We love meetings around these parts. We have meetings to discuss what to serve at meetings (brown foamy liquids are popular), we have meetings to discuss the top 20 best things about meetings (because 10 wasn’t enough), and we have meetings to discuss how to know when you’ve attended too many meetings (our conclusion: there’s no such thing).
One of my recurring meetings is about Matchmaking. Typically, Frankie suggests bringing back Golden Showers, I yell obscenity-laced tirades in his general direction and then we play SWAT. Lately though, our focus has switched from Halo: Reach to Halo 4. No longer are we discussing cutting back playlists, but instead we’re discussing what playlists we’re going to launch with, along with what we’re going to bring in post-launch.
You’ll hear more about both later in this Bulletin but first, we need to talk about a subset of the Halo 4 sandbox. Why, you ask? Because last week we skipped the Bulletin, so this week I owe you twice the amount of content. And, in case you were wondering, that content will be delivered in the form of one video (well, two, kind of) and a boatload of (related) words.
I hope you’re ready.
Halo 4’s UNSC Weapons
Much like past Halo games, the UNSC weapons in Halo 4 are meant to be grounded in modern day tech. They tend to be purpose built with function superseding aesthetics. There are a couple reasons for this – one reason is to make the player feel like an underdog in comparison to the highly futuristic and sophisticated weaponry used by the Covenant and Forerunner enemies. The other purpose is that it provides a good starting point for new players because they already have some familiarity and understanding of the core weapon roles, making them easily relatable.
Despite the majority of them being similar to modern day military weapons, they do have several specialized power weapons that help convey mankind’s progress when it comes to future tech. These include weapons like the Railgun, Spartan Laser, and Sticky Detonator.
Before you learn more about the UNSC weapons available in Halo 4, we thought you’d like to see them in action. So, check out the following video, and then continue reading to find out the specifics about what you’ll soon have at your disposal. (By the way, the music in this video is not from the original soundtrack. We’ll tell you more about where it is from on a later date.)
If you’d like to hear the UNSC weapon sound effects in all of their not wub-wub-wub glory, here is the same video without the music. And yes, we will be doing the same thing with Covenant and Promethean weapons soon-ish, and we may even show them off on a different level.
Frank O'Connor, David Ellis, and Chris King, along with Vic DeLeon, Joel Gifford, Chris Howard, Scott Warner, Bill Clark, Kynan Pearson, Pierre Rivest, and Christopher Hands joined me to share their thoughts about UNSC weapons. The UNSC utilizes the following base weapons:
Standard fully automatic firearm of all UNSC branches, effective at both close-range and mid-range combat.
How it feels:
Frank - AR is still pretty much what it always was, a decent mid-range weapon which currently might feel underpowered compared to some prior incarnations, especially in the context of newer guns – but is remarkably useful for certain kinds of panicky encounters, such as close quarters retreating in MP or dealing with swarms of Crawlers in Campaign and Spartan Ops.
David - I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I definitely feel like I have more control over my bullet spread when pulsing my AR starts than in past games. No doubt about it, the Assault Rifle is definitely still at its best in close quarters.
Chris - Relative to other Halos, this feels to me like a slightly more powerful Halo 3 AR. Some people might have some prejudice against the weapon because it’s not the newest, flashiest weapon on the block and there are a lot of other things that will catch your eye first. That being said, this is one of the best looking weapons in the game IMO. Gameplay-wise, we’ve tried to extend the range on the AR a bit from what it’s traditionally been and made it a tad more accurate. This is one of my favorite weapons in Halo 4 and I’m particularly fond of pairing it with a long range rifle in MP using the Firepower armor mod.
Utilizes precise, three-round burst functionality, making it a formidable mid-range, semi-automatic weapon.
How it feels:
Frank - Designed to be precise at mid-range and reasonably predictable at long range, the BR is currently my favorite loadout rifle. It’s not as precise or surgical as the DMR and feels more predictable to me than the LightRifle, its closest Promethean counterpart. For headshots and quick takedowns for an intermediate player like me, it’s just a great balance.
David - Like a well-oiled baseball glove, pick up the Battle Rifle in Halo 4 and you’ll feel right at home. With the BR being hitscan (projectiles register hits immediately upon trigger pull), it is definitely a force to be reckoned with at mid to long range. Roll into battle with a teammate or two at your side, and enemies will turn and run at the mere threat of your groupshots. There’s just something inherently satisfying about that triple thud unleashed with each trigger pull.
