variant that will add some spice to the Halo 3 Matchmaking experience, Wastelands.  Forged on Sandbox's substrate masonry, more colloquially know as "the ground," Wastelands may mimic the default variant in a number of ways, but you shouldn't expect to step foot on sand and stone without having to adjust your plan of attack. Good thing we've coaxed our man Josiah, the map's maker, out into the wild to give you the early briefing on his stony playground.

Wastelands



Shenanigans

Q. What was the core concept behind Wastelands?

A. I knew I wanted a map that facilitated serious gameplay but also encouraged an atmosphere of goofing around, experimentation and honing of various skills. Eight very different playing styles were analyzed in order for Wastelands to provide the opportunity for something unique to each particular style. You could say Wasteland's concept was born from good ol' ForeArm bashes and the desire for everyone to witness something crazy and amazing.

Q. “Wastelands” seems a bit romantic. Do you think the original name “Sandbox 2” suits it better? How about spicing it up a bit and settling on “Sandbox Deuce?”

A. Defaulting to the name "Sandbox 2" was out of pure convenience due to the number of versions that were being saved during the creation process (no, this wasn't the actual number 2 version). And as a matter of fact, I had thought about the name "Sandbox Deuce" but didn't go with it based on the bathroom adage, "I need to drop a deuce." So, I ended up leaving the default name in hopes that someone would think up a fitting name.  "Wastelands" was the result.

Q. Why did you choose the ground floor on Sandbox as the space you wanted to build in?

A. There were three different versions of Wastelands in which its concept was re-created on each floor. In the end it boiled down to design and the ability to freely maneuver a Warthog around the outside of the battle area with minimal impediment.

Q. What gametypes do you feel Wastelands is best suited for?

A. It was originally brewed up for Slayer and Team Slayer variants with short to medium range weaponry, but also allows quick in your face objective team-based games. Wastelands' open space allows for good vehicle control but can also turn a sniper game into a dune-party-snipe-fest. If you find yourself in a snipers game, keep your cool and look for all the angles around and inside the structures, there you will find balance.

In CTF games there's absolutely no messing around. Whatever it is you need to do at the start of a match, you better have done it yesterday! The ability to assault the bases from the front gives no quarter to either team. No matter what CTF type it is, Wastelands requires defense. The flag will come to you if you protect your own and have a little luck.

Q. There are eight structures in the center of the map that almost point to the floating Overshield. What was the idea behind this design choice?

A. The height placement of the Overshield, with the single grav-lift, coupled with the surrounding structures was designed as a way to add a twist to the obtaining of power items. This way, being first to reach the Overshield isn’t the only requirement to obtain the upper-hand; you have to pick up the provided grav-lift, deploy it and survive just long enough to reach it. This orientation poses various options and opportunities to players on both ends; imagine sabotaging someone by picking up the only means to obtain the Overshield and then hide and watch unsuspecting players run up to look for it- "DOMINATING!"

The orientation also introduces possible “wow” moments; flying a Warthog through the center of a fray at the moment another player is grav-lifting through the air…? Well, the outcome of that depends on whether or not the player reaches the Overshield before the Warthog reaches the player. Woohoo for Saved Films!

Q. How does Wasteland differ from the default layout of Sandbox?

A. Because I loved how much Sandbox played, I wanted to mirror the symmetry and layout closely in an attempt to reproduce the sensation of balance and team cohesiveness that exists during Sandbox matches. I opened access to the front sections of each main base to allow an in your face frontal assault approach, but also provided a small, almost hidden pathway into the lower bases to accommodate the stealthy players that enjoy pulling the ninja beat-downs.

Watch out though, there’s just enough room in the bases for Warthogs to barrel through and splatter anyone thinking vehicles can’t fit. Although similar in layout to Sandbox, which retains the intuitive sensation of knowing where to go, it plays the angles and corners much differently and gives quick, direct access to base interiors.

