Archive for the ‘Halo’ category

Crackdown impressions

March 12th, 2007

Crackdown LogoLast Thursday night I got time to take a look at the Crackdown demo available for download from XBox Live. Crackdown has received a lot of attention in the gaming press and the Halo community due to the inclusion of invitations to the Halo 3 Beta in retail copies of the game. There was an initial impression that the Halo 3 Beta invitations must be a marketing ploy to help sell a sub-standard game. However, it appears that Crackdown can stand on its own two feet.

Major Nelson has a whole podcast dedicated to it, and has been going on about the game for a while now. That said, he is a Microsoft employee, and despite his claims about doing his shows and his site in his own time with his own cash, etc., he would have a certain bias, and would no doubt be happy to help promote XBox games. It is unlikely that he would promote a crap game though :)

JVB from Podtacular has put together a review of Crackdown. He was pretty impressed with it, and he was one of several XBox community members invited to Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington to a special Crackdown community event. You can hear all about their experiences in Podtacular Episode 99.

So, I decided to take a look for myself. In the game, you play the role of a genetically enhanced super-cop in a city overrun with crime. Your job is to clean up the city any way you see fit. It’s a sandbox-type game, similar in some aspects to the Grand Theft Auto series of games. You can go wherever you like, and do whatever you want. There are missions and objectives, but you can approach them in whatever order you like, and there are many ways to complete them.

The game also has some RPG elements, in that you can develop and improve your character’s abilities. These include skills such as driving, firearms, and explosives, and atributes such as agility and strength. The more you use the skills, the better you get at them. Driving, shooting, throwing grenades, etc., all develop your skills – “skills for kills” as one of the developers of the game put it. Strength is improved through melee atacks and lifting/throwing items. You can build up your strength to the point where you can throw trucks around the place!

Crackdown - blowing things up!

The agility attribute is possibly the most interesting. You improve it through finding Agility Orbs – glowing green spheres dotted around the rooftops of the city. Finding one of these improves your agility – allowing you to jump higher and further. This introduces an element of platform gaming to the game. Soon you start keeping an eye out for the telltale green glows (easier to see at night), and before long you’re making Matrix-style jumps across the skyline – complete with concrete-crushing landings. It is surprising how quickly you start looking at the city from the point of view of “can I jump up there/that far?” or “how can I get to that orb?”, and of course each time you get another orb, those limits are pushed even further. There’s 500 to find throughout the city, and there’s other mystery orbs to find too.

Overall, my impressions were positive about Crackdown. It successfully coveys the impression that you’re a genetically-enhanced super-cop that can do whatever he likes in his attempts to clean up the city. The city itself is well populated, with realistic inhabitants and environments that feel very three-dimensional. Apparently the co-op system is fun, with each participant completely independent and can go wherever they want – they can help their partner too if they want :) The achivements are supposed to be good too, with fun achievements in there too. For example you get an achievement for climbing up the top of the tallest building (and successfully jumping off it too!), juggling a body with the rocket launcher, and so on.

I don’t tend to buy many games, mainly because I don’t get enough time to play the games I already have :) However, I’d definitely pick this up if it was on sale, or perhaps pre-owned. For regular game buyers, I’d definitely recommend it.

Halo news catchup

January 23rd, 2007

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.

Peter Jackson to be Executive Producer for Halo movie

October 5th, 2005

Peter JacksonJoseph Staten has posted the second installment of the Great Hollywood Journey – his updates relating to progress on the Halo movie.

In this update, he announces that Peter Jackson, of Lord of the Rings fame, is to be Executive Producer on the Halo movie. He will be joined by his partner Fran Walsh, and the deal also involves the WETA team coming on board. These are the people that handled the CGI aspects of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

This news is great, and has started getting me excited about the Halo movie project. I talked about getting people like Peter Jackson involved, but I never thought they’d actually get Peter Jackson!

Now, Jackson’s only Executive Producer, but the fact that he’s on board, and the obvious technical prowess of the WETA team, coupled with the fact that he and Fran are apparently “already avid fans of the game”, should mean that the movie holds true to the story (for the most part), but above all, that the movie ends up as a great movie.

Obviously if the actors are abysmal and the director dire, then it’ll tank like most other game-movie tie-ins. But my expectations have just been ratched up a couple of notches :)

Making the Halo Movie Companion

October 5th, 2005

Master ChiefLorraine McLees has posted her views on the process of creating the Halo Movie Companion, and about how excited she is that Peter Jackson will be involved in the Halo Movie.

What’s interesting is that she claims that there is no existing Halo Story Bible, and that it would take a lot more work to get from the Companion to the Bible. That makes me wonder about the resources that people like Eric Trautman had when he was responsible for things like the Halo novels. Perhaps he relied on running things past Jason Jones, who had the equivalent of the Story Bible in his head :)

Cortana to appear in DOA4?

October 5th, 2005

CortanaFrankie has confirmed on Bungie.net a claim on the Game Informer website, that a Halo character will appear in the upcoming Dead or Alive 4 for XBox 360. Apparently it will be an unlockable character. According to the man himself:

“It’s cool. And by cool, I mean totally sweet.”

I think the character will be Cortana. First, the DOA games are notorious for their female characters, especially how well endowed and scantily clad they make them. Secondly, the image at the bottom of Frankie’s post shows various shillouettes. One of these looks like Cortana, and it moves, stretching up on its toes and back down – resulting in a bouncing breast movement that is so DOA.

As for the rationale for a Halo character appearing in the DOA universe, well:

“You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the explanation for a Halo character in the DOA universe, even if it’s a bit tongue in cheek.”

Frankie promises more details in a future update.

In-Fusio to produce Halo-themed mobile content

October 5th, 2005

EliteFrankie reports over at Bungie.net that In-Fusio has signed a deal to produce Halo-themed ringtones and pictures for mobile phones.

“Microsoft has signed a deal with French publisher In-Fusio to make Halo-themed ringtones, graphics and other mobile media for mobile phones. Although no games have been announced at this time, In-Fusio would have the rights to publish a cellphone Halo game should Microsoft decide to produce one.”

In the meantime, head here for some Halo ringtones :)

Bungie confirms XBox 360 backward compatibility for Halo 2

September 23rd, 2005

343 Guilty SparkOver on Bungie.net Frankie completes his report on the Tokyo Game Show. He confirms backward compatibility for Halo 2 on the XBox 360, and states that there will be more details on this topic coming soon. He also alludes to a built-in game on the new console. Finally, he tells us that there may be surprises coming soon. I’ve quoted the relevant sections here.

“Thing is, watching the video at the keynote of the first 360 sliding off the production line, I thought, ‘Why can’t we have ours now?’ I mean, come on. Where’s the harm? I would just keep it in my house and load it up with my CD collection. And maybe play the built-in game. Or some Halo 2. Which works on the system thanks to the magic of backward compatibility. Anyway, apparently the answer to my early 360 question is a resounding ‘no.’ Jerks.”

“We have some cool stuff coming up for you in the next couple of weeks, including a tour of our new offices, a look (well, maybe more of a discussion) at Halo 2 running on 360, so look out for that. And you never know, there may be some surprises between now and then.”

Candidates for the surprises are:

  • Halo movie news – director, actors?
  • Details of the next project that Bungie are already working on – Halo 3, Pimps at Sea, GNOP360?
  • Confirmation that Halo 3 will be a launch title for the XBox 360 (I wish!)

Maybe there’ll be more details in this week’s update.

Red Vs Blue Season 4 Kicks Off

September 6th, 2005

Rooster TeethThe guys over at Rooster Teeth Productions have kicked off Season 4 of Red Vs Blue, the highly successful and very funny machinima series. The season begins with Episode 58 – Familiar Surroundings and Episode 59 – Hunting Time. As usual, they had me laughing out loud 😀

Last season’s sponsors have access to the high resolution versions of the episodes. The new sponsorship system should be in place shortly, and will apparently allow you to carry over sponsorship from season to season automatically. I’ve ordered my Season 3 DVD, so that should arrive any day now, and I’m looking forward to the rest of Season 4.