Chris - The firing cadence and rhythm of the BR are music to my ears. This one features a 2x zoom vs. the DMR’s 3x so I tend to utilize it more on smaller maps like Haven and Adrift, although it’s still effective on larger maps as well. It features a tad bit of recoil. This means you will need to realign your target (especially in a prolonged duel) but also has the added upside of being slightly easier to get a finishing headshot as you can focus more on the upper torso and land the headshot via recoil on the second or third bullet.
Vic - I love playing with the new BR in Halo 4. It feels and sounds oh-so-solid, and I didn’t have to re-learn how to use it, which made me happy. Much to my surprise, the custom skins for it are a nice addition. I didn’t think I’d like them since I lean towards a more purist approach when it comes to the UNSC weapons but after playing around with them, I think they are actually pretty sweet.
Premiere marksman rifle of the UNSC, offering impressive single-fire accuracy at reasonably long distances.
How it feels:
Frank - Laser precise, predictable, but with the associated slower rate of fire, I definitely prefer it in long-range encounters or purpose-specific “mini-snipe” conditions, like taking someone off a turret, for example. In my experience over mid-long range combat, I am invariably defeated when bringing BR to bear, but the closer those encounters are, the less likely it is to happen.
David - This might surprise some people, but based solely on pure lethality, I’d have to give the ever-so-slight edge to the DMR right now. As Frank mentioned, it’s incredibly precise and simplified with lower rate of fire than in Reach. Now the only info you need to juggle in your head when going toe-to-toe is the middle of the reticle as you line it up to dome your unfortunate foe. For my money, BR with groupshot is greater than DMR, but if you're lone wolfing, DMR is the way to go.
Chris - This thing is absolutely ridiculous long-range. While it does feature a slight amount of bloom to balance it at extreme distances, for the majority of mid to long range encounters it doesn’t really come into play. The combination of the accuracy, headshot functionality and the improvements we have made to the aim assist system make this one of the best feeling guns in any Halo game IMO. One other thing worth mentioning on this one… I can’t get over how awesome this weapon sounds – it has an insanely meaty punch to each shot and gives me an adrenaline rush just firing it!
Joel - When compared to the BR, the DMR is better at long ranges and taking down shields, but is a little tougher to pull off that last headshot with. Also, it sounds like I’m firing a cannon with each shot from a DMR. SO MUCH POWER!
MAGNUM DESIGNATION: M6H Personal Defense Weapon System MANUFACTURER: Misriah Armory MAGAZINE CAPACITY: 8 rounds
UNSC's personal sidearm of choice due to its excellence at close-range to mid-range engagements.
How it feels:
Frank - I only ever used this weapon historically in Halo: CE because it was a beast (or dual wielded it in Halo 2), and in SWAT because it let me spam in panicky corners. In Halo 4, I am still trying to figure out what to use it for. I seldom pack it as a loadout, but I am getting beaned by it consistently so I may experiment more.
David - The Magnum in Halo 4 is designated as a secondary weapon and as such it should be a just a little weaker than your primary options. With a faster rate of fire, it’s more deadly than the DMR close-range, but a twitchy trigger finger will limit its effectiveness at longer ranges.
Chris - The Halo 4 Magnum isn’t meant to compete with the big boys (DMR, BR, Carbine, LightRifle) so its role is a bit different than in the past. It definitely won’t compete with the Halo 1 Magnum (although, what weapon will?). It’s still lethal but best used as a backup (switch to a Magnum to finish someone vs. waiting for a long reload on your primary weapon) or to pair with a fully auto primary weapon like the AR or Storm Rifle (drop an enemy’s shields and then finish them with a single headshot). In the hands of a skilled player though, this thing can still be a beast as it’s one of the fastest firing guns in the game. The other big change I think players will notice is that we have drastically sped up animation times when using a pistol. So you will be able to switch to it quicker, pull off melees and grenade throws faster, etc. than you will with primary weapons.
Dominant close-quarters weapon specializing in boarding actions, breach maneuvers, and urban operations.
How it feels:
Frank - Definitely not as overpowered as it has been in the past, it’s a one-shot kill at point-blank range (usually) but I find it’s not quite as deadly as Reach’s in close quarter strafing encounters. I use a LOT of ammo trying to take folks down without risking swapping weapons, if that makes sense.
David - I’ve always been the kind of guy who loves to jump in the middle of a squad of enemies to see how many I can take out in my blaze of glory. As such, the Shotgun, if I might borrow a phrase, scratches that particular itch for me. With the aesthetic redesign, the Shotgun feels like a future bangstick designed with one purpose: to blow heads clean off their shoulders. Unlike Frank, I actually find this shotgun to be easier to use than the one in Reach, but when getting the jump on enemies, you better make that first shot count. Otherwise, you’ll be left wondering what could have been while waiting to respawn.
