X10 Interview: Bungie Talks All Things Halo: Reach
Written Saturday, February 20, 2010 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Bungie's Community Manager, Brian Jarrard, and Creative Director, Markus Lehto, were on hand at this year's X10 to show off Halo: Reach's Powerhouse map, a map that will feature as part of May's beta. As well as run us through the level and show off a few new features that we'll see, they were also on hand to answer a plethora of questions regarding their final Halo game. Let's get technical!
Can you just tell us a bit more about the sort of engine upgrades we’ll be expected to see in Halo: Reach?
Markus Lehto: We had a really big vision for what we wanted to do with Reach overall and it really did require us to go back and take the Halo 3 engine, take every component within and take some of them and build them from the ground up again; and take some of them and make incremental changes. The entire engine has been upgraded to accommodate some of the things we wanted to do.
For one thing we’re taking everything up to a higher fidelity level than we’ve ever been able to before. We want to be able to build much bigger, more epic environments that foster exploration, and we want to fill it with twice the number of enemies, vehicles, and weapons. Those things technically were at odds with one another - because we’re still on the same hardware and that really did require us to do much smarter things with our engine to accommodate that vision.
Is it true that there are more polygons in the assault rifle in Reach than there was in any of the major characters in previous games?
ML: There are far more polygons. It’s pretty cool actually; we have this new level of detail in our geometry – we call it nose-hair geometry; I have no idea why – but it’s this little level of detail geometry where we can put little details like knobs and buttons on our vehicles and our weapons. It’s just this kind of cheap geometry that we can build that gives everything this super high fidelity.
How hard are you pushing the 360 now?
ML: We’re spankin’ it! Spankin’ it for everything it’s got!
Can you run us through a few of the customisation options that we’re going to see in reach?
ML: I can talk a little bit about that today. We definitely want to allow a lot more player investment into customising your Spartan, not only just for campaign but for multiplayer as well, and to play that same Spartan because you are going to become – fictionally – that Spartan and we want you to play and invest in that Spartan from one gameplay experience to the other. We’re taking that a lot further with features that we can’t talk about today.
Brian Jarrard: We can probably clarify that it’s not – I think the first thing people think of when they hear these types of things based on what’s hot right now is “oh, we’re introducing perks”. The fundamental philosophy is not to introduce elements which start to throw off the balance of the game so for the most part these are customisable options which are overall aesthetic. It’s never going to be a matter of “I can do something because I’ve played more than him and now we’re not on an even playing field.” That’s not true to the core of Halo.
ML: Yeah. That would break that golden nugget at the core – that foundation that our fans have come to know and expect from us. So no, player customisation is a visual upgrade.
So the multiplayer maps are campaign maps now and vice versa? Does that say something about the sandbox nature? Which comes first? Multiplayer maps that work in single player or single player maps that work in multiplayer?
ML: It’s a good question. We take multiplayer very seriously; we actually have higher standards of really finessed gameplay within the (multiplayer) environment and we scrutinise those areas tremendously. Now we’ve taken that across the board for Reach. Every space within Reach has that type of scrutiny applied to it. The multiplayer maps as a result are integrated into the campaign and have that level of scrutiny applied to them so they play excellently and it’s really important for us to light them well, to make them play well for that multiplayer action players expect to see.
So if multiplayer maps are editable in Forge and the same maps are campaign maps, can we expect to see Forge translated into some kind of feature that works with single player missions?
BJ: We’re not actually talking about Forge and the implications of things like that.
Would that be a desirable feature?
BJ: Possibly. It’s possible there’s other things we haven’t talked about yet. At its core, the bulk of the maps are definitely rooted in the fiction.
Is it hard to create a gripping story where everyone knows how it will end?
ML: It was a good challenge for us initially because you’re right – it’s a tragedy. From the beginning we know the end. Reach is going to fall; seven hundred million people are going to die on this planet. But what we had at our fingertips was that there was this Spartan program on Reach and we had this opportunity to delve into some of those characters and get to know those characters and get to know what they did – that sacrifice. What they did that was so honourable that allowed the actions that happened after Halo Reach – that led into Halo 1 – to actually happen. Ultimately it’s a story of hope about what they did to save humanity.
