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Inside Bungie - Living The Spartan Life

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the cat-hats-for-all dept.

Games 58

Straight from the latest issue of Edge, a great feature all about the life inside Bungie studios. The article gets into a good bit of detail on the mindset of this insular part of Microsoft's development network. Interviewed developers discuss what it is like working for Microsoft, and how hard it is not to be hard on themselves. Specifically, the developers have some surprisingly harsh criticism of their own opus - Halo 2. From the article, comments by technical lead Chris Butcher: "One of the things that stuns me when I think about it, and I can't believe this is true - we had [no time to polish] for Halo 2. Take that polish period and completely get rid of it. We miscalculated, we screwed up, we came down to the wire and we just lost all of that. So Halo 2 is far less than it could and should be in many ways because of that. It kills me to think of it. Even the multiplayer experience for Halo 2 is a pale shadow of what it could and should have been if we had gotten the timing of our schedule right. It's astounding to me. I f***ing cannot play Halo 2 multiplayer. I cannot do it. And that's why I know Halo 3 is going to be so much better."

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It's good that they accept it in public (1)

Calinous (985536) | more than 7 years ago | (#17681814)

Hopefully an update to the game will solve the multiplayer issues.
      Anyway, this isn't the first of the last game to come to market with issues, not enough tested, not polished. Too bad this happens, and PS3 wouldn't have been a real danger to XBox360 market share even without Halo2

Re:It's good that they accept it in public (2, Informative)

jfclavette (961511) | more than 7 years ago | (#17682416)

You're confused. Halo 2 came out for the original XBox a good while ago. You're thinking Halo 3, which is still in development.

Re:It's good that they accept it in public (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17688752)

that may be but he is still correct on the fact that halo2 was rushed and not fully polished before release... im looking at you unfinished single player campaign...

LOL!!!! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17681896)

The job will be posted immediately after submitting. It will be visible to all readers of MacSlash. The readers of MacSlash are Macintosh system administrators, graphic designers, and unix geeks --the best of breed mac techs who are in tune and up to date with everything Mac.

from that "job" thingy at MacSlash....LOL!!!!

Nice (4, Insightful)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 7 years ago | (#17681908)

I liked the first half of Halo 1. The parts where you could jump on a jeep (whatever) and a guy would climb in and drive, or gun, or whatever you didn't do. It really felt like a war game where there was some tactics and such.

The last half completely dropped that and was boring.

Halo 2... I never bothered with it. My nephews played it, and I heard a little on the web about it, but not much. So I left it alone.

I'm hoping Halo 3 really DOES have the 'polish time' they need to make it right and fun in single player. (I don't give a rat's ass about multi, despite liking the 'work together' stuff with the NPCs.) I'm not really holding my breath, though.

Re:Nice (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17682036)

ACTUALLY, Hotaru could of destroyed Nehelenia. Silence Glaive Suprise at it's full power can destroy the universe. That's why it was Hotaru's last resort, since she knew that Nehelenia's pocket dream universe had to be destroyed along with Nehelenia herself. Besides, there was no possible way to destroy Nehelenia since she was an omnipotent in her own world. But if Rini didn't stop Hotaru, Nehelenia(Hotaru too) would of been killed. Even Goku from DBZ has nothing on Hotaru's full potential.

Re:Nice (1)

vaksion (1024195) | more than 7 years ago | (#17698882)

I don't think this has anyting to do with Halo. Last time I checked these names weren't in Halo. Just saying. Sounds very cool though.

Developers are NEVER happy (4, Interesting)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 7 years ago | (#17682116)

Given the opportunity, a developer would keep "polishing" a game forever. It would never get released if you just gave them an "open-ended" development timeframe. But, set a hard deadline, and they end up complaining that there wasn't enough time to "polish" it; to add in every feature; to include x, y, and, z, and so on...

Show me a developer that's ever completely happy with the finished game and I'll show you a director that's completely happy with the final theatrical cut of his film.

-Eric

Re:Developers are NEVER happy (1)

andrewd18 (989408) | more than 7 years ago | (#17682464)

I have a love/hate relationship with the developers I work with (I'm a tech writer). Without deadlines, the programs get revised and rewritten on a weekly basis, which means the manuals are always in need of being updated. Drives me crazy. I heart deadlines just for that reason. If I had mod points, you'd get +1 insightful. 3

Re:Developers are NEVER happy (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 7 years ago | (#17682636)

Duke Nukem Forever.

Re:Developers are NEVER happy (3, Interesting)

PresidentEnder (849024) | more than 7 years ago | (#17682792)

Quentin Tarantino always claims to be happy with the theatrical cuts of his films.

Re:Developers are NEVER happy (1)

Noxx (74567) | more than 7 years ago | (#17684942)

Didn't he change the Pulp Fiction - Special Edition so that Marvin shot at Vincent Vega first?

Wait, maybe I'm thinking of something else...

=P

Re:Developers are NEVER happy (1)

jackbird (721605) | more than 7 years ago | (#17707820)

No, but his cut of True Romance had the Christian Slater character dying among the falling feathers, and no coda on the beach in Mexico...

