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  Halo: Reach - The Beta Story
by Christian Nutt
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June 25, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next
 

As you read this, Bungie is readying Halo: Reach, the most significant new title in the Halo series since 2007's Halo 3. Last month, the Kirkland, Washington-based developer wrapped up the beta process for Reach, in which 2.7 million unique players gave the game a test on the Xbox Live service.

Gamasutra recently got a chance to speak to Bungie's community director Brian Jarrard and multiplayer design lead Chris Carney about the developer's approach to the beta process, what use it makes of the data it accrues, and about interfacing with the community during the beta process.


The team feels that multiplayer is an indispensable part of the gaming landscape in 2010, and here Jarrard and Carney share their thoughts on how Bungie -- widely recognized for spearheading multiplayer innovation with services like Forge, which allowed its community to interact with Halo 3 in ways unlike any other console shooter -- sees the evolution of the form.

You guys recently finished the beta, and it was tremendously larger than what you've done in the past.

Chris Carney: It was big.

Brian Jarrard: Yes, absolutely. It was probably several orders of magnitude larger. If you want the real nitty gritty, for perspective, the Halo 3 beta was approximately 800,000 people over its lifespan, and we surpassed that in the first day of Reach. We saw a total number of unique players at 2.7 million, which was pretty awesome for us.

Is having so many more people primarily to get a broader data set, or is it just to include more of your community? What's the thinking behind that?

CC: I think part of it is there was just more availability in this beta, because anyone who bought ODST could have access to the beta. We also had a lot of codes that we were giving out to a bunch of folks, so it was just a bigger population that had the ability to play the beta.

BJ: And we didn't really know what to expect. We just knew that we could conceivably have several million people if everybody with a copy of ODST decided to play, but I think our goal was just we had hoped to have as many people as possible, which could really allow us to put all the server backing stuff under real stress.

The first day of the beta, we actually had some hiccups with some of our servers that sit between the game and Xbox Live. That's the kind of thing we only could have discovered with a million people hammering it at the same time, so we were really fortunate to be able to put things through their paces at such a very large scale.

I suppose it's also much later in the generation compared to when you did the Halo 3 beta.

BJ: Oh, sure. I'm sure the install base alone has grown enormously since back in 2007 when we did that.

How has players' expectations of multiplayer evolved over the current generation? We're at a very different spot now, with many multiplayer hits on the market. First of all, did you expect the multiplayer to take on such a dominant role in establishing player base?

CC: Yeah. I mean, for us, we've always been focused on multiplayer in the studio. Single-player's absolutely a huge part of the game, but I think maybe, because we're competitive people, we always like playing multiplayer against each other. So as we developed Reach -- we'd all played a ton of Halo 3 -- we were asking ourselves, "What cool things do we want to do with multiplayer that we weren't able to do with Halo 3, or where do we want to take multiplayer?" That really helped form the framework around which creation of multiplayer is based.

BJ: I hear you saying, Christian, just regarding general multiplayer itself and how it's become more and more prominent and I guess necessarily required in this day and age to have a game that stands out. I think, for us, that really kicked into full swing with the release of Halo 2 and the advent of Xbox Live. I think ever since then it's become more and more necessary and expected by gamers to have these types of experiences.

Using Halo as an example, what we've seen is -- I think the universe and the story and the characters and the campaign experience really captivate and draw people in -- but, honestly, it is the multiplayer that really keeps Halo going strong. I think multiplayer gives all games that have had great success the long tail and the long lifespan that, years ago, you just wouldn't have because you'd have the campaign, you'd play mods, and generally that was it.

So I think the whole marketplace has shifted. I think, as a result of Halo and a lot of other games that have made interesting, cool headway into online experiences, you just have to do it now. Fortunately, like Chris said, even back from the beginning that's always been a real pillar of all Bungie games. I think the studio is always trying to find ways to keep pushing the bar and leading that charge versus trying to react and tack it onto a game.

 
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Comments

James Huffman
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Great interview!

Germain Cou�t
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I wish every studio was as dedicated as Bungie.

Mark Angus
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A very interesting read I look forward to playing the final release

Johnathan Doe
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CC: "And there are other features that we're cutting right now just because we don't have time to finish them -- that's just the nature of the beast."

I've been a fan of Halo ever since "combat evolved" and really a fan of Bungie since the former glory days of Myth "the fallen lords". I'm 26 years old now and I'd like to think that my perspective has refined over time, I am sure y'all's has as well.
This is your first game "off the leash", so to speak, and a true testament towards how you have matured and re-developed into a stronger and healthier independent game developer.

I understand and recognize the realistic fact that time is money and deadlines are to be met, however, when i hear comments as such listed above it makes me second guess the ViDoc 01 "Reach" "Reach" "Reach"!?

I really hope y'all never forget your roots, maintain your drive & ambition, and realize that today truly holds your opportunity to "reach for the heavens". You can do it!

Sincerly,
A longtime Bungie fan.


P.S. - Please add Clans as it was in the days of halo 2 and do not allow people to boost/cheat as often. More armor customization and weather effects would be a plus. Thanks.

Matthew Mouras
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Great interview! Thanks much... I always appreciate hearing anything from Bungie. They have such great perspective on the industry and their place in it.

Had to giggle at this though:
"Those discussions turned into the feature that ultimately made it into Reach, but it's very different from us saying, "Well, Modern Warfare has player rewards and a deep progression system; we need to have that, too." Maybe deep down, subconsciously, some of us were thinking that, but it really was that we like this as gamers. "

Let's not kid ourselves... you might like it as gamers, but you didn't invent it and Infinity Ward did. It's a very justifiable appropriation (maybe a necessary one nowadays??), but let's call a spade a spade. You didn't think of it and now you are... Reaching *snark snark*

Art ifex
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@Matthew Mouras
"Lets call a spade a spade."

Yes, lets.
Because, as we all know, nobody before Infinity Ward had ever thought of character progression, or reward-based skills and equipment systems in a game, especially FPS games... Those unclever Bungie people just 'appropriated' the totally original ideas of Infinity Ward!
Concepts which Infinity Ward invented, out of nowhere, and are totally not the ideas anyone else has ever had. Ever.

Personally, I'm going to rant about this:
Bungie is totally appropriating concepts from Pen and Paper RPGs!
The audacity of those fellows!
*shakes fist in righteous internet anger*

Evan Moore
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Bungie is one of the few prominent developers out there with real passion for their games. They aren't just companies, they are gamers too. And that's what the industry needs more than ever; companies that care about their games and make games that they, as gamers, honestly want to play!

@Matthew: What about the matchmaking system that Bungie pioneered that now dominates every online console multiplayer game? I'm pretty damn sure Infinity Ward didn't think of that. Who's appropriating who?


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