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August 25, 2009

Halo Wars wins best Strategy game in G4TV gamers choice awards & Dave Pottinger looks back on the project


Great news for all Halo Wars fans and Ensemble-lites, Halo Wars the best selling real time strategy game on any current generation console has been awarded best strategy game in the G4TV gamers choice awards. Ensemble’s “Halo Wars” won the award ahead of the competition by a “huge margin“! Congratulations Ensemble Studios! You can watch the incredibly short, (and perhaps a poor show) video of the announcement below:

Considering this award now is a great time for Lead Designer Dave Pottinger to talk about looking back on the game discuss lessons learnt. So lets take a delve down these corridors and see what he has to say..


Delve down if you dare..

The first thing Dave looks at is the all important gameplay. If the gameplay isnt right you’ve got a BIG problem. Luckily Ensemble had already started on a console RTS project before working on Halo Wars by using Age of Mythology as a basis for testing out the platform and refining the key controls.

Start with good gameplay you know and then go from there. If you’ve followed Halo Wars, you know that we started the project by making Age of Mythology playable with a gamepad. Once we had that, we knew we had solid basic gameplay to rely on. That was essential.

Halo Wars is a huge project, we’re talking big big IP with lots and lots of fans following the series and many also taking the time to explore the details of the story though novels and other outside of game media. You know you don’t want to mess around with the basics when your working with Halo. Most of all you don’t want to upset this guy:


Had to understand the motivations behind the existing characters in order to create compelling new characters. We needed to realize where the canon was flexible in order to squeeze in the things we needed. And, in a few cases, we decided to go against canon to make a better game/experience (e.g. the Spartan’s shield and sound). I don’t know how we would have made those calls without tons of research, chats with Bungie, etc.

Another key fact was that sex appeal wins. People love cool trailers. People love big explosions. People love Halo Wars trailers without MAC Blast and Scarabs…. not so much. Having cool things to show off in videos like the MAC and Scarab played an important role in drawing people into the game and giving the RTS style a try. Boring marines vs grunts only management wasn’t going to get anywhere.

It an E3 demo or getting dragged into your bud’s living room because “YOU GOTTA SEE THIS”, cool graphics are always sexy

Making use of Microsoft’s army of testers was important. You cant get enough testing.

Console cert processes are a confusing black hole. We finish. We think. The discs get sent off. Time passes. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Sometimes it’s a good answer, sometimes it’s not. We were lucky that the Microsoft Game Studio testers we had were so good; they saved us countless headaches that would have killed us in cert.

The other major thing to get right, is quite importantly, balance. You cant ever stop balance testing, even post release.

Balance is never over. Ever. Well, maybe if the Arch of Time collapses and the continuum implodes. But, then the Lord Foul is probably still pissed about those OP Gremlins.

Dave concludes his blog post looking back at one of the most important reasons that made him proud to work on Halo Wars. The team at Ensemble Studios. Considering the studio knew they were closing 6 months before the game was released, everyone knew they were on borrowed time and that the future post Ensemble could be bleak. I cant imagine how tough it is to work in that environment and keep the quality bar high but the team at Ensemble did. Lets just refer to the news at the top of this post.. best selling and winning best strategy game awards. The team did an exceptional job – as a player you wouldn’t even know the pressures the team was under until the credits.

Passion beats Talent. Team beats Individual. Finishing Halo Wars was the hardest thing I’ve ever done professionally. For so many reasons, the project was just a ton of work to get out the door. Amid uncertain futures, the Ensemble team pulled together in a way that exceeded every possible expectation I had. I’m proud to say I worked on Halo Wars just because of that.

Be sure to check out the full blog on the website.


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