Whether you call it the “Golden Tripod,” measure it out in “30 Seconds of Fun,” or you just grab your favorite gun and hit the ground running, when you dig in and play around inside the Halo: Reach sandbox, you’re definitely gonna need to make some tactical adjustments to get yourself up to speed. It’s no secret that gunplay is an extremely important ingredient to Halo’s success, so we’ve been working around the clock to make sure the guns look, sound great, and perform better than they ever have before.
You’ll get your first shot to go hands on with the new and refined cache of weapons when you play the Halo: Reach Multiplayer beta in the spring, but before you have to worry about your face getting rearranged by way of the deadly DMR or your shields shattered under a hail of barbed, crystalline Blamite! (no, that’s not the correct technical term), Sage Merrill and Josh Hamrick are prepared to combine powers and drop all kinds of situational awareness on your ass.
Here’s your chance to get up close and personal with three of the weapons featured in the Halo: Reach sandbox. You can click on any of the images below to get a high resolution look at each rifle’s intricacies and in between the assets you’ll find discussion covering some of the more interesting aspects of each – how they fit into the sandbox and how you can best make use of them on the battlefield.
A lot of care is going into these implements of war. We trust that you’ll put ‘em to good use.
A certified stalwart in the UNSC’s arsenal, the Assault Rifle has scrubbed more than its fair share of Covenant scum up close and personal. First introduced with Halo: Combat Evolved, it missed a beat in Halo 2, but made its triumphant return to Halo 3 and by now you should know it’s making a return with a pretty significant visual overhaul in Halo: Reach, as seen in yesterday’s 3D art asset comparisons
It’s not the only weapon that’s being upgraded, according to Josh, one of Halo: Reach's sandbox designers.
“Everything has been touched in one way or another. That being said, some of the weapons had already gone through some serious iterations at this point in Halo’s life and so in some cases changes have been kept to a minimum. Either way, the visual face lift was worth its weight in gold. All the weapons, including the classics, are looking AMAZING!”
Sage, the project's lead sandbox designer, briefly expounds on some of the subtle changes being made to the series’ staples:
“Returning weapons will, for the most part, maintain their classic roles and generally feel the same. If you’re playing at the pro level, you can expect to notice minor changes to every weapon.”
Of course, there’s some new stuff in the mix as well.
“The DMR, or Designated Marksman Rifle,” Sage notes, “is a medium-to-long range support weapon. In range and play style it fits between the Assault Rifle and Sniper Rifle in the Human sandbox. Powerful in skilled hands, its rewards the ‘gunfighter’ – the calm, accurate player, who like to be in the fight. Its primary role is to suppress snipers and soften opposition before the shock troops close.”
When you do find yourself in the fight, shock troops rushing your position, Josh has some slightly less merciful tips to help keep you alive when you have the DMR in your hot little hands.
“The DMR is deadly accurate if you breathe through the shots and get into the rhythm of firing it, but it quickly falls apart if you freak out and really start slamming the trigger. A player with surgeon’s hands will be able to use it anywhere, anytime. Players that struggle with their composure in a heated fight however will find it better suited to working guys from a distance, picking off the sick and weak from the herd.”
And for those looking for that elegant weapon for a more civilized age, it looks like the DMR might be the implement of war you’re looking for.
“Personally, I’ve found that I always like to have a DMR in my back pocket in the way that I would have kept around the pistol in Halo: Combat Evolved,” Josh says. “Either way, the big news with the DMR is that it’s particularly good at shooting Covenant in the face.”
Speaking of Covenant forces, Reach may be a UNSC military stronghold, but the Covenant war machine is at the height of its military power. The Needle Rifle is one of the more fearsome and unique weapons in their invasion force’s arsenal and a fitting counter to the Designated Marksman Rifle. It’s also one of the weapons we’ve revealed that seems to be surrounded with the most ambiguity. Let’s clear some stuff up.
“The Needle Rifle is one of my personal favorites,” Josh notes. “While it is very similar to the Carbine in several ways, including its ability to headshot (Unicorn!), it’s still 100% Needler and comes stock with the ability to super-combine when it comes in contact with your enemies and spread them like jam across a warm piece of toast. Unlike the Needler, the rounds don’t track your target…because that would just be ridiculous.”
