Halo Chat with developer Chris Butcher
getintothegame.com mixed it up with one of the masterminds of smash-Xbox-hit Halo. Below, enjoy the transcript of our exclusive chat with superstar Halo developer Chris Butcher.
chris butcher hey there!
moderator Donít get your undies in a bunch! The live chat with superstar Halo developer Chris Butcher begins today at 4pm, CST (Hey, fyi - CST is two hours ahead of California, 1 hour behind New York.) Get your questions ready!
dejf789 76 how did you get the name halo??
chris butcher there are lots of influences behind that name... mostly because it has overtones of the religious war that the covenant are fighting, but also the artifact itself is shaped like a halo (of course)
plus, we're very fond of short evocative names :)
camecuber Do you think of halo as revolutionary?
chris butcher well, it's not really up to us to define whether any game we make is revolutionary. :)
personally, I consider halo to be a synthesis of a lot of great technology, fantastic art and fun gameplay. there are some revolutionary elements in there (in that nobody's done them before) but the game as a whole feels very familiar,as if from a dream or something? I can't quite remember.
bbow1718 How did you make such good graffics
chris butcher that's the power of x-box, baby!
seriously, we've basically been let loose with this neat programmable graphics architecture and we're seeing what shapes we can bend it into.
a lot of the credit is due to our artists. they have very high production values indeed and understand how to really take advantage of every little technological tweak that we slip in there.
even the ones that are ::ahem:: somewhat unintended. :)
samsg The sunflare effect is incredible, however, the shadow that vehicles cast isn't really spectacular. Are there any plans to implement real time shadowing/lighting?
chris butcher real-time shadowing is a nice feature for 'wow' factor but it doesn't add a lot to a game unless your game is planned around it, for mood or gameplay.
we decided to spend our time and graphics horsepower on other cool eye candy, like the real-time bumpmapping and specular highlights.
point your flashlight at one of the carved forerunner floor tiles and tell me that we don't do real-time lighting. :)
samsg How many polygons is halo pushing? Can we expect a Huge improvement in graphics for future projects in halo?
chris butcher um... that's hard to answer in any terms that actually make sense, but I can try.
in a scene that I was looking at this morning (the beach assault at the start of the silent cartographer), we are pushing:
~50,000 environment vertices
~150,000 model vertices
that probably means there's about 30,000 environment polygons and 100,000 model polygons.
and of course you can expect a huge improvement in graphics for whatever we do next!
that's the fun thing about working on consoles (and playing console games) - the second and third generation of games are always n times better,
despite the fact that you're writing to identical hardware.
look at the difference between (say) conker's bad fur day and mario on the N64.
there's some cool stuff out right now for x-box and I can't wait to see what we get in
we're all drooling here over the thought :)
i am tyler durden does the Master Chief wear boxers or briefs?
chris butcher [peeks]
let's just say he's the ultimate commando
tool slayer zepplin sabbath hendrix How'd you come up w/ the flood?
chris butcher ah, the flood
I wasn't involved in much of the original story concept, but the idea behind the flood as the forgotten peril that ended a galaxy-spanning empire is a pretty fundamental tenet of good sci-fi (yeah, yeah, and bad sci-fi too)
hubris, ate
hashx I have to say that you have really inspired me to be a game designer (specifically AI programming), what would you say are the most important skills/languages I should emphasize in my studies? (I'm currently a sophomore in college.)
chris butcher if you want to work in game development, be passionate about games! (being here in this chat is a good start)
work in groups wherever you can in college, especially if you're a programmer. group communication skills are tremendously important.
finish what you start. develop the stamina to see things through, because otherwise your first crunch will break you. (most developers will sense this and won't hire you, too)
too many other things to mention. there are lots of other places on the net that will give better advice than I can off the top of my head. try www.gamasutra.com or www.igda.org
bigdog Was the use of bots for a "pseudo-multiplayer" mode ever considered?
chris butcher sure! bots are fun.
but, they also take a lot of development and testing.
especially when you consider the huge variety of different environments and game types that halo has in multiplayer.
