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Frankie's Bungie Updates - January 16, 2004

Originally hosted at HBO

Weekly Update:

Intro.

We'll get to the update in a second, but I wanted to just tell you what my first week was like before I dunk you into the fiery vortex of the Bungie experience.

So, after my first real week at Bungie I can honestly say that part of my new morning routine is the application of an adult-sized diaper. Let me explain.

Before I started here, Brian Jarrard, our Community Manager and Pete Parsons, our Studio Manager, were rightly insistent on secrecy. Before I was hired, I knew practically nothing about Halo 2. Sure, I knew about the bits you may have read in OXM or EGM magazines, and I had some background on where the development process was at, but I didn't know any secrets.

I guess I was expecting to slowly absorb the development pace, learn a few tidbits here and there and figure out what I could from spying on Bungie monitors when artists and designers weren't looking. It's because I was still thinking like a sneaky, good for nothing games journalist. So imagine my surprise (delight?) when Brian and Pete deliberately tried to blow my mind during my first hour as an employee.

I was taken on a tour of the building, stopping at various stations and departments with the ostensible goal of "just bringing me up to date." Brian looked just a teensy bit amused, but Pete's face was split by a hideous rictus grin, the kind that you might see on a Frat boy holding a cricket bat, or a Manhattan plumber handing you a bill. Either way, I knew something was up.

Plot. In a way, my Halo 2 experience is being ruined. By the time the game ships, I'll know a lot more about the story than I want to. People working on The Sixth Sense or The Lord of the Rings movies must have felt the same way. But it's a fascinating process, seeing how carefully managed, how cleverly written the story is.

Seeing real character development is an eye-opener in an industry where Pac-Man is still the most charismatic leading man. When you're reared on dialog like, "Take the key for coming in" or, "I am the master of unlocking," it's very easy to be skeptical. But Halo 2 is to game scripts what a rocket launcher is to a Faberge Egg collection.

And then there are graphics. I'm not just a graphics whore, I'm a graphics burglar, murderer and molester all rolled into one. I would happily run around in a video game as long as something bright, shiny or vertexy was there to distract me. Ask anyone. During game demos I'll stop earnest developers in their tracks and ask if they wouldn't mind "walking over there so I can see the water." Seriously.

So two minutes in Bungie's art department(s) would turn a Graphics Nun into the skankiest Graphics Whore on the strip. If I'm bludgeoning you with brutal metaphors, tough, I'm simply trying to tell you how it is. I was shocked to see everything was bump-mapped. Sounds dumb given that Bungie promised to bump-map everything, but when you see it - you'll realize immediately why. As the art department is fond of explaining, everything looks the way it does for a reason, and the overriding reason in Halo is to tell a story. Nothing is done for show, or simply because "it's there." Every single applied graphics technique advances Halo's story and its characters.

And the technical side is staggering. Almost every aspect of Halo 2 is new. This is NOT based on the Halo One engine. You will not see a single repeated texture, skeleton, bitmap or particle effect. It's all new. The robust, imaginative design anchors it firmly in the universe you've grown to love of course. Massively improved or not, you'll recognize it instantly as Halo. You could walk up to a textured wall until your helmet was mere inches from the surface and recognize somehow that it's Halo. It's kept its flava.

But there's so much here that's new. It's so much bigger than I'd anticipated. So much more ambitious, that it takes a while to wrap your head around. I think it's going to redefine my expectations for a sequel. I think that after Halo 2, more tracks, more characters, different music - that's simply not going to be enough.

But really, you didn't come here to read about me (even though I'm super-awesome) you came here for the resurrection of the Halo 2 Weekly Update. Here's what's going on:

  • Marty O'Donnell is very excited about how the physics engine is interacting with sound effects. "I just wasn't convinced by it. I'd listen to how little details sounded, like metal rolling on stone, or rocks on sand and I wasn't convinced. But now I think we've got it down. I'm really pleased. Chucky (Gough) and Eamon (McKenzie) are just doing incredible work with the techy physics stuff."
  • Marty also has the dubious distinction of being the current Bungie Halo 2 champeen, thanks in part to a faulty stat measurement. Don't get us wrong, Marty is GOOD at Halo 2 multiplayer, but the fuzzy math they used to compute the winner was faulty. Since he played the most games (when he wasn't composing music) he was busy getting killed a lot more than he was killing back.. In fact, his kill to death ratio was among the worst on staff. Luckily for Marty, I'll be playing next week, so he'll be off the hook (I SUCK at Halo 2 because I don't know the maps).
  • Hamilton Chu cut his hair. And we don't mean a little off the sides, we mean four feet of silky man-hair. Samson had nothing on this guy. Luckily it seems that so far Hamilton's powers are intact. If anything, he's more powerful than before.
  • Brian, Zoe and Claire have been working hard on the new website. Fixing bugs, but mostly trying to fill in missing chunks, and organizing stuff from the present site that needs to make the jump to the new one. And the new one is something else. There are going to be some very cool new features and content, but I wish you could see how cool it looks. I mean, you will soon enough....
  • Lorraine has been super busy. A beautiful poster that I wish you could see*, has been created for product placement. That means that if Freddie Prinze Jr. is in a movie about teenagers or baseball, he might use that poster on his wall. We'd be disturbed but we can't control that stuff. She's also recently approved paint jobs for the new Grunt action figures. More interestingly, Lorraine is making design decisions about the new Halo 2 action figures. Not too much we can say there without revealing plot points, but they're going to be epic.
  • Alta, the Bungie Princess has been coordinating voice talent, as well as organizing the annual Bungie Pentathlon, voting on what games we'll play in an epic contest that happens on the day of our belated holiday party. The contest is split into teams by tenure, and last year, us noobs won. Snacks galore, a cup of beer to be shared, and roast salmon as the entrČe. Plus vegetarian stuff. Yumzorz. Alta will be sporting a sleek black cocktail dress by Miguel Palacio, with perfect line and just a hint of salsa flair!

*Or you could just look at my artist's impression of it. I had to give him a lightsaber because guns are hard to draw. Lightsabers are as easy as snakes.



Well that's it for now. More next week. Sorry I wasted so much of your time on preamble, but next week will be straight to the point. And by then, I may be less exciteable.

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