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The Halo Bulletin: 10.3.12

By bs angel -


Halo 4 goes gold


Gold - A Fan-made Halo 4 Wallpaper
Gold Halo 4 wallpaper, made by the amazing minolta1034


486 days ago at E3 2011, we introduced Halo 4 to the world, lifting the veil on our closely-guarded secret with a heart-pounding trailer featuring the return of the Master Chief.*

Exactly 365 days later, at E3 2012, we gave media and fans alike their first true taste of the game with a Campaign demo and never-before-seen enemy face. Er, I mean race.

Now the countdown really begins, because Halo 4 launches in a mere 34 days. I measure time in Halo Bulletins and according to my calendar, there are only five left – one of which is this one. Let’s just say the number of topics still left to discuss when compared to the number of Bulletins slated to be published before launch do not match up.

Yes, there’s still a lot you don’t know. What, you didn’t think we’d tell you everything, did you?...

Speaking of things you may not know, Halo 4 recently went gold (!!1!one!!1!). Bonnie Ross, General Manager of 343 Industries to some and Lady Boss to others, wrote up her thoughts about both that particular milestone and also the evolution of our studio. You’ll get to read her part-insightful, part-reflective words later in this Bulletin but for now, how about we take a deep dive into a topic we haven’t had a chance to properly discuss yet, like Halo 4’s brand new Flood mode?



Flood


Halo 4 Flood Screenshot
Brand spankin’ new Flood screenshot 1!


Flood is the spiritual successor to Infection, a fan-favorite game type from Halo 3 and Reach. Our goal was to recreate it and push the mode to be new and different from previous versions. As both War Games and Spartan Ops fit within the fiction of the UNSC Infinity, we wanted to use Halo fiction in this mode too, which led to us to create the Flood form in Multiplayer. Flood-converted humans are much faster and focus on melee attacks, so they were a natural fit for Infection’s successor.

Halo 4’s Flood mode is a round-based, ten-player game. It is a true asymmetric experience with the added twist of dynamic teams; this really changes things up as each game is different, especially in the incredibly intense and high-action final seconds.

At the beginning of each round, two players spawn as Flood forms and eight players spawn as Survivors. Survivors are standard Spartans equipped with shotguns and magnums, while Flood move very quickly and can only use a melee attack. When a Survivor gets killed by a Flood, the Survivor will convert and respawn as a Flood. The round ends if a Survivor makes it to 3:00 or if all players are converted to Flood.

One of the things we concentrated on for War Games was establishing player roles in Multiplayer, so we put a great deal of attention into being the King, Flag carrier, Grif, etc. Being the final Survivor is another role we focused on, and it’s a very intense experience having nine other Flood rush at you. Some (and by some, I of course mean David Ellis) would even say it’s poo-inducing.


Halo 4 Flood Screenshot
Brand spankin’ new Flood screenshot 2!


We went through several iterations of tuning settings, mostly around getting the Flood to feel right in the sandbox and making the Flood experience noticeably different than the Survivor experience. To ensure the Flood’s gameplay had a unique feel, we honed in on the following elements:


The Flood Character Model
A unique character model for both first and third-person.

The Claw
A special melee weapon tuned just for the Flood.

Flood Armor Effect
A special effect that trails behind Flood characters.

Flood Screen Effect
A first-person screen effect that shows the haunted view of a Flood.

Dynamic Music
When playing as the Flood or final Survivor, dynamic music plays in the background to intensify the experience.

Flood Gameplay Tuning
Flood move faster, react differently to bullets, and have specially tuned armor abilities, the core of which is an enhanced Flood Thrust Pack.

The Floodsassination
How could we not?!


The biggest challenges when designing this mode were getting the Survivor vs. Flood balance just right, keeping the experience interesting and dynamic (whether it’s two Flood vs. eight Survivors or nine Flood vs. one Survivor), and building a system that made initial-round spawning more consistent. Where we landed, for the lattermost thing in particular is that players will not spawn randomly as Flood or Survivors at the beginning of a match. Instead, your initial spawn is based on previous rounds.

