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    Halo Preview

    preview written by shiva

    (editors note: This preview replaces a previous preview on Halo on this site, We have removed the other preview due to copyright issues, and also because the viewer submission could have been considered to be plagiarism. We apologize to all concerned about the previous article, so to make it up, we present to you this replacement article, which the author admits caused him to stay up to 7 in the morning to write.)

    Click image to enlargeThere will be many great new games released to the computer gaming public this year. Diablo 2, Deus Ex, and Black and White come to mind immediately, but the one all self respecting shooter fans are all looking forward to is Bungie Software's opus, Halo. This action based game has caused quite a stir, winning raves for it's outstanding graphics, solid storyline, and exciting gameplay, and has all shooter fans salivating over what was to be the top action/shooting game of the year, if not the best game of the year. But, if you have noted, I have stated the word was...

    When Halo was shown at the E3 expo, it picked up the E3 critics award as the best action game shown, a hefty response by industry professionals on the shear quality of this game. It has been praised roundly and solidly by all who have seen the game. And yet, despite all the attention lavished on the game, it may be we will never see this game released for the computer. To understand the loss to all gamers if this game doesn't appear for the PC, here is a quote from Aaron John Loeb, Chairman of the Game Critics Awards, which was handed out at E3:

    "Shown to only a select few at E3 '99, Halo has been building buzz all year long. So it was no wonder that people waited in line for up to an hour to see game designer and uber-brain Jason Jones show off the Halo engine and a movie that left every jaw in the room on the floor. Everyone with a pulse who saw Halo at E3 2000 is feverishly anticipating its release. We were no exception."

    Click image to enlargeSo why is there a good possibility that Halo will not make it to the computer gaming world, at least for a while? The answer is simple... Microsoft has just recently purchased Bungie Software. With Microsoft entering the home game console market next year with the X-Box system, the company decided that they needed Grade AAA titles to sell the system when it debuts. One of those titles will be Halo, and should guarantee some additional sales, and more importantly, generate some huge press for the new game system. By releasing the game to the computer market, Microsoft only will undercut their own sales, and thus, we may not see a PC version of Halo until after it's released for the X-Box. Though this has yet to be confirmed, according to statements by Bungie themselves, things do not look so good for computer gamers everywhere. Here's a direct quote from the Bungie Acquisition FAQ.

    What happens to Halo?
    Halo development will continue.

    What happens to the existing PC/Mac versions of Halo?
    It's important to understand two things: this decision is left to Bungie's development teams, and in Halo's case it has not been made yet. The development team has a ton of options to consider, and thatís what theyíre doing right now. They may choose to concentrate on one platform, to bring the game to every platform under the sun, or something in between. As of this writing we simply donít know what the answer will be. We cannot promise that a Windows or Mac version of Halo will ship, but we can't rule it out either. Nor is there any reason to at this point.

    So the game, and this preview, may end up in the X-Box section of this site, but like any good soldier, we must press on...

    Click image to enlargeHalo was first announced to selected media at the 1999 E3 expo, and then shown publicly at the MacWorld expo in New York a few months later. Though very much in the early stages of development, the game astounded people with its smooth gameplay, and graphics that resembled cut-scenes in quality. Since then, the momentum has built to a fever pitch as time went on, and more was being shown. The game was proving that the hype was indeed worthy, and even in fact, the hype was a understatement.

    So now, we enter the 2000 edition of the E3 expo. Halo was slated for a first half release in 2000, and it was expected that Bungie would make a strong showing. Bungie has already established themselves as a premier company with their Myth series, and expectations were high for Halo to continue that tradition. But at the same time, rumors started about a Microsoft takeover...

    Click image to enlargeSo instead, Halo was shown as both a brief demo and a video at E3. Bungie hosted a special preview to selected media, showing off the new Halo engine in video, but what the media saw of the demonstration, was still very impressive. The video footage was taken from actual gameplay, and showed off the new game engine written for Halo, as well as it's inverse Kinematics and bump mapping capabilities, which could be enabled on the fly at a frame rate of 26fps for the demo, and all this on a P3 400 with a TNT2 graphics card. The designers are quite proud of this fact, and they should be, as it shows how impressive, and powerful this game will be when it's released.

    The interesting thing was that the demo also was shown using the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound format, and the camera work was of "cinematic quality" in 3rd person perspective, though a few over the shoulder shots were used for the demonstration. This was a more than adequate viewing of the features sported by the game, and gave a solid basis for determining the features and gameplay.

    Click image to enlargeBut when it's all said and done, Halo still has to compete with games like Diablo 2, Dungeon Siege and other top releases, and in this, Halo manages to shine, even in video. From all accounts, Halo may be more than just a great game, it could be a milestone. With it's previously mentioned graphics prowess, an involved storyline based on some of the best works in science fiction, and a large smattering of innovation within the gameplay, Halo shows signs of turning out to be one of the "classic" games, a game to be looked upon as a "Quake" or a "WarCraft" type game. A game that defines a genre.

    In Halo, the player assumes the role of a cyborg warrior on another world, based on an artificial ring construct similar in idea to the "Ringworld" series of novels written by Larry Niven. The ringworld is actually a huge and gigantic construction around an alien sun. The ringworld is a replacement planet so to speak, built by a long forgotten race, using technology beyond your widest dreams. It is in the pursuit of this technology that the game is based around as you, the player, must find the answers in your quest for this long lost technology, and unravel a few mysteries along the way. Because you are playing on the inside of the ring, you will be able to see the ring rise up in the background, causing a unique and eerie atmosphere to an already creative game. The developers were quoted as being major science fiction fans, and it shows throughout the game that some major novels from the sci-fi community have played a large part in the development of this game.

