PAX 2014 – Halo and the Journey of The Master Chief

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By Michael Elliott – 30th August 2014
PAX 2014 – Halo and the Journey of The Master Chief

Halo: The Master Chief Collection is one of the most anticipated titles of 2014. Including new graphics in the form of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and Halo 2: Anniversary, The Master Chief Collection also includes Halo 3 and 4, all in 1080p and 60fps. The PAX 2014 Halo panel just finished, and was live streamed via twitch. Here’s a recap of what you may have missed:

To begin, Frank O’Connor introduced 343i and certain Affinity studios executives. Frank also welcomed a surprise group of guests to the stage. A gaming group, clad in Halo Armor, took to the stage where Frank O’Connor handed off the mic to a cosplayer who immediately dropped to a knee, turned to his girlfriend (dressed in ODST armor), and proposed. Luckily, she said yes. How cute! That could have been awkward.

Halo: Nightfall

Next up was the new live action Halo series, Halo: Nightfall. The panel brought up how the team really wanted to integrate Nightfall’s story into Halo 5: Guardians with Sgt. Locke, as well as into the original Halo: Combat Evolved. 343 Industries’s Kiki Wolfkill discussed the setting of Halo: Nightfall, and how it is an integral aspect of the story. A brief ViDoc was shown, revealing that Halo: Nightfall will actually take place on a fragment of the original Halo ring (Installation 04). In the ViDoc, the ring fragment was described as having an irregular orbit, with livable parameters based on its orientation towards that system’s star. Basically, during the night the environment of the fragment is habitable, but during the day the fragment is roasted by the sun. The basis of Halo: Nightfall is that Locke’s missions must be completed in the 16 hours of darkness before they are decimated by solar exposure. More details on Halo: Nightfall were discussed, and it was revealed that the series was filmed in Iceland to represent a “damaged and raw environment,” according to Kiki. The team also focused heavily on how they really wanted the setting to be a character, and how important it was for that to come across.

The whole team filming in the rocky environment of iceland.

Isn’t Iceland supposed to be green?

The Halo Channel was next up on the panel, and was described as a place to find “All Things Halo.” It will include the ability to launch Xbox One games from the Halo Channel, as well as Twitch integration. A Halo Channel-specific internal programming team is constantly working on content, giving users reasons to return with programs featuring “Halo Originals”, Halo news, and the community.

Halo 2: Anniversary

Frank O’Connor and company went behind the scenes with Halo 2: Anniversary. With an advance in technology, features become more and more optimized. It was revealed that in Halo 2: Anniversary the switch between old to new is immediate, and includes audio in the switch as well. According to 343i’s Paul Lipson, the goal was to “Adapt and re-orchestrate” the original soundtrack. To do this, 343 industries returned to Skywalker Sound, the team responsible for non-vocal audio in Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. It was also announced that the soundtrack will be in surround sound, which is a feature expected from next-gen games. 343i then made the world premiere of the remastered Halo 2 Soundtrack, playing a beautifully made excerpt of Halo 2: Anniversary’s “Never Forget.” From watching on twitch, it seemed that most of the fans had a very positive response to the remastered excerpt. I can honestly say tears welled in my eyes.

It was also announced that new guest artists would be present in the Halo 2: Anniversary soundtrack. Misha Mansoor will be featured in Halo 2: Anniversary sporting electric guitar sounds, more akin to hardcore parts of Halo Theme Song, not as popular among the fans if twitch chat is any indicator. As described by Frank O’Connor his sounds were “pretty metal.” Steve Vai, the original guitarist responsible for the Halo 2 theme song, will be back for Halo 2: Anniversary, recording at Skywalker Studios. We got to listen to an excerpt from the remastered original Halo 2 Theme and let me tell you, I am extremely excited. The official Halo 2: Anniversary soundtrack will release side-by-side with the Master Chief Collection on November 11th, along with the limited edition vinyl.

Steve Vai

A Welcomed Return

Halo 2: Anniversary will present completely new and overhauled sound effects as well as an advanced new LOD system (in which sounds are heard differently at a distance and around corners). Gameplay from Halo 2: Anniversary’s campaign was shown; the panel presented the “switch” system straight off of their development kit, showing differences in sounds and graphics of weapons from old to new. I personally believe all of the weapons sounded and looked phenomenal, and I’m genuinely excited.

Max Hoberman, from the studio responsible for Halo 2: Anniversary’s multiplayer maps, Certain Affinity, went into some of the details of the multiplayer. Lockout, as was announced earlier this week, will be one of the six Halo 2 maps that has been completely remastered. Max discussed the origins of lockout, 1 of 9 original small scale maps planned for Halo 2, it was the smallest of the set. The map was designed to be a 1v1 map for pre Halo-online, and for people with no internet connectivity. New features to Lockout (Now called Lockdown) include: a new “Elbow Cover” on the long ramp by the sniper corner, a breakable glass piece in center (it takes a lot to break it), and 3 destructible stalactites hanging from the icy ceiling designed to do damage to players in power points. The audience was shown Lockout’s original blueprints (noticeable differences include the missing elbow from the grav lift room to the sniper tower) from the first 6 months of Halo 2 development, and it was revealed that it was the Halo 2 team’s favorite small scale map. It was also revealed that the shotgun corridor was inspired by a map from Bungie’s original, Marathon. Andy Bravo, the host of The Halo Channel’s new series “Breaking down the Map,” later presented tips and trick jumps, some old and some new, that could be performed on the map.

