April Madness Halo Wars Tournament (of destruction) Destructed
It always sucks to start off with bad news, but better to give it to you straight. I’m sorry to say that the April Madness Tournament (of destruction) has been postponed, probably until later in the development schedule. I know you were all set to cheer for “Team Who is Chris Stark” and “Team Swanges”, so this is going to come as a major disappointment to you. We have some really cool stuff that will soon be added to the game so we’re going to hold off for now. It only makes sense to have a tournament (of destruction) when we can unleash the game’s full arsenal upon each other right?
As it was, our practice rounds were a lot of fun and teams were using somewhat different strategies which is encouraging. Scorpion tanks were proving to be very strong in the build we were using, mostly due to a bug with an anti-vehicle unit doing less damage than it was supposed to. Air units were also pretty popular, but because of their fantastic hit and run capabilities that could cripple a player’s Command Center, their power has been nerfed somewhat. A small group of these units was able to destroy a key building or two in a poorly defended base and then flee. It’s a good strategy that should be viable, but it was just a little too effective.
Of the strategies that I had been trying I had two that were working out pretty well for me. The first was a delayed rush with infantry. The real strength of this strategy is that it was generally unexpected, unless my opponent(s) were scouting well, because Scorpions were so popular. It takes time to get Scorpions on the field though, and infantry are relatively easy to start training. I’d concentrate on Marines but hold them back and try to time it so that they’d attack while my enemy was happily booming towards Scorpions or whatnot. By holding them back I make sure that I’ve got enough units to really do some damage when I do attack, and if all goes well the other team will hopefully be lulled into thinking that I’m busy booming my economy like they are. I want my opponent to invest in a long term strategy instead of defenses.
I’d have to be doing a good job of scouting so I’d know when to attack. Attack too late and he’s got high end units that will be tough for my infantry to take out, too early and he might be able to recover and fend me off if I don’t have enough units. When my infantry arrive at his base I’d try and kill a key structure, like a Supply Pad or Vehicle Depot, while continuing to stream in more reinforcements and booming in my unmolested part of the map. There’s a little more to the attack than I can safely say, generally revolving around an ability that Marines have, but that’s the gist of it.
I think the real reason I had success with this strategy was the popularity of Scorpions, which take a solid investment of time and resources to field. It was generally a safe bet that’s exactly what the other side was doing, so I could get away with this. When I failed with this strategy it was a glorious fiery end to a short game. Failure usually meant that I was behind economically and would soon get rolled unless my ally carried me on his/her back.
The other strategy that I used is growing in popularity, as it’s a pretty obvious counter to a Scorpion heavy force. I’ll have to leave that for a later time as it makes use of a new unit that I can’t mention.
Halo Wars Alpha
Yup, as you may have seen mentioned on a couple of sites, we are doing an alpha test with some internal Microsoft folks. I’m afraid I can’t talk about it at this time.
Big Al Czechs In
Stephen “Big Al” Rippy, Ensemble Studios Music and Sound Director, is back from his travels to distant lands where he was recording the music for a little game called Halo Wars. Stephen has been making music for a great many years, and has done all of the tunes for our Age of Empires series of games. That makes him an old man, since we’ve been doing those games for over ten years. I jumped into his sound proof booth with him so I could ask him a few questions about he quest for the music…
So I hear you are strong with the music-fu. When did you start creating music?
Big Al: I started messing around with a keyboard when I was 11 or 12; piano lessons, songwriting, and a top-notch pre-teen garage band followed pretty quickly!
What was the name of your first band? If you started a band today, what would you call it?
Big Al: The name of my first band was “Front Page.” If I started a band today…well, I wouldn’t because I’d have to think of a name!
Cop-out! Well how are things in the music department right now? Are you working at a fevered pitch or are you pretty relaxed with the amount of work you still have to do on the game?
Big Al: Things have started to slow down after a pretty busy year and an especially hectic three months. Barring any major changes, all the tracks are now recorded and mixed. The rest of my time on the project will be spent getting everything to play correctly in the game.
The music for the Halo games is some pretty amazing stuff. The Bungie folks may have one of the most recognizable theme songs in gaming, with the monks and the mood setting orchestral tunes. What has been your take on what Halo Wars should sound like?
Big Al: Making sure that the Halo Wars soundtrack fit comfortably into Bungie’s established world was important to me; it would feel wrong to play a game with Spartans, Warthogs, and Elites, and not hear that choral theme. That being said, I did want to expand the edges a bit. It’s kind of hard to describe the difference - maybe Halo Wars sounds a little more tech-y in some places, maybe a little more ambient in others?
We mentioned last month that you were taking off to Prague to do the bulk of the recording for the music for Halo Wars. Why Prague?
Big Al: More and more film and game soundtracks are being recorded in Prague; my first experience with it was attending the sessions for Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties last summer. The city has a rich musical history - there seems to be some kind of orchestral performance happening round the clock, so there are lots of good players there. It’s also very cost-effective, at least for the time being!
What is your role during the recording session with the orchestra?
Big Al: Once the orchestra is running through a piece, I’ll listen to make sure everything sounds like what I had in mind, then try to push for a perfect take…and then hopefully have the sense to know when to stop :)
Then it was off to Seattle for some additional recording and the final mix, correct? When you got to this point, how many minutes of music did you have to mix?
Big Al: Yes – all of the piano parts were recorded at Studio X in Seattle. Then it was off to Microsoft’s Soundlab for a week of editing, and finally back to Studio X for the final mixing. We mixed right at 75 minutes’ worth of music, in both stereo and surround.
You’ve been very open to feedback on your tunes for the game, asking folks here at Ensemble to come up listen to what you had cooking. What kinds of feedback did you get?
Big Al: They helped me make sure that the music was “Halo enough” - though there was at least one instance where I made something “too Halo” :) Graeme Devine, who wrote the story for the campaign, got very involved with the music I wrote for the cinematics. Just about every day, I’d call him in to hear some sketched-out ideas. We’d discuss whether they met his expectations for whichever scene they went with, and I’d make changes based on that. It may be subtle, but I think that kind of involvement gives some sense of unity to the finished product.
Have the folks at Bungie had a chance to listen to the stuff you’ve been working on or offered any thoughts?
Big Al: Marty O’Donnell, the composer on the Halo FPS games, actually stopped by the studio for a listen as we were mixing. He was very encouraging and, happily, seemed to like everything that we pulled up.
While we play on a skirmish map in Halo Wars, the music is going to be changing while we play the game in relation to what’s going on, correct? IE, it will get faster paced as we head into a battle or come under attack. Are there new tricks up your sleeve to help immerse the player or convey some emotion?
Big Al: Yeah, there will be some of that for sure. The different worlds in the game get their own themes and playlists, and there will be “battle tracks” for when the player is in some kind of significant fight.
Cool stuff, thanks Stephen! I’ll let you get back at it.
That is all from us for this for the April update. We'll have something timely and new for you all in May.