Halo 3 Rumor Control, Part Two

PALGN, an Australia-based gaming site that humorously advertises itself as being both slow and late, has finally got around to recycling several busted rumors about Bungie and Halo into the bold prediction that Halo 3 is being done by a developer other than Bungie.

Now, to start off, this idea is not half as ridiculous as it sounds; I pondered it myself not a few weeks ago (although for the life of me I cannot find where-- it's possible it was done only in IRC).

What is ridiculous are the five points they cite as evidence of this:

  • Bungie has repeatedly refused to confirm the name of their next title. Why? If it was Halo 3, why would they bother not telling us?

There is a little something here. Bungie itself gave mixed messages right after the release of Halo 2, with some quotes indicating that the studio was going to do something different. Maybe they are. However, Microsoft's only other high-profile in-house development studio that would seem to be a match is Rare, and they have their own franchises, Perfect Dark and Conker, to worry about, not to mention the Xbox 360 showcase, Kameo. It's difficult to see what would be gained by shuffling work around like that.

If it was an external developer, no doubt they'd want to publicize their involvement with the Halo franchise to make maximum value of it. Nothing's been said at all. I'd guess that whether the logic is flawed or not, Bungie's reasons for keeping quiet about what they are working on are separate from the question of who, if anyone, is working on Halo 3.

  • Some Microsoft executives were not happy with Halo 2, in particular some of the repetitive level design. They want the game to be a PS3 killer, and believe another developer has more chance of making it that great a game.

This really takes the cake. Microsoft? Unhappy with Halo 2? The Xbox's single best-selling game, ever? The most-played Xbox Live game since the second the game was released?

Halo 1 was criticized for "repetetive level design" as well, but that didn't make Microsoft pull Halo from its creators to give to another studio. Halo 2, the sequel made by Bungie, sold better than the original. This is not only ridiculous and illogical, but it's insulting.

  • They were also unhappy with Bungie's inability to keep deadlines, as Halo 2 was almost a year late. Halo 3 must hit when needed.

Halo 1's release date of November 15, 2004 was announced in advance and hit precisely by Bungie, as Microsoft needed as many solid launch titles as possible. Whether they knew that Bungie's Halo was the system-selling franchise they needed when they bought the developer is still a matter of debate. That they knew it when the release date of Halo 2 was announced as November 9, 2004 is not. That is the only publicly-announced release date Halo 2 ever had, and Bungie hit that precisely as well, giving the Xbox its swan song holiday season and Microsoft's entertainment division the only profitable quarter it has ever registered.

It may be true that, unbeknownst to all but insiders, that Halo 2 had an earlier internal target date. But it was never solid enough to be announced. To have expected Bungie to complete Halo 2 in only two years-- only six months more than the time from when Halo was first publicly announced as a Mac/PC game until it finally shipped for Xbox, not to mention the years of development spent before that-- was likely unrealistic, even if Microsoft ever actually expected it. Two years per game would have allowed Bungie to launch Halo on the original Xbox, deliver Halo 2 for Christmas 2003, and then Halo 3 as an Xbox 360 launch title. It strikes me as likely that there would have been executives at Microsoft thinking along those lines. That doesn't make it realistic, nor would it justify moving the Halo franchise to another developer out of a desire to hurry Halo 3 along. By the release of Halo 2, it would not have mattered anyway. In order for Halo 3 to be ready by next spring, it would have had to have been in development for the past nine months, either by Bungie or another studio.

The PS3's launch date hasn't even been announced, so expect Bungie or any other developer to hit an invisible and possibly moving target is patently ridiculous.

  • Some key Bungie employees left soon after Halo 2's completion – did Microsoft move them to the new Halo developer?

Some key Bungie employees left Bungie before Halo 2's release to start Wideload. Does that mean that they're doing Halo 3? As it turns out, no, they're not.

  • Bungie have a history of farming off development of their franchises after the second installment.

This is about the only item that is unassailable, but only if you assume that past behavior is the best predictor of the future. In that case, Halo 3 will either have an impossibly convoluted plot, or will completely suck. However, in the case of the two previous franchises mentioned, Marathon Infinity was developed by Double Aught, made up of several former Bungie individuals, and then published by Bungie itself. It used the Marathon 2 engine, so all that was necessary to do was create the scenario-- story, art assets, sounds, etc, and many of these were also recycled from Marathon 2.

That really isn't an option for Halo 3. Halo 3 will most likely need to be an Xbox 360 only title to fulfill its role as a system-seller. Despite the fact that Halo 1 and 2 run in emulation, running a new game in an old game's engine under emulation would hardly have been an ideal situation. Halo 3 needs a new engine, if only to run on the 360 natively. To farm out the development of a scenario is one thing; to do it to both a scenario and an engine is another. The article goes on to suggest that Gearbox might use an Unreal engine variant-- but why would Microsoft throw away the sunk costs in two iterations of the Halo engine to date, and give up the opportunity to leverage the work from those two games that can be recycled to have a third game built in an entirely different engine, even just as the first Halo engine licensed game is being published for the Xbox?

