News

Stand Your Ground

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ISSUE 71

Greetings lore-lovers, and thanks for stopping by. Last week, we took a look at some of the cool colonial tech that players find scattered across the surface of Meridian, plus we divulged some new info on a couple of cool space ships, and more. If you missed it, you can go back and check it out right here. This time around, we’re excited to help officially unveil the latest project from our friends and partners at Spartan Games in collaboration with 343 Industries, Halo: Ground Command. Spartan Games will be showing off the title in more glory this weekend at the Salute show in the UK, and we’re here to get you primed and ready. Rounding out our coverage today will be a special highlight of a particularly awesome community creation from the talented folks responsible for the Sins of the Prophets project. We’ve got a lot on the table (literally), so let’s get to it.

GROUND POUND

“Colonel, this is Noble One. There are no rebels. The Covenant are on Reach.”

- Spartan Carter-A259 Winter Contingency

Two simple words changed the lives of millions on the human colony of Reach. On July 24, 2552 the Spartans of Noble Team discover Covenant strike teams have infiltrated the planet’s defenses and disabled a key slipspace communication hub at the remote Visegrád Relay. Winter Contingency, the codename for a Covenant invasion, is declared. UNSC plans for the defense of Reach are thrown into disarray by the surprise attack, and an information lockdown is enacted to avoid mass panic. From their deeply buried bunkers and command centers, Reach High Command analyze reports, weigh the possibilities, and begin to deploy the might of the UNSC to defeat this Covenant spearhead. With the intrusion seemingly confined to a sparsely populated section of the planet it seems the alien army can be contained and eliminated with a decisive ground campaign.

They are wrong, and the planet will burn. But not before armies clash in a storm of blood and plasma, with heroism and valor never in short supply.

Halo: Ground Command gives you the tools to play out epic battles on Reach between stalwart soldiers of the UNSC and the merciless legions of the alien Covenant. Cities will fall, heroes will rise, and destiny forged in battles that are yours to plan, direct, and implement on the tabletop. From massive tank engagements at Szurdok Ridge to small groups of Spartans deployed in defense of New Alexandria, you are in control, making life-and-death decisions as a UNSC commander charged with the safety of this critical planet. Or take the role of an alien invader, leading the Covenant invasion force as a field marshal ordered to exterminate humanity, at any cost. The Covenant are on Reach. Your troops await their orders.

This weekend, the fabulous folks at Spartan Games are boots-on-the-ground at the Salute show, publically debuting the next chapter in the Halo tabletop legacy, Halo: Ground Command. After a pretty incredible fan reception to Halo: Fleet Battles, it’s no stretch to say that we are all pretty excited to see its land-focused counterpart come to fruition. For us at 343 Industries, it’s been an absolute blast to work alongside partners who are not only passionate about their craft, but about the Halo universe itself; more often than not, it’s us having to rein them in on the project, as Spartan Games’ excitement for putting famous battles of Halo onto fans’ tables indeed has no end. To explore that excitement a bit further, we talked with Spartan Games’ Neil Fawcett to give our loyal Fodder folk an inside scoop.

GRIM: So, let’s start off by talking about scale. We’ve seen Halo products come in all sorts of different sizes over the years; what made you decide on the final scale for Halo: Ground Command?

NEIL: When we first looked at creating a ground warfare game for the Halo universe a number of miniature scales were discussed. After some fascinating, and not too heated conversations between Spartan Games and 343 Industries, it became clear that we all wanted the same thing: a mass-battle game that would allow infantry, armored and aerial units to come together in the same gaming space. Our guiding theme is “Ever thought how cool it would be to have an entire army of Scorpion tanks or massive aerial duels with Banshee flyers?... You have?... Well you’ve come to the right place!

GRIM: I mean, you had me at “Banshees.” Also, especially for folks who might be new to tabletop gaming, can you explain what it means to say that the game is at “1:100 scale?”

NEIL: Sure! Halo: Ground Command is designed to be an inclusive game that brings together video gamers and wargamers alike. 1:100th scale is the best way to do that, giving you the best of both worlds: excellent detail levels and affordable collectability.

