Halo 3 Single Player Studio Visit: Bungie Studios, Kirkland WA

by Char Easter

Published 2007 on MSN

     Infiltrating the force field that makes Bungie Studios so mysterious is a feat reserved for Master Chief and other superheroes. For the average Microsoft employee (like me) with a company badge that is rendered inadequate at all Bungie Studios entry points, it takes a very rare and special invitation. So when the opportunity came up to be part of the Halo 3 single-player studio visit for reporters from around the world, my fate was sealed. Not even a rare sunny Seattle afternoon could deter me from walking the hallowed halls of the famous Bungie headquarters and getting some coveted, hands-on gameplay before Halo 3’s release on September 25.

     At 9 a.m. I arrived at the Bungie Studios door in Kirkland, Washington, where I was swiftly ushered in by a burly, bouncer-sized guard. I stuffed myself into the small, modest lobby packed to capacity with young, hipster male reporters still groggy from jet lag. Most had endured international flights — Australia, Japan, Spain and Germany, to name just a few — that proved longer than their stay.
     Other than the Roman-sized breakfast that was offered to all of us interlopers, the Bungie office was very low-key. I quickly realized that the flash and frills found in the Halo games do not exist in the world we inhabit. The very plain brick-and-mortar room I was standing in only serves as the wireframe for a spectacular virtual world — and as a first-time player of Halo, it was a world I was about to experience.
     With croissant and coffee in hands, the group was led into a dark, cool room lit only by an arsenal of station monitors that lined the room from end to end. When I entered, the reporters were already at their consoles, eager to start the game. I was sent to an empty station at the far end of the room. After someone helped me navigate to the start screen, I put on my headphones and took a last scan around the room. Everyone was already lost to the game … and I joined them.
     In a jolt, I found myself in a lush, foreign terrain, driven onward by a tribal, adrenaline-inducing sound track and my own survival instincts.
     Hours later …
     After ample time in the game, the Bungie staff delivered the first round of presentations with some Halo 3 tips and tricks. Sandbox Design Lead Jaime Griesemer said that players can expect to see a significant increase in the number of encounters in Halo 3. Overall, the scale of the game has increased in both quality and quantity, which in the Halo world means more missions, combats, enemies, allies and unique equipment and weaponry.
     Art director Chris Barrett addressed the Halo 3 graphics by taking us under the skin and into the code. On a big screen, he peeled away the graphical layers down to the wire frames in order to demonstrate techniques like photon mapping that make the environment so believable.
     Audio director Marty O’Donnell and Audio lead Jay Weinland demonstrated the level of detail involved in emulating a seemingly natural environment, including a vehicle driving out of range or shells hitting the ground.
     Hearing all of these details gave me a new appreciation of the game. For example, Bungie writers and artists establish each character’s personality, which is then carried through to the tone and color palette of the character’s appearance. Master Chief has a toned-down effect on his armor because he is not a flashy guy.
     Based on the media representation from Mexico, Spain, Canada, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, the US and Australia, Halo is clearly an international sensation.  I asked some of the reporters about the popularity of the game in their countries.  All maintained that Halo was popular, especially with hardcore gamers.
     On September 25, you too will go behind Bungie Studios’ closed doors by opening the Halo 3 box and jumping into the game.
     Stay tuned for an article with my impressions as a fledgling gamer who can’t find the shoot button.


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