Fan Love: The Extra Discs in Halo 3 Limited and Legendary
If you buy a copy of Halo 3 that isn't the standard edition, you'll walk away with extra schwag. (Well, that makes sense, doesn't it? I mean, why else would you pay extra for the game?) What SORT of extra schwag depends on which version of the game you're buying.
I'm not here to discuss the material stuff right now - the metal tin, the helmet, the art book, the storyboards, any of that. I'm here to discuss the digital goodies. The general contents have been known for quite some time... but wouldn't it be cool if someone could tell you EXACTLY what was in there? And even more than that - if they could tell you whether it was any good? Hey - we live to serve. Your wish is my command. (As long as your wish is "man, I wish he'd tell us about the extra discs in the Limited and Legendary Editions of Halo 3!")
So - let's start out with Essentials, Disc One. This disc is included with both premium SKUs, and it contains material that will be of interest to anyone with more than a casual involvement in Halo 3. This is an Xbox 360 disc; it won't play in a standard DVD player (or even a regular Xbox), only a 360. This is for interactivity purposes. Fire it up, and you get a Bungie-customized warning; do NOT stick this disc in until you've finished the Campaign, or you'll void all the work you've done these past couple of weeks, avoiding spoilers. Please... heed this. You really will enjoy the campaign more if you play it through first.
Okay, so you've played the game, you know how it ends, you've come to grips with Cortana's career change and Master Chief's predilection for sheep - oops, wait, sorry, scratch that. No spoilers here! So what IS on the disc?
A few things, actually. Let's list 'em all, and then go back and look at them a bit more closely. There's a documentary on the making of Halo 3 - and while you've seen things LIKE this before (on the Halo 2 Limited Disc, in Bungie-released VIDOCS, etc), you've never seen THIS one. There are a number of bonus materials, as well - Router 7.0 helps you set up your home network, Git Ta Work follows Bungie through a single 24 hour period during crunch, the Gallerium is a slideshow of awesome Halo artwork, there are some custom gamerpics and themes for your 360, and BOLL's classic Warthog Launch Flash game has been translated (quite nicely, as a matter of fact) to play on your TV. In the Setup & Credits section, there's also the Bungie AV Calibrator, an enjoyable way to maximize your viewing/hearing pleasure. And finally, there are credits... and the ability to add subtitles (in any of 9 languages). That's a lot of stuff! But... is it any good?
The main attraction is a documentary called 'Anatomy of a Game: Making Halo 3'. It'll feel familiar; it was done by the FilmOasis crew, which has been working with Bungie for what seems like forever now. (They started back in 2003, with 'The X Factor', and they've been polishing that look and feel ever since. FilmOasis has essentially been a part of Bungie Studios for the past couple of years, with offices in the Bungie building in Kirkland, and full-time work on Bungie projects since the summer of 2005. They've got the Bungie VIDOC feel down to a science in this piece.) Anatomy is broken out into 6 separate sections. Each one plays nicely as a self-enclosed piece, but if you hit the 'Play All' button, you'll be hard-pressed to notice the transitions. It takes you through the minds of the team members who brought you Halo 3 - what they thought about, how they worked with each other, what had to get done in order for the project to progress. It's set up in roughly the order that things had to happen, in fact; from the story, to design, to art, to engineering, to test, and finally audio, it walks you through the design process as a whole. It gives you a glimpse into the world of game development - and more specifically, into how Bungie does what they do. The love these people have for their work comes out loud and clear; art and engineering might tussle over what should be vs what HAS to be, but in the end, they're both working towards the same goal - and they know it.
These guys are gamers - and they know what they're shooting for. It's their job to make a fun game. The problem is, fun doesn't come in a box. (Well, it will on Launch Day, but these guys had to make their own.) "Sometimes you stumble on it, sometimes you plan for it, but the most important thing is when you recognize it that you covet it and that you keep it." Knowing when you've got it right... that's a key. "You have to create a world that a player just wants to get lost in." They had much more time, and much better planning, than they did building Halo 2 - and they made sure they took full advantage of these facts. They wanted to improve the physics, they wanted to improve the artwork, they wanted to improve the game's performance... but before ANY of that, they made sure it was fun. (In the words of Adrian Perez, "this space needs to be fun before it's pretty.")
[Side note, here - I know this movie is about Bungie, and I know that in general, documentaries do NOT make a big deal of the people behind the camera... but I'd like to point out that Jim McQuillan, the man behind FilmOasis, is the person who's given this film its flavor, and its pace. It's Bungie's story - but it's Jim's campfire, and he's the one roasting those sweet marshmallows you're eating. As can be seen in this film, his respect for the people Bungie, and what they produce, is crystal clear. He's given these discs his all - he's so immersed in Bungie lore that he's actually joined the team! Now THAT's dedication to your art.]
