Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Halo Bulletin: 7.25.12

What happens in 343, stays in 343

343 Whiteboard

Our studio is more than a little reminiscent of Vegas right now. The soft glow of monitors lights a seemingly endless maze of desks. A steady hum of sandbox-related discussion is punctuated by the ethereal melodies of Halo 4’s soundtrack. And every day, everywhere you look, regardless of the time, somebody, somewhere, is shuffling.

As the clock ticks ever-so-closer to the 100-day out mark, each individual that calls 343 home is heads down in their respective work space, utilizing every single second to make Halo 4 the best it can possibly be. The light at the end of the tunnel is not yet in sight, but we know it’s quickly approaching.

In June, we started to lock down individual segments of the game. When a mission, map, or portion of the game (such as audio or cinematics) is locked down, that doesn’t mean everything relating to that part is completely finished, but it does mean we’re closer to reaching that point. Nearly all the areas are locked down now, and in August, we expect to be fully transitioned to bug fixing.

While our world revolves around a certain Spartan super-soldier, we’re fully aware that isn’t the case outside our studio’s walls. That’s why we regularly take the time to remind people of what’s truly important. Take the following interaction, for instance, where Frankie gently reminds someone of another activity, besides playing Halo 4, they should be taking part in come November 6.

Frank Is Funny

That man has a way with words.

Speaking of words, it’s time to start dipping into the meat of this week’s Bulletin. Along with an overabundance of text, we’re also serving up numerous images many of you have been clamoring for since San Diego Comic-Con. Oh yes, it’s time to talk about the Halo 4 console. Pull up a chair, won’t you?

The Xbox 360 Limited Edition Halo 4 Console Bundle

The Xbox 360 Limited Edition Halo 4 Console Bundle

For the past few months, whenever anybody would ask if we were going to make a Halo 4 console, my response was, “The Limited Edition is the only thing we’re talking about right now.” Many of you saw through the sneakiness of my carefully crafted words, and those of you that didn’t probably saw the Microsoft Store listing before it was supposed to go live.


Now that the cat is officially out of the bag, we thought we’d share more images with you, along with a little about the design process.

We started off with a few different concepts, but most of them were Forerunner in direction. What was interesting about this process was looking both at our universe for inspiration – as well as the fabrication, material, and tech processes that had become available to us. Figuring out what we could do and how those manufacturing and painting techniques could apply to the unit was a completely organic, two way process.

This process was a collaboration between the hardware team, Claire Gerhardt in particular, our art director Kenneth Scott, our Executive Producer Kiki Wolfkill and of course Tajeen and the audio team for sound. Kenneth sketches designs, the hardware team iterates, experiments, researches and prototypes, and we go through feedback sessions, editing various incarnations into the final form. And of course we have to work with our graphics guys on the box and packaging too.

The Xbox 360 Limited Edition Halo 4 Console Bundle The Xbox 360 Limited Edition Halo 4 Console Bundle
The Xbox 360 Limited Edition Halo 4 Console Bundle The Xbox 360 Limited Edition Halo 4 Console Bundle
The Xbox 360 Limited Edition Halo 4 Console Bundle The Xbox 360 Limited Edition Halo 4 Console Bundle

There were dozens of iterations with hundreds of changing elements, but it’s kind of a continuum of progress and refinement. We landed on the final design as we went through all of the goals – create a Forerunner-themed object that differed significantly from prior consoles (which is why we ended up with translucent gray plastic – in part to differentiate from the simple metallic finish of the Reach console, which would have been an obvious direction otherwise). Now, interestingly, you can do certain types of paint, finish, and material – but structure is dangerous. We’d talked about bevels, bas relief, extrusions and carvings, but the reality is these three dimensional elements can have serious issues with heat dissipation, Wi-Fi signal strength, and more. So lots of our more hair-brained schemes ended in the cold reality of you know, making sure the console actually works.

Unlike some of our “historical” Forerunner stuff, we wanted this to feel new, alive – and functional. And specifically, military. Forerunner stuff has typically felt abandoned, and while this still maintains an element of mystery, it also feels organic and vital in a way our previous monolithic Forerunner stuff has not. An interesting note here is that there are a couple of features you simply can’t see in photographs – including paint and finish on the interior of the console, a touch that provides a subtle depth and detail like insect wings, and the inclusion of blue LEDs on the power button and the jewel on the controller.

The transparent case does a couple of things – the simplest of course is creating a translucent Xbox for collectors – “metallic”, “weird surfaces”, and “translucent” are all popular ‘mod’ schemes for things like custom PCs and consoles, historically. Secondly (and actually more importantly), it speaks to some of the materials and objects you’re going to encounter in the game. The main inspiration comes from an important object in the game that you haven’t seen yet, and while it’s not a literal recreation of that object, having it grounded in the heart of our story was always the number one factor driving our design process – even if it had ended up as a UNSC-themed object (as did one of the controllers) that would have been a prime driver.

