The Origin of Halo
Posted by Frankie at 4/9/2004 3:31 PM PDT

One Million Years B.X. (Before Xbox)

Halo wasn't always the Xbox classic we know today. As a matter of fact, Halo wasn't always an Xbox game. Not only that, but go back a little further and you'll discover that Halo wasn't always even Halo. Confused? Allow us to explain.

The Origin of Halo

Halo was one of the first projects begun after the Myth series ended (along with action/adventure Oni) and the scale and scope of the project meant that it would undergo some subtle and not so subtle transformations during its evolution. The biggest shift, however, was its switch from, and we kid you not, a Real Time Strategy game to the shoot 'em up we know and love today.

Early "Halo" existed as a PC RTS, using a modified version of the Myth engine, but contained a remarkable amount of the elements you see in the finished game. In fact, in retrospect it kinda looks like its RTS inception led to a lot of the nicely balanced gameplay features Scorpion Vs. Wraith, Ghost Vs. Warthog etc.

The original game engine had some cool features too, like way-before-their-time and occasionally hilarious ragdoll effects for falling Marines. The weird thing is that even at that stage, it was unmistakably Halo. The vision for a lot of elements the landscape, the weapons and the design of the aliens, has barely been diluted over the years.

Hummers kinda, sorta got replaced with Warthogs.

That third-person, unit-controlling RTS (or real time tactical as it should more properly be called) kind of morphed into a third-person shooter by about the end of 1998 and into the beginning of 1999. It featured a number of near-heretical differences, including the ability to tame and ride dinosaurs, Chocobo-style around Halo, and a segment of the ring that was only partially complete. Players could gaze at a scaffolding of struts and braces in the hazy distance.

The Apple Falls

Yep, Halo was originally intended for Apple Macs, kinda. It was actually developed for the PC and Mac, and the more advanced code was ready on the PC until Apple decided they wanted Halo to be the poster child for its new Mac gaming focus. So work commenced on accelerating the Mac version of the game, and in literally a few short weeks, the code was ported and optimized as much as possible in time for a Steve Jobs keynote in 1999. This of course happened three years before the game would actually see the light of day, on its decidedly non-Mac host platform.

The trailer shown for Mac was definitely recognizable as modern Halo, but it had a few quirks, such as multiple Spartans, Elites that surrendered and a weapon that was kind of a cross between a fuel rod gun and a plasma rifle. Also, horrifyingly, the Mjolnir armor had kind of a buttless chaps look.

And to be fair, it looked pretty close graphically, with a gorgeous color palette, but some features, including bump mapping and vertex shaders, basically weren't even available.

The Fauna of Halo

The main reasons that the Fauna, a collection of pseudo-dinosaurs and herds of vaguely mammalian varmints) were dropped from Halo (and relatively far into the process) were the usual combination of time constraints, design issues and performance problems. But another, perhaps more fundamental philosophical reason was that the inclusion of another set of inhabitants of Halo would have detracted from the surprise, drama and impact of the Flood.

Problems with AI for the creatures, problems with how they would react and behave during action sequences and even things like basic herd mentality meant that more important features (like vehicles and finishing the game on time) had to take precedence.

Big, frightening dinosaurs, but still not as dangerous as a badly driven Hog.

Although a populated Halo ring is unarguably cool, the sense of abandonment and mystery is actually heightened without them. The deserted landscapes and eerily empty structures actually serve to enhance the mystery of the Forerunners. But that's an accident of design rather than a purpose.

Herds of cool, but harmless dinos once roamed the ring.

The sad thing is that the assets created for the animals, the animation, models and textures, were all largely complete. But those dinosaurs were destined never to roam the ring. Unless Bungie one day decided to make a dinosaur racing game!

Halo Haul-Ass

Vehicles. One of the most beloved aspects of Halo is its use of vehicles. They basically rule. Cool physics, perfect handling and amazingly intuitive controls. But a couple of vehicles never actually made it all the way through the development process. One or two, we kind of pointless, and didn't even make it to the main development cycle of the game including an inflatable dinghy, which one staffer described as "Two floating carrots," but one or two more interesting craft nearly made the cut.

The Shadow was one of the coolest lookiing vehicles left unused.

Waaaay, back in the day, back when Halo was basically an RTS, the selection of vehicles was pretty huge. Hummers (which became Warthogs, ostensibly) and Stealth Tanks (basically a low, black Scorpion) were about the most normal. A selection of cool looking alien and human tanks and hovering death machines was lost in history. This writer's personal favorite? The bright red, and pretty intimidating Covenant Shadow, complete with roof mounted turret gun.

Helicopters just aren't futuristic.

Helicopters were a featured item by the time Halo evolved into a third person shooter but in retrospect, they're simply not futuristic enough. Although it could be worse, they could be hot air balloons or -blam!-ker Triplanes. Maybe for a prequel, they might go Retro. I can see it now, a World War One and Two themed action strategy shooter, called Halo: Alsace Lorraine Panzer Division Edition. Or then again, maybe not...


The map in the top right corner was a nifty feature.

Halo once had a map feature. A compass-style map floated in the top right hand corner, complete with elevation indicated by color. It was actually kind of cool. But now it's gone. Bet you wish they'd kept it for the library.

The One Ring

What do you think of "The Santa Machine," as an alternate title for Halo? Or "The Crystal Palace ?" Nah. Too bizarre. How about Solipsis? Or Hard Vacuum? Well, they're certainly more sci-fi, but less obviously so than Starshield or Star Maker. All of these names were mulled over, some were even considered, and thankfully, some, like The Santa Machine and Age of Aquarius, were quickly shelved. But the very first name, used internally for a number of Bungie-related reasons, was "Blam!" which coincidentally (or not) is the default word for our profanity filter. "Blam!" and "MonkeyNuts," actually.

Halo Havoc

I gotta get me one of those!

If there's one thing that you couldn't strip from Halo without ruining it, it's the weapons, and Halo of the past has seen more than its fair share of cool weapons. One legendary omission was the Plasma Sword, and early shots showed Chief wielding it handily, and the human equivalent, at one point, was a machete.

The Chief also had a hand held Gattling gun, once upon a time, just like Jesse Ventura in Predator (who knew that half the cast of that movie would one day become State Governors?)

And that as they say, is that. No more. Sorry. Wish there was...oh! Wait! I almost forgot... there's a HUGE section of cool pre-Halo assets and screens, right HERE

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