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narcogen's blog

Since an announcement at Xbox.com appeared and was just as quickly removed, the Halo community has been awash in discussion about the apparent appointment of Neill Blomkamp as director of the silver screen adaptation of Halo. Neither Microsoft Game Studios nor Bungie Studios have chosen to comment on the announcement, although Blomkamp himself has granted two interviews on the subject: one to Ain't It Cool News, and the other a gracious response to two questions submitted by the Red vs Blue fan community, which was keen to know whether the movie would draw from the games or the novels (and from which of each) and also if there could possibly be any easter eggs in the movie for RvB fans.

Official Secrets And Common Knowledge
The withdrawal of the official notice as well as refusal to comment by Microsoft and Bungie would seem to smack of a premature announcement, rather than an erroneous one. If the later, Blomkamp would seem to be just going along with the joke, and having us on until such time as an official announcement is made. If the former, one wonders why Microsoft simply doesn't ask Peter Jackson and Blomkamp from refraining from giving interviews until there is an official announcement.

Click "read more" from the front page for the entire text.

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Yesterday I responded to Ozymandias' reasons why he couldn't endorse modchipping for adding new functionality, such as that supported by the excellent Xbox Media Center software, because it would harm Microsoft's business model, in which they subsidize the hardware and depend on you buying software and accessories. The assumption here is that every hacker who uses his Xbox for running Linux and XBMC spends less time gaming and buys fewer games. The real allegation there, of course, is that all hackers are really interested in is pirating games.

Ozymandias listed one other reason he thought someone might want to modchip an Xbox, and, not surprisingly, he doesn't condone this one, either.

Click "read more" below from the front page for the entire article.

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Yesterday I mentioned Ozymandias' blog entry where he lists several reasons why an Xbox owner might want to modchip his console, as well as why he, in his own personal opinion, apart from being a Microsoft employee, could not approve of such actions.

The first was fairly clean-cut: because it enables piracy. Fair enough. Ozymandias then went a bit off the deep end on the piracy issue, which I commented on yesterday.

Another reason he says an owner might want to install a modchip would be to run other kinds of non-piracy related code on the Xbox. Some people just want to run Linux on an Xbox for the heck of it. Far more people are interested in the free Xbox Media Center software, which makes the media center features of even the newer Xbox 360, coupled with Windows Media Center edition, look like a black and white television with rabbit aerials.

Ozymandias' objection to the homebrew crowd is that it breaks Microsoft's business model. Poor Microsoft!

Click "read more" below from the front page for the entire article.

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At first glance, this story probably will inspire a lot of "duh, so what" responses. After all, modchips are used to do lots of things to your Xbox console, nearly all of which Microsoft doesn't want you to do.

They can let you play illegally copied games. They can let you modify your Xbox in ways that permit cheating on Xbox Live (although for the most part it can't stop them from detecting you). It can also let you run unrelated software on your Xbox, such as the Linux operating system, turning it into a codec-agnostic media player or even a budget PC. Neither of those things generate additional post-sale revenue to Microsoft, and some even make the company look bad (hee, hee! Linux on an Xbox!) or could draw the ire of organizations like the RIAA towards Microsoft if they are seen as contributing to infringement by, say, supporting codecs like DivX which are alleged to be used primarily for pirating video.

So what's not surprising is Ozymandias' latest blog entry where he details the reasons why Xbox owners might mod their box and the reasons why he can't "condone" it. He completely bypasses the cheating issue and never once mentions Xbox Live, so I'll also leave that mostly out of this. He does propose three reasons why he can imagine someone might mod an Xbox:

  • the ability to copy and play pirated games
  • the ability to play import games
  • the ability to add new functionality (such as running homebrew software)

Nobody reasonable is going to argue that easy access to pirated games is bad for Microsoft, bad for the platform, and bad for deveopers. No one is going to expect Microsoft to condone using a modchip for this purpose.

Where this goes wrong is when Ozymandias decides he needs to pile on the piracy issue and make a lot of the same bogus generalizations that have been thrown around for the better part of two and a half decades now.

Click "read more" below for the entire article.

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Those who've complained that Rampancy hasn't updated in quite some time are quite correct. While I've no excuse, I do have a reason, and the reason is that the flow of information about Halo 3 has recently slowed to a trickle, and that trickle has now been over-analyzed, much as two boys with twigs might poke and prod at a rivulet of sudsy water running through a patch of sand without ever deducing the existence of a car wash.

While the various fan forums contain far too much rampant speculation to digest, let alone refute, the Halo Story Page provides a convenient place to separate the wheat from the chaff before setting it, too, aflame.