Q. What sets Sandbox apart from Foundry, beyond pure aesthetics?

A. Although Foundry and Sandbox are both a Forger’s paradise, the varying geometry and volume of Sandbox adds options, options and more options in all facets of gameplay, from Custom Games and Matchmaking to Forging Sandbox. There are so many more varying pieces of geometry to structure a Sandbox map to anyone’s liking and the area is so much larger. Building up beyond the ceiling height of Foundry isn’t a problem in Sandbox; and you got three whole freaking levels to choose from! There definitely feels like a moderate leap in content and what can be done in with the new structures and optional locations in which Sandbox battles take place and how to intermingle them differently. I’m truly excited to see what else the community will create with Sandbox.



Now that we've taken a look at the custom content Josiah is readying, let's take a look at some stuff you've submitted for review.

Scarab Conquest

Last week we once again asked you to fire up Halo 3 and play the role of war photojournalist in order to win prizes, and once again, we've made good on our arrangement.  Though the deluge of screenshots wasn't as overwhelming as the last time out - after all, many of you have gotten your Mythic Map Pack fix early - the final tally still numbered in the thousands, leaving us with plenty of amazing screenshots to choose from. 

You guys do good work.


Prepare to Drop

You took on one of the most feared opponents Halo has to offer and you came away victorious.  If your screenshot was selected, you should already have downloaded your copy of the Mythic Map Pack, and chances are, you're not reading this update.  It's okay.  We understand.

And while we can't award everyone who participated with early access to the Mythic Map Pack, we once again hope that at the very least, you enjoyed scaling the mighty Covenant Scarabs and took some pleasure in transforming them into tarnished molten husks.

Third Time's the Charm

Though the Scarab Screenshot Contest was our second in the series, some still messaged us, confused about how to tag their work.  We'd point out that we offer up a primer every single Monday in our 'Tag and Release' series, but just to clarify before we dig into the next wave of submission solicitations, Tags are distinct from file names.  To Tag a Screenshot, or any item uploaded to Bungie.net, you only need to follow a few easy steps.

  • Sign in to your Bungie.net account.
  • Find the content you want to tag in your (or another player's) File Share
  • Click on the title or the thumbnail image
  • Scroll down to the 'Add Tags' field
  • Input the Tag of your choice
  • Click 'Submit'
  • ???
  • Old Internet Meme

So, why are we telling you this?  Because we're giving you another chance to win fabulous prizes, of course.  This weekend's assignment is simple.  Drop into some Halo 3 Campaign and find a pair of Hunters. Take Screenshots of them in action, slap 'em in your File Share, and tag 'em up with the word, Hunters.  As always, attention to detail counts, make a special note that Hunters, is indeed, plural.

We'll check back Monday morning, sift through the pile for our favorites, and bestow rewards on the chosen few.

Save Your Films

For those already playing on the Mythic Map Pack, we're gonna ask you for a little bit of payback for a super secret, ultra awesome project we're spinning up.  We've already seen a ton of really great custom Map Variants spin out of Sandbox, but we really need Saved Films of you and your Halo 3 friends throwing down on them, Custom Games style.

To be more specific, we're looking for Saved Films of frenzied Custom Games, clocking in at about five minutes in length on Sandbox.  To make it easier for us to find them, upload them to your File Share, and tag them with the phrase "Custom Film."

Valentine's Day Massacre

Some of you have been waiting patiently, wondering if we would ever reveal who won the V-Day Massacre Contest we asked you to participate in, well, back in the middle of February.  We're sorry.  It's not you, it's us.  At long last, we're finally ready to commit. 

Here's the scoop, straight from Shishka:

"With Michael Williams' gracious help, several lists were generated from our massive database of games played. From there we culled each category down, removing jerks and cheaters from the standing until we could locate some players we were sure would cherish the Recon they earned together.

For the sake of protecting these life partners from unscrupulous individuals, we will not release their names to the general public. However, if you played a lot of Team Doubles with a specific partner, you should look at your armor options later tonight to see if Recon has been awarded to you.

