Copyright © 1999 Robert T. Swenson and
HaloNews.Com, All rights reserved.
HaloNews is still under development; We've been
plugging away at it, and it's not going to be ready for a little while (No
promises! We just want it to meet a certain standard, and there's lots of time
before Halo is released), but we figure that's no reason to make you guys wait
for some things!
Almost all of us who watched the first broadcast of the "unofficial Halo
demo" on July 21st, 1999 had to pick our jaws up off the floor. We from
the Bungie fan community immediately wanted to know more about this new and
fascinating game that was under development... and ever since then we've been
hanging on every blurb or trickle of information we could get. In early August
we at HaloNews submitted some questions to Nathan Bitner (the Producer
and Creative Developer for Halo) of Bungie
Software and crossed our fingers.
To say that Nathan has been a busy man is a bit
of an understatement. Not only has he been working long hours on Halo, but he
has had to deal with illness and other general side-effects of life. We who
frequent the Halo forums have come to appreciate the fact that he still makes
time in his schedule to occasionally read and respond to some of our crazier
After a couple of friendly pokes with a cattle
prod we've got Nathan's responses back in our hands, and can share it with you.
I hope you'll find it an interesting read.
Noctavis the Insomniac
Addendum (99.09.27) - Since most of your
congratulations have been directed solely at me, I think I need to clarify
something... the questions herein were a collaboration mainly between Narcogen
and myself. The whole crew at HaloNews should get some credit for this, though.
(It probably would have helped if I'd put up more E-mail addys, right?) Here
are the names of the current members/contributors to the site:
Trinity - You should be seeing a
little of his handiwork here Soon. He's also the man tracking certain 3rd party
developments in the Myth community for you at Myther.Com
Toss these guys some words of encouragement for the job
they're doing (even thought you haven't seen much of it yet), if you would.
That said, let's get on to the interview!
Acrappa - He's pretty much
keeping Myther.Com running while the rest of us drive ourselves nuts with
HaloNews. You'll be seeing his news-sniffing talent at HaloNews when it goes
Narcogen - He has recently
moved to a deep-Asian country and is trying to improve his Internet connection.
Here's to hoping we'll see his enlarged frontal lobes online and back in the
Fractalus - SysAdmin, good friend and mentor of mine... and the
server-side genius who will help to make some things look boo-tiful!
ShockStrobe - who has left for two years after giving the contents of
his page, Halo: The Dark Side to me to work with.
Noctavis the Insomniac
|Since my editor had at them, they have stretched from 9 into a small
Everyone we've talked to who saw the Macworld demo, either in person or one
of the many video versions, had his or her socks completely blown off by HALO.
Now we've heard that the demonstration, in addition to being entirely created
within the game engine, was made on the plane en route to New York! Is this
Well, fortunately for your editors, there
are a lot of questions that we cant answer in full detail anyway. :-)
Im sure you will understand that at such an early stage, we are only
prepared to release a limited amount of information about Halo, but Ill
do my best to answer as many of your questions as I can before someone puts a
muzzle on me.
What were the specs on the system(s) you were running the HALO engine on in
order to get such a beautiful performance? And do you have any preliminary A)
Minimal and/or B) Recommended requirements for Mac and PC yet?
Of course. Actually, it was done before they had even
crossed the Ohio border. We do our best work on planes.
Well, as tempting as it to claim that we had the tremendous Sack necessary
to put together something like that in an hour and a half plane ride, the truth
is that several 24-hour days of thought and hard work went into producing the
in-engine movie. This wasnt just an effort by our programmers and
artists, but also from Marty and company at Total Audio, who pulled off that
kick-butt soundtrack with even less notice than we had. Rumor has it that a
particular member of our company actually stepped on and broke the music CD at
Marty was there to rescue us. And from now on, all the CDs
will be wrapped in several layers of foam padding.
Honestly, if you paid a CG company to produce a two and a half minute
cutscene of that quality, it would have cost about $300,000 and taken at least
two months, from storyboards to final movie. With the Halo tools, it took maybe
four days and cost
well, nothing. This of course leads to the obvious
how cool woould it be to license the tools to other game companies in
order to produce THEIR own cutscenes? ;)
One of the features of the demo that most impressed a lot of gamers was the
real-world physics displayed - especially the behavior of the
"hummer" as it jumped over hills, kicked up dirt and spun to a stop.
