When good playtests go bad
In order to aggregate data from numerous types of gameplay situations, we conduct regular take-home tests, and it was during one of these domestic assessments that our current favorite catchphrase was born. Let me explain.
Many of us here at 343 love playing Halo, but if there’s one thing we love more than that, it’s winning. While our domiciliary playtest sessions exist for a multitude of reasons (one of them being to observe the effects of various real life gaming situations—such as dropped connections, latency, and nagging spouses), we play to win—while gathering the relevant data, of course.
During one such recent session, our online battles brought us to an outdoor map that features a centrally located, multi-level building. It’s a place that strategic, communicative teams want to lock down and control. (That’s what some people around here say, anyway. The rest make their opinion known through the nicknames of each floor–Jerk 1, Jerk 2, and Jerk 3.) After Red Team successfully secured the advantageous center structure, Blue Team found themselves spending more time on the respawn screen than actually playing. That led to one particularly irate person abruptly and purposely leaving the game. Afterward, that individual emailed their experience to the other playtest participants, making sure to call out their fury-filled reaction. Well, a variation of their fury-filled reaction, I should say, because there was a single, extraneous letter discreetly nestled within their message. We assumed it was extraneous but who knows, actually…maybe they really did take out their indignation by sewing bed covers. And if that’s the case, “rage quilt” was the exact right term to use.
Enough about angry crafters, though. Let’s talk about PAX, baby!
PAX Prime 2012
In less than 48 hours, the doors of the Washington State Convention Center will open and thousands of people will descend upon the previously pristine venue, anxious to experience something that can only be described as a gamer’s utopia. We were down there this morning, and the early booth inspection revealed very cool and visible signage hanging from our portion of the ceiling and several super comfy game stations, quietly waiting for the impending flood of Halo fans.
Within our booth this weekend, we’ll be featuring a few different game types (one that is already announced but will be playable for the first time at an event) and a few different maps (one that will be unveiled for the first time on Friday). Panel-wise, we also have a few things up our sleeve. If you like brand new behind-the-scenes videos, especially ones that focus on storytelling, you should go. If you like demos of not-yet-confirmed game types on beautiful, brand new maps, you should go. And if you just want to know more about Halo 4, let’s just say you should go.
PAX is going to be flagtastic. And that’s all we have to say about that.
Halo 4 Button Layouts
While we’re going to be releasing a decent amount of news at PAX, we didn’t want to leave you hanging this week. So, to satisfy that craving for Halo 4-related information, today we offer you the various button layouts that will soon be at your fingertips.
Considering the importance of players getting attached to particular layouts (such as Bumper Jumper and Recon), we’ve been very careful with the control scheme design process. Adding something like Sprint, which is equally as important as other actions, has been challenging because it’s competing with the stick-click input typically used for crouching and zooming.
We’ve tried to stay true to the classic presets you’ve become accustomed to throughout the years. For instance, an important part of Bumper Jumper is being able to jump and melee at the same time while moving and aiming, so we’ve left that intact. We initially experimented with a button swap and brought in some MLG players to test it. After observing the difficulty they had with a modified version of clawing, we had to think about what’s more important, using an Armor Ability or throwing a grenade? Ultimately we decided to leave Bumper Jumper with "Throw Grenade" on the left trigger and "Use Armor Ability" on the “X” button.
Between bringing back all the Reach button layouts and adding a new one (which is called Fishstick and will be beneficial to those coming from other FPS games), we’re confident you’ll be able to jump right in and be comfortable with the controls. In the whole scheme of things (see what I did there?), the button layout you use will depend on your play style and favorite game modes.
Halo 4 features the following button layouts:
Limited Edition Halo Exclusive Vanguard Personal Gaming Environment
On Monday, GAEMS announced the Limited Edition Halo Exclusive Vanguard Personal Gaming Environment. Officially, it’s a “self-contained portable gaming environment.” Unofficially, it’s completely and totally bad-ass. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Stephen Toulouse, GAEMS Product Manager, and grill him on anything and everything relating to this particular product. Before he was able to escape my clutches, here is what he said.
So, Mr. Stepto, how did this amazing product come about?
When I joined GAEMS earlier this summer, they were already hard at work completing the design of the new Vanguard. It had a lot of features our customers had requested over our previous Personal Gaming Environment, the G155. Vanguard has a much larger screen, better speakers, and an improved case design. It also had a great new stylized look about it that lends itself well to showing off a logo or other graphic design. John Smith, our marketing Director, was already on the lookout for the right partner that we knew our fans would get excited about. Being a Halo fanatic, when we realized it was the perfect match, I got super excited, and even more so when we brought the idea to 343 and they loved it. The more we worked with 343, the more it transformed into a UNSC-branded piece of equipment, something that can tie into any Halo game past, present, or future. It looks fantastic.
