The Passing Of The Torch?

While I don't think there's enough actual content in the Halo Wars trailer to do a full-on annotation, as for the Halo 3 trailer, I did think it worthwhile to try and collect some thoughts about yesterday's announcements that will be worth pondering in the time between now and when we actually see these new games. Some are picayune details, and some are big questions. First, the picayune details.

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Pre-Rendered

We've been spoiled since 1999 or so, since Bungie has overwhelmingly opted to produce its trailers and cinematics using the same engine that powers their game. Sure, it didn't always look just like the final product, and it wasn't always used in real time. But you always knew, looking at cinematics from Halo or Halo 2, that the Halo engine was in there doing the heavy lifting. Even the Halo 2 theatrical trailer of prodigious resolution was rendered by the game engine, although not in real time.

The Halo Wars trailer is quite obviously not rendered in any kind of game engine. Nor, does it seem, is it even supposed to indicate what gameplay will look like. It seems intended to give flavor of the kind of action that will take place in the game-- which is to say, conflict between UNSC and Covenant forces closer to the beginning of hostilities between the two than to the events of Halo and Halo 2.

Of course, being an RTS game, whatever engine Halo Wars is using probably simply isn't geared to make cinematic-quality material, so it is perhaps understandable that Ensemble will go all-out and just make a CG film designed to give you an idea of what playing Halo Wars will be like.

Mark IV My Words

To me, at least, the beefier-looking "Omega Group" Spartans that close out the Halo Wars trailer are supposed to be Mk IV Mjolnir suits, rather than the slender, more effeminate Mk VI suit sported by the Master Chief in Halo 2, or the Mk V suit worn in Halo 1. That's consistent with the timeline of the first two games, if we believe that the Mk IV suit was developed and deployed sometime between before Halo 1, and the Mk VI suit was experimental at the start of Halo 2.

At Least Halo Wars Has BR Start

Of course, detail-oriented fans everywhere are already wondering why, if the Spartans pictured in the trailer are older models, why UNSC forces seem to be carrying Battle Rifles that appear only in Halo 2. The answer to this, of course, is that it's only a game. The development and evolution of weaponry in a game doesn't follow the same pattern as the real-world. If it did, people would be screaming for their pistol back. Oh, wait... they are. Nevermind. Needless to say, just because we didn't see a BR in Halo 1 didn't mean they didn't exist in the Halo universe. There may have been some other explanation. Either that, or perhaps the inclusion of the BR in the trailer is an oversight that will be corrected. Either way it's probably not a big deal.

Wanna Fight?

Halo cinematics have had their share of corny lines, but on the whole, far fewer than most other games. Myself, I was just watching the Lost World trailer the other day and found myself wincing and wondering who wrote crap like that. The dialogue is positively painful.

Of course, Ensemble isn't Bungie. We shouldn't expect them to be, and they shouldn't try to be. They've got their own thing, it's just that now their own thing is overlapping Bungie's Halo universe.

The Halo Wars trailer reminds me more of the Lost World trailer than it does any Halo cinematic ever produced by Bungie. Despite a few clunkers like "this cave is not a natural formation" and lines that seem a little bit cheesy, like "sir, finishing this fight", there's nothing that's come out of Bungie since 1999 that falls as flat as "if they want war, we'll give them war."

This is probably beside the point, though. I don't think anyone should expect an RTS game to be providing the kind of cinematic experience that Halo 1 and Halo 2 do; or like the experience Peter Jackson talked about at X06. The future of the story-driven portions of the Halo universe clearly lies in the hands of his new venture, Wingnut Interactive.

Business Case

At the end of the day, X06 may be marking a passing of the torch as far as the Halo universe is concerned. Since Halo 2 shipped there have been mixed signals as to whether or not Bungie wanted to continue to make Halo games as long as people would buy them, or whether they wanted to move on to doing something else. It's a natural thing to happen. Id Software underwent serious controversy internally because of that precise question: when is it time to revisit a beloved property, and when is it time to do something completely different? (Or, in the case of Id Software, revisit another, older property.)

Phoenix was begun and then abandoned because it didn't work out. Reports have been made earlier this year of a team within Bungie working on a non-Halo game. And now we have at least two new Halo games announced, seemingly both being led by developers that are not Bungie-- Ensemble Studios in the case of Halo Wars and Wingnut Interactive in the case of the new "series" of Halo games.

That Microsoft would not want a popular intellectual property to languish simply because Bungie wanted to work on something new is, I suppose, understandable. Therefore if Bungie would not be willing to dedicate themselves entirely to the production of the Halo franchise until fatigue finally kills it, then the only solution is to hand it off to other developers. That, I submit, is what we have just witnessed.

Bungie will no doubt maintain a role in the production of Halo games that it does not develop, and that is only right. However, I find the most exciting idea that came out of X06 yesterday not the idea that other studios are getting into the business of making Halo games, but that doing so allows Bungie to get out of the business of making Halo games, and back into the business of what they do best-- doing something new.

