Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Halo Q&A--Past, Present, Future @ GameSpot

Amid all of the Gears of War, PlayStation 3, and Wii madness this week, a notable date may have missed your notice. November 15 marked the five-year anniversary of the original Halo release. The game hit streets in 2001 alongside the release of the original Xbox and quickly became the system's crown jewel. Developed by Seattle-based Bungie, the first-person shooter left an indelible mark on the FPS genre for consoles with its engaging mix of excellent gameplay and a truly involving story that drew players along.

Two years later, Halo 2 made an equally significant splash for the franchise with its wicked multiplayer experience that retained the gameplay fans quickly grew to love. It was also beefed up with fantastic player matching and stat tracking. The years that have followed have seen a highly anticipated sequel show itself on the horizon for the Xbox 360, as well as an equally intriguing real-time strategy offering, Halo Wars.

Though Bungie is notoriously mum on both projects, we thought we'd be sneaky and hit the developer up for a look back at the Halo franchise's past, present, and future with the hope that someone from the team might answer the Q&A drunk and spill some information. We pinned our hopes on potential loose cannons, community lead Brian Jarrard, Bungie writer Frank O’Connor, and Sandbox design lead Jaime Griesemer, hoping that at least one of them would slip up.

GameSpot: What can we expect from the expanded Halo universe in the future? How will Halo Wars, the novels, and other properties advance the overall Halo fiction?

Frank O'Connor: It's safe to say that the new additions to the Halo universe will expand it in different directions. The core Halo story, the tale told at the heart of our trilogy, will remain hermetically sealed from the other fiction, with only the occasional cross-reference, but plenty of guest appearances by Halo characters, locations, and hardware. It's a big place to explore, and frankly, players have a lot of questions about the outlying regions of the fiction--hence, the success of the Halo novels and the Marvel graphic novel. We have some pretty cool surprises coming up in those areas, and the reason they're kind of few and far between is that we always endeavor to make sure everything is tightly cohesive and true to the Halo feel.

GS: How much of that exposition are you taking into account for Halo 3?

FO: Halo 3 should be completely understandable by anyone who's played Halo 2. And if they haven't, there's plenty of context and background for the events that take place in it. That said--and without going into too much detail--events from Halo 3 may influence other fictional projects. Who can say?

GS: Can you give us a status update on the production and financing of the Halo movie?

Brian Jarrard: As was previously announced, the Halo movie is on hold at the moment, following the dissolution of our partnership with Universal and Fox. We don't have anything new to report on that front right now.

GS: Part of the Master Chief's mystique is that you never see his face, but we're pretty sure most of Hollywood's leading men wouldn't enjoy spending an entire movie behind a mask. Will the Chief break with tradition in the film and finally take off the helmet?

BJ: Considering that the movie doesn't actually exist at the moment, thus, there's no final script in development, it's hard to say. We agree, though, that the mystery of Master Chief's face is a big part of the Halo experience, and it's something we would want to be very careful with.

GS: With Halo, you've succeeded in creating a unique sci-fi setting and storyline in a rather overcrowded genre. What were the inspirations for the game's mythology?

Jaime Griesemer: That's tough. Halo was created by a group of people, all with their own personal flavors and influences, so the end product is the result of all of those influences bouncing around and ricocheting off everything else. If I had to pick a handful of the more obvious ones, though, the Culture books by Iain Banks had a lot of influence on the technological and historical parts of the universe. The Vang by Christopher Rowley was a big inspiration for the flood, and Armor by John Steakley and the original Starship Troopersby Heinlein (not the movie version) gave us lots of good ideas for the Mjolnir armor. For movies, obviously there is a big Aliens influence, but the Bungie team has a very wide range of interests, so everything from old-school Westerns to 1950s sci-fi to obscure Japanese cult horror movies and the latest Michael Bay flick is fair game.

One of the most unexpected influences I can cite is Bungie itself. Fully half of the team that worked on Halo were Bungie fans before they became Bungie employees. So this "second generation" would constantly use previous Bungie games, like Marathon and Myth, as inspiration for their contributions to Halo. Cortana's temptation when confronted with the incredible power of Halo's network, for instance, is very similar to what happened to Durandal, the artificial intelligence from Marathon. So I guess, we were our own biggest influence. (laughs)

GS: What did it take to create Halo's superb AI, which made the game's firefights so intense?

JG: One thing I think Bungie does exceptionally well is integrate all the different disciplines that you need to make a game. A great example of that collaboration is how the designers and AI programmers worked together on the Halo AI. We were able to iterate so quickly because we were sitting right next to each other, working on the same things in a very organic way. Chris Butcher (the AI programmer on Halo 1) and I did a talk at the Game Developers Conference that went into a lot of depth about how the AI technically works. I'm sure you can find it on the Internet somewhere, but the secret to why it works so well lies in that collaborative process.

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