Green corridor, with pods full of flood specimen.

Eerie…

FORGE

The Team was brief on this anticipated subject, simply mentioning a few improvements. It was important for 343i to open up variety, and provide more natural options. 3 skybox only forge maps were announced, and the game will feature a more “open pallet.” There are just a few too many updates to list, but the complete list of changes and updates to forge are shown in the image below.

New Forge Features

Ooooh, shiny.

To finish the show, some Halo 3 footage was shown in its updated Master Chief Collection version, which features 1080p and 60fps, resulting in smoother movement and crisp animation. Frank O’Connor also revealed that there have been updates to the lighting systems as well.

The show wrapped up with one final Surprise; the panel gave away one Master Chief Xbox found under the seat of a lucky guest in seat 13L.

Halo 2: Anniversary – Q&A

After the presentation, a questions and answers portion was held. Below is my best attempt to record the answers and questions shown.

Q: We kind of have expectations of how the existing multiplayer will look, how will Halo: CE  look when implemented into the online multiplayer?
A: We’ll talk about CE in about a month, but I can say we’re very excited about it.

Q: Lockout had elements of change and interactivity, will there be more forge objects that we will be able to interact with?
A: We have some really fun elements and gadgets in forge, but we can’t talk too much about that.

Q: Player population lowered significantly about a year after Halo 4 released. How are you tackling this as a team?
A: Halo 4 was our first game as studio. Everybody is trying to learn from that, and we got the message loud and clear.

Q: If you haven’t played Halo 4 plug your ears. I miss Cortana. However, I understand the design and story behind the decision. What were some  thoughts that pushed that decision forward, as well as the decision to isolate Master Chief?
A: We can’t talk too much about story, what I will say is Master Chief has been a vehicle for the player for so long, and we’ve been learning about his persona. We don’t connect a lot if nothing meaningful or bad happens. We’ll get to see how effective he his in halo 5.  As a player we want yo to feel something with chief, and experience this sense of loss that chief was feeling, as sort of a reflection of chief from a human side. Cortana was the best representation of his human side.

Q: Is there ever a chance to see Halo: Reach on next-gen?
A:Maybe, but no current plans. The Goal was to get Master Chief’s story on Xbox One. That is actually one of the questions I’ve heard most since announcement the announcement of the Master Chief Collection.

Q: Will tricks, like rocket jumps or sword lunge exploits, be available?
A: We wont make any promises, some are still working and some are in testing. Pixel count and renderer may change those.

Q: Will armor and loadouts carry over for Halo 3 and Halo 4.
A: No, the Xbox One and 360 are radically different systems.

Q: In Halo Combat Evolved: Anniversary, will the new-to-old switch be instantaneous like Halo 2: Anniversary?
A: Yes, we’ve updated that feature in Halo Combat Evolved: Anniversary

Q: Will Master Chief ever discover that other Spartan II’s are alive?
A: Good question, the fans of the novels know which ones are alive, but Master Chief actually does not. They’re will be more on that soon.

Q: Will Halo Combat Evolved: Anniversary feature the change in Audio along with graphics, like in Halo 2: Anniversary.
A: No, this as only been implemented in Halo 2: Anniversary.

Q: Will there be a community map sharing system on the Halo Channel.
A: Highlighting the community is important on the channel. We’ll definitely be putting community things on the channel, it helps us put up programming, and we’ll be happy to highlight user created content that is as good or better than what we’ve made.

Q: Will the new music artists replace the old guest artists?
A: In legacy mode you’ll hear Breaking Benjamin and Incubus tracks, but when you switch to the anniversary mode you’ll hear the new artist contributions replacing those pieces in those moments.

Q: Can you switch between audio only, while keeping the graphics the same?
A: No, when you switch from legacy to new graphics, the audio changes as well. We consciously made the decision to preserve these “two pillars,” legacy graphics legacy sound, new graphics new sound.

Q: Will player count in matches ever increase to 32 or 64?
A: Nothing new to announce at this time, but we do consider that choice from time to time.

Q: With the sound changes, you guys gave the weapons a bit more pop. Are the weapon damages updated along with sound?
A: Original damage and weapon mechanics are untouched, although you’ll probably feel like the enemies “die harder”.

Q: In Halo 4 mulitplayer weapons despawned quickly, will the increased technological capabilities increase weapon life-span?
A: The despawn was actually a mechanic, and we will not be touching that decision and the mechanics. We’re leaving the gameplay aspects the same across the board. Everything else will be kept verbatim.

  • Daniel Mora

    Very solid post. Great work Michael!