Halo 2: One Year Later
Posted by Frankie at 11/9/2005 3:35 PM PST
Halo 2 Anniversary Special

First things first: Thank you for supporting Bungie, Halo and Halo 2. You guys rock, and we love you. It's the anniversary of Halo 2, the game that launched on November 9th, 2004 and forever changed the way we curse.

A year after Halo 2 arrived in stores, and almost four years since the original Halo, it seems only logical that we should make them prettier right? Although that prettiness has a relatively high entry point – the arrival of a new generation of hardware in the shape of the Xbox 360.

A while back, Microsoft announced that the 360 would have some level of backward compatibility. A handy feature for folks with big Xbox collections moving into the future. We worked closely with that team to ensure that Halo and Halo 2 both performed according to plan. That meant a lot of work for our test team.

To clarify, the "new" version of Halo or Halo 2 is simply the disk you have already. Pop it into your 360 and it'll load up just like before. You will have to log into Xbox Live to enable Halo 2's online functions, but both games will work immediately.

But here's another bonus – the hardware in the 360 can do a lot of nifty stuff, and specifically in the cases of Halo and Halo 2, it can display the graphics in wide screen, at 720p, with full scene anti-aliasing. And it doesn't look kludgy, artifacty or smeary like an upscanning DVD player. The best way to describe it is that both games look like they're running on a PC at those resolutions.

We'll have some more information about these resolutions on Friday.

Now, to reiterate, we didn't redo any of the old textures or geometry – this is simply the game you already own, running at a higher resolution. The results are not miraculous, but for owners of HDTVs (or VGA monitors with the appropriate cable) they are sweet.

Do they work on Live? Like we already explained, they work exactly as they did before – that means System Link and split-screen for Halo, but – of course - no Live play (just like before!) – and for Halo 2 – System Link, Xbox Live and split screen as before. And yes, your existing Gamertag and Live Account will work just fine. I should note that split screen in 720p has obvious benefits.

The comparison shot above is from near identical frames of a Halo 2 cinematic. One in 720p and the other in 480p.

Now our screenshots are pretty legit, but it's likely they'll vary from what you'll see here, thanks to the multitude of display technologies that make up the ball of wax called HDTV. We also had to jump through hoops to get these shots, since the way they're handled by the video buffer means our conventional method no workie. But luckily it took me three hours, 400 lines of DOS prompts and a thousand phone calls to discover that.

In the end, we took video at 720p and captured stills from that. So it's far from perfect – Final Cut Pro was the software we used, and while it's very good, these shots are not identical to their on-screen counterparts. In fact, they look significantly better on an HD set (or a VGA monitor with the appropriate cable). But we thought you'd still like to see ‘em anyway.

Here's the cinematic shot in standard, 480p resolution. Click for a larger view.

And here she is in 720p, with FSAA turned on. Click for full size.

As we mentioned before, split-screen multiplayer receives a significant benefit.

But this wouldn't be complete without a peek at the original Halo!

Now, on with the show. To celebrate our anniversary, we're reminiscing about the olden days, back when Redmond was all fields. It may only have been a year since Halo 2 launched, but it feels like a lifetime. And dear old Halo: Combat Evolved is nearing its fourth birthday! Technically, November 15th. And the only person on staff old enough to remember it properly (Marty's senility precludes him) is little Petey Parsons, Bungie's Studio Manager.

Petey Parsons and the Legend of Marketing Kudos

Petey describes his original role on Halo as "marketing tool for all the other marketing tools." The simple fact is that Pete worked in marketing for Xbox, and, as the spoiled nephew of one Mr. William Gates, was basically put in a position where he could do little harm, yet enjoy the convenient status afforded by a position in gaming.

O, Rly? Kudos.

After he threw a very public tantrum, Parsons' uncle "suggested" that Pete be made studio manager. The lubricant of fear sped that transition smoothly. Pete was installed as the basic head of business, marketing and administration for Bungie Studios. Luckily for us, his reading skills are exactly the same as a monkey's, and what lackeys he does have, will be way too afraid to bring this revelation to his attention.