I mean, it's a lot easier to make a bot that can kill people in a tunnel-like maze than it is to make one that can play team oddball on blood gulch (although I'm sure you could still write one that would beat the entire phoenix team with one hand tied behind its back (injoke))
in the end we concentrated on single-player and I think that was the right choice for the game.
misstress chief hey chris, do chicks dig you more now that you're a superstar developer?
chris butcher I plead the fifth.
dejf789 76 how did you give the enemy that awesome AI?!
chris butcher that's pretty open-ended but I can tell you a little bit about what I consider important about it
characters know how to work together, but I made sure that it's not by the high-level systems exerting control, but rather providing _directions_ to the individual characters.
this is important because the characters then still have all their individual decision-making and can behave smartly
e.g. the marines can be sneaking up on someone in a coordinated formation and if you shoot one of them he'll stop and yell at you.
the communication and dialogue system is a really, really big part of it. if you play with the sound off, the enemies seem much stupider. (and you don't get to hear the cool music, so I guess you feel like that too)
the other important thing about the AI is that it obeys perception rules and has individual memory.
this lets the player predict what the AI is going to do based on what he knows about what they know.
ours is the first AI that I've played in a game where I can effectively trick them into doing things, and that's a lot of fun. our goal was to make the AI make the player feel like the most badass ninja cyborg ever.
i am tyler durden I'm about to start reading ringworld by Larry Niven, yall pulled some insperation from that story correct?
chris butcher er, no, none at all, no sir.
larry niven is a fantastic writer and his imagination literally spans worlds.
when you look at the number of 'stock sci-fi constructs' that exist in our collective library of cool stuff, his name is stamped over a surprising number of them. freeman dyson's name is writ large there too. and of course we can't forget banks.
christufa I know the halo team hasn't divulged much about this in the past, but, what other features were left on the cutting room floor for Halo due to time constrictions?
chris butcher heh, well, it's hardly like we decided "let's cut all the cool stuff out". we kept all of the best and most fully realized ideas.
one of the problems with working with a big team of highly creative people is that you just can't follow through on every idea. we literally come up with dozens of great ideas every day that "should" be in the game.
my favourite was the covenant three-man hover jeep, the shadow. it would have been so much fun to see grunts riding shotgun. :)
alas, too much cool stuff. we hardly have any room left on the DVD for the european version as it is! (you know how many gigabytes those things are? it's scary)
camecuber I have to abmit your 2 player co-op mode is nice, but excluding Graphics I can't say it is better than, oh say goldeneye, why are the Deathmatch maps so small?
chris butcher all I can say is, you're playing the wrong deathmatch maps.
any map where you have to worry about enemy tanks driving into your base isn't "too small". :)
however, we perhaps could have provided a better variety of maps for the small 2-4 player multiplayer experience. my favourite is battle creek.
also, goldeneye multiplayer is more about hunter-killer than halo, which is basically straight-up action. I like halo more. YMMV.
poop Who is the best Halo player there at Bungie Studios?
chris butcher [yells to the office "who's the best halo player here?"]
so, five people just yelled "chucky" and there was one lone deluded cry of 'marty'... heh heh
on friday we have the annual bungie pentathlon, and one of the events we'll be competing in is halo, so I guess we'll really see!
btw, you may know chucky by his nickname 'the bear'
jawa what 3D modeling tools were used in making Halo, 3DS Max, Maya, proprietary tools or other?
chris butcher just 3d studio max for the environments and characters - character studio for animation.
custom importing tools of course
kaiser do you ever draw inspiration from other games? if so what games do you play? what was the key factor that made halo appear on x-box first?
chris butcher it's hard to play games these days without drawing inspiration, there are so many cool games out there.
I've been playing Jak and Daxter lately and I have to take my hat off to those guys, it is a fantastic experience.
Robt has been playing Medal of Honor and he complimented them on their realism.
you may not realise just how high an accolade this is. robt is the guy who modeled all of the weapons in halo. check out the stenciled writing on the grenades sometime (you'll need a magnifying glass).
there'll be an interview with robt going up later on this week, by the way, check out the bungie truth and reconciliation site at www.bungie.net for details
fans are encouraged to contribute questions to that interview, so go for it.
as far as halo appearing on x-box first, the biggest reason is because we got the chance to come on board and really play a big part in shaping the technology behind the console system.
you may not realise how big a deal that is, but it's very rare for any game developer to be in such an enviable position as far as communicating with the hardware and OS people. they're literally across the parking lot from us. it's very nice. there's just no way we could pass up the chance to do that without looking at it very, very closely.
plus, it's green. how could you not like that?
space Who's the worst halo player then?
chris butcher that would have to be bernie, our graphics programmer. he spends too much time critiquing the way that the artists used bump-maps on the environment, and often you'll just find him standing in a corner flipping the flashlight on and off.
