Wednesday, October 31

Halo 4 plumbs new depths of infrastructure to keep it all running

Here's an article on the behind the scenes needs to keep the juggernaught of Halo 4's back end infrastructure up and running.
Jerry Hook and Tamir Melamed, the hardest-working plumbers in the video game world not named Mario or Luigi. 
Hook and Melamed lead the engineering team laying the subterranean IT structures that will power every pixel of the multiplayer experience in “Halo 4.” Everything fans experience online – stats, screenshots, the simple joy of blasting a friend or stranger to smithereens – depends on the infrastructure they’ve built over the past year and half. That infrastructure is supported by Windows Azure, which provides the team with the affordable scalability they need to keep a game like “Halo 4” running smoothly for fans.
Tamir Melamed and Jerry Hook
Tamir Melamed and Jerry Hook

The average gamer probably doesn’t think about the virtual machines, cloud services and other technologies that power their fun – at least not as long as everything runs smoothly. When “Halo 4” launches Nov. 6, millions of fans around the world will simultaneously push the game’s back-end scaffolding to the limit. Any glitch, any hang-up, and the engineering team gets thrust into the spotlight. 
“That's the lot of the plumbers of the world,” says Melamed, principal development manager for Microsoft’s 343 Industries. “You only think about them when something goes wrong.”
If Hook and Melamed are concerned about the launch, they don’t show it. They’re both naturally modest and laid back – probably by necessity. When the first “Halo" game launched more than a decade ago, the video game industry’s rhythm was more or less straightforward: create a bunch of discs, ship them, and start work on the next release.

Things have changed. Since “Halo 2,” the franchise has supported online multiplayer games via Xbox LIVE. Today the Halo Waypoint site is open 24/7, serving as a central hub for fans craving online games and Halo-related content. The upcoming “Halo” release features Infinity Multiplayer, a vastly expanded suite of multiplayer modes, weapons, vehicles, armor abilities and more. And “Halo 4” takes the multiplayer experience even further with Spartan Ops, a series of episodic videos coupled with missions that will stream to users every week. 
Hook, Melamed and their colleagues on 343 Industries’ Section 3 team will be responsible for keeping things running for months, even years after the official launch. (The team takes its name from the Halo universe; fittingly, Section 3 refers to a military branch responsible for black ops.)
“‘Halo’ from here on out does not end,” says Hook, executive producer at Section 3. “It’s a sustained franchise. Players will always feel engaged.”

To keep things up 24/7, they decided to take the franchise’s existing infrastructure – built over a decade by the Bungie game studio – and move it to Windows Azure. The team says Azure gives them a robust, cost-effective way to scale up and scale down as demand ebbs and flows across the globe.

Meanwhile, they’ve built up a team of engineers that possesses serious coding chops and the ability to stay sane in the always-on world of live services.

“We know we can’t anticipate the 101 things that will go wrong,” Hook says. “The only thing we can control is ensuring our team responds appropriately to those situations.”
Hook and Melamed recently sat down with the Microsoft News Center to chat about “Halo 4,” the gaming industry’s shift to a services-oriented world, and how to stay cool when the building’s on fire. 
MNC: So how does your behind-the-scenes work show up in “Halo 4?
Melamed: There's a whole new slew of scenarios we enable on the back-end, either in the game or on Waypoint, that people enjoy: screenshots, their stats and the ability to compare to friends, different game modes. We make sure if someone is hassling someone else in the game you can ban them. All those abilities really help users enjoy the game more. 
Hook: From my perspective, part of what 343 Industries is trying to do is have a conversation with fans. When you talk about service-driven game development, when you talk about new modes like Spartan Ops, these start becoming more long-tail models for entertainment instead of release a disc, go dark and come back. That means your community engagement maintains through one title to the next title as much as possible.
So there’s what Tamir was talking about in the game, like screenshots and map packs, but you also see more entertainment like Spartan Ops. Think about a TV show: you don’t just launch and then go dark until the next year. With Spartan Ops, we’ll release an episode every week. Each episode is comprised of five missions with stories similar to your campaign. So for the first time when you purchase a disc, you don’t just have one campaign but you get two: the standard one and an ongoing, episodic one. 
MelamedFans will be able to come back every week and experience a new episode. They can jump in at any time, or watch and play old episodes – as you would similar to DVR. Players will be excited to come back to the title for the new experiences.

Saturday, October 27

Dragon Age III concept artwork

The Bioware blog proudly boasts these concept art pictures of there forth coming game,  Dragon Age III: Inquisition:




Friday, October 26

JJ Reviews: FUD part IV

Jump in.
The pace picks up with the fourth episode of the Forward Unto Dawn series.

Faced with certain death, the cadets manage to find themselves cornered by a Elite. Caught by fear and a lack of weaponry they appear doomed until the Big Green Guy turns up to save the day with a cliched take-down-the-enemy-from-behind move to introduce the character. Cheesey, but it worked for a fine introduction of the Chief.

From there, our now armed and motivated cadets are escorted by the Chief to a Warthog so as to make an extraction point with a Pelican. Our heroes are besieged by a crew of Jackals who are raining green lasers and pink crystal shards from a roof top.

The camera work is fast and furious with a technique of showing a lot of action in slow motion which then lapses in to real time. A shot of the Chief jumping from a fair height and completing a land that would have put him into Olympic medal contention was very well done.

As I watched, I wistfully rued once more that I was watching 'Halo movie light' and not the full Hollywood production that Peter Jackson had planned.

I appreciated what appeared to be a nod to the infamous power of the original Halo: Combat Evolved pistol - the Chief managed to take down 2 or 3 Jackals with single shots from a fair distance.

Not sure where part 5 is going to take us, the simple plot story line suggests nothing major in terms of Halo canon will occur but maybe we'll get to see the next episode from the point of view of the Arbiter..... ;)

Monday, October 22

Top Ten Meagan Marie Cosplay Costumes

The Joker's just a mad dog. I want whoever let him off the leash!
Top Ten Meagan Marie Cosplay Costumes

Meagan Marie is perhaps the best known cosplayer around. She's been part of the gaming community for a fair while which has meant she's had enough time to do some awesome cosplay work and build quite a following. Here's what I think are her top ten cosplay moments.