There was an “inside source” quote that came out last year that said “Halo Reach was like Gears of War but with Spartans”... is there any truth to that statement?
ML: No way, no. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Reach is absolutely Halo through and through. We’re not doing anything to destroy the foundation of what’s so important to us; as a matter of fact we’re building on a decade’s worth of experience building Halo one, two, three, and ODST – putting all the good things from each one of those into Reach and putting new features on top of that to make this really the definitive Halo title.
In the campaign there seems to be an emphasis on team-play. How far will that team-play extend?
ML: We don’t want to just see those Spartans in cinematics; we want to see them playing along with you during the gameplay of the campaign so that was a big challenge for us – how to make that work seamlessly and how to make them help you and not get in your way. So we invested a ton of effort into new AI systems and new behavioural systems for those characters to make them do really cool things and tell parts of the story as they’re coming along with you throughout the campaign.
With a bigger squad, can we then expect much bigger epic battles then as a result?
ML: Absolutely. In Halo 3 we could have about twenty active characters within the combat zone - that includes both friendly and enemy units. In Halo reach we can have sixty AI, or like forty AI characters and twenty vehicles – all of that with weapons and explosions going off everywhere. Yeah, we’re definitely going to have much, much bigger, open battles than ever before.
In the ViDoc, one of the guys said that you did a lot of soul searching after ODST and Halo 3. What came up as a result of that soul-searching?
ML: Well, I started working on Reach immediately after Halo 3. We had the opportunity to see how ODST was developing as it was being built and we definitely did a lot of soul searching to see what we did right and what we did wrong. There’s always ways in which we can improve and we definitely took a lot of feedback internally and from our fans to find out what they wanted – what they loved about the Halo series, what they’ve never seen, and what they’d love to see happen.
So what can we expect from this May’s beta? Run length? How many maps? Gametypes?
BJ: We haven’t actually landed on the duration of the beta yet, but ultimately it’s a beta and our goals are very specific. There are some metrics we need to get and a lot of back-end data mining that’s going to have to occur so we’re going to build the beta duration around what our team needs to get out of it. Suffice it to say we’ve looked back at the Halo 3 beta and that was pretty successful for us overall, so that’s kind of the model we’re looking at currently.
It also applies to the amount of content as well, so in terms of maps – you’ll see a few maps, you’ll see a couple of different game types – some old stuff that returns, but also some new stuff that we haven’t revealed yet. It’s some brand new multiplayer experiences that are big and risky and need to be in the beta to give us real stress testing and real balance testing. On top of that you’re going to see a huge selection of the weapons that the game has to offer, a pretty healthy amount of armour abilities like our sprinting and our active camo and some things we haven’t talked about yet. Because really, from a design perspective, those things have the biggest impact on how people are going to play Halo – hopefully in an awesome way, but also it’s the riskiest so we’re looking forward to that getting hammered on during the beta.
We have very specific goals in mind, but we have to make it still fun, still compelling, still something that people want to play a lot to give us what we need. Even though it’s just a beta, we know people are going to judge this game – they’re going to look at our unfinished beta and that’s going to influence what they think about our final game in the fall, so we have to do as much as we can to make it awesome. It’s a fine line; it’s scary and rewarding and Marcus is, I’m sure, terrified.
Reach seems to have a much more muted colour palette than previous Halo titles and more detail. Does every game need to look like Killzone 2?
ML: That’s a great question. We’re telling a darker story overall; it’s a tragic story so in line with that we want to make sure what we do graphically, outwardly, plays with that tone. Now, that said, this is Halo – this is not a drab, dreary, grey game. We’re going to use colour – use it to help your emotional response, to drive your navigation through the environment, to drive the story arc overall as you start out on the planet fresh and alive at the beginning and you see the Covenant systematically destroy this planet over its life through the campaign. You’re going to see that through colour in a very rich form.
You are part of a military campaign and you will see battles taking place outside of your immediate gameplay area – something we’ve never done before.
And this is the last Halo game from Bungie, right?
ML: It is.
BJ: As of right now... The next game after Reach is something brand new. Whole new world. Whole new experience.