GWJ Conference Call Episode 318

Conference Call

Halo 4, Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, Forza Horizon, Unity of Command, Special Guest 343 Industries' David Ellis, Your Emails and more!

This week 343 Industries' Halo 4 developer David Ellis joins us to talk about his game. Spoiler section included!

To contact us, email [email protected]! Send us your thoughts on the show, pressing issues you want to talk about or whatever else is on your mind. You can even send a 30 second audio question or comment (MP3 format please) if you're so inclined.

Jonathan Downin About.Me
Tweaked Audio (Use discount code GWJ)

Chairman_Mao's Timestamps
00.01:58 Forza: Horizon
00.12.30 Assassin's Creed III: Liberation
00.27.38 Dishonored
00.36.04 Unity of Command
00.42.07 Halo 4
01.19.49 Your emails!
01.38.06 Halo 4 Spoiler Section!

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Main theme - Halo: CE - http://www.halowaypoint.com/en-us/ - 41:36

Main theme - Halo 3 - http://www.halowaypoint.com/en-us/ - 1:19:22

Main theme - Halo 4 - http://www.halowaypoint.com/en-us/ - 1:38:05

Intro/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

Comments

Haven't finished the podcast yet, but I wanted to get in one comment.

Rabbit you son of a bitch, why'd you equate the Brotherhood Assassin Management crap to Farmville? If Ubisoft hasn't made it, then that is a Facebook game I might actually play. I cannot explain why I enjoyed sending Assassins on missions and leveling them up, but I did.

You bastard.

Also: I like Shawn's comparison between Halo and Zelda in terms of a formula that works. There is something genius about the initial design of all the Covenant and their weapons, though to me any time Bungie has tried to make additions to that formula or slight modifications it has typically not fit as well.

Though truth told, part of me does kind of miss seeing the Drones on occasion. Drones and Brutes were typically good at providing some level of variety to help break up the typical perfect team of Elite-Grunt-Jackal. Though not the Brutes from Halo 3. They were just tedious.

I do want to thank 343 for making the Needler bad ass again.

Tuesdays used to be new music release day and Thursdays was new movie/game release day. Around 5 years ago or so (maybe more now) they ended up merging them all into Tuesday release. Of course there's occasional exceptions.

Oh my favorite way to eliminate knights is to use the shotgun. 2 shots and they're gone.

eff yes, another long one. good job guys.

ccesarano wrote:

I do want to thank 343 for making the Needler bad ass again.

Seconded. The needler became my favourite weapon in the original Halo. Feeding a stream of needles onto a tricky elite was very satisfying.

A very nice discussion about Halo 4 all round. I think may be on board (I didn't want to be. What happened to the good old days when 80% of games could be reliably dismissed as sub par.)

For the record my favourite Halo's: 1, 3 (I liked those brutes :)) and Reach... or to put it another way... 2 was the only one I was lukewarm on. The combat felt to fast to be fun, especially towards the end.

Listened to the entire podcast now. Honestly, this is one of the reasons I love you guys. As I'm sitting there listening, I wish I could speak up and throw my voice in. I wish I could be a part of the conversation. There's so much I would love to say, but I can't even think of it all.

So instead, in regards to the spoiler section...

Spoiler:

Firstly, Rabbit, your family is awesome. I never would have considered some of what they said. Specifically viewing Master Chief as an adolescent learning to deal with women on an emotional level (or was that Shawn's wife? One of your wives said it). In truth, Chief being emotionally attached to a construct is only more fitting when you consider young adolescent men that fail to connect to others. Imagine if you speak to few kids, and in particular few girls. It's easy to look at fictional characters that permeate the media you escape into and start forming your ideas of what women are, or what you want them to be, on that.

I'm sure you can get into some crazy psychology stuff here, but it's actually a fascinating way to analyze the Master Chief as a metaphor for his own audience.

But, I do feel the need to note that, in my mind at least, Halo was never a character driven plot. It was always an event driven story, and the characters were merely archetypal vehicles to push the player through this world to see all these important events unfolding. Once upon a time this story was worth getting involved in for me. Halo 1 and 2 were fantastic to me because I didn't give a damn about Master Chief, but I wanted to know about the Covenant, how they unified, why they attacked humans in the first place (still not sufficiently answered), and what the Flood would do to their religion. The Arbiter was an "interesting character", particularly compared to the Master Chief, but he was still archetypal. You could put any Covenant in his place and basically he'd do the same things. But his situation helped drive the story.