But in his position as marketing tool (his words, not ours) he was witness to some catastrophic feats of imaginative stupidity. But hands down, this was the winner. Pete tells it best:

"We were meeting with an agency about how to sell Halo to the public at its first E3. We had some ideas internally at Microsoft, Bungie had their own ideas, and strangely, none of them matched the one we heard that day. An outside agency, I won't say who, suggested a stage show.

Tell us more, we said.

They did. With storyboards, color illustrations, even a sort of diorama showing just what this stage spectacular would look like. Now, I want you to pay close attention, because what I am about to say is literally true.

They wanted to present a Parisian night club theme – think Moulin Rouge , but with, and I am not making this up, sexy Master Chiefs, sexy Elites, cut out Warthogs and a bawdy dance number set in the alleyways and rooftops of turn of the century Paris.

Now, not a single mote of time was spent actually considering the idea. In fact, all our energies were focused on preventing Matt Soell (Bungie's legendary community guy) from leaping over the table to tear out throats, Swayze-Roadhouse style.

We actually feared violence at that moment. Luckily for the "creatives" shock paralyzed everyone. The only sound was the drip, drip, drip of saliva from stunned, open jaws."

Pete has been witness (think Forrest Gump) to all sorts of crazy antics. Many of them he kept secret from the team because of our reactionary nature. But some of them, we all get to see.

Ever wonder why Halo has a subtitle? Sure you do. Halo, certainly in retrospect, is a great name. But when we came up with it, there was some concern that people wouldn't get it. We wanted to sell the game as this huge, sci-fi, total combat, two guns on hand at once, explore your world, work with AI buddies, drive vehicles, uber-experience and for some, plain old "Halo" didn't work. So like a wacky sidekick, Halo got a subtitle. In the end, it got " Combat Evolved ," a Bungie approved creation that didn't sound too stupid, or overworked. But it nearly had…

Halo: When Heaven and Hell Collide! I say nearly, it actually didn't nearly, since Pete shot the idea down instantly, before the Bungie staff could riot again, push over magazine stands, smash windows, burn trashcans, that kind of thing. But that idea was seriously promoted.

If you think about it carefully, Heaven and Hell colliding would actually create the most boring place in existence.

We also had a slew of logos to work through. One of the dirty secrets of any industry, is that EVERYBODY thinks they can write marketing stuff, and EVERYBODY thinks they are an art director when it comes to logos. Our actual art director shared a few of the ones we didn't use. Some good, some bad, some more than familiar.

Pete is an inveterate gambler, but not much of a statistician. He had a huge bet with someone about how many copies Halo would sell worldwide. His victim bet it would sell 675 thousand., Pete bet 1.3 million, with the caveat that that it would break at least a million. In the end, it was over 5 million. Actually, it's not the end yet. It's still selling, and the 360 "version" will probably cause a spike.

And today, to celebrate its birthday, we can reveal that Halo 2 has sold over 7 Million copies worldwide.

Pete remembers the first time he met Bungie's Methuselah of Music, Marty O'Donnell. "I first met the hoary old giffer at Gamestock about a thousand years ago. I was helping set up some of the demo equipment and I kept telling the sound guys to jack up the volume on the Halo audio. Marty said some old-guy thing like, ‘This kid might have some promise, see?!' That's basically how to get on Marty's good side. Tell him you like his music, then turn it up loud enough so that he realizes the batteries in his hearing aid are dead."

Back in the olden days, we had more to worry about than our batteries dying. Pete remembers the time he had to demo the game with an um, makeshift audio track. "Marty basically recorded a CD with music and some effects on it. I had to run, shoot and drive in time to the music while I gave this demo. He built in some wiggle room, but basically I had to match a certain jump with a simultaneous ‘Yeeha!' from the audio CD, or hit the beach right when the drums started."

It was eight minutes long.

"But the really exciting part for me and all the marketing guys was when we finally got to the focus groups and showed them the video, people were like ‘I don't care what type of game it is, I just want to be THERE. Play that game in that place.'"

Lorraine's Logo Lament

Lorraine McLees is responsible for how the Halo universe is perceived in print, publications, on store shelves and anywhere you find it. She was also responsible for the Halo logo. Thank goodness, because these first two passes at a Halo logo weren't exactly what we wanted. those were not actually by Bungie. To be fair, they were just ideas, but we're pretty happy with the way things turned out between June 1999 and now. Anyway, check 'em out!