Re:Developers are NEVER happy (2, Informative)

nasch (598556) | more than 7 years ago | (#17683272)

But, set a hard deadline, and they end up complaining that there wasn't enough time to "polish" it; to add in every feature; to include x, y, and, z, and so on...
If you RTFA (a lot to ask I know) one of them said that for Halo everything came together perfectly in the end, and basically they had exactly the right amount of time. That is to say, I'm sure there was more they would have liked to do, but his message was more "we had the right amount of time" than "we needed more time".

"We had about four to five weeks to polish Halo at the end. No more than that. And that last five per cent is responsible for 30 per cent of the success of the game, or more. That's the period in which we really had a perfect storm. The team was all there, everything was working great, the Xbox hardware was finally there and good, and we just were able to relentlessly execute on that. The entire game came together within that four- to six-week period."

Re:Developers are NEVER happy (1)

localman (111171) | more than 7 years ago | (#17684794)

Simply not true. A creative person may not be completely satisfied with every aspect of what they've created (which is often the impetus for the next creative project), but despite this stuff gets completed all the time without being cut short. As a creative person (developing, music, and film) I've completed many things without someone else telling me when it had to be done. There are a percentage of people like you describe, and yes, they do need someone to just give them a hard deadline. But there are many creative people who know when something has got as good as it's going to get and to mark it "complete" and move on. Don't judge everyone because of a few experiences you've had.

Re:Developers are NEVER happy (1)

Pink Tinkletini (978889) | more than 7 years ago | (#17690870)

I remember when Bungie used to take pride in their "it's done when it's done" attitude towards game development. That's what they were famous for in the Mac community.

Then they sold out to Microsoft, promised nothing would change. Look at them now.

Re:Developers are NEVER happy (1)

Khuffie (818093) | more than 7 years ago | (#17698474)

Ya. They totally rushed out Halo 3 so it can be a launch title for Microsoft...wait...no...that didn't happen. I mean, they totally rushed out Halo 3 to counter the PS3's launch for Microsoft...

Hey...waitagodarnfrigginminute...

Bull (3, Interesting)

ObiWanStevobi (1030352) | more than 7 years ago | (#17682164)

Halo 2 is still one of the most played and most stable games. And one of the best looking for its generation. This is just marketing to try to hype up expectation for Halo 3. Halo 2 is not perfect, no game is. But to say there isn't any polish on it is just a flat out lie.

Re:Bull (3, Informative)

Freewill (538580) | more than 7 years ago | (#17682340)

There's *planned* polish, and there's *accidental* polish. Halo 2 had plenty of the latter, a little of the former. Make no mistake, if you're known for above-average output, then even your less-then-perfect work is still a step above the rest. What Halo 2 missed on (as repeated in the article) is agreed on by the developers themselves. This is a *good* thing. This is not 'marketing trying to hype' Halo 3. If you knew how Bungie worked, you'd know they have an adverse reaction to typical corporate 'marketing'. But you can dismiss me out of hand, since I would fall into the 'fanboi' category, I guess.

Re:Bull (2, Insightful)

ObiWanStevobi (1030352) | more than 7 years ago | (#17682442)

Well, I would find it believable that they are perfectionists and hypercritical of their own work, however, when they all of a sudden now say that Halo 2 was not polished and Halo 3 is, doesn't that suggest a bit of a marketing job?

Re:Bull (1)

ObiWanStevobi (1030352) | more than 7 years ago | (#17682622)

Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Halo fan myself. Based on the commercials made with the Halo 3 game engine, and the 2 other games that proved they know what gamers like in a shooter (dual weapons, balanced weapon selection, storyline, etc.) I'm quite sure Halo 3 is going to be a great game. However, all they need to do is say they improved on what the felt Halo 2 was lacking. To go and say its unplayable and unpolished is far too much of a stretch of the imagination. An game with no polish time does not have all the details that Halo 2 does. Easter eggs, ambient lighting schemes, sound FX, etc.

Re:Bull (1, Insightful)

Golias (176380) | more than 7 years ago | (#17684292)

It's classic Microsoft speak.

Bash your current product to show how "honest" and humble you are about your past errors, while creating demand for the much "better" the next one will be because you have learned from your horrific mistakes.

Rinse, repeat.

Re:Bull (1)

mgabrys_sf (951552) | more than 7 years ago | (#17685324)

You're fanboy arguing with the CREATOR of the game. That's funnnnyyyyy. You're a funny guy.

Re:Bull (1)

Sibko (1036168) | more than 7 years ago | (#17692102)

Halo 2 is still one of the most played and most stable games. And one of the best looking for its generation. This is just marketing to try to hype up expectation for Halo 3. Halo 2 is not perfect, no game is. But to say there isn't any polish on it is just a flat out lie.
Maybe you didn't read the article, but its a Bungie developer who said they didn't have time to polish the game. Pretty sure he isn't lying.

