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Fan-Generated Interview with Halo Dev Team

On May 5, 2001, we were contacted by a Microsoft-contracted consulting firm and asked to collect questions for a fan-conducted interview of the Halo Development Team. The goal was to get the questions in, and answered, before E3... but given that nobody at Bungie knew about this plan until we posted a request for questions, and that they were pretty busy at that point, trying to get the E3 material together... it got pushed back a little bit. Never fear, though, Matt Soell, tireless 'Community Guy', worked his fingers to the bone to bring you the information that follows. We received close to 200 questions in a 3 day period, and narrowed this down to about 15 questions... almost all of these were answered. Without further ado, then... Your Questions (and the Halo Dev Team's Answers).

HBO Readers:Will multiplayer co-op be an option on the Xbox, and how will the AI respond to cooperative play? (If the bobs get angry at a player, will they take it out on the whole team?)

Halo Dev Team: You will be able to play 2-player co-op through the single-player campaign. As for the AI, I believe they'll treat you and your partner as a team in co-op games; i.e. if you blow enough of them away, they'll smoke you and your partner.

HBO Readers:Has Bungie put thought yet into how teammates will be identified at longer range, and what sorts of multiplayer options will be available, especially on the Xbox?

Halo Dev Team: Yes, we have.

In multiplayer games, you'll always see a small green triangle over your teammates, even when they're invisible or far away. This works pretty well so far.

As for what sorts of multiplayer options, we really don't want to say too much because we have a slew of ideas and we're not sure yet which of them will be fully developed and fun enough to put in the game. You guys have only seen Capture the Flag at this point, but there's more where that came from. In the coming months we'll be able to open up a little more on this subject. Keep your eyes peeled. :-)

HBO Readers:Information on weapons has been sparse recently - are there any new ones, and how interchangeable are the current ones? (For example, will there be multiple versions of the Warthog, with different weapons mounted on the back?)

Halo Dev Team: We're not going to release a complete weapons list yet, though if you keep an eye on the weekly Halo updates you'll see the occasional tidbit leak out. There won't be multiple warthogs with different weapons; it makes more sense from a gameplay-design perspective to give the vehicles distinct combat identities rather than just making them a platform for whatever weapon you want to plug in.

HBO Readers:A number of sources are claiming that Halo is being rushed to make it to the Xbox launch. Does the Halo team feel this way, as well? Will this affect its quality?

Halo Dev Team: I think most developers, if given a choice, would always prefer a little more development time to a little less. :-)

The Halo team is definitely at the tail end of development, and as with all our previous games it's a period of long hours and short tempers. It would be very easy for someone who wasn't familiar with us, or the development process in general, to visit our offices and think "Wow, these guys are really rushing it." But if you are familiar with how we work, and how chaotic things get at Bungie when it's crunch time, it's apparent that Halo's development is in many ways an improvement over some of our earlier projects - thanks in large part to the extensive planning and scheduling we did when we first came out here.

Even if we weren't working on an Xbox launch title, we'd be pulling out all the stops right now to make sure we finish this game. That doesn't mean making the game less fun to play, or taking the easy route just to make a ship date; it means a team of programmers, artists and designers busting their ass to get the job done right. In that sense, nothing has changed.

HBO Readers:How have vehicles changed over the past year or so (we haven't seen any water craft, or human tanks, in a long, long time), and will vehicles in general play an integral role in multiplayer gameplay, or will they be a sort of added bonus (not crucial, in other words)?

Halo Dev Team: Apart from remodeling them with a higher poly count, we've spent the last year thinking about how best to use vehicles in the context of both solo and multiplayer. Anybody who played Halo Capture The Flag at our last FanFest or E3 knows that it's easy to spank the other team in short order if you use the warthog properly (at least on the map we were showing) so eliminating or controlling the vehicles is a strategic move. You'll see a few other examples of this in other game types. Vehicles are definitely not an afterthought in multiplayer. Balance is one of the things our designers concentrate on the most.

That focus on balance carries over to the solo campaign, where every element is a tool for us to tell a story. The designers approach each level thinking not only of what makes logical sense for that mission (i.e. can a dropship get to you in this area? is there a lot of outdoor terrain to traverse?) but also the demands of the story. In one mission we might get the emotional effect we want by putting you into a jeep and letting you blaze a bloody, adrenalin-drenched trail through a twisty mountain pass. In another mission it might make the most sense for you to creep on foot through a sea of fog in an alien swamp, without a vehicle to drown out the stealthy sound of your opponents closing in from all around you. In another mission we'll do something completely different based on where you are in the story arc and what we want you to feel. That's the real change: we have specific design goals in mind, and we use the vehicles in the way that best serves those goals.

