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Joystiq interviews Bungie's Frank O'Connor

While checking out the Halo 3 multiplayer beta in New York tonight, we managed to nab Bungie's Frank O'Connor for a little one-on-one to get answers to some of those Halo-related questions that have been floating around for too long. Questions like, what's going on with the movie, how are those episodic installments coming along, and could Miyamoto really have made Halo?

Could you let us know who you are and what you do at Bungie?

My name is Frank O'Connor. I'm the writing lead at Bungie and that basically means that I lead a small writing department that does game script, combat dialog, some of the Marvel graphic novel, the comic book series, the books, the marketing, whatever. Anything that involves writing.

You, of course, also do Bungie's Friday updates,

I do so I'm sort of the de facto face of Bungie because everyone else is too busy and important.

It's humbling, I'm certain.

So this is the Halo 3 multiplayer beta. In terms of features, we've been talking to a lot of people here, and the general consensus seems to be something along the lines of "it's Halo 2 but it's high-def, it's next-gen, it's got some new levels ..." Do you think that's going to lead to disappointment?

I think what would lead to disappointment would be if Halo 3 was a third-person platform game. Multiplayer is a sport, right? It has set rules. It has a set field. If you change that too much, you wreck it. You don't want to put sumo wrestlers in a football game, and you don't want to change the basic principles of Halo multiplayer gameplay too much. So I'd be surprised if anyone was truly disappointed that it had a lot in common with Halo 1 and 2, but I wouldn't be shocked. Mildly surprised.

What change do you think is going to elicit the most complaints from the fans?

The fans on the internet are going to bitch about everything (laughs), but I think the one that people are going to bitch about most before they try it will be equipment. They'll assume it causes loss of balance, problems in the game, but the fact is that it's sort of self-balancing. You throw down a shield for example and of course you're invulnerable but you can't shoot out either. So it's not like some super powerful weapon that destroys everything. The same would apply to a trip mine. You throw a trip mine down in front of a Warthog, if you do it too late, everyone's gonna die. You. Them. Everyone. People get really fixated on balance issues. Sometimes they'll mistake balance for preference and they'll say, "The weapon I like the best is the most balanced." And, sure, subjectively it is.

But that's also a part of the multiplayer beta, I imagine. To work on those balancing issues.

Well, I'll be honest. We're not really ... we're looking for weapon feedback of course, but a lot of it's automated. We can see who killed who with what and when and where. I think one of the things we're gonna take out of it is, Where do we put these weapons? Not necessarily the weapon doesn't work, or the weapon sucks. So there's a couple things in here that are overpowered, there's a couple things that are underpowered, and that balancing is an ongoing issue. But we know what those issues are and we're not necessarily gonna balance weapons based on written feedback, for example, but we'll see where literally and objectively we're failing. If you take opinion, you tend to get negative opinion from the vocal minority. We can look at that, because sometimes it's good opinion, and with quality analysis we will look at that, but mostly we're gonna be taking automated data about networking and matchmaking and so on.

What about the Spartan laser. It seems to be particularly destructive to vehicles. Is that something you'll be monitoring?

Uh, no. Actually, if you play with it yourself, you'll find that the Spartan laser -- while incredibly destructive with vehicles -- is really hard to use. Five seconds to charge it is a lifetime in Halo. Certainly in Halo 2 and Halo 3, five seconds is long enough for someone with a BR charging you to kill you before you get your shot off. It's super-destructive and the reason for the targeting beam is to give people a little warning before they go rushing in.

So that's also a balance issue. if you choose to use it, you have to wait.


How about the flamethrower?

Is there a flamethrower in here?

That was something that you guys discussed for Halo 1 and got pulled and was discussed for Halo 2 and got pulled, is it going to make it into Halo 3?

Will it make it into Halo 3? Only time will tell. You'll know in the fall.

I should probably note that he has a sinister grin on his face. What other ideas, left over from Halo 2, made it into Halo 3? There's obviously the Earth levels that we saw sneaks of before Halo 2 came out, that never made it, so we imagine those made it. Any other things from Halo 2 that made it into Halo 3?

You're literally not going to see a single asset from Halo 2 in Halo 3. Everything is being re-imagined or redone. Certainly there's some elements to the plot that are going to continue directly from Halo 2, so you'll see some familiar locations but you're not going to see anything that was literally dropped out of Halo 2 and dumped into Halo 3. We don't work like that and that's not the way this was set up.

How about an online co-op mode in Campaign?

