Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the “Prepare to Drop” panel at Penny Arcade Expo. Becuase we're only a few weeks away from the release of Halo 3: ODST, I wasn't really expecting much in terms of huge news or big reveals, just a generally informative and entertaining show put on by the Bungie guys. And that's what we got.
The last time I really saw ODST was back at E3, and though it was generally accepted throughout the office that it was going to be a predictably good game, the excitement level was kept relatively contained. One of the big things they were pushing at the panel, and the notable aspect of ODST that I'm really looking forward to, is the film noir, heavily story-driven approach to this Master Chief-less Halo. Bungie's Joseph Staten, in talking about the approach they're taking with the story, joked that they were going to tell the artists to just make Halo 3 backwards and at night in an effort to save money. During the panel they cycled through various pieces of concept art, which really illuminated how they were thinking about ODST from the start -- incorporating the types of characters and story elements you'd find in in a noir mystery, and the "lone gumshoe detective" archetype was perfect for the ODST trooper we're going to be playing as in a few weeks. Marty O'Donnell, long-serving series composer, also played a couple of clips that were also very heavily noir-inspired, while still retaining the feeling of Halo.
The location of New Mombasa was selected because Bungie felt that there were still stories to tell in that city -- highlighted by the fact that they enlisted the help of Fourth Wall Studios (the ARG company behind Halo 2's ilovebees pre-release campaign). Fourth Wall in conjunction with Bungie wrote an entirely separate story within ODST that's referred to as "Sadie's Story," which we're told will give a glimpse into the civilian life of New Mombasa before the ODSTs arrived...and that would eventually tie into the main plot. O'Donnell called it "like producing a radio play," which seems like something very different from the mainline Halo games.
They also showed off concept art of the new Covenant enemy type: the Engineer, who made an appearance in Halo Wars. The Engineer serves as a buff provider for Covenant troops on the ground, so it's priority number one to take them out.
During the Q&A session that followed the main presentation, there was some amusing lines drawn in the sand between the people who support the Halo 3 battle rifle and those who aren't such big fans. Someone did the requisite inquiry about the status of Halo: Reach, but as is tradition, developers rarely speak about their next project while on the promotional tour for their current one. Though when asked about new projects not related at all to Halo, they did remind us that there are multiple teams working at Bungie and there will be new IP that's not Halo -- but they're nowhere close to being able to talk about that.
The last interesting tidbit from the Q&A came when someone asked about DLC plans for Firefight mode. They answered with the "wink, nudge" that there are no "current" plans for DLC, but that's something that could very well change.
We'll be posting the video of the entire panel at some point next week, so you'll be able to watch the whole thing for yourself.