Now in Paper-Vision: An Early Look at Halo 3

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This week in the print magazine I wrote a lengthy piece on Halo 3 and the Halo franchise in general. It’s written for the non-gamer, so readers of this blog probably won’t glean too much news from it. There’s virtually nothing in there about new features, or the new level editors, or anything like that. Basically I wanted to try to explain to people outside the culture (i.e. a lot of Time readers) why Halo is so important to gamers. Sample snippet:

The face of the Master Chief is never revealed. His visor is solid reflective gold, like the faceplates of the Apollo astronauts. Halo’s designers see the Master Chief’s facelessness as a dramatic device, a way of allowing players to place themselves in the game’s leading role, to map their own faces onto that of a blank protagonist. “If he takes off the helmet, he should be you,” says Marty O’Donnell, Halo’s audio director. “I mean, that’s the big deal. Taking off the helmet is unacceptable.” Engineering lead Chris Butcher agrees: “It’s your experience. You have to be able to pour yourself into that icon.” When nongamers look at the Master Chief’s helmet, they see a forbidding, anonymous mask. But when gamers look at it, they see a mirror. They see themselves

If you’re a gamer, you already know that stuff.

I should add a note about how cool it was to visit Bungie HQ. I’ve spent a lot of time playing Bungie games. After-work Marathon deathmatches were a major major thing for me for about a year, and when Myth came out it became an even more majorer thing for me, for quite a bit more than a year. That was more of a during-work habit. (My Myth phase coincided with my stint as a Web producer for Pathfinder. And they wonder why it failed. (And on another note: oh my God, I can’t believe that Pathfinder URL is still live, complete with a Pathfinder logo. That’s just creepy.)) And then Halo happened.

So it was great to discover that the people who work for Bungie are smart and funny in pretty much the way you’d think they would be:

The clichĂ© about gamers is that they’re antisocial, if not sociopathic, but Bungie is very much a community. There’s a Foreign Legion quality to it, as if the company had been created as a refuge for smart people who wouldn’t or couldn’t fit into more conventional professions. Environment artist Dave Dunne started out as an architect. In a past life, O’Donnell wrote the We Are Flintstones Kids vitamin jingle. Designer Paul Bertone was a structural engineer who inspected bridges. And so on. “The people who play Bungie games tend to sense that there’s something behind the games that’s attractive to them,” says O’Donnell. “Then they become fans of the games. And then they become rabid fans. And then they become employees of Bungie.”

Apparently I missed out on that last part. But the rest is all true.