Besides which, I'm an avid Halo fan, and I can tell you straight up that the game has an overall unpolished feel. From some lame weapon sounds, to the lack of medals when you complete the game on various difficulties. I for one, am very happy that Bungie is admitting they've gotten some things wrong. Compared to other studios I've seen, Bungie aught to be commended. At least they know when their shit stinks and have the courage to come out and say it.

Bungie made some good stuff... (1, Interesting)

d3ac0n (715594) | more than 7 years ago | (#17682288)

But since they were bought by Microsoft, they aren't really relevant to the gaming community at large anymore (other than as a vehicle for the Roosterteeth guys). The problem is that Microsoft basically boxed them into the X-Box. (no pun intended) Those of us who are PC gamers (and we are legion) are essentially being shut out of the HALO franchise unless we meet certain Microsoft criterion. A) we must own an X-box or X-box 360, or B) we must own Vista.

Now, that's all fine and good, Microsoft can do what it pleases with it's products. But make no mistake that this immediately relegates the HALO franchise to irrelevancy with HUGE sections of the gaming community. As noted by an earlier /. article, there are some very influential people in the gaming community that just don't see a compelling reason to drink the Microsoft DX10 koolaid. With the availabilty of inexpensive and fully compatible alternative engines, it's becoming less and less compelling to even bother with Direct X, other than as a convenience because it's what many programmers are already used to. Put all these factors together, and the PC gaming community isn't likely to be rushing to Vista any time soon.

What does this mean for the HALO franchise? Well, since they are locked into Vista and the X-Box, that pretty much relegates them to that minority section of the market. Which means for the vast amount of gamers, Bungie might as well be non-existent for the amount of effect they have on those gamers. Halo 1 was nice. Halo 2 did OK considering it's an X-Box only title. Halo2 Vista and Halo3 should do a small amount better, but not much. Until the majority of PC's are Vista (at least 4 years, if not longer) Bungie is a non-entity in the PC gaming market.

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (2, Insightful)

bunions (970377) | more than 7 years ago | (#17682570)

> Those of us who are PC gamers (and we are legion)

PC games are about 1/6th of the console market. It's still significant, but decreasingly so every day. Don't get me wrong, I'm a PC gamer too, but I don't have any illusions of it's importance in the grand scheme of things.

> But make no mistake that this immediately relegates the HALO franchise to irrelevancy with HUGE sections of the gaming community.

PC gamers are sort of notorious for upgrading at the drop of a hat. I think you're vastly underestimating the willingness of people to move to vista if there's something makes it worth their while to move.

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (2, Insightful)

GeckoX (259575) | more than 7 years ago | (#17682738)

PC gamers follow the games and the tech. They're traditionally on the (relative) bleeding edge of the industry.

If the industry isn't going there, the gamers won't be either. It's that simple.

Until the moment there's a must have DX10 game, and the must have hardware to match, there simply won't be mass upgrading. Actually, there's a heck of a lot of room at the top of the DX9 stack still. Most people that look into this stuff KNOW that the best cards right now are DX9. And for the foreseeable future those cards will be getting cheaper as well as better. Now is the time to build that smokin rig. There is simply no point whatsoever in jumping on to the DX10/Vista bandwagon as it's completely empty, and headed out into the desert for the next couple years.

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (3, Insightful)

GeckoX (259575) | more than 7 years ago | (#17682872)

Sorry, forgot to mention one more important thing. The PC gamer market may be small percentage wise, but that segment drives just about the entire market.

Think of it this way: Most people don't drive expensive high-tech vehicles. Those vehicles are only a very small part of the vehicle market. However, just about ALL of the tech in the vehicle you DO drive started out on those vehicles.

So we may be (relatively) small in numbers, but we created the market, and we're still the driving force behind it.

Think of it another way: Why does the Halo franchise exist? Simply because the console market had had FPS envy for over a decade. It took that long for consoles to be able to do FPS's well enough to be viable.

And last, just another point about the impact of PC Gamers on the industry. WoW is a juggernaut in the industry. And it's PC only. Not just a hiccup. Not just a blip on the radar. It's huge, it's massive, it's changed the gaming market across the board. All this from a _subset_ of 1/6th of the console market.

We're a LOT more important than you give credit for.

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (0)

realmolo (574068) | more than 7 years ago | (#17686966)

Not really.

There is simply more money to be made on the consoles. Plus, they're easier to develop for.

I like PC games, but they aren't mainstream, and they really aren't important to the "gaming" market-at-large.

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (1)

GeckoX (259575) | more than 7 years ago | (#17687940)

Did you read at all? Or are you just looking for an argument just for it's own sake?

What did I say? And all you can offer is 'Not Really'. No counter points whatsoever. Just a totally (obviously) biased opinion. Nothing more.

Move along please, nothing to see here.

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (1)

bunions (970377) | more than 7 years ago | (#17688296)

There wasn't really anything to your argument either. A lot of assertions and the obligatory car analogy. MMOGs are pc-only (mostly) because console keyboards aren't widely available. I also deny that pc games "created" the market. I'd say Atari or Nintendo did, and those games were modeled after arcade consoles.

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (0)

GeckoX (259575) | more than 7 years ago | (#17690958)

Dude, you really _really_ don't know your video game history.

