I’d just like to precede the inaugural 343 Halo Bulletin with a note to say that it’s very, very nice to be back, talking to Halo fans directly, after a couple of years of relative quiet. And today, you’re going to find out what we’ve been doing, with all that quiet.

Halo, E3! It’s finished!

In the first ten years of Halo, Bungie created a universe so compelling, gameplay so absorbing, controls so natural, that a phenomenon was birthed, raised, and honed into Spartan caliber. And to celebrate that decade of innovation, excitement and involvement from a community like no other, 343 Industries finds itself tasked with continuing that franchise and building upon its strong foundations.

The first celebration, and the one with which opened the Halo conversation at E3, is the game that started it all, albeit reimagined, retouched, remastered and remade. Halo Anniversary, as we call it for the purposes of brevity, is that game.

It’s been a long time coming – and frankly, the single most requested item from the Halo community. More, even, than the legendary, mythical Grunt Plushy. But we couldn’t just remake it, there’d be no point. For starters, the game Bungie made in the first place is practically perfect, and it’s available, verbatim, on disc and Games on Demand for Xbox 360. It runs smoothly and at a higher resolution.

What we had to do was modernize it in meaningful, useful, exciting, practical and valuable ways. And we had to honor it, properly. So how to do all that?

Firstly, we had to consider what it was people truly loved about Halo. And so we did. For months. The main list is obvious – gameplay, story, universe, physics, controls. Bam. But there were other, less objective things. Atmosphere, music, tension, joy, acrophobia, agoraphobia and claustrophobia. Feelings, in other words. So all of those had to be replicated, retained and somehow enhanced.

So we did not DARE touch the gameplay in Halo. As a matter of fact, the gameplay engine, the physics, the controls (with some minor changes for the 360 controller and the aspect ratio) are identical. It is, in short, the Halo CE engine, but with a second graphics layer, a separate engine in fact, running on top. You can see this phenomenon yourself by pressing the back button at any time. The game will switch from old graphics to new, and back again, in real time. That in itself, is a bizarrely fun feature – one we constantly used to check to see if things truly were identical, or more frequently, simply to compare the two generations of hardware and see how far things had come. Although perversely, sometimes we switched back only to remember how good the original looked.

We’ve definitely made some changes in how the new graphics affect the game. For example, the Library is still scary, eerie, dangerous – but now, with some clever use of textures and colors and lighting, it’s a bit easier to navigate. There are visual cues to orient yourself by, as you battle the bad guys who now inhabit that space.

There are tiny little differences that do in fact make the experience fresh, even where it should be verbatim – subtleties that deep, hardcore fans will notice, like extra vegetation making headshots just a shade more challenging, or the remastered audio making some encounters a bit more shocking.

And on the subject of audio – everything has been remastered – sound effects beefed up and remixed, but more importantly, we took Marty O’Donnell’s industry-changing soundtrack and gave it some deep, smoove loving, with a re-orchestration and brand new recording with the Skywalker Orchestra. So the perfect melodies, the movements and the themes are intact, but just glowingly more rich and lavish (and expensive). Anyone who’s heard the similar project with Halo Legends will know sort of what to expect, but expect it to be better.

All the work on the improved graphics layer for Campaign (and a ton of other elements, not to oversimplify things) was created in partnership with our friends at Saber Interactive and we’re incredibly proud of the work they’ve done and the hurdles they’ve overcome.

And multiplayer! Well that was the challenge. We ached over this one. Do we build peer-to-peer netcode for Halo 1 and simply update the graphics? Do we disrupt the Halo: Reach player base and community ecology? Or do we invest in the loyalty of those players, and the amazing new features Reach has brought to the table? It was a super hard decision, but ultimately the thing that tipped the balance in Reach’s favor was this simple fact: If we added netcode to Halo CE’s console gameplay, it would change it irrevocably. It would NOT be the same game you remembered – it would be a compromised vision of it, with the pros and cons that lag, latency and more can bring. Oh, and everyone would whore the pistol 24/7.

So Reach it is. And that helped us define which maps to choose. Obviously Blood Gulch would be a bit redundant. And obviously Beaver Creek was a no-brainer. You’ll also see a new Covenant-themed version of Damnation, a glimpse of another old fan favorite from Halo CE, and one map that while famous and awesome, has never been seen on console before. I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now.

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