This is one of my favourites that Meagan has done, Anya Stroud from Gears of War - she managed to get some photos taken on an actual military vessel! That's pretty cool. Also check out that Lancer, it looks pretty close to the real deal.

Check out Meagan as one of the most famous gaming characters, Lara Croft. This time with a twist of steam punk influence. Meagan spent some real time on this one, read her post on how she put together the costume. 

Ms Lara Croft

Sunday, October 21

Miranda Lawson body paint cosplayer Mass Effect pictures

body paint mass effect miranda

Do you remember the original body painted Mass Effect girls?

Finally, someone has upped the ante with a fine example of Mass Effect cosplay mixed with paint to produce this fantastic version of Miranda Lawson from ME2 and 3.

Labyrinth cosplay: Dance magic dance!

Well Laugh!
A fine cosplay impersonation of Jareth from the Labyrinth movie. They should totally remake the movie I reckon!

Time for your sponge bath.....

Silent Hill nurse cosplayer with big breasts

The Armageddon Expo hit Auckland, NZ this weekend and the NZ Herald was there to take a few pictures of the punters and cosplayers. I think the best picture they took was of this nasty piece of work from what I believe is the Silent Hill game series. If I'm wrong, sorry for making a giant boob of myself!

"Why is this not a thing?" - Inverter button on the controller

A Redditor asked "Why is this not a thing?" and I agree with them - there's nothing more annoying than having mates round to play Xbox and when it's the turn of the dude that likes his set up inverted and everything has to stop while they set it up.

The idea to have a quick button for inversion is not a bad idea - however you got ask if enough people play in that orientation to make it worth it...

Friday, October 19

There will be more than just Terminals to find in Halo 4

john 117 halo

There will be more than just Terminals to find in Halo 4

NZ Gamer did an interview with Mr Josh Holmes regards Halo 4. I was pleased to this question about in game finds for the campaign. 

In the game itself, are there discoverable lore elements to find, like your team added to last year's Halo remake?

Yes there are. There’s a lot of secondary storytelling, more so than any past Halo game. A lot of that is credited to our narrative director who joined us from BioWare*. He approached the storytelling of finding different ways of telling story within the experience without putting it in that primary channel where it gets in the way of the action. It’s there for the players that want to explore.

In the first mission there are a couple of terminals that you can interact with, and depending on those interactions, there’s subtle branching dialogue later. There’s a lot of little subtle things like that which will very subtly change the experience.


I'll have to pay attention to what ever they are - I wouldn't want to miss out on on learning about The Mind - or perhaps we'll learn more of the Coalminer...

* I presume this is a reference to Armando Troisi

The Halo: Silentium novel release has been delayed

The Halo: Silentium novel has been delayed and given a new release date:

New York, NY – October 18, 2012 - Tor Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC-the largest publisher of science fiction in the world-is thrilled to announce the final release date for the third novel in the New York Times bestselling Halo Forerunner Saga, HALO: SILENTIUM, written by legendary science fiction author Greg Bear. The first two books of the Forerunner Saga, Halo: Cryptum and Halo: Primordium are currently available in trade paperback, e-book, and audiobook. This newest book in the series, HALO: SILENTIUM will release in hardcover from Tor on March 19, 2013 alongside simultaneous audio and e-book editions.


The third episode of Forward Unto Dawn has been released. It is finally time to sort the men from the boys, the cadets from the captains of war.

It's time to introduce the Covenant.

You might have read me bitch about how slow the build up has been thus far in the FUD series - so it was pleasing to see some real action happen. The Covenant have found the UNSC training base and have sent in three ship loads of Covenant forces to destroy all that they can find.

We got to see an enormous elite, a betrayal and finally the Big Green Guy. Hopefully the action will continue and even ratchet up a notch, as for me, Halo is not about allergies to drugs that prevent you from joining the war or pashing the girl from Narnia, it's about taking down the bad guys. Which has actually yet to happen.....

The quality of the film is pretty good, there's some good acting, nice music and the general tone is pitched just right (aside from being slow).

Watch the video here:

Thursday, October 18

Halo 4 News Summary

master cheif halo 4

Halo 4 News Summary 

Here's a link-o-rama of various bits of Halo 4 news that I've put together over the last month or so. There's been a megaton of information releases by 343 and other entities and I've collected what I personally found interesting...
Want to win a copy of Halo 4 and a Xbox 360 to play it on? Enter our competition sponsored by GameStop!

This is what Meltdown looks like in Halo 4

meltdoown map halo 4

"While most Forerunner technology appears to support safe usage over immense passages of time, the failure of specific systems can cause a cascading effect which dramatically impacts a site’s foundational composition. This frigid moon’s icy conditions once served to control a Forerunner reactor’s intense heat, but those days are now long gone."


Coded Halo 4 message revealed by 343

Well I totally missed it but Little English Halo Blog didn't.  Hidden within the text of the latest Halo Bulletin lies this curious message from the Surgeon to the Coalminer (operatives for the Office of Naval Intelligence, ONI). 

Here's the coded message (and here's the first message).






UNGGOY// Sensors at Balaho indicate stability, no off-planet transport recorded since Solipsis. Runners are claiming that Buwan has been abandoned as well, but we’re keeping our eyes on it anyway. Moderate Unggoy populations have been observed in Sangheilian systems at various intervals.

KIG-YAR// Eayn’s native population continues to grow and expand within reasonable governing parameters; its economic and social lines have stabilized in the wake of the war. Muloqt, Kaelarot, and Valyanop, the primary interplanetary colonial sites, all remain static, with little notable movement. There are rumors of mercenaries operating alongside a handful of more conservative Sangheili states, although that has yet to be substantiated.

