TGS 2007: Halo 3’s ‘Forge,’ or how I learned start loving Master Chief

 

 

I have a confession to make: I’m not a huge Halo fan. Don’t misunderstand, though — I’m not a hater. The games Bungie has created have single-handedly shaped the landscape of console first-person shooters, and they deserve all of their success. But as someone who has never been competitive in FPS titles (and also not easily impressed by all of this sci-fi narrative malarkey), the titles have never really stuck with me. 

So while I was always planning on finishing the fight with Halo 3, I hadn’t worked myself into a slippery lather like many fans of the series. That is, of course, until I had a chance to sit down with Bungie’s Jonty Barnes and Jay Weinland, who showed me one of the game’s secret weapons — Halo 3‘s “Forge” mode.

Essentially an interactive map editor, this mode can be “played” as a multiplayer meta-game, in which you and your friends wreak havok on one of the game’s built-in maps. Move spawn points, place weapons, move existing objects to the most unlikely places … it’s completely up to all of you — together. The result is a game mode that opens up endless community possibilities, and hints at shades of Sony’s emergent cooperative level-designing LittleBigPlanet … only with overshields.

When I barged in on Bungie’s suite at Makuhari’s The New Otani hotel in Japan, I was surprised by three things. One, that 1UP’s Mark McDonald and Jeremy Parish were already getting cozy with the Bungie folk, preparing for taping of the above video (thanks for taping it so I didn’t have to!). Secondly, that I was a half an hour early for my appointment (which explains why Ziff Davis was all up in the house). And last, but most important, that what I’d be seeing would not only pique my interest, but actually excite me for this week’s launch of Halo 3.

After replaying footage from what appeared to be an entire cooperative campaign level (complete with a huge boss battle and wild, on-the-fly camera movements), the 1UP folk started asking to see something called “Forge,” which they were apparently very excited about. It wasn’t long before I saw why — as detailed by Bungie’s “sound monkey,” Jay Weinland, the possibilities for open-ended, emergent gameplay and design are endless.

Once “Forge” is started and a map is selected, players can choose to play as normal, or switch to Editor mode by pressing up on the D-pad. Doing so instantly transforms players into a flying monitor, capable of moving anywhere on the map, and able to move, place, or create objects. While the obvious idea is for one to be able to edit the layout of maps, it goes beyond that, and that’s where the fun comes in.

As mentioned earlier, multiple players can join in on the fun. One person can choose to play as a bot, for instance, while the other players continue to battle as if playing through a normal deathmatch. As the battle rages on, the bot can wreak havoc, and — for lack of a better term — f**k with other players on the map. See someone going for that well-placed rocket launcher? Move it away from them before they can get it. Is there one pest getting too comfortable with a Ghost? Seize control, and (literally) toss it away.

At one point during my hands-on, I was able to grab a Ghost with my all-powerful monitor powers, and crush Mark McDonald’s Spartan with the flick of the right analog stick. It was then that I realized why this would be the mode for me — I love trying to ruin people’s fun.

But beyond that, “Forge” stands as one of the most innovative features of Halo 3, and along with the video editor, once again stands to shape the future of the genre. In fact, word has it that another high-profile developer (working on a high-profile FPS) was so impressed with the game’s video editng/recording feature that they’ll do nothing but smile and nod when it’s mentioned. If you get my drift. 

So… about this Halo 3 midnight launch? Who’s coming with me?

Nick Chester