March 19, 2004 Originally at Underground

March 19 2004 We have a couple of important guests coming in today, so the update is tight and taut, not to mention shorter than usual. Environment! The environment artists comprise my favorite area at Bungie. Why? Because they speak in a language I can completely understand. "Look Frank, a building is kind of like a square with holes in it so people can walk in and out." Sure, they're patronizing me, and even making fun of my accent, but they still do cool stuff. Why just this morning I was admiring a building on an Earth level when I noticed that there was ivy hanging from it. It wasn't hanging there last week, and here it was, green and leafy. One of the artists pointed out something neat too the ivy only hangs on one side of the street, the shady side. That's because ivy won't grow in ferocious, constant sunlight, which is just one of those details that makes a place feel more real. Actually the shadows on one side of the street make for a compelling gameplay experience too, since your foes dart in and out of the shade, making themselves more difficult targets. Jerks! And that's just one example. The ivy in this case is just one of the things that are placed carefully in the world to make it more "organic," like shrubs and grass and plants and stuff. The ivy is actually a BSP (Binary Separation Plane) with an alpha channel to make the gaps between the leaves transparent, but not all decorators will use this technique, some will be 2D sprites, some shader effects and others simply textures. Basically whatever looks best in any given circumstance, or causes the least impact on processor overhead. The levels shown featured very nice lightmaps, but look even more impressive with the addition of dynamic lights, everything that's turned on improves the big picture. Animation! The Animators have been going through lots of different animations, tweaking, tuning and adjusting some for purely aesthetic reasons and some tied directly to gameplay. The short struggle that happens during vehicle boarding is just such an example. It has to be clear what's going on, and the animation has to be tied in directly with the pace of the game. All Bungie animations are hand-animated, and that's a time-consuming process. Motion capture has its advantages and disadvantages, but hand-animated stuff gives Bungie animators much more control over the process, and motion capture doesn't help when your character is a three foot alien with back problems. They've also been fiddling around with the way Chief holds the flag. That's right, the flag is being improved! The animation for his run while clutching the flag is being tuned, and the way he grasps it is definitely improved from Halo. Perhaps more interestingly (not that the gripping's not, wellgripping) the flag has improved cloth physics! Har, not exactly mind-blowing, but since you're going to see an awful lot of the flags in CTF, they may as well look cool, right? One of last week's tasks the dual wielding animation is now getting close to perfect. The change we mentioned in a previous update, to show more sky or ground, depending on where you're pointing, is complete, now the guys are tightening up his arm movements. I have to be honest; it looked pretty much perfect to me already. He also, I should point out, throws grenades in a much more convincing way this time around. Testing! Harold and the test teams he heads up both Halo 2 test AND the new re-launch test teams, have been attacking bugs on both the game and the site. The test team basically checks both the game and the site for bugs, checks those bug into a system called Product Studio and passes them on to the appropriate person to get it fixed. A bug can be anything from a typo to a hard crash, and the testing process is really the blood of the production cycle. Without hours and hours (literally man-years) of testing, nothing could ever really get fixed. Wrangling that process is an epic task of cat-herding proportions. Other Stuff! Jaime has been working on enemy AI, tuning the aggressiveness primarily to make them melee-attack a little more. My efforts to prevent this fell on deaf ears. I'm scared of Elites you see, ever since that one jumped out at me on Truth and Reconciliation. I nearly filled my pants Jaime is also working with the team on honing weapons, including the Battle Rifle and the Rocket Launcher, the latter of which has been improved upon in a number of significant, but non-jarring ways. Basically you should enjoy using it more, without knowing exactly why. The Battle Rifle is of course brand new, so you'll probably just enjoy the experience. Right now it's my second favorite weapon. Can't say what my favorite is. But I can tell you that the Battle Rifle makes one of the best noises ever. Brap!! Blapp! Blam!!! Sound! No sign of Marty, probably drunk, but Jay let rip with some cool new stuff. The cinematic dialogs have all been recorded and the actors' voices are being implemented and processed into the engine. But cooler yet, the sound dept. are working on a new way of doing surface/object interactions. In the first game the noise of tires on gravel was one sound in Halo 2, it is, appropriately enough, two sounds. One is the tires and one is the gravel. And they interact. The result is not only better sounding, but technically more realistic. A similar thing is happening with DSP effects for noises. Picture the scene you're in a massive pitched battle and you quickly duck into a building the sound of the continuing battle outside, is processed correctly so that your building muffles it. Not just turning down the volume, but adjusting the acoustics on the fly so that the shift is realistic. The noise of an ongoing battle outside is really atmospheric, instead of just quieter. Like I said, I ran out of RAM today, so Mister Chief is a lo-rez render today. CLICK HERE TO WITNESS THE HORROR