This one was uh, well, it was a font.

This one was like a budget insult to Farscape.

Now we're getting somewhere! Our own Paul Russel's first stab.

A half decent agency effort. Getting close...

And what it finally ended up being.

Claude's Hopper

Now without our fans, hardcore and mainstream, we'd be nothing. The most hardcore of the hardcore visit Halo.Bungie.Org .

Claude Errera, also known as Louis Wu, is the head honcho of Halo.Bungie.Org, one of the largest Halo community sites on the web, and certainly the most comprehensive. Claude is a longtime ally of Bungie, but he has a unique outsider's perspective. And a thick, luscious beard that makes him look like a post-Viagra Kenny Rogers.

Ya, Rly!

Tell us, Kenn….umm, Claude, How has the Halo community changed since the days of System Link and Halo on Xbox?

It's bigger! (Duh.)

Some things haven't changed much at all; many - or most - of the hardcore fans had been online, on Halo forums, before Halo 2... and they're still there. Playing games, though... the folks who played online during Halo mostly used XBC, and were pretty damned serious about their gameplay. It wasn't a lot of fun for casual gamers to jump on and play, because they would get DESTROYED. The potential for casual games has increased exponentially with XBL and Matchmaking - so there are a lot more people who play more often than once a week or once a month (getting together in lan play with friends). The serious players are still there - but the overall audience is much bigger, and much more focused on 'fun'.

I'm looking at your stats, and it seems you play more now than you did close to launch. What up with that. And sorry for spying on you.

It's a combination of things, really. Before AU1.1, I got owned - a LOT. I don't mind losing... but losing badly, all the time, isn't much fun. So there wasn't a lot of incentive to take time out of my schedule to play.

More importantly, though, I set up a second Xbox that shares one of my computer monitors - so jumping on and playing a game is a matter of firing up the Xbox and hitting the monitor input switch. I'm far more likely to jump on and play for a little while if I don't actually have to get out of my chair…

It's been a year since the launch of Halo 2 - how has the community evolved during that time?

Not hugely. We've actually seen our overall traffic go DOWN, not up. Some of the casual website visitors have moved on to other games, and while there are spikes every time there's real news about the Halo movie, or rumors about Halo 3, in general, it's like anything else - once it's not new, you lose some of the "hey, let's see what's going on with X" crowd.

The folks who stuck around have gotten more focused - there are story fanatics who are happy to endlessly discuss the minutiae of the Halo universe, and what might be coming... there are folks who are interested most in machinima (look at the growth of communities around Red vs Blue, or the Codex series), and the overall quality of that sort of material continues to improve and become more sophisticated.

I suppose there are fewer people swinging by for news of the next big thing from Bungie, and more people curious about what the fan community itself is producing. Which makes sense, since Bungie isn't releasing anything themselves these days…

SILENCE!!! How do you feel about Halo's move from sorta culty, to mass market?

10 years ago, I'd have been annoyed. Today - I think it's fine; I don't feel like any of the core pieces are 'sellouts' (the games, the novels, the movie so far), so I'm fine with marketing that appeals to our shallower instincts.

When I start to feel like the content creators think they can phone it in because the marketing teams are gonna sell whatever they do, no matter HOW crappy it is... THAT'S when I'll start to be annoyed. :) As long as the core content is real, and created by people who love what they're doing, I can live with marketing shenanigans.

What do you guys think about the movie stuff so far?

I'm on the fence about the movie. On the one hand, no videogame-based movie has EVER been done right. A Halo movie has a pretty damn steep mountain to climb to get it right.

On the other hand, folks I generally trust are excited by what they've seen; there's nothing that says that Halo can't be the first good conversion. I'd LOVE to see it done right. (I don't even know what that means, actually; I don't know WHAT I want to see - just that it needs to be good.) You asked about 'you guys' - I speak for nobody but me on this subject. Fans in general have made it clear that they believe it'll suck no matter what, that it MIGHT be good, that it'll rock because Bungie's doing it, and a few dozen other options in between.

Are you personally looking forward to the Xbox 360, and if so, what aspects of it?

