On the plane home yesterday, I wrote out some thoughts about the last day of the expo (I stayed pretty close to the Bungie booth all day - I'd seen most of what I wanted to see in the other parts of the expo in the previous two days). It's a little disjointed - blame the guy sitting next to me, who felt the need to talk pretty much continuously through the flight. I hope it conveys the fun we had, though.
We arrived in the Microsoft enclave near 11 am, and immediately checked the large plasma displays for an S-Video Out port - we'd looked at some of these displays in another section of the Expo, and realized that we could plug into this port and capture net or solo play directly to a DV camera, providing an awesome view for those not fortunate enough to be at E3. Unfortunately, the displays Microsoft used had source inputs only - no outputs. Apologies, therefore, for being unable to bring you the crystal-clear footage we were hoping for.
In a conversation with Max Hoberman (Yeroen), the Bungie Online Team Lead, we learned that the light bridge visible at the beginning of the xbox.com video footage was near the top of the second demo level - in an area that Max believed nobody had reached in the three days of the Expo (nobody from the general public, that is). He jumped onto a Solo machine to demonstrate this area. He quickly ran through the beginning of the level, and passed into unseen territory - he proved unable to pass one critical juncture in the time allotted, but we got to see some amazing gameplay in the process. The stumbling block was a battlefield deep within the underground base, on a large staging platform before a tight bottleneck - your first job was to clear out the covenant in the open area. This was no small task - the enemy did a great job of using the local environment to shoot at you from cover; Max entered the area in a jeep, with a chain gunner for assistance, but manouvering room was tight, due to large drops on two sides, and warehouse equipment littering the floor. Once this area was clear, he entered a tighter corridor - the jeep had to be abandoned. The first rule of combat in these quarters - be careful where you throw your grenades - throw them at a wall in front of you, and they'll bounce back. On the second runthrough, he decided to forgo killing all the Covenant troops in the lower open platform... and though he was successful at wiping out the guards in the corridor, and avoiding his own grenade blasts, he was taken out from behind by those he chose to ignore. Subsequent runthroughs showed tactics such as blocking the entrance to the corridors with the jeep (effective in keeping out the lower Covenant - success would have been possible but for the indiscriminate pattern of the chain gun, fired from behind at the Covenant horde swarming towards you from in front), and using the jeep as cover, wedged into a corner (almost successful; the chaingunner took out the corridor guards, and the jeep provided safety from almost all directions... but the Covenant elite found a notch between two structures with a clear shot at Max, and the battle was lost again).
We surrendered the machine to other Expo-goers, and moved around to the Multiplayer side of the wall. Here, a rotating phalanx of Bungie employees provided guidance and encouragement to the two ever-changing teams playing in a continuous stream of first-to-three Capture the Flag games. At one point, a team made up of Louis Wu (HBO), Freewill (Bungie Sightings), Noctavis (Rampancy.net) and Santa's Head (Mumbo Jumbo) took on Yeroen and three unnamed teammates... and were beaten soundly. (In our defense, it was Noc and Santa's first runthrough on Halo - and we provided some decent entertainment anyway.) Multiplayer proved to be seriously addictive (the adrenaline rush that hits you when you drop a grenade in front of a jeep barreling towards you, only to see it spiral through the air above your head, landing upright behind you and continuing to your base, intent on mayhem, was unmatched by anything else we ran across at the Expo), and Miguel and I stayed pretty close to the booth for the next few hours, jumping in as often as possible. Meg Sagi (Pallor) stopped by periodically to snicker at our mishaps, and cheer us on when our skills began to improve, and at 3:30, we jumped into our final game. The match took far longer than usual, due to a mistake near the beginning in which one player flipped a jeep and wedged it into the back entrance of one of the bases - this effectively took that jeep out of play (leaving only one), and made flag capture in that base far, far more difficult (there was now only one exit, which was easily covered by the defenders). We fought valiantly, nonetheless, and after a hectic 35 minutes, we lost by a single flag return (just in time - the lights came up, signaling the end of the Expo, and folks began to come around, turning off machines in preparation for display breakdown). Whatever complaints people have about the changes that have occurred in Halo development over the past year, it cannot be denied that 8-person team play is just flat-out fun.