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You guys were at the forefront of online multiplayer on console for shooters, but clearly there's a lot more competition these days. How much of your energy goes towards the idea of staying ahead of that competition?
BJ: I can tell you honestly that it's not something the team really thinks about. Even going back to Combat Evolved, every Bungie game ultimately originates with a cool idea for a game in the universe that the people in the studio at that time can't find on the shelf and really want to play themselves. From there, it's on the Marathon universe; the Myth universe; the Halo universe.
So the Halo universe is really not much different. The studio definitely doesn't have this approach of trying to keep up with the competition or really spending too many cycles thinking about what other people are doing; instead, we try to think about ways to keep innovating and doing our own cool stuff, like Halo 2 basically invented matchmaking and the whole notion of a party system and how people now come to play online.
I think that, to this day, a lot of people tell us that they wish every game would employ a matchmaking system like Halo does. Some other games now obviously do, but certainly it was far from the norm.
I remember, years ago, the day Halo 2 launched and people found out there was no server browser, that was like the end of the world. We fell on that sword pretty hard, and it took about six months for people to finally realize that, actually, this new way is probably better for consoles; no one's looked back since.
I think Bungie as a team is always gonna keep trying to push forward and innovate and add new features -- not to say that we don't play a lot of games ourselves, too! I think we actually find stuff in other games that we generally think are cool or good ideas or, "Hey, I think they're on to something here, but I think we can do it better. What if we did this and this?"
Those kinds of discussions do happen, but there's never a competitive analysis: "Okay. We need to have x, y, and z in our game to be able to compete this holiday." That's just not how Bungie approaches development.
CC: Yeah. Even when Halo 3 came out, within about two or three months, internally a lot of us had a list of, like, "This is all of the things that are broken in this game" or "This is all the stuff that I want to change." Like Brian said, we were already working on ODST and thinking about Reach at that point, so that's where our energy goes to.
Yeah, we play other games, and there's a lot of other awesome multiplayer games out there; but in the end it's stuff like... I think the biggest compliment I can pay to everyone here is that, when Reach ships, we're all gonna be super excited to play the game online because it has all the stuff in it that all of us really want in a multiplayer experience.
You guys are inspired, but how do you sit down and address these things? It's intriguing to me that you don't do things like competitive analysis.
CC: Yeah. Like I was mentioning before about loadouts and armor abilities, there's definitely people in the studio who will be the voice of a feature and will prototype and try it and say, "Hey, that's really awesome" or "Hey, that kinda sucks, but maybe if we tweaked a few things it could be really awesome." There's some features that have grown out of totally crazy ideas that, I think, when the game ships, people are going to be pretty blown away by. And there are other features that we're cutting right now just because we don't have time to finish them -- that's just the nature of the beast.
It is kind of a combination of multiple people; there's not, at least in the world of multiplayer, one person who says, "I want x, y, and z in this game, and you have three years to build that." It's definitely much more collaborative, and the game evolves as all of us continue to work on it. I think that's the way we've sort of always done it. In the end, it usually turns out pretty well overall; we're relatively happy with it and totally don't want to kill each other.
BJ: I can think of one example that might be a little more specific that we can talk about. One of the new big systems in Reach is this whole notion of player investment and player rewards, right? I think most people would probably agree that, in terms of those types of elements being present in a shooter, I don't think anybody really saw that before Modern Warfare, so let's go ahead and just call that what it is. I think that was a really interesting element that they brought to the genre.
I think we, as much as anybody else, really enjoy that aspect of progression while playing a shooter. We also have a lot of people here that play World of Warcraft and lots of other types of games that are more traditionally based around that.
I think with Reach, knowing where the fiction was going and the fact that we have these Spartans that inherently are a little more scrappy and are a little more heavy on the battlefield customization and rag-tag for filling out their armor -- that was a really nice way for us to start to think about, well, we all like progression, too. Everyone likes to collect a reward while they're playing a game.
Those discussions turned into the feature that ultimately made it into Reach, but it's very different from us saying, "Well, Modern Warfare has player rewards and a deep progression system; we need to have that, too." Maybe deep down, subconsciously, some of us were thinking that, but it really was that we like this as gamers.
We think it's very cool to have stuff to do in the game; it gives you more stuff to look forward to, more reasons to play, more ways to reward people who play with different play styles. That's how that feature made it into Reach versus really a competitive analysis where somebody came back and said, "These are the three things that have to be in the game in order for it to compete in the holidays 2010."
CC: Even a little more about that: even at the very beginning of Reach, we had armor that was available in Halo 3; we had a couple pieces that you could get through skulls and through other things. But because the story is about what happened on Reach and what happened to the Spartans on Reach, we knew we were gonna have a ton of different Spartans in the game.
We also made a decision really early on that the Spartan that you play in single-player or in co-op or in multiplayer is always you; it's always this unique Spartan that you create. So we had this idea about all this armor that we wanted people to be able to change to really customize themselves to be their version of a Spartan, and then as we started talking about player progression those things just kind of naturally worked together and turned into the awesome armory that it is today.