Last month 360Monster was invited as part of the Microsoft Xbox Community Network (XCN) to submit a selection of questions, which would be answered in a Q&A session with Frank O’Connor, Content Manager, Bungie Studios. We put this to our community via our forum and in return we received some pressing questions from our members. The most interesting and inventive questions were selected and submitted towards the Q&A interview.
What follows an in-depth Q&A exclusive to XCN members with Frank this month.
Back in the infancy of the original Halo, what were your hopes for the series?
Halo actually started its life as a real-time strategy game for the Macintosh, but the guys here at Bungie had so many story ideas that eventually it grew out of that genre and into a first-person shooter. It also grew out of the Macintosh and into the PC, then initially it was an Xbox-exclusive title. It went through a lot of evolution and it sounds quite drastic, but actually it was a very smooth process. As it became more fun to use the vehicles and the physics that the guys had created it became obvious it should be an action game rather than an RTS. Luckily it ended up being the game we all know and love today!
Has the series surpassed your expectations?
The success and the expansion of the halo universe is certainly something that caught Bungie a little by surprise. We’re always ready for these things but the fact that we now have a range of action figures, a Marvel comic book, toys, games, New York Times best-selling novels and best-selling original soundtracks is always surprising. I don’t think Jason Jones could have predicted that back when Bungie first started. But it’s an absolute pleasure to see the universe that we love expand and be so fondly embraced by the fans in the community.
Halo 2 is very popular on Xbox Live. How are you going to continue to support this game in the future?
Halo 2 continues to be one of the most popular games on Xbox Live and my personal prediction is that we’ll take over from Gears of War again eventually, even if only for a short spell. I think one of the reasons for the continued popularity of Halo 2 on Xbox Live is our matchmaking. It’s so user-friendly and it makes it so easy to find a game with the huge population of players. That long-term success has been great for us as developers but also fantastic for the fans, so we want to reward the people who play Halo 2 online. One way we’re going to continue to do that is to update matchmaking playlists. We watch them very carefully to see what’s popular, what’s unpopular, what’s causing cheating and so on. One thing that’s unpopular with the fans is when we have to kill a playlist, like when we killed Team SWAT recently. The reason we have to do that is because we have a huge playing population and sometimes we need to balance out the playlists by making sacrifices. That’s the hard part, but we will have some surprises and treats for Xbox 360 Halo 2 players in the coming months. Keep an eye on Bungie.net to see more about what they are.
Can you give us some more details about the downloadable Halo 2 maps that were recently announced?
We did announce that one of the things we’d be doing to keep the Halo 2 community playing the game is that we’re going to be making some maps. We haven’t announced how many we’ll be making – there won’t be dozens so don’t get too excited – and we haven’t announced what the maps will be. But you will enjoy them. Trust me, I’ve played all of them and they’re all fantastic. We have been asked why they’re only available on Xbox 360 and the simple fact of the matter is that we simply don’t have enough resources to build the maps and test them for both Xbox and Xbox 360. They’re both very different and we just don’t have the manpower. We had to pick one platform or the other so we picked the one we think will have the largest Halo 2-playing population by next year, and that’s Xbox 360. We know that’s bad news for original Xbox owners and I don’t just want to tell people to go out and get an Xbox 360 because I know that’s not always possible, but if you’re a big Halo fan then I think you should probably get a 360 next year anyway. So I apologise that the maps will only be available for Xbox 360, but I know the fans will enjoy them and I think they’ll inject a lot more life into the game before the arrival of Halo 3.
What criticism of Halo 2 affected you the most?
The funny thing about Halo 2 is that we get the angriest complaints from the people who play it the most. We have this weird dichotomy like a site called Halo2Sucks.com which is populated by people who do nothing but play Halo 2, but set up a site to bitch about it. Some of their complaints are insane and some are pretty valid, but the biggest complaint we get is that game type A is not as good as game type B. Surprising as it may seem, not all Halo players are the same. Some like totally different things. Here’s another one: Weapon A is more powerful than Weapon B, and that makes the game imbalanced. We have actually addressed some weapon balancing issues in the past and contrary to what some people think Halo 2 is actually very well balanced right now.
Which part of the Halo games do you feel has given the Halo franchise that “it” factor?
The fact that people are still playing Halo 2 two-and-a-half years after it was released is a combination of a bunch of things, but I think it’s best summed up by one of our designers Jaime Greisemer. He said that Halo is all about “30 seconds of fun, repeated ad nauseum”. We have these fun moments that just keep coming. Even in a big objective-based game like Capture the Flag the most fun moments are quite short – capturing the flag, trying to escape with it, then getting killed and starting over – but they are endless fun and they never seem to get old.
Is Halo 3 the end of the Halo series?
We get asked that question all the time. Halo 3 is the end of the trilogy. There are 3 games. But there are also 3 novels with more coming, there’s a graphic novel, there’s IP everywhere, there are other games coming. The Halo trilogy is a story we’re telling in 3 parts and I think that’s all we need to explain at the moment. Will the Halo universe magically end at the end of Halo 3? No. There are lots of characters and storylines that we’ve touched on in the trilogy and they will continue to exist. Characters and events and scenarios in the Halo trilogy aren’t just going to disappear. But it is very important that we close the Halo trilogy with a bang rather than a whimper. That’s something we’ve invested a lot of time and emotion into, and it’s something we’re very excited about sharing with our fans in 2007.
Can we expect some “back to the halo roots” game play in halo 3, or is it more like an advanced halo 2 gameplay?