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (1)

bunions (970377) | more than 7 years ago | (#17691084)

your insightful arguments have totally won me over.

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (1)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 7 years ago | (#17704078)

No, actually, he does. And if you put Japan into the equation, the role of the PC diminishes even more.

In a couple of genres - RTS, simulation, FPS - the PC is historically more important, although again the Japanese game industry has a large history of simulation on consoles. Halo is a 3rd person shooter, a genre which essentially skipped the PC. RTS and especially FPS have become somewhat moribund genres, as well.

What the PC drove, until recently, has been the quality of graphics. We're getting to an epoch of diminishing returns with that.

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (1)

GeckoX (259575) | more than 7 years ago | (#17709514)

Think about _why_ 3rd person shooters skipped the PC. 3rd person shooters were adopted for consoles because FPS controls don't translate all that well to consoles.

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (1)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 7 years ago | (#17711920)

FPS are hardly the stem and core of videogame history. The original poster was correct: home systems came directly from the arcade, and were in widespread use while most people still did not have PCs. The Atari VCS (later called the 2600) was ubiquitous while home PCs (Altairs, Commodores, Apples, Tandys, etc) were still a rarity - and before the age of MS-DOS, the PC market was fractured. Not until the early/mid-90s did PC gaming really pick up, when one could actually upgrade the graphics card for a moderate price and the dominance of MS created a sort-of kind-of "stable" target for development.

In Japan, the Famicom and other consoles actually replaced the PC for some functions, as well.

The arcades are more important to the history of videogames than the PC is, and the genres which came from the arcades are the ones that are more central to the console. As keyboards become more common on consoles and HD televisions become more widespread, I think we'll see more of those genres which rely on them also expand there. In any case, the PCs role in videogame history is not completely insignificant, but it is still peripheral.

Is that substantial enough a reply to you?

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (1)

GeckoX (259575) | more than 7 years ago | (#17712296)

Much better, thanks.

There's been some level of confusion in this entire thread. Mostly because people chose to make statements without backing them up in any way.

I certainly agree with your history on video games. It is definitely correct and accurate. However, I would have to suggest that it was the PC game market that revolutionized the industry. Pre-PC, the market was for kids for the most part. Video games were toys. They looked like toys, they played like toys. Once the PC entered the equation, that all changed. PC's drove the upshift in graphical quality. PC's brought 3D to the table. PC's brought gaming to the masses, though somewhat indirectly. FPS, TPS, simulators etc etc. Hardly anything new or revolutionary has happened on a console first in the past 15 years or so. Actually, the Wii-mote is about the first. Everything else in the console market has been striving to catch up to the state of the art of PC games. And the consoles simply still are not there.

Now we're getting to a point though where platforms have stabilized and it's reasonable to release games for the PC and a console or two, since consoles are becoming more and more like PCs every generation. However, the consoles are still behind. Still lower resolution and detail. Still somewhat contrived control schemes in the land of 3D. Better, certainly usable now, but definitely NOT superior to PC.

What I'm finding interesting now is that while the 360 and the PS3 are quite obviously striving to meet PC standards for games, the Wii has gone the complete opposite direction and IMHO, is really the only true console out there right now, from a historical perspective.

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (1)

be-fan (61476) | more than 7 years ago | (#17791536)

Pre-PC, the market was for kids for the most part.

It was the original PlayStation that did that. Back in 1994, when it came out, the PC gaming market was not nearly big enough to have that kind of impact.

PC's brought 3D to the table.

It was arcades that brought 3D to the table, and even 3Dfx first became successful because of their involvement in making arcade hardware. The Voodoo 1 was the first popular 3D chipset for PCs, and it came out in October 1996, a full year and nine months after the PS1 brought arcade-style 3D gaming into the home. Even the much-delayed Nintendo 64, which was fully competitive with the Voodoo 1 courtesy of its SGI-designed graphics chip, came out several months earlier. And of course the N64 had Mario 64, which was the first game to fully utilize the 3D environment in ways most FPSs still don't allow you to do.

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (1)

BakaHoushi (786009) | more than 7 years ago | (#17709844)

What you say is true.

Truly, the "homefront" of gaming is in the Land of the Rising Sun. It's where most of the truly BIG names in gaming comes from, and where the biggest sellers are made. I know it's just anecdotal evidence, but let's take a look at my gaming library:
Wii: 6 games, 2 US made, 4 Japan
PS2: 35 games, 12 US, 23 Japan
GCN: 41 games, 12 US, 29 Japan
DS: 22 games, ALL Japanese

So, it looks to me that since the Japanese PC game market seems to consist mostly of porn games and little more, which hardly has the greatest graphic ever, it is unlikely that the Japanese gaming market is thanks to the PC gaming market.

I can't speak for what's on Japanese shelves, but it would seem to me that the Japanese easily hold the majority of big name franchises (I say to exclude MY LITTLE PONIES: RAINBOW FUNLAND ADVENTURE(tm) and other abysmal titles) in the west. I don't know why. Maybe it's Japan's apparent preference for swords over guns (whereas in Western games, swords are a last resort, usually, when your long-range weaponry is out of/low on ammo) and RPGs.

