Chronique:BWU 12/01/2007

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Bungie Weekly update Posted by Frankie at 1/12/2007 4:01 PM PST

Here where a thousand
captains swore grand conquest
Tall grasses their monument.


That's a Haiku. Translated by some dude named Beilenson, who believed firmly that it was better to catch the majority of the meaning of a Haiku than to follow its original rhythm. I agree. Our language doesn't sound like Japanese and more importantly, it doesn't look like Japanese when it's written down. All of which is beside the point. The point is grass.

We have some really nice grass, moss, rock and dirt textures. If you detach the camera in Valhalla and go zoom in on the ground, it looks like a photograph. But if you detach the camera and simply pull back, the illusion is lost completely. Suddenly it looks like video game ground. The trick to softening those glossy, glassy, eminently polygonal surfaces, is to add decorators. Small objects placed strategically to give the appearance of reality. In the case of Valhalla, that means a lot of shrubs, ferns, gorse and grass.

In the screenshots you've seen so far, not one single stem of organic stuff is in there. It's a plain more barren than any steppe or fen. Without those things, without depth of foliage and undergrowth, a level can look a little lifeless. Right now, the artists are at the stage of implementation. Most (if not all) of the creation and experimentation has been done. The tools to implement these things are complete and the artists can begin to "paint" their levels with this loamy, grassy stuff.

The first examples I've seen so far are Valhalla, and one of the Campaign levels. Ironically in the case of the latter, most of the growth was placed on buildings, rather than sod. Weeds spreading through an abandoned and ruined facility, and vines twisting and strangling their way in from an encroaching forest. And lots of moss.

Moss in particular is one of those things that add real character and familiarity to a building. Ours generally "grows" in the right place, too which, as Bryophytaphiles will know, is in very moist, shady areas and often on the north sides of tree trunks (in Northern latitudes at least).

But our grass is prettier than our moss. It animates, for one thing. Wind blows it, and it's affected by other things. Like explosions. In Halo 2, if you shoot (our admittedly very sparse) decorators with a rocket, they just sit there, glibly ignoring the explosion. Our new decorators are actually destructible. And they cast shadows, and can be lit correctly, like everything else in the game. This isn't stuff we're inventing - lots of folks use similar techniques, but when you see how they're implemented, it really starts to color and enrich the game. Poor old multiplayer has looked sterile and lifeless for too long - and this (among other things) are going to add vast levels of graphical loveliness.

And that's before the nearly-ready-for-primetime water and atmospherics are implemented. It used to be that adding fog to a 3D game actually saved you processing power since it meant that less geometry was being drawn. The way that fog and atmospheric haze are added to Halo 3 actually cost processor cycles, since the geometry is still visible, but realistically obscured by varying levels of particulates.

We do have plain old fog in the game, but vastly more impressive are the levels of haze designed to simulate pollution, weather, smoke and other "normal" atmospheric occurrences. It's subtle, but in a vast landscape, it adds a spectacular depth of realism to a scene. Seeing mountains in the distance gradually become more "blue" can make some vistas look photo realistic at times.

And this layering of techniques, to bring the game closer to where it will be when it's final, is one of the joys of working here. I can download a new build and be astonished, just like a regular gamer, by something new and unique. The way that art is compartmentalized means that this stuff just kind of happens. It's not like there's a trumpeted announcement - "OMG decorators are going in the build one hour from now!" Sometimes treats just appear. The artists make it, implement it, and as long as it doesn't break anything, it magically shows up in the game.

Voice recording continues apace, with more and more actors having auditioned for Marine parts. Some unknown, some fairly well-known. Be assured that if anyone famous makes the cut in Halo 3, at least as far as combat dialog is concerned, then it's often because those people are big fans of the game. It's one of the most satisfying aspects of voice casting - finding people with a passion for the story and the characters. One of our auditioning actors, a very funny lady, got so into the character that she started calling Marty "Sir!" and wouldn't stop' til he told her, "At ease, soldier." Of course, Marty's great age makes it easy to defer to him as a senior. Strom Thurmond often used to call him "Sir."

Joe recorded all of his Grunt dialog already. Jay shared a couple of outtakes with me, but most of them weren't really safe for work, as they say. Here's Joe taking a Grunty dig at the category of speech he was being asked to read - right click to save as: Joe Guarantees No Code Support