Chris - The new Shotgun model is SICK and definitely reads as a bit more futuristic than the previous versions. It actually has a lot longer range now, less damage falloff, and is quite a bit more powerful than say the Reach version overall, but some of that dialed up power is countered by the other changes in the game like Sprint by default, mobility-based Armor Abilities, and generally faster movement speeds. This is definitely one of my favorite ordnance weapons. I especially love finding one when I have the Speed Boost in MP.
Squad automatic weapon used in protracted engagements where sustained or suppressive fire is required.
How it feels:
Frank - I LOVE the way it sounds and feels, but my mistake was approaching it as some kind of mega-powerful AR. It’s not. I still haven’t mastered when to use it, but have had good experience using it to finish players as I close on them, but the speed at which it goes through a clip means you have to make every shot count.
David - The SAW is, without a doubt, the most psychologically intimidating GUN in the game. It looks unlike any gun you’ve seen before in a Halo game, and packs a world champion-class punch when spraying molten projectiles at everything in your way. The SAW is also incredibly useful as a force modifier when encountering a vehicle on foot. A skilled SAW user will use every tool at his disposal to clear space while shredding surrounding vehicles. The comparison to the AR is apt, but whereas a skilled AR user (yes, they do exist) will use finesse to drop a foe, the SAW almost demands of you to unleash its fury by burning down enemies with overwhelming force. As Frank said, though, you do want to keep an eye out on the ammo count as before you know it you’ll be hearing that familiar “click, click, click” or impending death.
Chris - We are still dialing in the final range on this one so I think some of Frank’s opinions will change here. I absolutely love the “fireworks” show it puts on though when it fires a barrage of tracers at an unsuspecting opponent. This is one of the fastest firing fully auto guns in the game and fires faster than some of the mounted/vehicle machine guns even to put it into perspective. It features a slight bit of recoil and a lot of spread but makes up for it with sheer brute force and an enormous drum barrel magazine. This is definitely one of my favorite new weapons in the game.
Chris H. – This is my favorite weapon. It’s like the AR’s mean older brother, or a more mobile turret emplacement.
Single-hand, short-range explosives launcher which can detonate remotely and at the operator's discretion.
How it feels:
Frank - I love this thing. I love the fact that I can use it strategically or tactically, but it’s definitely a weapon that requires a lot of skill and planning. In reality that’s what it has in common with the Grenade Launcher, but it’s not a replacement. I think the same kind of players will use it though – that is to say folks who like to spend time mastering its nuance. The audio indicator means it’s not a foolproof trap you can set people up with, but when it works, it’s incredibly satisfying. VERY tough to stick people with directly, but fun when it happens.
David - Risk and reward. Such simple words, and the Sticky Detonator is that concept forged into an instrument of destruction. Against foot soldiers, it requires strategic thinking and lightning reflexes. Against vehicles, it’s more forgiving, thanks to the bigger target to place your shot. My personal favorite is initiating a game of on-foot chicken against a Ghost followed by a stick and side thrust, then calmly detonating as the Covenant vehicle moves a safe distance away. I don’t find myself getting surprised by players who attempt to use it as an area of denial weapon. But against the right enemy you can quickly find yourself carrying imminent death back to your teammates as you jog back for reinforcement.
Chris - I totally agree with everything Frank and David have mentioned here. This is a really satisfying gun to use! The other thing I love about it is that it really lends itself to creativity on the part of players. I have seen members of the team employ some hilariously awesome tactics with this thing like hiding the sticky detonator projectile inside of empty vehicles, in clever locations on a map like behind grenade pickups, sticking it to a vehicle and then driving said vehicle at enemies and hopping out and detonating it, etc.
Scott - I find there are three great uses for the Sticky Detonator: Blowing up whole squads of Covenant all at once, sticking a grenade to a Warthog (or, better yet, someone’s face – KABOOM!), and setting up secret Claymore-like placements of grenades in key areas of the map where you know there will be enemies coming by soon.
Bill - I love the Sticky Detonator because it’s fun to stick a few grenades on a Warthog and drive it around like a parade float with festive streamers trailing behind.
Powerful linear accelerator that fires explosive rounds at tremendous speed to efficiently eliminate targets.
