Interview with Frank O'Connor
Posted by Sketch at 4/25/2003 4:45 AM PDT

Interview with Frank O'Connor

By SketchFactor
Friday, April 25th, 2003, 11:45 AM

New Halo 2 information is coming... Next month's issue of OXM features an exclusive look at the game and what you can expect to see at this year's E3 show. From the awesome cover created by our own Mehve to the new tidbits of info, the anticipation level is extremely high.

We invited Mike Salmon, Editor in Chief, and Frank O'Connor, Executive Editor, to visit our humble home to see first hand what we've been up to. After some top secret debriefings and a little Halo 2 multiplayer (drool) we sent them away to work their magic.

Once the dust settled from an unfortunate encounter with our intoxicated and belligerent Webmaster, I sat down with Frank to get some insight into their visit.

Hey Frank, how's it goin!? Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what it is you do?

I’m the Executive Editor of the Official Xbox Magazine, which means I do whatever I’m told by a cabal of evil unmatched in modern media. Mostly writing, assigning and editing articles. I’m in charge of news and features, but I get to do lots of other things to, as you’ll hear more about later.

Do you guys really sit around and play games all day? Describe a typical day at the office for us.

We only play games (during the day) if we’re writing about them, or taking screenshots. A typical day involves me rolling in here around 8:30, finding a coffee, trawling the news websites and answering email. Then I start writing and editing and taking screenshots and on a typical day, a software company will show up and show us a new game.

The office is tiny, so there’s a lot of noise and huddle and interaction with the other staff.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the job?

Well my favorite parts are the parts anyone would love: Traveling, seeing new games, meeting strange and fragrant new people, making fun of them the moment they leave, and forwarding pictures of terrible things from the internet. Also, on quiet days, I like to make up particularly heart-wrenching emails about orphans with consumption.

I'm sure getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse at some of gaming's hottest titles is a blast. What is the most memorable game feature you've worked on? On the contrary, what game have you had to write about that you just couldn't stand?

Halo 2 is definitely up there. In large part because I was so looking forward to it. Many, many years ago however, I was invited to see Super Metroid on the SNES in Japan, and the game was demoed to me by Shigeru Miyamoto and Gumpei Yokoi! And it hadn’t even been announced. I nearly soiled myself, as you can imagine. Plus, I was younger and easier to impress.

I was lean and taut back then, like a tiger. Or maybe a young Tom Jones. The worst game? Wow. There have been so many. Games are like movies you know, MOST of them are mediocre, average or bad. But seeing a game early means you have to appreciate that it’s not finished, and that it could get better. Maybe the worst games to see are just genres that you could care less about. For me, Strategy (not realtime) and “Bemani” or Dance Dance Revolution type games are high on my shit list.

Working for a game magazine seems like a really cool job. What advice would you give to any aspiring game writers out there?

Get a college degree in something useful, like English LANGUAGE (not lit) or Journalism. That said, there are plenty of people in the industry with totally useless degrees. But get one anyway, not only will it help you get a job, but you’ll get paid more to start. For our line of work, a vast, working knowledge of games is a must. Oh and most people can’t write. Just like most people can’t draw. Luckily, a crack-team of editors will fix your shizzle, for nizzle.

There's a lot more that goes into a game magazine feature than just the words. Can you give us an idea of how everything comes together and the roles that your teammates play?

Halo 2 is a convenient example. There’s a lot of political drama before fingers ever hit keyboards. We call, we email, we beg and we plead. Nothing is handed to OXM on a platter. In fact, Microsoft is very careful about which magazine gets which exclusive. They argue internally about this stuff too.

Once the feature deal is secured, we start arguing about assets. “We need a zillion screenshots and access to everyone on the team,” is usually our first request. That is filtered to Bungie as, “They want a polaroid of Jones and some pizza when they get here.”

Then there’s a bunch of arguing and more deal-making to get sausage on the pizza. Meanwhile a whole other drama – the cover illustration - is being played out between Bungie and our art director. A magazine cover is a pretty thing, but hamstrung by things like logos and barcodes and disc info. We had to work with Bungie to get an illustration that worked for both of us.

Then we (in this case, me and Mike Salmon, but Rees, Reyes and McCaffrey all pitch in) show up. They show us AMAZING SECRET AWESOMENESS THAT WE CAN NEVER WRITE ABOUT and the stuff we did write about. Then they kicked us out onto the rain-slicked streets of Seattle and we went back to our hotel and started writing furiously. Because of the E3 deadlines and timelines, we only had a couple of days to get this feature from conception to production. But it was all worthwhile. And to be honest, pretty typical.