Halo 3 is where things fell apart for me. They didn't answer the questions I wanted, they did absolutely nothing of interest with the Covenant civil war (I mean come on, Halo 2 left it at such a good spot with so much potential...), and I just couldn't care less about Cortana seeming to go crazy (which is one thing I'll be a snarky asshole about: good job repeating plots, 343. Halo 1: Master Chief is manipulated by 343 into almost destroying the Halo ring. Halo 4: Master Chief is manipulated by Didact into freeing Didact.) This is also why the death of Miranda Keyes and Sgt. Johnson did little for me. It felt like a cheap move to make someone feel sad without understanding people get sad when certain characters die. You have to be attached, and to be attached you need something to be attached to.

...wait, did Sgt. Johnson die in 3? I can't even remember.

ODST and Reach were the first games that tried to be character-driven stories, but they were still mostly event driven. I like what ODST was trying, but unfortunately the live action commercial told an infinitely better (and probably the best story in Halo at all) tale than the game. Reach was...well, I loved the gameplay more than Halo 3! That's good right?

As for books, I read Fall of Reach and was disgusted. It was just bad writing to me in general, and ever since I've had no desire to go into the extended universe.

So Halo 1-2 are awesome because they follow along with the sci-fi that inspired them. Starship Troopers and Ringworld are not character driven stories (haven't read Iain Banks' Culture series, so I won't make assumptions there). They are books about showing a reader a world and introducing them to interesting ideas. While Halo may not be very original in the realm of sci-fi on paper, the execution of it was pretty good for a video game.

Saying Halo 4 is the first interesting game because of the characters just gives me the sense that you look for something different in your stories than how Bungie began the series. At the time I was a teenager, so I was still developing a sense of taste. Even now, though, I really like how the series began. I don't mind an event driven story if it's unraveling an interesting world, and as the Covenant are what drew me into Halo in the first place Halo 2 delivered on the promise Halo 1 made. But Halo 3...depressed me.

At this point, I am apathetic to the story of Halo. I would have preferred the next game in the franchise focus on the Arbiter trying to unify the Covenant who would logically be shattered now that their whole religion has basically fallen apart (I mean, that's what Halo 2 was leading to). But for some reason people liked Master Chief for some reason I cannot explain. But, maybe by Halo 5 I'll find something to enjoy as well.

Just didn't find it in Halo 4.

Awesome podcast as usual. What was even more awesome was hearing that there are a number of staff members at 343 who regularly listen to the conference call.

Best spoiler section I have ever heard from you guys (or any podcast for that matter). I always enjoy them, especially since I know I won't play a lot of the games you do this for, and this gives me a way of hearing my friends talk about the entire game and telling me how awesome/crappy it is. But having the guy from 343 on brought it to a whole new level for me. I can't remember off hand having you guys do this before, but definitely look in to doing it for future spoiler sections. In spite of his side-steppy-ness (yes, that is a term now...) in answering some questions his insights were great. And I loved that you guys did not pull any punches.

Great job as always, gentlemen.

The whispering in the background around 2 hours in made me feel possessed. There was whispering, right? ...Right?

Wow, Rabbit, you came off like a drunken asshole in that spoiler section o_o We get it, your son was able to figure out where the enemies were going to pop out and you didn't like the earlier games in the series. Eesh.

overloaded wrote:

Wow, Rabbit, you came off like a drunken asshole in that spoiler section o_o We get it, your son was able to figure out where the enemies were going to pop out and you didn't like the earlier games in the series. Eesh.

Fair enough.

Wow, overloaded, you came off like a drunken asshole in that post o_o We get it, you heard something on a podcast you didn't agree with. Eesh.

Jayhawker wrote:

Wow, overloaded, you came off like a drunken asshole in that post o_o We get it, you heard something on a podcast you didn't agree with. Eesh.

It wasn't what he was saying (which I didn't particularly disagree with), it was how he was saying it. Repetition, tone, phrasing. "I didn't give a *sh*t* about.." - that sort of thing. I'm not saying you should suck up to devs, but there's asking pointed questions about things you didn't like and there's being rude. It seemed out of character, which is why I mention it. I also don't know if you guys are long time friends or something, which could account for the tone.

rabbit wrote:
overloaded wrote:

Wow, Rabbit, you came off like a drunken asshole in that spoiler section o_o We get it, your son was able to figure out where the enemies were going to pop out and you didn't like the earlier games in the series. Eesh.

Fair enough.

Actually that was one of the things I was going to respond to. I agree that this Halo seemed more predictable than ever, and that gondola I thought the exact same thing. But I was also on that gondola (twice!) in Halo 2, and on several bridges in Halo 1, and this set piece and that set piece and etc. I think this is part of Halo 4 sticking to the Halo formula very close to the chest.

overloaded wrote:
Jayhawker wrote:

Wow, overloaded, you came off like a drunken asshole in that post o_o We get it, you heard something on a podcast you didn't agree with. Eesh.

