The Nathan Bitner Interview

By Noctavis, Narcogen - Interviews  HaloNews - Since my editor had at them, they have stretched from 9 into a smallbattery... :-)

Nathan Bitner - Well, fortunately for your editors, thereare a lot of questions that we can’t answer in full detail anyway. :-)

I’m sure you will understand that at such an early stage, we are onlyprepared to release a limited amount of information about Halo, but I’lldo my best to answer as many of your questions as I can before someone puts amuzzle on me.
 

HN - Everyone we've talked to who saw the Macworld demo, either in person or oneof the many video versions, had his or her socks completely blown off by HALO.Now we've heard that the demonstration, in addition to being entirely createdwithin the game engine, was made on the plane en route to New York! Is thistrue?

NB - Of course. Actually, it was done before they had evencrossed the Ohio border. We do our best work on planes.

Well, as tempting as it to claim that we had the tremendous Sack necessaryto put together something like that in an hour and a half plane ride, the truthis that several 24-hour days of thought and hard work went into producing thein-engine movie. This wasn’t just an effort by our programmers andartists, but also from Marty and company at Total Audio, who pulled off thatkick-butt soundtrack with even less notice than we had. Rumor has it that aparticular member of our company actually stepped on and broke the music CD atthe airport … Marty was there to rescue us. And from now on, all the CDswill be wrapped in several layers of foam padding.

Honestly, if you paid a CG company to produce a two and a half minutecutscene of that quality, it would have cost about $300,000 and taken at leasttwo months, from storyboards to final movie. With the Halo tools, it took maybefour days and cost … well, nothing. This of course leads to the obvious… how cool woould it be to license the tools to other game companies inorder to produce THEIR own cutscenes? ;)
 

HN - What were the specs on the system(s) you were running the HALO engine on inorder to get such a beautiful performance? And do you have any preliminary A)Minimal and/or B) Recommended requirements for Mac and PC yet?

NB - At Macworld, Halo was running on a G3 400mhz machine with a Rage 128 card,and we've also shown it on a PIII 450 with a TNT2 Ultra card. The only thing weare prepared to say about the system requirements are that they will require a3D card, and that all the major ones will be supported. We'll also be includingoptions, such as scalability (but not limited to scalability) that will improveperformance on lower-end systems. The point is this: we think Halo is going tobe awesome, and we want as many people as possible to be able to enjoy it. Justtake a look at some of the headlines these days … and you’ll see thatwe want to literally bring Halo into as many living rooms, bedrooms, offices,or kitchens (for those who don’t want to stop playing to reach for a tastybeverage) as possible.
 

HN - One of the features of the demo that most impressed a lot of gamers was thereal-world physics displayed - especially the behavior of the"hummer" as it jumped over hills, kicked up dirt and spun to a stop.Was the behavior we saw in all of the objects scripted or was that justreal-world physics at work, in response to player input?

NB - Actually, I coded all that myself on a plane ride to Madison. In Fortran.

Yes, that is all real world physics responding to both the actions of theplayer, and the evolving state of the world (environment) around the player.Halo is using what is most likely the most comprehensive, global physics modelever used in a computer game. As hard as it was to create such a detailedmodel, now that we have it we'll save a lot of time not having to create dozensof custom scripts for every new effect we want. Making it real is just a betterway to do it. And, believe me, this stuff is real. Whether we’re talkingabout real-world shadows, the kickback on a pistol, or the astronomy of a solarsystem, the math that is going into the Halo engine is truly mind-boggling. AndI swear some of the programmers read this stuff for pleasure … there aretextbooks on some of their desks that I think would make University professorscringe. :-)
 

HN - The last few months have shown increased specialization in the area ofmultiplayer gaming. Games like Half-Life: Team Fortress Classic and Starsiege:Tribes (and their upcoming sequels Team Fortress 2 and Tribes II) focus onteam-based game types rather than traditional deathmatch, and upcoming shootersfrom id Software and Epic will forsake traditional solo gameplay altogether fora variation that mimics multiplayer gaming, using bots and other methods.

Halo makes some pretty big claims, just with the few skimpy previews and"unofficial" trailer that we've seen. Bungie is already considered agod among software developers in the Mac world, and has received serious noticein the PC world for its real-time strategy/tactics games, Myth and Myth II. Infact, quite a few game magazines and online game news/review sites havemeasured the new generation of real-time strategy/tactical games against thestandard that Myth set.

However, Halo will be going up against solid products by well-establishedaction game developers in the PC world now (who themselves are establishingbeachheads in the Mac world). It must be intimidating to some degree, butBungie has a strong reputation for raising the bar, doing so with style andcreativity. How will Halo be different from titles that it will almostinevitably be compared to?

NB - Alright, a long question deserves a long answer.

Well, you just mentioned a huge difference that Halo will be proudlysporting – an enticing and exciting single-player game. You have made avalid point - all of the upcoming action games that Halo might be compared toare multiplayer-only. Creating a really finely tuned single-player game is moreof a challenge than multiplayer, where you don't have to worry so much aboutAI, balancing difficulty with different player skill levels, relating acompelling story, etc. As popular as multiplayer is, there are still many morepeople who play single player, so in that respect, Halo is practicallyguaranteed a larger audience than competing titles.

