With the release of Halo 3 not too far away now, what better time to catch up with the Bungie crew at a recent Samsung sponsored event in Amsterdam. We recently asked our forum members for some pressing Halo 3 questions which the XCN staff has kindly delivered to the Bungie team. What follows is an exclusive to XCN Q&A with Frank o’ Connor (FC) – Wetworks/ Mechanics and Brian Jarrard (BJ) – Director of Franchise and Community Affairs, enjoy.
How do you feel about the feedback you got from the Beta, and how has it influenced changes to the final game?
FC: There were a number of changes which we already had in mind before the Beta came out – but which we didn’t have time to implement before it launched. Thankfully, a lot of the feedback reinforced that these changes were going to be the right ones so we were very pleased from that perspective.
BJ: However, there were a load of unforeseen things which we were able to glean from the Beta – we saw players expose different exploits such as managing to get outside of maps, things that we’ve been able to now eliminate thanks to viewing the data.
How much pressure do you feel working on Halo 3, giving that the world is expecting the biggest videogame of all time?
BJ: We are of course aware of the pressure on this game. But, to be honest, we mostly keep our heads down and try not to worry about it.
FC: It’s all about making the best possible game that we can and we have more than enough internal pressure to be getting on with! Most of all, we just don’t want to let anybody down – be that ourselves, each other or the game’s fans.
Does it annoy you when Halo fans seem to be overly critical of tiny things, like some of the criticism that emerged online after the E3 trailer?
FC: Not really. It’s important to remember that the only reason that this kind of thing happens is because the game is under a massive amount of scrutiny because it’s so popular and loved.
It just comes with the territory and the fact that people will analyse every last detail of what we’re doing is more a compliment than an annoyance.
You seem to have made a decision to share more information about Halo 3’s campaign mode pre-launch than you did with Halo 2. Was this a conscious decision, and why?
FC: The Halo story is rich and complex and we really just wanted to get fans up to speed on current events in the game. We don’t want Halo 3 to be in any way unapproachable for a novice player who never played the first two titles. It’s important to note that you don’t need to have played these earlier instalments to know what is going on in Halo 3 but by giving away a few more details of the story ahead of launch we’re able to ease players in to the experience – whether it’s the first time or they completed parts one and two a couple of years back.
Do you feel to have been able to reach the highest possible technical and artistic expression with Halo 3? Have there been any constraints on your creativity?
FC: Yes. There really hasn’t been a single idea that we have wanted to implement in the game from the start, which we haven’t put in there. Now it’s more a case of deciding where to rein things in and what to leave out. We could have implemented even larger battles with even higher numbers but this wouldn’t necessarily make the game better or more fun to play.
Will the player get a better idea of who Master Chief really is in Halo 3? Will he take off his helmet (or have it forced off)?
FC: You know, Master Chief is always defined by his actions in the game and the activities that he engages in. He’s not defined by an Id or Super-Ego or anything like that and we’re not going to be having any big reveals talking about a traumatic childhood or something. Master Chief is defined by his role in the story.
The customisable Spartan armour suggests you want to offer a more personalised experience. Is that a fair comment, and are there any other things you’ve added to this end?
BJ: Yes I think that is a fair comment. With the online modes player like to feel a sense of ownership over their character, undoubtedly. What with the sets of customisable armour and the different logos and colours we calculated the other day that there will be over four trillion different permutations of characters – more than enough for everybody who plans to express themselves uniquely!
Co-op via Live seems to be something that gamers are looking forward to, can you confirm whether this is something you are hoping to implement even if it’s for two players only?
FC: Yes. There will co-operative play for up to four players both over Xbox Live and through local play.
How many players can play over Xbox live, and why did you settle on this final number?
BJ: It’s still going to be sixteen as a maximum. This is intentional as it has nothing to do with the technology – it’s a pure gameplay decision. We’re not making a Battlefield game here – we’ve found the sweet spot is around 12 people to be honest. Here teams can work well together and everybody has something to contribute so we’ve very much designed the multiplayer game with that scale in mind.
FC: In some of the maps that are tight even 6 people can feel a little cramped. The ferocity and pace of Halo makes sprawling battles with large numbers unmanageable.
What DLC do the team have planned for the game? Can we expect new multiplayer maps and any additions to the single player?
FC: We have no announcements as yet but these will be driven by players’ feedback and we’re pretty sure about the kinds of things they’ll ask for…
How do you think the Halo community will use the new video capture features in Halo 3?
BJ: We’re every excited to see what the community will come up with using these tool kits. They are really very powerful and we’re expecting to see videos being used for multiple reasons: from teams looking back over replays to work out what their weaknesses are or Youtube style stunts right up to the kind of machinima that launched Red vs Blue. We’re certain this is going to be a key component to Halo 3’s ongoing appeal.