Was the behavior we saw in all of the objects scripted or was that just
real-world physics at work, in response to player input?
At Macworld, Halo was running on a G3 400mhz machine with a Rage 128 card,
and we've also shown it on a PIII 450 with a TNT2 Ultra card. The only thing we
are prepared to say about the system requirements are that they will require a
3D card, and that all the major ones will be supported. We'll also be including
options, such as scalability (but not limited to scalability) that will improve
performance on lower-end systems. The point is this: we think Halo is going to
be awesome, and we want as many people as possible to be able to enjoy it. Just
take a look at some of the headlines these days
and youll see that
we want to literally bring Halo into as many living rooms, bedrooms, offices,
or kitchens (for those who dont want to stop playing to reach for a tasty
beverage) as possible.
Actually, I coded all that myself on a plane ride to Madison. In Fortran.
Yes, that is all real world physics responding to both the actions of the
player, and the evolving state of the world (environment) around the player.
Halo is using what is most likely the most comprehensive, global physics model
ever used in a computer game. As hard as it was to create such a detailed
model, now that we have it we'll save a lot of time not having to create dozens
of custom scripts for every new effect we want. Making it real is just a better
way to do it. And, believe me, this stuff is real. Whether were talking
about real-world shadows, the kickback on a pistol, or the astronomy of a solar
system, the math that is going into the Halo engine is truly mind-boggling. And
I swear some of the programmers read this stuff for pleasure
textbooks on some of their desks that I think would make University professors
The last few months have shown increased specialization in the area of
multiplayer gaming. Games like Half-Life: Team Fortress Classic and Starsiege:
Tribes (and their upcoming sequels Team Fortress 2 and Tribes II) focus on
team-based game types rather than traditional deathmatch, and upcoming shooters
from id Software and Epic will forsake traditional solo gameplay altogether for
a variation that mimics multiplayer gaming, using bots and other methods.
Halo makes some pretty big claims, just with the few skimpy previews and
"unofficial" trailer that we've seen. Bungie is already considered a
god among software developers in the Mac world, and has received serious notice
in the PC world for its real-time strategy/tactics games, Myth and Myth II. In
fact, quite a few game magazines and online game news/review sites have
measured the new generation of real-time strategy/tactical games against the
standard that Myth set.
However, Halo will be going up against solid products by well-established
action game developers in the PC world now (who themselves are establishing
beachheads in the Mac world). It must be intimidating to some degree, but
Bungie has a strong reputation for raising the bar, doing so with style and
creativity. How will Halo be different from titles that it will almost
inevitably be compared to?
We also understand that you have hired on a new person to handle the
networking at Bungie. Do you feel up to revealing the name of the newest member
of the Bungie team? (Or is he more of the pale-skin, red and bloodshot eyes,
runs from loud noises and direct sunlight type?)
Alright, a long question deserves a long answer.
Well, you just mentioned a huge difference that Halo will be proudly
sporting an enticing and exciting single-player game. You have made a
valid point - all of the upcoming action games that Halo might be compared to
are multiplayer-only. Creating a really finely tuned single-player game is more
of a challenge than multiplayer, where you don't have to worry so much about
AI, balancing difficulty with different player skill levels, relating a
compelling story, etc. As popular as multiplayer is, there are still many more
people who play single player, so in that respect, Halo is practically
guaranteed a larger audience than competing titles.
I have to add that Halo is not just Bungies answer to
Tribes, as many people have commented. Halo is going to bring aspects of
both multiplayer and solo gaming to the table that no other game has ever seen
before. It is fair to say that both the Sierra series and Halo are going to
focus on teamplay when it comes to the multiplayer environment. However, just a
few of the things that will distinguish the game (and, believe me, there are
many others that I cant yet talk about) are:
- A truly photorealistic and physically accurate environment
- Unique aiming systems that will bridge the gap between the jumping up
and down, firing all over the place action that so many FPS end up
with and the difficulties inherent in third person aiming.