I'm not saying I hate the PC gaming market. I play City of Heroes/Villains, Neverwinter Nights 1&2, Hitman... I love so many PC games, but the hassle of using them is often quite frustrating. The keyboard was NOT designed for many types of games (just as a console controller, save the Wii) was not designed for shooters or RTS. And most casual players aren't going to want to have to replace their otherwise-fine desktop to play the newest Half-life. If they mainly use their computer for Internet tube exploration and typing up papers, why should they buy $500 minimum in upgrades to play a game when they can spend ~$50 for a new game for their console and still (ultimately) have fun?

Goldeneye (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 7 years ago | (#17691590)

Why does the Halo franchise exist? Simply because the console market had had FPS envy for over a decade. It took that long for consoles to be able to do FPS's well enough to be viable.

Console first-person shooting was viable in 1997. See Goldeneye.

Re:Goldeneye (1)

GeckoX (259575) | more than 7 years ago | (#17702436)

There's viable, and there's usable.

Any PC FPSer will know exactly what I'm talking about. Any console FPS fanboys...we'll, you still don't know what you're missing ;)

Re:Goldeneye (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 7 years ago | (#17702870)

Any PC FPSer will know exactly what I'm talking about.

How much does it cost to build a home theater PC that can handle four-player first-person shooting? Or does it take a cluster?

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (1)

be-fan (61476) | more than 7 years ago | (#17791426)

WoW is pretty big, but to put it into perspective, it wouldn't even break the top 10 of highest selling console games.

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (2, Informative)

Caffeinate (1031648) | more than 7 years ago | (#17683640)

Halo 2 did OK considering it's an X-Box only title.
I think "OK" might be a bit of an understatement. Halo 2 had the best opening night in the history of the entertainment industry, earning $125M US in the first 24 hours of its release. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (2, Informative)

FinchWorld (845331) | more than 7 years ago | (#17697930)

I've just been watching scrubs hence, For the of God, nooby. Halo, and soon to be Halo 2 would have been luckly to even hit the PC without M$, hell I can M$ hate with the best of them, when theres a good reason, so lets go down the bungie hall of memories. Marathon, whats that Mac games? OMFG did you not get that on your PC? Until recent open sourcing I believe there was only a very limited, LIMITED, run of Marathon 2 for PC, and that seemed more for the novelty. As for halo the orginal intention for it was to be a mac game, but you know that right? It was even a RTS, then it became a 3rd person shooter, at about which time M$ took a big interest which had the game published on a big format (no, don't smirk, no, really, Xbox gamer numbers > Mac gamer numbers).

Moral of it all, Halo of PC, far more likely with M$ then without.

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (1)

scot4875 (542869) | more than 7 years ago | (#17704614)

You conveniently forget Myth and its sequels.

Bungie had been doing quite well on the PC platform, pre-MS buyout -- I can't imagine why Halo wouldn't have made it to the PC as well.

--Jeremy

Re:Bungie made some good stuff... (1)

FinchWorld (845331) | more than 7 years ago | (#17705830)

Halo, pre M$ was only ever shown at Mac Expos, as a Mac game. Its also worth noting that although the myth games were released on PC, it was after Mac release, I know Marathon 2 for PC came a year later than the Mac version. Given the impact Halo would have had on the Mac against the xbox (not as much, smaller customer base), a PC port would have been longer in the works.

And if I recall Myth III may have come out on PC first, but Im sure M$ gave the rights to Take2 or similar and wasn't developed by Bungie.

grrr, content filter (1)

ajdowntown (91738) | more than 7 years ago | (#17682682)

Can some one post the article on here? I am behind a content filter...

Re:grrr, content filter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17684558)

"Yeah, sometimes it feels like I'm still the new guy," says Bungie's Jaime Griesemer, drumming restlessly on the conference-room table. "Like, sometimes I feel like I can just say whatever I want because they'll just ignore me, because I'm the new guy."

Griesemer has been at the firebrand US studio since 1999. Only ten others have been there longer.

It makes no sense, because to all intents and purposes, the curly-haired, fidgety, scattershot design lead is Bungie. He's hardly a founder member, having arrived less than a year before the Chicago independent was acquired by Microsoft to develop Halo as an Xbox launch title in 2000. And he can't be singled out as the outstanding talent in this outstandingly talented team, although he's tasked with preserving the precious core of the Halo experience -- the infamous 30 seconds of fun' that he labelled and helped to create, that freeform, looping interplay between the weapons, vehicles and shields.

"It's impossible to feel stable and entrenched here," Griesemer continues. "The newest designer will be sitting in a design meeting and challenge me on something that's been an established part of the Halo gameplay for years and years and years. I like having those discussions, sitting in a room and having a bunch of people just go at me. For me it's really fun if your ego can survive it, and the ideas that come out of the other side are vastly improved."