SANGHEILI// Most intel here originates from ground contacts, but sensors have assisted with validation. The primary issue with the Sangheili is that of discordant cultural symmetry. It is difficult to assess military growth across several dozen active colonial vectors all with disparate political structures. Nevertheless, any and all visible military activity appears to be internecine in nature.

NOTE: A cluster of Sangheili frontier worlds saw a sudden and anomalous convergence of unregistered ships, largely cruisers of varying classes according to a handful of remote relays stationed nearby. By the time sensors were deployed, the ships were gone. The relays can’t assess numbers or strength, but the readings we have indicate that this wasn’t an expeditionary voyage or something tied to a single state. It appears to have been much larger.


More info on Halo 4's Mighty Mantis Machine

The Halo Bulletin dropped more information on the Mighty Mantis Machine! As written by Ali Zandi.

The Mantis is a new UNSC bipedal weapons platform, fully equipped with a high caliber chain gun mounted on its right arm, multi-rocket system on its left arm, and UNSC’s energy shielding technology. The chain gun is effective up close, but has significant projectile spread and heat when laying on the trigger for long periods of time (once the chain gun overheats, it goes into a cool down sequence for a few seconds, disallowing the weapon to fire during that period). The rocket pod delivers massive direct impact damage, as well as moderate amounts of splash damage to infantry and armor. It has two firing modes, one being semi-automatic, and the second being a full volley of however many rockets are loaded in the pod. A total number of five rockets can be queued up by holding the weapon’s trigger down, or fired individually by latching the trigger. Once all five rockets are depleted, the Mantis initiates a reload sequence, replenishing the rockets after a few seconds.

The Mantis has two variants – Campaign and Multiplayer – which differ greatly in terms of damage, spread, and projectile speed. The Campaign version of the chain gun deals much more damage as it uses higher caliber rounds, and the rocket system is anti-aircraft. 

Inspired by Halo Legends, the Mantis started out as an armored exoskeleton that Spartans would equip, augmenting their abilities. It had numerous weapons, roles, mechanics and shapes, and featured a dedicated shield. It also had the ability to jetpack, use thrusters, and fire a Railgun. We even had an early prototype that consisted of the Chief riding in a giant scaled-up Chief (Yo dawg, we herd you liek the Chief, so we put the Chief in your Chief so you can play as the Chief while you play as the Chief). The idea then evolved into an actual mechanized vehicle, which was more epic in scale and fit the UNSC better.


Once the concept was finalized and the Mantis was modeled and rigged for animation, we hooked up the bare systems to allow the weapons to fire and players to occupy the seat. During that time, there was massive animation work done to get all the parts moving and animating. It was difficult because there was nothing in the game engine that contained any logic for a mech. It was not easy iterating on values, because if we cranked the knobs on movement speeds or stomp delays, for example, the animation team would need to iterate on the animation content for the walk cycles and the stomp animation to compensate. Communication was crucial.

We ended up using a biped/vehicle hybrid, and there were significant amounts of content and code work done to bring this to life. After that phase came the heavy animation work and iteration process on the timings and numbers to get the legs feeling and behaving correctly in all the different possible situations across numerous maps. The team focused heavily on the Mantis’ legs and foot pinning to make sure the legs would behave when walking across various elevations and obstacles. Once we felt good with the timings and animations of the movement, we starting balancing health, weapons, and numerous amounts of other magical systems for Campaign and Multiplayer. 


During the balancing phase, we discovered players were having a hard time knowing if the Mantis was reloading or not from certain distances, because the silhouette remained the same. To address that issue, we decided that it needed some sort of visual feedback to show when the weapons were temporarily down. It was definitely interesting and challenging to decide how we could animate the arms without it sorting into itself at different torso rotations and pitches, or looking like a Jersey Shore fist pump. Once we got the animations down, we found that it was extremely useful to players on foot, because it visually conveys the windows of opportunity infantry has when the Mantis weapon systems are down.

Overall, it’s slightly similar to the Scorpion tank in terms of health and armor, but it trades firepower for maneuverability, allowing the Mantis to be more agile than the Scorpion when needed. Also like the Scorpion, it is capable of being boarded by enemies and EMPed by a Plasma Pistol charge. One notable difference is that the Mantis is capable of using its weight to deliver a devastating stomp to crush enemies in front of it by pressing the melee button. Time your stomp carefully though, and remember that it’s a risk reward. If you miss and or use it carelessly, you leave yourself open to being boarded.

The biggest challenge when designing the Mantis was making it feel satisfying both for the players piloting it and players fighting against it. The goal was to have an awesome new vehicle in Campaign and Multiplayer, and not have it pulled off the Multiplayer boards because it’s impossible or too easy to counter. Through rigorous playtesting and prototyping, we pursued the “less is more” approach and simplified the Mantis into a much more focused experience.

One of the more effective roles for the Mantis in Multiplayer is base defense. It does especially well in close to medium ranges against both infantry and vehicles, but it’s good to have some cover just in case. You don’t want to be caught out in the middle of the battlefield in your big giant robot when the other team has a Spartan Laser. If used in an offensive operation (for example, escorting teammates toward the enemy flag), it is extremely critical to have a team supporting their fellow Mantis, killing potential boarders and anyone targeting the Mantis with a power weapon.

While piloting the Mantis is an enjoyable experience, so is blowing it up. Hooking up and polishing all the numerous little bits and doodads that splinter off the Mantis when each section starts taking damage and breaking apart was definitely the most fun (and time consuming) out of all the vehicles to setup. Each destruction asset piece is tuned to give proper visual response when popping off its parent region. There is a lot of attention to detail, and we made sure that the destruction is granular and satisfying.

Oh, one more thing to all you budding mech pilots: Watch your back, because she can be boarded from behind. And yes, that’s what I said.

The many faces of the Master Chief


The many faces of the Master Chief

BS Angel posted this picture of the 4 different versions of the Master Chief as he has appeared in each of the four Halo games he's featured in.