Flood features an exclusive set of medals that can only be earned by playing this particular game mode, and it also has its own set of custom game options. The former is detailed below.


Halo 4 Medal

Flood Conversion

Convert a Spartan to the Flood

Halo 4 Medal

Alpha Conversion

Convert a Spartan to the Flood as an Alpha

Halo 4 Medal

Infector

Kill 2 Spartans in a row as a Flood without dying

Halo 4 Medal

Carrier

Kill 3 Spartans in a row as a Flood without dying

Halo 4 Medal

Juggernaut

Kill 4 Spartans in a row as a Flood without dying

Halo 4 Medal

Gravemind

Kill ALL Spartans in a row as a Flood without dying

Halo 4 Medal

Flood Kill

Kill a Flood

Halo 4 Medal

Flood Kill Assist

Assist killing a Flood

Halo 4 Medal

Flood Hunter

Kill 4 Flood in a row as a Spartan without dying

Halo 4 Medal

Flood Survivor

Kill 6 Flood in a row as a Spartan without dying

Halo 4 Medal

Flood Exterminator

Kill 10 Flood in a row as a Spartan without dying

Halo 4 Medal

Last Man Standing

Be the last surviving Spartan

Halo 4 Medal

Final Conversion

Kill the last remaining Spartan

Halo 4 Medal

Flood Victory

Contribute to the Flood total conversion of all Spartans

Halo 4 Medal

Ancient One

Survive the entire round as a Flood and convert at least one Spartan

Halo 4 Medal

Clever

Survive the entire round as a Spartan


Halo 4 Flood Screenshot
Brand spankin’ new Flood screenshot 3!


Here’s a sneak peek of our planned Flood settings for launch.




Round Length

3:00 minutes (Survivor win or all Spartans converted)

• Number of Rounds

- 3

• Players

- 10 Players

o 2 Spawn as Alpha per round

o 8 Spawn as Survivors





For Lead Designer Kevin Franklin, the best part of the design process has been seeing players who have never tried Infection before try out Flood. The overwhelming sentiment from those players has been that it’s a great high-action, high-intensity experience with tons of close quarter combat and close calls.

We expect you to tell us what you think, come November 6. :)



Abandon


Halo 4 Abandon Screenshot
Abandon screenshot


ABANDON
DESCRIPTION: On the remote world of Erebus VII, at the very edge of human-occupied space, an ONI research facility which was once teaming with researchers now lies eerily vacant. Although the hostility of this world had been initially considered by its team leaders, it is tragically clear that a great many ‘things’ had simply not been taken into account.

Abandon is a mysteriously abandoned ONI research station on a hostile alien planet. Initial surveys of this area were bold and promising, but it quickly became clear that these reports were far more hubris than logic.

From the start, the theme for this map was constructed around the story of an ONI research team that mysteriously disappeared. We wanted to leave some story breadcrumbs that helped to imply that something dramatic occurred in this location. We wanted the map to make the player wonder, “What the hell happened here?” Unlike most Halo maps, there is a lot of overtly alien strangeness right in the player’s face. The creepiness and storytelling are simple and clear but doesn’t conflict with the game play.

Early on in the development cycle for this map, there was a diverse array of visual ideas and ways to tell the story of this ominous place. Along the way, we had to consolidate this collection into a more concise statement that not only supported the theme but also felt appropriate to the Halo franchise. There was a lot of discussion about how we wanted the environment to feel menacing and forbidding. At one point, the map was a disparate arrangement of flora and fauna and we had to ask the questions, “Does all of this work together?” and “Does all of this support Halo Multiplayer?” When the answers were no, we made the hard call to change direction. Some of our favorite organisms that didn’t make the cut were lovingly known as meat loops, muscle humps, gas sacks, smokers, and momma trees. (Don’t ask).