Within these walls, Griesemer can say anything, and anything can be said to him. That's one unusual thing about Bungie; one clue to the mysteries we're here, at the studio's Seattle offices, to unravel. How, exactly, do you go about making a 10/10 game? And perhaps even more crucially -- how do you hold your studio together when that game balloons into a cross-media entertainment phenomenon, when you become a strategic asset in a consumer electronics war, when your self-contained world is transformed overnight into a drop in the ocean of the world's richest company? In the face of all that, how does Bungie stay Bungie?

Building your own private fortress certainly can't hurt. After completing Halo and Halo 2 on Microsoft's Millennium Campus in nearby Redmond, Bungie was the first part of Microsoft Game Studios (discounting UK-based Rare) to be allowed to break away and establish its own base of operations.

The building is a discreet, low-slung, converted warehouse store on a quiet retail park, neighboured by pancake houses and coffee shops. But step inside the huge main office space and the dark is studded with the bluish highlights of a hundred LCD panels; with two storeys of solid, free-standing closed offices at the back, it's like nothing so much as stepping right inside a Halo structure. Hardly surprising, since one of the trained architects on Bungie's art team contributed to the design.

The move wasn't just about privacy, though. "It was to get a space that was open, that felt comfortable to be in, that worked with our collaborative nature, allowing us more flexibility," says studio manager Harold Ryan, a stout, impenetrable wall of Microsoft-trained muscle who is Bungie's operational chief. "Initially I thought it was a funny joke when someone suggested we put the desks on wheels. And now, the desks are on wheels. You want to do a desk move, you just unplug from your floor box and plug back in." The desks are arranged in circles around rough disciplines, employees' physical locations shifting with their working relationships.

Art director Marcus Lehto, soft-spoken giant and veteran of the Chicago days, says free speech and inter-disciplinary freedom have always been vital to Bungie's creative health. "From the very beginning when it was just three or four of us sitting in an old Catholic Girls' School with mice coming out of the desks, to this, it's been about keeping that open communication and the structure of disciplines -- we don't ever break engineering apart as a completely separate entity from art, from design." He recalls the temporary offices Bungie occupied immediately after the Microsoft acquisition: "They put us in ten-foot-high cubicles. While we were all within the same vicinity, our team started to break down within just a matter of weeks. It was amazing how much we relied on line of sight, being able to talk immediately, not having to communicate through email."

The flexible approach is about to become very important, because Bungie is looking to expand. The studio, currently standing at just over 100-strong including contractors, has just completed its biggest hiring year ever and intends to keep growing fast, partly to sate 360's tremendous hunger for assets. Partly, but not entirely. With likely less than a year of Halo 3 development left, and the end of this monumental trilogy (though not necessarily of Bungie Halo games -- Ryan at one point refers to "the next Halo game" and says it will likely be a shooter) in sight, the germination of new, original projects is already underway. Bungie is about to undergo its biggest change yet, bigger even perhaps than the Microsoft merger' (as Greisemer insists on calling it): the move beyond being a single-project, single-IP studio.

The motivations are manifold, not least the conflict between an unwillingness to let go of Halo, and a need to escape it. Marty O'Donnell, Bungie's composer, audio director, ombudsman' and avuncular father figure -- a former contractor in his 50s who has gradually become the social lynchpin of the organisation -- puts his finger on it: "To some extent we have let Halo equal Bungie, Bungie equal Halo. Over the last four or five years I think we've got slightly complacent about our personal Bungie branding, we've become so equated with Halo, and as Microsoft rightfully decides to expand the Halo universe and have other people making it, we're like, oh right."

"See that doesn't faze Marty or me that much," notes technical lead Chris Butcher, an energetic, sharp New Zealander and reputed boy genius' who joined from the fan community at about the same time as Greisemer. "But you've got to remember that 75 per cent of the people out there have only worked on Halo games. And more to the point, since they've arrived at Bungie, the only games they've worked on have been five-million-unit selling, platform-shipping blockbusters. That's a very different world to be in than working on some other game that we might do next, so there's going to be a real challenge for us to separate ourselves."

Bungie is naturally never one to shy from such a challenge. And while it's true that more projects need a bigger Bungie, it's also true, reckons Lehto, than a bigger Bungie needs more projects. "To retain that culture, it's going to be necessary for us to allow the team to break off into smaller teams where they are able to all have an impact on the project. As you grow to that 100-person-plus studio you can't have everybody having an impact on one project in some profound way."

Even if Bungie wasn't considering expanding its portfolio, though -- even if it was happy to commit itself to remaining a Halo factory for the foreseeable future -- the landscape would look very different now than it did five years ago. Xbox 360 will be two years old by the time Halo 3 comes out, and the tight synergy between Bungie's games and Microsoft's consoles has, to some extent, already been broken.

"The concept that Bungie wouldn't have a launch title for the Xbox 360 was almost impossible to conceive of," says O'Donnell. "That was really hard for the suits to swallow, it was like, no no no, we have to have a Bungie launch title. But I remember saying that there's nothing better than for Bungie not to be able to have a launch title, and for Bungie not to be defining the Xbox 360. I know it's scary for everybody, but it's not scary for us. We make games. We don't ship platforms. We don't push platforms. As soon as we think that that's what we're about, as soon as we think that Bungie's a platform company, we are, in my opinion, doomed." Butcher is firm in his agreement. "Even through the Microsoft acquisition, Bungie's purpose is not to make money for Microsoft and support the platform. Bungie's purpose is to make great stuff."

