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Archive for May, 2009


Familiar faces amongst the Halo Wars developers play night


The Halo Wars developers play night has been buzzing with excitement as people from Robot Entertainment, Bonfire Studios and other Ex Ensemble people came to play with fans. One of those Ex Ensemble’s was ex community manager “Paragon”. The much missed moderator came out to play with fans as he greeted those on the message boards with:

*the cave door opens*

*a bearded figure of a man walks out blinded by the light*

*He is handed a 360 controller and grunts*

“paragon shall play”

Even though I am vastly out of practice, I will try and pop on for a few matches.  My gamer tag is ES Paragon (space between S and P no quotes)

Stick around Paragon!

Hopefully there will be more developer play nights in the future!


Big Huge Games is not closing, picked up by 38 studios


A few months ago I posted that Big Huge Games who co-developed the Age of Empires 3 Asian Dynasties with Ensemble Studios was at risk of being shut down by its parent THQ. Good news now however is that the studio will live on under a new parent company 38 Studios. BHG will not be moving its offices although its not confirmed if there will be employee changes.

I wish them the best of luck under thier new parent. You can find more details here:


The Robots come out to play

New Robot Website



The Robots are coming out to play Halo Wars on May 27th from 5-8pm CST (GMT -5)! Its you chance to get tips from the pros and see if they can hold off against your tactics! Needless to say playing anyone at Robot will be a very insightful expierence – if you are on the opposing team.. good luck! These Robots have been playing Halo Wars for over a year!

You’ll need to know the Robot gamertags and ive included these below:

  • Robot Rommie
  • Robot Robby
  • Robot C3PO
  • Robot Marvin
  • Robot K9
  • Robot Rosey
  • I myself had the lucky privilege of playing with Robot C3PO a few days ago. A very fun game!

    You can find the official announcement of the developer games here:


    Designer Justin Rouse talks about Fort Deen iterations


    Quick update. The Halo Wars “Fort Deen” map image and information is online complete with a full description from its designer Justin Rouse at Ensemble. Here’s an extract from the page and a link to the full article:

    On this map I love to use Brute commando squads. Since they’re infantry I can put them into the wall towers and block off my enemies ground forces but because of my brute jump packs I can jump back and forth over the walls to get away from danger or to closer to juicy targets coming to shoot my units out of the towers”



    Dave Pottinger responds to Halo Wars fans about DLC pricing


    There is alot of talk amongst the community of unhappiness with the DLC pricing at 800 MS points for three brand new game modes. I thought I would quickly add my thoughts on the matter. I think the game modes are alot of fun espcially re-inforcements mode which is great fun online. Its also good to see a change from the rushing trend online with these new modes which require new thinking on ways to win. For 800 MS points its certainly alot of sustained entertainment. You can play lots of games of Halo Wars DLC, but you can only complete say Fable 2 DLC once.

    But anyway, enough of me and more of the Lead Designer at Robot. Here’s Dave Pottinger’s light statement on the matter as posted on the Halo Wars forums. Ive added some emphasis as well. 

    “MS asked us to make some DLC.  We chose to do that.  We made a proposal back to them with what the DLC contents would be.  After some back and forth, they agreed.  They set the priceThey alone control this.  HW is a MS franchise and they have guidelines for how much stuff costs.  That said, yes, we knew what the price would be.

    Personally, I think the price is fair.  It’s clear that you guys do not (overall).  We can disagree on that, particularly since no one is forcing you to buy it:)  It’s worth pointing out that map packs are easy to figure out.  They’re easy to make.  They’re especially easy to price.  Game modes for a strategy game on the console are less clear-cut.  We knew there would be some consternation over the modes coming out as the first pack, but we thought it was something that would be very popular.  Time will tell.  If there was a mistake made with the pricing, then I’m confident that will bubble up in the pricing analysis.

    Overall, the based on what folks are playing right now, I’d say a) the DLC is popular and b) the DLC is doing its “job” in refreshing the feel/community for the game. Someone made the comparison to Horse Armor.  That’s an ironic comparison given that, to date, the Horse Armor remains in the top 5 or top 10 “most purchased DLC items” (at least based on the last numbers I saw).