Halo 4 Abandon Concept Art
Abandon concept art

Abandon had three distinct iterations. The first was the balls-to-the-wall alien greenhouse version. There was a dead monster-like creature on this map that you could use as a ramp, and there was a story that went along with it—something along the lines of: the monster attacked, killed the scientists, and then died from injuries it sustained. There were numerous subplots and supporting elements scattered around the map and in the skybox.

The next iteration featured smaller animals trapped in containers underneath the map as the reason for the science team’s ‘disappearance,’ and early concepts show that the place was pretty badly assaulted. This version represented the first paring pass that reined the environment into a simpler and more believable statement of the original theme and cropped out some of the unnecessary components (we wanted to get back to what we really liked about the original concept art).

The final iteration was an even tighter trimming of things that weren’t needed or weren’t working. The building’s interior looks relatively pristine compared to where it was originally, which is definitely to its advantage from a playability perspective, because it provides a stark difference between inside the structures and the wild flora that grows outside it.

Gameplay-wise, Abandon plays much like the visual theme: claustrophobic and frantic, with danger lurking around every corner. It is a small map with lots of close quarters fighting; however, mid-range and long-range fights can be found in select locations. If you’re a fan of mid-range engagements, stick to the natural side of the map until you pick up your initial ordnance. Then you can go in, guns blazing.

Oh, one last thing about this map. A Halo 4 concept artist wanted me to pass along his recommended strategy: Wear a diaper. Assuming you aren’t already, that is…



Halo 4 Soundtrack Remix Contest


If you have a thing for either music or awesome prizes, you definitely want to check out the just-announced-today Halo 4 Soundtrack Remix Contest. The competition starts October 3 and will run through October 29, with prizes awarded to the most original and creative tracks. Participants will have access to samples of Awakening, To Galaxy, and Revival from the Halo 4 Soundtrack, allowing for a wide range of potential remix styles and musical genres. For full contest submission guidelines and rules, visit: Halo4Remix.com.

Entries will be judged by composer Neil Davidge of Massive Attack, Halo 4 audio director Sotaro Tojima and electronic musicians Sander Van Doorn and CASPA, based on originality, creativity, and musicality. Winners will be announced on November 16.

Prizes for the Halo 4 Fan Remix Contest will vary per region and are subject to change:

USA
Grand Prize

• Samsung Series 7 Laptop
• Halo 4 Limited Edition Xbox 360 320GB Console
• Halo 4 Trigger Stereo Headset
• Complete Collection of Official Halo Soundtracks


First Prize

• Halo 4 Limited Edition Xbox 360 320GB Console
• Halo 4 Trigger Stereo Headset
• Complete Collection of Official Halo Soundtracks


Second Prize

• Halo 4 Trigger Stereo Headset
• Halo 4 Official Soundtrack



Canada
Grand Prize

• Halo 4 Limited Edition Xbox 360 320GB Console
• Halo 4 Trigger Stereo Headset
• Complete Collection of Official Halo Soundtracks
• 12+1 Month Halo 4 Xbox LIVE Gold Membership


First Prize

• Halo 4 Limited Edition Xbox 360 320GB Console
• 12+1 Month Halo 4 Xbox LIVE Gold Membership


Second Prize

• Xbox 360 Halo 4 Limited Edition Wireless Controller
• Halo 4 Game



Mexico
Grand Prize

• Halo 4 Limited Edition Xbox 360 320GB Console
• Halo 4 Trigger Stereo Headset
• Complete Collection of Official Halo Soundtracks


First Prize

• Halo 4 Trigger Stereo Headset
• Complete Collection of Official Halo Soundtracks


Second Prize

• Halo 4 Trigger Stereo Headset



UK, Ireland, Germany, France, Spain, Netherlands
Grand Prize (1 per market, 6 in total)

• Samsung Series 5 Laptop
• Samsung 2.1 Wireless Audio Dock
• Halo 4 Limited Edition Xbox 360 320GB Console
• Halo 4 Trigger Stereo Headset
• Complete Collection of Official Halo Soundtracks


