A Great Jorb

Coach Z

Introduced the family to Homestar Runner earlier this year and it was a hit, with the kids more than I thought it would be.

Their favorite so far is Coach Z’s mispronunciations.

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TBoD #11 – Xbox One

The Teabag or Die! Podcast tackles the recent Xbox One unveiling in Episode 11!

Did you see how I ended the above sentence with an exclamation point? That’s because I’m excited!

Listen in as Quim and Eremenko break down their first reactions to the new ‘Box.

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Click on the banner above to hear Episode 11 (Contains mature language)

But you were off being a hero

Episode 5 – “The Forest for the Trees” – of Playtime Season 4 is here, and the adventures of Warren and Cobra continue.

There are a couple of places you can go (Waypoint for one) to find the third episode, but the link to the official Playtime website is here.

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The post title doesn’t make sense you say? Then click on the banner above and watch! 🙂

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Quoth the Bear

Even though the Forerunner Saga is (allegedly) complete, I still have the creators of the Halo Array on my mind.

Characters and plot points from Silientium continue to wash over me despite the fact that I finished the book months ago, and the recent Dust & Echoes [link] podcast delved into the book as well – further fueling my daydreams of greater arks, star roads and brevet mutations.

With all these brain waves devoted to the Forerunners, I thought I’d add to it by pulling some quotes from a semi-recent bulletin [link] by the author of the Forerunner Saga himself, Greg Bear. I’ve enjoyed Bear’s grand vision of the previously unexplored history of the Forerunners, and applaud 343 Industries’ bold choice in partnering with him to make it happen.

I say “bold” because Greg Bear’s writing style is not something Halo fans had been used to, and any time you try something new there’s always the chance of backlash. “But Knightly,” you say, “Halo fans love to try new things!” My fault – I keep forgetting 🙂

Moving on – let’s hear from (wait for it) the Bear’s mouth!

Looking at the Forerunner environments and designs gamers have experienced, it became obvious that Builder/contractors would be very important. And looking at the destructive power of the Halos and the history of the Flood, it was equally obvious that we are dealing with a warrior civilization near the end of its history and power [emphasis mine]

I love the picture this quote paints – it’s like I can see Bear walking around the studio, looking at concept art, watching the game cut scenes, and getting the general impression about what the Halo universe/Forerunners are all about.

I also love the use of the word “obvious.” Even though the man does this for a living, when I think of formulating a back story for an entire continuality by observation alone the idea of anything being “obvious” is crazy. Where would I even begin?

Bear has thanked the staff at 343 Industries many times for all their help, but he’s the one who had to write the thing. To me it’s both impressive and wild at the same time.

I think the interaction of our feisty humans with Bornstellar and the Ur-Didact remains one of my personal highlights. It was painful to remove them from their homes and sweep them off to high adventure and ultimately tragic transformations…[emphasis mine]

Something that fascinates me about media consumption (be it books, movies, video games, etc.) is the way we can get so strongly attached to the characters we view. If that’s how we feel, how much more so when it’s your own creation?

While difficult to do, I’m glad Bear did it with purpose – there’s a reason Chakas and Riser had to go on their journey, and as a reader that makes all the difference when it comes to accepting the fate of someone you’ve grown to care about, perhaps almost as much as the author.

Bornstellar was always a poor fit for the Didact’s imprint. That said, he does become the Didact, feels both the Didact’s history and his emotions – understands his mentor better than any other Forerunner – and yet remains his own individual. He could be considered the Didact’s imago, as the Didact himself might have been, minus the extraordinary stresses of Forerunner history [emphasis mine]

While there is a TON that can be unpacked in the above quote, the idea of Bornstellar Makes Everlasting being the Didact’s imago really stuck out to me. Can I imagine (spoiler alert: I can’t) what it would be like not only meet a more idyllic version of myself, but to have that other self opposed to a course of action I felt was vital for my (our) entire civilization to survive?

A physical representation of myself minus the hard choices and incredible pressures I’ve been under for the last few millennia, in short, having to stand off against myself but at a different point in life? How often do we look back at situations in our lives, and wonder if/how we would have done them differently knowing what we do now?

