We've visited Bungie Studios and played Halo 3! Holding our hands throughout our day-long visit were Allen Murray (producer), Brian Jarrard (director of franchise and community affairs), Jaime Griesemer (design lead), Joseph Tung (producer), Lars Bakken (multiplayer designer) and Tyson Green (multiplayer design lead).
What version of Halo 3 will we be playing?
Brian Jarrard: You're going to be playing what we're calling our pre-alpha build. In a couple of weeks, we launch an internal alpha here at Microsoft with a couple of thousand people who will all be playing the game internally. The goal is to test our networking and matchmaking.
There's been lots of rumours of 50+ players for Halo 3 online. What's the official figure?
Jaime Griesemer: We're keeping the online player limit to 16. We found that when you increased the capacity of the players beyond that, it just wasn't as much fun. Not everybody got a chance to get involved in all the action - so we're not going to increase the number.
Obviously this is your first crack at a Halo game on Xbox 360. Where did you start?
Jaime Griesemer: Xbox 360 has a new controller. It's similar to the original, but there are differences - having bumpers and lacking Black and White buttons being the most obvious ones! Instead of porting the control scheme from Halo 1 and 2 we're trying to customise it for Halo 3. We came up with the idea that the bumper buttons are associated with your left and right hands. If you wanted to reload a weapon in your right hand or switch to a two-handed weapon, you just press the Right bumper. This replaces a lot of what the X button did in the first two Halo games. Hopefully you won't find it too confusing.
What has the Xbox 360 allowed you to do with the visuals that you were unable to do before?
Lars Bakken: The first thing you'll notice about the Snowbound level is that it's pretty wide open. If you look out into the distance, you'll see this huge windswept vista. One of the cool things that our artists have been able to do on Xbox 360 is to not be bound by the typical way of ending a map with a huge wall, like we've done before. From a design perspective, it's pretty cool to be able to do something unique in Snowbound, which is to have this perimeter fence. You'll see all these guns monitoring the outside, vast open area - and if you go out there you're going to get killed. That's how we keep the player in check.
We're glad that you've resurrected the assault rifle but why have you brought it back after ditching it from Halo 2?
Jaime Griesemer: When we look back at multiplayer Halo 1 and 2, one of the biggest problems we had is with the spawning weapon. The weapon you start with kind of defines the feel of the whole game. You have to very carefully balance it so that it doesn't spoil the experience.
Joseph Tung: In Halo 1 we had two main spawning weapons. There was the assault rifle which was fairly useless. It spread bullets out and wasn't really effective. Then we had the pistol, which was probably too useful. So, in Halo 2 we switched this and you had the SMGs as the main spawning weapon. But that sort of had a flattening effect on the game. We saw a lot more dual-wielding of that weapon than we originally expected. So when we started to look at Halo 3, we took a lot of time to make sure that we got the spawning weapon right.
Jaime Griesemer: We decided that the spawning weapon couldn't do any kind of special damage because if you could do headshots, the game would just become all about headshots. It had to be a basic weapon without any special characteristics. When you spawn and someone is standing on top of you, it's frustrating not to be able to do any damage back. So the new assault rifle has a little bit of a longer range than in Halo, and it's a little more accurate.