Runner Up Prize (1 per market, 6 in total)

• Halo 4 Limited Edition Xbox 360 320GB Console
• Halo 4 Trigger Stereo Headset
• Complete Collection of Official Halo Soundtracks



Australia
Grand Prize

• Halo 4 Limited Edition Xbox 360 320GB Console
• Halo 4 Trigger Stereo Headset
• Complete Collection of Official Halo Soundtracks
• 12+1 Month Halo 4 Xbox LIVE Gold Membership


First Prize

• Halo 4 Limited Edition Xbox 360 320GB Console
• 12+1 Month Halo 4 Xbox LIVE Gold Membership


Second Prize

• Xbox 360 Halo 4 Limited Edition Wireless Controller
• Halo 4 Game



Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn


Halo 4: Forward Unto Ddawn


We’ve been counting down the days to Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn with a series of short vignettes. That time is over though, because the live-action digital series that takes you back to the beginning of the human and Covenant war, leading into the events of Halo 4 starts on Friday.

Yes, I’m talking about this Friday. The Friday that is only two days away…

The first episode is just the beginning of this story and like any good story, it has to introduce the world and the characters to you in the right way before we get to the blowing shi – er stuff – up. This series is about great characters as well as great big explosions, so settle in for the whole ride…there will be plenty of all of the above to go around.

There are some hints in Part I about important ideas in Halo’s future, so if you’ve been paying attention for a while, there’s a lot in there for your eyes only. That said, this show has also been created to help introduce many fans to the fiction of the universe (there are lots of people who don’t follow every date and character detail in the books or even the main Campaign stories – blasphemy, I know) and answers to questions like “So how did this galaxy-spanning war with a mysterious alien collective kick off, anyway?”

We hope you love it, and we hope it’s as exciting a part of the big ramp-up to Halo 4 as we meant it to be!



Office of Halo Intelligence: Part 11


Office of Halo Intelligence


Bonnie Ross, General Manager for 343 Industries, has been with the studio since the beginning. Her insight, especially as it relates to the journey that was the development of Halo 4, provides a unique perspective on both the completion of our first full title and also the changes the studio has seen since its conception. Enjoy the words from someone who has an intimate relationship with both our game and the people that comprise our studio.



34(3) days… and counting

Jessica asked me to write a section about us hitting gold last week. When we all celebrated last Thursday night, there was joy, relief, and pride. There was celebratory drinking, and champagne was poured on people’s heads, but mainly there was a lot of reminiscing about the path we took over the last few years. So I figured I’d write about that journey to the gold (disc) at the end of the Halo 4 rainbow.

Along that journey, it is easy to be critical, even overly critical of every move and every mistake. When you get to the end, something washes over you (could be champagne over the head from a fellow 343er, Josh) that makes you look back at the journey with a little more forgiveness, Vaseline on the lens, maybe even a little regret that this part of our journey is over.

Year of the Forerunner: In 2008, we weren’t working on Halo 4 yet because Bungie was working on ODST and Reach. So as a small 343 team, we had the luxury of a year to just think about the universe and the technology. Where did we want to go next? We had controversial discussions about the Forerunners and their origins. Should they always be a mystery or should we open up that Pandora’s Box? As you already know, we opened that box and Frank and the team set to help define the future fiction, the Forerunner backstory and characters that would ultimately become the Prometheans, the Didact and other inhabitants of Halo 4.

While we weren’t thinking about the exact Halo 4 story back then, we were working on high-level themes for Halo 4 and the overall saga. We were thinking about Chief and Cortana, and we were thinking about new enemies and new threats, specifically Forerunner in nature. We chose the acclaimed science fiction novelist Greg Bear to write a trilogy dealing with elements of that story. As Greg’s first novel in that trilogy came out in 2010, he had a lot of questions before we had answers: what did the Prometheans look like? What did the living, breathing Forerunner civilization feel like? So between 2008 and 2010 our artists, designers, and writers met repeatedly with Bear to give him character sketches, talk about physics, shapes and characters that would ultimately take their first tentative steps in his book before coming to life on Requiem.

