Doing A 360
If Bungie's new title is for the Xbox 360, then it is reasonable to assume that the development cycle will be as long or longer as for the previous two games, for a number of reasons. One is the new console's minimum 720p resolution requirement. Both previous Halo games render at 480p maximum when running in real-time on an Xbox at thirty frames per second. It is still unclear whether Halo 2 actually renders in a larger framebuffer when running in emulation on the Xbox 360 or if it is simply performing upscaling of the 480p image.
If what Bungie is working on now is indeed Halo 3, then it is a sequel, developed for on a single platform, presumably using a similar engine; although I would certainly expect that Bungie would make significant changes to the Halo 2 engine to take advantage of the Xbox 360's improved graphics capabilities.
Any release of a Bungie game prior to November 9, 2007, would represent a decrease in the time required to develop Halo 2 and, depending on when you start counting from, perhaps compared to the time required to develop Halo 1 as well.
Even if Halo 1 actually could have shipped for Macs and PCs in 2000, it most certainly would have been a vastly different game. In any case, the shift in development platform from Macs and PCs to the Xbox certainly consumed resources, so it would not be surprising to conclude that the buyout of Bungie by Microsoft had an impact on Halo's release schedule, all other things being equal.
Although the development platform was a better-known quantity, the Making of Halo 2 featurette seems to imply that the story, or at least the game, underwent major revisions late in development, putting the team under pressure to finish the game in mid-to-late 2004.
From a business perspective, there is some logic here. With the Xbox 360 planned to launch in time for the holidays in 2005, the holiday season of 2004 would likely be the last best chance for the original Xbox to put up some good financial numbers. It's possible that had the game been finished a year earlier, perhaps Bungie would then have had enough time to ready an Xbox 360 title, either for launch or for the period shortly after. However, once 2005 arrived without a Bungie release, Halo 2 did not morph into a 360 title as other titles have done (such as Kameo) for whatever reason.
Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back
I will now step where angels fear to tread. To which one might well respond by wondering where the hell I have been stepping up to now.
If the plot were well-defined in advance, if the development platform was stable during the entire process, if Bungie Studios remains a part of Microsoft and doesn't get sold, if Bungie makes only the necessary changes to the Halo 2 engine to support Microsoft's HD resolution requirements and the Xbox 360's new CPU and GPU architectures, it might not be outside the realm of possibility to assume that a new scenario for a new game to run on a modified Halo engine could be produced within twenty-five months.
This is absolutely, purely, crack-pipe
speculation wishful thinking on my part. Positively rampant.
Given that a portion of the criticism, however minor compared to the generally effusive praise that Halo 2 did get, was based on dissonance between what people expected from Halo 2 and what they got, it seems conceivable that Bungie intends to avoid developing any expectations and allow Halo 3 to spring fully formed from their collective foreheads, Athena-style. If they expected development to take nearly a year less than the previous game, and they had already established that a delay of somewhere between six to twelve months was usual after a release (as they did with Halo 1 to Halo 2) then all they would have to do in order to execute this plan would be to keep quiet for an additional twelve months and they'd be home free. Nobody could compare the game to what they'd expect from the media blitz or from the weekly updates or from the E3 demo, because there wouldn't have been any.
Of course, by even making the most ludicrously wild guess about the possible existence of such an idea, I'm in a sense invalidating it, as there is almost certain to be some portion of the community that thinks in a similar way and thus will start to expect Halo 3 to be released on the randomly selected date of December 2, 2006. Woe be unto you.
Reading The Teabag Leaves
Reading various ideas about what Bungie might do in the plot of Halo 3 (should there be one) gave me a desire to try and take a more detailed look at making a a catalog of possibilities that Bungie might explore, with an eye towards making sure the ideas were completely consistent with the previous two games and as consistent as possible with the published novels, as well as considering those ideas believability and dramatic effectiveness.
To do this, I'll look at the information presented in the previous games, see what assumptions they give rise to and what conclusions they suggest, as well as interrogate those conclusions to see where Bungie might be applying some deliberate misdirection. One way of doing so would be to look at certain things suggested by Halo 1 but then contradicted by the later game, or to look at elements in the earlier games that while not important seeming at the time, might be foreshadowings of future elements.
If you only watched Halo 1, and did not play the sequel or read the novelizations, you'd probably be left to conclude that Sergeant Johnson, as well as all the other human and Covenant soliders at Installation 04, were killed (the bonus Legendary cutscene ending notwithstanding). Of course, in Halo 2 this turns out not to be true: Johnson and other humans escaped, as well as the Elite commander later known as the Arbiter.
The evidence for this conclusion, though, is largely circumstantial and based only on the asbsence of evidence to the contrary. Cortana searches the debris of the explosion of Installation 04 and is unable to detect anything. From this she concludes that the Autumn, an "entire Covenant armada" and the Flood were all destroyed, and that she and Master Chief are "all that's left." That conclusion is in error.
I think when examining other portions of the story, this is an important reminder of one logical fallacy: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. When making predictions about what might happen in Halo 3, we must be careful to take into account that our assumptions are not based on evidence as flimsy as this, because Bungie can easily pull the carpet out from underneath us in this case.
Next time, I'll look at what I think might be, or not be, in Halo 3. If there is one.