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Comments

I thought the lines in the trailer were great. More than that, the voice acting was great - especially in the first 30 seconds. The "if they want war, we'll give them war" line is probably in there to reinforce that we’ll be fighting a war in this RTS (we aren’t going to be a soldier fighting a battle or playing a 15-min game of CTF – we’re going to be top-down fighting a war.) I didn’t have a problem with the line and when I showed the video to people at work who don’t game, they thought the cinematic were kick-ass…including the last line.

Pre-Rendered? Yep it was…I think by Blur Studios who I’ve been watching for years. They make amazing stuff…stuff you’ve seen for years and didn’t realize where it came from. Blur is a high-end CG studio. Microsoft didn’t go with some shabby 3rd party visualization firm. They went to the top. This, to me, means they really wanted to make a dramatic cinematic experience for the fans.

Halo War IS a RTS and I am having a hard time finding an RTS that had H1 quality graphics. I have a hard time finding an RTS that matched the pre-Microsoft buyout graphics. I don’t think RTS fans are that concerned over graphics. I think H1 and H2 fans will. Civ4 had huge graphically improvements over Civ3, but the fans still mostly prefer Civ3. The graphics, while they were an upgrade, really were overlooked by the Civ3 fanbase. In RTS, it’s the gameplay that matters. No one buys an RTS because of the graphics. Civ4 looks and sounds great, but its visuals are really in a different technical realm that a FPS. I think RTS’s technically, by the nature of the game, are forced to use different rendering processes that don’t allow for even Halo1-like graphics.

Also, a lot of folks are griping about the name “Halo Wars”. I agree, I don’t really like it. But, I know “Halo”. I’m guessing that this game won’t have anywhere near the marketing power/budget of the FPS’s, so they are banking on the word “Halo”. “Halo” is a brand that represents “success”, “prominence”, “fun”, and “entertainment”. I think by putting the word “Halo” in the RTS title, it’ll help market the game. A Halo-based RTS named “Apocalypse” or “Spartan World” or something else disconnects with all the hype and success of “Halo” has established thus far. Besides, who’s to say…we might actually get to use a Halo as a weapon. Then it’d be a Halo War for sure. ; /

I agree though. It appears the Halo franchise is being farmed out. That’s fine with me. I won’t expect any dev team to match Bungie’s in-house quality so I don’t think I’ll be too disappointed in any Halo game made outside of Bungie. Wait. Halo PC. Nevermind.

Still, if Microsoft didn’t hand off the RTS to another dev, would it have ever happened? I doubt it. Some interesting things surely will come to light soon.

Halo 3 is projected to be here in about 1 year.
Then development of that game will be complete.
Bungie has announced this Halo series is kind of ending.
Ensemble is making a new Halo game.
Wingnut is making a new Halo game.

Perhaps Microsoft if cashing in on the last of the HALO hype.

Bungie’s going to have to come out and tell us what they are making next. Perhaps it is a new franchise. Please be a WoW-killer.

Look to Rare's stuff if you want to see high-resolution graphics in an RTS game; their Homeworld series and their Dawn of War series has some pretty impressive graphics considering how many models there are on-screen at a time.

-- Steve's seen some stuff happen in DoW that'd be machinima-worthy.

For "Rare" read "Relic". They're both short names beginning with "R"...

-- Steve

Rap,

A nice post there-- but I do want to respond a bit about the graphics and the trailer, I think maybe I wasn't clear up above what I meant to say about it.

[quote=rapture]Pre-Rendered? Yep it was…I think by Blur Studios who I’ve been watching for years. They make amazing stuff…stuff you’ve seen for years and didn’t realize where it came from. Blur is a high-end CG studio. Microsoft didn’t go with some shabby 3rd party visualization firm. They went to the top. This, to me, means they really wanted to make a dramatic cinematic experience for the fans.

Halo War IS a RTS and I am having a hard time finding an RTS that had H1 quality graphics. I have a hard time finding an RTS that matched the pre-Microsoft buyout graphics. I don’t think RTS fans are that concerned over graphics. I think H1 and H2 fans will. Civ4 had huge graphically improvements over Civ3, but the fans still mostly prefer Civ3. The graphics, while they were an upgrade, really were overlooked by the Civ3 fanbase. In RTS, it’s the gameplay that matters. No one buys an RTS because of the graphics. Civ4 looks and sounds great, but its visuals are really in a different technical realm that a FPS. I think RTS’s technically, by the nature of the game, are forced to use different rendering processes that don’t allow for even Halo1-like graphics.[/quote]

According to the Halo Wars FAQ, yes, Blur helped Ensemble put together the trailer. It is pre-rendered, but some of the models used are in-game, and the music and sound were done in-house by Ensemble.

I've no real technical issues with the trailer itself. It obviously is top-notch, from a technical perspective. I did think the writing was a little off, but since many people seem to like it, that would appear to be an issue of personal taste.

