|[6:00 AM] MACWORLD Expo Wrap-Up: Close Up And Personal With Bungie And Oni
by Cory Harrison
In the past few years, development of gaming entertainment has flourished in some impressive ways. Companies who started out as Mac only branched out into the other platforms to access a much larger market, some of which eventually dropped the Mac altogether in favor of these other, more vigorous, markets. Other companies have grown by specializing in bringing popular PC titles to the MacOS. Although the Macintosh platform has had financially impressive growth in the area of gaming in the past few quarters, it still has a long journey ahead. It is refreshing to know we have companies who have remained faithful to our platform despite the lower sales volume than our OS counterparts. Bungie is one such company. They have succeeded in many areas where others have failed, not only stretching the envelope within current gaming genre's, but also by creating groundbreaking titles that shatter the mold as well. The Macworld Expo was an opportunity for Bungie to show themselves off in the best possible light, and all I can say is wow, did they ever do a good job of it.
The Bungie Booth
The Bungie Booth was brilliantly designed to face outward on all fronts and included a 4 station showcase of the next Bungie smash hit, Oni. There was also a small booth selling all manners of bungie products including Myth: The Total Codex and Oni paraphernalia. The booth was visible from across the show floor, prominently displaying the Oni Logo far above all the other presentations. Height means might? Perhaps. At least Bungie seemed to demonstrate that maxim. There was also media booth which showcased B/TV news, a daily online broadcast hosted by Bungie staff which gave away all manner of juicy information on Bungie's latest projects and plans. The broadcast was also shown at Bungie's web site.
First task to be completed was to nail Doug Zartman down and strong-arm a few juicy tidbits out of him for both Oni and Halo. Turns out he was very friendly and only too glad to spill his guts without the need for any bully tactics. Doug Zartman is the PR guy at bungie, and has been with Bungie since before Marathon. He specified that he preferred to be referred to as the "Publicity Engineer", as PR guys are often viewed in a somewhat negative fashion, and so he decided to change his job title to something elevating himself out of the grime into a more favorable light. Hey, whatever works. Friendly guy, not your classic "suit" type and very easy going, we had a great conversation which led from some personal info and then segued into the technical goodies I was oh-so-subtly trying to knuckle punch out of him. He gladly revealed a nice assortment of goodies for The Mac Observer's benefit. Next, we played Oni, and got a general impression of gameplay. Finally, we were able to track down one of the design crew, David Dunn, that was at the show and pump him for info as well.
He revealed to us that there have been many changes to the underlying code of Oni which will drastically effect the quality of gameplay. For instance, two handed gun play has been added. This can be a very tricky feature to add with all the minute animation changes that must be made to make a game character perform realistically. The GUI has been greatly improved upon, he said, and for those of you who have enjoyed previous Bungie hits, you know that this means great things for both the solo and multiplayer interface design. Some new moves have been added and improved upon as well, including disarming your opponents. Doug also mentioned that the particle system has been developing nicely, in an attempt to have a realistic amount of vehicle traffic within the city levels without chugging the game. The maps are going to be quite large and the more traffic they can generate within each level the more realistic the game will feel.
In terms of the solo campaign, Mr. Zartman also explained that the story is going to be an integral part of the gaming experience. Story elements will progress through in-game cut scenes and cinematics. I asked if Half-life had any influence on this aspect of the game, and he said that yes, of course a successful game like Half-life will influence the industry to some degree. Personally he was stunned by Half-life, and many on the design team feel the same way.
Levels will be mostly urban in design, but there will also be some interesting outdoor areas as well. Mr. Zartman outlined a large level layout for us. One level featured in Oni will be about 4 blocks with the TCTF building (the TCTF is police force Konoko, the main character, works for), centrally located. The particle system will handle ambient vehicle traffic, and there will be an undetermined amount of pedestrian traffic. There will also be the possibility of ambient wildlife, (squirrels, birds, rats, etc.) but nothing concrete was revealed. The TCTF building will be 15 stories high inside, while the outlying structures will be less detailed. I asked if there would be any ambient weather effects and so far it has not been added but may be introduced later. 3D support will include both ATI Rage 128 with openGL, as well as 3dfx's glide.
The word on multiplayer is positive. Earlier rumors floating around various sites stated that Multiplayer would be axed in the final version of Oni, but this is not necessarily true. Support for 56k modems, cable, and other high speed options are a strong possibility, but have not been publicly announced, whereas LAN is definite.
3rd Party Maps
The last item I spoke with Zartman about was level editing and 3rd party development. He was quick to point out that there will be no level editor for Oni, but if anyone in the gaming community has Autocad experience it wont be hard to develop 3rd party maps and total conversions for the game. This is good news indeed, as the 3rd party community have greatly extended the re-playability of Bungie's Myth series. However, the lack of a public editor for the game will limit the 3rd party development to highly skilled fans only, which will reduce the total number of maps and mods available.
I had a chance to sit down and play the demo that was on display on the 4 terminals at the Bungie booth and kicked, shot and flipped my way through a half hour or so of gaming. The displayed game showcased one deathmatch style level. I was impressed with the architecture and the camera angles aren't looking too bad. Most games with this style of roving camera views have been highly criticized by the media for doing a poor job (Dark Vengeance being the most recent). From what I saw, I doubt Bungie has much to worry about. The action itself is intense, usually culminating in a cluster of 3-4 characters in a chaotic riot of action. Control of the characters has been set up to play very much like a console game, obviously because the game will be released for console platforms at roughly the same time as the PC and the Mac versions.
Different key combinations result in different attacks, each attack changing according to proximity of your enemy. For instance, if you punch when there is no enemy around, your character performs a normal punch. If you punch with a character a few feet away you might connect a knuckle shot to his face or body. However, if your right up close, the same move would result in some kind of grab-and-throw move. I was on a limited time budget, and didn't get the opportunity to play Oni as much as I would have liked, so I didn't get the chance to explore each character and their moves much. The map didn't have any item placement, such as ammo, additional weapons, power-ups, health, or armor. There are many different characters you can play in the game, and depending on who you choose, you will have to get used to a new set of attack and defense moves. Big burly characters like to take down their enemy by running at them full tilt and battering them to death, or getting their enemy on the ground for a good stomping. Lighter more agile characters have tackles, jump kicks, and the patented Oni neck snap manouver at their disposal which leaves a defeated enemy on his feet till his brain shuts down and his body crumples to the floor.
Talking To The Level Designer
A little later, I had the opportunity to grill one of the architects/level designers working on the Oni project, David Dunn, and managed to get a little info out of him regarding multiplayer game types. He mentioned that Deathmatch will be included for sure, but that the team was playing with a whole assortment of other ideas. Myth2 had some amazing new multiplayer gametypes that he felt would be perfect for Oni. Territories, CTF, and King of the Hill are the obvious variations, but he mentioned that some kind of sports based theme might be cool too. Full contact soccer or some such thing. Mmmmm... can you picture it?
After spending almost 40% of my day at the Bungie booth harassing the development team in attendance, and hammering on their keyboards for a bit, my conclusion is this. Oni is not going to dissapoint. I am now looking forward to Oni's release even more so than before the show, even after being exposed to so much. Its going to blow the roof off the Mac gaming market and we can look forward to seeing it no sooner than late spring, possibly summer.
Doug Zartman promised to send over some new eye candy for us, but has been very busy tidying up the show and hasnt gotten back to us. We will post any new developements as they arrive. For the time being, we placed a few of the older screenshots from the bungie website to keep you in suspense.
Bungie - MACWORLD Expo SF Special Report