I think it looks pretty cool - but I'm not buying one right away. I like the integration aspect - I think this is the first box that actually has a CHANCE of being a media center in my house. However, in the short term, my free time is already taken up with Halo 2 - since I can play that on my existing Xbox, there's no pressing reason to spend the cash for a 360. (I realize I'm in a minority, gaming-wise, in that I don't play ANY other games these days.)

What's the single most memorable moment for you in the past year of community?

I think Dean's Plasma Fiesta fest in May was probably the most memorable event; it brought together a bunch of friends (both old and new), it capped a couple of fun days at E3, it had great food and fun Halo gameplay.

There've been a couple of 'moments', however, that were more intense (though only in the moment) - opening the statue you guys sent me, winning my first Rumble Pit game ever (hehe - that happened in August ), watching the kickoff of the charity auction... there've been a number of memorable moments.

Back on the homefront, we were reminiscing about the actual launch event. Which was all put together by Alta Hartmann, the Bungie Princess, and technically, one of only two attractive Bungie employees. Not to mention one of only two female employees. As princess, she is in charge of making everything work, from soda delivery to writing complex vertex shaders. You DO write shaders, right, Alta?

Anyway, Alta remembers the launch of Halo 2 like it was only yesterday.

Princess is a peach.

Hey Alta, remember last year's launch of Halo 2 at the Experience Music Project in Seattle? You organized it right? How did that all go down, and what was involved?

Wow, what an event that was Frankie. One of the most unique aspects of our little team is our ability to throw things together at the last minute and have it still be pretty freakin' amazing. Doesn't matter how much time we have had to prepare or how convoluted the plan is, we will deliver. Our little ship party held up to the tradition. About three weeks before the event I was lying in bed at around midnight when it occurred to me that I was hosting the launch party for a few folks.

So, to my boyfriend's utter annoyance and surprise, I tapped him on the shoulder, gave him a quick peck and informed him I was going to the office. Here I was at 12:30 in the morning flying across I90 in my Sassy-mobile, hurtling towards our "low-rent nerd farm" in hopes of pulling my crap together in time to blow everyone away on launch day. Now you may ask why had the party plan been procrastinated for so long? Simple answer: when you ship a game there is a lot of stuff to do. We had Marketing and PR events going on for several months leading up to the launch, plus, I was taking care of my boys…the Bungie dev team, which that in itself is, well, a challenge.

So, what was involved? A two story television screen, 50 Xbox systems and TVs, a ton of cool prizes, our hero, Master Chief, 70 husky nerds, Mister Chief, bacon, a couple of buses and a lot of chaos and booze.

We started the day at around 6am, a crack team of about 8 people, including: a couple of techs, Shishka, Andrew and Timmy, just to name a couple of the guys. We loaded up all the gear and made the trek from Millennium to EMP…tired, very tired. I came armed with food, coffee and enough aspirin and earplugs to survive a heavy metal concert…sitting next to the stage speakers. We had 5 hours to set up the lan party, registration, raffle prizes and catering. The team at EMP kicked into high gear and set the mood with some awesome lighting and within a couple of hours we had Zanzi illuminating the two story screen at the EMP. Around 10am one of the guys mentioned there were a few people outside asking about the event. I walked out and was greeted by about 100 fans.

In da club.

We had planned on around 250-300 people to show up for the whole day… "hm, we'll see how it goes" is what I thought at the time. I ran inside asked the EMP techs to play the Halo soundtrack in the court yard for the fans and grabbed a mic. By this time the line was getting longer and the team and I went out to say hi, thank everyone for coming and take some photos.

By noon the line wrapped around the building. When we opened the doors we were absolutely stunned by how many fans had showed up to support the team. Who, by the way had just shown up on the Bungie Bus. It was incredible watching them pour into EMP, seeing the lights, the people, the screen. They had worked so hard to get to this day.

By 2pm we had 600 people playing MP in the LAN party, waiting in line, getting autographs from the team, checking out the Sci Fi Museum and pigging out on sugary and salty goodness in true Bungie fashion. At 4pm we had to close the doors so everyone would have a chance to jump in the LAN party. Everywhere I looked there was chaos and people. The Bungie guys were talking to fans, the fans were watching the game play, the energy in the building was so high and everyone was having a great time.