I have to add that Halo is not just “Bungie’s answer toTribes”, as many people have commented. Halo is going to bring aspects ofboth multiplayer and solo gaming to the table that no other game has ever seenbefore. It is fair to say that both the Sierra series and Halo are going tofocus on teamplay when it comes to the multiplayer environment. However, just afew of the things that will distinguish the game (and, believe me, there aremany others that I can’t yet talk about) are:

  • A truly photorealistic and physically accurate environment
  • Unique aiming systems that will bridge the gap between the “jumping upand down, firing all over the place” action that so many FPS’ end upwith and the difficulties inherent in third person aiming.
  • INTELLIGENT gameplay will be rewarded more than just “twitch”reflexes. The smartest players will excel at Halo; not just the people who canhit the mouse button the fastest. Though, of course, being quick that willcertainly help. ;)
  • Our jeep has 4-wheel suspension! Each wheel is independent! The antennaand driver bounce around as they would in real life! Inverse kinematics havethe driver gripping the steering wheel and stick shift as they would in reallife! I guarantee you would want to buy Halo if it was just a racing game andthere weren’t even any guns. That’s how amazing the vehicles aregoing to be … and how they are going to FEEL. And there will be PLENTY ofvehicles and weapons to hold your attention span. I wouldn’t be surprisedto find players using inferior weapons or vehicles just because they’re somuch fun to use.
  • Music and sound effects that will absolutely crush the competition (atleast we think so).
  • Indoor environments that are as rich and complex and compelling toinvestigate, attack and defend as the beautiful outdoor vistas you’vealready seen one of.
  • That was just ONE environment. Imagine fighting in the snow … in themountains … in a forest. Imagine playing in night. I’m not making anypromises, but you can bet WE’RE imagining it … and maybe doing alittle bit more than imagining.

Honestly, I could go on nearly forever with this list. Each day there arenew ideas being developed and implemented into our code. We have got some ofthe most talented programmers, artists, and designers ever assembled to createa game. I’m sure that every company says that – but I wouldn’tsay that unless I felt we could back it up. I feel honored to be part of a teamthat I feel is creating one of the best – if not THE best – game evercreated for the computer.

And to be frank, going up against those other guys isn't reallyintimidating. In most cases we have more successful titles to our credit thanthey do, with some exceptions (e.g. Id). But, for us, it is not just about howmany units we sell. It’s about how much fun we can bring to you guys– to our consumers and to our fans. Sales figures are great, but when yousee the Marathon Story page still being updated every day, it makes you feelspecial to be part of this company – especially at a time like this.
 

HN - We also understand that you have hired on a new person to handle thenetworking at Bungie. Do you feel up to revealing the name of the newest memberof the Bungie team? (Or is he more of the pale-skin, red and bloodshot eyes,runs from loud noises and direct sunlight type?)

NB - I thinkwe’ll at least give him a few weeks before putting him before the glare ofthe public eye. I can tell you one thing though – he’s certainly gotan appropriate last name.
 

HN - HALO is being reported as a third-person action game. Right now the list ofquality games in that subgenre is somewhat limited. We think part of the reasonis because so many developers haven't been able to create an interface thatallows the player to "become" or identify with the character ANDcontrol him or her well enough to handle adrenaline-pumping furballs with anyproficiency. (Can you think of any other reasons?)

NB - Well, Iwould say aiming has been generally poorly implemented in a lot of third-personshooters. I am very confident in some of the very original and unique methodswe are using to improve upon that. I would also say that immersion is a majorissue when comparing FPS to third-person. I realize some people will have tosee it to believe it, but I am equally confident that we are not only creatingan equally immersive environment in third-person, but an even superior one toany FPS I can think of. Our full intention is for the player to forget he isplaying a video game. I think some people believe they will be staring at themain character’s butt for the whole game. They couldn’t be morewrong.
 

HN - What is it about HALO's gameplay that made the third-person view the bestchoice? Will there be an option to display the game in a first-personperspective, as some fans have hoped? If not, why not?

NB - I knowthere are gamers who claim to only play first-person games. Well, if so,they're going to miss out on a couple of excellent games when Oni and Halo comeout. Halo would lose a lot in a first-person perspective. For just one tinyexample, when an explosion goes off next to the player, it can char theirarmor, but you would miss that in first person. Gestures and posture will beimportant aspects of the game that would lose much of their impact in firstperson. I have always disliked my screen flashing (red usually) when I get hitby someone. I want more immersive visual feedback than that and I believe youcan best get that in third person.

There are certain times in the game when a different perspective is appropriateand we are fully considering and/or implementing these features. There are alot of decisions still to be made about specific perspective situations andoptions, but I can tell you that they will:

  • make sense,
  • be fun, and
  • be immersive.
 

HN - Near the end of the demo, one of the aliens does something I don't think anygame in this genre has shown us before: a character surrendering (Unreal'scowering Nali don't count). Rumor has it that Apple requested the demo be(relatively) non-violent. Was that why this happened or is surrender going tobe a valid part of HALO? Will players be able to surrender to each other ratherthan risk death, and how are you going to motivate them to do this? (Instead ofmaking repetitive suicide blitzes like we see in almost every other action gameout there).