How it feels:
Frank - The charge time is interesting. It charges quicker than a Spartan Laser (and is weaker, obviously) but is so quick that it’s hard to use on “planned” targets in the way the Splaser was – so you often feel like it goes off before you intended it to and before the target you intended to lead, falls into view. Satisfying for sure and a good backup when trying to take down a troublesome vehicle, but hardly a giant-killer.
David - First described to me as a junior Spartan Laser, the Railgun is anything but. The quicker charge times allow me to be a little more fast and free in engaging in 1v1 showdowns. I also find it more useful against vehicles in situations where, say, a Banshee gets a drop on me in the open. The lack of a zoom means you have to be careful at what range you’re attempting to engage others, but when you do, the feeling of satisfaction is fantastic.
Chris - This one has a bit of a learning curve on it because you have to master the quick charge time to be successful but man, once you get it down this is one of the most satisfying weapons to use in the game. It’s really good against vehicles and in tight corridor spaces. It also utilizes some splash damage so it’s great against bunches of enemies as well. Mechanically, it’s somewhat similar to a Spartan Laser – you charge it up and it fires, but unlike a Splaser, you have some control over it. What I mean is that it has an overcharge so you can’t hold it down forever but there is also a small window where you can release the trigger early to fire as well so you don’t have to time your charge absolutely perfectly as is the case with the Splaser. One other pro-tip: Try using this in conjunction with Promethean Vision!
Kynan - I like the Rail Gun since it’s basically a Sniper Rifle, Rocket Launcher, and Spartan Laser all wrapped into one. You charge it up to shoot a direct damage shot that explodes on impact. WIN!
Pierre - The Railgun is awesome! The combination of the charge and the one-shot kill makes this weapon the ultimate risk/reward weapon for me. Killing a guy as soon as he pokes his visor around a corner or getting mid-air Railgun kills have to be some of the most satisfying kills the game offers.
Formidable nonlinear coherent light rifle that is highly proficient at destroying vehicles over impressively long distances.
How it feels:
Frank - I haven’t used it enough to really say how I feel about it. Definitely just as challenging to use as before, but to me it feels less powerful, so you probably still have to control it to deal with big team vehicle maps where it shows up, but it won’t simply stop transit across those maps the way it used to. Also can’t “fan” it like I did in Halo 3.
David - Currently, I’d put the Laser just below Halo 3’s “red dot of death” and slightly above the Halo: Reach variant. It seems to have slightly less aim assist than Halo 3, but still packs a mean punch when you connect. In matchmaking, you will primarily see this as an occasional ordnance drop on maps and modes designed for BTB.
Chris - Those are pretty accurate assessments. Still tears apart vehicles and still can be lethal against guys on foot when in the hands of a skilled player.
Christopher - This is my favorite UNSC weapon. The sheer joy in blowing up that pesky Ghost who was harassing your team, or taking out that Wraith who keeps taking out your team’s vehicles is just great.
ROCKET LAUNCHER DESIGNATION: M41 SSR Medium Anti-Vehicle/Assault Weapon MANUFACTURER: Misriah Armory MAGAZINE CAPACITY: 2 rockets
Devastating from close-range to mid-range, capable of tracking airborne vehicles after locking onto them.
How it feels:
Frank - It’s definitely got its own flavor in Halo 4 but to me, it’s still the trusty Rocket Launcher. Feels tuned to be a bit more predictable for your opponents, but still does what you intend it to do in terms of direct hits and splash damage.
David - If you know anything about me, you’ll know that I love any advantage I can use, and the Rocket Launcher is the ultimate advantage for me. It’s big, it fires rockets. What’s not to love?
Chris - Functionally, it’s similar to past versions. The big differences from past versions are that the projectile speed has been upped a hair to help compensate for the overall faster pace of our game and the splash damage is a bit larger.
Considered the UNSC's best long-range rifle, boasting formidable stopping power and unparalleled accuracy.
How it feels:
Frank - Sits for me, right between Reach and Halo 2 in terms of ease of use. I basically couldn’t snipe at all in Halo 3, other than swipe-sniping, so this is a great feeling weapon for my campy style, but I am frequently defeated by DMR players if I get spotted quickly enough.
David - I have to be honest, I still haven’t been able to get the hang of this version of the Sniper Rifle, but, if I’m being honest, I never really got the hang of any previous iteration either. The new sound of the gunblast as the bullet breaks the sound barrier is incredibly rewarding, but pinpoint aiming is necessary for dispatching folks at extreme distances.
