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Last Updated: Friday, 14 May, 2004, 09:38 GMT 10:38 UK
Halo sequel shows potential
BBC News Online's Darren Waters receives an exclusive look at Halo 2, the sequel to the most popular Xbox game of all time, at the E3 games show in Los Angeles.

Screenshot of Halo 2
Access to Halo 2 was tightly controlled
Although E3 throbs and dazzles with the noise and light of hundreds of different games, perhaps one game above all creates the greatest cacophony.

Ironically, that game is not even present on the show floor for people to see or to play.

Halo 2, being developed for Microsoft's Xbox console by Bungie, is accessible behind closed doors and strictly by appointment only.

Peter Moore, corporate vice president of Xbox, told the world's media on Monday that the launch of Halo 2 would be "the biggest video game launch in history".

He said: "We want to make an incredible amount of noise. The launch will be backed by a global print and television campaign."

Mr Moore's commitment to the game is understandable. Halo is the most important game in the short history of Xbox and is responsible for selling millions of the console worldwide.

Impressive visuals

When Xbox launched three years ago Halo was arguably the only game which showed the potential of the machine.

Screenshot of Halo 2
Halo 2 retains the relentless pace of the gameplay
When the launch comes, Microsoft will want everyone to see and play Halo, but at E3 the only opportunity comes in two darkened rooms at the back of the giant Xbox stand.

Invited guests are shown a quick presentation and are then allowed to play the multiplayer element of the game, which pits two teams against each other in a futuristic battle.

The differences between the original and sequel are immediately apparent. Halo 2 is a giant leap visually on its predecessor.

The armour of the main characters has astounding reflections, weapons are richly detailed and the animation is complex yet smooth.

Halo's award-winning gameplay remains intact - relentless and pounding but with subtle improvements.

Fighting friends

Fans of the game, and they are many, can rest assured that Bungie has not fallen into the trap of the Matrix films - the original film was good but the sequels were bad.

Screenshot of Halo 2
Making a game like Halo is so detailed. There's a mountain of work
Max Hoberman, Bungie
Bungie know that the multiplayer element of the game is fundamental to the success of Halo 2.

Max Hoberman, multiplayer lead developer at Bungie Studios, told BBC News Online: "When we made Halo we never realised that the multiplayer element of the game would be so popular.

"But we soon learned of people organizing multiplayer parties and taking Xboxes around to their friends' houses.

"We wanted to recreate that feeling of playing with your friends on the couch in one room because we didn't feel that any online games had really had achieved that yet."

Xbox Live, Microsoft's online games system, has currently almost one million subscribers. The firm's grand ambitions to expand the service will depend greatly on Halo 2.

The game is scheduled to be released on 9 November, but Mr Hoberman said there was still a lot of work to be done.

"Making a game like Halo is so detailed. There's a mountain of work," he said.

Crazy time

Halo provokes a fanatical following, which can be seen in the number of fan websites which monitor every pixel of development of the game.

Screenshot of Halo 2
Halo 2 could support up to 64 players
"We don't feel the weight of expectation too much," said Mr Hoberman.

"Bungie has always made kick-ass games and that's what we are trying to do again.

"It's crazy around the office at the moment. But it's a lot of fun now. It's not stressful when it's so much fun."

He said at least 16 people would be able to play online.

Offline, via a local area network, he said 16 Xboxes could be linked together, hinting at the possibility of games with 64 players.

"We have 16 boxes linked together here. No-one's noticed that yet," he said.




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