Last week, thousands of fan lined up at San Diego Comic-Con for an early look at the greatest collection of games in Xbox history. Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a treat for long-time and new Halo fans alike, offering up each of the four games starring the titular protagonist (that’s Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, the beautifully re-mastered Halo 2: Anniversary, Halo 3, and Halo 4 for anyone counting) for the cost of a regular retail game. With The Master Chief Collection hitting just in time to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Halo 2, fans were understandably excited to get a peek for themselves.
Moderated by Community Manager Andy “Bravo” Dudynsky from developer 343 Industries, the Master Chief Collection panel featured longtime Halo stalwarts like Franchise Development Director Frank O’Connor and Producer Dennis Ries, as well as Franck Balson from cinematic powerhouse Blur Studios and Max Hoberman, current President of developer Certain Affinity and former Lead Multiplayer Designer on the original Halo 2.
The panel kicked off with a closer look at what fans can expect when they fire up Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Ries walked through the unified menu system, which allows players a ton of flexibility when they want nothing more than to play some Halo. Not only will you be able to hop into curated single-player playlists for each game, you’ll have the chance to do the same across all four game. So, for instance, if you’d like to play all four of the final levels back-to-back-to-back-to-back, it’s as simple as selecting the proper playlist.
Once the fans got a taste of The Master Chief Collection’s unified playlist, it was time for glimpse at what Halo 2: Anniversary actually looks like. Kicking off in the game’s opening Cairo Station level, it was clear from the opening moments that the game looks much, much better than the original version. This was hammered home when the demoer took a look out a nearby window at Earth, then instantly switched from the Anniversary engine to the original one with the push of a button. The difference was, quite frankly, breathtaking, as everything looked that much more beautiful in the updated version.
After the “oohs” and “aahs” subsided, the panel transitioned into taking a look at the new and improved cutscenes. Known for producing jaw-dropping CG trailers, the team at Blur Studios clearly had its work cut out for it, as Halo 2 featured nearly 60 minutes of cutscenes. Rather than simply show off a cutscene, however, Blur’s Franck Balson decided to treat the audience to a behind-the-scenes look at how said scenes were being rebuilt from the ground up for Halo 2: Anniversary. Beginning with the original footage, Balson broke down how his team recreated the scene in which Miranda Keyes must traverse a bunch of treacherous platforms on her way to complete an objective.
From the beginning of the process when everything was just shown as a bunch of wireframe models through the final lighting and texture passes, the audience was treated to a deep look at everything that goes in to creating a beautifully realistic cutscene. We were also given a look at the new mocap system, which has helped to turn Sgt. Johnson from a lovably gruff bunch of polygons to a fully-realized (yet still lovably gruff) character that moves and looks just like the real thing. The level of detail on the characters in Halo 2: Anniversary are stunning, right down to the pores on their digital faces.
Finally, the panel concluded with a nice, long look at the hugely popular offerings multiplayer. Before diving into what was new, the panelists shared some war stories from the development of Halo 2, including the fact that the game’s Lead Multiplayer Designer, Max Hoberman, was just one of two team members dedicated to multiplayer. Not only did they change the way gamers played multiplayer on a console, they actually changed the very way Xbox Live itself worked. The highlight of the session was the reveal of the new and completely reimagined Zanzibar (you might remember it as the map with the giant wheel in the middle), which will join Ascension and Coagulation as three of the six reimagined maps in The Master Chief Collection. The differences between the original Zanzibar and the new one are like night and day, though it’s pretty clear that it’ll still play just as awesomely as ever.
With that, it was time for some fan Q&As, though we’ll leave that for those of you who want to check out the video above for the full panel. We’ll be bringing you a lot more on Halo: The Master Chief Collection as we get closer to its release on Xbox One on November 11.