Without further ado, I present to you the 2009 V-Day Massacre Recon criteria:
  • Cupid’s Silent Arrow
    • Most (combined) assassinations.
  • Lean On Me
    • Most (combined) assists.
  • The Longest Journey
    • Most games played together.
  • Passion Leads to Victory
    • Most wins as a pair.
  • ...Actually, Passion Doesn’t Always Lead to Victory
    • Most losses as a pair.
  • Lovestruck
    • Most (combined) kills.
  • Hearts in Sync
    • Most games completed with both teammates having the same number of kills.
  • Double the Pleasure
    • Most (combined) double kills.
  • Two Hearts, Two Kills
    • Most games completed with the same number of double kill medals (At least one or more).
  • STOP (In the Name of Love)
    • Most (combined) Bulltrues.
  • Cupid’s Really Really Loud Arrow
    • Most (combined) Spartan Laser kills.
  • I’ll Explain When You’re Older
    • Most (combined) sticky grenade kills.
  • Heat of the Moment
    • Most (combined) flame kills.
  • It Doesn’t Matter, I Still Love You
    • Most (combined) deaths.
  • Love-Suicide
    • Most (combined) suicides.
  • Get it? Because it Looks Like a Heart when you Turn Your Head…
    • Most games completed together with less than three kills scored.

Apologies for the long wait, but as you can imagine it took us a while to go through the lists and choose people that we were sure weren’t going to turn around and boost through Team Doubles with their Recon on."

xX itZ b4Nh4mM3r v2 Xx

Okay, we're well beyond Version 2.0 of the Banhammer, but you get the idea.  It's upgrade time.  Once again, Shishka steps up to provide the details:

"If you’ve spent any time on the forums today, you’ll notice that the Halo 3 forum is abuzz with a new wave of bans occurring in Halo 3 Matchmaking. Intrepid stat spelunkers have begun to figure it out, but for those who are at a loss, the Banhammer has been given yet another upgrade. In our mission to constantly improve and maintain the Halo3 matchmaking experience we also seek ways to remove negative player-elements from Matchmaking such that players can jump in and not have to worry about people who only the play the game for a little number or an eagle and some stars next to their gamertag. To that end, we’ve fit the automated Orbital Ban Platform with an upgrade that automatically detects and bans habitual quitters.

What does this mean for you?

Well, for most of you, it means nothing. The rule is very carefully designed to thwart users that quit from Matchmaking at a high frequency to curb the use of “negative EXP boosting” to facilitate boosting in ranked playlists. However, it’ll also catch the people just quit all the time for the sake of stepping all over other peoples’ experiences as well. In the long run, this means that if you’re quitting games to try to slingshot your way to 50, or if you quit every game because you can’t handle losing like an adult, you may be at risk of taking a week–long break from Matchmaking. However, if you have to quit occasionally because your little sister is trying to eat a cat or the dead are rising from their graves, you should be fine. And once again, we can tell the difference between a person quitting out of Matchmaking, and being dropped, so the 'I get standby'd like every single game' routine will not work.

If you bought a 50 recently and are finding yourself banned right now, no, you can’t ask to get it unbanned. It was boosted so people like you would buy it, after all. My recommendation is that you think about what you’ve done to yourself and think of what else you could've spent that money on.

As always, you're welcome to send me a note here on Bungie.net or post to the Halo 3 forum if you feel you've been unjustly banned. However, keep in mind that if you cheated, we can tell. So can your peers when it comes to quitting, so you might just want to ask me directly.

In parting I offer you a warning: The week ban you're currently experiencing is only strike one. I suggest you clean up your act rather than experience strike two."

Facebookin'

We're only about four years late to the Facebook party, but if you're interested in adding us to your ever-growing social network or want to leave us terribly inappropriate comments that we'll ultimately delete, feel free.  It's pretty barebones right now, but don't worry, we'll figure it out sooner or later.  It's our first day!

Bungie | Facebook



Blowin' Up at GDC


The annual Game Developer's Conference, also known as GDC, kicks off this week.  For those hoping for the announcement of the next big thing from Bungie, don't hold your breath.  But that doesn't mean you shouldn't check out what's going down.  Some of us are still making the trip out, dropping some knowledge, taking part in some panels, and even offering to take some green industry soldiers under our wing.

Here's the rundown:

Allen Murray
, 'Building Your Airplane While Flying: Production at Bungie.'

‘Building Your Airplane’ refers more to building the team of Producers and the maturing and evolution of our production practices over the course of Halo 3 than the actual building of the game itself. But it’s a little bit of both. We want to show how we quickly evolved our production processes over the course of a single game, guided by a few simple philosophies to create a framework for game production that we have put into practice for Halo 3, the multiplayer map packs, Halo 3: ODST and other future projects. We’ll look at some of the history of Production at Bungie to provide context for our current approach, and using environment art in Halo 3 as a primary case study, we’ll describe in detail how we utilize different project management methodologies throughout the full project cycle and how we reconcile these different practices across the disciplines in the studio.