Chris - The UNSC Sniper Rifle feels really, REALLY powerful this time around. I went back and tried the Halo 3 and Reach Sniper rifles a few weeks back and was surprised how much more visceral ours felt. I think the big changes causing this are the new sound FX and the firing recoil (resets back to center after each shot). The recoil makes it a bit harder to line up again between shots but we have adjusted the accuracy and aim assist to help compensate. Overall, I find that I can be more successful with our Sniper Rifle than I could with the Halo 3 or Reach ones so it’s probably a tad bit easier to use.
And that wraps up today’s feature about UNSC weapons. Don't think that's the end of the Bulletin, though. Oh no, there's more. A lot more, actually...
Office of Halo Intelligence: Part 10
When we officially hit 100 days out from the release of Halo 4, Frankie got quiet and contemplative, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Frankie in the two years I’ve worked with him, it’s that after quiet and contemplative periods, there are words. Lots and lots of words. Here are the thoughts he managed to get on virtual paper, in traditional OHI-form. By the way, you should probably get comfortable, because long OHI is long.
Where are we now?
Farther, higher and better than I would have ever thought. I've worked on the Halo franchise since 2004, 2003 if you count a brief and terrifying arrival in the middle of a tornado of development and the start of the road that would end in the launch of Halo 4.
In that time, I have been privileged to work with people smarter, cooler, more talented and erudite than I could ever hope to be. I have watched artists, engineers, designers, marketers, musicians, testers and a league of support staff, pour heart, soul, blood sweat and tears into a franchise that started with a kind of magic - a charisma and draw that was recognizable even when the game was debuted at Macworld a million years ago.
I've watched one team - Bungie, grow and flower and prosper and ultimately move onto something newer, different and almost guaranteed to be as incredible as the legacy we at 343 now have the honor to inhabit.
Bungie, every time they iterated on the franchise, they reinvented it, evolved it, built upon those foundations and occasionally revolutionized it. Their exit from the franchise left us with a gulf to fill. An unenviable task for any developer let alone a nascent collection of Halo enthusiasts with a mix of experience.
343 started as a tiny group, tasked with taking over the franchise, supporting Bungie through the creation and execution of ODST and then Reach, effectively as a publishing arm. But the ultimate goal was to develop a sequel and take the franchise forward.
We started with a few folks, experts all, and some incredible production, art and engineering talent - but so few as to be vanishingly small. Big hearts, enormous passion, and unbounded enthusiasm.
I've said this before and I'll say it again (especially since it's annual review time and a fantastic opportunity to suck up to management): The reason I left Bungie was twofold – an overwhelming, almost unhinged passion for every aspect of the franchise – but also the fact that in handoff meetings, where we were supposed to be handing over the keys to the franchise, it was incredibly apparent that the small group tasked with this transition was incredibly serious about it.
These weren't marketing wonks*, or bean counters, or cynical opportunists. They came to us and stated simply, “How can we honor this franchise and take it forward meaningfully, respectfully, and bravely?" What they wanted, more than anything, was to love Halo and make more Halo that players loved, too.
*Sidenote: Our marketing team is amazing. "Marketing" I think is a dirty word in some community circles – probably an assumption that these are soulless salesmen and snake oil vendors concerned only with shipping units. I doubt that's an accurate picture anywhere, but especially on Halo – these women and men are intelligent, thoughtful, creative Halo fans who look first to their own skills and experience and to 343, rather than focus groups, for guidance, and yet still apply science and thoughtfulness to the passion and process. Some of them are artists and creatives and all of them are gamers and players – and all of them are more or less embedded in this team and a vital part of how we are getting this game from dev kits to stores.
So I jumped ship. It was a tough decision. Bungie's plans, Bungie's innate ability, Bungie's talent – and in no small part the friends I made there, the colleagues I almost literally idolized, made it wrenchingly hard, but I joined Bungie because Halo spoke to me at some primal level. And I left Bungie because I had this feeling that we weren't done with it. That there were stories to tell, worlds to explore, and characters to meet. There were parabolic arcs that characters needed to soar into, and there were faces that needed to be teabagged.
Ultimately, while my input and influence on the game is light and broad and sometimes deep, I'm really just a very small cog in an ever-growing machine. I am often considered the face of 343 and now Halo – and that's desperately unfair to the people who're crunching on Halo 4, the people who're more erudite, influential, and intrinsically important to its success. And you will get to meet them as we close out this process and put the finishing touches on this game. This isn't some note of false humility or obscured vanity, it's a fact. If I throw a rock, I am likely to hit someone far more important to the ultimate success of this game than I am or will ever be.
