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Peter Tamte Interview, July 17, 2002

On July 17, at MacWorld New York 2002, Miguel Chavez caught up with Peter Tamte, president of Destineer Studios, the company that will be publishing the upcoming Macintosh version of Halo, and picked his brains about the development process. We'd like to thank Peter for his time, and the information he was able to pass along! (And we'd like to remind everyone that this was not a formal press interview - Tamte was pretty forthcoming with some of his answers, but we need to remember that it's very early in the PC development cycle, and things can easily change before the final products are released.

[interviewer's preamble: I had the opportunity to talk to Peter Tamte, head of Destineer, about his role in the Halo Mac/PC port. Peter and I talked for a little over half an hour, and unfortunately my interview style this time around was in serious "rambling" mode, so in order to make the interview presentable to HBO's readership, the following is a heavily edited transcript of what was said. I hope you find it both informative and enjoyable. We at BORG hope to have more discussions with the folks behind the porting of Bungie's most famous game yet, Halo]

MC: Lots of talk... and depending on which forum I go to, it's either going to be 'Negative Nannies' or people hoping for the salvation of all Gameland... never in the middle.

PT: Laughs

MC: When did the talks commence for this whole arrangement? Has this been in the planning stages for a long time?

PT: Since the beginning. One of the reasons why I've been so confident making the statements I've made about the fact that Halo WILL come to the Macintosh is because it's been in our contract for a long, long time. Microsoft knew, back then, after the Bungie acquisition, two years ago, that they were going to bring Halo to the Macintosh and PC when the time was right. They've never diverted from that plan.

MC: So is there any public explanation for why it took this long, then? Is it a logistical thing? Naysayers say MS held [the port] back because they wanted to not plagiarize Xbox sales.

PT: Oh, I think there can be no doubt that MS wanted Bungie to focus on the Xbox version of Halo so that the Xbox version of Halo would be the greatest game that's ever been created. [smile] Now if you take this team and say 'Now I want you to do two platforms', it's gonna be harder than to do just one platform.

There's a couple of levels that need to be identified. First of all, there's NOBODY at Microsoft that I've run into at any time (out of dozens of people I've worked with) that had the least bit of concern, that did not want it to come out for the Macintosh. There was certain talk at the beginning about whether there should be a PC version, but it was never unsure about a Macintosh version. Never.

From the top of the organization to the bottom of the organization... never.

When Microsoft acquired Bungie the decision was already clear at that point - 'We're acquiring Bungie because Halo should be the launch game for the Xbox.' The only question became the timing of the PC/Mac version - not ever separating the Mac version from the PC version. The reasons I'm identifying this is because I've seen a lot of statements out there, 'Microsoft doesn't want do a Macintosh version' - but you know what? They don't care! It's not a threat.

MC: What exactly are you, and the two other companies, getting?

PT: MS gives the source code to Gearbox, Gearbox does the PC version, Westlake does the Mac version. Westlake will be working closely with Gearbox - there's no sense in converting from the Xbox to the PC AND Macintosh - there's overlap between the PC and Mac code, so it'll go [from] Gearbox to Westlake.

MC: Are the teams already established? Are they ramping up? Are there programmers actually sitting there right now, kind of -

PT: I don't know if it's exactly the way it'll finally be, but there are people who have been working on it.

MC: So the code has been looked at?

PT: For the PC version, right. For the Mac version, it doesn't make sense for us to do certain things until they pass certain milestones.

MC: So what kind of say does Bungie have in the port?

PT: Everything. [laughs]

MC: So are you the ring-leader here?

PT: No, my role is really just on the Mac side. Gearbox will work directly with the product managers at Bungie, to handle the PC side, and then I contract Westlake to do the conversion of the Macintosh version.

MC: And it will be published under your label?

PT: Yes, the Mac version will, the PC version will be published by Microsoft.

MC: Two different SKU's? Two seperate products?

PT: Yes. Each in their own box.

MC: Any talk about pricing?

PT: I'm sure it'll be standard pricing. No decisions have been made, I'm just speculating.

MC: Has there been any speculation about what'll happen *after* it ships? Like folding it into the current Bungie.net Halo community?

PT: Not that I'm aware of.

MC: I don't know if you been to bungie.net, but Bungie's done an admirable job of creating this thriving Halo community. It would be great to use the same resources.

PT:There may be something, but I don't know anything specific yet.

MC: Now, this is an opinion that I think I share with many other long time fans of Bungie games: The last time Bungie handed over source code of a major game of theirs, it flopped. I mean Myth III was a complete disaster. The community splintered, people returned their purchased copies of the game, the programmers and designers of the game felt cheated, etc. That's my personal assessment of the situation. Now what sort of guarantees do we have that the same won't happen here? On the surface, it seems that Bungie will actually still be closely tied to this port.

