A naughty few might have robbed a copy from the internet, but the vast majority of Xbox 360 owners are excitedly waiting for Halo Reach's proper release next month.
Bungie's last in the series promises to be an explosive send-off for the studio's work on the franchise, with an entirely new engine, deeper story and multiplayer mode that builds on the foundations that made the series so popular online.
In the first of a series of interviews running up to release, creative director Marcus Lehto tells us about the improved AI, player character and technology in Halo Reach. The countdown continues...
So, why not just call this Halo 4?
Because it's not a continuation of the story. It's not a linear progression of the franchise, and we didn't want it to be misconstrued as such.
Protagonist Noble 6 is a largely mute character, as was the Rookie in ODST. In contrast, Master Chief often spoke. What's your rationale behind these decisions?
Actually, there is limited first person conversation from the player Spartan. It's mostly impulse sounds, though you do speak in the cinematics - and you can choose male or female and the characters will all speak to you contextually - so there's an element of customisation there. We wanted you to truly become one of Noble Team and invest heavily into your character.
Are you pleased with the AI in Reach?
We put a ton of investment into both enemy and friendly AI this time round to make sure they interacted well together, because it's hard to get friendly AI to follow you around intelligently and do smart things while you're playing without getting in your way.
If you recall back to Halos 2 and 3 where you had the Arbiter hanging out with you... it was one of the things where we were like 'ooh, let's not do that again. We gotta fix that!'
Graphic engines seem all-important in today's games. What are the strengths of Reach's?
We've been working on Halo since 1 and, yes, our engine was showing its age - although obviously we revamped it somewhat for Halos 2 and 3 and a little bit with ODST. But we really needed a major overhaul with particular regards to graphics.
In order to handle some of the aspects of what we wanted to achieve with Reach - primarily bigger battlefields than ever before - we needed to build a new system that allows us to take geometries and turn them into... are you guys interested in this? Okay, it takes geometries and actually builds a voxel representation of that geometry and then cooks that into a vertex representation of that geometry that has similar colouring, similar specular highlights and such... and so those things can transition at some midrange where you really can't see it that much.
And then we can draw super cheap, way off on the distance. And that allows us not only to draw further distances than ever before in any Halo game, but cram it full of objects.
Ahem. When we played the game we stopped a few times just to take in the view...
Good! So not only do we have geometry LODs, we have AI LODs as well, so AIs are smarter up close to you - they have this LOD that allows us to render up to sixty combatants on screen at any given time. Then we have the background AI; those huge battles raging in the distance. We can put hundreds of little units out there fighting one another...
The campaign has such a sense of grandeur, almost like Reach is a character in of itself.