It wasn't what he was saying (which I didn't particularly disagree with), it was how he was saying it. Repetition, tone, phrasing. "I didn't give a *sh*t* about.." - that sort of thing. I'm not saying you should suck up to devs, but there's asking pointed questions about things you didn't like and there's being rude. It seemed out of character, which is why I mention it. I also don't know if you guys are long time friends or something, which could account for the tone.

Long time listener, first time poster; yadda, yadda yadda.
I think rabbit made a fair assessment; the game entertained and was used as a father-son experience. I agree with what rabbit says; there are very few FPS that allow for this, especially with rabbit's son being 7. 8? I can't remember.

What did annoy me quite a bit was rabbit talking over the guest. repeatedly.
I love every episode; as many have stated, the openness and camaraderie make listeners want to be part of the conversation.

This is the first time that I felt that I would get talked over. rabbit hardly let the guest (can't remember his name) say a single sentence without being interrupted.

Everything else was spot on. As always. Keep up the great work.

The spoiler section actually made Halo interesting to me. Well done.

The release of Spartan Ops for Xbox Live Gold reminds me of Sony releasing free games for PS Plus. It sounds like Microsoft is experimenting with this idea.

Just wanted to throw this out there - while not quite as old as Rabbit, the first game I ever finished was Adventure on the Atari 2600. Games I had to program myself on my TSR-80 don't count.

Nevin73 wrote:

Just wanted to throw this out there - while not quite as old as Rabbit, the first game I ever finished was Adventure on the Atari 2600.

Adventure was my first game, too. Although, it was not the longest of games.

The spoiler section was great, and yet hard to listen to. I like that you guys didn't pull punches on the developer sitting in the hot chair -- but wow did you stick it to him. He handled it extremely well too, he should be proud.

I respect all the GWJ guys from listening to so many of their podcasts, but Rabbit, this almost sounded like there's a part of you that sort of CAN'T like a Halo game... not fully. You're almost wrestling with yourself throughout the podcast. And that's not a crime, but I guess I want to flag that you sort of wielded that internal conflict as a Nerf bat on the developer, when really it just comes down to recognizing that no Halo is ever going to be fully to your taste.

The developer tried to defend his team on the following point, but I don't think it is underlined enough. Contrary to Rabbit's rant, the game and the plot WERE intertwined. Cortana has been, in many ways, our ambassador to plot during gameplay in all the Halos. This continued in Halo 4, but I saw a subtlety or sensitivity in this area that had been ham-fisted (gravity hammered?) in place in previous iterations; so carefully was it woven throughout that I found it engaging and heartening for future games in this series. And so I was sort of devastated to hear Rabbit harp on this one point so heavily. I actually said aloud to my computer "No! It's good! Leave that guy alone! We're alright!"

I found myself thinking many of the same things as Rabbit, but to a less intense degree. "This seems familiar!" I said at the gondola part and many other parts as well; and it is great that his son could pick up on those patterns, but complete deviation from most of those patterns would probably not seem like a Halo game, I guess. And as the developer pointed out, that's ONLY a good thing for this particular game, given that 343 has just grabbed that torch from Bungie's hands; and making it approachable for n00bs as well. Also, keep in mind, that ammo dump that was simple to predict and find on your "easy" run-through is an oasis of safety that we MUST know is there, and might have incredible difficulty getting to, on our "Legendary" run-throughs.

I don't know, the discussion with David closely resembles off mic discussions we have with a great many game developers sitting at a bar. David had a good time and we're looking forward to having him back to talk about Halo and non-Halo stuff in the future.

Julian was clear on his bias and personal experience/struggles with Halo from the get go and we gave David full license to have us edit out anything he wasn't comfortable with. We have nothing to gain getting people in trouble with their employers.

I guess it can be jarring to hear a frank, passionate discussion with a developer when we're so used to hearing them handled with gentle care. What seems to be classified as disrespectful to some was us just talking like dudes hanging out to me. Sometimes we can get blustery and repetitive when we're in the mix of it but I don't really see that as a bad thing.

I'm sure I'd feel differently if our jobs were on the line and we had to worry about good relations with PR and ad people. But we don't thanks to your donations and our independence. It's a good thing.

Certis wrote:

I don't know, the discussion with David closely resembles off mic discussions we have with a great many game developers sitting at a bar. David had a good time and we're looking forward to having him back to talk about Halo and non-Halo stuff in the future.

Julian was clear on his bias and personal experience/struggles with Halo from the get go and we gave David full license to have us edit out anything he wasn't comfortable with. We have nothing to gain getting people in trouble with their employers.

I guess it can be jarring to hear a frank, passionate discussion with a developer when we're so used to hearing them handled with gentle care. What seems to be classified as disrespectful to some was us just talking like dudes hanging out to me. Sometimes we can get blustery and repetitive when we're in the mix of it but I don't really see that as a bad thing.

