The Halo Bulletin: 8/31/11

By bs angel -

Halo 4 Panel Panorama

Wake me when you need me.

Some people consider beauty sleep a luxury. However, for me it’s nothing short of necessity. And if you’ve ever had the misfortune of being subjected to the frightening sight that is my unadorned face in the morning, you’d doubtless agree. While I actually need a ten-year hibernation to reach a semi-presentable state, I have to settle for a mere eight hours a night, which is the exact reason why I opted to watch the Halo 4 panel within the Halo Fest space last Sunday, instead of waking up early and attempting to secure a place in line at the main theater. I thought about joining the masses for the festivities, but my hand was unable to resist the temptation of pressing the snooze button. Let’s just say I hit that. At 6:00, and 6:15, and 6:25, and 6:30…

Sitting at the back of an occupied room, hidden within a long row of chairs and a blanket of darkness, allowed me to silently observe the fan reactions to the Halo 4 panel. I got to witness the many smiles as we revealed tiny tidbits of information. I got to see the disappointed yet understanding nods when we said we weren’t quite ready to talk about certain aspects of the story. But what I enjoyed the most was catching the slideshow-like sequence of expression changes on fans’ faces as they watched some of the early concept art from Halo 4 dance upon the big screen. First there was excitement, then determination to catch every last detail, then distraction when some thought the video was over, and then a silent state of shock when the final scene pulled the crowd back in for one last punch. Just in case you have the sudden urge to watch the Halo 4 concept art trailer again, here it is, in all its glory. Feel free to go through it frame by frame. My words aren’t going anywhere, despite your best wishes to the contrary.

Halo 4 wasn’t the only title to get some face time throughout the celebratory weekend that was Halo Fest. Halo: Anniversary had an even stronger showing, with over sixty stations allowing hands-on time with several of its Multiplayer maps, including Damnation, Beaver Creek, Prisoner, Timberland, and the Firefight mission Installation 04—along with a behind-closed-doors walkthrough of the 343 Guilty Spark level in 3D. The latter I could describe for you, but why would I waste the effort typing a few paragraphs worth of words when Halo fan Leviathan has already done that exact thing?

“The graphics of 343 Guilty Spark are actually pretty amazing, seeing it move and be played in real time, and in person. The lighting engine that they've put in seemed like the best lighting I've ever seen in a Halo game. The Jackal's shields really felt glowing and juicy. The thrusters of the Pelican scattered blue light across the ship's hull and the tall tree trunks. The glowing plants threw me off at first, but then as I investigated them, I really enjoyed how you actually see the energy surging through the plant, and then reaching its tips. It was great detail.

I hate 3D movies, but my brief viewing of Halo CEA in 3D was actually pretty amazing. I was literally ducking to the side as a Jackal shot a charge-up plasma blast at me. I'm sure I looked stupid. :) The 3D really felt like something 'new' and an interesting way of re-experiencing an older game. It's not something that will revolutionize the series, or even something you'll want to play ALL the time but I think it would allow for a pretty unique and immersive experience—a great addition to your memories of Halo.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Not from lack of effort, but because my vocabulary is limited to descriptors relevant to body odors and bad jokes. I’ve learned to just go with it. You probably should, too.

While the multi-dimensional aspect of things is fairly self-explanatory, the specifics of the upcoming Halo: Reach Title Update are not. That’s why I thought we’d use this week’s Bulletin to take a deep dive into the various options coming your way within the next couple of months. We’re excited to bring a more classic Halo experience to those of you pining for that CE feel, and we’re also excited that some of you plan on continuing to enjoy Reach in its current flavor. It’s all about the choices, people. To paraphrase one of my favorite rappers, “You got 99 options, and a glitch ain’t one.”

That sounded better, not to mention more relevant, in my head. Moving on.

Halo: Reach Screenshot

Welcome to Halo: Reach Title Update 101.