    Anyhow, we (and MS, I imagine) have clearly got the feedback on the pricing.”


    Robot delivers Halo Wars matchmaking changes in response to feedback


    Its great to see that fan feedback is respected by Robot Entertainment who have hours after the DLC’s release already implemented changes based on gamer feedback- thats fantastic. It is now possible to play 2v2 Reinforcements non-party!

    I have just played a game myself and it is very fun! I encourage everyone to pick up the DLC and play re-inforcements online. You wont be disappointed!

    Here is the word from Aloysius on the homepage of :

    Halo Wars DLC #1 ‘Strategic Options has hit the Xbox Live Marketplace, and fans are getting their first taste of the action. We at Robot feel that the new game modes, Reinforcement, Keep Away and Tug of War are best enjoyed as part of a team, so we put in a lot of team game searches. We realize that this leaves out some fans who do not play team games, so we are introducing a new system to rotate in different searches so that everyone can find a game type they want to play.

    Players with the DLC who search for games will see 2v2 Reinforcement (non-team) tonight, and next week we will be rotating in 2 new search types, so that fans can play different 1v1 and 2v2 game types without having to be part of a team. We’ll be watching the forums and gameplay statistics to better align matchmaking with what fans want in future updates.

    Check out the new DLC here Halo Wars DLC on Xbox Live Marketplace.


    Robot Entertainment – working on a resolution to Halo Wars DLC


    Robot Entertainment is working on a resolution to complaints on the Halo Wars forums that most of the new DLC games are not playable online without being in a party. Its being worked on right now infact. Expect a change of game rooms. Have faith in the Robots, they’ll sort it!


    Halo Wars Strategic Options


    In case you haven’t already noticed.. Halo Wars strategic options DLC has been released! The community is buzzing at the community and you can check out all the action in the official thread. Be on the lookout for comments from Robot developers and rest assured they are watching, gathering feedback.

    My thoughts? The DLC is fun and is entertaining, its very enjoyable to play for fans of the game and introduces some new play styles which really make you think about new tactics and strategies in order to win.

    Unfortunately though there is no multiplayer online except for party games for a majority of the new modes. Alot of players have expressed some sadness about this so I wanted to highlight comments made by Dave Pottinger about the issue:

    “None of the DLC was on the disc when it shipped.  The game modes are a small download because they are rules.  There is some new content, but it’s obviously a different type of content compared to a map.  Also, the recent patch added a bunch of missing support/engine groundwork for both DLCs.

    We are limited in the number of matchmaking buckets we can use due to Live.  We left a bunch of buckets available for the DLC, but perhaps we made too many team oriented buckets.  We’ll evaluate changing/modifying that as we get feedback.  FWIW, since the DLC modes are generally more team-based than the default game, we skewed the new hoppers to be team-focused as well.” – Dave Pottinger.

    Hopefully Microsoft might be able to extend the number of multi player buckets available for their first party game. If not it is possible based on feedback that Robot will be able to mix and match modes as per gamer feedback.

    So.. if you want to make your voice heard head over to the thread!


    Halo Wars DLC is released by Robot Entertainment!


    Hot off the press! Halo Wars DLC has been released on Xbox Live for 800 points! I shall be reviewing the DLC shortly but in the meanwhile I suggest you check out the official blurb below on

    “Halo Wars” fans can continue the fight in the best selling real-time strategy game on any current generation console. Mixing up the battlefield like never before, Microsoft and Robot Entertainment unleash new game modes in “Strategic Options” today on Xbox LIVE Marketplace for 800 Microsoft Points.

    “Strategic Options,” the first Game Add-on for the wildly popular “Halo Wars,” introduces new ways to compete while challenging players to rethink their battle strategies in both single and multiplayer skirmish gameplay. The three new game modes included in the new Game Add-on are:

    • Keepaway Mode: In this “Halo Wars” adaptation of Capture the Flag, teams will battle it out to capture a free-roaming Forerunner Sentinel to score points before the other team. The number of Sentinels needed to win scales with the number of combatants.
    • Tug of War Mode: Players must build a stronger army than their opponents to succeed. Defeating enemies is essential, but success is determined by a combination of the army, buildings and resources left standing in the end.
    • Reinforcement Mode: Players must adapt their tactics and use the ever-changing set of units to outwit and outlast the enemy, all the while facing successive waves of incoming units.

