Girl Gamers UK were invited over to an exclusive club in London on the 20th July for a press event and a chance to check out the new Halo 3 ODST on the xbox 360. I’ll give you a brief run down on the storyline, although I imagine some of you already know it off by heart by now.
Halo 3 ODST is the new game from the Halo 3 saga, although this time you’re not playing as Master Chief but as an Obrbital Drop Shock Trooper. You’re a rookie and you wake up to discover that the rest of your team has disappeared. In fact, you’re all alone, but are you?. Your objective is to find clues and work out what happened and discover the motivations behind the Covenant’s invasion of New Mombasa.
We were also introduced to ‘Firefight’, a new co operative multiplayer mode where up to four players can take the role of the ODST and face the ultimate challenge in fighting against all of the enemies. The team have included three new Halo 3 multiplayer maps on the 2nd standalone disc, which also includes the original Halo 3 maps, which is a bonus. So you can choose from ‘Lengendary’, ‘Heroic’, or Mythic Map packs which gives you a whopping 24 maps to select from. In my eyes, that’s a pretty good deal.
We watched a brief presentation that was hosted by Ryan Crosby and Lars Bakken from Bungie. They told us about the story surrounding the new game, new weapons, and the ever expanding multiplayer experience. It gave us a brief insight into ‘firefight’, which we had heard about some months ago. Now I do love my first person shooters, but admittedly had not played a lot of Halo 3 in the past, so my first impressions of this game would be lasting impressions.
We all headed over to the 20 or more Xbox 360’s that were set up in a square and started up the game ‘Firefight’ which allows players to jump straight into the deep end. As increasing waves and waves of enemies came together, we took up the challenge for the fight to survive. As you progress through the game, it’s up to you to gain the highest score possible while trying to remain in one piece. Halo 3 skulls are then activated. Watching as the enemies surrounded the players I noticed how the game ran so smoothly and the graphics seemed so well polished from the previous Halo titles. There was a vast array of weapons I could choose from including an SMG which had a silencer and had an optical zoom, which was quite fun. Although there were lots of us playing, we had to survive on the seven lives between us, so that meant a lot of communication and team work and believe me when I say it was not easy. I couldn’t help but notice it actually felt a bit like Left 4 dead, I guess the whole survival mode made me think this. It’s a terrific game to play with your friends.
The Halo 3 storyline is completely different and you start as the rookie. The game is vast and there is lots of exploring needed to be done to discover the mystery behind your missing crew. You’ll find various clues around the game, which will then take you back to the past and actually show’s that crew members journey. Also in this game, you can’t jump as high, there is no motion tracker and the health system is totally different. This time you have to go out and search for health kits in order to recover. You also have VISR mode which you can then activate using the x button which in turn makes you see in a sort of night vision and looking carefully you can see that the enemies are outlines in red, while your allies appear in green, so I actually found that quite cool and helpful. We only played a few rounds of the game, but I was pretty impressed and I think people should give it a try before saying it’s just another Halo 3 game that’s been revamped.
We had a brief chance for a group interview with Lars and Ryan about the new features and what the game had to offer to players. Everyone asked a wide selection of questions.
How important was it for you to change up the Halo formula for ODST?
I think itâ€™s absolutely important, that was one of the things we set about when making ODST. We wanted to tell a new type of story, a different kind of story, a more character-driven piece where you actually get to know these people. Youâ€™re not just playing as a faceless guy, youâ€™re actually playing as a human being, they have relationships, conversations, they take their helmets off and you can see their faces. All those things were really important when we started working on the game. We donâ€™t have the Master Chief but that was a cool challenge. We wanted to try to tell a different story.
Film Noir, that style of storytelling, and even down to the fact when youâ€™re in the city at night itâ€™s very dark and there are a lot of shadows. You canâ€™t see everything, which is why we give you the visor mode but itâ€™s also a mystery story. Youâ€™re going through this big expansive city at night trying to run down these clues and figure out what happened to the rest of your squad.
â€œHad we known how difficult it was going to be we may not have made it as expansive as we didâ€
The last month of post-production was really, pretty gruelling. When we decided to make New Mombasa, itâ€™s the biggest single level weâ€™ve ever made in a Halo game, and that proved to be extremely challenging in a lot of practical ways. Had we known how difficult it was going to be we may not have made it as expansive as we did but it was probably the biggest challenge we had. All the system that you had in Halo 3, youâ€™ll have in ODST. Firefight is the only really new thing that weâ€™ve added but in terms of underlying systems itâ€™s still the same engine.
Have you made any actual changes to the Halo 3 engine?
Weâ€™ve actually made a lot of little improvements all over the place, I canâ€™t really go into detail about everything but weâ€™ve touched the AI, we touched the graphics processing, we touched on the lighting, the effects. Part of the reason the game looks better in my opinion than Halo 3 visually, is because we started work on it when the engine was completely finished in terms of the tools pipeline and everything. The artists had a year to work on just pure content, they didnâ€™t have to worry about dealing with tools breaking or certain things coming online like HDR with Halo 3. All the features were there from the beginning and we could just improve.
Was it difficult designing the ODSTs to be different from the Spartans?
Not really. We knew going in that the ODSTs were going to play a little bit differently than the Spartans, like not having their health come back and all those different factors coming in allowed us toâ€¦ well we knew what we wanted to do with the AI and we were able to execute on that.
Do you think some players will have difficulty adjusting to playing as an ODST?