She writes "As the video game industry advances, so does its tools and techniques, and that is readily apparent when looking at the Master Chief’s evolution over the past ten years. Each iteration of our favorite Spartan super-soldier has been distinctive yet similar, but don’t confuse design with canon – the Chief is the Chief, just with the details and idiosyncrasies based on what each time period and toolset has to offer"

While the Master Chief's armour may change from light green to dark or his armour gets an upgrade, one thing for sure is, you'll never see the Chief's face....

Tuesday, October 16

Making of Spartan Ops multiplayer vidoc

Check out this wicked video by 343 that gives an insider's viewpoint on what Halo 4's multiplayer has to offer. It's full of Infinity, the Mantis, designer commment, ranking and Forge mode. It's comparable to the Vidocs that Bungie used to do to promote their Halo games.

Oh and did I mention the music that plays near the end of the vidoc? It's just magical.

Saturday, October 13

Will we see the Master Chief's face in Halo 4?

Update: Forget all that rubbish below. 

Turns out in Halo 4 you see the Master Cheif's face, not once but twice! The first is in the introduction cinematic featuring Dr Catherine Halsey where she explains how the Master Chief was abducted from his home and made part of the Spartan Programme. The Chief as a child is featured at this point:

master chief face as a child

Halo players who beat the Legendary are given this teaser as to what the Chief truly looks like:

master chief face halo 4

It's only a teaser shot of his eyes, but it does reveal a middle aged man.....

Original post below:


Frank O'Connor has confirmed what everyone pretty much takes for granted, that nobody will see the Master Chief's face in Halo 4.

The closest one can get is this description which Frankie refers to from the Halo: The Fall of Reach novel...

"If you went down into that line and found a nerd with a deep canon Halo t-shirt and said describe the Master Chief to this police sketch artist, that police sketch artist would then produce a perfectly accurate rendering of an older man, almost painfully pale, almost albino white, with pale blue eyes, reddish hair, close cropped to a skin head, and maybe the last remnants of freckles he had when he was a kid.”

Those with long memories may recall this face from the Halo 3 game however...

The supposed face of the Chief from the H3 beta build....
Update: Just like the first Halo ended with a tease of the Master Chief without his helmet, so does Halo 4. 

Daniel Cudmore talks playing the Master Chief

Daniel Cudmore talks playing the Master Chief

Daniel Cudmore is the dude that's playing the Master Chief in the Forward Unto Dawn series that's being used as the vehicle to promote Halo 4. You might know him from Twilight or the X-Men movies. Two episodes in and we haven't seen the Chief yet..... Game Informer has done a quick interview with Cudmore about the role of the Chief. 
Would you consider yourself a gamer?
I am and I’m not. I enjoy playing games and then I’ll have a bit of an ADD moment and I can’t sit around for too long, but I think it also depends on the game too. The funny  thing is, I think I was bought Halo 3 by my girlfriend at the time, who is my wife now, she bought it to kind of impress me and I think that’s the only game that I played front to back. There might have been some other ones, but I think that was the one.
Do have other favorite games other than Halo 3?
I do remember when I was in college when the very first PlayStation and Call of Duty came out. I remember everyone went away for Thanksgiving and I was one of the only guys stuck in the dorm, and I think I played Call of Duty 8 hours straight every day – it was ridiculous. I’m a pretty good fan of Assassin’s Creed. I enjoy that game too.
Cudmore as Colossus
So you’re playing Master Chief in the Forward unto Dawn series, were you nervous about playing a character that has such a strong legacy in the world of video games?
Yeah it’s always daunting, especially that kind of character who is the staple of the series throughout most of the games. It’s funny, I was talking to people about how you become him. Each player becomes him. Everybody has their own interpretation of who the character is, but I just did a lot of research and bounced as many questions as I could off of all the guys at Microsoft and 343. I just read a lot of fiction and I just thought, "I’m going to go with what I think it is and I’m not going to stray too far from what they created and just add a little bit of myself to it and hopefully everyone likes it."
In the games Master Chief is a little bit of a blank slate for the sake of the player. He is a badass but he doesn’t exude a lot of personality. In the show were there opportunities to add more humanity to Master Chief? How much were you able to accomplish working behind a mask?
Well that’s also a tough part of it, you’re really going to see more humanity though someone’s facial features in their eyes and various other places, so when you can’t see his face it makes it hard. There are definitely moments where there is a little bit more humanity in certain aspects, but at the same time he’s really trying to just helps these kids get out of here alive and there is not a ton of opportunity to really kind of interact as much as you would like to as an actor or a character, but it’s really not who Master Chief is.
Read the full interview here.

Friday, October 12

JJ Reviews: FUD Part II

Frankie as "Beamish"
Forward Unto Dawn Review Part II

What can I say? Nothing much happens in this second part of the FUD series. Again, it's a cliche mix of growing pains, military complex and no Master Chief.

I guess, the only really interesting thing about the part was a blink and you'll miss it cameo by 343 Industries' Frank O'Conner as "Beamish" - you might know him as director of the Halo franchise. He looked kind of evil, as if he was just aching to give the lil punk soliders the bash.

Read my less than thrilled review of part one over here.

Omega, a whole lot of fun....


This intergalactic  warning was been released by Bioware. DLC for Mass Effect 3 is to drop on November 27th at a digital store near you! 'Omega' features Aria T'loak as she takes back Omega.

Soldiers of the Milky Way,

Disturbing reports from the Citadel suggest that something big is about to go down. If our Intel is accurate, Aria is on the move. This was anticipated, as we did not expect her to sit idly by while Cerberus ran roughshod over Omega. With her biotic capabilities and well-documented mean streak, what happens next won’t be pretty.

Our informants believe that Aria intends to seek out Commander Shepard for assistance. We are aware of the Commander’s ties to Aria, but are unclear about how deep they run. What we do know is that Aria will be relentless in her fight to take back Omega, and with the Commander at her side, she may very well be unstoppable.

