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Please Remain Calm: How Bungie Met The Challenges Of Halo 3: ODST
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Please Remain Calm: How Bungie Met The Challenges Of Halo 3: ODST

September 22, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

How did you do that? How did you adapt?

CC: Well, we really spent a lot of time trying to come up with a strategy for how we could have multiple artists essentially working on the same scenario, which is something we hadn't done before. We were looking for efficiencies that way, and we were looking for how we could share parts of this city among different scenarios.

There were definitely a lot of technical challenges to that, and there were a lot of personnel challenges to that. It's not a way that we had operated before, where you might have one environment artist that's passing on geometry to a different environment artist in a different 3D Max file, and having to import and export those types of things.

There were a lot of technical problems that we could have run into there, but our strategy was that we wanted to build some modularity into it, so we could get some reuse out of some of the assets we were making. It was a big technical challenge, and it took a lot of effort for how we were going to make this non-linear space work with an engine that was meant to handle linear spaces.

...Halo 3 ODST was based on the Halo 3 engine -- which is why we left Halo 3 in the title -- but we did have to make modifications. There were changes needed to support the difference in gameplay mechanics for playing as an ODST rather than a Spartan, adding new features such as the VISR, which enhances nighttime vision and enemy acquisition, and all of the underlying code that supports Firefight [mode].

Another area we had to focus on was developing new AI systems that would support the open non-linear environment of New Mombasa. Typically in a Halo mission we always knew which direction the player would be coming from and we had AI that worked very well in that situation.

But with the open environment, we had to develop ways that the covenant could intelligently patrol the city, and react intelligently no matter where they were attacked or from what direction.

Halo 3: ODST  is different from other Halo games in a few ways. One is the inclusion of "Sadie's Story" [a sub-story about a civilian in ODST's city of New Mombasa], which goes beyond the typical warrior's tale. Does this mark a change going forward for storytelling in Halo games?

CC: There were a couple of things that made that happen. For Halo 2, we worked with these guys -- 42 Entertainment -- to do the "i love bees" marketing campaign, which was like a real-world [alternate reality game]. We continued to have close contact with some of those guys. Some of them left 42, and ended up starting their own company called Fourth Wall Studios.

Since we were on a really tight development schedule, we knew that we would need some help in telling a really interesting story. We had the idea that we wanted to try to do something like the "i love bees" type of story, but instead of making it a real-world sort of thing, we wanted to try and create that experience within the game itself. We thought that [Fourth Wall] could help us with the story.

We really wanted to get more down to the street level for what we were telling as a story in the Halo universe. We thought it would be super-interesting to explore the idea of what happened to the people who were living in New Mombasa, so this was a fun, creative new way for us to leverage some of the things that we have done in the past with Halo -- like with the terminals in Halo 3 -- and also create the experience like the "i love bees" guys did with Halo 2.

Moving forward with Halo Reach coming out, will you continue this evolution of storytelling within the Halo universe?

CC: It's something I can't really talk about for Reach. We're not really talking about any details for what's going on there, so I can't really comment on that.

Sure, but regarding nothing specific, you're obviously going to be taking some lessons you learn here and move them forward.

CC: Yeah. We're always looking for new and creative ways we can tell a story. That was one of the appeals to doing ODST, that it was an opportunity to tell stories in some new and interesting ways. It was a great way for us to change up the timeline and change up who the main characters were, and using that as a springboard to try some new ideas.

There's something else in ODST that's different from previous Halo games -- the Firefight mode. It's kind of Horde-type gameplay. What was the inspiration behind that?

CC: It's something we had talked about doing before, so it wasn't a brand new idea. I would say that technically, in how we wanted to pull it off, that the seeds of that are in Halo 3's campaign. You can turn on campaign scoring, and play through the campaign experience in a way that you could compete, play as a team, and earn points.

That's where the seeds of that idea technically came from. We always knew that would be a cool gameplay mode. It's just not something we thought we had the bandwidth or the scope to pull off. This was a good opportunity to try some of those other things we hadn't had the chance to do before.

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