The third game in the Myth series was produced by another company not by Bungie's choice, but because the rights were transferred to Take Two Interactive as part of the Microsoft buyout, so that's not really relevant here, either.

In the end, is there anything to this idea?

I think it unlikely that Bungie would willingly entrust their most popular franchise ever to any group of developers that wasn't closely related to them. They might personally tire of a franchise after two consecutive games, they might put a genre on the shelf and want to try and do other things, as they did after Marathon 2 to work on Myth and then Oni, but I do not think they would want to see another developer putting their name on a Halo game unless that group itself had strong roots in Bungie. Of external studios, Wideload is the only one that fits the bill, and it's not them. There is, as yet, no identifiable first-party developer that matches this description. And even if there were, it would have had to have been working on Halo 3 for quite some time now in order to be able to deliver it any sooner than Bungie could itself; so either that is the case, or the schedule is not a factor in the decision.

I find it more likely that Bungie is indeed working on Halo 3, but are keeping silent in order to better control the amount of attention paid to the game before it reaches a certain stage in its development. Clearly, some gamers objected to what they considered to be either a failure of Bungie to deliver the vision they presented in their early Halo 2 trailers and demos, or outright deception on Bungie's part. Neither of these can happen if Bungie refuses to release early media. That might not stop people complaining about Halo 3 if they don't like it, but it might help cut down on the "unmet expectations" factor that was one of the only smudges on Halo 2's otherwise sterling success.

UPDATE: Thanks to Ciarán, who unearthed the reference I made to this idea way back in May-- turns out it was much earlier than I thought, and that's why I didn't see it.

The idea itself hasn't changed much in those six months; perhaps I just have less faith in it because nothing else has surfaced that supports it.

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
I wouldn't be disappointed.

I loved bungie, but the more objectively I've looked at it, the more disappointed I've been with their work on Halo 2. While they may have hit their "target" release date, it still took them a very long time to release a game that at *best* could be described as incomplete.

That level of productivity (read: lack-thereof) came after release in support of the multi-player environment. Sure they updated playlists and released new maps, but much like the single player levels, can you get any more repetitive in multi-player map designs. How many months did it take to design so many damn circles? Not to mention the extended time it would take to fix flaws in what we were promised was a very easily editable playlist (ie. Banshe on Asension in Rifle games).

At first thought, I would have been disappointed to learn that Halo 3 wouldn't be a Bungie game. I would have been afraid that it wouldn't be the same game (which I do really enjoy), but then I realize that might not be such a bad thing. All this said, there is no reason to think that Bungie has lost Halo 3, but they didn't set the bar all that high with their last Halo release.

Please remember, record breaking sales aren't necessarily a result of an exceptionally designed product. Marketing plays much to large a role for that to be the case. Think iPod Shuffle.

Brian

narcogen's picture
narcogen
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Disappointment

Perhaps it's merely repetition, but I find the more I play Halo 2 the less disappointed I am with it. Granted, I tend to avoid levels I don't like (such as High Charity) just like I avoid levels I don't like when playing the original (like the Library).

Plus, I love my iPod shuffle.


Rampant for over six years.

Ciaran's picture
Ciaran
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It's grown on me too

I have grown to appreciate Halo 2 more and more as time has gone by. This is simply because the online multiplayer aspect of the game is so good. With Halo 1 I occasionally played on XBConnect, and had fun, but I mostly played the single-player campaign. So, coming to Halo 2, this was my main focus, and I felt let down a bit by the ending. This was compounded somewhat by the fact that I had been away from the game for a while, and when I returned to it I didn't know that I was close to the end, so I finished the game in the next 30 minutes - leading to a real sense of anticlimax. There was no build-up like with the Maw run in Halo 1.

However, since then, I've played Halo 2 online enough to get to level 12 - not as much as I like. I have to say though, it's compelling. The desire to reach higher levels, the way you get to know the maps better, the challenge of beating real people, the crazy fun of oddball - it just takes the game to a new level. This is the real success of Halo 2, as shown by the fact that it has been at number 1 for games played on XBox Live, and the recent stats posted on Bungie.net.

Looking back at Bungie's history, I should not have been surprised. Marathon and Myth had very strong multiplayer aspects, and Bungie continued this into Halo 2. In combination with XBox Live and a great matchmaking system, the whole thing rocks.

However, I think that Bungie's focus on this aspect of Halo 2 meant that the single-player campaign had to be cut short. I believe that they meant to include the full story originally, but time and resource limitations meant that they couldn't both tell the whole story and get the multiplayer as good as it is. Was this the right choice? Well, from a marketing point of view, a cliffhanger ending will mean people will get the next installment to continue the story, despite whatever disappointment they may feel. In the meantime they can play online and appreciate how much fun Halo 2 can be, and the game will last longer than if the focus was reversed. Once you've completed the campaign, there's limited replayability, even on Legendary. Once you're online however, there's an infinite number of possibilities, and with 2 million subscribers, there's always going to be someone out there that will provide a challenge to you.

So, maybe they got it right after all Smiling

Ciarán.

Anton P Nym's picture
Anton P Nym
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iPod Shuffle is t3h sux0rs :P

I prefer to build my own playlists for music... as, though my tastes are eclectic, there's a limit as to how much change I'm willing to accept in a play session; Claire de Lune doesn't follow Black Dog too well.

