Big beta world for Bungie game
The biggest tech product coming out of the Seattle area this year, other than Microsoft's Office 2010 suite, may be "Halo: Reach. " Millions of gamers around the world are waiting for Kirkland studio Bungie to release the final installment of the blockbuster franchise that helped establish the Xbox platform.
Seattle Times staff columnist
The biggest tech product coming out of the Seattle area this year, other than Microsoft's Office 2010 suite, may be "Halo: Reach."
Millions of gamers around the world are waiting for Kirkland studio Bungie to release the final installment of the blockbuster franchise that helped establish the Xbox platform.
To prime the pump and smooth any rough spots before "Reach" goes on sale this fall, Bungie and Microsoft are beginning massive public testing May 3.
At least 2 million people are expected to try the free online beta version of "Reach's" multiplayer games, using access codes provided with the "Halo 3: ODST" game, which went on sale last September.
The swarm will stress-test the game's infrastructure and help designers tweak the setup so the game is as balanced and fun as possible.
Bungie hopes it will be the largest beta test of any console game, said Brian Jarrard, the 180-person studio's community director.
"We know that we have passionate fans who we are going to encourage to try to break the game and find these issues now so we don't have to deal with it in the fall."
Jarrard and Chris Carney, a multiplayer design lead at Bungie, shared details of the beta, the game and more last week. Here's an edited transcript of the interview:
Q: How many people do you expect to play the beta?
Jarrard: My expectation is it could be upwards of 3 million people. I think that's a fairly conservative estimate. Certainly there will never be a console beta of this magnitude. ...
Q: Will it run on the same online infrastructure?
Carney: There's a whole back end that supports the game, essentially servers that keep track of stats, handle matchmaking, handle the hoppers so when you go to play online you're going to get a list of the hoppers you can play, like 'I want to play [a session of] invasion' or 'I want to play slayer.' "
What the beta does is it helps us stress that, to really get a lot of people playing it, choosing games and voting, so we can see how those systems operate. ...
Q: How much of the game will change as a result of the testing?
Carney: It's pretty close to done. We still absolutely will tweak things after the beta, based on all that information.
Jarrard: ... The "Halo 3" beta is a great example of a particular weapon being in the game that immediately became very obvious that it was just way too powerful and didn't fit into the balanced, nuance of our sandbox, so the design team was able to react to that. By the time the game shipped ... it wasn't the "weapon of the gods" that it was during the beta.
Q: Where will testing occur?
Jarrard: Globally. The beta's available in every territory where there's a 360. The vast majority will be in North America.
But there's a lot of things in the matchmaking-networking side that we've done that will make the game more accessible and friendly to people outside North America, in terms of being able to match regionally, which in Europe was kind of a challenge with "Halo 3."
Q: This is your first major release since Bungie became independent from Microsoft in 2007. Is any of the infrastructure shifting to Bungie?
Jarrard: No, it hasn't really changed. Everything's still very tightly woven between Bungie and Xbox Live, the data centers. None of that stuff has fundamentally shifted.
Q: The new melee attacks in "Reach" might lend themselves to Microsoft's Project Natal motion control system. Will "Reach" use it?
Jarrard: Reach was designed from the ground up to use the traditional controller. We don't have any plans to employ Natal.
There's two things going on. First, practically speaking, Natal didn't exist until "Reach" was already two years into development. That alone creates issues. Secondly, it's not the type of control experience that we think lends itself to this type of game. We're comfortable with it; Microsoft is, too.
Natal has unique experiences to offer that are different than what "Reach" has to offer. "Reach" is very much a core, twitch game that really does rely on something that millions of people have spent about 10 years getting accustomed to, so we're not looking to reinvent that right now.
Q: Some think the game industry may bounce back this year. What role will "Reach" play in any recovery, and what does your competition look like?
Jarrard: We're very optimistic. We have a lot riding on this game and we have high expectations for it. I think you can expect to see a lot more grandiose marketing efforts; things will be at a much higher scale than they were for "ODST."
There are a lot of great games coming out this fall, a lot of shooters in particular. I think we definitely benefit from having a really huge built-in audience. We have a huge, high-level, pop-culture awareness that a lot of other games don't. The 360 has a much bigger install base than we had back in the "Halo 3" era, so a lot of things are working in our favor.
We certainly feel "Reach" will be the best "Halo" game that Bungie's ever made, and I think Microsoft's going to bet really big behind it. This is what Microsoft does really well — big, huge entertainment launches. You're going to see that happen again for "Reach."
Q: Will it sell more copies than "Halo 3"?
Carney: We hope so.
Q: Does the name "Reach" allude to the bigger environment?
Carney: Absolutely, in the single player experience, "Reach" is a character, like this planet is part of the experience all the way to the end of the game. We did a lot of upfront design: What is this planet, even laid out the continents and did the world map, and really thought about it from — hate to say — from a planetary scale.
How it really feels different to "Halo" 1, 2 and 3 is, those were galactic jaunts from this world to a foreign world through some artifact. This whole game takes place in the planet, so it was important to get that right.
Q: Will people feel like this is an entirely new game, or the final chapter?
Jarrard: Certainly the goal is to make the definitive "Halo" experience. For all intents and purposes we probably won't revisit the "Halo" universe again as a company. Our next game is definitely not "Halo;" it's something totally new.
That being the case, we want to pull out all the stops. We can draw on a decade's worth of experience, refining and crafting all the things that made "Halo" successful. The ideal goal is we carry all the best parts forward, add even better new things like armor abilities and new nuances, and hopefully that all amounts to the best "Halo" game we've ever made and the lasting mark in the franchise.
Carney: And something we're excited to play when it comes out, too.
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