Halo 2 Vista sighted!
Hi there, my name’s Matt Priestley. I’m the new producer for H2V, just hired out of the Xbox 360 group. Since it’s a Bungie tradition to give raw recruits full access to the company website, I got “volunteered” to do a writeup of our progress on Halo 2 for Windows Vista. Apparently Frank was busy washing his hair? Seems more like he'd just polish it. It was all a little vague.
Anyways, we were out in the woods with a camera looking for Sasquatch – and in Washington State, they're like raccoons – but found Halo 2 Vista instead. It’s been a while since we’ve talked publicly about our Windows version of the game, and you’re no doubt eager to hear how things are going.
The H2V team (yep, sorry - another acronym to absorb) has a progress review and demo every five weeks, and we figured that giving you a look at the game as it stands today, was better than writing a three-volume history of everything you’ve missed till now.
First off, the big news is that Halo 2 for Vista is making its public debut at the Leipzig Games Convention on August 24 th through 27 th . Those of you lucky enough to live in Germany will get a chance to play against each other in a pair of multiplayer maps we picked out for the show. Several of our key team members will also be present, struggling to explain keyboards layouts to German speakers using a combination of grunts, gestures and umlauts. Oh, and I don’t want to get you North American gamers too excited, but we’re looking at a possible US show in the near future. That’s Top Secret for now.
As I was saying, last Friday was the most recent project review for Halo 2 on Vista. The dev team breaks its work into five-week milestones called Sprints. They’re just now wrapping up Sprint 5 and heading into Sprint 6. As a newbie, this was my first time attending a so-called Sprint Review, so naturally I cowered in awe when they switched on their nice fat Samsung HDTV and Halo 2 blazed forth in 1920x1200 resolution and 5.1 sound.
Audio & Video
We had a number of visual improvements in Sprint 5, and the game’s starting to showcase the power of the PC platform. Lighting in particular has real richness now, with dark-black blacks and overbrightness effects that make you want to stop and stare at the walls in Ivory Tower. Bump mapped detail textures were implemented in this Sprint too, giving maps like Lockout a suitably gritty feel.
Thanks to the oodles of memory available on a typical PC (compared to the prodigious, but now five-plus year old Xbox 1), we’ve been able to suspend some of the usual in-game rules about the resolution of textures. The first-person weapon models have been retouched from the Xbox source art, and are now IMO the juiciest part of the game. Halo 2 Vista also maintains its highest level of texture detail – a.k.a. “cinematic LOD” – even at great distances. This gives the game a feeling of clarity currently unavailable on the console.
The game will look very familiar to Xbox players though. The visual upgrades are mostly spit and polish. At its core, this is still good old Halo 2.
As with video, the audio in Halo 2 Vista will be subtly tweaked. For example, as of this Sprint, engine pitch on the Warthog and Ghost bends up or down depending on acceleration. Sound fundamentals are firming up too: sound is now more accurately spatialized now according to your position and the direction you’re facing. The audio devs treated us to all manner of booms and crackling flame effects as they wantonly blew things up, and the audience literally rocked in their seats at the metal groan of the wheel arm in Zanzibar.
Speaking of which, that giant wheel received an important fix in Sprint 5. Previously that sneaky wheel would pop in and out of existence depending on how you looked at it. These are not the droids you’re looking for…
If you’re a PC gamer who takes pride in catlike 180 degrees turns with mouse and keyboard, you no doubt mock and pity the Neanderthal console gamer capable only of twiddling two thumbsticks and mashing candy-colored buttons. And yes, the default input setup will feel familiar to players of other Windows-based shooters. At Leipzig, we’re going to show with MS Optical Intellimice (mouses? meeces?) but I’ve heard rumblings about a different unit altogether that might be available in time for Halo 2 Vista’s release. Time will tell.
If, on the other hand, you’re one of the aforementioned cave persons , the good news is that the Xbox 360 controller will plug straight into your your Vista PC and operates H2V perfectly. Having a console pedigree myself, I tend to play with the controller, but it’s a mixed bag on the team overall. The whole setup is highly customizable, and we’re still tweaking the game balance. [Ed. Note - I played against mice folks with a pad and managed significant ownage, so it's going to come down to preference when it gets to tournament level. - Frankie)
As of the latest Sprint, it’s even possible to switch between these two control options on the fly. Any input hint text on the screen will automatically change to reflect the device you’re using. So instead of being told to pull the left trigger to throw a grenade, you’re instead told to click the left mouse button. Over-engineered? Maybe. Or as someone said in the Sprint Review, maybe it’s engineered well .
After the various tech demos, the meeting broke for celebration. Delicacies were served, including Lunchables, carrots, and beer. Mmmm, Lunchables. Most of us stuck around to play a few slayer matches on the maps we’re showing at Leipzig. Noobs were owned.
There was plenty more hawtness during the tech demos, but I don’t want to steal all the thunder from the Leipzig Games Convention. We’re going to post more information about H2V in the coming weeks, so If you have burning questions about the project, stick them in the Comments section and we’ll try to answer them next time. Oh, and let me see if we can finagle some in-game screenshots so you can see Halo 2 running on Vista for yourselves.