As to its prerendered nature and the quality of graphics in RTS games, I didn't mean to put Halo Wars down as having low quality graphics because it is an RTS game. As Anton mentions below, many RTS games these days do have excellent graphics.

My beef, really, is with all non-engine pre-rendered trailers, I guess. Like I said, Bungie has spoiled us. Their trailers for the past six years were done in their game engine. It was pretty much a what-you-see is what-you-get proposition. Sure, there were differences-- lighting effects, etc. But at the end of the day, you could look at a Halo trailer and be pretty sure it was a reasonable approximation of what you'd be getting in the game.

Some of that is because Halo is a first-person shooter with cinematic cutscenes. So you knew when, say, watching the E3 2002 demo of Halo 2, that what you were looking at was two sample cutscenes bracketing gameplay. The level content changed between then and 2004 when the game was released, but the models mostly didn't, the textures mostly didn't, the music didn't. It was a genuine Halo experience. It wasn't the same experience as you got in the game because they switched the level design all around. But what you were seeing there was a guy playing a pre-release Halo 2 level with the game engine at the state of development it was in at the time.

It was truth in advertising, or at least as close as you can get these days.

Only some of it, though, is due to Halo 2 being a shooter. Not every company promoting a shooter eats its own dogfood and renders cinematics in the game engine. The developers of Killzone and Killzone 2, for instance, do not.

I have a problem with that. I especially have a problem with it when a renderer used primarily for making FMV cinematics is used to show what purports to be gameplay.

The Halo Wars trailer, to me, comes dangerously close to doing just that, especially when it takes the above-the-battleground view to show vehicular combat. There have already been some hysterical posters in the Halo Wars forum claiming they think that is in-game, even though the FAQ clearly states it is pre-rendered and no mention is made of what was used to render it. If it was rendered in the game engine, you can be sure they'd say so.

I don't know if Halo Wars is going to have cinematic cutscenes like the Halo FPS games do. If so, they certainly won't be in-engine. I consider noninteractive cutscenes, like those in Halo and Halo 2, perhaps more legitimate than I otherwise would because they are done with the engine. There's no jarring when one comes on; you lose camera control, but things don't all of a sudden start looking differently.

If Halo Wars has cutscenes like the one we just watched, it's going to be jarring. It's going to bear little or no relation to what gameplay looks like.

If Halo Wars isn't going to have cinematic cutscenes, then I wonder why it's necessary to invent one to announce the game. Perhaps there's simply nothing else to show, but if they've been working on it a year and have two more to go, I imagine there must be something.

I suppose I think there's just something essentially deceptive about the all-too-common practice of using FMV of much higher quality than anything that will be in your game, produced with a method entirely different from that used to generate the images in your game, to give players a "feel" for what the game will be like.

Because it doesn't do that. It gives people an idea of how big your budget is, but I think that's about it.

And yes, before it's mentioned, I didn't really feel the same way about the anime-styled cutscenes in Myth. Don't ask me why. I guess I'm just a hypocrite.

[quote=rapture]Also, a lot of folks are griping about the name “Halo Wars”. I agree, I don’t really like it. But, I know “Halo”. I’m guessing that this game won’t have anywhere near the marketing power/budget of the FPS’s, so they are banking on the word “Halo”. “Halo” is a brand that represents “success”, “prominence”, “fun”, and “entertainment”. I think by putting the word “Halo” in the RTS title, it’ll help market the game. A Halo-based RTS named “Apocalypse” or “Spartan World” or something else disconnects with all the hype and success of “Halo” has established thus far. Besides, who’s to say…we might actually get to use a Halo as a weapon. Then it’d be a Halo War for sure. ; /[/quote]

I don't mind the name. Perhaps it's a working title or a code name, and they'll come up with something a little less generic later.

I don't know why, but to me, anything other than the letters "H A L O" look cheesy to me when written in that typeface. Maybe I've just seen too many bad examples of it over the years.

[quote=rapture]I agree though. It appears the Halo franchise is being farmed out. That’s fine with me. I won’t expect any dev team to match Bungie’s in-house quality so I don’t think I’ll be too disappointed in any Halo game made outside of Bungie. Wait. Halo PC. Nevermind.

Still, if Microsoft didn’t hand off the RTS to another dev, would it have ever happened? I doubt it. Some interesting things surely will come to light soon.

Halo 3 is projected to be here in about 1 year.
Then development of that game will be complete.
Bungie has announced this Halo series is kind of ending.
Ensemble is making a new Halo game.
Wingnut is making a new Halo game.

Perhaps Microsoft if cashing in on the last of the HALO hype.

Bungie’s going to have to come out and tell us what they are making next. Perhaps it is a new franchise. Please be a WoW-killer.
[/quote]

Oh, I don't know about that. Now, if it was an Eve Online-killer... then you've got me.


Rampant for over se7en years.