Ghetto Halo: In the middle of 2009, we started working on the real design of Halo 4 and the not inconsiderable task of staffing it. Our rapidly growing team was crammed in a really small section of this building in Redmond Town Center (a mall). We were sitting two to three people in closet-sized offices meant for one, or camping out on the couch in the hallway.

When people came onboard or interviewed, we would routinely get the comment, “Wow, really, this is Halo? I would think you guys would work in a better space than this.” We pretended like we wanted it to be that way – so uncool that it was cool, but in reality we were Halo wannabes and our company knew it and treated us as such. That all changed with the unsanitary sacrifice of our office savior Kenneth Scott.

Kenneth, who fell for the “this space is just temporary while our real space is under repair” line during the interview process, joined our team as the Art Director. When the reality of the bad space set in, Kenneth started doing phone interviews for potential candidates in the hallway because there were no private meeting spaces. When it got too noisy in hallway, Kenneth moved his office to the men’s bathroom instituting a do not flush policy during phone interviews. Some of our best talent was recruited from the men’s bathroom. It was my own wailing and lamentation over Kenneth’s bathroom interviews that finally got my manager to approve us moving to a new space.

When we moved into a much improved space, we started working on the Halo 4 prototype. How do you prototype Halo when you’ve never even built Halo before? Halo is already a beautifully balanced sandbox and we wanted to add more toys – and maybe some more sand. As a new team, we were in an awkward and unfortunate situation in that not only did we need to prototype how to take Halo forward; we needed to figure out how to build Halo in the first place.

Halo? In 2010 we started working on what we call “vertical slice” which is really just a representative section of how we imagine the final game will look, feel and play. Going through that prototype process, we made the obvious decision that before we could add new things to the Halo recipe, we first needed to fully understand the existing ingredients. Could we make a level that feels and plays like Halo? Could this team build Halo?

Typically with a vertical slice, you’re supposed to showcase the graphical art bar as well as a segment of gameplay. Our artists were working on a lot of art, but in 2010, David Berger and the development team were in the beginning of overhauling the engine so that in the future our artists could get their art in the game without compromising their vision.

For the vertical slice, the mission we chose to build was part of our second mission, Requiem. We submitted it to our user research testing and it tested well. Users thought it was Halo, and they liked it. We at 343, as small a step as that was, celebrated a great milestone – and a kind of game design Hippocratic Oath:“First, do no harm.”

When Kiki and the team presented the slice to the execs, it was met with straight faces with people saying this just looks like Halo, this just plays like Halo. “Yeah, I know”, I replied proudly, “Isn’t that great? 343 can build Halo, this is huge.” The execs sat with straight faces repeating, “This just plays like Halo.” I walked my team from the room. “Was that good or bad?”, Kiki asked. “Um, good. I think they ate something bad for lunch.”

To be fair to the execs, they didn’t want to see the inside of the sausage making factory, they just wanted to know this team could not only build Halo, but take Halo forward. They wanted to see the “Wow.”

It was kind of a crazy time in the studio as we had a bunch of “wow” on paper, but really nothing in the game yet. Coming out of vertical slice, the team heard the message that it wasn’t enough. While it was in the plan to take that “wow” from paper to game, we were just getting started. Bungie wasn’t built in a day, and neither was 343.

Year of the Wow: In my opinion, 2011 was our hardest year. The team might argue that 2012 was the toughest, as people put in such long days and endless weekends. But in 2012, we knew what we were building and the stress came from wondering if we would we have enough time to get everything we wanted into the game. In 2011, we knew the game we wanted to build, but the “wow” and the magic was slow in coming together. Josh and the team had their design work cut out for them. In 2011, the focus was sandbox.