mutatorr There seems to be a bug with cloaking, when cloaked, the players gun model goes into walls as oposed to being drawn on top of them. Will you be able to fix bugs that seem to be rooted in the engine on the Xbox?
chris butcher that's actually a feature of the covenant active camouflage technology - the light is being bent around the gun and into the wall.
o00c0mmander00o Is there any cheats at ALL in this great game?
chris butcher nope!
call it a bungie tradition. you can always play on easy if you want to.
smithy4282 Halo runs at 30fps, are there any plans to increase to 60fps on future projects?
chris butcher well, it would be nice, but it means that we would have to go with a world that was less than half as complex as the current one.
we're not ruling anything out, and we've found a bunch of optimizations that are making our current stuff very speedy indeed, but it seems likely that we'll spend the extra resources in making the world more detailed and the framerate even more stable.
bounty In what sense if any are the Covenant and Marine AI different while they're working in teams? For example, were there methods used to differentiate the tactics of a Covenant squad from a Marine squad in battle?
chris butcher the covenant are basically marines with really short legs. oh, and they're cowards. :)
actually that's somewhat backwards - the marines are a specialised variant of the general combat AI which is used for everyone (including the flood, and even the infection forms).
they have dialogue, hand animations, and squad tactics which enhance their behavior. and they are also much better about respecting each other's lines of fire (and the player's).
in theory.
bear How come closed captioning or subtitles was not integrated into Halo? As a hearing-impaired gamer, this was a major disappointment.
chris butcher well, I can't really give you a good answer to that. it's very hard to know what you should be subtitling in-game, but cinematics can be subtitled in a relatively straightforward manner.
our audio and cinematics production was very tight and subtitles would have added crucial days to the turnaround process. unfortunately it just didn't happen.
bigdog In legendary mode, the enimies not only appear more numerous and well-armed, but also a heck of a lot smarter. Is the enemy AI in legendary mode just that much more advanced?
chris butcher hah!
there are actually no extra code or behavior routines running on legendary, at all. there are occasionally extra scripts which place more guys or introduce waves where they weren't before, but the AI code is the same.
_however_, there are a bunch of decision settings in their behavior profiles that get tweaked. likeliness to seek cover, throw grenades, use melee attacks, that sort of thing.
but the most amusing part is that when you play legendary, you're scared. and so you pay more attention to what the AI's doing. and since they're more buff than they are on normal, chances are they're going to actually execute their plan before you kill them. it's hard to seem smart when you're a corpse. :)
duke nukem why levels are so unbalanced (some are varied w/vehcles, outdoor environments, and indoor; but some are just indoor with identical looking corridors)
chris butcher every level has a particular mood that we wanted to convey. some levels are the epic outdoor battles, some are creepy claustrophobic dungeon crawls, some are you running for your life.
you're also seeing a variety of artistic styles and expressions. we have five (I think) environment artists who worked on the single-player levels. all of them feel different because of that.
shpydir Are there any spots in the game on any difficulty level that have an endless number of waves of enemies?
chris butcher wow. tough one.
if you kill captain keyes, you will be attacked by invincible marines out for blood...
in the level 'keyes' there's a spot where you are forced to jump down a hole by a succession of waves of enemies. those guys won't ever stop coming, and there are more of them with each successive wave. it's pretty fun to see how long you can make a stand there for.
there are also some places in the library where infection forms drop from the ceiling intermittently.
actionjackson How long, from start to finish, did it take to make the game
chris butcher let me just check
ah, history, who knows really...
you can pin the beginning of halo's ideas down to somewhere around the end of 1997, I believe. that would make it roughly four years, give or take some suffering.
elwaylite in the future, how advanced do you see AI becoming
chris butcher I assume you mean game AI, and not 'AI' in general.
I think we'll eventually see fictional characters that you could hold a spoken conversation with. probably not within the next ten years, though.
game AI is really dependent on how complicated your world simulation is, though.
it seems likely that we'll reach a point of diminishing returns where it's just not fun to simulate the real world more and more closely, and that will thus restrict the nature of AI development.
for example, it's never going to be interesting to model a simulation of the engine block of a jeep in a game like halo, and so we'll never see the marines get out and change the alternator timing on the warthog. but theoretical AI is certainly going to go in real-world directions eventually, and I believe the possibilities there are literally unbounded.
bernard certainly thought so.
halofanatic Are there any plans for movie deals that you know of? Do you think that would be good? What actor would you cast as Master Chief if you were making a Hollywood movie? How about Cortana?
chris butcher I have not been involved with movie deals at all, thank goodness. it seems very, very unlikely... I know that I'd rather see an _original_, _well-done_ science fiction movie out of hollywood more than I'd like to see a movie adaptation of halo.