To give you an idea of size: at 1:100th scale a UNSC Pelican Dropship comes in at just over 12 inches and is playable and affordable, but at 28mm scale this model would be around 24 inches and much too costly for the average gamer! It is also the case that a Covenant Scarab would be so large at 28mm as to make it almost un-gamable. That's no problem if you want to simply stand it on a (reinforced) shelf... but we want to make models you can show off AND game with too! We, however, want to game with our Scarabs…

GRIM: Can’t really argue with that logic. Speaking of games, we see some pretty large battles in Halo 3 and Halo: Reach, but the focus in the video games typically, and understandably, is a more personal – dare we say ‘visceral’ – experience revolving around a single Spartan or small group of soldiers. Was it difficult to adapt the look and feel of the video games when you decided to develop army-versus-army conflicts in Halo: Ground Command?

NEIL: We wanted to create a game that acted as a counterpoint and complement to the first person video game that people around the world are very familiar with and enjoy. Whereas the video games are laser-focused on individual Spartan heroes, our inspiration comes from the novels – in particular, Halo: The Fall of Reach – that look at the wider course of the Human-Covenant War and the actions of generals and field marshals at the army level. The stories are just as compelling on a larger stage, and in our opinion Halo: Ground Command helps showcase just how exceptional the Spartan super-soldiers really are, while simultaneously letting you appreciate the true power of the Covenant war machine!

GRIM: So, just to be clear, it’s safe to say that Spartans are not the focus of the game?

NEIL: Spartans (and their Zealot counterparts in the Covenant) play a very important role in the new game, but so do Warthogs, Scorpion Tanks, ODST Drop Pods, Falcons, Siege Engines, Phantoms, Wraiths, Ghosts, Hunters and Scarabs! The scale of Halo: Ground Command allows us to do things that are not easy to do in the games; it is entirely possible (even encouraged) that you could have hundreds of vehicles and thousands of infantry battling it out with bombing runs, MAC gun strikes, Banshee swarms, and reinforcements being ferried in on Pelicans – which we’ve been told is a bit challenging to do in the video game realm!

GRIM: Were it so easy, indeed. Now, considering the scope of the encounters in your game, was Halo Wars or Halo: Reach the inspiration for the game mechanics?

NEIL: Yes. <laughs> When designing the gameplay for Halo: Ground Command, we spent literally hundreds of hours ‘researching’ (read: playing Halo in all its forms) and it became clear to us that we had a real opportunity to create a wargame that mirrors the intense action of a tactical FPS with the strategic nuances of a RTS. So in a way, it’s both.

To achieve this, we have created a system for Reaction that allows everyone to be involved in a game turn, right from the off, even if the opponent is activating! This hasn’t been done before in modern massed battle wargaming, and we are delighted to have the chance to give Halo players a chance to be the first to play with this FPS-inspired tabletop innovation. Along with the tactical considerations of Reaction, we have created a strategic method of Force Building that has lots of adaptability and uses easy building-block principles to give players control over their forces and combine units in ways that is new and extremely interesting – exactly as if you were playing Halo Wars.

GRIM: Sounds awesome, Neil. Thanks so much for the passion your team pours into the universe, and for taking the time to answer our questions – we know you are super busy preparing for the Salute 2016 wargames convention in London this weekend!

NEIL: Our pleasure. We can’t wait to show people the game and demo the new models, which will be in stores later this Summer!

So now you have Spartan Games’ perspective, but I figured folks wouldn’t mind also hearing from the 343 side as well, and since I know you all are likely tired of hearing me talk all the time, I thought it would be fun to ask our very own Kenneth Peters what he thought about the game. Kenneth has been integral in the process of helping bring Halo: Ground Command to life, and being a huge tabletop gaming fan himself, the project is very near and dear to his lore-loving heart.

"As a former Marine, one of the things I’m most excited about with Halo: Ground Battles is representing large-scale engagements between the UNSC and Covenant that we’ve only read about in the books or seen in the distance of the games. Keep in mind that the Army troopers you get in the 2-player starter box is only a single platoon, and yet it’s actually more UNSC combatants than you see close-up in any Halo game. Plus, you can easily scale that up 3-4 times to fight company-level engagements that make even Halo Wars matches look like a sandbox skirmish.

"On the Covenant side you get a combat lance of enough Grunts, Elites, and Hunters to make even Noble Team carefully consider their tactical options. Scale the Covenant invasion force up and you can field a legion of the Covenant’s finest, ready to tear down everything humanity has spent centuries building. The epic scenario we saw in the famous Believe campaign diorama is now in reach (pun intended). Heck, you can play out scenarios that make even that look tame, and you won’t need to break the bank to do it!