The surprise, perhaps, is Microsoft's willingness to see it that way, and to allow Bungie to continue to exist on its own terms. "When we first moved here from Chicago I thought it was going to be the doom of Bungie altogether," confesses Lehto, "that it was only a matter of time before either we were converted to processes that we truly didn't believe in and that would destroy our culture." He's happy to have been proved wrong. Head of production Jonty Barnes, a slender Englishman very recently arrived from new stablemates Lionhead, was stunned. "Actually, it's very much like a publisher-developer relationship. Lionhead and Bungie are equally intermixed with Microsoft, and that's quite incredible considering the geographic locations."

"Being someone who had my own business I knew that it would be a culture shock for Alex [Seropian, Bungie founder] to suddenly become a middle manager at a corporation the size of Microsoft," says O'Donnell. "I knew that Alex would probably get frustrated with it and within the next few years he did. But when we talked to Ed Fries [Microsoft's VP of games publishing at the time], that was one of the things that he absolutely assured us was not going to happen. They wanted to do everything they could to keep Bungie insulated, let it have its own culture, and not have it be too watered down."

"That was a real departure for Microsoft at the time," adds Butcher.

It still hasn't been plain sailing. "It's not necessarily a fight against forces at Microsoft that want to change things," Butcher continues, "but just the natural way things work at a large company. Microsoft has always been organised around the competition of ideas rather than the competition of groups."

"Especially it has to do with, not so much the people at the top, but some of the people out to the sides, people who think: aren't you guys just part of Microsoft?" says O'Donnell, his frustration starting to show. "Why can't we do the same thing we do with everybody else?' It's not so much a fight, it's just that it's important for us to keep those barriers out there I don't know, it actually is somewhat of a fight. Not everybody has the big picture, especially at a lower level." It's a fight that only "five people at the studio, tops," are ever fighting, according to Butcher. "The Bungie management team does a really good job of shielding us from these pressures," adds community and franchise lead Brian Jarrad.

The question remains: why take the fight on in the first place? Why put the Bungie culture' so precious to this team -- "a slightly irreverent attitude, and not corporate, bureaucratic, business-focused kind of people," according to O'Donnell -- in jeopardy?

The simple answer: to make Halo what it was. "If we go up there and choose to make Halo an Xbox game," says Butcher, reconstructing the argument, "we get to work with them at the cusp of something that has never been done before. We saw a chance to make the game better, not just in terms of making it a better game, but in terms of its impact on us and on the world. I think everyone would agree that Halo is a different game on the Xbox than a Halo game on PC with the same gameplay would have been at the time."

"Honestly I think Halo was so much about timing," says Greisemer. "When it came out, the platform, all the people that worked on it just happening to come together to make the perfect team to work on that game. The fact that we were in Redmond talking to the hardware guys constantly let us jump the technology forward. It was just this crucible where everything came together just in the right way." As far as the game itself goes, and the creation of the perfect alchemy of its design innovations -- the two-weapon limit, the recharging shield, the checkpoints -- Greisemer makes it sound easy; like riding a wave.

"We didn't have to know what we were doing, we had such powerful ideas that they just sculpted everything and we just sorta tried to stay out in front of them. Bungie's specialty is not generating ideas like that, it's recognising those ideas. It's not like we sit in a room and say, OK, let's revolutionise the health system!"

He's fairly dismissive of its much-vaunted balance, though. "Balance is not the most important part of the job. I think it's actually not super difficult to do. What's really hard is having stuff in your game that's hard-edged and different. You could make a game that's perfectly balanced where everybody just had the damage-over-time gun, right? Where everybody's health bar is decreasing at the exact same rate. What's hard is breaking out of that." He pauses and his eyes gleam mischievously. "Actually, the damage-over-time gun sounds like a genius thing."

Butcher has a much more specific, prosaic theory for what made Halo great -- and, it turns out, what disappoints him so bitterly about Halo 2. "We had about four to five weeks to polish Halo at the end. No more than that. And that last five per cent is responsible for 30 per cent of the success of the game, or more. That's the period in which we really had a perfect storm. The team was all there, everything was working great, the Xbox hardware was finally there and good, and we just were able to relentlessly execute on that. The entire game came together within that four- to six-week period.

"One of the things that stuns me when I think about it, and I can't believe this is true -- we had none of that for Halo 2. Take that polish period and completely get rid of it. We miscalculated, we screwed up, we came down to the wire and we just lost all of that. So Halo 2 is far less than it could and should be in many ways because of that. It kills me to think of it. Even the multiplayer experience for Halo 2 is a pale shadow of what it could and should have been if we had gotten the timing of our schedule right. It's astounding to me. I fucking cannot play Halo 2 multiplayer. I cannot do it. And that's why I know Halo 3 is going to be so much better."