But I have been with the franchise for so long that I know it intimately. Like you, I tend to prefer corners of it – I like SWAT, I like Slayer, I like exploring in Campaign, I rush through the game every time I find a vehicle, I try to use obscure and weird combinations of weapons and tactics. I love exploring the sandbox in MP and Campaign. In short, I'm kind of an average player – but that's a red herring. There are no average Halo players. There are no monolithic groups that like some core aspect of the experience-entire.
There are groups, subgroups, cliques, cults even, that love the sheer variety of experiences it offers. Take Forge folks – for example – for whom we've tried to make more and better tools, while retaining the playable, approachable tools that experience brings. We'll be working with community cartographers in the run up to launch to create maps for File Shares from day one – giving them somewhat early access to iterate and build game modes and maps that are familiar and original in equal measure.
We're working with players and testers who just want to do stupid tricks with physics and sandbox elements. We're working with players and testers to make sure we have Campaign and Spartan Ops environments that encourage exploration and imaginative approaches to combat and challenge.
We're working with pro and competitive players to make sure that the competitive aspects of the game meet or exceed that community's desires and expectations. And selfishly, to provide us with really good material for the multiplayer aspect of our Prima strategy guide, advice I will ignore as I yell “Leroy!!!” and run full speed into a flag base full of well-coordinated opponents.
We're working with our own designers and internal community resources to apply a new, more concise philosophy with regard to matchmaking playlists. We'll have plenty of variety, but we'll be doing our best to make sure that players are experiencing new stuff like Infinity Slayer, other modes we haven't explained yet, as well as classic Halo styles and more Spartan playlists. But let me be clear – the new stuff is awesome. We WANT you to experience it, to embrace it, to help us move the game forward, while still giving you access to the old school Halo you know and love.
And we're closing out bugs. Squillions of 'em. Some are polish items, some are experiential, subjective ones, and some are straight up regular old bugs. But we have a long polish phase for this game that started quite a while ago; a process of refinement, honing, balance and clarification that is essential for all the new stuff we're adding.
There's a thing that happens when we expose new players to the new modes. I'll use Infinity Slayer as an example. It feels like Slayer, of that there's no doubt. If you're awesome like me, you'll pick Recon, with Sprint on X, and inverted aiming and flight controls and rush out into a new level and immediately know what's happening. You'll know how to move, how to navigate, how to win even, but then something new, like an Ordnance Drop rewarding your killing spree will appear. And you'll make a snap decision on what to drop in – a new weapon? More ‘nades? A power up? This decision will be cued by the battle you've just been through. It will change according to your own momentum and your opponent's skill.
It sounds simple, but it changes everything. There's a newfound variety within those meta-experiences that retains predictability and encourages tactical adaptation, but still feels comfortable. You can drop in a weapon you don't even need, and use it as a honeypot to lure in greedier opponents. It's hard to describe how this simple change affects the pace and urgency of combat, but it does. And even simple stuff, like the warning music that plays towards the end of a game, makes everything just a bit more intense. Faster. Literally more exciting.
Some of these things are big deals, like loadouts. They don't radically alter the feel of the game, but they refine it, and oddly, maybe even counter intuitively, they create a sense of predictability in combat that's personal – tuned to your preference and play style.
The new, like any new stuff in Halo, will take some time to be fully utilized and embraced. But this isn't simply new for the sake of new. It's all carefully considered and crafted to speed the experience, to encourage combat, to drive engagement and reward both competition and cooperation. Teams and lone wolves will both appreciate this stuff.
I am not blowing smoke up your butts. You may end up disagreeing with me ultimately, either in toto, or on specific items, but the gameplay has reached a point where I genuinely find myself having more fun than I have in years, and Halo is and has always been my favorite FPS. This is an escalation of that experience, and I'm glad we took some of the risks we did.
When the game ships, and in some cases, before that, you'll be able to experience all of this for yourselves, but I am feeling pretty confident about the changes, the evolutions and the additions.
Technically, we're in that most exciting period of the development process – effectively the content is locked and complete, but the final layering of effects, technology, shaders, final performance tuning and as shallow as this sounds, the final graphic appearance.
It's a constant source of delight to me to grab a new build, or walk by an artist's monitor and see that a level or feature I already thought looked spectacular was just a foreshadowing of how impeccable or impressive that environment or object looks in the final pass.
