So, the big news is that Halo 3 was officially announced, with a release in 2007 confirmed – though no specific date. At E3 in May a new announcement trailer was shown for Halo 3, and I updated my screen saver program in its honour. You can download the trailer and the screen saver over at Halo Screen Saver.com – nearly 26,000 downloads so far since June!
Later last year at the X06 event, there were several other Halo-related announcements. Halo Wars from Ensemble Studios was announced. This will be a real-time strategy (RTS) game based in the Halo universe at a time prior to the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. Ensemble Studios are responsible for the successful Age of Empires franchise, so there’s a good chance that this will turn out to be a good game. There are concerns over how an RTS will play on a console with a controller, rather than on a PC with a keyboard and mouse. However, the recent Lord of the Rings RTS on the XBox 360 showed how it could be done, so I have high hopes. No release date has been announced for Halo Wars yet, but there is a CGI trailer available over at the official Halo Wars site.
The second announcement was that Peter Jackson, of Lord of the Rings and King Kong fame, would be teaming up with Microsoft to create a new games studio called Wingnut Interactive, and that they would be working on a series of games based in the Halo universe. Jackson was vague about the details, but talked about a new type of gaming experience that could be more like a movie. Perhaps this means episodic content delivered via XBox Live, or something akin to the old laserdisc arcade games like Dragon’s Lair. I think Jackson doesn’t necessarily know exactly how to do what he wants, but feels that there is an opportunity to do something different. Only time will tell if anything comes of this, and if the end product will be any good.
Late last year Bungie also annouced that there would be new a set of maps for Halo 2 available in Spring 2007, and that they would be available over XBox Live Marketplace for XBox 360 owners only. They also announced that they would be holding a multiplayer beta for Halo 3, also in Spring 2007, with various ways of getting into the beta. It looks like I may have got into this – confirmations will be going out this week. There will be more chances to get into the beta later this year. North American players can play 3 hours of Halo 2 online in February and then rush to register on halo3.com – the first 13,333 will get into the beta. Also, there will be special copies of Crackdown, a new XBox 360 game out shortly, which will include invites to the Halo 3 beta. Also, community sites outside North America have places on the beta available, and some are still giving them away. I got mine from an Irish gaming site World Gamer Live, and I’m very grateful to them. These announcements were accompanied by a CGI ad for Halo 3 that appeared on US TV. While it’s not generated using the game engine, it was based on actual models and game assets provided by Bungie, and it looks beautiful.
Since then, Bungie have been releasing bits of information over at Bungie.net via the Weekly Updates. Some information on new multiplayer maps, new weapons such as a revamped Assault Rifle, and new vehicles such as the Mongoose ATV has been released, and this was fleshed out with a “viddoc” called “Et Tu, Brute”. This 7 minute video showed footage from alpha builds of the Halo 3 engine, and showcased the Brutes. Bungie staff admitted that the Brutes were not very interesting in Halo 2, and in Halo 3 they will play a large part. There will be new squad behaviour that will make all enemies more believable, new weapons such as the Brute Spiker and the Spike Grenade, as well as all the eye candy you would expect from a next-gen game. Even in the alpha build things look impressive. The video also gives glimpses of an elite with armour similar to the Arbiter’s, so it looks like he’s returning, and may well be fighting alongside the Master Chief. We also glimpse other weapons, and see rough animations of dual-wieldable swords and a Brute tearing the arms off a marine. I can’t wait for the beta!
In other Halo news, the Halo movie has hit some snags. Mainly it seems to do with money, and disagreements between the studios and Microsoft. The relationship has broken down, so Microsoft are looking for someone else to help fund and distribute the movie. They have stated that they will not do it themselves, since they are not in the movie business. It does look like they are serious about doing it properly and not compromising the creative vision of the Halo story. Peter Jackson is also in dispute with New Line over money related to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, to the extent that they are saying he will never be involved with The Hobbit. I hope they sort that out, since it would be a real shame if he wasn’t involved. As for the Halo movie, I would rather it’s done right or not at all, which seems to be the way it’s going.
The Halo Graphic Novel came out last year, as did the latest novel Ghosts of Onyx. The HGN had several stories, with one main one, “The Last Voyage of the Infinite Succor,” showing how Half-Jaw (the spec-ops Elite commander) got his name, and giving insight into the Covenant and their relationship with the Flood. Other, shorter, stories show the latest Mjolnir armour being tested by an apparently retired female Spartan; a story set in New Mombassa as the Covenant start their invasion; and “Breaking Quarantine,” which shows Sgt. Johnson escaping the Flood on Installation 04.
The HGN also contains a gallery of Halo art by several artists, and this includes a single page by Robt. McClees from Bungie. This page shows what looks like a chat transcript and details of a file download, surrounded by photos and other details, that in sum seem to suggest that Sgt. Johnson may in fact be a Spartan-I, and that Dr. Halsey was fed false information about Johnson having Boren’s Syndrome – which was supposed to be why he was not infected by the Flood. There’s also passing reference to characters from I Love Bees, so it looks like Bungie is trying to bring some of the story elements from that into the Halo “canon”.
Ghosts of Onyx, the latest Halo novel, also gives us more information on the Halo universe, talking about the Spartan-III program, and tying up several loose ends in relation to Dr. Halsey and the other Spartan-IIs. It also introduces us to a Forerunner “shield world”, and further illustrates the advanced technology of the Forerunners. The way the story ends probably means that there’s no real scope for Spartans other than the Master Chief appearing in Halo 3, though you never know.
So, 2007 is shaping up to be a busy Halo year, with the multiplayer beta and Halo 3 itself due to be released. Beyond that there’s Halo Wars on the horizon, Wingnut Interactive’s project (whatever that will be), the Halo movie, a couple more novels in the pipeline, and talk of a Halo comic also. Not all of these will arrive this year, but there’s sure to be enough information about all these to keep our appetite whetted.