That's right. With Myth, for better or for worse, Bungie no longer owns Myth. Bungie owns Halo, and Halo is one of the most valuable franchises in Microsoft's gaming lineup. One can be very confident of quality of Halo for PC and Mac. [Laughs] One can be VERY confident of the quality.

MC: Is there any sort of bringing - carrying the traditions that Myth started? So are there going to be tools to make mods, has there been any talk about that, or is that still sort of -

PT: Too early to talk about it.

MC: Is there any stipulation with this situation where you might have to tie the network play back into Microsoft's own gaming network, the Zone?

PT: I don't know whether there'll be a Zone option. The important thing for Mac people to know is that we're making a very concerted effort to make sure that Mac and PC versions can play against each other.

MC: Has there been any talk of making a MacOS 9 version, or will it be OSX only?

PT: Too early to know for sure. Those are technical issues that we'll have to get into later.

MC: The release date is given as a year away - is it possible that it'll be out before then?

PT: Microsoft wants to be cautious in what they say for the public record.

MC: Given that the Xbox is 'a high-powered game machine running low-powered PC tech', and given the advances expected in computer hardware over the next year, is it fair to say that any machine that's available now should be able to run Halo?

PT: Certainly machines that are shipping right now will be able to run Halo. The only exception to that might be the iBook - I don't know offhand what graphics chip it has. But as far as the speed... anything with support for GeForce2.

MC: There's the whole question graphics-wise about OpenGL vs DirectX - is it easy for the Mac side to deal with not having DirectX?

PT: In any conversion, there's multiple levels of complication. The first level is whether or not the original team writes disciplined code, and that is the biggest. With Jason, and Bungie, they write disciplined code. They write code that's easy for other development teams to read. But then the second level is, what APIs are they using? And to that extent, that's something Westlake can do for us. I don't believe there's anything that's going to be a fundamental technical obstacle, but we just don't know until they actually dive into it, because surprises happen. And that's another reason I should be cautious about the statement I made about the GeForce2. I don't know if I should make that statement yet, because we just don't know. We're going to get into development, we're going to get months down the road, and we're going to say, "We have to make a decision, do we delay the product, or do this, do we have to eliminate a feature in order to support this, and those are decisions it's just way to early to make. So the main thing to tell people is that if they're buying a computer today, don't worry, we'll have you covered. The only thing I'm worried about is the iBook. But going back in time? I don't know how far back in time.

MC: Matt used to do weekly updates [when Halo for Xbox was in development]. Is there something similar planned? I know Matt mentioned on one of the forums that he might start doing weekly updates again...

PT: I haven't talked to him about that yet, but I'd love to have him do that - that'd be great.

MC: Is there a date where we can expect to hear more?

PT: I would say yes, but it'll probably be after the first of the year. There are just some big hurdles to be jumped through first. However, Gearbox has been making very good progress with the PC version, so they've gotten through a lot of the stuff they're going to get through.

MC: Have you see an actual PC build? Is there a PC somewhere, running Halo in some manner or form?

PT: I can't say publicly what state they're exactly at yet. I'm not sure exactly why we can't, but we can't. I can say that Gearbox has already made substantial progress on the PC version, so it's not like we're making stuff up.

MC: Do you feel pressured with this project? Do you feel like the weight of the Mac gaming world is upon you?

PT: [laughs] I guess I'd say that I believe that Halo is probably the biggest Macintosh game release - even without being released - for a long time, and for good reason. It's got a Macintosh heritage, and it's an outstanding game. I guess the pressure that I would feel... I'm confident we can create a really good product. I'm pretty confident we can get the word out about the product. The tricky thing I think is gonna be in how low can we push the system requirements, to open up the opportunity to play this game to as many people as we can, that's one challenge that worries me, another challenge that worries me is some of the practical considerations when we get into the final bits of the Mac and PC versions talking to each other, playing against each other, all synchronizing... stuff like that's what I get worried about.

MC: It doesn't sound like it's a contractual obligation that both ports must talk to each other - is this the case?

PT: It's a goal. It's a goal that's important to everyone that's involved, so I'm pretty confident that we can get it solved, but we don't want to make a promise about that until we've actually solved it.

MC: Have people you've talked to about this been cynical or sarcastic [about the porting project]?

PT: No. Of course, most of the people that I've been talking to are in the Mac media, and they're realists, they know what's going on anyway, but I've gotten nothing but really favorable comments about it. "We know it's coming, we know now when it's coming, we know that Bungie is going to be actively involved..."

MC: Is there any possibility that some of the early Halo material (the Master Chief wielding a light sword, the flamethrower, etc) will make it into the PC builds?

PT: It's too early to say. That's a decision that the people at Bungie, and the people at Gearbox, will have to make. I know that Gearbox is very interested in trying to ensure that the conversion exceeds people's expectations, that people get excited about this version of the game.