Bungie History
Billion Dollar Donut

Halo 2

A sequel was such a no-brainer, that no official green light was even given. It was more a case of, "When will it be ready?" The answer was always going to be "When it's done." Work began after a decent pause.

Jay Weinland recalls the short break. "I went to the Hotel Coronado in San Diego and blew all my overtime pay trying to reestablish all my husband credentials after a brutal crunch." All-nighters aren't unusual in game development cycles, and Jay's tale is pretty typical.

Sadly for the sound guys, "rest" is a relative term. "We gave very little thought to localization, to be honest," says Jay, "so we had to come right back and start another crunch – this time doing foreign language versions of the game."

Clearly the trick here is to marry IN the company, as in the case of Lorraine and Robert, or more controversially, the Cananimators, Nathan and John, whose love of poutine, protein and routine brought them together.

Bungie is used to sequels – after all, its biggest franchises, Marathon and Myth each had a sequel. The trick is always to make it worthwhile, both for the player and the developer. If you've got nothing new to say, don't say anything at all.

With that in mind, an expanded and refreshed Bungie team started stabbing furiously at their keyboard terminals, in a comic pastiche of what Hollywood thinks programmers do. After they tired of that, they began a long process of design, writing and thinking.

Expectations were both confining and liberating. Halo Xbox players would probably be pretty happy with a Live enabled rehash of the first game. That's not what they expect necessarily, but that would be fine for some. Bungie of course never gave that a second thought. Halo 1.5 rumors birthed, lived and died without any merit. Halo 2 was going to be something else entirely.

As a tease of sorts, and to highlight plot as much as technology, Bungie released a teaser trailer of Master Chief diving Earthward from a spaceship at a press event in 2002. The first glimpse the public would get of Halo 2 gameplay would be at E3 in 2003. At the purpose-built Halo 2 Theater.

The Halo 2 Theater was an edifice that took up a significant chunk of Microsoft's E3 real estate. Inside the darkened, sound-proofed auditorium, the night before E3, Bungie employees worked feverishly to make sure the demo was complete, bug-free, glitch-proof and perfect. It had behaved perfectly thus far – and this was the final test. Right in the middle of the demo, it crashed. Not a freeze, not a stutter, but a big familiar blue screen, the most embarrassing type of crash possible. Code was checked, checksums rechecked – everything seemed perfect, but the game still crashed! It was a disaster!

Until that is, somebody noticed that the demo Xbox being used (a green debug kit) was sitting on top a giant hot subwoofer. Whether through a combination of its giant magnetic field, or perhaps the stifling heat of the LA Convention center – the box had simply given up. A replacement was grabbed from a pile of dozens, and the day was saved. Huzzah!

Bungie's decision to show and play through a real level from the game, was met with glee from the assembled throng, and lines to watch the real time, playable demo were around the block (if a giant booth can be considered a block).

The usual E3 doubts – "It's running off a huge PC." Or "That's not real time, he's pretending to play it." – eventually dissipated as word spread of the cool new features – such as twin weapons, destructible environments and vehicle boarding. Bungie of course, was keeping far more hidden than it was revealing. Competition was HOT at that E3 though. Valve unexpectedly unveiled Half Life 2, id showed off more impressive Doom 3 footage and EA's Battlefield 1942 continued to impress. But Halo 2 just had something extra. It was easy to identify too. While Half Life and Doom demos showed off cool gameplay and impressive graphics – the demos shown didn't reveal or further any plot as such. Watching the Halo 2 trailer felt like the first time you watched the Star Wars Episode 1 trailer. With the important caveat that Bungie didn't go mental between the first game and the sequel.

In October of ought three, an erroneous release from Microsoft supremo Steve Ballmer caught a few Bungie employees off-guard. Mr. Ballmer's statement to the press (on a completely unrelated matter) contained the following shocker, " we're working on the next version of Xbox right now and we're working on Halo 2 and Halo 3, the two newest versions of the game." Halo 3? What the...! Anyway, turns out it was a mistake, nobody had to go quickly program anything, and work continued on Halo 2.

And it sapped at our strength. We slaved all night and all day for three years, filling ourselves with delicious salty snack treats, and crying salty tears of rage and delight as the game progressed. But could it ever succeed? 