- INTELLIGENT gameplay will be rewarded more than just twitch
reflexes. The smartest players will excel at Halo; not just the people who can
hit the mouse button the fastest. Though, of course, being quick that will
certainly help. ;)
- Our jeep has 4-wheel suspension! Each wheel is independent! The antenna
and driver bounce around as they would in real life! Inverse kinematics have
the driver gripping the steering wheel and stick shift as they would in real
life! I guarantee you would want to buy Halo if it was just a racing game and
there werent even any guns. Thats how amazing the vehicles are
going to be
and how they are going to FEEL. And there will be PLENTY of
vehicles and weapons to hold your attention span. I wouldnt be surprised
to find players using inferior weapons or vehicles just because theyre so
much fun to use.
- Music and sound effects that will absolutely crush the competition (at
least we think so).
- Indoor environments that are as rich and complex and compelling to
investigate, attack and defend as the beautiful outdoor vistas youve
already seen one of.
- That was just ONE environment. Imagine fighting in the snow
in a forest. Imagine playing in night. Im not making any
promises, but you can bet WERE imagining it
and maybe doing a
little bit more than imagining.
Honestly, I could go on nearly forever with this list. Each day there are
new ideas being developed and implemented into our code. We have got some of
the most talented programmers, artists, and designers ever assembled to create
a game. Im sure that every company says that but I wouldnt
say that unless I felt we could back it up. I feel honored to be part of a team
that I feel is creating one of the best if not THE best game ever
created for the computer.
And to be frank, going up against those other guys isn't really
intimidating. In most cases we have more successful titles to our credit than
they do, with some exceptions (e.g. Id). But, for us, it is not just about how
many units we sell. Its about how much fun we can bring to you guys
to our consumers and to our fans. Sales figures are great, but when you
see the Marathon Story page still being updated every day, it makes you feel
special to be part of this company especially at a time like this.
well at least give him a few weeks before putting him before the glare of
the public eye. I can tell you one thing though hes certainly got
an appropriate last name.
HALO is being reported as a third-person action game. Right now the list of
quality games in that subgenre is somewhat limited. We think part of the reason
is because so many developers haven't been able to create an interface that
allows the player to "become" or identify with the character AND
control him or her well enough to handle adrenaline-pumping furballs with any
proficiency. (Can you think of any other reasons?)
would say aiming has been generally poorly implemented in a lot of third-person
shooters. I am very confident in some of the very original and unique methods
we are using to improve upon that. I would also say that immersion is a major
issue when comparing FPS to third-person. I realize some people will have to
see it to believe it, but I am equally confident that we are not only creating
an equally immersive environment in third-person, but an even superior one to
any FPS I can think of. Our full intention is for the player to forget he is
playing a video game. I think some people believe they will be staring at the
main characters butt for the whole game. They couldnt be more
What is it about HALO's gameplay that made the third-person view the best
choice? Will there be an option to display the game in a first-person
perspective, as some fans have hoped? If not, why not?
there are gamers who claim to only play first-person games. Well, if so,
they're going to miss out on a couple of excellent games when Oni and Halo come
out. Halo would lose a lot in a first-person perspective. For just one tiny
example, when an explosion goes off next to the player, it can char their
armor, but you would miss that in first person. Gestures and posture will be
important aspects of the game that would lose much of their impact in first
person. I have always disliked my screen flashing (red usually) when I get hit
by someone. I want more immersive visual feedback than that and I believe you
can best get that in third person.
Near the end of the demo, one of the aliens does something I don't think any
game in this genre has shown us before: a character surrendering (Unreal's
cowering Nali don't count). Rumor has it that Apple requested the demo be
(relatively) non-violent. Was that why this happened or is surrender going to
be a valid part of HALO? Will players be able to surrender to each other rather
than risk death, and how are you going to motivate them to do this? (Instead of
making repetitive suicide blitzes like we see in almost every other action game
There are certain times in the game when a different perspective is appropriate
and we are fully considering and/or implementing these features. There are a
lot of decisions still to be made about specific perspective situations and
options, but I can tell you that they will:
- make sense,
- be fun, and
- be immersive.
There's really no answer for this now we are
still developing the feasibility of the idea (and several others like it). If
we find that the ability to surrender is cool and contributes to a cooler game
experience, you can bet that well include it. We enabled it in the
demonstration as part of the story of the demo, not because of any violence
The press release for Halo uses terms like "real-world physics"
and "persistent objects," as well as focusing on the fact that Halo
will not have discrete "levels" as such. That description conjures up
images closer to existing RPGs than action games, and Jason Jones alluded to
such in his interview at Macworld. How will this be borne out in HALO
multiplayer? What is HALO's player limit expected to be?