Didact_1

Part of the way we make it through life is we know we don’t have to make our choices again once they’re made; yes, we have to deal with the consequences, but the choice itself has a finality to it.

But for the Ur-Didact this permanence is removed – the presence of the Bornstellar Didact means all his choices can be remade*, can be different than what they’ve already been. To have the choices you make be continually in the present and not locked in the past would be maddening.

Didact_2

To say that CyrptumPrimordium and Silentium have added to the Halo canon would be an understatement – they’ve retroactively built a foundation which the fiction will continue to move forward on.

It’s been said that Forerunner’s are fond of hats. We tip ours to you, Greg Bear

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* = Ultimately I believe that this is untrue – we’re talking about two different individuals and their decision are separate, and it that way they are still final. However, I think for the Ur-Didact (and Bornstellar as well) it would certainly feel like your choices are not entirely your own, and that’s the point I am attempting to make.

A Complex Move and other news

The recent Halo Bulletin mentioned that the multiplayer map Complex will be doing some shifting around – and when the music stops it will be in Big Team Battle as opposed to it’s point of origin, Infinity Slayer.

I’m interested to see how this move goes down – as a 4v4 it did seem just a tad too big, but as 8v8 will it get a little crowded?

Complex

Like I said – looking forward to how it plays out. I love that the maps are versatile enough to handle a change like this, or at least that we get the chance to see if they do.

There was something else – in both Infinity Slayer and Big Team Battle “voting options [will be] reorganized to provide increased variety.”

Good to hear – I was under the impression that the only BTB maps for Halo 4 were “Exile” and “Ragnarok.” 😉

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We didn’t have a great solution for it

On a more practical, game design-oriented level, Warner admitted that Halo 4‘s enemies shipped with damage tuning and gameplay mechanics that were less than ideal. “The Watcher often encourages a one dimensional approach to those encounters,” Warner said, “which we saw develop over time through using research and our own play testing. We knew it’d be a problem, [but] we didn’t have a great solution for it before we shipped.”

The above quote is taken from a speech given by Scott Warner, design director at 343 Industries, at the 2013 Game Developers Conference. The title of his talk, “The Design of New Enemies for Halo 4”, is something that got me interested as the Prometheans were something in Halo 4 that had not come before, and therefore could not be based off past systems or games – 343 had to come up with all this stuff on their own.

While unable to attend the talk myself others were there, and the two articles I drew info from (this one by Jordan Mallory from Joystiq and this post by Postmortem on HBO) brought up some great points I’d like to get into.

Looking past the Growing Pains

Scott Warner was very up front with the fact that there were difficulties throughout production that hampered the final product. “Absence of a high level vision”, not having a clear definition of who the characters were in the early stages of development and a compressed time frame all contributed to a game they knew wouldn’t be the best it could be when it shipped.

Knight Battlewagon

While unmistakably unfortunate, when a company grows as fast to the size 343 Industries did communication problems are going to happen. Hopefully with the studio now established a unified vision can emerge, as well as a better sharing of information between the teams.

“Defender of the Universe” and other good ideas

Postmortem mentioned several cool concepts that Scott had in his talk, the first being that the team took some inspiration from Voltron when it came to how they wanted to new enemy type to behave in the game. 343 wanted the Prometheans to behave in different ways depending on how each enemy type was positioned to each other.

The team also wanted to take their cue from the game of chess, with each different enemy type mirroring the role of one of the pieces – King, Queen, Rook, Knight, Bishop and Pawn. There could have potentially been six(!) different enemy types in the game, but for simplicity’s sake they kept it to three.

Mr. Warner did say those other types could make an appearance in the future though, so who knows? What Promethean would take the role of Rook, I wonder?

Voltron and Chess – what a great starting point! But taking concepts from the abstract into something that works in a game is magic that’s not easy to come by, and that had to be a tough process when coupled with the pressure of getting the game out on time.