The Xbox 360 Limited Edition Halo 4 Console Bundle The Xbox 360 Limited Edition Halo 4 Console Bundle
The Xbox 360 Limited Edition Halo 4 Console Bundle The Xbox 360 Limited Edition Halo 4 Console Bundle
The Xbox 360 Limited Edition Halo 4 Console Bundle The Xbox 360 Limited Edition Halo 4 Console Bundle

Controllers were a little easier to deal with, but not completely without challenges. We decided to make a Forerunner and a UNSC-themed one, given the fact that one would be made available separately and therefore didn’t have to match the Forerunner aesthetic, but we made sure it looked appropriate tonally as part of a set. The Forerunner controller is simply a logical graphical extension of the console itself, but the UNSC one takes elements from Spartan-IV, Infinity and redesigned UNSC liveries. The UNSC branding has undergone a revamp in the wake of the Human/Covenant war – with the starship Infinity leading that resurgent human vanguard, and the imagery is bold, strong, and ascendant. Although the UNSC eagle has a slightly different design when you flip it from positive to negative – a straight reversal resulted in a very snooty looking eagle, so we tweaked it for negative use.

The addition of little audio DSPs lets us add elements of Forerunner flavor to the “activity” buttons (power and eject), which Tajeen and the audio team culled from various Forerunner technologies in the game. They’re not verbatim recreations of specific in-game items, but rather custom-tuned elements that have a kind of crystalline-metallic quality. We’ve done this before, but picking sounds which have the right tonal quality that “speaks” to the function is oddly challenging. You can’t, for example pick a “power” sound that only sounds like “power on” with a lilting uplift – you have one sample for that function, so you have to pick an audio scheme that accommodates on and off, tonally.

We went through dozens of variants – and the real challenge wasn’t finding cool sounds, it was finding sounds that worked well at the low volume and limited frequency range of that tiny speaker. This has historically been challenging and probably drove the bulk of the iteration on that aspect. The ones we ended up choosing fit in the sweet spot between clarity and functionality, with fiction and atmosphere as the umbrella.

The Xbox 360 Limited Edition Halo 4 Console Bundle comes with two exclusive controllers, a standard edition copy of Halo 4, a wired headset, a 320GB hard drive, built-in Wi-Fi, and Xbox LIVE tokens for exclusive Halo 4 in-game and avatar marketplace downloadable content (FOTUS Armor Avatar Costume, In-Game FOTUS Spartan Armor, Avatar Promethean Crawler Prop, In-game LightRifle Skin, In-Game Unique Unicorn Emblem). It is available through your favorite retailer while supplies last, priced at $399.99 (U.S. ERP). The standalone Xbox 360 Halo 4 Limited Edition Wireless Controller, which features the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) emblem on a dark grey translucent body, will include an Avatar T-shirt as exclusive downloadable content and will be priced at $59.99 (U.S. ERP).

Pre-order today! ;)

Custom Challenge of the Week

Custom Challenge of the Week

This week, the Halo: Reach Weekly Challenge requires you to complete Tip of the Spear, Legendary, with all Skulls on (LASO). If you’re looking to augment an already enjoyable experience, I highly recommend layering this week’s Custom Challenge of the Week on top of it. What are the particulars? Why, I thought you’d never ask!

From now until next Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time, create a Campaign Custom Challenge with the difficulty set to Legendary, and assuming your venture is successful, you’ll be rewarded with a 50% increase to the total credits earned. I don’t want to pressure you or anything, but you should really play this mission, just to see how it feels…

Super Jackpot Weekend

Super Jackpot Weekend

If both Campaign and tips are not your thing, fret not, because this weekend’s Super Jackpot festivities are… wait for it… super! So super, in fact, that we have selected the aptly named Slayer playlist to house the three-day lottery-like activity. That means that starting Friday and ending on Sunday, hopping into the Super Slayer playlist will present you with the chance of receiving a 34,300-credit bonus. With so many credits to be had, it’s probably time to stop reading, and start playing.

Before we part ways, though, I want to mention that I’m not sure what next week holds, Bulletin-wise. I’m heading out of town today (I’m already en route, as we speak) and not expecting to be back until next Thursday. So worst case scenario, you’ll get a Bulletin next Friday instead of Wednesday. Best case scenario, next week will be Bulletin-less. Wait, did I get that right? Yup, I think I did.

Until next time, whenever that may be.

bs angel

P.S. Just in case you're in need of a new desktop ornament, here is this week's Friday Caption Fun image. Embiggen, snag, and then hit the latest installment to contribute your witty quip. Off you go!

Friday Caption Fun

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