They absolutely may have that problem and then theyâ€™ll have to come to grips with the fact that theyâ€™re not a Spartan and theyâ€™ll have to tone it back a bit and in the case of Firefight, for example, youâ€™re going to have two ODSTs working together to take down a Hunter, whereas in the past as a Spartan youâ€™re taking those things down by yourself. But I think people will come to grips with that and theyâ€™ll learn to appreciate it.
With ODST weâ€™ve managed to do something that we havenâ€™t done in the past, which is adding in a non-linear story to an FPS, Iâ€™m not going to claim that it hasnâ€™t been done before but itâ€™s something Bungie hasnâ€™t done before. So, it was cool for us to try something different. I donâ€™t know what the future holds for shooters, I couldnâ€™t claim to know that thereâ€™s nothing left in terms of innovation or what direction they should go, Iâ€™m not sure what the answer is, itâ€™ll probably depend on the developers themselves. At Bungie we just want to make the kinds of games we want to play, so if that means going in a certain direction and itâ€™s fun then thatâ€™s what weâ€™ll do.
The omission of the motion tracker is more to do with making the ODST feel less like a super-soldier. Turning it off combined with non-regenerative health, combined with a lower jump and all the things that they canâ€™t do are there to make the play experience really different. When you take away the motion tracker you find that people all of a sudden start paying closer attention to everything around them visually, theyâ€™re not just paying attention to that little circle. That was really cool to see that.
Itâ€™s funny, and itâ€™s hard to say this but we sat down and we decided we wanted to make the experience different but we didnâ€™t really think â€˜oh, the fans arenâ€™t going to like this or thisâ€™. It was more of what was fun and does this serve the purpose of making the ODST feel different, does it make sense? And if it does, are we getting enjoyment out of playing it, then itâ€™s the right direction to go. Thatâ€™s what we ended up doing, we donâ€™t sit there knocking our heads against a wall saying â€˜the fans are gong to hate usâ€™, weâ€™d never get anything done.
Nathan Fillion of Firefly fame has leant his voice to one of the lead characters, is he a fan?
Nathan Fillion played a character in Halo 3, well he played a small role, he was one of the voices of the marine sergeants. He actually partially came to us because heâ€™s a huge Halo fan. We were basically star struck because weâ€™re huge Firefly fans and we love all the stuff heâ€™s ever done. Getting him and then getting Adam Baldwin and also getting Tricia Helfer from Battlestar Galactica was just awesome, it was like a sci-fi geek quest in the office. It ended up working out that Joe (Joseph Staten) wanted to create the character of Buck around Nathan Fillion and he was interested in doing the part and everything else kind of fell into place. It kind of worked out for ODST but itâ€™s one of those things where the character has to make sense in the universe, this worked but I donâ€™t think weâ€™d be pursuing certain actors in the future just because theyâ€™re well known, we want the character to work first.
What are your feelings of Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2?
I think the Infinity Ward guys have done awesome things, weâ€™ve always been really big fans of theirs and when COD 4 came out it was more a matter of now the world is finally paying attention to what these guys are doing. Iâ€™ve played the original and I was like â€˜these guys are awesomeâ€™. Itâ€™s funny, I think the press likes to make it into a rivalry between us but I donâ€™t know, you talk to any Bungie guy or Infinity Ward guy and we were hanging out at E3 throwing beers back together. Honestly, weâ€™re both developers and we both appreciate each otherâ€™s games.
I think the same thing happened when Halo 3 came out. Iâ€™ve heard it referred to as a blast radius and some people donâ€™t want to be within that blast radius because you get sucked up and nobody pays attention to your game. I donâ€™t know if thatâ€™s the reason why those games are pushing off into 2010, maybe it is. This year is going to be interesting, in terms of sales. The entire world is in a different state with the economy.
ODSTâ€™s narrative is unlike any of the previous Halo games, why the change?
It all plays in to how the actual story is told, because itâ€™s broken up into multiple pieces it makes it a lot easier for us to open the game world up and allow you to experience it in whatever order you want. Itâ€™s not completely non-liner, when the game starts youâ€™re actually on a pretty narrow path for the first couple of levels. We found over the course of development that when we dropped the players in, they could go anyway but what we found very quickly was that people were very overwhelmed and they didnâ€™t know what they were supposed to do. Now, when you play those missions youâ€™re getting pieces of the story over that day and then itâ€™s up to you to put them together. It does converge at a certain point that everyone will get, where they then continue on with the story. But the way they experience the game up to that point is going to be a little different for everyone.
Internally we looked at New Mombasa as kind of the setup and the backdrop and it is a very different experience walking through the city at night by yourself, itâ€™s lonely. Youâ€™re searching for these clues and itâ€™s very much a mystery story. The flashback pieces are much more condensed, high-action Halo levels, much more akin to what people are used to from Halo 3.
One of the new pieces of technology that weâ€™ve brought into ODST is the idea of squad patrols. Weâ€™ve set up set pieces which are in unique places but on top of that there are constantly random patrols of Covenant that are dropping off through Phantoms, there are guys patrolling rooftops, there are random dudes all over the city. Every time you play in New Mombasa itâ€™s going to be a little bit different.
Story-wise the slip-space rupture you see in the opening cinematic is the same one that the Master Chief dives through and travels to another part of the universe (at the beginning of Halo 2). ODST is taking place in that time period, the Chief isnâ€™t on Earth.