There's a fair amount of criticism of Halo 2 amongst Bungie staff. Writer and community officer Frank O'Connor, an acerbic ex-pat Scot and former journalist, admits the cliffhanger ending was rather abrupt -- "we drove off Thelma & Louise style". He also admits that Bungie's vocal, internal, inter-disciplinary self-analysis can be its own worst enemy sometimes: "The trick is to avoid designing or writing by committee. You have to take what's best from the input you're getting and not have it turn into that too many cooks situation."

"That's sort of what happened with Halo 2," agrees Greisemer. "Toward the end we were working on balancing the weapons and everybody was very vocal about a ton of things and I think eventually we just sort of polished away some of those hard edges."

But it shouldn't be confused with a lack of self-confidence, or bowing to public opinion. Bungie is a viciously self-critical organisation. "The pressure doesn't come from beating Halo 2 or Halo, it's all internal," says the placid, even-tempered Jarrard. "We challenge ourselves to keep pushing further and further -- nothing's ever good enough for us." It's a facet of the studio's culture that everyone speaks of approvingly -- proudly, even -- although director of special projects Zach Russell thinks a little positive reinforcement wouldn't go amiss: "I feel like we're always talking about what could be better, I kinda wish that once in a while someone would just say: Hey man, just so you know, what you did there is really cool'."

Russell, whose purview extends from managing external projects like Ensemble's Halo Wars RTS to Bungie.net's stat-tracking and Bungie's own IT infrastructure, has an infectious enthusiasm for every corner of the studio's operations. "It's passion in our IT and infrastructure, and the fact that we have hundreds of servers running lightmap rendering, that we have processes for doing distributed functionality that nobody will ever see, we have a ton of tools for tracking every single crash in our game. That translates to a really high level of quality in the game because we have such passion for really low-level details that I don't know if other people get excited about."

And it's through Bungie's discovery of these tools and processes -- tools and processes that are increasingly widely adopted throughout Microsoft -- that what was once an unruly creative force is finding discipline under Ryan, and hoping to avoid Halo 2's crunch nightmare. "How do you go from being really really organic and essentially having no production schedule at all -- which is what Bungie was really early on -- into this -- where there's major financial dependencies on us getting our stuff together -- but still preserve that experimental thing?" asks Greisemer, framing the million-dollar question. "We now have a system for when I want to come in and do something crazy, for making it all work. In Halo 2 I would come in and say: Hey we're going to do this crazy thing, and it's totally going to destroy everybody's schedule and we're going to slip and there's no process for that to get worked in'."

If anything, despite the studio's increased size and the demands of the new technology, experimentation is easier now, Bungie is even lighter on its feet, and the potential for Halo 3 to spin off in radical new directions is considerable in a world where a new weapon, only recently conceived, can go from concept to prototype in a ridiculously short' length of time. "Now I feel like we've got this incredible framework and we can just go nuts and do anything we want to with this really solid foundation," Greisemer continues. "In fact, we've run into this problem where we started with a whole bunch of experiments and they turned out pretty well. Which one of these successful experiments are we not going to do?"

It's a good problem to have. Not an easy one, but a good one, like most of those facing Bungie: how to find more people of the calibre it already has, how to make more than one game at a time, how to work faster and better, how to stay in touch with its exponentially expanding creation, how to stay in touch with its proud self. Happily, for them and for us, Bungie seems to have a bottomless appetite for good problems.

"I had this really crazy idea for something that I'm not allowed to talk about yet," says Greisemer, "and a lot of places you'd just get shot down because it's technically very difficult or artistically hard or from a production angle it's sort of risky. But here you can get people excited about it and they're just such a bunch of geniuses that they can actually put it together and make it work."

Bad scenario... (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 7 years ago | (#17683554)

And that's why I know Halo 3 is going to be so much better

As someone who worked in the video game industry for six years, the next time around the schedule will be caught in half. If they thought losing the polish time was time was bad, losing time to finish the game is even worse.

Re:Bad scenario... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17686692)

Apparently Bungie, as a company, doesn't suck. That seems to distinguish it from your six years of being a click-monkey.

300 (1)

tont0r (868535) | more than 7 years ago | (#17683572)

Guy 1: This is insane! This is madness!!
Guy 2: Madness? This is BUNGIE!!
[Guy 1 kicked into a well]

Re:300 (1)

DimGeo (694000) | more than 7 years ago | (#17693162)

You mean: "Guy 1: This is blasphemy! This is madness!"

Old? (1)

Admodieus (918728) | more than 7 years ago | (#17684838)

This is not news to me, nor should it be to anyone who watched the Making of Documentary that came with the special edition Halo 2. Basically, Bungie sat around on their asses doing nothing until about a year/6 months before the release date, and then started working like crazy. It shows you that the New Mombasa E3 demo was not built on the existing game engine and had to be completely scrapped. I doubt this will happen again, as it sounds like they're far into production already, but if it should, I doubt I'll buy the game.

That's not the latest issue (1)

goldcd (587052) | more than 7 years ago | (#17690234)

That's last month's story.
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