We will be observing this situation closely as it develops. Continue to monitor this channel for further communication.

Thursday, October 11

Will and when will Forward Unto Dawn be released on DVD?

Anna Popplewell as Silva
Will and when will Forward Unto Dawn be released on DVD? 

The internet series of Forward Unto Dawn will be available for purchase on December 4, 2012, a month after the release of Halo 4.

343 notes:

With the release of the Blu-Ray and DVD, you will be able to enjoy the entire film uninterrupted, plus the complete collection of bonus footage - including over 60 minutes of exclusive behind-the-scenes featurettes. 

Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn Blu-Ray and DVD offer the Complete Collection of Bonus Features including:
  • Over 60 minutes of exclusive behind-the-scenes featurettes
  • Storyline vignettes
  • Audio commentary by 343 Industries
  • Audio commentary by Director Stewart Hendler
  • Concept art, visual effects models
  • Easter eggs and more!
The film will also be available for digital purchasing on the same date.

It's not a pissing contest but my space ship is bigger than yours


It's not a pissing contest but my space ship is bigger than yours... aka Compare and contrast the Infinity to the Forward Unto Dawn

Here's some stats released by Halowaypoint show the difference between the Forward Unto Dawn and the Infinity - the FUD being the spaceship the Master Chief and Cortana found themselves on at the end of Halo 3 and the Infinity being the UNSC vessel that's drawn to Requiem...

Wednesday, October 10

The Halo 4 Progression system explained

Halo 4 Progression System as explained by BS Angel at the Halo Waypoint blog.

She writes:

The UNSC Infinity is your gateway to the Infinity Multiplayer experience in Halo 4 and serves as the center of your Spartan career. Here you will build your custom Spartan-IV super-soldier, and progress your multiplayer career across both Spartan Ops and War Games modes. You’ll start your career as a Spartan-IV, with a limited amount of choices. As you level up, that will slowly unfold into a large amount of choices. The pace with unlocks will be regular, but not so fast that it causes confusion.

When designing the progression system for Halo 4, our primary goal was to give progress more meaning, and in order to do that, the player’s progress has to impact gameplay. In Halo 4, we primarily do this by allowing the progression system to modify the weapons and abilities the player can take into battle, empowering player choice, and exposing more elements of the sandbox to more players.

As you progress through your multiplayer career, you unlock items that allow you to build the character and experience you want. The things you really desire, such as the Battle Rifle and DMR, you’ll gain access to fairly quickly. Some of the more difficult choices you’ll face, such as which Specialization to tackle first, come later. All of these things give you the ability to tailor your experience and focus on your favorite parts of the sandbox more than ever before.

How quickly you progress through your career will partly depend on your skill. Skilled players will rank up faster, as you get more XP for winning matches. It’s also worth noting that quitters do not get game completion XP. They can progress commendations and challenges, but they will not get partial XP at the end of the game (AHEM).

Below is a breakdown of the Halo 4 progression system.


Spartan-IV Career

When you first enter Infinity Multiplayer, you automatically enlist into the SPARTAN-IV program and begin your Spartan career. This career spans all of your gameplay in War Games, Spartan Ops, Forge and Theater.

New SPARTAN-IV recruits are issued the following gear:

• Assault Rifle
• Magnum
• Frag Grenade
• Recruit Armor, Emblem, Visor and Stance

Stances are a new customization option that let you select a pose for your Spartan on your Player Card. This card is seen in every multiplayer lobby in the game and is how your Spartan is identified outside of gameplay.

You will have to rise up through the Spartan ranks to unlock more gear and make your way through the SPARTAN-IV program.


Spartan-IV Ranks

Spartans begin their career in the base SPARTAN-IV ranks. There are 50 ranks to work your way through, from SR-1 to SR-50, unlocking gameplay and visual customization items as you rank up.

To rank up, you need to earn XP. You earn XP by:

• Playing War Games (earn more for winning and high personal score)
• Playing Spartan Ops (earn more for higher difficulties)
• Completing each level of a Commendation
• Completing Challenges
• Using Forge

At each rank, you will earn one or more Spartan Points (SP). SP are used to purchase gameplay items for your personal loadouts. Once you purchase an item, it can be used in any of your loadouts.

The Spartan Point system is based around offering choice at each rank. The full suite of gameplay items is available for purchase by SR-26 but you won’t have enough SP to buy everything until SR-50. It’s up to you to decide the order in which you want to build up the arsenal for your Spartan-IV.



Each loadout contains a Primary Weapon, Secondary Weapon, Grenade, Armor Ability, Tactical Package and Support Upgrade. As you rank up, you will gain access to the Armor Ability slot (SR-3), the Tactical Package slot (SR-7), and the Support Upgrade slot (SR-12).

We have default loadouts in our War Games playlists to give you a preview of these items before you reach those ranks, and to offer an alternative to your own custom loadouts.

Over the course of the SPARTAN-IV ranks, you also unlock four extra loadouts (at SR-6, SR-14, SR-26 and SR-41) for a total of five loadouts. You can rename these loadouts, so pick names that match the role or gear for that particular loadout.

Decades from now, when historians evaluate the war, what will they say about us? Will they claim that our victory was ultimately fruitless? That it failed to secure a lasting peace, or worse, that it was only a prelude to far greater horrors that now lay ahead?

Visual Customization

All Spartan-IVs start out with the same Recruit look. As you rank up, this is reflected in the look of your Spartan, which is visible to other players in gameplay and every Multiplayer lobby.

Visual customization items such as Armor, Armor Skins, Weapon Skins, Visors, Emblems and Stances are unlocked through several means:

• Earning a specific SR rank
• Earning a specific rank in a Specialization
• Mastering a Commendation
• Completing a Waypoint goal

When you meet the prerequisite, you will gain access to the items automatically; you do not need to spend Spartan Points.

