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August 22, 2007

HALO 3 IMAX Preview Event 8/21/2007 Seattle

Wow! I am amazed... in awe... but let me start from the beginning.

You probably saw this earlier at Bungie, people were invited to a "HALO 3 Preview Event" at the IMAX Theater in the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. I went with Nate and after we had prepared ourselves with some good Pho we got in line at around 9:30pm. At this point there were roughly 300 people waiting and we were told that this was the line for the 2nd show!

The line for the 2nd showing starts here! Outside the Pacific Science Center gates... And the line snaked all the way down past the Space Needle

Originally there was to be one event at 10:00pm but then so many people showed up that they let a first batch inside the Science Center early and then let more people queue up at the gates outside. This line was now for the 2nd show at 11:15pm.

There were tons of young and old gamers and many kids with their moms (yeah, these must be some cool moms you have there, better stop your whining and do your chores!). Finally around 10:30ish the line started moving and we were let inside and queued up at the IMAX doors. Here some Bungie guys took lots of pictures to be posted on Bungie.net and handed out some small swag.

Then the doors opened and thanks to a bunch of really nice PAX folks we got some prime seats right in the middle. The theater was almost filled to the last seat! The Bungie folks had a giant projector hooked up that filled the IMAX screen to the corners - a fantastic setup! Sounds was just in stereo and a bit distorted but that wasn't distracting.

After the last few stragglers had been seated, Frankie (Franklez) and Luke (Lukemz) started to demonstrate the Campaign in competitive co-op mode. They chose to play Tsavo Highway (3rd level in the game, 1st level with vehicles) on Heroic (the audience wanted Legendary): they started out in a garage with some Warthogs, loaded up with Marines, left the garage and right into the thick of things. Graphics are amazing! Beautiful lighting effects, tons of enemies and action with no slowdown whatsoever! The route goes through some caves and finally into a Canyon of some sorts into the open. Landscape design is stunning with reddish rocks and some shrubbery here and there and of course the occasional sniper tower or other fortification.

The lines was pretty darn long... All the way down past the Space Needle HALO 3 sticker and IMAX ticket

Frankie and Luke used lots of different weapons, occasionally jumped off the Warthogs for some close-up action and yes, they died a few times as well :)

After some time they got to the actual highway and followed that until they came to a scenic bend atop of a steep cliff. Here you were told and saw that the Covenant had excavated the Ark in the background with a few Banshees swarming around it. One of the highway bridges was out so Frankie and Luke had to leave the Warthogs behind and continue on foot, making their way across the bridge. I wonder if you can jump that gap with a Warthog? More enemies and finally they had to hole up with some Marines and beat back a Covenant assault until reinforcements and new Warthogs arrived. Lots of action with mines and shields, nice!

We were told that the demonstration of Tsavo Highway was roughly twice as long as the previous group, a little "thank you" for "waiting patiently in line".

Next up was a demonstration of Forge where you can edit objects in existing maps, in this case High Ground. Frankie changed into a Monitor and picked up items, rotated them and placed them somewhere else, played with some weaponry, a Scorpion tank and finally with the Flamethrower. Yeah, the Flamethrower looks sweet and really heats things up :) Frankie set fire to Luke (now playing as a monitor) and Luke took off, trailing flames and smoke before blowing up. I also noticed a secondary turret on the Scorpion, it looked like there was a machine gun of some sort? The Scorpion was very detailed with lots of intricate textures. Each weapon item costs money from $2 and up and vehicles start at $5 all the way to $20 for a Scorpion (if I remember correctly), with an overall budget above $100 - that's a lot of stuff to play with! Finally we were treated to a quick demo of the water (looks great) and some teleporter objects (sender and receiver). And we were shown the Gravity Hammer, this thing is brutal!

You can change spawn points, flag capture points and so on, Forge is amazing, as Frankie said: there really isn't anything you cannot do. I imagine a lot of BBQ fun with Flamethrower-only maps :) Forge alone has amazing potential unseen in console games before.

Lastly we were treated to a saved multi-player movie of Sand Trap that was shown on the HALO 3 build from E3. Two teams of three each with lots of vehicles: one Brute Chopper and two Warthogs on each side. The Brute Chopper has a boost feature which kills some other vehicles when rammed into. Warthogs were killed with a single hit. We were also shown the Elephant, a giant transport tank/base of some sort, as Frankie put it: "It's really slow but has an amazing horn". Elephants can hold complete teams, can be loaded up with Warthogs and even Scorpions fit inside! Unfortunately no action with the Elephant but it is huge and could be a lot of fun!

The movie mode has full time line control: fast forward, slow motion etc. but also has spacial control: you can stick close to one player and pan around him/her or you can move freely in 3D space. You can take screenshots and post them in double resolution on Bungie.net, you can take small video segments and send them to your friends that you just owned and so on - tons of functionality!

Finally Frankie showed off a series of crazy kills: some nice rocket launcher hits in slow-motion, Spartan Laser hits close-up frame by frame and so on. Graphics are amazing with debris, lighting effects and even dust particles coming off the tires. Audio stays positional in freeze frames as well. The resolution will always be translated to whatever your viewing resolution is, so even when your friend kills and records you on a low-res set-up you can later "enjoy" this on your own setup in full hi-res glory.

The event closed with a huge ovation and a thanks from the Bungie guys.

Well, I look forward to HALO 3. The campaign looks amazing, Forge and the Movie features look amazing, it's all good. This game is so much more than just a first person shooter, with all the extras it will set the bar for a long time to come!

Bungie-folks: THANK YOU!

August 06, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum - Stop The Shaking!

I've always disliked shaky cameras. Don’t get me wrong: There are times when a shaky camera makes sense, when it enhances the movie by providing that feeling of stress, hurriedness and nervous tension. I like it in "M" during the chase scene at the office building, I like it pretty much during any kind of pursuit-type situation etc.

But "The Bourne Ultimatum" does the shaky camera routine to a fault! Most of the long shots or extreme long shots are stable but as soon as the scene switches to a medium shot or even just a figure shot the shaking starts. Some of the close-ups shake so badly that I would suggest avoiding the front third of the movie theater*. Besides being annoying and distracting in a visual sense the handheld camera shaking also just doesn't make any sense! Even in quieter moments the excessive shaking adds an artificial feeling of hurriedness which soon becomes dulling. In order to perceive the full rush and excitement of the chase scenes there has to be downtime in-between. Quiet time, without a shaking camera!

I enjoyed "The Bourne Ultimatum" but the movie suffers from shaky camera-syndrome to the point where it becomes a distraction. Bummer!
(* I am serious: don’t sit close to the screen for this movie, the shaking is too much)