    The “Strategic Options” Game Add-on is available on May 19, 2009 on Xbox LIVE Marketplace for 800 MS Points. “Halo Wars” is rated T for Teen by the ESRB and 16+ PEGI and is available worldwide exclusively on Xbox 360. A demo is also available on Xbox LIVE in all LIVE enabled regions worldwide. For more information including screenshots from the “Strategic Options” Add-on, visit or


    Halo Wars Maps and Environments


    Is that 3v3 maps ahoy? No, sadly not though for all the fans out there in need of them I expect them to be announced in the future. The good news is you can now plan you tactics using the skirmish map page! The page talks in detail about each map (starting with 3v3 map, Exile) from the designers point of view. You can see an enlarged image of each map to see exactly where points of interest are.


    You can find the Skirmish Maps page here.

    In other news – Bryan Hehmann an Ex Ensemble Studios artist talks in technical detail about the way he approached Halo Wars environment development and the blog post helps give an insight into the way graphics detail had to be adjusted for game performance. You can find the blog post below or on

    While working on Halo Wars I focused on creating the initial environments used throughout the skirmish maps and scenarios.The early phases began with our concept artist to get the look and feel of each world and working with designers on how these would be a part of the overall storyline. Also, brainstorming with programmers for terrain tools and understanding aspects of the new game engine to develop something we had never achieved before. Here are three of the major steps I would go though in creating our environments, although there were many more along the way.


    The first step of creating a world would start with the terrain textures. This process was a definite change from the work I had done on the previous Age games. Halo Wars was a totally new game engine and our blend system had much more flexibility. Less textures were needed but the end result was much more dynamic and even the normal map generation had improved greatly. The number one obstacle for creating terrain textures was the vast difference in hue/saturation and compression from the PC monitor to the Xbox 360. What you see was not what you got. In an RTS game there is a fine balance in the complexity of textures and how the game units will read once placed on them. You have to make sure they are just the right brightness and saturation that add to the game experience and not distract from it. This part of the process is my favorite, because I enjoy making textures. Other artists like to make fun of my image files for having dozens of layers but I know what they all do. When I need to change the color of a single rock on the texture or the length of a grass blade I know just where it is at… well most of the time 😉


    The second step was sculpting and using the tools to manipulate the new powerful terrain mesh for the game. Before our games only used displacement on the Y axis, in Halo Wars we could move terrain vertices in all axes. While this gave us more freedom to create overhangs and more complex canyons and mountain ranges it did add more time to the sculpting. This step took the longest in our schedule and sometimes was the most difficult. To help us with the initial roughing out of the map we used a terrain generator that would create a displacement map and give us a nice starting point. Now that we had a mountain range or canyon we would go in with the finer tools and add the detailed characteristics for that particular environment. There were limitations though, and with all the new complex sculpting and higher tessellation we had to be efficient and optimized for game performance.


    Some of the final steps were tweaking the lighting to create the mood of the world. Lighting for RTS games can be an ongoing hair pulling ordeal. As an artist you want to have the most realistic, colorful and dramatic lighting. But also as a game developer you have to make sure people can tell what the hell is going on. Some units that appear smaller on the screen could come out looking unreadable black blobs if your sun direction, inclination, ambient light and shadow darkness settings were not correct. The big difference in an RTS and other genres of game lighting is trying to pull off a night time scene, we always want to do them, but have to pull back a little. Player color and unit recognition go out the door when you turn the sun off. Scenario 2 was probably the closest we did to a night time setting. I had to add a lot of local lights but that would hurt performance. Sometimes without anyone looking my artist instincts took over and I would add a few lights here and there to get it just right. Whether I created a bright and vivid mountain valley or a dark and cold wasteland, with the lighting done right, it pulled in the player that much more into our environments.

    Artists, programmers and designers all played major roles in creating the Halo War environments from look, tools, layout and storyline. I feel these environments are some of the best in a console RTS that have been done.

    Bryan “bimbosoup” Hehmann
    Environment Artist