My hope – OUR HOPE – is that history would instead view this war as a catalyst. That the last thirty years were a crucible, a threshing floor for our species, sifting out our fears and frailties. And that ultimately it made us stronger and more vigilant in the end, fully prepared for whatever will come next. After all, what good is struggle if there is no change? What good is a fire if the sword is not made stronger?


Once you hit SR-50, you have the option to enlist in a new Specialization. You can choose which of the available Specializations to enlist in.

Specializations are composed of ten levels each. As you rank up in Specializations, you will unlock new armor sets, emblems, visor colors, armor and weapon skins and armor mods – which provide even more options to customize your Spartan-IV to fit your preferred role on the battlefield.

Once you commit to a Specialization, you have to complete it before switching to a new one. It will take roughly as long to complete a Specialization as it does to go from SR-40 to SR-50.

All players have access to two Specializations at launch:

• Wetwork: WK-1 to WK-10
• Operator: OP-1 to OP-10

The rest, which are listed below, will gradually be made available in the months following launch. We will be keeping a close watch on player participation post-launch and will roll out the additional six Specializations when the player base reaches certain milestones. Purchasers of the Limited Edition and pre-orders in certain territories have launch day access to the remaining six Specializations – although you still need to complete the initial 50 Ranks before you can enlist in one.

• Pioneer: PR-1 to PR-10
• Pathfinder: PT-1 to PT-10
• Engineer: EN-1 to EN-10
• Stalker: SK-1 to SK-10
• Rogue: RG-1 to RG-10
• Tracker: TK-1 to TK-10

Other players will be able to see your overall progress through the Specializations by your SR rank. This keeps going up by one each time you earn a Specialization rank, all the way up to SR-130. There might be a reward or two waiting for those who hit SR-130!

Attached are four reports accounting the major contingency structures our species currently faces in the wake of the war. Please evaluate them closely. Their outcomes will dictate how history views us, or if history even views us at all.


Halo 4 features over 120 commendations covering a wide variety of activities (per weapon, per enemy type and per game type, for example). There are commendations based around earning specific medals, and we also have aggregators that require you to master multiple commendations to complete them. Commendations also have a variable number of levels.

Certain Commendations can award visual customization items when you master them. To master a Commendation, you need to have earned its highest level.

We see the Commendation system as the long-term progression with the most exclusive items. Most players will still be mastering Commendations well after completing the Specializations.

Xenomorphic element [2/5]
Martial element [3/5]
Provenancial element [4/5]
Primogeniture element [5/5]


Like Commendations, Challenges have been expanded in Halo 4. We not only have daily content, but also a weekly and monthly cadence as well, giving players ample time to complete different challenges with varying levels of difficulty.

Challenges are divided into four categories:

• Campaign

- 2 Weekly Challenges

• War Games

- 2 Daily Challenges
- 2 Weekly Challenges
- 1 Monthly Challenge

• Spartan Ops

- 6 Challenges

• Waypoint

- Exclusive daily challenges for War Games

If you’re looking to get a jump start on your career, you’ll definitely want to stick around for the next segment of the Bulletin, because it’s about to get all double XP up in here.

As Machiavelli once said: “the Romans, foreseeing troubles, dealt with them at once,

Tuesday, October 9

Who is Jul M'dama from Halo?


Who is Jul M'dama from Halo?

The recent reveal of the Halo 4 terminals might have a few people asking who is Jul ‘Mdama?

Very briefly Jul M'Dama is a sangheili shipmaster who commands a covenant fleet that will appear to have a place in the story of Halo 4. His back story can be found here.

The character has been covered in the recent Halo novels, The Thursday War and Halo: Grasslands.

His reveal in the Terminal highlights how he appears to have lead the Covenant to the planet Requiem in a grand quest to take the planet's 'treasures'.

Halo 4 has a teaser for the Terminals - Jul ‘Mdama

Jul 'Mdama from Halo 4
Jul 'Mdama
Halo 4 has a teaser for the Terminals that can be found in the game. If you don't know, the Terminals are points within the game that give an insight in the greater mechanics of the Halo universe. Halo 3 has them which revealed the super AI battles featuring Mendicant Bias and Halo: Reach featured datasets which revealed The Authority.

Titled “Jul ‘Mdama,” the teaser lets you know you why the Covenant is heading towards the planet Requiem on which Halo 4 is largely set.

What did you think? 

How does the A.I. intelligence work for Halo 4?

Pwned Brute
Fans of the Halo series may remember how the Brutes suddenly got really smart in Halo 3 as a result of a wonderfully improved AI software coding deploy - what does Halo 4's enemies have to offer in the way of artificial intelligence?

Digital Spy did an interview with Frankie from the 343 Studio which canvases the issue. Frankie must have done a million interviews for Halo by now and he's seriously a measured pro at talking to the press. 

Question: How did you approach enemy intelligence? Because obviously Halo is known for these different enemies and you've got these whole new different sort of threat.
The Crawler

"There's a lot of similarities, but I think the biggest philosophical difference is that the Covenant - if you look at it from 10,000 feet - are very tactical and very aggressive, they will attack you. They do clever things and they'll flank you, and their levels of aggression change depending on the scenario, but we wanted to make this villain, the Prometheans, feel smarter and feel clever and feel more sophisticated even than you as a player.

"You [are] going into this with some sensibility and a going on of how the games universe works, but we wanted to make them feel clever and... like they could outsmart and overwhelm you. So they're very strategic and in some ways they're quite defensive; if you go to the level you're playing, there's some spots where you can go and stand and watch them fighting the Covenant. Because you're watching them do that in third person mode, you can see how careful and diligent the various components that Promethean battles are.

"So you'll, for example, see a Knight open his carapus and spawn a Watcher, and the Watcher will fly up and basically summons our crawlers to fight these Elites, and the Crawlers will try and overwhelm the Elites, and if the Elites have some success the Watchers will start shielding the Crawlers. While the Watchers are shielding the Crawlers and the Elites are being distracted by that, the Knights are flanking them."