Amid the hustle and bustle of the weekend, we gently released the specifics of the Title Update within the wilderness of our forum. We didn’t go into much detail, though, so I thought it may be beneficial to elaborate upon the particulars and hopefully, by proxy, clear up any lingering questions. From the team that is bringing you the TU (a few of which are known as the dynamic duo of Greg and Chad), here’s more information about some changes that may soon be coming your way. When reading over the specifics, please keep in mind these options—which are still being fine-tuned, altered, and generally played around with—will live in their own special area. You’ll be able to go into a specific hopper, check out the adjustments, and provide feedback on your experiences. And it is with that feedback that we’ll be able to provide the best possible experience over time. So repeat after me: conventional Reach gameplay will continue to exist alongside this new stuff. Also, there’s no place like home. Or something like that, anyway.

Now, put on your listening ears and sit on your pockets, class, because it’s time to pay attention.

Halo: Reach Screenshot

Make damage bleed to health through shields possible.

In regard to non-ordnance weapon damage in Vanilla Reach (i.e. not the Rocket Launcher, Grenade Launcher, grenades, etc), the damage system is divided into shields and health. If you have 10 points of shield left, and take 25 points of damage, your shields are eliminated, but the remaining 15 points of damage are not inflicted upon the character. With this change, however, said 15 points transfer into health. This is consistent with the behavior of previous Halo games.

Example: Say the player has 5 health points and 10 shields points. If you hit him with 25 points of damage, he dies.

Halo: Reach Screenshot

Make reticle bloom configurable.

Reticle “bloom” is more than just the way the reticle expands when the player shoots. What we actually have done is take control over the maximum radius of the cone of error that expands as the player fires. The actual UI “bloom” is just a representation of a feature that has been in Halo since the beginning. The colloquial “BR Spread” from Halo 3 was this same set of variables, just implemented differently. The same goes for the Halo CE magnum, where holding the trigger down resulted in less accuracy than pulling the trigger rapidly.

What makes Reach’s implementation different from previous games is that it was applied to medium range headshot weapons with the goal of enforcing a “cadence.” Cadence here refers to the pacing and pattern in which the player is expected to fire the weapon to maintain accuracy. For the Needle Rifle, for example, the optimal cadence is to hold down the trigger for three shots, then let go and hold it again for three more shots, then deliver the seventh shot to the head.

Ultimately, bloom and cadence (among other features) were specifically designed to give Reach a slower pace than previous titles. However, a couple of notable features have arisen from this decision: for starters, cadence is easily interrupted in Reach. In fact, many of the Armor Abilities are almost explicitly designed to do that and waiting for that fifth DMR shot to be ready can be really frustrating when you lose the race against your opponent’s Armor Lock energy recovery. Second, shooting to cadence is really only a valid tactic at range; the closer you get to your opponent, the less cadence applies, and players both casual and competitive can attest to how spamming the trigger actually becomes the more reliable option here. So, ultimately while the goal was to make the weapons feel more sophisticated and add a layer of skill required to use them, the net result has been that medium range weapons such as the DMR feel unreliable at their intended range, and trigger spam has not been discouraged.

What we can do is adjust the maximum cone of error on all headshot weapons (except sniper rifles) for any gametype based on a percentage of its default value. The obvious example that we used at Halo Fest is 0% bloom, which guarantees that the DMR, Needle Rifle, and Magnum are going to shoot exactly where you point them, every time. We could, if we wanted to, raise the bloom to 300%, making it so that said weapons become even less accurate over sustained fire, and take longer to recover their accuracy. Not that we’d do that. Especially not to the MLG playlist on April Fool’s. Why are you looking at me that way?

