February 27, 2004. Originally at TeamXbox

About the Fake Weekly Update

Some Halo fan put up a reasonably convincing fake update this morning on a forum and caused a minor tizzy– needless to say, it wasn't us. Basically, if you're suspicious, just check out www.bungie.net – if we don't link to it from there, it's probably fake. Here's this week's short and sweet update.

Working on the lightmap farm.

Zach just told us he's been working on the lightmap farm. Maybe it's because I've had a brutal head-cold, but I suddenly imagined him, sleeves rolled up, ruddy-cheeked and up to his elbows in the dirt, reek, and good honest work of a lightmap farmer. Of course, what Zach actually does is build a utility to make some computers share a tedious workload. It allows numerous machines (mostly Compaq rack servers) working diligently, to do some boring, time-consuming, but ultimately vital lightmap rendering, so that all that geometry is properly lit when it gets spat out at the other end. Some of the better lightmaps are starting to trickle onto current Halo builds and the results are very pleasing. The biggest difference I see, apart from an overall improvement, is really convincing bright sunshine, and therefore better transition into shade. You almost want to cover your eyes when you step into the light.

So I peek into the lightmap farm, just because I'm curious and Harold, who's the cigar-chewing Teamster-type who runs all of test said that I should get the hell out of the lightmap farm; "Toasted buttercake like you wants to be careful around these here computers. Wouldn't want to get your face elctrificuted, wouldja?" He's working on porting over old Marathon web content to the new Bungie.net. We're kind of doing that in reverse order – moving Halo 2 stuff, then Halo, then Halo PC stuff, working our way back through gigabytes of ancient materials. There's some really cool old pre-Xbox Halo stuff hidden in there, that even people here hadn't seen. We'll let you look at it one of these days…

Mat's Secret Sound Stuff

Mat Noguchi says he's been having some fun with the chaingun. I gotta go find out what he's been doing...

…back. He HAS been having fun with the chaingun. Along with Jay and the other sound guys. Basically they've been tuning surround sound effects so that when debris kicks up around your feet and scatters, the sound effects are parsed correctly into 5.1. The effects will apply to any surface for ricochets and debris – dirt, snow and so on, but even cooler is the sound of flybys. In Halo, when a bullet whizzed by your head, it was actually a stereo effect, so you couldn't use the noise to tell exactly which direction it had come from – that's fully fixed for single and multiplayer this time.

There will be different effects for each weapon, and some of them are artistic rather than realistic. A real sniper bullet for example, would make a very short-sounding noise if you were lucky enough to hear it miss. In Halo 2, for the sake of gameplay – they actually chose a longer, louder noise so that you'd be able to associate that sound with that weapon. Much more detail later!

Chris Creates Life!

Chris Butcher has been tweaking and refining the controls for dual-wielding. As you can imagine, coming up with a scheme that doesn't alienate Halo players is tough, since every button was used in the original game. Suffice it to say that so far it works great and gives you plenty of options for swapping weapons, going back to single-wielding and tossing grenades. Naturally there are limitations – Master Chief can't dual-wield everything – why for example would you want to use two sniper rifles simultaneously? Anyhoo, of all the major game changes – I think this one will be the most smoothly implemented, based on what I've seen and played. It'll be second nature after one or two games.

He's also been playing around with implementing – gasp – ambient life in the new levels. And I mean ambient, you know, bugs, birds, that kind of thing. As opposed to rampaging herds of Triceratops. Small elements like that can really bring an area to life – and combined with the ambient sound effects, it'll make for a much richer environment. But as about thirty people mentioned to me, ambient life would be the first thing to get chopped if it didn't help the game, or if it became problematic for the schedule.

Lorraine in Toy Shocker!

Most of the Bungie team are perversely Halo nerds. They love Halo T-Shirts, mugs, posters, stickers and other junk. No surprise then that their favorite Halo memorabilia is the toys from Joyride. They're cool-looking and actually fun to play with. A few Halo art peeps contribute to how the toys look, but Lorraine McLees is the point person – and hse takes it very seriously, which is why it was a relief when she was delighted by the final prototypes of the new Chief, Grunts and Warthog.

The characters are the three-inch tall variants, and Chief gets to sit in a correctly scaled (and therefore giant) Warthog. Best of all, it's the LAV version, with the triple-barreled rocket launcher. The new armor is fantastic looking, and seeing it in real-life is kind of startling. Makes you realize just how imposing the Chief really is. Plus, he's carrying the battle rifle!

And here's the Chief, all three inches of him!

New Multiplayer Map!

Obviously there are lots of new multiplayer maps, but I just tooled around in a big, new, cool one that I predict will be as beloved (by me at least) as Blood Gulch. Of course, I haven't actually played against anyone in it yet, but it's my favorite kind of map – huge, and full of surprises. Just for context, my fave current maps are, Blood Gulch, Death Island (for PC) and Hang 'Em High. I think this new one has the coolest elements from each. If anyone gives a crap, I'll say which one it was after the game ships.

That's all for this week, more next, until then, here's a pastoral scene to help you relax: