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This week's update comes from Frankie who is in Tokyo showing off Halo 2 at TGS. He has spotty internet access so I'm posting this for him. Enjoy!
BUNIGE WEEKLY UPDATE
So Parsons comes up to me and he says, ?Frankie, do you like kimchee?? But more on that later.
?I?m bored,? says one of our artists. Admittedly, even now, that statement is something of a rarity, but it?s a fair generalization to say that this week, the pace for some has cooled considerably. Artists are slowing down. Animators are making slight adjustments to cinematics, and even engineers are easing back on the throttle, just a little bit, as the game goes from insane crunch mode, to dense bug-fixing and final testing.
This new easy street, is not, of course, for everyone. Poor old Joe Staten is still hammering on cutscenes and cinematics, as last minute direction goes into making drama resonate and humor pop. Marty, Jay, C Paul (congrats, by the way on C Paul?s new permanent full time position with Bungie audio) are swamped. All the music composed, all the dialog recorded, they must frantically balance out voices over music, reposition some 5.1 effects and generally apply a thick coat of aural paint to the house the rest of the team has built. Audio is always the last major chunk to go into the game, and requires delicate fine tuning. Last, but not least is the mighty Bungie test team. Fueled by an enormous appetite for ice cream and pizza Harold and his band of test brothers are using the latest technology to try and see what breaks so the team can fix it. In the final stretch the test team is kicking truckloads of ass and working nonstop to polish the game and make it the best it can be. Multiplayer system link games, online games, solo campaign and co-op sessions are underway and literally everyone on the team is helping out in one way or another. And keep in mind there are 8 different versions of the game - all needing thorough testing. It's a daunting task but luckily we're dealing with the best of the best...and free beer is a great motivator.
Hao Chen and Roger Wolfson are working with the cinematics guys to build a predictive graphics routine that lessens or eliminates the occasional pop-in as the level of detail on objects increases during cinematics. This little engineering project addresses one of the weird vagaries of making your cinematics use the game engine. Since the camera viewpoints in cinematics can hop from point to point instantly, it?s tough for the CPU and GPU to predict what areas of the geometry need to be drawn next.
Marty and the guys are often pigeonholed as another part of the art team, creating something that can live independently of the game. Now elements of that are true, but the audio is usually, and particularly in Halo 2, part of the gameplay (as indeed are the graphics). Not only are the lines of dialog amusing, or atmospheric or scary, they?re often essential to the mission at hand. When Sgt. Johnson yells, ?They?re coming in high,? he is not simply letting his lips go flippety-flap, he is telling you that if you don?t look up, that scary new alien is going to stab you in the face with whatever that is he?s holding.
The game sounds fantastic in stereo, and the stereo balance is such that you can use positional cues to figure out where trouble is coming from. But to fully enjoy the Halo 2 experience, I?d personally recommend using a Dolby 5.1 system, and totally crank it. As each day passes, the changes to the game builds are smaller and smaller. Invisible bug fixes, small elements of gameplay tuning and lots of new sound and music mixing are typical elements. Now, when Sgt. Johnson tells you to smile, he sounds like he?s standing in front of you. Unless of course, you turn your back on the good sergeant.
I have actually turned my back on the Studio for a week, to head out to the Tokyo Game Show, which takes place over three days at the sprawlingly futuristic Makuhari Messe, which is no more in Tokyo than Poughkeepsie is in Manhattan. Here, Japanese game developers will show off their wares to a completely suspecting public. Unlike the glitzy marketing hoo-hah of E3, this glitzy hoo-hah is open to the public. I loves me some public. We?re there to show off Zanzibar again. I know! I know! Zanzibar! But it?s the only thing we?ve got that?s functional to show to the public. It?s grating in a way because we have much more advanced stuff that just isn?t set up for public consumption. Until November 9th, that is.
That said, the first day of TGS went off swimmingly. The Japanese press and the few consumers who saw it today ? Friday ? seemed to love it. We did some interviews off of the show floor, and the Japanese press seemed to be very interested in storyline, plot, clans and the localized Japanese build (which is my favorite foreign language build). Interviews were a little embarrassing, because I had to act (truthfully) as a member of the Bungie family but bask (untruthfully) in the talent of the team around me. But everyone seemed to enjoy it.
One slightly embarrassing moment was playing in a short multiplayer game on Lockout, against one of the Japanese Halo champions, who, having never played the map,. The rules or indeed, Halo 2 ever before, proceeded to own me, 25-20. We now refer to this situation as being, ?j?pwned.? And believe me, it?ll happen to you guys every now and then when the game goes live.
So this week has been frantic ? late to bed, early to rise, rush hour Tokyo traffic, complete with white gloved attendants shoving is onto trains. But the funny thing is, back at the ranch, things are starting to cool down. Some people amazingly, even have nothing to do. That?s only a few people, but gosh-darn it if that Halo 2 game ain?t nearly finished?
So, about that kimchee. If you?re a regular reader of the updates, you?ll know that within Parsons beats a tiny black heart, shriveled by eons of relentless evil, fluttering inside his ribcage like a frantic vampire bat. Well, nothing makes his heart swell (admittedly to a slightly less papery husk) than acts of purest evil. He tells me I may have to fly from Japan to Seoul, Korea, to get the game rated. It?s midnight here in Tokyo, and I?m at his mercy. More news next week.
Until then, another trackpad-creation, and if I do say so myself, the worst Mister Chief ever. I?m kind of proud. And Lorraine will be pleased.