"So you can actually watch the combat play out in a completely unscripted, organic and emergent way and constantly be surprised by it. Of course, sometimes that is happening to you, you can't always sit back and observe and it's only really on [the third mission] where you get that opportunity to watch how they fight, otherwise you're fighting them and this whole thing changes.

"When I play it, I'm never quite sure how I should be approaching these encounters. Should I take out the Watchers first so they're not continuously shielding the Crawlers? Or should I try and get the Crawlers first because they're harrowing me while I'm trying to concentrate on taking out some target?

"So they just feel smart and they feel sophisticated, rather than sort of ruthlessly aggressive all the time... and of course they team up against you - the Covenant and the Prometheans will actually finally team up against you - and that creates another complicated matrix of behaviours and systems.

"Once you get the muscle memory down, these encounters become second nature, but Halo doesn't…it's not one of those games that tries to fight you, or you get stuck in a corridor with a thousand bad guys coming at you. It wants you to succeed, but it wants you to be clever about how you do it.

"That's the pacing and that's how the AI kind of lures you in a combat situation that you will eventually excel on, but you should be challenged first instance."


Sounds like Frankie and the crew have put some real thought into the interactions players can have with the Prometheans, which is fabulous news. 

Monday, October 8

JJ Reviews: Forward Unto Dawn Episode 1

JJ Reviews: Forward Unto Dawn Episode 1

So I finally had a chance to watch the first episode of Forward Unto Dawn. Colour me underwhelmed. Cliched, slow and way too much teenage agnst. Oooh my mum doesn't love me, my brother's probably dead  and the hot chick is just, well hot.

Loved the production values, the grey / green tone that permeated and everything. I really enjoyed seeing the General turn up in a Warthog.

Overall, it did however simply feel like a very expensive fan made home movie, Frankly I just want to see some guns blazing and a big green guy kicking ass.

I really hope the next episodes of Forward Unto Dawn crank up into high gear. The potential is there for this project to be a really strong piece of science fiction however based on the first episode, it looks like we have Halo for Twilight fans.

Sunday, October 7

Bonnie Ross talks about the 'Ghetto Halo'

bonnie ross halo

Bonnie Ross talks about the 'Ghetto Halo'

Here's a nice write up by Bonnie Ross who has been very heavily involved in the development of 343 Industries into a studio capable of delivering Halo 4.

34(3) days… and counting

Jessica asked me to write a section about us hitting gold last week. When we all celebrated last Thursday night, there was joy, relief, and pride. There was celebratory drinking, and champagne was poured on people’s heads, but mainly there was a lot of reminiscing about the path we took over the last few years. So I figured I’d write about that journey to the gold (disc) at the end of the Halo 4 rainbow.

Along that journey, it is easy to be critical, even overly critical of every move and every mistake. When you get to the end, something washes over you (could be champagne over the head from a fellow 343er, Josh) that makes you look back at the journey with a little more forgiveness, Vaseline on the lens, maybe even a little regret that this part of our journey is over.

Year of the Forerunner: In 2008, we weren’t working on Halo 4 yet because Bungie was working on ODST and Reach. So as a small 343 team, we had the luxury of a year to just think about the universe and the technology. Where did we want to go next? We had controversial discussions about the Forerunners and their origins. Should they always be a mystery or should we open up that Pandora’s Box? As you already know, we opened that box and Frank and the team set to help define the future fiction, the Forerunner backstory and characters that would ultimately become the Prometheans, the Didact and other inhabitants of Halo 4.

While we weren’t thinking about the exact Halo 4 story back then, we were working on high-level themes for Halo 4 and the overall saga. We were thinking about Chief and Cortana, and we were thinking about new enemies and new threats, specifically Forerunner in nature. We chose the acclaimed science fiction novelist Greg Bear to write a trilogy dealing with elements of that story. As Greg’s first novel in that trilogy came out in 2010, he had a lot of questions before we had answers: what did the Prometheans look like? What did the living, breathing Forerunner civilization feel like? So between 2008 and 2010 our artists, designers, and writers met repeatedly with Bear to give him character sketches, talk about physics, shapes and characters that would ultimately take their first tentative steps in his book before coming to life on Requiem.

Ghetto Halo: In the middle of 2009, we started working on the real design of Halo 4 and the not inconsiderable task of staffing it. Our rapidly growing team was crammed in a really small section of this building in Redmond Town Center (a mall). We were sitting two to three people in closet-sized offices meant for one, or camping out on the couch in the hallway.

When people came onboard or interviewed, we would routinely get the comment, “Wow, really, this is Halo? I would think you guys would work in a better space than this.” We pretended like we wanted it to be that way – so uncool that it was cool, but in reality we were Halo wannabes and our company knew it and treated us as such. That all changed with the unsanitary sacrifice of our office savior Kenneth Scott.

Kenneth, who fell for the “this space is just temporary while our real space is under repair” line during the interview process, joined our team as the Art Director. When the reality of the bad space set in, Kenneth started doing phone interviews for potential candidates in the hallway because there were no private meeting spaces. When it got too noisy in hallway, Kenneth moved his office to the men’s bathroom instituting a do not flush policy during phone interviews. Some of our best talent was recruited from the men’s bathroom. It was my own wailing and lamentation over Kenneth’s bathroom interviews that finally got my manager to approve us moving to a new space.

When we moved into a much improved space, we started working on the Halo 4 prototype. How do you prototype Halo when you’ve never even built Halo before? Halo is already a beautifully balanced sandbox and we wanted to add more toys – and maybe some more sand. As a new team, we were in an awkward and unfortunate situation in that not only did we need to prototype how to take Halo forward; we needed to figure out how to build Halo in the first place.

Halo? In 2010 we started working on what we call “vertical slice” which is really just a representative section of how we imagine the final game will look, feel and play. Going through that prototype process, we made the obvious decision that before we could add new things to the Halo recipe, we first needed to fully understand the existing ingredients. Could we make a level that feels and plays like Halo? Could this team build Halo?