But alas, all good things come to an end. We had to shut down at 5pm so we could prep for the Bungie private team event.

After two and half years, thousands of hours, millions of calories, several thousand dollars in raw fish, a cook who quit when we placed our crunch dinner order and a lot of profanity (I think a few new ones were invented) we were a mere few hours away from the game being released to the world. It could be good, it could be bad…the fans may hate what we created, but at the moment leader boards, Live crashing and nasty-grams from fans were the farthest thing from anyone's mind…we were just grateful to catch up with everyone, throw back a couple of drinks and laugh our asses off at the short movie the RvB team came up with for us.

10pm arrived before we knew it and I was dead on my feet, but the night was no where near being over. We had two buses with loads of booze and munchies, waiting to be filled with Bungie dork to invade the Midnight Madness sales around Seattle. First stop, Pacific Place…took a few pics, handed out some gifts and thanked the fans for coming out to get the game.

Next stop Bellevue Square…it was getting later and there were more and more people filling the corridors as we came out after talking to the first guy in line and signing his Halo 2 poster. On to Best Buy in Bellevue…holy crap there were a lot of people there! We hung out with the fans waiting anxiously to get their hands on the game and head home to play until their hands cramped up and their eyeballs dried out. One of the local TV stations featured the insane crowd screaming and yelling and we jumped in the action and talked with the reporter about how cool it was to see everyone out having a good time.

Last, but not least, we returned to our stomping grounds…Redmond Town Center. The second floor of the open air atrium was packed with people 3-4 times around the circle. When we walked in and started throwing gifts up to the fans, they went crazy. It was truly a surreal experience. A lot of people think gaming is this mindless past time, but standing in the middle of those fans I realized games bring people together, it is a community.

Man, you sure can talk. I just meant, "was it cool?" But uh, hey Alta, remember we all tooled around on buses having a blast and meeting the fans, what was your most memorable moment?

Pizza delivered to the buses at midnight in the middle of Redmond Town Center. Oh, and Harold drunk, laughing his ass off and losing his voice from yelling so loud every time I got on the bus to tell everyone where we were going and not to scare the fans.

Hey Alta, remember what it was like in the build-up to the launch of Halo 2? How was it taking care of 70 babies?

What are you talking about? Babies? Here? Never! Ha ha! But seriously, I would not have made it through ship without a few things. First, Amanda Anderson, my cohort and friend. She was simply amazing. Between taking care of the guys and listening to me when I thought my brain was going to explode, I could not have survived without her help.

Second, knowing that it would be over soon enough. Lastly, lots of fun nights sitting in a foof chair chowing down on take out, watching the guys have eating contests or arguing about some obscure movie reference. As much as the chaos of managing a team of exhausted guys, whose families missed them and who were carrying the weight of shipping a huge game on time and making it great took its toll, it was also really rewarding to be a part of the team. Looking back, all the random requests that sometimes made no sense to me…at all…meant that they were able to accomplish their goal of making a kick ass game. The tension and the stress, were worth it. But I am glad they are back to normal, well, as close to normal as a bunch of gaming geeks get.

Hey Alta, we need to do an anniversary event, of the same scale, tonight. Do you have any ideas what you can get together by 7:30pm?

Frankie, I have a few suggestions for you, however I don't think they are appropriate for print. And they are of questionable anatomical benefit.

OXBOX360M: Worst Word Ever.

And a final word, for those who scrolled this far, from our friends, the media. OXM's (the Official Xbox Magazine) Ryan McCaffrey, well-known sword camper and Halo fan, answered our questions too.

It's been a year since Halo 2 launched. What do you think it did better, and what do you think it did worse than Halo?

There isn't much that Halo 2 didn't do better than the original Halo. The vehicles, multiplayer level design, and of course Xbox Live support (complete with the brilliant party system) all represented exponential leaps over Halo: CE. But the biggest improvement most probably don't think of right away is the soundtrack. Marty O'Donnell crafted the single greatest score in Xbox history, and one of the greatest soundtracks ever. His work single-handedly elevates the entire Halo 2 experience. And if there's one thing I miss from Halo 1, it's sadistically capping Mike Salmon in the head with my pistol from halfway across Blood Gulch. I love the weapons in Halo 2, but a part of me enjoyed being called a "pistol b****" around the office.

