NEWS - Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ensemble Gives New Halo Wars Update

Halo Wars is up and running and around 100 developers at Ensemble Studios are testing how the game works in multiplayer. There’s lot of work going on visually to the game too, says the developer in a new update. "It’s no secret that we’ve been playing Halo Wars for quite a while now," reads the update on the Halo Wars community website. "The vast majority of our games are multiplayer games, as they are pretty easy to set up and get going since you don’t have to worry about a bunch of triggers or creating an AI opponent like you would if you played a scenario or AI skirmish game. For multiplayer, all you need is some sort of map to play on and two or more willing participants. "The earliest playtest sessions that we had were about getting the controller scheme down so that everyone could play the game easily enough. These days playtest sessions have evolved well beyond that to making the game as fun as it can possibly be. "There are about one-hundred people working here at Ensemble Studios, with the majority of us working directly on Halo Wars, and everyone gets involved in playtesting the game. (We generally always have at least one small team working on a new game prototype.) The idea being that we’re all gamers, so if we play the game and are having fun then other gamers will have fun playing it too. User Experience Researcher Karen Swanson runs our playtest sessions, compiles all of our feedback, and asks follow up questions to our outbursts as we play. The amount of whining she has to put up with is pretty amazing, but in theory, if enough of us whine about the right things, the designers will make changes to make the game more fun. "In addition to there being fewer of the non-textured rectangular stand-in buildings in the game these days, the scale of units to buildings has been a major focus recently. By scale, I mean the size of units and buildings in relation to each other. This can be a tricky thing as making infantry units that are precisely in scale with buildings can make them too small to distinguish, while making infantry larger can have them towering over vehicles in an absurd fashion. In addition, buildings and units have to fit nicely on a player’s TV screen so that you can have a good view of the battlefield without having a screen full structures or that constant desire to want to zoom the camera out. There will be plenty of fine tuning on the scale relationship between units and buildings in the weeks ahead as we zero in on something that works well and looks great. "During playtesting it was great to see the Sparrowhawk in action. We posted the concept here in a monthly update not too long ago, but having the chance to build them and wreck stuff with them during a game was sweet! That journey from concept to first art pass on the unit and getting it into the game so we have a recognizable unit to use doesn’t stop there, but it’s a first step. Artists will be working on effects, animations, second and probably third passes on these units to put that final polish on them before the game ships. ...if only I had more Hawks to stop the Warthog raiding force that was running rough shod over my installations, I might have stood a better chance of winning my final game in playtest. Even though I lost, it was ridiculously cool to see a group of 8-10 UNSC vehicles, guns blazing, tearing up the map."

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