That's a good thing to talk about, because you guys have a strong community strategy. Is that something that you think people just shake out after they play for awhile and come to grips with the learning curve?
BJ: Yeah, I think the beta, for us... The way I like to think about is: Bungie shipped Halo 3 and immediately moved into development on ODST and Reach, so, really, for the last three years, our team has been spending time working on and playing ODST and Reach, while meanwhile the rest of the world has been playing Halo 3 and racking up literally thousands of games of Halo 3.
So I figure over the past two years, as we've been iterating on Reach internally and playing it in our test labs and our take-home tests, we've all just become acclimated and gradually moved into the Reach mindset of how the game's meant to be played.
I think maybe we're forgetting what that first experience is like, when you go right from Halo 3 to Reach. It's pretty jarring, and a lot of that is by design; it was definitely meant to be different, to take the core Halo gameplay and mix it up and offer some new experiences.
A lot of people definitely received that very well and were excited about it, but a lot of other people I think definitely took some time to warm up, to throw away their preconceived notions of how they played Halo 3 and logged thousands of hours with the battle rifle, and try to appreciate Reach as something different.
I really do see over the course of the beta, by the second week a lot of people started to change their tune about certain weapons and certain behaviors because they started to play the game differently.
What we tried to do was get out in front of that and set expectations for people; we talked about it in articles, we put together some materials -- we did our best to proactively get people in the right mindset and understand as much as they could about the game before it started and even during the beta to try and speed up that learning curve and that process. I definitely did see that happen over the course of the beta.
I think, initially, most people were definitely... [there was] just a lot to grasp. A lot of things were different; a lot of things were subtly changed. There were people flying through the air with jet packs. A lot of people didn't quite know how to get their head around it.
It's interesting because also, in the same sense, I'd imagine that just the beta process helps with communication inasmuch as there's a snapshot out there, and people won't be going through this in the same way when the game actually comes out.
BJ: Yeah, it's good and bad. I think the hard part of that, for us, is that we weren't able to actually apply bug fixes and patches to the beta while it was in progress. The best we can do now -- which I think is very important to us -- is to make sure people know, "Here's our top issues that we've gathered from the beta based on data, based on all of your feedback and forum posts; these are the areas that we definitely are looking into. We've heard you; we definitely agree that there is some room here to explore and do some tweaks and iterating."
At that point, it's basically just, "Hey, trust us. It's going to be better in the final game, but people have to wait." Ideally, it would have been awesome if we could have reacted during the beta, but it just wasn't something we could do.
The other thing which I think made it even more complicated is, when the beta went live, by that point where we were in the studio real-time, we were maybe six weeks ahead of that in terms of our core code base.
So we were already putting in an old build, basically, that included bugs that we'd already fixed internally that we had to release, unfortunately, just due to timing. So we had cases of people really reacting and responding and really having their whole perception of the game skewed by bugs that we had already addressed and knew about, but unfortunately...
An example of a bug with our melee system: It started to muddy together, and this one melee bug and the way melee works started making people question everything from the efficiency of weapons, how the health and shield system was working; and everything kind of bled over.
For all they knew, that was one of our new design goals for Reach, and for what we knew it was a real bug that, unfortunately, we couldn't fix before the beta launched. As a result, a lot of people had it kind of cloud their judgment. So definitely we learned a tremendous amount, and hopefully people will take it with a grain of salt, realizing it was a beta, and be happy with changes that we're going to make as a result of it.