What I really liked about the flow of the movie was the way that the various groups started out in a way that seemed antagonistic, but as it progressed, it became clear that the synergy between groups was what drove the creativity. The antagonism was revealed to be passion - each group wanted to make sure the end result was the best it could be. Example: the engineers would develop some new system... and the designers would play with it, and suggest feature changes, or rework levels to take advantage of features that simply didn't exist before. These guys are REALLY good at what they do - and when they work together, the final product is spectacular. That's not a given - in music, for example, superbands (individual stars coming together) often make mediocre music. Bungie's actually THINKING about how the communication, though; they know the mistakes they made in Halo 2, and how much of that was a result of miscommunication between separate teams. They clearly worked REALLY hard to avoid that pitfall this time around.
And the music. did I mention the music? Geez. Listen to the music at the start of the test section - it's Halo, broken... just like the game at that point. Awesome! As much care was taken with sound design of the movie as is taken in-game... and that means a LOT of care.
While the documentary is definitely the meat of this disc, the vegetables and potatoes are pretty tasty, too. Chris Butcher and Dave Candland work together to create Router 7.0, a home movie that shows what to do (and not to do) to set up your home network. Dave's family members deserve HUGE props for being such great sports. This piece is useful... but also goofy fun.
Git Ta Work is a short piece that looks at a day in the life of the Halo 3 development process (during the most difficult time, the final crunch). It starts at 6am on day one... and ends at 8 am the next morning. It's unstaged; you see what really goes on. It's a fascinating look at the inner workings of a game studio at their busiest.
The Gallerium is set up to run as a slideshow; you can configure how fast it moves, whether the images are randomized, etc - and then just let it go; it can be running during downtime at a lan event, or just when you want really cool Halo artwork in the background. Some of these pictures made it onto the Halo 3 Zune - some of them have never been seen outside of Bungie Studios before. All of them are spectacular. There are posed screenshots, concept art, promotional pieces... it's an awesome collection.
There are Gamer Pic collections and Themes from Bungie, from Red vs Blue, and from This Spartan Life - you can use them to spruce up your 360 whenever.
And BOLL's Warthog Launch needs no real description - you can visit its web home if you need to know what it looks like. It plays beautifully with an Xbox controller, and is just as capable of wasting enormous amounts of time as the web version is.
Finally, the AV Calibrator uses Sgt. Johnson to walk you through optimizing your AV setup - when he's through with you, your TV and sound system will be at their top form for delivering Halo 3 goodness to your brain. It's easy to use, it's fun, and for all that, it's pretty high-quality; you'd pay a lot for a calibrator of this caliber, if you went looking.
Disc Two is only available in the Legendary Edition. This one is a standard DVD, rather than an Xbox 360 disc; you can play it in any DVD player. The material on it is oriented towards the hardcore fan - this is stuff that's really aimed at folks who want more from their Halo experience, who want to get to know Bungie just a little bit better. Let's look at the specifics, shall we?
Halo and Halo 2 Cinematics
Of far more interest to the hardcore fan, however, is going to be the 'Director's Commentary'. Turn this track on, and you can watch the cutscenes while listening to discussion between Joe Staten, Marty O'Donnell, and Jason Jones as they reminisce about the making of the games, the problems that the cutscenes gave them, the things that had to be removed from the game, what they wish they could have done, and more. (This is the most you'll EVER hear Jason Jones talk, I think; he says more here than he's said on camera - well, tape - anywhere, including the Marathon Home Movie that was made back in 1994.) You can finally learn what Joe meant a couple of years ago, when he talked about the bomb Miranda strapped to the Chief's back... and many other inside snippets. For Bungie stalkers - erm, enthusiasts, this is two hours of awesome.
7 Steps to World Domination
Cortana Chronicles: In Search of Halo Fandom
Red vs Blue: Getting the Call
The Rooster Teeth crew created a couple of pieces for this DVD. The first is in the style of their Public Service Announcements - in-game, with the standard RvB characters. This episode will NOT be appearing on their website; it's unique to the DVD. (That doesn't mean, of course, that you won't see it on YouTube on the 26th, because that's how the internet is.) If you watch it, you'll finally know how a virtual Orlando Bloom can be married to live girl.
Red vs Blue: Episode 1 Special Edition
This Spartan Life: Fubarring Spacetime
All in all, Essentials Disc Two has hours of content to entertain and enlighten even the most jaded Halo fan. Coupled with Disc One, it's a devastating one-two punch to the throat of Halo boredom, and it makes justifying the cost of the Legendary Edition oh so much easier. What are you waiting for, Marine? Go look for a copy!