Halo Movie Update

August 24th, 2005

Master ChiefJoseph Staten has posted an update over at Bungie.net about progress on the Halo Movie. Details have been worked out with Universal and 20th Century Fox – i.e. the lawyers are now happy – and things can start really moving on the project.

Joseph takes us on a journey through the evolution of the project, and his enthusiasm for the script is evident. If the final movie is true to this script, then it sounds like it will be awesome. The main issue so far, and no doubt throughout the project, is the question of creative control – Bungie wants to retain control over the details so that the movie remains true to the Halo universe. Joseph seems to imply that this is largely sorted out. As Joseph himself puts it:

“First, our community team (along with some great folks in Microsoft’s Franchise Development Group) assembled an exhaustive “companion” that will accompany the script during the film’s production. We built this universe bible/style-guide to inspire and inform the filmmakers as well as serve as a point-of-reference for all parties in the event of creative disagreements.

Here’s one of the companion’s reference pages. Imagine this level of specificity for every character, weapon, vehicle, environment – you name it – in the known Halo universe. That’s a lot of inspirational and argument-settling goodness.”

This is the fabled Halo Story Bible – though I think that it has never been in such a complete form. No doubt Bungie realised that this will get out into the public domain, despite being labelled as a “Trade Secret of Microsoft”, and decided that it should have the same production values as the rest of the Halo/Halo 2 experience.

There’s no mention of who exactly will star in or direct the movie. My vote goes for Scarlett Johansson as Cortana, and Steve Downes for the Master Chief (he does the voice in the game). As far as the director goes, Joseph makes the comparison with Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings. They’re looking for a director that will bring the same level of devotion to making it perfect, to not disappointing the fans, and who can above all make a great movie.

If they can find someone who can do for Halo what Jackson did for The Lord of the Rings, then I will be ecstatic. Jackson’s movies are so true to the books in their look, their feel, attention to small details, that they really capture the essence, the feel of Middle Earth for me, even if there are some differences between the books and the films. The LOTR movies look just like I imagined it when I read the books. But on top of that, Jackson made great movies, with great performances and real emotional involvement with the characters and events. If Bungie can pull this off and produce the same effect for the Halo franchise, then they will truly be on the road to world domination :)

In related news, HBO are reporting that Variety has an article detailing the agreement between Universal, Fox, and Microsoft.

  • Universal and Fox will each pay Microsoft $5 million in return for 10% of the gross
  • Microsoft will have extensive consultation rights, but not final say on creative elements
  • The movie should be out in 2007

So, it could still turn into The Avengers!

J Allard XBox 360 chat transcript

August 22nd, 2005

XBox 360 LogoMajor Nelson organised an online chat with J Allard over the weekend. The transcript of the chat can be found here on his blog. J answered some key questions, such as support for backwards compatibility:

J Allard (Expert): Another one from mail: What about backward compatibility in the core system?
J Allard (Expert): because we didn’t abstract storage in the first generation xbox back compat will require a hard drive. the good news is that the core system owners can upgrade if they deside to update at a later date.

The decision to have the two versions (XBox 360 Core System and XBox 360) is explained:

in summary we tried to optimize launch around three critical audiences

[1] – the game developer – by offering them a no compromises platform with great hardware, tools and the leading online service with live.
[2]- the hard core gamer – by putting together a configuration with everything you would want at a compelling price.
[3] the entry level gamer – that wanted to get into next generation gaming and was excited by the media capabilities and wanted an entry level option

There was no further information on a launch date, but he made it clear they are working flat out.

J’s comment on backwards compatibility requiring the presence of the hard drive seems confined to the fact that since the original XBox had a HD, then games designed for the original XBox will assume it’s there, and therefore won’t work without the HD present. Whether the HD also plays a role in terms of updated versions of popular games re-compiled and optimised for the XBox 360 is not mentioned, and may be nothing more than speculation.