Bungie History
Billion Dollar Donut

Halo: Combat Evolved

At the Macworld show in 1999, Bungie demoed, to huge applause, footage of a sci-fi shooter set on a mysterious alien ring construct. It simply looked spectacular. The list of features seemed improbable – network play, vehicle combat and huge outdoor environments. But Halo was to have them all, and more. But there was plenty of drama to come before it would see the light of day.

Halo, like most of Bungie's games, began a long time before it was unveiled, and in a remarkably different form. The first vision of Halo was basically Myth in a sci-fi universe. There even exist builds of the game, where you control marauding marines in a real time tactical 3D environment, complete with vehicles that would come to be known as Ghosts and Warthogs. It actually looked kind of fun.

Meanwhile, the Take 2 partnership was to be short-lived. In 2000, Microsoft, recognizing the brilliance of the Halo project, decided to acquire the game, the company and the employees, and bring Halo exclusively to Xbox – Microsoft's first video game console. The news sent ripples of excitement, anticipation and disappointment throughout the industry. This meant no PlayStation2 version for sure, and it put the PC and Mac versions in doubt, at least as far as the press were concerned.

"We never got it running on PS2 anyway," quoth an anonymous staffer.

Jason Jones tries to recall the events leading up to the Microsoft deal: "I don't remember the details exactly, it was all a blur. We'd been talking to people for years and years – before we even published Marathon , Activision made a serious offer. But the chance to work on Xbox – the chance to work with a company that took the games seriously. Before that we worried that we'd get bought by someone who just wanted Mac ports or didn't have a clue."

Ironically, it was at this time that Alex Seropian finally started to feel some guilt for something he'd done back in 1990. He'd stolen (a lot of) floppies from his internship at Microsoft to replicate the first batch of Operation: Desert Storm. True story. His guilt was assuaged by a check the size of Texas .

Take 2 kept the rights to Oni (releasing it successfully in January of 2001) and Myth, and Bungie made its most dramatic move yet. Almost every staff member chose to move with the company they'd grown to love, and finally left the windy crime of Chicago for the predictable drizzle of Redmond, Washington .

It was important to leave Chicago with a bang, and eyes glazed and brain addled with nostalgia, Jason and Alexander actually went back to the old basement apartment and offered the current tenant $1000 to let them hold the leaving party there. Seriously. The bemused but sensible tenant agreed readily. What happened at that party is difficult to discern, but nobody on staff will talk about it. Amazing the effects shame has on the memory.

Marty O'Donnell's memory however is affected not by shame, but rather the corrosive tang of bitterness and the ravages of time, as he remembers, "Back then it was like a big smelly frat house located in a former catholic girls school. Now it's like an even bigger smellier frat house located in a former accounting firm's office space."

Work continued on Halo apace, and in some ways, the switch to the Xbox version was a blessing. A single, powerful, stable platform and a chance to exploit the vagaries of a new system. Programmers love that stuff. Probably. Jason certainly saw some good in it, saying, "It's really fun to know that everyone who's playing your game is going to be having the same experience. You know they're going to be sitting in a comfortable place with the controller you expect them to have."

But the schedule had to be accelerated. Halo had to launch at the same time as the Xbox. It was fast becoming the system's killer app. The Bungie guys had gone from worrying about the heat being turned off at 6pm, to having Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates demanding to know when the game would be ready.

On November 15th, 2001, Bungie changed forever. Halo was finally released. It was a smash hit. And it was viral.

The way the press reported on the game was hypnotic. At first they were taken by the graphics. Halo looked amazing. Later articles shifted towards the gameplay – it was the first time since GoldenEye that a first-person shooter had really worked on a console – and the use of twin analog sticks on the Xbox controller was almost perfect. And then people really discovered the multiplayer game – and made console LAN parties a real phenomenon.

As sales of Halo and the Xbox itself started to soar, Bungie, much to the relief of many, confirmed that Halo PC and Mac were still in the works, but it would be nearly two years before either version saw the light of day. In the meantime, the expected clamor for Halo 2 info started to reach a crescendo.