My trip to PAX Prime 2011 was instantly made more complete with the announcement that they were also going to celebrate 10 years of Halo at PAX. I remember the days of playing countless hours of Halo in college and still can't believe it has been 10 years since the launch of Combat Evolved. Getting the opportunity to experience all that is Halo at HaloFest was a dream come true and a great bit of nostalgia.
As I ascend the 2 escalators up to HaloFest, I am greeted by a life-size Warthog replica and the familiar music from Halo: CE. The music sends chills down my body, and I could feel the energy from all of the other Halo enthusiasts in the exhibit. They had tons of LAN setups for everyone to try out the new multiplayer and firefight maps. Within 2 seconds of starting up a free-for-all match on the remake of Prisoner from CE, which is my favorite multiplayer map, I felt at home and quickly recalled the positioning of the catwalks and where the rocket spawn point is. I also played a round of Firefight on a remake of the “Halo” level from the CE campaign. I had never seen or played this re-made map before, but immediately I knew the layout of the map and where the enemies are dropped off because it is exactly like the original. From the brief glimpse of the multiplayer that I experienced, I can only imagine what sort of memories everyone will have the first time they jump into the game.
I attended a panel about celebrating 10 years of Halo with the actors who did the voices of Master Chief, Cortana, 343 Guilty Spark, and Captain Keyes. The panel starts off slowly with Marty O'Donnell talking about each actor and how they worked on old projects like Myth and Oni. He finally discusses Halo, and eventually the huge news came out that Steve Downes (Master Chief) and Jen Taylor (Cortana) had never actually met and been together in the same room before this weekend at HaloFest. The rest of the panel focused on each actor’s feelings about the job, and how surprised they were at how things turned out. Another tidbit that was revealed was that Pete Stacker (Captain Keyes) is also the voice in the Bud Light "Real Men of Genius" commercials, and prepared a special "Real Men of Halo" song about terrible Warthog drivers to perform for everyone (It can be viewed at the 47 minute mark: http://www.ign.com/videos/2... ). It was a funny treat for the audience and shows how the actors are extremely huge fans of the series. After the panel, Marty O'Donnell and the voice actors for Master Chief, Cortana, Captain Keyes, and 343 Guilty Spark signed my copy of Halo: Combat Evolved. This was a one of a kind moment and now I have a rare collector's item to always remember this.
Another panel was about the re-imaging of the campaign for Halo: Anniversary where they discussed how they were working hard to maintain the campaign that everyone knows from their childhood, with glitches, easter eggs, and all. ‘343 Guilty Spark’ is demoed for those in attendance and they began the level in "classic" mode, which looks exactly like the Halo from 10 years ago. After a few minutes, at the push of the "back" button, the dreary gray fog and bland brown trees transform into a bright, florescent purple and green jungle exploding with life. It was amazing to see the huge difference between the exact same game in a split second. You can switch back and forth any time you want, even in the middle of a grenade toss or while reloading. Hitting the "back" button changes the priority of the different graphics engines, which makes for the ease of switching back and forth on the fly. Later, I viewed a short behind closed doors demo of the same level with the newly announced 3D feature that can be enabled anytime from the options menu. Although obviously not viewable in classic mode, it takes a few seconds for the full effect to kick in, and you can still switch back and forth to classic mode on the fly. I've never seen a game in 3D before, but the effect was pretty impressive. Reloading the Needler causes the spikes on the gun to jump off the screen and everyone watching the demo ducked during the first reload, and all of the leaves from the lush jungle create a great depth of field. The 3D graphics seem a little shimmery and I'm not sure if that is normal for 3D tech, nevertheless the game looks to be way more than a simple up-res'd HD remake.
Sunday morning brought the penultimate panel for a Halo fan as 343 Industries hosted a 1 hour on Halo 4. They were coy on obvious story details, but revealed that the next Halo trilogy will be called “The Reclaimer Trilogy,” and showed lots of concept art detailing Forerunner architecture. It also sounds like the Flood will no longer be an enemy since they seem to want to tell a new story in this trilogy. Sotaro Tojima, the audio director at 343, then showed an interesting video about how his team went to dangerous lengths to capture unique sounds. Halo has always been synonymous with great music and sound, and I hope Sotaro can live up to the big shoes Marty O’Donnell has left behind. Next up was a question and answer session, and everyone seemed to focus on story related questions, which obviously 343 were not going to answer, so it was a somewhat wasted Q&A. Someone did get a good nugget of information out of the team when they said that there will be destructible environments, but they didn’t want to make them fully destructible because that strays too far from the Halo gameplay that everyone knows. If I had a chance to ask a question, it would have been about whether they were building an engine from scratch, or modifying the Halo: Reach one. The panel ended with the team showing a new animated video of the different concept art that seems to focus on large, grandiose structures and environments to try and capture the epic feel of Halo. Overall, it sounds like 343 Industries is trying extremely hard to capture the feel and magic that Bungie had when making Halo, and between 200 employees and 3 years of work so far, I think they are well on their way to making a masterpiece.