So sure, Halo 3 may have debuted with a splash, and Bungie become an independent entity, but many of the details of the production process behind the game are still unexplored.
Therefore, Gamasutra sat down with Bungie's head of production Jonty Barnes (later joined by sound director Jay Weinland) at the recent Tokyo Game Show to quiz him on some of the detailed specifics of how Halo 3 got made, as well as wider questions on topics such as game ratings and engine licensing.
The Engine Licensing Question
Firstly, Halo 3's engine is key to its success - do you foresee a time when you'll be licensing this version of the engine out?
Jonty Barnes: I don't really see that at the forefront of our plans. We're not a "tools" company, and it takes a lot of commitment to make tools, make them available to everybody else, and support them. Bungie is a creative-led company, and for us, what we're really driving and striving to do is just make the best game that we can for people.
I think if we were going to throw a lot of our expertise into making the Halo engine something that other people could use, it would distract us from doing what we enjoy, which is creating new games.
Engines are a highly monetized section of the games industry right now, and a lot of people are making a lot of money on it. It would be easy to say that you were going to do that, because, "Hey! This is the engine that made Halo 3!"
JB: I can't speak for the whole studio, but I imagine that if we posed that, there would be a lot of people that would be, like, 'Wow, I really want to create new games.' I mean, a lot about Halo, and Halo 3, is empowering our community to take the world forward.
I don't know if you're familiar with the Forge [in Halo 3], where you can manipulate the environment and create new gaming experiences, but that's what we're more interested in: empowering the community, as opposed to empowering other developers.
So you do indeed have other projects using the Halo 3 engine, then?
JB: One of the things that we've talked about is the Peter Jackson collaborations, and very much we will be building up on this technology for Peter Jackson. We've also got some other innovations, and we're learning a lot from that collaboration, but we're not really ready to talk about it right now.
Do the original scenario writers feel at all imposed-upon by Peter Jackson coming in?
JB: No, they're working very closely together with Peter Jackson! Joe Staten, who is a writer through all the Halo games, was seeing Peter Jackson just recently, and going over some of the things that they've got, so it's a real collaboration. We're super excited by it, and it seems to be working really well at the moment. I don't think anybody feels "threatened," I think everybody has a great deal of respect for each other.
We wouldn't work with partners that we don't respect, and we have a great deal of respect for Peter Jackson. It's nice that we're in that sort of position -- why wouldn't you want to work with somebody so experienced as Peter?
Halo 3's Performance, Localization
So how much processing power does the game use - do you feel like you got optimum performance out of the hardware?
JB: Oh, we totally drive the Xbox 360. I mean, we spend a lot of time trying to increase the performance, to get the most out of it. Our engine is built so that you can get as much gameplay as possible, as well as graphical...
Would you say this is the limit, then? Or is there more that you can do once you learn to utilize more of the processors?
JB: Yeah, I mean, we do some clever things, right -- like, if there's split screen, we don't draw as much. It's not as graphically pleasing in split screen as it is for single player. We do some other clever things when there are multiple players, as well -- but our designers will not compromise your experience.
Let's be perfectly clear on that point: We wanted to make sure that Halo 3 was the gameplay experience that we wanted it to be. So, we were uncompromising in that fashion.
How about space constraints for data?
JB: I'll tell you what: We've got ten languages, thirty-five thousand lines of dialogue, and that's a lot to manage.... We fill up the disc. There was a time that we were concerned that we weren't going to fit on one disc... actually, Microsoft Game Studios helped us out with some of the compression.
Jay Weinland (Bungie head of sound): We have ten spoken languages - English, French, German, Italian, Spanish -- that is, Iberian Spanish, European Spanish -- Mexican Spanish for the South America region, Brazilian, Portuguese, and Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. There are thirty-five thousand spoken lines of dialogue, in each language, three-hundred and fifty thousand lines total. That's insane.
That's a lot! How did you do quality control on all of those languages? How many do you speak?
JW: Well I don't have to do anything but English, but for the most part we had a tester for every language who resided at Bungie while we were working.
We had a dedicated localization team in Ireland, that handles all of the logistics of recording in each country -- they did all the casting, and all the recording, and all the editing, and so on. So, it's my job that I pass them off a very complete package, so they understand exactly what needs to be done. Because it's a very confusing system.
JB: And we worked with those guys a lot. They really know their Halo; we'd let them into the studio -- because we don't let builds out of the studio, right -- so testers would get to know the game fully, so they appreciate what is meant to be communicated. .
Did you have any interesting problems come up from the testers, that was kinda funny?
JW: I don't think we did have anything that was particularly...
JB: There was something that was... offensive, in one of the early translations in French, that I heard about. But we just took it out.
On ESRB Ratings For Halo 3
JW: We're also very careful with our script, because we feel that even though our game is rated M, we feel that it's a lot cleaner than a lot of games. There's not a lot of blood, you're not trying to slit people's throats, and we keep our language very clean. We don't allow a lot of swearing...
It's actually a bit funny that it's M, because, you know... M ratings have such a large range right now, especially across games and films.
JB: I think we're going to have a convergence of ratings over the long term, so people will be held accountable for the same things. A lot of that, I think, came from the Flood.
JW: Yeah, it probably is, because of the zombie, kinda scary undead thing; that's what a lot of that was.
JB: You know, computer games are an emerging thing to a lot of people in the mainstream, so there are eyes on us, in terms of this. There is always a fear of the unknown, and I think some of the older generations who haven't been brought up with this form of entertainment are just cautious.