The Bungie Moveth

So, sometime in November 2004, let's call it the 11th, because that's what we go up to - we released Halo 2 for Xbox. Little did we suspect that our boutique art project would be noticed by the general public. But it was. Embarrassed, we hid ourselves under a bushel. There are no egos here, only mighty talents that span every discipline from art to science with complete mastery. Did I say hid under a bushel? I meant to say that we cruised around Seattle and the surrounding area in a limousine bus (our Kitten Bus was in the shop) full of champagne, waving to crowds of people lined up for a “midnight madness” event that took the nation by storm.

We signed anything and everything that was thrust under our trembling Sharpies, from noobs to boobs. We didn’t care. There was a lot of identity theft that night, but what of it? We can always create new, better identities.


Bungie folks eat like it's going out of style. When on crunch, food is shipped directly to employees' faces, so that they don't waste programming and design time on trifles like appropriating energy. There's even a pseudo-democratic website, where employees can request dinner and vote for which restaurants the food be delivered from. Recently, a local Italian snackery made its way into Bungie's bad-books by failing to deliver period, claiming at the last moment, they'd run out of bread (that rarest of commodities). So if Halo 2 ships late, we'll reveal their identity so you know who to blame.

The most famous Bungie foodstuff is probably the Tijuana Mama, a spicy sausage who's ingredients include "mechanically separated chicken, pork hearts and protein concentrate." It's also "300% hotter." Than what, we may never know. Nor want to.

The new offices are in the middle of nowhere, stuck between a giant quarry and a swamp, so there's no food within walking distance, but back in Chicago, there were some shady options, including Ming Choy (Chinese AND Italian food) and the Star of Siam (slightly less rude Thai food) but two mysterious contenders are Mr. Beef (beloved by Paul Russel) and the erotically charged Green Door ( a Joe Staten favorite). In the San Jose (Oni) Bungie West office, Tequila's Taqueria was a firm favorite – and was definitely still open, when last we heard. If you'd like a head-sized burrito filled with spicy cow's tongue, Tequila's is the place to go. Perversely however, they don't actually sell Tequila. And the Pink Poodle was a restaurant, and not a special bar, like you might think.

But there is an all-time winner. Mr. Beef. Featuring the famous Chicago Beef – a roast beef sandwich on a soft roll dipped in au jus and covered in all kinds of crap. Yum! And if you don't grab your fries when they come out, you're screwed.

Mr. Beef however, according to an unscientific poll, is the All-time-favorite Bungie restaurant.

Halo 2 sold well. It sold astoundingly well. To date, that means roughly eight million copies worldwide. Did we let that success go to our heads? Certainly not. Our new found prowess as absolute masters of creation allows us fine control over our egos. After being slapped back to reason by various moms, girlfriends and wives, we came back to work the next day and started typing our programming codes for a new multiplayer map pack.

If you’ve ever played, for example, Turf, on Halo 2, then remember that every single pixel in that level was created in the post Halo 2 launch crunch haze. The fact that some of those maps reached a higher graphical bar than the ones the game shipped with originally, is testament to the kind of dedication Bungie staff can muster when a cat-o-nine tails is wielded with the correct degree of vigor.

Halo 2 went on to win a bunch of awards, and cemented the franchise as just that – a franchise. A series of novels by Eric Nylund and William Dietz were smash hits. A Halo Graphic Novel with art from Moebius and Simon Bisley and Phil Hale and a legion of others, was Marvel’s best selling graphic novel. Action figures, clothing and all that stuff followed – not because we were abusing the IP, but because our players wanted it. There was really little likelihood that we could get away with not making Halo 3. Especially after our cliffhanger ending. Folks were getting riled up


Now, all things being equal, folks would simply have played Halo 2 until Halo 3 came out. But Microsoft had a slightly different plan. They moved the party. To the Xbox 360. Which was fine by us. We all had HDTVs by this point, and we wanted something to play on them. And we had a story to finish. So work began on Halo 3.

Now, you can’t make a next-gen game with last-gen staffing levels. For Xbox 360, you need a lot of content. A lot of graphics, a lot of code, a lot of audio and a lot of people to make it. Bungie GREW. Faster than it ever had before. The old office space was simply not going to be big enough. So we moved. To the Kirkland 434 building.

The original street number of the building was something bland, so we asked the good burgers of Kirkland for 343. They wouldn’t play ball, since somebody else had that street number, but they did offer us 434, which we liked the sound of. The new office wasn’t just a number though, It was to be our dwelling place and the repository of all our genius. It was to be home.

We started to work furiously on the new game, making progress at an unholy rate. Enough progress in fact, to be able to branch off a public beta version of the multiplayer game. And that would be the first chance the public ever got to get their hands on Halo 3.