"Halo: Ground Command is a completely different way of looking at warfare in the 26th century, not in terms of it being a table-top game but in the fact that you can – for the first time – clearly visualize just how epic and lethal Halo warfare truly can be. Not everyone on the battlefield can be a super-soldier, but if you get enough assault rifles in one place the fate of worlds will turn. You’ll see."

-          Kenneth Peters, 343 Industries

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this inside look at Halo: Ground Command, both from a written perspective as well as throughout the snazzy model and render images you’ve seen scattered throughout the piece. Quick note on that, it’s important to keep in mind that while the models you see are certainly pretty darn close to complete, there are certainly scattered aspects of the design and production elements that are still a work in progress and are “pending licensor approval” as they like to say. Whoever “they” are. At any rate, we’re incredibly excited to bring this new strategic gaming experience to the tabletops of Halo fans everywhere later this year. Certainly keep an eye out on Halo Waypoint for more details as we get closer to release!

NON-PROPHET ORGANIZATION

One of the best things about the Halo franchise is the abundant bounty of incredible community groups making ridiculously cool content. Often, that content is found within the comfy confines of the Halo games themselves – Forge creations, machinimas, montages, and much more. Sometimes though, you’ll find a zealous group of Halo fans eager to assimilate our favorite universes into entirely different game experiences. The folks who run the Sins of the Prophets PC mod are one such group. As it fit fairly nicely alongside our Spartan Games focus of this week and last, we thought it would be fun to shed some light on this impressive labor of love. We sat down (virtually) with the minds behind the mod to see what they were all about…

GRIM: So who are you guys anyway? Tell us a little about the overall scope and mission of your project.

SOTP: Sins of the Prophets (SotP) is a total conversion mod for the PC game Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion that transforms the game into a Halo-themed experience. It's a real-time space strategy game, focused on empire building, and space combat. Huge fleets of ships clash in the gravity wells of planets, asteroid fields, and massive structures. Our mod redresses all of that in Halo garb. In a match of SotP you could defend Reach from the Fleet of Particular Justice, discover a massive Forerunner structure that gives you advanced technology, then amass a giant space empire, only to lose it all to the Flood. The skirmish style of the game allows for some of Halo's sandbox appeal to translate well into the mod. The space combat is brutal and fast - an element of the Halo story covered well in the books, but hasn't yet been fully realized in a game or film.

GRIM: Sounds awesome. Can you talk about your process for building the mod? Who does what, how much time does it take, etc?

SOTP: When we’re adding new content to the mod we usually find as much source material as we can. Once found, we discuss any sources we consider primary for the look and feel, then the primary artist takes over, and we offer advice, and critique, as the asset takes shape. Ships (like these you see here) typically take about 2 to 3 weeks from start to finish, when we have good source material, so Halo: Fleet Battles has been a huge blessing for us; especially so, because of the physical models we can pour over. Weapon effects take a few days to a week, and planets can take a week or so. We scrutinize everything we create heavily, and try very hard to stay as accurate to the Halo universe as we can. Typically, after we finish something we show it to our community, and may make changes based on their feedback. We have a lot of knowledgeable and enthusiastic fans, and we value their input immensely. 

The core team is made up of:

Project Lead: Unikraken

Design Lead: Lavo

Coder/Effects Artist: Cole Protocol

Coder: grunt563

Effects Artist: Sgt. Toothpaste

3D Artist: Malcontent1682

3D Artist: Sookendestroy

UI/HUD Artist: WyvernZu

Music Composer: WaseemFarazButt

Audio Director: IamSancho

Promotional Material Artist: ElijahBI

QA Lead: Idio

Some of the assets we use are created, and shared by our sister mod, Homefront, a mod for Homeworld 2.

GRIM: It certainly looks like you have a passionate and robust team! How spread apart are you globally?

SOTP: Most of the team is located in North America, however we've got people from all over the planet working on the project. There’s artists from New Zealand and Sweden, as well as our composer operating out of the UK. The team is typically around 10 people, but is seasonal work for some, as many of the team members are working their way through college. We have around 20 dedicated playtesters for the internal build of the mod, and they span the globe from America and Europe, to Australia and Southeast Asia

GRIM: Now, though it might seem obvious, what are your team members’ favorite aspects of the Halo lore and fiction?