David Ellis, Kevin Grace, Jeremy Patenaude and I often have MP matches with the conceit that we're just staying up to date on progress, but the truth is, we're playing because it is a ridiculous amount of fun. It's insanely addictive and the selection of levels we're going to ship with, I think, is a testament to building spaces that are flexible enough to be fun for just about anything, but find their sweet spot in the modes for which they were ostensibly created.
Graphically, you've seen some cool stuff, and the tech itself is a very nice hop above prior games in terms of boring fidelity and numbers – something that has happened with every successive Halo game and will continue to do so in the future. But it follows in the admirable (to me at least) tradition of feeling like the concept art. Bungie always nailed this. You need only look at fan-made screenshots of Halo 3 and Reach to see how close the in-game atmosphere matched that of the stunningly imaginative concept art. We at 343 have some near-legendary concept artists and their dizzying feats of imagination always seem like they'd be impossible to replicate in a real engine environment, and yet there they are. Vistas, ideas, worlds that you can explore, inhabit and affect.
I'd love to tell you that to achieve this fidelity without compromise, though I bet you a hundred dollars one of our engineers could tell me exactly what those compromises are (but I haven't seen them). It's smooth, the draw distances are massive, the effects are stunning and the atmosphere and scale are classic Halo scope. I'm finding MP perf to be buttery smooth, controls responsive and clarity of combat exceptional.
I am biased of course, to the point of shillery, but some of you have known me long enough to know that I tend to err on the side of terror and humility rather than hyperbolae. But I will hype this team, because it's hype-worthy.
In a crazy compressed timeframe, we've built a team from scratch (with the somewhat bizarre-but-cool advantage that they came from some of the best games in the industry, with new ideas and philosophies – because they loved Halo already), built a game we think is deserving of the Halo legacy, and created a culture built around a simple shared goal – to make an amazing Halo experience worthy of that game's history and achievement.
It won't be perfect, that's impossible. We have too many constituents and variables in our game, our audience and our community for that to ever happen. But I think the vast majority of people who've given us their trust and confidence, no matter how warily or askance, will find something in here that meets or exceeds their expectations.
And for the cynics, an understandable position and one we respect, I think the game may surprise even you guys. Of course time and player experience will tell, but there have been many moments that deepened my confidence in where we are. Some of those moments were big ticket brute force Rubicons, and some small, personal moments.
Let me tell you one from last week. A larger level, symmetrical, but definitely aimed at on-foot encounters, was the location for a dumb grudge match between me, Josh Holmes, Kevin and Jeremy. I was hiding, trying to use my Promethean Vision to find combatants, when suddenly I hear and feel the sweep of someone else's PV. That sense of panic, of maybe being discovered, sent me fleeing my hiding spot and grabbing the very powerful weapon I had dumped in an Ordnance Drop as a honeypot. I did it too late. Exposed myself for no good reason (his PV sweep had not, in fact, revealed my position) and got sniped for my troubles. It's telling that a moment of failure, of loss, was just as compelling as one of victory.
And loadouts or no loadouts, there's something about Halo 4 that pushes you to try sandbox elements. I can't quite put my finger on it, but a lot of us agree, the game, the UI, the circumstances often lead you to try new things, experiment, tinker.
That's not to say our more stripped down experiences don't have their charm. One particular game mode that has a cult following may end up with a mainstream breakout because of the features Kevin Franklin and the MP team have added to it to make it "legit." More on that later.
And music... well, we'll be updating our music story very soon. But the final recordings and mixes are now being integrated into the code, and it's definitely like the movie process in this regard – a scene that was emotional and intense with either silence or placeholder – is now genuinely moving. And as I've hinted before, we're going to do something with and beyond the OST for music fans that will really have an impact, at least on your commute. More on that soon.
I don't like calling out individuals in these pieces, because it's ridiculously unfair on the dozens, hundreds of other individuals who've contributed from every discipline to get us this far in the shipping/crunch process, but I am going to anyway. Our producers – unsung heroes and deliberate villains: Chris Lee, Sally Huang, Alex Cutting, Tyler Jeffers, Corrinne Robinson, Kiki (the head vampire of all producers) and many, many more are in the unenviable position of moving all these chess pieces around so we can move into the final shut down process. It's hard. Herding cats doesn't do the problem space justice. This is orchestrating Tribbles and feeding Mogwai after midnight.
Our bug-shutdown process isn't pyrrhic. It's careful. It's diligent and it's imaginative. It's an art as well as a science, designed to make sure we ship on time, but more importantly, that we ship the game we intended to and don't compromise experience for the sake of expediency. Watching this team collaborate and cooperate and just work like you wouldn't believe is both staggering and inspirational.