I'd cast paul reubens as the master chief, and juliette lewis as cortana. but what do I know.
amusing hearsay: at one stage we were talking with a prominent hollywood actor about voicing the master chief, but he wanted a pre-production xbox with some games and they literally didn't exist at that point. I think the deal fell through.
cuban just piped in saying "you MUST have cameron diaz as cortana", so there you go
ron_rancor_ What does that weird hidden Grunt in the last level say? I can't quite make it out...
chris butcher you'll have to go there and find him for yourself, I'm afraid. but it's worth it.
I think that's something like the tenth take of that line, because joseph staten (The Voice Of Grunts Everywhere) couldn't stop cracking up while they were recording it.
let's just say that grunt has had a long day and is looking forward to his return. "see ya starside", etc.
duke nukem is there going to be a sequel?
chris butcher can't really say at this point. obviously there are compelling reasons why it would be interesting to do a sequel (the game was actually fun, after all) but there are just so many game ideas boiling off people here every day... it's too early to tell.
our other teams have some great things in the pipe too, and you'll certainly be seeing things from them before you get a peep out of us about things to come. :)
munkey what other games are bungie developing for The Xbox or Gamecube?
chris butcher microsoft has no internal gamecube development, surprisingly enough, although I hear some of the guys really like Super Monkey Ball. :)
it's not my place to talk about other titles that we're working on, I'll leave that to the fine men and women in question.
xboxboi111501 why was the library so difficult?
chris butcher the library is difficult if you've been playing the game so far in a cautious fashion. it's a wake-up call, basically. also, there are a lot of places where unless you advance and really take it to the flood on their own terms, they will send more waves at you.
basically that's the nature of the flood. you can't afford to fight them piecemeal, you need to go for a daring final strike. hmmm.....
lordy what is the best gun to use in your opinion?
chris butcher it's got to be the shotgun, honestly.
(I'm getting cheers from the shotgun fans here as I type this)
but the pistol is the most _effective_ weapon in many situations in multiplayer. and there's ammunition for it in a surprising number of places in the single-player game.
that's mostly because our designers like using the pistol so they put it in their maps. :)
besides, it's a much more ... elegant ... tool. the shotgun is basically the ultimate blunt instrument.
ciber How did you get the idea for Halo?
chris butcher the "big idea" behind halo has gone through an awful lot of revision. initially, it was a real-time strategy game from an overhead viewpoint where you commanded armies of little vehicles driving around.
close-in action games are very dear to our hearts though, and the possibilities are just so much fun when you're right up next to the action and you can see all of the signature details and animations that (so I hear) are bungie's trademark.
as far as the story, it can be looked at as a biblical allegory. the parallels are stronger than you probably realise, because nobody outside of bungie has more than a corner of the big picture. and we only have two corners. :(
I'm not sure where the rest of the story is, but it's out there somewhere. perhaps the best parts of the story are in the minds of all of our fans. certainly the most vivid parts. :)
serinip what were your fav vid games as a kid?
chris butcher I had this cool game on the ZX81 which involved a plane dropping bombs on a city. but it had to load off a tape drive though, it took about 15 minutes to load and you had to make sure you didn't jog the audio cables.
but mostly, the amiga is where my heart is.
bubble bobble, desert strike, dogs of war, all the greats.
not to forget xenon II, possibly the game with the best shopkeeper ever invented.
litningqwk Can you be the gunner in the jeep when a marine drives?
chris butcher the code exists to do that, but it was never robust enough for us to use it in any of the shipping levels.
tyson did modify one of the multiplayer maps (the round pit with the cross-shaped catwalk, we called it 'carousel') to make a marine drive laps in the jeep around the outside. it was really fun to see them driving, and I wish I'd been able to devote the effort to it... but in the end it's just more fun to drive and we had to pick one.
gokou_182 will you ever reveal master chief's face?
chris butcher if you look on bungie.net you can see it! heh, well, not his _real_ face but probably as close as we're ever going to show you.
but anything is possible, after all.
moderator Thanks to Chris and thanks to all chatters! Sorry we couldn't get to all of your excellent questions! Thanks for chatting.
chris butcher thanks for coming, everyone!