As you know, Halo has had (mostly) the same enemies in the sandbox for the last 10 years. For Halo 4, we had new enemies, new weapons, and new vehicles all ready to go into the sandbox. But as you also know, Halo’s sandbox is delicately balanced, so adding new stuff while ensuring it’s fun and properly thought-out, is easier said than done.

For the first part of 2011 the fun wasn’t coming together. Then one magical day, I think it was sunny (a statistical anomaly in Seattle), Josh wandered over to me with a gleam in his eye – and explained that he’d just got done playing for a few hours and it was fun, it was really fun, and he thought we had it.

And so it happened. Over the next few months the game started to come together. Daily playtests went from Chris and the producer team begging for players to people vying for an empty seat every day at 4:00.

There is never a specific date when you exit preproduction as different areas move out of preproduction early and others later. But in Fall of 2011, every part was out of preproduction and into full production. We could play through the entire game, and for the most part it was fun. We had one mission, Dawn, where Kenneth, Neill and the art team had set their visual target and polished it to a glittering finish, and it was beautiful. The multiplayer maps were fun, the new modes were fun. Spartan Ops was starting to come together.

In Fall of 2011, we could see the light even after we recovered from our exit from preproduction party.

Year of the Dragon: 2012 was a very long work week that never ended. In January of 2012 we had all of the pieces of the game in some form of done or undone, and all that was left was the long hours to put all of the pieces together and polish the game to perfection. Or as close to it as time and physics permitted.

From February on, there would be something new to look at or play every week. The cinematics team started dropping in all of their work and the story came to life. Every time you played the game it was new, different and better. It was a pretty amazing time to be part of 343, part of Halo 4. Everyone on the team worked incredibly long hours – basically for the entire year of 2012. Phil Spencer, the VP of Microsoft Studios told me our building smelled like human. Good human, I’m sure.

In one of the take-home tests where we were supposed to play Campaign Co-op, I played the first three missions with business guy Matt. Matt wanted to explore and ensure we looked at every inch of the first three missions. It took us hours and hours to trek through three missions playing Co-op on Normal.

I’ve explored every rock, plant, structure, vehicle, and vista in the first three missions. At one point in Requiem, Matt called for me to come over and look at this amazing view (literally a Sparth concept piece brought to life), and as we stood together looking over the edge, I had flashbacks of childhood family vacation pictures at the Grand Canyon – it was that awe-inspiringly beautiful. Of course, the Grand Canyon isn’t filled with inverted megastructures made of massy hardlight, but you get the idea. In between vista viewings, we also shot a few things.

Last week before we hit gold, I was playing a Spartan Ops take-home on Legendary (so not a Legendary player, for the record). I got in a mission with Tajeen, Kiki, and artist Chris. In between expletives from getting annihilated by another pack of alien scum bearing Fuel Rod Canons, I found myself laughing giddily, waiting to respawn into some impossible new situation to “help” my team. It was fun, it was invigorating, and you could almost see the gold through the plasma mortars.

I started this journey with huge passion for Halo, and that hasn’t changed. I ended this journey with huge passion and respect for 343 and our people. Halo 4 is a result of the energy, blood, sweat, tears and the distinct human smell of the people at 343. At the end of the day, at the end of the year, at the end of the journey, it is about the people, the team. It has been an honor to work alongside such an amazingly talented and passionate group of people.

So is this the end of the journey, or is it just the beginning? I hope it is the beginning for us at 343. I hope we did the fans proud.

No regrets, but sentimental.

There is no crying in Halo, but I dare you not to by the time the credits roll. Thank you for bearing with us. Thank you for letting us try our hardest. I hope we earn it.

b



There is no possible way I can end this on a better note than Bonnie, so I do believe that is my cue to wrap this sucker up. Try your hand at the remix contest, check out the first episode of Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn this Friday, and I’ll see you here next week, same time, same place, but with new stuff to talk about. Until then…

<3,
bs angel

*Codpiece not included.

P.S. Discuss.