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It's impossible to get a completely comprehensive look at a developer with just two interviews, but with this set of two interview sessions conducted earlier this year, Gamasutra hopes to present a more rounded look at Seattle-based Bungie, the studio behind one of the most successful franchises in history - Halo.
To begin with, Gamasutra presents the full version of a discussion with environment artist Mike Zak and community and PR director Brian Jarrard, originally excerpted in Game Developer magazine. It touches on everything from the interplay between art and engineering to the mood at Bungie following its October 2007 emancipation from Microsoft.
This is followed by a discussion with Chris Butcher, an engineering lead at Bungie, who was responsible for implementing the innovative and robust online features in Halo 3.
This is a pretty exciting time at Bungie, I'd imagine. Not only did you just ship one of the best-selling games of 2007, but you've claimed independence at the same time.
Mike Zak: Yes. It's a great time to be at Bungie.
Halo has always stood out from a lot of first-person shooters through its naturalistic environments, and even the city or urban environments have that certain something... distinct. If you look at any screenshot from Halo, even if the HUD weren't up, you'd know it was from Halo.
MZ: Awesome. Thank you for noticing.
Hey, it's not brown.
Bungie/Microsoft's Halo: Combat Evolved
MZ: (laughter) That's really important to us on the art staff. There's a precedent set by Halo 1, and there's a lot of gritty, realistic games out there that do that really well, but for us, we're more inspired by slightly more imaginative spaces and more awe-inspiring vistas and ideas.
Personally, it's a dream franchise to work on in environment, because I get pretty tired of bricks and rusty pipes. Not that I don't admire a lot of games that have really impressive bricks and rusty pipes, but you get the opportunity to let your imagination go with Halo environments, and really build spaces there. You might want to hang out there, to not necessarily fight in, but to have a picnic or go for a hike.
Do you think that serves an important gameplay function, too? The way you build your environments -- how does that affect and enhance the gameplay?
MZ: I think they give better choices. I wouldn't know if those inform the gameplay as much as the tone, so it's not in a direct way. It depends on how you want to define gameplay, but if you want to talk about gameplay as the specific mechanics of character interaction and the fighting mechanics.
Probably the most direct way that the aesthetics and the level environments match up would be, for example, the Forerunner architecture style really lends itself to building playgrounds that are architectural and structural, but are inscrutable enough in function so that you can really go to town with things that might be a little too gamey.
For example, in a contemporary shooter where you're going through bombed-out streets. You can't have platforms and ramps and weird conduits the way that we can. In some ways, the theme really supports that, but at the end of the day, we can do a lot of that with rocks and terrain and whatnot. You can have the earth serve the same mechanical functions.