    Click image to enlargeYour character is no ordinary cyborg though. He was designed for combat, able to deal out death while showing amazing abilities such as backflips and other feats of daring. This was accomplished by a sophisticated character skeleton animation system, referred to as reverse Kinematics, which greatly adds to the realism of the game, and also adds a more sophisticated and flexible approach to the character design. Bungie has used this system throughout the game itself, and in doing so, has given Halo a uniqueness, and unmatched attention to detail than any other game out on the market has so far.

    The other race of the game that was shown at E3 is known as the alien covenant, one of a few new species said to be in the game. Because Bungie has assigned separate designers to each race, the aliens have a totally different feel to the game than the cyborg. The Alien movement will be a lot more "fluid" and smoother in movement, and the range of weapons available to the covenant will be energy based, ranging from simple "ray guns" to a sword made from energy. Like the cyborg, the aliens use inverse Kinematics, which greatly add to the realism, such as the body swaying after firing a large weapon from the aftershock.

    Click image to enlargeArmament is always important in an action type of game, and Halo has armaments up to it's eyeballs. From the typical range of human death tools such as grenade launchers, flame throwers, and machine guns, to the alien's equivalent, energy based weapons of mass destruction, this looks to be shaping up to be a very violent game. Though many organizations can bemoan the state of violence in society today, games of this type are extremely popular, and this game will definitely make millions of players very, very happy.

    Bungie has developed a massive 3D engine for use by the game. This impressive engine allows the player to explore the entire Halo world, and to interact within that world, in a seamless environment. Your character will be able to walk on the grassy hills, ride in vehicles, engage in sea battle, and fly through the air in his quest for total domination. And in a mockery of other games of it's type, the 3D engine powers this in real time, giving a quality that is matched only by other game's cut-scenes.

    Click image to enlargePlayers can explore their world with a variety of different transportation options as well. Initially planned for the game includes a wide variety of vehicles for both races, including tanks, ATVs, boats and aircraft for the cyborg race, and appropriately weird flying vehicles, hover tanks and other speeders for the aliens. All of this fits seamlessly in the game, and matches the third-person view of the game.

    Multiplayer, which is currently being developed at the moment, will be a little different, as it will be a cross between squad play and deathmatches. Multiplayer will also feature a more vehicle to vehicle type play, with extra emphasis on team play and strategy. The basic idea is for the separate players on a "team" to control one vehicle, with one member driving, and another firing the guns. You can even have another teammate as a passenger riding "shotgun", firing his own weapon. This really adds to the word "team", as it requires cooperation among the team to keep their communication together, so they can succeed within the game. The game does have the ability for a single player to work one of the units by himself, but the game is set up better if there are multiple players for game play.

    Click image to enlargeThis multiplayer aspect of multiple players really opens up the game. Since there are no actual "roles" assigned a player in this multiplayer feature, players can fill in a role for whatever is needed. This opens up some interesting possibilities, as specialized teams can be formed by groups of players, with individuals as "specialists" for a particular role. Players can specialize in one type of combat, whether as a "driver", a "shooter" (Person who operates the guns of the vehicle), or as a pilot. In fact, it is entirely possible that some players will assume just one role in their entire multiplayer experience.

    Bungie has done a incredible job with this game so far. With all the screenshots now available throughout the internet, it is pretty obvious that the design team has put in an effort beyond the normal boundaries of game design, with such a minute attention to detail to even the most basic of things. People who have seen the game have been quoted as saying that the degree of detail is so small, individual characters actually hold and reload their weapons in different ways. This attention to detail dominates throughout the entire game, and only shows as a single example why Halo will revolutionize the Action genre.

    Click image to enlargeThough only impressions can be made from the video and the screenshots, Bungie has also put in some marvelous visuals enhancements, from lighting effects that show off the hues reflecting off armament as you drive towards battle, to the combination of shadowing and environment techniques to create realistic weather effects. There are even minute particle effects scattered around the game, with such detail as dust blowing up as your vehicle moves, and stones kicking up when disturbed by tanks. Add to this the feeling of depth created by the ever present Ring that wraps around you in the distance, with it's hills, mountains, and reflective water effects that flow through the distance, and you have a game that is visually as stunning to view as it is to play.

    There is no doubt in my mind that Halo will make a huge impact on the gaming world. The combination of stunning graphics, unique gameplay, and involved storyline will justify this game to it's "breakthrough" status. Though things may be in the air as to if, or when we will see this game, no matter what system this game ends up being released for, this is the game that should be on top of your list. I am not known to be a fan of this type of gaming genre, but after researching the game for this article, I have to say I'm a converted man. This is number one with a bullet on my list, and I suggest it should be number one on your list as well.
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    About the author: shiva has worked in the gaming industry for 20 years, and has been on the web scene for over a year, first with the StarCraft site shivaSite, then with Ancient Nation. shiva is now the co-webmaster of GameSurge. Married with a child, shiva takes his game name from the Hindu god of destruction and war, but is known not to dance very well.

    Sources:This article was based off of a variety of sources and information collected from various media. As well, this preview was based on movies of the game itself, released by the manufacture. Sources used for this feature came from Bungie, pc.ign, CNN, PC Gamer, Gamespot, and other various sources of printed material.

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