Typically with a vertical slice, you’re supposed to showcase the graphical art bar as well as a segment of gameplay. Our artists were working on a lot of art, but in 2010, David Berger and the development team were in the beginning of overhauling the engine so that in the future our artists could get their art in the game without compromising their vision.

For the vertical slice, the mission we chose to build was part of our second mission, Requiem. We submitted it to our user research testing and it tested well. Users thought it was Halo, and they liked it. We at 343, as small a step as that was, celebrated a great milestone – and a kind of game design Hippocratic Oath:“First, do no harm.”

When Kiki and the team presented the slice to the execs, it was met with straight faces with people saying this just looks like Halo, this just plays like Halo. “Yeah, I know”, I replied proudly, “Isn’t that great? 343 can build Halo, this is huge.” The execs sat with straight faces repeating, “This just plays like Halo.” I walked my team from the room. “Was that good or bad?”, Kiki asked. “Um, good. I think they ate something bad for lunch.”

To be fair to the execs, they didn’t want to see the inside of the sausage making factory, they just wanted to know this team could not only build Halo, but take Halo forward. They wanted to see the “Wow.”

It was kind of a crazy time in the studio as we had a bunch of “wow” on paper, but really nothing in the game yet. Coming out of vertical slice, the team heard the message that it wasn’t enough. While it was in the plan to take that “wow” from paper to game, we were just getting started. Bungie wasn’t built in a day, and neither was 343.

Year of the Wow: In my opinion, 2011 was our hardest year. The team might argue that 2012 was the toughest, as people put in such long days and endless weekends. But in 2012, we knew what we were building and the stress came from wondering if we would we have enough time to get everything we wanted into the game. In 2011, we knew the game we wanted to build, but the “wow” and the magic was slow in coming together. Josh and the team had their design work cut out for them. In 2011, the focus was sandbox.

As you know, Halo has had (mostly) the same enemies in the sandbox for the last 10 years. For Halo 4, we had new enemies, new weapons, and new vehicles all ready to go into the sandbox. But as you also know, Halo’s sandbox is delicately balanced, so adding new stuff while ensuring it’s fun and properly thought-out, is easier said than done.

For the first part of 2011 the fun wasn’t coming together. Then one magical day, I think it was sunny (a statistical anomaly in Seattle), Josh wandered over to me with a gleam in his eye – and explained that he’d just got done playing for a few hours and it was fun, it was really fun, and he thought we had it.

And so it happened. Over the next few months the game started to come together. Daily playtests went from Chris and the producer team begging for players to people vying for an empty seat every day at 4:00.

There is never a specific date when you exit preproduction as different areas move out of preproduction early and others later. But in Fall of 2011, every part was out of preproduction and into full production. We could play through the entire game, and for the most part it was fun. We had one mission, Dawn, where Kenneth, Neill and the art team had set their visual target and polished it to a glittering finish, and it was beautiful. The multiplayer maps were fun, the new modes were fun. Spartan Ops was starting to come together.

In Fall of 2011, we could see the light even after we recovered from our exit from preproduction party.

Year of the Dragon: 2012 was a very long work week that never ended. In January of 2012 we had all of the pieces of the game in some form of done or undone, and all that was left was the long hours to put all of the pieces together and polish the game to perfection. Or as close to it as time and physics permitted.

From February on, there would be something new to look at or play every week. The cinematics team started dropping in all of their work and the story came to life. Every time you played the game it was new, different and better. It was a pretty amazing time to be part of 343, part of Halo 4. Everyone on the team worked incredibly long hours – basically for the entire year of 2012. Phil Spencer, the VP of Microsoft Studios told me our building smelled like human. Good human, I’m sure.

In one of the take-home tests where we were supposed to play Campaign Co-op, I played the first three missions with business guy Matt. Matt wanted to explore and ensure we looked at every inch of the first three missions. It took us hours and hours to trek through three missions playing Co-op on Normal.

I’ve explored every rock, plant, structure, vehicle, and vista in the first three missions. At one point in Requiem, Matt called for me to come over and look at this amazing view (literally a Sparth concept piece brought to life), and as we stood together looking over the edge, I had flashbacks of childhood family vacation pictures at the Grand Canyon – it was that awe-inspiringly beautiful. Of course, the Grand Canyon isn’t filled with inverted megastructures made of massy hardlight, but you get the idea. In between vista viewings, we also shot a few things.

Last week before we hit gold, I was playing a Spartan Ops take-home on Legendary (so not a Legendary player, for the record). I got in a mission with Tajeen, Kiki, and artist Chris. In between expletives from getting annihilated by another pack of alien scum bearing Fuel Rod Canons, I found myself laughing giddily, waiting to respawn into some impossible new situation to “help” my team. It was fun, it was invigorating, and you could almost see the gold through the plasma mortars.

I started this journey with huge passion for Halo, and that hasn’t changed. I ended this journey with huge passion and respect for 343 and our people. Halo 4 is a result of the energy, blood, sweat, tears and the distinct human smell of the people at 343. At the end of the day, at the end of the year, at the end of the journey, it is about the people, the team. It has been an honor to work alongside such an amazingly talented and passionate group of people.

So is this the end of the journey, or is it just the beginning? I hope it is the beginning for us at 343. I hope we did the fans proud.

No regrets, but sentimental.

There is no crying in Halo, but I dare you not to by the time the credits roll. Thank you for bearing with us. Thank you for letting us try our hardest. I hope we earn it.


Monday, October 1

Pray the Mantis doesn't stomp your ass.


Pray the Mantis doesn't stomp your ass.

Here's a new video for Halo 4's new multiplayer map Ragnarok, a re-do of Valhalla from Halo 3. But that's not the point. A new piece of equipment known as the Mantis is available to use in multiplayer - it's basically a mech warrior that has enough firepower to take down banshees and the like quite effortlessly.

I can't wait to see how Halo players react to the Mantis, I imagine some wonderful game types will be created! Nice work 343, this is a nice addition to the Halo realm.

It's very E209....