Is the Halo story going to continue after Halo 3? Will the story be going forward from the published books and the game, or are Halo games/stories going to fill the spots between the now known stories or even going back in time, exploring the time before the first game/novel?
FC: While there certainly won’t be any cliff-hangers or significant loose ends at the end of Halo 3, the mythology will continue to exist. This will be explored in many ways from new titles like Halo Wars through to the new project with Peter Jackson as well as in new novels. While we’re very careful about how the universe is explored and by whom, you can certainly expect that it will be.
What was the biggest challenge for you when developing Halo 3?
FC: Mainly it was supplying the sheer manpower that the game required.
BJ: We had to hire a lot of new people and when you’re only looking to hire the absolute best this can be tricky and take time. We have a full time team of 120 people as well as a slew of different contractors who have and are working on this game. Managing this sheer size of team while maintaining a steady and workable pipeline has been the biggest challenge while developing Halo 3.
Have you given any thought to remaking or possibly continuing the Marathon game series after all these Halo games?
FC: Well, of course Marathon Durandal has now been released onto Xbox live Arcade. As for an internal remake or sequel it’s not going to happen anytime soon. We’re working hard on getting Halo 3 finished and then supporting it.
Some people have now been working on Halo games for ten years and so they really want to do something pretty different for a next project. That said, you should be able to notice a lot of links and homage to Marathon in the Halo trilogy if you look hard enough…
Red vs. Blue: What’s yourfavourite colour?
BJ: Definitely Blue for me.
FC: I’m colour-blind so I can’t actually see either.
BJ: He really is.
Does the single player game of Halo 3 have any never-seen-before features that you think other game designers are likely to be copying in future?
BJ: To be honest we’re not looking to reinvent anything with Halo 3. We’re trying to make an extremely attractive and logical conclusion by evolving the series.
This is the biggest and best version of Halo and so we’re not really looking to make never-before-seen features in the sense of entirely new concepts. Rather think of it as Halo on a never before seen scale, pushing the envelope.
Will the ending of Halo 3 answer the questions raised in Halo and Halo 2?
FC: Yes. The vast majority of you questions will be answered by the end of Halo 3 although a few more might be raised…
After Halo 3, will you explore new paths? Do you fear you will remain linked to this franchise, and that people will keep considering you “the Halo guys” even when your making different games?
BJ: We will of course remain linked to the franchise but that’s not something I think we fear. Rather, next time we touch a different genre Halo will act as a badge of quality.
FC: I don’t think we’ll be a studio defined by First Person Shooters. How we evolve beyond where we’ve now got to we’ll have to see. But, in all honesty, we became famous for an RTS game rather than an FPS one. We can absolutely do other things and I think that, when we do it will also be very good and successful.
Will there be any characters in Halo 3 which were in the books (such as Dr.Halsey, Spartan III…)
FC: The timeline and locations are totally different avenues of the canon. You won’t see any characters appearing in Halo 3 that aren’t shared by both worlds – and this compartmentalisation was always intentional.
Will you be working on a brand new shooter for the PC/Mac as youoriginally intendedto do with Halo?
BJ: We don’t have any plans to at the moment and, to be honest, we’ve always been platform agnostic. When we do work on a new game it will be the best for all concerned.
What are your thoughts on the merchandise surrounding Halo 3? Do you have a say in what is produced, and did you envision so many merchandise spin-offs?
BJ: Firstly, I wouldn’t agree that there are ‘so many’ merchandise spin-offs. We do keep a close watch on what is made and we generally only allow merchandise to be produced which the members of the team feel like they’ve want to buy and own. As such we take great pains not to over-saturate the market and we always only work with the very highest-quality partners.
Everything that is created has to fit within the reference bible which we have and we make sure that the creators share our passion for the world. We at Bungie are pretty sceptical when it comes to merchandise and so our litmus test of “Would I buy that?” proves to be effective.
Will the feature that requires you to press up on the D-pad to speak be in the final game?
FC: We’ve made a bunch of changes to ‘push to talk’ so that everybody can set up their game how they want it. It’s now extremely flexible and we’re confident that everybody will be able to settle on a scheme that they are happy with.
What do your friends and families say and thinkabout your “Halomania”?
BJ: Um, they mostly think its cool but, in all honesty, probably don’t really understand what all the fuss is about. One of our good friends runs the local coffee shop and he is a huge Halo fan. We’ve been on an information lock-down with him as he’s desperate to avoid knowing anything about the game before it’s been released!
Thank you for your time Brian and Frank!