We didn’t have a great solution for it

2

May 17, 2013 by DayandKnightly

On a more practical, game design-oriented level, Warner admitted that Halo 4‘s enemies shipped with damage tuning and gameplay mechanics that were less than ideal. “The Watcher often encourages a one dimensional approach to those encounters,” Warner said, “which we saw develop over time through using research and our own play testing. We knew it’d be a problem, [but] we didn’t have a great solution for it before we shipped.”

The above quote is taken from a speech given by Scott Warner, design director at 343 Industries, at the 2013 Game Developers Conference. The title of his talk, “The Design of New Enemies for Halo 4”, is something that got me interested as the Prometheans were something in Halo 4 that had not come before, and therefore could not be based off past systems or games – 343 had to come up with all this stuff on their own.

While unable to attend the talk myself others were there, and the two articles I drew info from (this one by Jordan Mallory from Joystiq and this post by Postmortem on HBO) brought up some great points I’d like to get into.

Looking past the Growing Pains

Scott Warner was very up front with the fact that there were difficulties throughout production that hampered the final product. “Absence of a high level vision”, not having a clear definition of who the characters were in the early stages of development and a compressed time frame all contributed to a game they knew wouldn’t be the best it could be when it shipped.

Knight Battlewagon

While unmistakably unfortunate, when a company grows as fast to the size 343 Industries did communication problems are going to happen. Hopefully with the studio now established a unified vision can emerge, as well as a better sharing of information between the teams.

“Defender of the Universe” and other good ideas

Postmortem mentioned several cool concepts that Scott had in his talk, the first being that the team took some inspiration from Voltron when it came to how they wanted to new enemy type to behave in the game. 343 wanted the Prometheans to behave in different ways depending on how each enemy type was positioned to each other.

The team also wanted to take their cue from the game of chess, with each different enemy type mirroring the role of one of the pieces – King, Queen, Rook, Knight, Bishop and Pawn. There could have potentially been six(!) different enemy types in the game, but for simplicity’s sake they kept it to three.

Mr. Warner did say those other types could make an appearance in the future though, so who knows? What Promethean would take the role of Rook, I wonder?

Voltron and Chess – what a great starting point! But taking concepts from the abstract into something that works in a game is magic that’s not easy to come by, and that had to be a tough process when coupled with the pressure of getting the game out on time.

Missed Opportunities

There were several things Postmortem brought out from the speech about the Prometheans’ “personality” that I felt wasn’t stressed/explained well in the games, and therefore fans missed out some cool details. First, the sound the Watcher makes when it’s hovering in the air is it talking to a Knight; the idea is that the Watcher is feeding the Knight new information on the enemy, thus giving him the tactical advantage.

Second, the idea that the Knight and Watcher were both part of the same Promethean “soul”, and that it was the same soul being split when the Knight deployed the Watcher on the battlefield. This reminded me of the process an AI can go through in the Halo Universe with different ancillas (Cortana, 343 Guilty Spark, Mendicant Bias to name a few) splitting up to make another version of themselves to survive in some way.

Promethean Knight concept art

Since the Prometheans are digitized beings, I wonder if it’s a similar process? Interesting.

Third, the intent for the face of the Watcher and the glowing skulls of the Knight to represent “an imprisoned and tormented soul” (as well as a place to headshot in the latter’s case).

I don’t think that idea came through in the gameplay, although we did get references to what was involved in the creation of the Prometheans via the Librarian’s exposition in a cut scene and the Halo 4 Terminals.

In my opinion the Prometheans were enjoyable to fight, but to take me to the level of the powerful enemy I was fighting also being a tortured soul it needed to be more plainly stated – or at least more plainly stated if that was a priority.

In the Joystiq article it was mentioned that Scott Warner felt the Covenant had one thing over their new AI contemporaries – feelings:

Our Prometheans don’t do that very well, they’re very – I hesitate to use the term ‘robotic’, but they tend to not show a lot of emotion or communicate their state very well in terms of what we’d like to do, what we think would be ideal for those characters. So that’s one big area of improvement we’re looking for as we move along with our character development in future games

Of course you could say that due to their transformation that kind of show of emotion has been removed, but I’m always trying to find a way for things to make sense story-wise so don’t mind me 🙂

The Takeaway

Do I wish more time would have been taken so Halo 4 could have been something everyone at 343 Industries knew was the best it could be?

Yep.

Am I excited about the future, with lessons learned and another crack at the Prometheans?

Yep!

>>>>>>>>>[4721640.1440.168]

>>>>>>>[Post tenebras lux]

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2 thoughts on “We didn’t have a great solution for it

  1. Revenant1988 says:

    There was a lot of potential with them for sure. I wouldn’t say they are completely devoid of emotion, as they do sometimes emit something like a ‘rage’ face or stance when the player engages them up close, though I don’t know how to trigger it.

    I’d say their programming and A.I. just looks like it was never finished. For example, when you are attacking a Knight its pretty obvious when they’ve engaged with you- however- there are almost times when you can step away (just spit balling here) say 30 feet and its like their AI switches from “engage” mode to “patrol” mode. Like they seriously stop what they were doing and disregard the player until they enter that ‘bubble of awareness’.

    Another thing about them is I’ve fought them before in a different universe. Like they were borrowed from somewhere… Where? You might be saying?

    The Metroid Prime series. The Knights in general are very similar to two enemies from that franchise.

    (1)The teleport rush/dash attack they have is almost the same attack an enemy called the Chozo Ghosts use against Samus. (2) The knights pulse grenade launch animation is nearly verbatim, frame for frame, the same as grenadier Space Pirate from Metroid Prime 2.

    (Maybe that shouldn’t come as too much a surprise; apparently someone from Retro Studios started working for 343 I hear)

    All in all, it seems like they had a cool concept, but didn’t get to execute it past the alpha stage.

    • Rev! Great to hear from you man and thanks for checking out the post.

      I’ve (sadly) never played through the Metroid Series (I hope we can still be friends 🙂 ), so I appreciate the insight on how their enemies may have served (and in some cases very directly) as a reference for the Prometheans.

      I agree it was/is a great concept, but due to communication/direction/time issues they weren’t able to refine the new enemy type as much as they would have liked.

      As frustrating as it may be for fans that they (343 Industries) weren’t able to take the time to work out all the kinks, I can only imagine what it’s like for them – working on a project you really care about for years and then having to send it out the door partially unresolved.

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