This week Forumplanet was the lucky site to get the weekly Halo 2 update. The whole text is also posted here.
BUNGIE WEEKLY UPDATE, Feb. 6, 2004
It has been a busy week. We're going bananas building and designing the new website (more on that in the coming weeks) and generally having a ball seeing the game come together. Animation, sound, environment and gameplay are all frantically combining into a delicious soup.
The Cananimators have also been working on very subtle transitions between walking, running and sprinting, so that the movements look fluid and natural. More impressive, bizarrely, is the animation for stopping and turning. The trick is going to be finding a balance between its usefulness and playability – which is true of almost any game feature.
Joe Staten and CJ Cowan have been very busy bees. Yes, the same kind of bees that Homer's nightmare dog spits out. They've been working diligently on game-engine cutscenes and transitions between levels. Using the game engine helps keep the player anchored more firmly in the game world. There have been some tweaks and modifications however, so the cutscenes will look sharper, thanks in large part to the use of the new graphic engine's features. Specular highlighting, mad bump-mapping etc.
The cutscene I watched had been put together fairly recently, and was for timing and positioning of cameras, but looked pretty finished. The only way to know it wasn't done was the fact that none of the characters had walking animations, they just kind of glided around.
None of the actor voices (unless you count Joes Staten yelling, "I'm fighting!" in a high-pitched voice) are attached to the cutscenes at this point – more on that next week, hopefully. The cutscene in question is actually a tremendously important one. Email me months from now and ask me which of the many shockers it was and I'll tell you.
"He got the POOPS working!" You'll be relieved to know that "POOPS" is not an acronym, rather just a term Chucky, one of the programmers, uses for "instance geometry." Instance geometry is a term that covers what Chucky describes as "low level" stuff. You might describe it as bits of the Halo world. Instance geometry "objects" aren't strictly objects at all, at least as far as we define them. They're things like columns, planters, basic world objects. As far as getting the POOPS working, Chucky simply got them all to behave the way they should in terms of AI reaction, shot ricochets, player collisions – all that kind of stuff.
The beauty of instance geometries is that while they're textured, lightmapped, bump-mapped – the whole nine yards – they seldom involve much work for the level and environment guys. Often they can simply be placed in the right spot and left to do their business. Normal objects have to be sealed and carefully implemented into geometry – instance geometry is a whole lot easier to deal with.
Normally these things are pretty ho-hum, but anyone who's been in a campaign firefight, or a game of rockets on Hang 'Em High knows that POOPS are pure gameplay. They're places to run, hide, dodge and take cover, and they often breathe life into a level.
Mat Noguchi is up to something pretty special too. He just perfected a neat technique/tool/trick that allows the player to hear all the important game dialog in a completely natural way. No longer will you sprint by an event and miss a vital clue from an NPC (Non-Player-Character). We can't tell you exactly how it works, suffice it to say that when it happens, it'll make perfect sense.
Marty O'Donnell and co., have been tooling around with footsteps, trying to make sure that when Master Chief walks, runs, sprints crouches and creeps, that an appropriate footfall is heard (or not in the case of creeping). Right now, thanks to some experiments with Dolby surround, it's occasionally possible to think your own footsteps are someone else's. That little "feature" is very easy to fix – but one issue with surround sound is that there's no "down" so Marty's feeling is that footsteps should cue from the front and center speakers since they handle "close" sounds better. But you will be able to detect a subtle difference between left and right footsteps.
Of course, all these sounds are based on the surfaces you're moving on – so different sounds and effects are going to be applied for metal, indoor environments, echoey spaces, gravel, you name it.
A big meeting this week happened to get the manual process in gear. One thing you might not know about Bungie, under the auspices of Microsoft, is that this studio gets an amazing amount of control over every detail of the project. That includes action figures, poster art, Grunty Thirst mugs and of course, the game manual. The Halo 2 manual will be awesome. Maybe, dare we say it, a heck of a lot more awesome than last time? Working on a manual is pretty brutal too, since you have to cram so much information into a space small enough to fit in a DVD case. If it were up to us, it'd be 500 pages long and bound in holographic Mylar. With an LCD panel on the front. So far, the only section finished is the list of multiplayer levels which are…no wait, I can't put that here.
Finally, I would like to thank Alta, the Bungie Princess for hooking us up with food all the time – people here are putting in crazy hours at both ends of the day (except for Parsons, who rolls into the parking lot in his Ferrari around noon on a good day) and totally kicking ass. Anyhoo, enjoy the new objet d' horror and we'll see you next week! For more! Bungie! Update!