Anyway, this is a powerful tool that we plan to use in very controlled instances. Our primary goal is not to simply strip away bloom from all gametypes. What we’ve found is keeping some bloom actually allows the headshot weapons to feel more rewarding and reliable without overpowering them. In fact, the number we’re currently sweet on is 85%. At a 15% reduction, the DMR feels a lot better, without the Needle Rifle becoming Dolphin Gun, Destroyer of Worlds. In that way, we may find ourselves with a happy medium. That’s not to say that “Zero Bloom” doesn’t have its place in this new world order. It certainly does, but trust us: with zero bloom in place, the Needle Rifle becomes (and should be treated like) a power weapon. As such any implementation of zero bloom will be in a place where we don’t likely expect players to necessarily want to pick up anything other than what they start with. Unfortunately, we can’t make this user-facing, so players will not be able to experiment with bloom themselves, but we plan to release multiple gametypes with varying bloom settings.

Halo: Reach Screenshot

Modify Armor Lock.
• Sticky grenade will not be nullified if you use Armor Lock after being stuck.
• Damage received while in Armor Lock is transferred to remaining Armor Ability energy.
• How much the damage depletes your Armor Lock energy is configurable.

In Vanilla Reach, an armor locked player is completely invincible. Further, they can even cancel a death they were about to experience if they were stuck, simply by locking. To address this, we’ve made a few changes. First and most notably, damage taken by an armor locked player is fed to their ability energy. What this means is that you can cause a player who is armor locked to run out of energy faster by attacking them. We are also able to cap the amount of damage transferred to ability energy based on the percentage of their total energy. For example, we can make it so a player can “damage” 75% of a player’s energy. If a player locks with full energy, and someone hits them hard enough, a 75% cap would leave them with 25% energy that would drain over time, like ability energy normally does. If that player only has 50% energy left in that same situation, however, the damage will knock them out of Armor Lock and expose them to take normal shield/health damage. 50% here is only an example and is something we can fine tune.

Also worth mentioning is that if a player is stuck and then armor locks, rather than shedding the grenade and surviving unhurt, the player will die, and the player that stuck him will get his stuck medal. This works for both Plasma Grenades and the Plasma Launcher. The net result of these changes is that we are changing Armor Lock in a way that makes it (to quote one Greg Hermann) “a block button, not a pause button.”

Halo: Reach Screenshot

Modify Active Camo.
• Reduce the bonus time the player gets in Active Camo while standing still.
• Reduce the overall length of time the player can be in Active Camo.

When you initiate Active Camo, it depletes faster if you’re moving. If you stand perfectly still, however, it depletes at a slower rate. We are able to modify these rates, and in testing have reduced both by about 15 seconds. This encourages a more sparing use of the Armor Ability, as opposed to in Vanilla Reach where players might camp in one place for upwards of a minute just waiting for someone to run by. Instead, its usage is better saved for quick escapes, or quick surprise attacks.

Halo: Reach Screenshot

Remove Sword block.
• Disable the ability to block Sword attacks using melee with anything other than another Sword.

Removing sword block brings the sword back to a better version of a power weapon. This change was implemented simply to make the sword feel more reliable—and the outcome, of course, is that the sword is more reliable. Keep that in mind when you see the sword guy charging through the battlefield!

Halo: Reach Screenshot

Implement the classic Magnum from Halo: CE.
• Can make the Magnum automatic.
• Can modify rate of fire of the Magnum.
• Can modify Magnum damage.

Whereas the other features of the TU are there to assist in the transition to 343 steering Reach’s future, the Magnum features are simply meant to enhance the “Anniversary” experience when the game is released. Ultimately, the only way to completely match the Halo CE experience would be to completely rerelease Halo CE Multiplayer, exactly as it was. For a number of reasons, that wasn’t an option but the TU presented us with at least an opportunity to nod toward the multiplayer experience that started it all. As such, we added some additional features that specifically affect the Magnum that allow us to imitate the behavior of the Halo CE Magnum. In conjunction with the bloom settings, making the weapon fully automatic, and adjusting its rate of fire and damage allows us to give the weapon a behavior consistent with the Halo CE death machine.

The net result is that we can make gametypes that feature the Magnum in a unique way. As with something as dramatic as zero bloom, it is our intent to keep the three-shot Magnum in a controlled environment. It’s certainly not meant for default Slayer (where it’d be more effective than either the Needle Rifle or the DMR), but it has a special place in the Anniversary gametypes, and there’s probably other niches where it’ll work as well.