And what will Halo's network model look like? Peer to peer,facilitated by a
chat server? One authoritative, universe-defining Halo server for everyone? Or
a distributed client/server model like Quake and Unreal?
have no idea what the player limit will turn out to be. The chief determinant
will not be what is technically possible, but rather what is most fun.
When we refer to "persistent objects", one thing we are referrring
to is the debris of battle remaining as active parts of the game world instead
of fading away similar to the Myth world. If bodies or debris are
disappearing, then there should be a plausible explanation. Nobody likes to
watch a carcass just sink into the ground inexplicably. Well, okay, not all
that many people like watching carcasses period. But you get my point.This
applies to both the single-player and multiplayer gaming experience.
However, other objects in the world are persistent take
for example an enemy (Covenant) base. Say that you destroy a command and
control center that disrupts communications across the Halo. You may see the
effects of such an attack at a later point in the game. You will return to the
base to find it still destroyed, not just magically repaired unless of
course there is a good reason. The world itself will be persistent. Dead things
stay dead. There arent infinite bad guys. And when permanent
objects in the world change, it will be for a reason.
However, the word "persistent" should not be interpreted as
describing the entire multiplayer world (e.g. all games on the ring at the same
time) - it remains to be seen how that will work and what, if any, metagame
will be implemented on top of the multiplayer experience.
as this goes, it's just too early to speculate. Our network code is still in
its relative infancy, and well need to see how things develop to see what
will give the player the best overall experience.
Although the soldiers in the MWNY demo appear to be the same (aside from the
different roles they play in the mission) some press outlets have been
reporting Halo will include some kind of player specialization. Is there going
to be system with multiple player classes, and will you be able to customize
your characters with different equipment (as in Tribes and Mechwarrior games),
skin textures and/or colors?
Fans of Bungie have come to expect deep and deliciously complex storylines
from your games. Between the Cortana letters and other subtle *coughLOGOcough*
hints, we're already expecting to see some ties to the Marathon universe. Are
any characters from the Marathon series scheduled to make an appearance in
Halo? Can you tell us anything else without spoiling the fun?
We want to design it so that
players will WANT to specialize at certain things not so that they are
forced to. It's easy to drive a jeep, but hard to drive it well. A player who
has become really good at driving will be a hot commodity because of his skill
set - it will be a skill the player has developed, not one that came built-in
to their character. The same thing may go for a sniper or a pilot.
It's a safe assumption that players will be able to customize their
characters in a variety of ways.
Half-life achieves its "level-less" feel by stutter-loading
smaller areas as you pass into them. Will HALO use a similar or different
approach to avoid the gargantuan level-loading sessions we deal with in other
No problem! I can tell you everything heres a complete list of
the characters in Halo and how they relate to Marathon:
First, theres the M-
< Transfer Interrupted! >
Oh, well. I tried. Youd be surprised how much of an influence Cortana
continues to have over our networks.
As I said earlier, the primary goal with this
game is to eliminate as much as possible every element that reminds the player
that they're sitting at a computer, playing a game. Having a load bar does
that, having text pop up on screen telling them they've finished level X and
are starting level Y does that, being unable to move through an area just
because you've been through it already does that... it's our goal to purge the
game of these.
Would it be possible to get a rundown on the Halo development
teamnames and titles-- so the community knows who they will have to thank
for the universe's ultimate gaming experience? :-)
around to doing that further down the road. Right now, Im pretty sure
they all need as much privacy as possible.
And then a small question, about the "Halo" logo itself-- was that
completely rendered from scratch, or was it based on an existing font? As you
can imagine, a lot of sites will be interested in creating some derivative
art-- as some already have-- and would be hungry for a bit of knowledge on how
to stay consistent with Halo's look.
It's a unique
design, not based on an existing font.
Well, I hope I gave you some fat to chew on for a while. Thanks
for your interest and for your contributions to the Bungie community as a
whole. Im convinced our fans are the best of any game company period.
Producer and Creative Developer Halo