NB - There's really no answer for this now – we arestill developing the feasibility of the idea (and several others like it). Ifwe find that the ability to surrender is cool and contributes to a cooler gameexperience, you can bet that we’ll include it. We enabled it in thedemonstration as part of the story of the demo, not because of any violencerestrictions.
 

HN - The press release for Halo uses terms like "real-world physics"and "persistent objects," as well as focusing on the fact that Halowill not have discrete "levels" as such. That description conjures upimages closer to existing RPGs than action games, and Jason Jones alluded tosuch in his interview at Macworld. How will this be borne out in HALOmultiplayer? What is HALO's player limit expected to be?

NB - Wehave no idea what the player limit will turn out to be. The chief determinantwill not be what is technically possible, but rather what is most fun.

When we refer to "persistent objects", one thing we are referrringto is the debris of battle remaining as active parts of the game world insteadof fading away – similar to the Myth world. If bodies or debris aredisappearing, then there should be a plausible explanation. Nobody likes towatch a carcass just sink into the ground inexplicably. Well, okay, not allthat many people like watching carcasses period. But you get my point.Thisapplies to both the single-player and multiplayer gaming experience.

However, other objects in the world are “persistent” – takefor example an enemy (Covenant) base. Say that you destroy a command andcontrol center that disrupts communications across the Halo. You may see theeffects of such an attack at a later point in the game. You will return to thebase to find it still destroyed, not just magically repaired – unless ofcourse there is a good reason. The world itself will be persistent. Dead thingsstay dead. There aren’t infinite “bad guys”. And when permanentobjects in the world change, it will be for a reason.

However, the word "persistent" should not be interpreted asdescribing the entire multiplayer world (e.g. all games on the ring at the sametime) - it remains to be seen how that will work and what, if any, metagamewill be implemented on top of the multiplayer experience.
 

HN - And what will Halo's network model look like? Peer to peer,facilitated by achat server? One authoritative, universe-defining Halo server for everyone? Ora distributed client/server model like Quake and Unreal?

NB - As faras this goes, it's just too early to speculate. Our network code is still inits relative infancy, and we’ll need to see how things develop to see whatwill give the player the best overall experience.
 

HN - Although the soldiers in the MWNY demo appear to be the same (aside from thedifferent roles they play in the mission) some press outlets have beenreporting Halo will include some kind of player specialization. Is there goingto be system with multiple player classes, and will you be able to customizeyour characters with different equipment (as in Tribes and Mechwarrior games),skin textures and/or colors?

NB - We want to design it so thatplayers will WANT to specialize at certain things – not so that they areforced to. It's easy to drive a jeep, but hard to drive it well. A player whohas become really good at driving will be a hot commodity because of his skillset - it will be a skill the player has developed, not one that came built-into their character. The same thing may go for a sniper or a pilot.

It's a safe assumption that players will be able to customize theircharacters in a variety of ways.
 

HN - Fans of Bungie have come to expect deep and deliciously complex storylinesfrom your games. Between the Cortana letters and other subtle *coughLOGOcough*hints, we're already expecting to see some ties to the Marathon universe. Areany characters from the Marathon series scheduled to make an appearance inHalo? Can you tell us anything else without spoiling the fun?

NB - No problem! I can tell you everything – here’s a complete list ofthe characters in Halo and how they relate to Marathon:

First, there’s the M-

< Transfer Interrupted! >

Oh, well. I tried. You’d be surprised how much of an influence Cortanacontinues to have over our networks.
 

HN - Half-life achieves its "level-less" feel by stutter-loadingsmaller areas as you pass into them. Will HALO use a similar or differentapproach to avoid the gargantuan level-loading sessions we deal with in otheraction games?

NB - As I said earlier, the primary goal with thisgame is to eliminate as much as possible every element that reminds the playerthat they're sitting at a computer, playing a game. Having a load bar doesthat, having text pop up on screen telling them they've finished level X andare starting level Y does that, being unable to move through an area justbecause you've been through it already does that... it's our goal to purge thegame of these.
 

HN - Would it be possible to get a rundown on the Halo developmentteam—names and titles-- so the community knows who they will have to thankfor the universe's ultimate gaming experience? :-)

NB - We'll getaround to doing that further down the road. Right now, I’m pretty surethey all need as much privacy as possible.
 

HN - And then a small question, about the "Halo" logo itself-- was thatcompletely rendered from scratch, or was it based on an existing font? As youcan imagine, a lot of sites will be interested in creating some derivativeart-- as some already have-- and would be hungry for a bit of knowledge on howto stay consistent with Halo's “look”.

NB - It's a uniquedesign, not based on an existing font.

Well, I hope I gave you some fat to chew on for a while. Thanksfor your interest and for your contributions to the Bungie community as awhole. I’m convinced our fans are the best of any game company period.

Nathan Bitner
Producer and Creative Developer – Halo
Bungie Software

Originally posted to HaloNews February 13, 2001. Subsequently moved to The Core and inherited by Rampancy.

Syndicate content