Missed Opportunities

There were several things Postmortem brought out from the speech about the Prometheans’ “personality” that I felt wasn’t stressed/explained well in the games, and therefore fans missed out some cool details. First, the sound the Watcher makes when it’s hovering in the air is it talking to a Knight; the idea is that the Watcher is feeding the Knight new information on the enemy, thus giving him the tactical advantage.

Second, the idea that the Knight and Watcher were both part of the same Promethean “soul”, and that it was the same soul being split when the Knight deployed the Watcher on the battlefield. This reminded me of the process an AI can go through in the Halo Universe with different ancillas (Cortana, 343 Guilty Spark, Mendicant Bias to name a few) splitting up to make another version of themselves to survive in some way.

Promethean Knight concept art

Since the Prometheans are digitized beings, I wonder if it’s a similar process? Interesting.

Third, the intent for the face of the Watcher and the glowing skulls of the Knight to represent “an imprisoned and tormented soul” (as well as a place to headshot in the latter’s case).

I don’t think that idea came through in the gameplay, although we did get references to what was involved in the creation of the Prometheans via the Librarian’s exposition in a cut scene and the Halo 4 Terminals.

In my opinion the Prometheans were enjoyable to fight, but to take me to the level of the powerful enemy I was fighting also being a tortured soul it needed to be more plainly stated – or at least more plainly stated if that was a priority.

In the Joystiq article it was mentioned that Scott Warner felt the Covenant had one thing over their new AI contemporaries – feelings:

Our Prometheans don’t do that very well, they’re very – I hesitate to use the term ‘robotic’, but they tend to not show a lot of emotion or communicate their state very well in terms of what we’d like to do, what we think would be ideal for those characters. So that’s one big area of improvement we’re looking for as we move along with our character development in future games

Of course you could say that due to their transformation that kind of show of emotion has been removed, but I’m always trying to find a way for things to make sense story-wise so don’t mind me 🙂

The Takeaway

Do I wish more time would have been taken so Halo 4 could have been something everyone at 343 Industries knew was the best it could be?

Yep.

Am I excited about the future, with lessons learned and another crack at the Prometheans?

Yep!

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We constantly banged on our ideas

“There’s really no one key to making a good map,” explained Mansfield, “The trick is that we do a lot of testing, and we’re fans of all the games we’ve worked on, like Halo. When creating the Castle Map we sat down to discuss it and in the end our finished project was nowhere close to what we started with.”

“That’s because we constantly banged on our ideas – and I don’t mean the same five people – but the whole company. No matter who you are or where you’re at, you get to come in and play the game, then all ideas are accepted.”

-Map lead for the Castle Map Pack at Certain Affinity, Ryan Mansfield (as quoted in this VG247 article written by Dave Cook)

It’s hard to believe that the last map pack (Castle) in the first wave of them for Halo 4 has been out for over a month, but it’s true.

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to put as much time in as I have on the previous packs (Crimson and Majestic), but my time spent Daybreak, Outcast and Perdition has been enjoyable. I’m a sucker for new environments in a fictional universe I care about, so anytime a new play space comes out there’s already a ninety-nine percent chance I’ll be happy with it.

What struck me about the article was how much a multiplayer map is a living, breathing thing. I realize there is a creative process involved, but the idea of everyone being able to stop in and offer feedback – and that all of it is considered – is something that doesn’t always work out so well, i.e., the “too many cooks in the kitchen” illustration.

However it seems Certain Affinity, the studio responsible for developing the Castle Map Pack (among others for the Halo Universe) has found a way to let all the cooks stop by whenever they want and give feedback – for any of you that have worked in an office environment this is no small feat.

It’s great to see how the process works of bringing these maps out into the wild, and hopefully we’ll see more from Certain Affinity on the Halo front as the franchise continues to grow.

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TBoD #10 – Dog Bin

Teabag or Die! breaks into double digits with Episode 10!

Listen in as Quim and Eremenko and special guests Crinbot, Cutmasta C and Spacca Attacker discuss the EA taking over for a new crop of Star Wars games, how game trailers always make the game look ace and what games had a bug so big it made them never go back.

Check it out! (Rated Mature for language)

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Click on the banner above to hear Episode 10 (Contains mature language)