Bungie: Bidding farewell to Halo and looking to the future

By Stephany Nunneley, Saturday, 31 July 2010 19:03 GMT


Bungie’s Brian Jarrard and Niles Sankey were in London this week showing Halo: Reach to the press, and talking all thing past, present, and future.

From what was said, the studio’s last hurrah with the Halo series hasn’t sunk in yet, and as far as the future is concerned it has no worries partnering up with Activision.

A farewell to arms

Halo: Reach is the last game in the series for Bungie, for now at least. It knows that. We know that. You know that.

However, this bittersweet ending of an era is something community director Brian Jarrard and campaign designer Niles Sankey feel hasn’t yet sunk in properly with the team.

“I’ve spoken with lots of people on the team. It’s something we talk a lot about. Honestly, because we haven’t released the game yet, I don’t think it’s fully sunk in for the majority of people,” Jarrard admitted to Eurogamer.

“People are just happy that the hard work is now behind them. Personally, it’s not going to be until a couple of months out when we start to realize we’re done working in this universe and this space.

“I don’t think there are any regrets, though. I have never heard any sentiment of that. There’s a sense of pride and accomplishment for not only creating such a rich universe to be able to persist for so long, but feeling truly that we’ve built our best Halo game yet.”

“In many ways we don’t feel done at all,” added Sankey. “We still have the best part about game development, which is releasing it to the public. It’s always the most exciting part.”

Why Reach and not Master Chief?

Why tell the story of Reach instead of continuing Master Chief’s story? Bungie felt the story of the Covenant invasion and the Spartan’s war against this enemy was just as important – especially considering how its beginnings impact Master Chief’s story.

Plus, those wanting more Master Chief in their Halo can look forward to the last Spartan appearing in more games from 343 Industries.

“Obviously, the Master Chief story is cool in its own right, but with the Master Chief’s story, he’s the last Spartan,” said Sankey. “We wanted to see what is it like, back in the day before Master Chief, when there was a huge Covenant invasion and you had armies of Spartans and squads of Spartans engaging the huge army and invasion of the Covenant.

“This is a good story in which we get to the high point or epicenter of the full-on battle. On top of that, it does tell part of the story of the Chief. People do like to see how this all came to be, and how this story leads in, and how does Noble team impact the story of the Master Chief?”

“There’s something nice and poetic about ending our 10 years of Halo by going back to where it all began,” added Jarrard. “And by being a self-contained story, too.

“Going back to Reach, the events on that planet and that turning point in the war are beloved by fans. It’s an exciting point in the universe. Everything aligned to make it compelling for our studio.”

Activision as a publishing partner amid the Infinity Ward scandal

Back in the spring, Bungie signed a 10-year deal with Activision, allowing the publisher to bring the firm’s “next big action game universe to market”.

The partnership announcement came on the heels of a very troublesome period for Activision – what started with the firing of Infinity Ward heads Jason West and Frank Zampella and the subsequent lawsuits over bonus monies not being paid to employees is still ongoing.

What ensued was mass mistrust of the company in public sectors, and a general firestorm of verbal and visual lampooning from the gaming community aimed directly at Activision’s “evil” CEO Bobby Kotick.

Despite the overbearing and almost lurid reputation the company has garnered in some quarters recently, Bungie does not seem too concerned. Instead, it claims ignorance of the Infinity Ward situation and is more concerned with Activision’s reputable expertise as a “multiplatform publisher”.

“It doesn’t concern us at all,” said Jarrard. “We’ve spoken quite a bit about this. Certainly it’s not great the situation that it’s in. I don’t know any more about it than anybody else does. We’re game developers. We have a great plan. We’re excited about our future and our new universe that we’re going to bring to life.

“We have an awesome deal with those guys. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s going to matter who helps that game into the hands of gamers, other than we’re happy to know Activision’s got world-class publishing expertise across mutliple platforms and they’re going to be a great partner that’s given us a great relationship and a great deal.

“So, we’re not too worried about it.”

“In the end I’m not worried at all,” added Sankey. “I’m sure the future’s bright. I’ll leave it at that.”

The future’s so bright, Bungie’s bringing shades

While Bungie is not talking about its new “mystery game,” it has been rumored by Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter to be “well along in its development”.

There’s no word yet on what this new action title will be, or what its universe entails, but Patcher expects the studio to release games every two years, with projected sales of 10 million units thanks to Bungie’s new multi-platform status.

“I’m not going to give you any hints to the genre of our future projects. But, Bungie, even going back to Marathon, obviously there are a lot of us that enjoy playing these types of games and putting players up close and personal and being able to tell a story in that kind of way,” said Jarrard.

“We like to pride ourselves on great technology, beautiful art, responsive, tight gameplay and deep integrated social and community systems. All of that in a rich deep universe that people want to spend time in.

“For us, those are hallmarks of our titles and themes we’ll be carrying forward into our future work, for sure.”

“The only thing I’d say is absolutely critical that we do in our games is less genre-based and more an approach to games that says, ‘Hey, how fast can we get people in and playing and having fun?'”, added Sankey.

“Halo, the first one, it prided itself on being a very simple console approach to the FPS. The important thing there we struck on at Bungie was presenting an experience to the player that is easy to get into and easy to have fun.

“That is the critical approach we take to games: easy accessibility to the most amount of immediate fun.

“It’s really an exciting time in the industry. It goes back to our future. It’s such a great time. We feel like we’re still in the early years of videogame development and the really big things you can never expect and never see coming.

“I’m very proud to be at Bungie. I feel we’re going to have a huge impact in the future of games and some of the best, maybe the best stuff is still yet to come. I believe that.”

And on that note… no online fees, ever

It’s been speculated a lot lately that Activision’s set to launch a Call of Duty franchise online sub, despite both Infinity Ward and Treyarch denying it.

Mostly, this rumor started thanks to a WSJ interview with Activision CEO Bobby Kotick, where he said the move would be not only a great opportunity for gamers, but the company as well.

However, when it comes to charging customers to play games online, Bungie thinks DLC covers extra paid content well enough. Otherwise, you risk making gamers feel obligated to continue playing a game they’re paying for instead of doing it out of enjoyment.

“I think DLC’s been adding incremental online revenue for a long time, and it’s become even bigger now, but I don’t know – I feel like as a gamer, from my personal perspective, it’s a fine line, because if you’re into a game like World of Warcraft, you’re heavily invested in it, you’re paying a monthly fee”, Sankey told VGD.

“It certainly starts to impact your desire and ability to play other games, and I do think it’ll start to cannibalize itself in some ways, because people only have so much time and disposable income, and once you start putting money into something you’re going to feel obligated to stick by it and keep doing it, to get that return on the investment, and you’ll be less likely to play other games.

“It’s been my personal experience in some of the games I’ve played with. It’s an interesting dilemma, because everybody wants to get a piece of the pie, and it can only be carved up in so many ways.

“It’s really up to consumers right now. It’s a pretty incredible time. If people try it and consumers buy into it, then suddenly that’s going to become the thing that everybody starts to do.”

Halo: Reach releases on September 14 worldwide for Xbox 360 in three different options, and you can catch the latest campaign trailer for it here.

Eurogamer has new screens you should check out as well.

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