Every Friday, digital brushes are put down, consoles are turned off, and statuses are set to “Away” in preparation for a studio-wide sync. During these brief but enlightening get-togethers, various aspects of Halo 4 are covered, sometimes visually and other times aurally. While we’ve focused on everything from recently demoed Campaign missions to newly composed songs, a few weeks ago we were subjected to an image of the face of one of our Systems Designers morphed with Cortana’s.
Yes, the aforementioned Systems Designer is male. And no, they did not remove his facial hair.
Thankfully, not every meeting is as traumatizing as that one. Take last week’s, for instance. Instead of seeing something that can never be unseen, we were treated to something that left us wanting more: a sneak peak of the upcoming Halo 4 Game Informer issue, soon to be on a magazine rack near you. We got a glimpse of their 14-page cover story, which takes an in-depth look at Halo 4, its breadth of gameplay modes, and much more.
We were sworn to secrecy, so I am unable to divulge any further details. I can, however, share the cover art with you. If you’d like to see a bigger version than the one offered below, please head over to the Game Informer website, where they have the full-size image displayed in all of its many-megapixeled glory.
Take your time, by the way. My inane ramblings and I are not going anywhere.
“The game is looking really sharp and fairly far along, which is
always great to see this early. The reveal of [Yoink!] is going
to be the 'Holy sh--' moment. That's going to be the star of our
story, I think." -Matt Miller, Game Informer
While part of our team has been busy making and compiling the assets for the Game Informer reveal, the rest of the individuals that call 343 Industries home have been focused on tasks relating to a recent network test. What exactly is a network test, you may be wondering? Why, I thought you’d never ask!
Halo 4 Network Test
A network test is a test we do on the game with people outside the studio. In this case, those people were fellow Microsoft employees. One of the benefits of being a part of a company with thousands of people globally is doing our alpha-testing internally to test out various network situations—latency, the effects of Internet connections going down, and all the things that can happen when people have network connections in the real world.
We gleaned a wealth of data from this test. Backend-wise, we examined bandwidth, latency, pings, packet loss, the overall volume of information that was sent back and forth to the servers, and much, much more. We also verified that everything that happened in the game, along with the stats, was sent, received, and recorded properly.
On the gameplay side, we looked at weapon balance. We took a subset of the sandbox (six weapons, two maps, and one game type) and focused on particular combinations. That way, we weren’t trying to balance against every possible combination in the sandbox from the get-go. Instead, we got our subset in place, and then expanded out.
Over several days of testing, we received both anecdotal and network information, the separation of which was easy. The analysis of anecdotal information, however, required a special touch. We had to go through all anecdotal information with a comb to determine what was feedback about what someone liked or didn’t like, and what was an actual bug. The former goes to the game designers to discuss and decide what is actionable, and the latter goes to our test team to make sure it is represented in the bug database.
Once that information was separated, we aggregated it. That gives us the ability to spot trends of people liking certain weapons and not liking certain weapons, and it helps us determine what’s too powerful and what’s not powerful enough. We have ways to see who killed whom with what, and we can even boil it down to say this weapon is 20% more effective than that weapon. Both positive and negative trends and feedback are looked at to determine what needs to be addressed to make the sandbox more balanced.
Being able to do alpha and beta stress-testing internally is beneficial for us in many ways. We are interested in hearing your thoughts about Halo 4’s gameplay, though, so we’re hoping to have some cool playtest events at the studio this summer. You can expect more details about those events as the dates get closer.
Office of Halo Intelligence: Part 6
Chris Lee, 343’s Lead Producer who worked with Bungie on both ODST and Reach and now Lead Producer on Halo 4, was one of the driving forces behind the aforementioned network test. I managed to wrangle him into a corner just long enough to draft the following OHI entry for you. Enjoy the words from someone who has an intimate relationship with everything I talked about above.
Oh hi, OHI fans! It feels great to finally be able to talk about the work the Halo 4 team is cranking out. We have hundreds of passionate folks working to make this an unforgettable experience. It’s crazy to think that when many of these people decided to join 343 and build H4, we couldn’t even tell them what they would be working on. We told them the project would take place in the Halo universe, that the project was ambitious, and that we wanted to make something special... something that would live up to the Halo legacy. They took a chance, moved their families, left their friends, and joined us in Seattle. And from the chills I get when I listen to our music to the adrenaline rush I get from playing in the multiplayer playtests, all while the project is forged under the pressure of building something we want millions of Halo fans to love, I can tell you that we are indeed well on our way to something special.
This past month the proof of this was seen in our internal network test. We created a slice of multiplayer gameplay, got it running smoothly, and polished it to bring it much of the way to H4 ship quality across the board. Then we added new backend tech pieces, network optimizations, and game modes. We did this to ensure we would learn everything possible about how H4 will perform over home networks once we release it into the wild. I won't say anything else about all these networking technical bits and pieces now, but I am sure you will get an update from the awesome H4 service team (codenamed Section 3) one of these weeks….
Hundreds of people contributed to the various components that went into the build. It was amazing to see a concept artist play a Spartan that he painted on digital canvas months before, one that a character artist meticulously modeled by hand in high resolution for weeks, and a tech artist rigged with artificial bones, and an animator brought to life with lethal combat animations. A complete cycle of concept to realization. We are in a phase where most of the concepts and ideas are making their way from hearts and minds into tangible experiences. It’s one of the most exciting times on a project.
We played the internal network test build for weeks, testing game modes, testing networking conditions, and collecting balance data. During the development process, playing through build after build and seeing the constant iterations, you can get into a groove where you are always looking for ways to improve. It’s hard to step back and look at how far you have come. It was a feeling of great accomplishment to see the team fighting for playtest kits so they could play the game more.
But there is still a lot of work to be done. We are focusing on the next internal network test build, more iteration, more polish, more awesome, so we can finally deliver the game into your hands. I know it has been said before from OHI, but we can’t wait to show you what we've been playing.
And on that note (get it, because that OHI entry was kind of like a note?), now begins the slow transition where we move from Halo 4 information to Halo: Reach updates. It’s also worth noting (oops, I did it again!) that in this context, slow means instant. Bam!
Custom Challenge of the Week
If you fancy yourself a mack daddy, or a mack mommy, depending, then this is the week I’m going to ask you to prove it, because up for your Custom Challenge of the Week consideration is something that is more than a little crazy by default.
From now until next Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time, setting up a Custom Challenge with the Onager—15-cm Mark/2488 1.1GJ MAC—as the type of weapon will result in ten times the usual multiplier. This is a Campaign-only challenge, but I’m guessing you already knew that.
Enjoy getting your Pillar of Autumn on!
Super Jackpot Weekend
We may have taken the jet pack out of Arena, but we’re adding some credits to that particular playlist in the form of a very special Super Jackpot Weekend. Starting on Friday and ending on Sunday, hopping into Arena will present you with the chance of receiving a 39,000-credit bonus.
Wait, did I say 39,000-credit bonus? Because I meant 39,000-credit bonus. Keep in mind this one is a little larger than usual (doth what she hath said), so you should take advantage of it while you can.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a plane to catch. While 343 will not have an official presence at PAX East this year, a few of us, myself included, will be attending and enjoying others’ offerings. In case you were wondering, I’ll be the one in the Halo 4 shirt with the embarrassingly loud laugh. Just thought that little tidbit may make it easier to avoid me.
Until next week….