HBO Readers:Bungie built its reputation on very deep plotlines - Marathon is the standout, with Myth a close second. Oni, however, was somewhat weaker. Will Halo return Bungie to its love of intricate storylines... and maybe more importantly, will it do so in the (familiar to many online fans) Marathon universe?

Halo Dev Team: I think Halo's story is not only intricate but probably the most involving and surprising story we've written yet. You won't finish Halo and think "Blah, just another shooter." There are things in Halo's story that you just won't see coming. Very shocking and satisfying in a dramatic sense.

I've seen the story bible for Halo. It's huge. I'd like to read it someday, but who has that sort of time? There's definitely a lot of room for further exploration in Halo's universe.

You won't need to be familiar with other Bungie games to appreciate the depth of Halo's story. But long-time Bungie fans may see some things in Halo that look...familiar.

HBO Readers:The Xbox certainly seems to have the capability for voice communication - will Halo try and use something like this?

Halo Dev Team: That was not something we'd ever planned for the game, and to throw it in now just because it's technically possible would take time away from things that are more useful and already on the schedule.

HBO Readers:Will Halo continue in the Bungie tradition of allowing the saving of films (a tradition broken, to the chagrin of the fans, by Oni)?

Halo Dev Team: I don't want to promise anything here, because it's not definitely slated for inclusion yet. A lot could happen between now and the day we ship. But we have done some work on saved films and for the most part they work.

HBO Readers:In the solo player game, what sort of save options will Halo have? (i.e., Save Anywhere, a la many fps's, Fixed Save Points, a la Oni, or something in between (like Marathon)?

Halo Dev Team: While playing the solo campaign, the game will save automatically for you at key points. We're trying for a balance between common sense and immersion; we want people to PLAY the game as opposed to inching through it and saving every ten seconds, but we also don't want a repeat of what happened on a couple levels in Oni where an ill-timed death would force you to replay long stretches of the game. We'll tweak this until it works well.

HBO Readers:Will there be differences between what can be done in single vs multiplayer games? For example, In solo play, you can knock out enemies with the butt of your gun - will this be treated the same in team play? Similarly, the gunner on the jeep is a playable position in multiplayer, but not in SP (or at least it wasn't in the Gamestock build). Does this mean that in SP, someone who jumps in a jeep is stuck as the driver at all times, or will he be able to use weapons from that position?

Halo Dev Team: I don't think your palette of available options will change all that much from solo to multiplay, if at all. As for the job of gunner on the warthog, that's sort of a secondary role in the solo campaign. You can hop into the back of the jeep and man the gun if, for example, your Marine buddies have all been picked off and you need to mow down an oncoming phalanx of Covenant badasses. But you're the protagonist of the game, and as such it is YOU who should be in the driver's seat, both figuratively and literally.

HBO Readers:How much control will the player have over NPCs - will bobs listen to commands always, or sometimes, or not at all? And what will the NPCs be doing when the player isn't around - will they continue to fight (so that the player might come upon a battlefield after the battle is over), or will the stand around, waiting to be activated by the proximity of the player?

Halo Dev Team: There won't be a situation in Halo where you'll need to tell them "Go patrol around the perimeter of this building" or anything like that. All that stuff will either be handled by scripting or the AI. There won't be any situations where the Marines are just standing around, chewing all the bubblegum while you kick all the ass.

HBO Readers:The concept of a screenshot with the weekly Halo Update has been brought up a few times, with no real response from Bungie - many, many people would like to see this happen. Can a new screen be added to the weekly update?

Halo Dev Team: I probably won't do a weekly screenshot as the fansites should soon be getting screenshots and such independently of the weekly updates anyway.

HBO Readers:Have we lost forever the beautiful sky of the old shots (and last year's movies)... and if so, will weather not play a role in Halo?

Halo Dev Team: Different missions, different times of day, different skies. :-)

As for weather, the answer is yes. We just recently got to that stuff, which is why you haven't seen any of it in the game yet. But you will.

HBO Readers:There's a village full of polite people that has no reflective surfaces. Every villager sees every other villager every day. Some higher power identifies that there is at least one sinner among the people. Any person who has sinned is marked by the higher power, and must leave the village. No resident will give a sinner any indication that he is marked, but all of the sinners leave on the third day. How many sinners are there?

Halo Dev Team: I didn't answer any Microsoft interview questions when I came out here, and I'm not about to start now. However, fans of logic puzzles can find the answer at Salon.com (at the very end of the long, sad story).

Thanks, Matt. (and the whole team!)