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PAX 2010 Preview: Halo: Reach

Posted by DEVIL on September 5, 2010 at 11:37 AM

This game will sell a LOT.


Halo: Reach is already one of the most eagerly anticipated 360 titles... ever. In the last few days leading up to Reach's September 14 release date, the Bungie team delivered their last presentation before launch this morning at PAX in Seattle. gamrFeed was there and got the scoop on the history of the game's development, story, characters, maps, and campaign.


Reach's development started in October 2007, with only four people on the team. They were done with Master Chief's storyline and wanted to create a standalone game with a standalone story. Reach takes place chronologically before the first Halo. The presentation opened with a video: "From the beginning."


Planet views. Mountains. Fog. A subdued piano plays a few keys. Cut to a black-and-white storyboard scene of a Spartan helmet sitting on the ground, and then a warthog driving into the distance under a calm sunset. The subtitle reads "Planet Reach, July 2552." A Mordor-esque mountainscape fills the screen, with a simple Halo: Reach in the center.


Bungie began their panel by talking about the setting. Planet Reach is a military site, and the setting of the Human-Covenant War. Reach is about the final days of the planet, a place that Bungie went very out of their way to make feel "real." It has a backstory, a population, a history, and (of course) the epic vistas that the series is known for. There is a very "lived in" feel to the world you'll be exploring.


There are three distinct geographies to explore in the game: boreal, badlands, and temples. There's a variety of different architecture to explore as well, from rustic pioneer ares, to industrial districts, to "hyper-urban" maps. You won't see hallway after hallway of similar rooms like in the original Halo, no sir.



Planet Reach has a complete history, even down to the science. It orbits the star Epsilon Eridani, a very real star, which may actually have a Earth-like planet orbiting it in real life (Spock was from there, too!). It has a 27-hour day, a 390-day year, and is slightly larger than Earth. There won't be a day/night cycle or anything (the missions are far too short), but it's neat that all these details have been taken into account.


To create the maps, Bungie created the entire game in 3D Studio Max, a program that can render 3D environments quickly and easily, before importing them into the engine. They built skeletons of the maps in Max then played some easy missions in them to get a sense of scale. Re-using assets from previous Halo games (like satellite dishes from the Halo 3 DLC) was not only allowed, it was encouraged! A map thrown together in a few hours already had that recognizable Halo feeling.


Next up: the characters. Bungie is trying very hard to get Noble Team to be as iconic and instantly recognizable as Master Chief himself. As such, there was a TON of work put into them before they ever saw the game world. The presenters claimed that there was more concept art in Reach than in any other game in the Halo universe... combined. Wowzers.



Noble Team, first and foremost, is a team of real, believable people. They have histories, they have likes and dislikes, they have regional accents and personalities, they would probably even have a facebook in real life. The plan was originally to have seven members on the team (like Kurosawa's Seven Samurais), but a few had to be cut for one reason or another, like Rosenda (the sassy Spartan) and Tom (the cowboy).


Unlike Master Chief, the members of Noble Team take their helmets off, so Bungie wanted to make sure that there was someone worth getting to know under those helmets. They spent a lot of work on getting the facial animations to match the voices, and they got plenty of voice actors with accents that are unique without sounding too specifically regional. There won't be a "Southern" soldier, for example.


The faces are also being captured with some brand new tech. Bungie showed a very impressive video with an actor talking on one side of the screen and the 3D render of her face mimicking her expressions on the other side. We've come a long way from the simple mouth opening and closing "talking" from the games of yesteryear. The technique is called "faceover" (like "voiceover," I guess?) and looks much better in action than in stills.



They're also going for "a different kind of story" with the game. Bungie wants to make you feel what it's like to be a Spartan, as a member of this elite team that trusts each other and will watch each others' backs. There's also a very "war reporter" style of camera work that actually developed as a result of using motion capture work for the cinematics. It makes you feel like you're right in the action, and there are no "meanwhile" moments in the game.


When something happens, you'll see reactions that are honest and authentic out of Noble Team. They don't have prior 3rd-person-omniscient knowledge, and Bungie feels that, at least in Reach, the player shouldn't, either.


The motion capture work was originally meant for the gameplay, not the cutscenes. Subtle movements such as shifting in the seat of your helicpoter are much better represented by real people's actions. Once Bungie saw how well they worked, it became a key aspect of the cinematic scenes, both the action and the directorial direction. Using real actors for the characters' movements limited the camera angles, but the sense of urgency and realism of the scene increased tenfold.


The panel went on to describe how Reach, being a new title distinct from the rest of the Halo universe, had all sorts of original themes, motives, and atmosphere. The developers were actually excited to go to work, because they got to create something completely original, with its own identity and personality. You'll definitely be able to tell in the final product.



Bungie finished up the panel with a video of gameplay prototypes - things that were amazing but didn't quite make it into the final product for one reason or another. They also pointed out that it was a video for internal use, and we can tell everyone about the prototypes but Bungie will neither confirm nor deny them. Let's see what they've got!


  • Space combat - Fly around and shoot stuff in spaaaaace, a la Star Wars Starfighter.
  • Watercrafts - Bungie has been trying to get boats into Halo for nearly a decade, and still no luck. The biggest problem is that boating from one island to the next took like... an hour. That's not fun.
  • Character boarding - The crowd CHEERED at this one: imagine you're fighting an Elite, it charges past you, and you leap on its back. You punch it in the head a few times and stick a plasma grenade on its face. BAM. Listen Bungie: you can make this happen.
  • Giants - These guys were basically Elites that are five times taller. They kicked the grunts around before charging your Spartan. Very impressive and over-the-top. (They killed it by boarding its back and grenading its head. Awesome!)
  • Global battles - The world is falling down around you while battling aliens. Skyscrapers collapse, bridges crumble... it's intense.

None of these will be in the final game, sadly. Maybe next time? However, if this is the stuff that got cut, imagine the amazing stuff that will be in the final product.

Halo: Reach drops in ten days. Are you ready?


Halo Reach Preview

Categories: Videogames, Xbox News, Xbox Live

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