I'm sure I'd feel differently if our jobs were on the line and we had to worry about good relations with PR and ad people. But we don't thanks to your donations and our independence. It's a good thing.

I think that's fair. I'll gladly give up the point I made about Julian probably not liking any Halo game. And I didn't think anything in the podcast was disrespectful at all. To your own point during the podcast, such commentary probably could be said back around Halo 2 and 3, so perhaps the criticisms just feel a bit striking at the current time: I'm looking at a series of games that has mostly been about machismo, finally finding a more human side and felt a lot of joy at how expertly this is coming to light. I'm likely getting a bit defensive that this isn't being met with the fanfare that I felt. My apologies if the above post was a bit overstated.

My apologies if the above post was a bit overstated.

None necessary! My reply was more general rather than directed just at you. I enjoyed your post

Certis wrote:

I guess it can be jarring to hear a frank, passionate discussion with a developer when we're so used to hearing them handled with gentle care.

I think this is the whole reason for the rabbit response team. It was a really good chat, and very interesting to hear.

Yeah, for what it's worth I didn't think Rabbit was talking over the developer any more than anyone talks during any of the podcasts.

So, I cop to having conflicted feelings about Halo, and perhaps being a bit aggressive in that conversation. I want everything to be awesome, I'm generally hyper enthusiastic about everything.

As for the "talking over" -- in all our defense, we've been having worse than usual skype lag during our recordings (thanks Microsoft!) which can make that a bit problematic. We generally err on the side of "just keep talking and let the producer duck tracks if needed" because the alternative is a lot of "no no you go ..." which I find EXCRUCIATING to listen to.

I enjoyed all the Halo 4 chat.

Halo, more than any other game I can think of, is a vastly different experience on different difficulty settings. Playing the first Halo on a lower difficulty left me feeling underwhelmed and more than a little disappointed. When I played through again on the next difficulty level up the game suddenly came alive.

In a sense it's a flaw in the game that it doesn't work half as well when played in certain ways.

Just a quick question - I'm part-way through this episode (listening as I commute to/from work) so apologies if this is clarified later in the podcast. At one point David Ellis asks "have you watched the CGI episode for Spartan Ops?", to which is answered "yes, we didn't skip anything".

That makes me wonder if you guys actually did watch it, or was there a miscommunication and confusion between the actual CGI episode and the couple seconds of in-game rendered cut-scene at the start of the mission.

Or it just may be me misinterpreting the response. The question popped into my head because the CGI episode can't be watched in coop mode (it's a separate menu option on the Spartan Ops menu), which is the way you guys said you played it, and it's not something you would "skip" (i.e. hit Y or whatever) like the in game scene at the start of the mission.

Probably a stupid question, but I felt compelled to ask . . . .

Well a lot of that is simply due to major adjustments in the A.I. as well. The lower difficulties are for people that are fighting the controller as much as they are the Covenant. When you boost the difficulty enemies not only do more damage, but they're more accurate, they're more willing to throw grenades, they're more assertive and even the Grunts will freak out less frequently (as opposed to Normal where you fire a gun shot and they start running).

I also need to weigh in on rabbit's opinion... about Bethesda's in-game books. My wife and I went on vacation a little while after Skyrim came out, and I felt naturally that a log cabin with a wood fire and a big blanket needs an iPhone with the ebook of all the Skyrim fiction.

And it was great! Some was awful (the Last Seed volumes, IIRC), some was truly enjoyable (The Black Arrow) and enriching from a world-building perspective (The Argonian Account), and a lot was plain really long (so many histories) and I never would have read it otherwise—and since Morrowind I never had. I don't normally give a dingo's kidneys for so-called "lore"—especially video game lore—but I'm invested in TES and I give a bit more credit to Beth's fiction.

There are great ways to give depth to video game worlds, and terrible ways. Unskippable infodump cutscenes or encyclopedic codex entries are not the great ways. Inviting but optional in-world voices suggesting a larger world and history, whether it's small-scope like Thief or grander like TES, are.

Great podcast. I thought it was really interesting hearing David talk about the Halo AI. Especially, how it reacts to players and how they prevent it from using network bandwidth.

I recently finished the game solo on Heroic and thought it was great. Unlike most other modern shooters, Halo doesn't make me hate it when I die over and over. The set pieces combined with the AI make it really fun to experiment with different strategies.

In terms of the story, put me in the park of "Master chief is is really big and kills craploads of aliens". (I listened to the podcast a few days ago so that may not be an exact quote)

One thing that I just wanted to point out from Rabbit's Halo 4 rant - Rabbit kept pointing out that his son saw all the twists and game mechanics coming. Rabbit did not say that he had those same observations. Maybe the little rabbit is a little more observant than the big rabbit?