Who was there: A quartet of Bungie staffers took to the stage for a demonstration of some new multiplayer features in Halo: Reach. The panel was led by community director Brian Jarrard and also featured multiplayer designer Chad Armstrong, multiplayer producer Dave Allen, and Firefight designer Lars Bakken.
What they talked about: Skipping forward to the panel's climactic finish, Bungie officially confirmed the special-edition Halo: Reach Xbox 360 bundle that made the rounds earlier today after a report from numerous sources. Confirming prior details, the system is one of the new slimline Xbox 360 units originally unveiled at E3. It will feature a matte silver finish with artwork inspired by the ONI organization from the series' fiction. Bundled with a pair of matching controllers and a headset, the package will also come with a copy of Halo: Reach.
After teasing the audience with the mention of a possible "Oprah moment" for everyone who came to the panel, Jarrard called up a member of the crowd who had earlier been deemed the "ultimate Halo fan" by Microsoft's Halo Waypoint community team. The fan introduced himself as Vince and was subsequently greeted with the news that the hardware bundle that was just shown to the crowd was now his to keep. Vince was nothing short of ecstatic.
Before all that happened, the Bungie staffers took the audience through a crowd-pleasing demonstration of a few new features focused on Reach's online elements. You can read GameSpot's recent preview of these features right here, but the basic idea is that Bungie wants to extend the life span of Reach far into the future by giving fans expanded customization options and creative tools. Firefight now supports a customization system akin to the user-created multiplayer variants found in Halo 3, while Forge has been overhauled to more easily create custom maps.
Armstrong wowed the audience with a helicopter tour through a map called Forge World, which is designed to serve as a blank slate for creating new maps of highly varying geography. Bungie has called Forge World its biggest map by far, and the crowd's reaction showed that fans likely weren't expecting to see something on this scale. They also mentioned that a number of Bungie-created maps will be included in Reach that began as pet projects of staffers tinkering with Forge World but that impressed the team enough to be added to the other original maps.
Quote: "Twenty-four people in this room just wet themselves," joked Armstrong about a minor interface improvement to Forge that he expects a small but rabid number of fans to appreciate.
The takeaway: Jarrard reiterated that this is going to be Bungie's last game in the Halo franchise. With the studio moving on to a new project in an exclusive publishing deal with Activision, it seems Bungie wants fans to be able to continue creating new content for Halo well after the studio has wrapped up work on the series it originally created.
Who knew?: An audience member asked Bungie about any interesting glitches in Reach that the team encountered during development. Armstrong replied with an anecdote about the new female Spartans. There was a point when anyone who lost their armor shield while playing as a female character would see their character model transform "into a dude" suddenly and without warning.