If I had to summarise the gameplay in Halo 3 – and remember this is a personal statement and not the official line – I’d have to say that fans of Halo 2 will be incredibly excited about how the multiplayer experience has evolved. We’re keeping everything you love like the matchmaking, but we’re also adding a ton of stuff. I think there are some things that will really surprise people and – I’ll regret saying this – but I think everyone will like what we’re adding. There’s certainly nothing anyone could get upset about. Things like weapon balance, gameplay types, matchmaking features etcetera are all improved, so I think the multiplayer aspect should be a giant upgrade for everyone. There will be a few weapon balancing things that people will complain about initially, but that’s usually just a learning process.
The Campaign game is probably the most dramatically different aspect. I’m not going to say much more, but I will say that I’m constantly amazed by some of the encounters I’m having in the Campaign game. I’ll fire up a build, play 15 minutes and then just turn around to the guys and say “wow!”. One of the best thing about the first Halo was telling the stories about your game, and we’re putting more of those stories in Halo 3.
What new opportunities does the power of the Xbox 360 offer, and are there things you planned for Halo 2 that you can only now implement?
When developers are asked about sequels between platforms they’re often reluctant to say how much better the extra power makes the game. Halo, however, has always been about big encounters, big spaces, smart AI and beautiful environments and if we said that extra power doesn’t help with those things we’d be liars. There are things we’re doing in Halo 3 that wouldn’t have been possible on Xbox. You can look forward to some vastly improved encounters visually, technically, and also in the gameplay stakes too.
What measures have been taken to prevent modding, bridging and any other issues faced in multiplayer with Halo 2?
We suffered a lot in Halo from these issues and – to be honest – human behaviour. There’s only som much you can do technologically to prevent people from being jerks, but we’ve put more thought into it this time. We probably know more than anyone else about this kind of thing on console and we’ll be putting that to good use in Halo 3. I can’t talk to much about it right now, because every time you implement something some jerk finds a way around it. For every 10 awesome players there’s always a jerk and that’s unfortunate, but hopefully we’ll be able to mitigate that with a combination of technology and social engineering.
Are there any plans to include an all time stats page to count lifetime kills, headshots, sticks, splatters etc across Halo 2 and Halo 3? How will Bungie.net change?
Halo 2 stats and Halo 3 stats are not going to talk to each other but we are going to give users more tools to record statistics and Achievements. Bungie.net will remain a great place to go and track your statistics and we’ll be giving you more information on how the game will reward your progress soon, so stay tuned to Bungie.net for that.
Will Halo 3 feature an online Coop Mode?
There are quite a few things that didn’t make it into Halo 2 so we get asked if they’ll be in Halo 3. If they didn’t make it into Halo 2 there’s a very good reason for that. Things like the Mongoose have made it into Halo 3, but we haven’t made any announcements about a coop mode yet.
Are you influenced by other games like Gears of War, would you consider implementing some things like the Gears of War cover system in Halo 3?
We’re always asked about the influence of other games on Halo and recently the ‘other game’ often seems to be Gears of War. Will the cover system influence Halo? The honest answer is no. The gameplay for Halo 3 was decided long before Gears of War even shipped. If we put the cover system in Halo it would ruin the game because it’s not about cover. It’s about big encounters and open spaces and vehicles and so on. Gears of War is about cover. Sticking something like that onto our game wouldn’t be a good idea. Anyway, there is a cover system in Halo – it’s called ducking behind objects and using the environment to shield you from harm. But we won’t be putting a cover button in, and it’s certainly not the X button that we’re often asked about.
Can you give us some context about where the Halo 3 TV ad fits into the Halo 3 storyline? And who are the kids?
The ad was kind of a tease of the universe we’ll be portraying in Halo 3. It’s obviously not gameplay and we do have some real-life actors acting the kids at the start. Who are those kids? It’s not an answer. It’s a question. We put it in there as a question for people who know the Halo universe and we want people to speculate about their role. They could be there to show the contrast between the peaceful night sky and the war-torn environment Master Chief finds himself in. Ask away. It’s unlikely we’re going to answer that question any time soon. As for the second half of the ad, it’s Master Chief on Earth. It’s fair to assume he’s in Africa in that scene. He is fighting Brutes. One of the big takeways that most people got from the ad was the shield Master Chief uses – what is it, and can you use it in the game? We even got asked if it would ruin multiplayer! All those questions will be answered but I can guarantee there’s nothing in that advert that will ruin gameplay.
Will we see any Xbox Live Arcade games from Bungie in the future?
We’re very busy on Halo 3 and finding the bandwidth to do something as seemingly simple as creating maps for Halo 2 is very difficult for us, so being able to work on a whole new game is even trickier. That said, Arcade games are loved by so many people and certainly people here at Bungie, so it wouldn’t be out of the question to see us working on an Arcade game sometime down the road. But anytime soon? Don’t count on it. You know what we’re working on and it takes lots of time, but an Arcade game is definitely something the studio is interested in. Maybe it could be a side project like Geometry Wars or maybe it would be something more involved. We’ll see.
Do you have any plans to develop any more games outside of the Halo franchise in the near future?
If the question is whether bungie will work on anything else other than Halo then the answer is yes, of course. We’re working on Halo 3 right now and we’re going to concentrate on making it the best Halo game yet, but there’s a huge bunch of creative people here with so many ideas. If you’re new to the Bungie community you might just associate us with Halo but we’ve made a ton of old PC and Mac games like Marathon. We’ll continue to work on other games in the future.
As far as other Halo games go we do have blueprints and designs for other things kicking around the studio, but I’m not going to commit to what they are now. What I will say is that we love the characters, environments and experiences of the Halo universe and there may be other ways to tell those stories. You’ll just have to keep an eye on us!
Thank you for your time Frank!