Well, this is a multiplayer event and we're not talking about campaign at all, but we definitely understand that people love co-op, it's one of the mainstays of Halo play, period. And we also understand that times have changed and people have the internet and whatnot so we understand all this and as usual we'll do our best to make everyone happy.

How about the other projects you guys are working on, like the Peter Jackson project. Is Bungie still meeting with Peter?

I actually sit next to the video conferencing room where we talk to WETA all the time. And it's quite creepy because we have digital sound on our video conference so it's really creepy to hear Peter Jackson, apparently, in the next room in surround sound. Even though I'm used to it now, I sometimes stick my head up to make sure he's not physically there. With Gollum. But works progressing on that at a nice pace and they're just a joy to work with.

And that game's going to be episodic, right?

Uh, it. It's going to be a unique -- I won't call it an experiment because it's likely to be a success -- but it's going to be a unique way to enjoy the entertainment.

All right. Nice and vague. Well put!

I know (laughs).

How about the movie? What's happening there? I imagine that in your position that you're also responsible for the writing on that.

Well, we certainly work with them on the story bible, but they have Hollywood script writers. They're not just gonna let me sit and write a movie. But the movie's on hiatus right now. They need to sort out the finances, the politics of it. It's really common in the movie industry for would-be competitors to cooperate on products, and you add a studio and a big corporation like Microsoft in the mix and it's really complicated. I personally wish that we kept up the momentum with the movie so that I could see it next year. That's not going to happen. But technically the movie is still a work in progress that will happen one day so we're just waiting until everything's right and all our ducks are in a row to make it happen properly.

Are Microsoft, and Peter Jackson as producer, still wedded to Neil Blomkamp as director? That was one of the problems that the financiers had.

That was one of the rumors. It's a lot more complicated than that. But Neil Blomkamp is still working really closely with Peter Jackson. Honestly, I'd be really curious to see what Neil Blomkamp -- if you've seen any of his shorts -- what he could do with the physicality of the Master Chief. Seeing the Master Chief in video games is one thing; he's running around with guns and rocket launchers. I'd like to see him taking out some trucks bare-handed, clambering across rooftops, leaping from building to building, in a way that you can only really do in a movie. You can take such artistic liberties with the gameplay elements, that I think Neil Blomkamp would be able to do something fantastic but I literally don't know if he would be the director who made the movie eventually. I have no idea.

He's certainly an interesting choice, a unique choice.

As a director, he certainly speaks to the militaristic, realistic sort of anachronstic almost, human element that we have in the game. If you look at Halo, you'll see that human technology in the 26th century is barely changed from the 21st. I think he'd be able to do some really interesting things with atmosphere as well as with action.

Let's jump back to the beta quickly, will there be any statistics from the beta ported over to the retail release?

No, you will not keep your ranks or levels. They're definitely a work in progress, so your rank would be incorrect anyway in the real retail game, but we also want to make a level playing field when you start. I mean, that's really important for everyone's experience because not everyone can get in the beta so it would be really unfair to give people a head start like that.

So after these three weeks of sleepless nights, everyone will have to start from scratch again?

Just for their levels. They'll certainly be able to utilize all the skills they've learned.

Unless you do a mind wipe.

(laughs) We don't have that pen.

Not yet at least. How's Luke Smith been working out?

As far as I'm aware, he hasn't done shit, but that's because he arrived on Tuesday and I left on Wednesday morning for New York.

Lazy bugger.

Yeah, he's so lazy! No, he's already put up a couple stories and hopefully he's going to work out great. He's a great guy and we're glad to have him aboard.

His job seems to dovetail with yours a little bit in terms of being an outward face of Bungie.

Well, Luke is really going to be concentrating on the website, in terms of providing good, interesting, readable content. I'm so swamped that we're struggling just to keep content up on the website. What Luke's going to bring to it is imagination, and style that we just don't have time to apply to the site as is, so it's a godsend for me and the studio I think. And I think more importantly, as Luke discovered when he started on Tuesday, there's going to be some things in the final game that we haven't even spoken about that will give them some incredibly valuable tools for content on the website that goes above and beyond the typical editorial content.

One final question: last week, Shigeru Miyamoto said in an interview with Geoff Keighley in Entertainment Weekly that he could make Halo.

Yeah, well. I just want to go on the record and say that Bungie is hard at work on a side-scrolling platform game featuring some plumbers -- I'm not going to say what their ethnicity is, it's none of anyone's business -- but we took that as a gauntlet, a sort of glove slap, and we're going to respond in 2D scrolling style. That's all I'm saying.

Alright, we'll leave it at that. Thanks, Frank.

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