One thing I would like our readers to know is that OXM is tiny. Seriously, some people think we have a staff of thousands and all we do is fly around the world eating foie gras and washing our butts with champagne. There are four writers, two art staff and a disc guy. We work super hard. Except me. I’ve fixed it so I can loaf around taking credit for other people’s work, and basically flirting with PR chicks by Instant Messenger.

You were one of the first journalists in the world to get into Bungie Studios for an exclusive look at Halo 2 and the cool stuff being planned for E3. What was that like? Can you share the highlights of your visit with us?

The visit was stressful for everyone. The fact that I have an appalling case of Tourette’s Syndrome By Proxy probably made it harder. As I unleashed yet another stream of random profanity and nonsequeter obscenities, the Bungie guys just sat there smiling and nodding.

Seeing the game though. That was the highlight.

Can you give us a hint about some of the cool stuff you've put together for your article?

It’s really the story of how Bungie made this amazing E3 demo, without wasting a single resource. Almost everything you see at the show and in the feature, will make it either intact or in some form to the final game. So we look at new game features, new gameplay mechanics, we check out new aliens and vehicles and the thing I’m personally most excited about – environments.

Most of the detail and flavor in the piece comes from talking to the guys who’re making the game. Sound guys, graphics guys, gameplay guys, programmers. They are all so passionate about making this more than a sequel. I say that a lot, because everyone working on a sequel says that. And then it’s the same game with different textures. I can guarantee you in the case of Halo 2 that simply isn’t true. It’s a quantum leap.

Since practically none of our readers have ever had a chance to visit the studio, was there anything you saw or learned about Bungie that the average fan might not be aware of?

They love their fans. Anyone who’s been to is aware of that, but until you see the office space, it’s hard to understand how much. They have as much office space devoted to community as we have to our entire editorial staff at OXM. Seriously. Also, they’re expanding into a bigger office space, so maybe they’re working on a new game...

Now that you've had a small taste of Halo 2 I'm sure the wait for the final release will be more painful than ever. What advice would you give to our fans to pass the time between now and then?

Play more Halo. Buy the Mac version when it comes out(I’m sure the PC version will be nice too) and get used to playing online this year. Don’t get too used to the mouse. I even suggest getting one of those USB adapters so you can play using an Xbox controller to keep it pure.

Of all the games you've had a chance to preview, how would yourate Halo 2 as far as the anticipation and expectations that surround it? What about Halo 2 are you most excited about?

It’s an 11. Out of 10, natch. People are breathlessly waiting for it. Once the PC and Mac version of the first game hit, you can expect a huge migration to the Xbox just for Halo 2. The aspect I’m most excited about is in the feature, and I’m not going to spoil the surprise, but it’s hardly a shocker to reveal that new graphics are exponentially better.

Do you guys still play Halo around the OXM offices? If so, do you have a favorite map or gametype?

Yes. Every single day. 5:30pm, Blood Gulch, CTF, all vehicles on, normal weapons, five flags, flags reset. It’s a work of art. It NEVER gets old. Oh and by the way, we CRUSH Microsoft at that game type every time we play ‘em. Not Bungie, Microsoft, to clarify. They park all their shit in their own base so we can’t get in. It’s sad really. Then we pick them slowly apart until they lose it...

Just between us, who's the best Halo player around the OXM offices?

Everyone has his or her strengths. Fran is Ghost-Face-Killa. When you hear that Ghost, it’s already too late. Mike Salmon is a good all-rounder, New Guy Ryan is getting really good and even our art staff are kind of bitchin’. I’m very creative and will get my tank on the roof of your base for laffs, but hands down, the best player is Dave Rees. He can kill you from across the map with two pistol shots. I swear to god he’s cheating. Also he has this really, really irritating way of standing on ridges where he’s protected from splash damage.

Everyone hates him. His one weakness is his bad temper. If, god forbid, somebody actually kills him, he throws down his controller in a short-lived fit of pique. Dan Egger used to rock, but he came to visit recently and had either lost it completely, or was playing some kind of antique Halo stylee that doesn’t cut it in the modern world.

Anything else you'd like to share with the Bungie Fan Community?

Just that they should all pick up the next issue. It’s got some game in it called Halo 2. Should go on sale the week of E3 (some subscribers might even get it early!) and you should know that Bungie is taking good care of you. Set your faces to “stunned.”

Thanks for your time Frank! We'll be looking forward to checking out next month's issue of OXM when it hits the stands. Also, next time I promise we'll keep the Webmaster locked up. =)

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