We’ve never talked publicly about our approach to managing a complete game production cycle, and so we want to openly discuss the pitfalls and lessons we have learned over the years and how we feel we are building a unique approach to producing games.

David Hunt
, 'Modular Procedural Rigging.'

"Next week, Wednesday 3/25/09, I’ll be heading down to GDC to deliver my presentation, Modular Procedural Rigging. This is an optimized version of the Autodesk Masterclass I delivered in Asia and Australia last November. I’ll be flying back out that evening so I can return here to work the next morning. We are deep in the trenches of production on our next big project which of course I can’t talk about or the giant Spartan Laser in the sky will vaporize me before I can finish my sentence.

Character Rigger is one of those jobs where people outside the industry continually ask what the heck I do. It’s hard to explain because it involves a bit of everything including animating, modeling, anatomy study and tools programming. As a Character Rigger I’m deeply integrated in the process of developing new characters. I build the control rigs that enable animators to bring them to life. So that’s why I’ll only be there at GDC for the few hours of my presentation because the animation team needs to keep working at full speed. I don’t have time for martinis and after-parties.

I’m still awaiting approval from Harold for a Pelican and a squad of ODSTs to escort me to and from the event so that I can get back to work with minimal time lost."

Seth Gibson
, 'Technical Art Techniques Panel: Tools and Pipeline.'

Technical Art is the discipline that involves directly supporting artists working in the DCC packages (Maya, MAX, etc) by writing custom tools and developing custom processes/pipelines either in the software’s native language (MEL, MAXScript) or other scripting languages (Python, LUA, etc). I guess you could think of it as “engineering-lite”, i.e., we do the sort of work that doesn’t really require full engineering support but might be a little more technical/code-oriented than the average artists’ skillset. This panel is basically a “meeting of the minds” wherein we’ll be discussing different things we’ve tried over the years that may have worked or not worked quite so well. Some of the points we’ll be discussing include:

  • The Evolving Role of the Technical Artist
  • Pipeline Design
  • Tools for Technical Artists
  • Multiple App Pipeline

It’s pretty techy, we probably won’t be showing a lot of screenshots or talking about game specific stuff (even though everyone on the panel is working on some pretty cool projects), but if folks are interested in more of the nuts and bolts about how Bungie and other studios create content, this might be interesting. I imagine it’ll probably be a good resource for up and coming Technical Artists.

Luke Smith
, 'But What I Really Want to Do is Make Games.'

"'But What I Really Want to Do is Make Games' is a panel featuring some former writers who turned coat on their once-chosen profession to pursue careers in various aspects of development. With the help of the other panelists, I hope to lift the veil a bit on how much different making games is from, well, speculating how games are made is."

Vic Deleon and Cameron Pinard
, Mentoring IGDA Scholarship Winners

The IGDA (International Game Developer’s Association) awards scholarships to twenty-five of the most qualified college students every year. These students get admission to the Game Developers Conference, which is where game development professionals gather every year to share ideas, learn, and network from each other. This year's GDC will be held March 23-27 in San Francisco, California, and I have volunteered once again for the very rewarding task of taking one of these winning scholars under my wing for the entirety of the conference and give them a crash course in the industry, how to properly network with professional devs, and how to focus on making the most out of their education.

It’s so much fun, and it feels great to contribute to someone’s future career, that I even convinced Cameron Pinard, fellow Environment Artist at Bungie, to be a Mentor this year as well. For more info on the IGDA and their academics programs, check out their website, and if you see us at the conference, don’t hesitate to say hello!  And no, I can’t give you recon, so please don’t ask :P



And Walk Away

Looks like we're ready to wrap up yet another week.  If you're heading off to GDC, we hope to see you there.  Step on up, shake our hands, but please, no creepy stuff.  There's only so much antibacterial to go around at a conference of this size.

If we don't see you there, feel free to hang out around Bungie.net.  We'll make sure the standard routine stays in check.  You make sure you stay safe and Stay Tuned.

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