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 â€“ 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 CiarÃ¡n, 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.