SOTP: The sheer size and depth of the Halo lore is a major drawing point, with some of the team being PC only; this means that the wealth of external Halo media is a huge plus. You can be a Halo fan whether you're a PC gamer, console player, or you just like to read books, and comics. We pull from that canon, where there's this technological disparity between all of the major factions, that makes it possible to tell these amazing stories of sacrifice, and brutality. The space combat in the lore is of course, also captivating. For the Covenant, their fleets finding a human world, then laying siege with the intent to kill every last human, hoping that this is humanity's homeworld, and their final stand. Humanity sending every nearby ship, to valiantly sacrifice themselves, in extremely one-sided battles so that some innocent civilians ground-side are able to escape. What pulls is that they do this every time the Covenant show up. For 20 years.

GRIM: Any particular favorite Halo moments from books, cutscenes, or gameplay?

SOTP: “I would have to choose the introduction of the Scarab, towering over the city streets, in Halo 2.” - Sookendestroy1

Halo 2, running through Gravemind, and High Charity, where you can see the chaos of the Great Schism firsthand.” - Cole Protocol

Halo: Combat Evolved, driving out of the Forerunner tunnels with your first warthog, ‘Reunion Tour’ Chapter Title popping up, and all to the sounds of brass, strings, and drums.” - Idio

“Admiral Cole’s last stand, at the Battle of Psi-Serpentis.” - Malcontent1692 [depicted in the Halo: Evolutions story ‘The Impossible Life and the Possible Death of Preston J. Cole’ – Grim]

“When Truth activates the portal on Earth in Halo 3, and you see the UNSC’s all-out assault on the Key Ship.” - ElijahBI

“Watching the Forward Unto Dawn swoop down towards the Ark, in Halo 3.” - Unikraken

“The epilogue of Halo 3, where Master Chief enters the cryo tube, after finally ‘finishing’ the fight.” - WyvernZu

GRIM: What are some things you are looking forward to in the near Halo future?

SOTP: We're all crazy excited to see what new ships come out from the Halo: Fleet Battles team at Spartan Games. They've made our jobs much easier. We're also hopeful that we'll get to see some more Forerunner ships show up in the future stories being told through the games. Undoubtedly we’re all very excited for the arrival of Halo Wars 2. Halo needs more strategy games!

GRIM: We’re glad you think so, too! What does the Halo universe mean to you as a team and individually?

SOTP: As a team, it's the element that binds us all, the common factor that we all love and strive to replicate in our project. The crushing despair of defeat, the spoils of victory, and the joys of success.

Through Halo, we've all met so many incredible and talented people. There is no other community on Earth like the Halo community; It's vast and deep like the ocean. No matter how niche your particular Halo interest is, there's a community of like-minded individuals, ready to accept you, and experience Halo alongside you.

GRIM: Could have said it better myself. Before we go, where can other Halo fans go to find out more about the Sins of the Prophets project?

SOTP: To catch up on the latest news, and download the mod, please visit our ModDB profile here - in fact we literally just released the latest update for the project, which you can download here. We also have a Facebook page, where we show a lot of work in progress assets, and interact with the SotP community, as well as an active presence on Twitter, where you can follow us @SinsOfProphets.

GRIM: Sounds great. Thanks so much to your team for chatting with us today, and for sharing your passion for the Halo universe in such a cool and creative way!

RECRUITMENT RENDEZVOUS

As many of you are certainly aware, the Warzone Firefight beta went live this week in Halo 5: Guardians, and runs through April 19th. To learn more about the beta itself and the mode in general, checkout your friendly neighborhood Grim’s feature on the matter right here. It’s been a blast to hop on with friends in a concerted cooperative effort to eliminate enemies in efficient and exciting ways, and has been particularly fun to notice some familiar names from the community pop up in our fireteam in several matches. With that in mind, yours truly (GT: GrimBrother One) will be playing quite a bit of the mode this weekend, likely with a few other 343 Industries staff in tow (including the aforementioned Kenneth Peters) – keep a lookout for us and be prepared to show off your Spartan prowess on the field of battle!

Well, that will wrap things up for us this week. You'll notice that we’ll be mixing in preexisting Universe encyclopedia entries with newer ones into our featured entries each issue, giving fans a great way to catch up on ones you might have missed or enjoyed in the past. Thanks as always for joining us, and hope to see you on the beta battlefield!

Until next time… Live well, play Halo, and pray you don’t have to defend the Garage.

-Grim

FEATURED UNIVERSE ARTICLES THIS WEEK!

WARTHOG

The Warthog is the UNSC's primary ground transportation vehicle and developed by AMG Transport Dynamics.

WRAITH

The Wraith is an armored mortar tank, created to besiege enemy positions with unrelenting firepower.

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