What has been the main OXM reader reaction to Halo 2?

Considering that we still get emails on a daily basis asking us for information about Halo 3, challenging us to sword matches in Halo 2, and begging us to make a plea to Bungie for more Halo 2 content, I'd say the word that describes the overall reader reaction is "passionate."

Describe your most memorable moment playing Halo 2 on Live this past year.

There was usually something memorable on a nightly basis, but here's one of my fondest recollections: While playing on Blood Gulch (we refuse to call it Coagulation) in a four-on-four Team Slayer game, our crew carved the other equally-ranked team to bits with precision accuracy and won by a humiliating score of 50-7. We controlled everything from the word "go," dominating the best weapons as well as all of the vehicles. The rides that we could not control we simply destroyed, leaving our opponents little choice but to feebly scramble about, praying we wouldn't find them.

Describe the worst thing that happened to you on Xbox Live this past year.

In six months of playing quite literally every night for multiple hours at a time, we were standby-ed just once on a Big Team Battle neutral bomb assault match on Blood Gulch. It really is lame that some players have such low confidence that they have to stoop to such pathetic methods in order to feel good about themselves.

Plug the new, improved Official Xbox 360 Magazine. What's in it? What's changed? What's the new disc like?

These times mark the most exciting in the history of Xbox and, in turn, Official Xbox Magazine. Our Holiday 2005 issue (on sale November 29) marks our first back-to-front, top-to-bottom redesign. The magazine looks, feels, and in facts reads completely different. Better, faster, more powerful! We've got a few new sections we're excited to share with everyone as well as a new review scoring system that should help make your purchasing decisions even easier. Next month's issue - January 2006 - unveils Phase Two of our redesign: an all-new demo disc featuring playable demos for both Xbox and Xbox 360 (on the same disc!), plus a whole new interface that's more intuitive and more powerful than you ever thought possible! And shortly after the January issue, we've got a mega-event planned that will shake the Xbox world to its core.

Hope you enjoyed this retrospective. We'll have more stuff for you all week. And some more details on backward compatibility this Friday. P.S. A big shoutout to Sair. Good luck with all that.

Top 10: Online Multiplayer Console Games 

Posted by urk at 11/3/2010 9:21 AM PDT

ScrewAttack shows us some love.

If you're not familiar with what ScrewAttack does, it's about time you got acclimated. And what better way to introduce yourself than with a video where they sing our praises? Bam!

Cover your ears if you aren't into naughty language. Thanks to HBO for pointing us in the right direction.

Tags: Halo 2 (Xbox)


Backwards From Dawn, Part 1 

Posted by urk at 4/20/2010 9:17 AM PDT

I Hardly Knew Thee...

Forward Unto Dawn is taking a look back at Halo 2 with a fresh perspective. Get your own eyes on at the jump below. Thanks to HBO for the heads up (and the bandwidth).

I Hardly Knew Thee...

Tags: Halo 2 (Xbox)


One Final Effort 

Posted by urk at 4/16/2010 1:51 PM PDT

There are those who said this day would never come...

Read Full Top Story

Tags: Halo 2 (Xbox)



Posted by urk at 4/15/2010 10:10 AM PDT

Halo 2 is still going strong!

Looks like the Xbox LIVE team has yet to flip the switch. Halo 2 is still online and operational. If you're looking to get some last minute games in, now's the time - there's no telling when it's going down!

Tags: Halo 2 (Xbox)


Walshy's 2nd - Halo 2 Montage 

Posted by urk at 4/15/2010 9:19 AM PDT

Goodbye to you.


"This is the amazing Walshy's second montage on youtube. No description needed, but I'll give one anyway. Walshy is an amazing Halo 2 player, and is on one of the best teams, Final Boss, with players like him, Ogre 1, Ogre 2, and Strongside. This montage is a very honest montage with great editing and gameplay. Many snipes, sticks, multikills, and no scopes etc. I hope you enjoy it and leave a comment for me to read!?"

YouTube - Walshy - 2nd Halo 2 Montage

Tags: Halo 2 (Xbox)



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