February 20, 2004 Originally at 343gs.com

Hello, and welcome to the February 20th edition of the Bungie Weekly Update, where we open the window just a crack, on the antics and shenanigans going on at Bungie Towers. The weekly updates are designed to illuminate Bungie and Halo fans on the game development process - not the product per se.

  • The team has a big milestone coming up. A milestone is a thing invented by a grown-up about twenty years ago to make sure that programmers (in those days, fragrant hippies with bits of cheese and mice in their beards) quit sucking on bongs long enough to actually finish programming a game. These days of course, a programmer is a very different animal. Taut, lean and ripped, with cat-like grace and deadly martial arts skills, they'd be Special Forces infiltration operatives were it not for their l337 haxorz skillz.

    The object of a milestone is to first, prove that a team of 60 people hasn't simply been sitting around watching Spongebob and winging Twinkies at each other, and second - to produce a reasonably complete section of the game. In this instance, it's a very important level from later in the game (don't read too much or too little into that kidz, we don't always build levels in order).

    The best thing about a milestone (apart from the fact that I just get to observe the process from the safe distortion of a beer glass) is that when it's done, we get to watch it and play it. Some of the biggest Halo geeks I've ever met are sitting right here, making it, and every time a milestone is complete, the guys here enjoy it every bit as much as you would.

  • Poops are back. Well, not that they've been anywhere, but now they're behaving properly and playing nice with the non-player character AI. Poops, if you didn't read the prior update, are pieces of "instance geometry" like columns, planters, just things you might encounter in a real space. Poops are much easier to position, edit and move around than the more complex building structures and other objects – but populating a world properly with poops can really bring it to life. Damian and the guys have been implementing them in the levels, but with little attention to how they affect AI and physics until now.

    Of course properly implemented poops mean that characters now behave differently than before, and this will give both testers and designers something to think about as they see how the AI responds to the new pathfinding challenges.

  • Greg and the animators have been working hard to get Dual Weapons properly implemented in Multiplayer – the problem of course isn't putting them in, it's making them balanced. Early implementations basically turn Master Chief into an unstoppable force of evil and matches can end far too quickly – as if everyone suddenly had rocket launchers. The fine tuning and balancing required to make dual weapons an advantage, but not a ridiculous advantage, is a tightrope the designers will be walking for months.
  • For me the coolest part is seeing how the two weapons interact – control schemes are being fiddled with there’s a whole bunch of stuff I would love to tell you here, but can’t. I can tell you that Master Chief right now holds each type of gun in a totally convincing way. The other animations – for reloading, crouching with two weapons and switching them, look buttery smooth. I want to PLAY this.

    Personally, I don't see anything wrong with suddenly becoming a horrifyingly powerful superplayer

  • Gaze Tracking, or the, "What the hell are you lookin' at pal?" system is in, and it looks great. In multiplayer games, the characters will now turn their heads to follow either you, or the object in their reticule. That means that you can probably start to feel rightfully uncomfortable if some jerk on your team starts to stare at you. It will also have a very subtle effect in multiplayer battles, where you can see what else a multiplayer opponent or teammate is looking at, literally by following their gaze.

    You may not even have noticed that in the original halo, characters simply pointed their faces straight ahead. Not a big deal until you see how it compares with this new alternative. Little things like that sound small in isolation, but put all these tiny factors together and they weave quite a tapestry. Of death. A tapestry of death.

  • The scripts are finished and the first round of dialog is almost all being recorded this week. Joe Staten, the cinematics guru, lets Bungie folk pore over the scripts and make suggestions or changes – you'd be surprised how tightly thought out the Halo universe is. A staffer could for example note that a bit of military terminology is being used incorrectly, or that an Elite would never say, 'Ooh, Master Chief gave me an owie!"

    Seeing the script, the writing and the dialog are among my favorite aspects of the job – but it does kinda suck knowing what happens at the end. I mean, who'd ever have suspected that Master Chief was a ghost? And a chick. A ghost chick! Seriously though, it's hard to know whether to be disappointed or excited by scripts. Part of you is like, "Holy crap, this is so amazing!" and the other part of you is like, "Aaw man, I just read 20 pages of spoilers."

    Most of the dialog is being recorded in California but a couple of actors are based up here, and a couple more in Chicago so Marty and Jay and Joe are juggling that aspect too. I wanted to be a voice in the game, but my best baritone still sounds like a wasp farting through a harmonica.

  • Paul Russell just showed me a hole in the ground between two parts of a level, and pointed out that thanks to the sheer scale possible in the new engine, he could literally fit all of the geometry from the first game, inside the hole. Of course, scale is relative, but that's the general idea.

  • Lorraine, resident Bungie artist, has been porting over reams and reams of content from the old site to the future Bungie.net – a job as necessary as it is tedious. Lorraine actually created a lot of the art, and is very protective of Bungie's graphical assets. More interestingly, she just approved the base for the Flood Carrier Form action figure that was debuted at last week's Toy Fair in New York. We'll all get to see the action figures next week so they can be approved for production.

    Lorraine has also commissioned artist Eddie Smith to create hi-res images that we'll use for "assorted promotional purposes." Eddie's stuff is fantastic and he works fast, so we can't wait to see the results.

Next Week: More of the same, plus some different stuff, plus a few things that are similar, but not identical. And naturally it'll be on a different forum. But until then, "enjoy" Mister Chief's near identical dual-wielding problems.