Sage offers up his own additional details.
“The Needle Rifle is the Covenant’s answer to the DMR. It’s a medium-to-long range weapon with powerful anti-shield damage. It’s faster and more accurate than the DMR, but doesn’t have the same stopping power. It’s a Blamite! super-combining weapon (three shots to an unshielded body) that can also score headshots.”
It should be noted here that all of these details are subject to change. Sage, Josh, and the rest of the team continue to put this trio of weapons, along with all of the other sandbox toys to the test time and time again, ensuring that the end product delivered in the fall will be as fair as it is fun. Seems it’s even become a mantra with Josh. How do they make sure everything is tuned just right?
“Testing! Testing! Testing!”
But it ain’t all about the aftermath. Sage and Josh are on their toes anticipating where new systems like Armor Abilities could turn delightful multiplayer fun into an exploitable and unfair set of game busting superpowers.
“We’ve built the systems with some minor drawbacks that are there to make sure you’re not a God… an invisible, sneaky, evil God to be exact.”
“Balancing a game is not an exact science,” Sage adds, “because we don’t always want total equality. Some weapons and abilities are intentionally designed to be more or less powerful. That said the best way to balance a game after looking over the raw numbers is to play test it as much as possible. Sometimes we also reduce the number of variables and run specific tests to see if the results fall within our desired outcome. Like DMR vs. Needle Rifle tests.”
More or less powerful, eh? For a while now, we’ve been talking about the added “punch” the weapons found in Halo: Reach will put on display. While tweaking the various knobs and levers is always an option, Sage and Josh understand that a weapon’s overall “feel” isn’t owed exclusively to the amount of damage it can deal.
“We could tune weapons to do more damage all day long, even going so far as to make them all one hit kills, but that’s not where a weapons punch comes from,” Josh notes, dropping some carefully considered clarification to boot: “For the record, all of Reach’s weapons are not one hit kills.”
“Ultimately the punch comes from a several pieces of awesome stacked on top of each. It starts with the improved art that instantly make you think a gun is sweet from the moment you see it and hold it. On top of that, we apply a creamy layer of rumble and camera shake to really sell it and let you feel the weapon’s power. After that, we apply a few slices of sweet effects that blast from the gun as you fire it and again at the point of impact.
The final ingredient is our not so secret sauce of sweet, sweet audio that let you hear (and feel depending on the size of your sub and the relationship with your neighbors/parents/roommates/pets) how freaking sweet the weapons really is!
And that my friend is how you make a big ol’ Bungie Punchy Weapon Sandwich™.”
Sage agrees with this delicious metaphor, noting that “punch refers more to the ‘feel’ of the weapon as opposed to directly translating to more damage.”
“We use all the tools at our disposal to make the weapons feel powerful. These include but are not limited to sound, FX, feedack (rumble, screen shake, screen effects), and finally sweet, sweet game models.
Audio is the most effective tool. I have seen weapons go from “this weapon sucks!” to “OMG, this weapon is so powerful I think we may need to nerf it” after an audio only change. No actual damage or weapon changes were made. Go audio! It really is half the game.”
And this is only half of the interview with Sage. In addition to the article above, he also weighed in on Halo: Reach’s weapon sandbox on our latest podcast. And hey, wouldn’t you know it, we’ve got it prepped and ready to go! Click the link below or head on over to iTunes to go even more in depth.
Big thanks to Sage and Josh for taking a few minutes out of their unbelievably busy schedules to spend some time with us. Make sure you pay them back in kind when you run into them in the multiplayer beta this spring.
“Executive Producer Joseph Tung and Sandbox Specialist Sage Merrill step into the recording booth to sound off on Halo: Reach's development process, weapon loadout, and gameplay sandbox. Also up for discussion: blazers, beards, and Luke's busy weekends.”
The Bungie Podcast - January 2010 [55:51, 53MB]
Be on the lookout for even more media assets covering Halo: Reach’s weapons, enemies, vehicles, and more coming to Bungie.net over the next couple of days. If you’ve missed out on any of the high resolution concept art, screenshots, or 3D renders, you can find them in all their glory inside our Halo: Reach Project Page