To wit, today's contributions regarding the Prophet of Mercy, Master Chief and the Flood, and Cortana.

Click "read more" from the front page for the complete article.

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With apologies to Tennyson. BOLL deserves some blame for inadvertently causing this.

Half a klick, half a klick,
half a click, even further
Into the unnatural formation
Drove the Chief and Cortana.
Forward the Warthog!
"Aim for the grunts!" he said;
Into the unnatural formation
Drove the Chief and Cortana.

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Gravemind is not an easy character to figure out.

From his initial appearance on the scene, as the rumored "big plant thingy" players who downloaded the leaked French copies of Halo 2 reported seeing, to his cliffhanger-inducing interrogation of Cortana, not much was revealed about him.

Some fans can even be forgiven for questioning whether Gravemind is, in fact, related to the Flood at all. Halo 2's cutscenes only strongly suggest this, without actually stating it. The Art of Halo here rescues us, referring to Gravemind as the "Flood hive mind".

What exactly does that imply? What does Gravemind want? Given that all these events have apparently played out in the past, with the result that the Halo system was used and all life eradicated, but with the Flood preserved dormant for the cycle to start all over again thousands of years later, what other outcome can be hoped for?

Click "read more" below from the front page for the entire article.

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There's been a flurry of activity around the backwards compatibility feature of the Xbox 360 lately. Clearly, this has been a tough feature for Microsoft to make, maintain, and to promote. Just under 250 original Xbox games are compatible with the Xbox 360, which is less than a third of all the games available.

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[image:10245 left hspace=5 vspace=5 border=0] Bungie gave the community a gift of a seven minute documentary about the making of a two minute trailer for Halo 3, and the repayment they get? Gawkers looking over their shoulders, pointing at the screens being worked on by Bungie employees and proclaiming one or more "new species".

Keep in mind, this is the same Bungie that wouldn't even admit the game existed until a few weeks ago, even though it'd been under development for months. This is the same Bungie that kept the existence of the Flood a secret until the launch of Halo. This is the same Bungie that revealed nothing about the Flood being in Halo 2 until a French version of the game leaked, even though everybody already knew the Flood were probably in the game. The same Bungie that said everything was done but the cardboard boxes while they frantically re-tweaked Marathon levels. The same Bungie where Frankie did the majority of a studio tour of Bungie from the adjacent alley rather than have to check and make sure that the camera didn't accidentally give away the identity of the project Bungie was working on-- Halo 3-- even though the vast majority of the civilized world that even cared what Bungie was working on already thought it was Halo 3 anyway.

And people now think that not a mere glance, but a leisurely look over the screen of a Bungie employee showing characters on the screen is some kind of a magnificent revelation.

For the complete article click "read more" below.

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In the wake of rumors that the Halo movie will be pushed back from its rumored 2007 release date due to its rumored lack of a director and rumored delay of the rumored principal photography that was rumored to have taken place somewhere in New Zealand about now, but allegedly hasn't, several readers suggested I write something on how I thought the Halo movie ought to be done.

To a certain extent, to do so is a little unfair and perhaps counterproductive. Any idea for the film, if expressed in enough detail, would be indistinguishable from an unsolicited script thrown into a studio slush pile. Either it'll just be ignored (as most probably deserve to be) or it would be read. Having been read, if any ideas actually got into the movie, it could form the basis for complaints on the part of the author that the studio used them without compensation.

Or, worse still, a random coincidence between any idea in such a script and the film itself might be used as a basis for such a complaint. So, in a way, writing too much about cool things you'd like to see in the movie almost guarantees those things won't be, especially if it's something new and unique and interesting, rather than just something you've already seen in the games or read in the books.

Besides, the only fair way to do that would be to pen a complete script; and if I was capable of writing a good Halo movie script that would be a critical and commercial success I think there'd have been more of an indication of it before now.

However, what I will do is take some cues from the games, the books, the rumored script by Alex Garland, which I have previously spent time dissecting, and do something that's not allowed at the Movie Cynics Database at HBO. I'll write a simple list of things I think the Halo movie Should or Should Not do and explain why.

Click "read more" from the front page for the entire article.

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San Jose Mercury News columnist Dean Takahashi has written a second book about Microsoft's foray into the console gaming business. Released as an eBook, The Xbox 360 Uncloaked: The Real Story Behind Microsoft's Next-Generation Video Game Console also offers some interesting perspectives on the development of Bungie's Halo franchise.

