The Bungie Story Bible is a collection of ideas, information and facts about the universe where Halo takes place. Its contents include all kinds of things we'll never talk about, but a lot of stuff that we will, as evidenced by the hyper-detailed weapon and vehicle breakdowns we've been slowly revealing. Now, someone has to figure out the velocity of a round ejecting out of a gas-powered rifle and at Bungie, that someone is writer Robt McLees. In addition to providing Bungie.net readers with a bunch of Covenant weapon sheets (links below), Robt took some time to answer a few questions about what it takes to maintain the story bible.
Q: How’d you get started at Bungie Studios?
A: I was working (well freelancing which is almost
like working) as an illustrator in the “paper and pencil” game industry and just happened to be doing a job at a company where a guy who went to highschool with a friend of one of the programmers at Bungie was employed. He mentioned to me that he had just interviewed for a position at a computer game company, but felt that perhaps my particular skill set was closer to what they were looking for than his own. Yeah. He is that kind of friend, and I don’t know that I’ve ever properly thanked him. Thank you, Julian.
So, then he helped me line up an interview and I got hired.
Q: You transitioned from Art into Writing, was that a tough transition or an easy one?Q: What exactly is the Halo Story Bible?
A: I think that the transition was pretty easy—but then again I’ve always done some amount of writing (or editing) as part of my job here at Bungie. Even at the very beginning. There were so few of us back then that you couldn’t help but wear multiple hats—for better or worse. I would like to think that Jason believes that letting me write alongside my myriad other resposibilities was one of his better decisions.
A: For lack of a more romanticized description it is the ponderous collection of lies, damned lies, and half-truths from which the entire Halo Universe is constructed. It is the tome which informs core fiction decisions (and is in turn expanded by them). It is that indespensible cheat sheet that helps us keep all the stories we’ve told straight in our collective heads. Admittedly we have not always been the best at this (but I think we’ve been getting better).
Q: What’s the point of such a document? It’s not actually a Bible; Joe Staten calls it "a repository for good ideas," so what is it?
A: Actually it’s both. There are plenty of good ideas and hooks and what not in there, but it is also used to educate our partners about specific aspects of the Halo Universe. Whether it is the naming convention of a particular alien species (or of a certain UNSC shipyard), the capabilities of any given weapon or vehicle (in the game or in the fiction, as these things are not always the same), or the motivations of each group or individual (well, the list of motivations for individual characters isn’t quite exhuastive—beyond basic survival I couldn’t say what Gagaw’s motivation was).
Q: It’s a closely guarded vault of secrets, the Halo Story Bible, what kind of upkeep does it require?
A: Daily. As I’m sure you can imagine, it requires a lot of reading and rereading, research, conversing with resident experts, and raw creative genius (haw haw). In fact, I had just finished putting every character mentioned by name (entry includes name, brief description and first appearance) in every official Halo product the very week before Nylund turned in his first draft for Ghosts of Onyx.
But yeah—existing entries are expanded and sometimes corrected, and new entries are added on a daily basis. Sometimes because someone has a good idea, sometimes because I get a request for information that doesn’t currently reside in the Bible—and then I either have to make something up or figure out where that information lives, and sometimes somebody notices something “crazy”—then we must decide whether it is “good crazy” or “bad crazy”.
Good crazy = space pirates living in asteroids.
Bad crazy = 110mm rotary cannons in fighter/bombers.
Q:How do you calculate the minutiae of how the weapons and vehicles in the Halo universe would function in real life, in the 26th century?
A: A lot of research. Most of the time that research takes place “in engine” using as many of our debugging and physics tools as I can figure out or convince somebody to show me how to use properly. Some of the research I do wind up doing in the 21st century, though.
The Warthog is a perfect example of this. I can go into max and get the dimensions to a stupid level of accuracy. I can jump in engine and with a little work figure out its top speed—and I’m certain that with a bit more effort and some help from one of the code-monkeys I could put together a power graph and have accurate hp/torque ratings. There are some specifications that are always gonna come from the magical nowhere though—some things that are gonna be more instinct than science.
Q: There’s a load of backstory that goes into each weapon, how are you coming up with this stuff? There’s a cast of characters beneath the surface of “hey, it’s the plasma pistol page.”
A: This is where working with dozens upon dozens of super-talented, super-creative people with super-diverse interests and super-different backgrounds comes in super-handy. I have certainly come up with a fair amount of “stuff” for the Bible, but this is not the work of any single person. If I remember having a conversation with someone at some point in the distant past about something that is relevant to the section of the Bible I am currently working on, it’s a fair bet that I’m going to grab that person and pick their brains on the subject.
I may be the architect of the Flood, but Chris Butcher, Jamie Griesmer, and Tyson Green have each left an indelible mark on its fictional component.
Q: Just the other day Frank Capezzuto came up to the Writer’s pod and asked what year the Docks that appear in a certain level of the game were created, explain exactly how you go about answering a question like that.
A: Yeah, that sort’a came out of left field—but Frank really likes to build history into whatever he’s working on.
In this instance I went straight to the Bible and looked at the timeline. Knowing that the political climate in this particular region was pretty volatile I looked for some event that would predicate a level of political stability on a global scale and then pick a date within about 15 years of said event that is aesthetically pleasing. Yeah, you heard me correctly—aesthetically pleasing. When given a task as seemingly arbitrary as establishing the construction date of a fictional dockyard one might as well take into account the physical representation of said date.
The information I create for the Bible can’t just be accurate, or just make sense, or even just “work”. It needs to fit and it needs to be fun.
Covenant Weapons: Plasma RiflePlasma PistolCarbineNeedlerBeam RifleFuel Rod Cannon