Halo: Reach Screenshot

Enable playing Co-Op Campaign and Firefight without requiring a HDD.

Soon those without an HDD will be able to experience all the Xbox LIVE features of Halo: Reach, including Co-op Campaign and Firefight. Bam, said the lady!

And there you have it: the lowdown on the upcoming Halo: Reach Title Update. Hopper and date information is forthcoming, so stay tuned for that. Please note some of these options may not be included in the beta hoppers, but will be available with the Anniversary playlists.

Back to Halo Fest.

Between the pre-coverage, all of the videos and news that came out over the weekend, and this Bulletin, you may or may not have gotten your fill of Halo Fest-related information. But I would be remiss if I did not take a second to express our appreciation to all of you that participated in our celebratory festivities, and also those of you that played a part in the behind-the-scenes aspect of things, too. Thank you to Rooster Teeth for the Achievement Hunter activity and also the donation to Child’s Play. Thank you to Blue Realm Studios for the incredible Halo 4 Master Chief costume. Thank you to Fight Like a Girl for all the hard work on the numerous tournaments. Thank you to Gamers Outreach for bringing the Fun For Our Troops initiative to Halo Fest. Thank you to the Spirits of Fire for being the best volunteers we could ever hope for. Thank you to MEGA Bloks for providing Fest attendees with the most amazing free swag ever. And thank you to everybody else I forgot to mention, which is undoubtedly a lot of people, because I have pretty much the worst memory ever. Wait, what were we talking about again?

Uh, yeah… Anyway, that was a whole slew of words, so instead of subjecting you to more drivel, here are some pictures—taken by Meg Stacker, Count3D, and various 343 Industries folks—that capture the Halo Fest experience in a succinct and beautiful fashion.

Halo Fest
Halo Fest line.

Halo Fest
Halo Community Panel: Fragging, Forge, and Flowers.

Halo Fest
Halo 4 Panel.

Halo Fest
Weta Warthog.

Halo Fest
Halo 4 Master Chief.

Halo Fest
Swag, swag, and more swag.

Halo Fest
Mr. Terrible Warthog Driver!

Halo Fest
This Halo cake is not a lie. It was, however, delicious.

Halo Fest
Looking for the starship.

Halo Fest
Steve Downes (Master Chief) and Jen Taylor (Cortana).

Halo Fest
Tim Dadabo (Guilty Spark) and Jen Taylor (Cortana).

Halo Fest
Halo Family Photo.

Halo Fest
Noble Six and a Brute.

Halo Fest
MEGA Bloks 343 Guilty Spark.

Halo Fest
Believe Diorama, Marines.

Halo Fest
Believe Diorama, Brutes.

Halo Fest
ODST portion of the History Wall.

Halo Fest
Halo: Anniversary Firefight.

Halo Fest
VIP Party costume contest.

And with that, my fingers are now as sore as my feet. That means it’s time to bid you adieu. Until next week, anyway…

bs angel

PS: I was busy with Halo Fest last Friday, so for two weeks in a row (someone fire me, already!), I don’t have a Friday Caption Fun image for you. Instead, I offer you this picture of Frankie—who you might know as our resident child artist—instead. Enjoy!


Oh, and on the subject of Frank’s art, he’d like to issue this statement in response to the earlier incident:

“This is a Yoink! outrage.

When the Seattle art community finally wends its way out of the provincial taste backwater it has been mired in since the turn of the last century, it might begin to understand that art is more than a Dale Chihully installation or a Thomas Kincade Christmas cottage, then perhaps it will finally realize that my paintings speak to people. They speak, they sing at a level so primal and visceral that it permeates into one’s very bones, drumming out an ancient rhythm, a rhythm that has beat within our very DNA since we first looked at a cracked, empty cave wall and said, “Here I will scratch out my dreams and days that others may share them.”