That the fate of the new console should be tied to Bungie's flagship game is certainly no shock; since 2001 Bungie's series of shooters have been system-sellers for the Xbox, and Halo 2 has had a stranglehold on the top spot in Microsoft' Xbox Live online gaming service since it was released in late 2004.

Takahashi's book claims that Bungie became caught in a struggle between the hardware and software sides of the Microsoft Games Division over how to best promote both the platform as a whole and individual games, and that eventually Hamilton Chu, Pete Parsons, as well as other Bungie staffers, and Ed Fries, who spearheaded the buyout of Bungie by Microsoft, were all casualties of it in one way or another.

The below text is a sort of "executive summary" of the book, including many the points where the stories of Bungie and Halo intersect with the business of Microsoft Games Studio and the division of Microsoft that makes the Xbox and the Xbox 360. Excerpts from Takahashi's book are reproduced here with permission of the author. All quotations and paraphrases of statements by personnel currently or formerly of Microsoft or Bungie, whether identified by name or not, are taken from the book; no one contacted for this article wished to comment for the record at the time of its publication.

Click "read more" from the front page for the entire article.

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Tuncer Deniz at Inside Mac Games has put up Part 1 of a series on his experiences at Bungie. Above all, he talks about how Bungie was always trying to do things differently:

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Rampancy.net will have its own Halo 3 FAQ of course, but in the meantime, we've taken the Bungie.net FAQ and read between the lines a little bit, just to whet everyone's appetite.

To see Bungie's questions and answers interspersed with my own commentary and additional questions, click "read more" from the front page.

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With some time to kill recently, I browsed through my movies folder and looked for a few small things to watch. I came across the Halo 2 announcement trailer and the Halo 2 Realtime Demo.

Having watched the latter, I was especially struck by some of the themes I explored when comparing Halo 2 and Half-Life 2, as well as some of the contrasts between Halo 2 and Halo 1 with regard to the use of cutscenes versus interactive portions of gameplay for the purposes of relating story.

Much was made of the fact that the realtime demo was just that: a portion of a level played out by Bungie staffers doing a live demonstration, bookended with two cutscenes. The opening cutscene shows a Pelican carrying Sergeant Johnson and the Master Chief down to New Mombasa and landing; in the analogous sequence in the game, that Pelican crashes. The cutscene ends when the Pelican lands and the Master Chief disembarks; the change in the screen's aspect ratio signals this change.

However, the non-combat interactivity doesn't stop there. The Master Chief passes medics assisting injured marines and overhears their comments, and observes as Cortana, through the Chief, interacts with a corporal presiding over the death of the lieutenant at the scene, who then directs the chief to the new officer in command, Sergeant Banks. Sergeant Banks greets you, and then we see him call in an airstrike on a nearby Covenant artillery piece that has Banks' men pinned down. As we watch, three Longswords swoop in overhead and take out the artillery.

All this occurs during normal gameplay. As with nearly all such sequences in Half-Life 2, the player could have wandered away and missed part or even all of it. Valve seemed unafraid of this possibility, as they included virtually no cutscenes in Half-Life 2 at all.

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Civil War Makes Odd Bedfellows

I think it possible that, assuming such an alliance will exist at all in Halo 3, it may only be evident during a portion of it.

From the closing sequences of Halo 2, it seems that there is still some fighting going on at Earth; meaning that some of the fifteen ships that Regret brought with him remained there while he fled to Delta Halo.

Truth is now arriving aboard the Forerunner ship. His ship may or may not still have Elites and Brutes aboard, fighting amongst themselves. In either case, the Master Chief is not actually aware of the potential for this alliance. During the only contact he had with the Arbiter, the Arbiter did not seem willing to admit that Halo was a weapon. While he is aware of the fighting between the Covenant because he observed it during High Charity and Cortana informed him of fighting amongst the Covenant Fleet, this by itself does not necessarily mean that hostilities against humans would lessen.

Likewise, any Elites on board the Covenant ships at Earth may not be aware of the infighting. So it is possible that, early in Halo 3, playing as the Chief, that the primary enemies will still be the usual mix of units, regardless of the civil strife among the Covenant as a whole.

The small force that Regret brought with him was insufficient to subdue the Earth because he was not expecting to find humanity there. As it was, he was lucky to be able to find what he needed and get to Delta Halo, assuming that he obtained the location of Delta Halo from some artifact or information on Earth. It is difficult to imagine why he would go to Earth first and then to Delta Halo if he already knew where it was. Additionally, Truth and Mercy only show the Delta Halo to the Arbiter after Regret has left Earth-- further circumstantial evidence that they were not aware of its location until then.

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