So that's all the positive stuff I can talk about right now. And there are hundreds of people and features and ideas and wonders that I haven't had time – or appropriate opportunities – to message here today.
But it's not all sweetness and light – we realize we've been short on stuff like BTS (Behind the Scenes) and even simple direct feed footage (easier said than done...) and even clarity on MP stuff. We PROMISE we're going to accelerate that kind of communication as we get further into our shutdown process, and have more people and bandwidth to throw at the community communication that is and will be a vital part of Halo's ouvre.
The reasons are simple, but not necessarily satisfactory – you guys want to know what it is you're going to spend $60 on this fall, and you shouldn't have to take it on faith, but this isn't just another numbered Halo sequel – the "machine" Bungie carefully evolved over the years had to be built from scratch in our case, and our dev schedule was necessarily compressed to build all that new tech and grow the studio from eight folks to 250 in record time.
So stuff like Reach matchmaking will suffer in that process as we shut down Halo 4 and continue building its Matchmaking content and infrastructure, and for that we apologize, but we think the benefits will eventually outweigh the downsides. And Reach and Halo 3 of course, will continue to be supported beyond the launch of Halo 4, but of course the focus will be on 4.
We have to earn your trust. We have to earn your loyalty. We have to do that by shipping a Halo 4 that you love. And that is all we're doing. Everything else is a secondary consideration and I promise you two things here without any dissemblance, exaggeration or dishonesty – I think Halo 4 has the potential to be the best Halo game yet, and if I didn't believe that, or we weren't trying at least, to achieve that, then we'd be doing everyone a disservice. Time will tell. Secondly, we can't do this without this community – without the enthusiasts, fans, critics, cynics, creatives and nutbags that comprise our community and we're nearly done.
Less than 100 days until you can decide for yourselves.
August Matchmaking Playlist Update
As Frankie alluded to in his OHI, the vast majority of our resources right now are dedicated to Halo 4. While that’s great news for those of you that plan on picking up the game in November, it’s not great news to those of you that regularly duke it out on the battlefields of Halo: Reach. August will see a Matchmaking update (next Tuesday, as a matter of fact), but then the monthly updates will go on hiatus while we focus on shipping Halo 4.
August’s update is about consolidating playlists and streamlining the experience. When we make these decisions, it’s based primarily on population, statistics, and trends, although a few other factors do come into play (such as achievements). Retiring playlists is a painstakingly difficult process, especially as some of those that go away are amongst our personal favorites. However, it is a necessary step when the goal is maintaining the overall health of a matchmaking experience.
The playlists that are being retired in August’s Matchmaking playlist update are Anniversary BTB, Anniversary FFA, Firefight Doubles, Action Sack, and Squad DLC. We’re also using this opportunity to reorganize the playlists. The new categories will be Standard (i.e. Vanilla), Evolved (i.e. TU), Anniversary, Community, and Cooperative. The following are the screens you’ll see after the update has been implemented:
Trimming and consolidating playlists allows those populations to shift to other, often compatible places, creating hoppers with higher populations and lower matching times. Over the last several months, we’ve watched in amazement as Reach’s numbers have sustained (and sometimes even increased). For that to happen at this point in the game’s lifespan is incredible, and we appreciate the millions of you that continue to play this game. So, thank you for continuing to call Halo home, and we’ll continue working hard on the next iteration in the franchise.
Custom Challenge of the Week
If you’re still playing Halo and you still love credits, you’ll want to start preparing that fist of yours because you’ll need it for this week’s Custom Challenge of the week. To participate, create a Custom Challenge with Melee as the type of kill, and you will be rewarded with twice the amount of credits usually earned, assuming you’re successful in your face-punching festivities. This challenge will be active starting now until next Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time.
Super Jackpot Weekend
Whether you pair this weekend’s Super Jackpot festivities with the aforementioned Custom Challenge or not, you’ll probably end up with more credits than you know what to do with if you score this weekend’s jackpot. If you’d like a shot at it, hop into Grifball because completing games in that particular hammer-happy playlist will present you with the chance of receiving a 32,000-credit bonus. The Super Jackpot will be active from Friday until Sunday, so mark your calendars accordingly.
And I believe that wraps up this installment of your weekly Halo Bulletin. I’ll see you next week, when we’ll be diving into the wonderful world of specializations. Until then…
P.S. If you're a Friday Caption Fun wallpaper rotator, here is this week's picture, just for you. Embiggen, snag, and then hit the latest installment to contribute your witty quip. Off you go!