However, I do agree with you on Halo 2. I lost track of the number of campaign playthroughs after 12... three on Normal (two of those in the first week!) and the rest on Heroic, plus a couple of aborted attempts on Legendary.

I liked the campaign in the first try and enjoy it a little more with each replay. Though I still wish for a bit more flexibility in level design (ah, my dear, sweet "Halo" level) the campaign feels a bit "roomier" after exploring more and more.

The multiplayer was originally icing on the cake for me, but (aside from the asshats who are drawn to all net games) have grown to enjoy it greatly as well.

-- Steve's exploring other games more these days, but keeps finding himself putting Halo 2 back into the tray for another go.

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narcogen
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OMG NOE

Anton P Nym wrote:
I prefer to build my own playlists for music... as, though my tastes are eclectic, there's a limit as to how much change I'm willing to accept in a play session; Claire de Lune doesn't follow Black Dog too well.

For anyone with a decent-sized music collection, the Shuffle's not designed to be a primary playback device. It's more of a flash drive that plays music as an extra. It doesn't have a display, so it can't have playlists-- but because it holds so little, a playlist is really pointless anyway.

To effectively use a shuffle, you've got to fine-tune the playlist it syncs from by using embedded smart lists; factoring in length, genre, a sub-selection of artists, and a range of publication dates.

It's possible to make many such embedded sets of lists and then switch between them when doing syncs. So you can get a random sampling of a larger group of songs, perhaps grouped by genre, each time you sync, and change genres at any given sync-- given the small size of the devices, replacing all the music on the device at every sync isn't too problematic.

Anton P Nym wrote:
However, I do agree with you on Halo 2. I lost track of the number of campaign playthroughs after 12... three on Normal (two of those in the first week!) and the rest on Heroic, plus a couple of aborted attempts on Legendary.

I tried my first run-through on Heroic and finally had to dial down to Normal to finish the game in time to do a writeup on it. Afterwards, I went back to those levels on Heroic and then did a Legendary run-through, but at this point since there are no medals I've rather lost track.

Most of the time I prefer Legendary; there are just a few points that are so frustrating that I tend to avoid them-- the opening room of Gravemind, for instance.

I also enjoy certain levels more on each replay. "Regret" is turning out to be one of my favorites-- or "Delta Halo", but only if you DON'T take the tank, which makes everything far too easy.

Whatever button it is that sends waves of Ghost pairs at the player at regular intervals, I hope it's broken for Halo 3. That gets old so fast it isn't funny; and with the tank, there isn't even any challenge to it.

Anton P Nym's picture
Anton P Nym
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OMG Y3S!!11one!one!

narcogen wrote:

For anyone with a decent-sized music collection, the Shuffle's not designed to be a primary playback device. It's more of a flash drive that plays music as an extra. It doesn't have a display, so it can't have playlists-- but because it holds so little, a playlist is really pointless anyway.

Ah. I'm far too lazy for that... and I prefer to have just one biggish one (current is 128MB Flash but with swappable 256MB SD cards) as I don't have a laptop and it's not possible for me to sync up on trips. Come to think of it, I should probably go over the cards tonight... haven't changed them since August.

Quote:

Most of the time I prefer Legendary; there are just a few points that are so frustrating that I tend to avoid them-- the opening room of Gravemind, for instance.

Mmph. I can see why... though I'm starting to enjoy it in Heroic, oddly enough. It's less frustrating than Cairo's Bay #2 on Legendary, in any case!

Quote:

I also enjoy certain levels more on each replay. "Regret" is turning out to be one of my favorites-- or "Delta Halo", but only if you DON'T take the tank, which makes everything far too easy.

I love the Earth and the Halo 05 levels quite a bit... the Cairo doesn't do much for me anymore now that exploring it isn't novel (though clambering around the outside is still pleasant sometimes) and the Heretic and High Charity levels are merely fun instead of completely absorbing.

I'll have to try Delta Halo on foot sometime. Sounds neat.

-- Steve doesn't mind the Ghost pairs in the tank because it is just like swatting flies... and tends to just blow right through them with the sponson-riders clearing the flanks and rear.

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narcogen
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Heroic

Heroic is good for fun-- if I want a guaranteed frustration-free run, I choose Heroic, and even then sometimes I don't get it!

As for Hangar 2-- this was the bane of my existence when I first started playing it, but I think I've got it down now.

In fact, play through it once (on Legendary), and then get the Thunderstorm skull, and then start Cairo over again. That's something to behold. Even more fun with Sputnik added in from the start.

As a whole, Cairo is one of the harder levels in the game.


Rampant for over six years.

Ciaran's picture
Ciaran
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Joined: 11/28/2003
Nothing new here...

Narcogn's original article is here, and my blog post on the same topic is here.

There's nothing really new here. The idea that Microsoft were unhappy with Halo 2 is laughable, frankly. It's the only reason the XBox division ever made any profit!

Ciarán.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
360

360 has been pulled back tell april 1st. at least in the north west
(harddrive's could not be made as fast)

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