What Are We Up To?
Jessica is out. At a shoot, hanging out with famous Halo and non-Halo people, including actors and actresses you’re all very fond of. And some you’ve never heard of. The answer to the question, “What Are We Up To?” is pretty long, so here we go.
We’re making a lot of stuff. Right now, we’re finishing work on Karen Traviss’ novel, The Thursday War, including tightening up the graphics on the cover and dotting some Is and crossing some Ts on last-minute fiction edits. I say “we” when in fact it’s mostly Karen doing the actual hard work and the publisher Tor implementing and assisting with changes and copyediting.
And at the same time as all that, we’re deep into Greg’s third book in the Forerunner Trilogy. I was tempted to type last, but I just can’t bring myself to. And I don’t see any reason why we would want to stop working with Greg, so I ain’t saying it and you can’t make me!
We actually had Greg in last week to listen to some music, look at some graphics, including in-game graphics, to make sure they line up appropriately with his vision, and vice versa. When we made the decision three or more years ago to start making sure that every piece of Halo fiction counted and connected, we knew it was going to be a lot of work, but it’s paying off. The connections, ties, and presaging that the books incorporate will make for some stunning resonances and revelations for hardcore digesters of external fiction. For those who don’t follow the novels and other fiction, don’t worry: Halo 4 will make perfect sense as a standalone piece of storytelling. That’s super important.
And even Forward Unto Dawn, the live-action series we just announced, will make some of those connections, albeit in a much more approachable way. We wanted to fulfill the promise of our previous live-action commercials and the hints of storytelling they touched upon. We wanted to take that kind of ambition but put it in a real narrative – and a story that will take you and deliver you right to the gates of Halo 4. We’re super excited about it.
Our director is a joy (we’ll announce his name later) and the screenwriting talent is exceptionally appropriate to this material (we’ll tell you who they are later), and our VFX guy is an industry standard. All these people, including the unannounced cast, have been hand-picked by us to make sure they can deliver on the potential the Halo universe has for storytelling and bring something juicy to folks who’ve wanted this for years, and something interesting and approachable to those who are curious about Halo, but have never quite committed.
There will be action. There will be recognizable Halo universe objects and artifacts everywhere. There will even be a very large, imposing, and famous Spartan II – but there will also be new, and very real characters, real story, and a gripping yarn that will appeal to just about anybody who likes cool stuff.
We promise to bring you more updates and images as the weeks roll on. And some surprises that aren’t exactly that project…
Forward Unto Dawn is an essential piece in an arsenal – static, moving, aural and aesthetic. I’m kind of surrounded by it right now, going through endless iteration and honing to make sure we hit the ground running in the build-up to launch on November 6th. Oh, and if you buy the game on the 6th in the US – make sure you also vote while you’re out or vote by mail. If you already took the day off for Halo, then you have no excuse. We don’t care who you vote for, but it’s your responsibility as a citizen and you can feel proud of yourself and your country when you hit the ballot box before you go home to hit the, well, hitbox.
If you’re in another country, then don’t worry about that so much.
I have been traveling a lot myself recently, and just got back from a whistle-stop tour of New York City, where I had the pleasure of demonstrating some MP and Campaign gameplay to a bunch of press, community members from Waypoint and Halo.Bungie.Org and ,of course, about half of the top twenty NFL draft picks. I told them all to go to the Seahawks but only one listened. YOU’RE WELCOME, SEAHAWKS!
We also stopped by MLG’s offices, since they were right around the corner from our hotel and demoed the build, early and weird, to a large group of MLG staff and players. We let them tinker with weapons and run around levels (just Warhouse and Wraparound for now – and those are, I remind you, temp names) but it was fun to chat about the game as it relates to competitive play – they focused on lines of sight, flow, bullet spread and so on, loosing round after round into walls to see how things felt and how they compared to other Halo titles.
A lot of suicides happened as players attempted to jump from Wraparounds aeries down to the Grav Lift below (it’s supposed to be a one-way trip, but they almost made it…).
The game is being designed with lots of different types of player in mind – explorers, cooperators, tricksters, and, of course, competitive players. Lots of worries about how loadouts and other new features will affect those players were discussed openly and frankly with the MLG guys, and we were certainly able to reassure them about our philosophy, approach, understanding, and implementation. We also clarified that certain elements (like user selectable ordnance drops) will only be available in appropriate playlists. Oh, and there was happiness when we explained that loadouts for custom games don’t have the same limitations as some of the “career” playlists.
We hope to bring you some interesting MP footage to show off these elements, but that will be a little way off, since we’re heads down working on some really big, important milestones as they relate to MP, Spartan Ops, and the year in general.
But we are really focused on doing one thing – respecting the core elements of classic Halo MP and Campaign experiences –and everything that entails, but also evolving the systems and gameplay in interesting, compelling, and balanced ways. Every time we announce new functionality, there’s a mixture of excitement, fear, curiosity and outrage and we’re cognizant of that – so with regard to the new elements of Spartan customization – yes, they are more than aesthetic (although aesthetic customization will be well supported too) I would personally compare it more to tuning your own vehicle to suit your driving habits, than replacing a four pot engine with a V8. Changes will be subtle in nature, but ultimately important to the way you play.
And don’t worry if you don’t want to follow that path to its ultimate conclusion – most playlists will allow you to select a default loadout (which will vary on a map/playlist basis) that will give you the means to deal with almost any situation. So don’t worry about spawning on Wraparound with an AR against a team of DMRs. That will only happen if you choose that path.
Right now I am going through an MP build, enjoying the fact that the UI now lets me customize loadouts from the Pause menu (it was disabled for some time, meaning noobs often got stuck with defaults if they forgot to build one before going in). But it also surprised me with one possible scheme for the loading screen – I can’t say what it is, but it replaces the placeholder Auntie Dot pattern we showed in NY. And I love it.
Somebody asked me to report on water. Yes, I can confirm there’s water in the game, and yes, it looks good. But now I can’t stop thinking about the loading screen. Maybe I have a new obsession. In the build and map I am playing right this instant, the “physics” and behavior are functioning, but the appearance properties are literally turned off, so it looks amazing, but it also looks like thick, turgid, clay-filled mud. More updates as I explore, tinker and break it in the future. I think the more compelling thing would be WHERE I tested the water…
Oh. And on the subject of MP maps – we have a great variety of maps, with a good breakup of sizes and modes – but on larger maps, vehicle support was a big priority for the design team. Ironically, this is something that becomes a little easier to tune thanks to the universal inclusion of sprint. If your teammate spazzes out and sails off a cliff in your hog, you still have options.
One map in particular gave me a really excellent vibe – a mix of my favorite aspects of Blood Gulch and Waterworks. Don’t just mash those ideas up in your head to imagine the map, because that won’t really get you there. But you’ll know what I mean when you play it. You’d be amazed how much fun it is just to tool around empty levels imagining future encounters, but it’s obviously a lot more fun to hammer through these in playtests. We’re long past the days of playtests being chuggy and graphically bland – and well into them feeling in many ways, like real shipping code, often with spectacular graphics.
About every three years I get to enjoy this period. Watching the hard work and talent of an incredible team take shape and turn from promising innovation and ideas into real, visible, playable results. We’re busy. We’re crunching, but this is the best of times.