Tech Analysis: Halo 3: ODST • Page 2

Bungie's latest deconstructed, and what it means for Halo: Reach.

In putting this feature together, we captured HD 720p60 lossless video for the entire single-player campaign, and this series of clips shows a few miscellaneous aspects of the game not found elsewhere within our collection of featurettes. Of particular interest is a dramatic one-on-one encounter with a Hunter, emphasising a couple of important aspects in ODST. Firstly, there's that AI again - in this brutal battle, the Covenant powerhouse is literally throwing the scenery at you in an effort to finish you off. The Brute turned suicide bomber is also worth a chuckle, but yet another example of how the Bungie AI adapts to even the most bizarre of situations.

Secondly, this excerpt demonstrates that even though this is clearly a Halo game with much in common with its predecessors, as an ODST you do not have the power and the ability to absorb damage - or indeed the sheer height of the Master Chief. The Hunters were formidable in previous Halo titles, but in ODST, their threat level is altogether more frightening. Unless you're equipped with some serious firepower, the best course of action is to flee. Thankfully, despite his size, the ODST still has a speed advantage.

Also included here is an intense battle against a Covenant Scarab. The appearances of the spider-like monstrosity are limited throughout the course of the campaign, and in this case its appearance is rather bizarre. The Scarab is essentially dumped into an area where it has little chance of moving or indeed effectively fighting back. It's as though it's there simply because there was nowhere else to put it within the confines of the campaign.

Miscellaneous observations taken from our many hours of HD capture. The face-off against the mighty Hunter is a particular highlight, as is the light show when a Covenant Scarab is destroyed at night...

The video also talks a little more about the lighting model, which segues seamlessly into our last point of focus - ODST's cut-scenes. In checking out the engine tech, cut-scenes give us the chance to see the code operating in the most optimal of circumstances. The developer has total control of what is seen at any given point, allowing for the replacement of models with higher LOD variants, improved lighting and more effects.

In short, you get to see engine at its best, defined by the limits of the core tech. In the case of ODST, the cut-scenes make the most of the game's mostly night-time setting, employing liberal use of bloom and HDR. There's still the same sub-HD resolution and lack of anti-aliasing, and while lighting can look exceptionally good, particularly on reflecting from ODST armour in the dark, the bright, high-contrast scenes still manage to look pretty disappointing.

The bottom line is that unless Halo: Reach is similarly set in mostly dark environments, the game will need to be running at 720p to shake off the jagged look that ran pretty much all the way through Halo 3. Failing that, the sub-HD approach taken by the Call of Duty 4 and Prototype engines, where 2xMSAA is employed, could introduce a significant increase in quality.

The cut-scenes in ODST once again highlight the core strengths and weaknesses of the Halo 3 engine.

It's interesting to compare the technical make-up of the cut-scenes between Halo 3 and ODST. While animation quality seems to have improved, Bungie's weakness has been in producing decent human meshes and this remains the case with ODST. With the armour peeled back, the likes of Buck and Dare look poorly defined; surprising bearing in mind the fan-favourite Firefly and Battlestar Galactica connections that Bungie consciously opted for in choosing Nathan Fillion and Tricia Helfer as lead actors.

As part of its post-Halo 3 recruitment drive, Microsoft has bolstered the art team with ex-id software art director Kenneth Scott, renowned as an excellent character artist, so it'll be interesting to see what the team has cooking for the next game. Bearing in mind his work on Doom 3, his take on the Flood would certainly be interesting.

In places, it may seem that there's not a lot of geometry in place during the ODST cut-scenes. In actual fact, the Halo 3 engine is a multi-pass renderer. Every triangle is duplicated depending on how many light sources are in play. It will be interesting to see how Bungie chooses to proceed with Halo: Reach. Numerous deferred lighting techniques could be employed. CryEngine 3 and GTAIV use a light pre-pass technique, while Gears of War uses deferred shadowing. A full-on deferred rendering engine as employed in Killzone 2 is also an option, but Bungie has a clear preference for using transparent alpha-blending and complex material shading - and those would be difficult to maintain in this environment.

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