Agreed! Can you tell us a little about the creation process?
Having spent 18 years at Microsoft, it's fair to say I've been a software guy, not a hardware guy. Working at GAEMS, especially on the Halo edition Vanguard, has given me an incredible education in the design, development, and manufacture of consumer electronics hardware. It's an amazing process! Our design team is both in Redmond and Hong Kong, and works together to figure out how we deliver the things our customers ask for in addition to the ideas we already have. Then, special tooling has to be created to form the molds that the plastic and other materials will be poured into to create various parts. Then we have to think about the screen and how it's mounted and protected. [We also have to think about] how the casing all fits together to make sure that when it’s closed, there's a measure of protection for the console but when it is fully open there's plenty of room and airflow.
Samples are made and prototypes built. You have to make choices like just how much texture you want the finish of the case to have, and what that means for the tools being created. And that's before we even begin to get into the design work of the logos and their placement, and things like exactly what colors we want on the case to make it look good.
What was the biggest challenge with making it?
I think the biggest challenge was timing. We wanted to make sure we could finish the hardware design in time to get the graphic and exterior design finalized to help make sure we have the UNSC Vanguard ready for the launch of the game itself. There are a lot of processes that all have to work in parallel. In terms of the design work for the logos and graphics, 343 was a pleasure to work with. Everyone knew that we have the utmost respect for the Halo universe and wanted to create something Halo fans would be proud to own, so we were very careful to work together to make sure everything was accurate and made sense.
I think I speak for our community when I say accurate is definitely good. >.> Anyway, what was something unexpected that happened during the design process?
I made a post on my blog at Stepto.com that discusses how we had to change the handle of the case itself a few times to get it right! You just don't think about stuff like that typically when you think about designing electronics, but it's those types of things that can surprise you or set you back if you don't get it absolutely right. Another thing was that we decided to go with Amazon's Frustration Free Packaging. That's a very interesting process that results in a great customer experience. The UNSC Vanguard is an Amazon exclusive, and it’s a nice experience to get the box, open it, and there's your device. No "box with foam holding another box with foam" situations, and all the packaging is tidy and recyclable. It's a real shock and a pleasant surprise to just open the box and bam! There's your beautiful new UNSC Vanguard right there.
That’s quite convenient. After you get that sucker out of its package, what sort of place would something like this come in handy?
Personal Gaming Environments for consoles, something GAEMS created by the way, are typically thought of for their mobility. I know people like myself, Eric Neustadter, and even Frank O'Connor have all used GAEMS PGE's on trips or vacations and have tweeted or spoken about how great they are for that. But another place we're seeing them used is in the home. It's a great way for parents to reclaim their nice 50 inch TV when the kids are out of school for the summer! If the mom or dad wants to watch a movie and the children want to play a game the parents aren't interested in, GAEMS PGE's like the Vanguard are the perfect solution. Not to mention having the console in a self-contained environment that they can secure allows a parent a little more control over gaming and when it happens.
I do believe that makes parents “Reclaimers”! While I laugh about my Halo joke, go ahead and tell us the most unusual place you’ve ever used it.
I used mine looking out over the Pacific Ocean on the Oregon coast at a beach house. I was playing Minecraft while listening to the sound of the waves crashing outside! One might say I shouldn't have been playing games and just gone to the ocean, and for sure we did plenty of that. But it's nice during the night to have my favorite entertainment experiences close by to relax and unwind without having to sacrifice anything.
Add Halo to the equation and I’m sold! Oh wait, you already did that. I guess we should finish this interview then, perhaps with your favorite thing about the Limited Edition Halo Exclusive Vanguard Personal Gaming Environment...
My favorite thing about this product is that it looks like something a UNSC marine might carry on the battlefield. It's got [such] a nice rugged look to it that you could almost imagine it's a real time uplink or some type of tactical battlefield display. 343 helped us really nail the idea that, while this is a Personal Gaming Environment in our Universe, it's easy to imagine something identical to it looking like it belongs alongside a Warthog.
Oh, great. Now I want a Warthog, too. Thanks for that, Stepto.
And on that note, I do believe it’s time to wrap this sucker up. I would say until next week, but I’m hoping to see you at PAX. So until then…