Part 1So today I'm not releasing the next level of Halo. Instead I've published a handful of videos, and I'm doing a history post to give them some context.
In 1997, after releasing the third Marathon game and the second Myth game, Bungie decided they wanted to do something different. Under Jason Jones, they started a project with the idea to merge the real-time strategy gameplay of Myth with the sci-fi shooter genre of Marathon. Essentially they were thinking Starcraft but without all the resource gathering and base building. This project went through a few different codenames: "Armor", "Monkey Nuts", and "Blam!". We've mentioned in the LP that Halo started as a Marathon game, but this a little disingenuous. Bungie has stated that they never intended this new game to be a Marathon sequel, but I don't know if I believe them exactly since they were using the Marathon logo in their UI partway through development.
There's not a whole lot of footage available of the early work, but you can see some of it in this video that Bungie showed at their Halofest at E3 the year after Halo launched. Just note that the later parts of this video will overlap with the rest of the history post.
The Evolution of Halo
A few of the big features that Bungie was focusing on were 3D level geometry, major vehicle integration, and a physics engine so that the vehicles would interact properly with that geometry. Things were going well, but during testing they kept coming back to a little "game" where they would put some marines in the Warthog, attach a chase-cam to it, and then drive it around jumping it off hills and cliffs. They realized they needed to make the game more like that instead of the strategy and tactics game they had envisioned, and Project Blam! tranisitioned into a third-person action/adventure game instead. At this point they didn't have a whole lot of the details nailed down, but they did know there was a ringworld, aliens, space marines, and supersoldiers. They managed to get an audience with Steve Jobs and convinced him to let them present at Macworld 1999, where they showed this:
Macworld 1999 Presentation
It's very interesting how you can see so many elements of Halo in that presentation. The green-armored, gold-visored supersoldiers and their Warthog, and the Elites and their Banshees. Even the flag at the end (or similar) shows up as a multiplayer asset in the final game. The vehicle physics make a big impact, but the seamless transition between the indoor and outdoor environments was revolutionary at the time. This was around the time of Half-Life and I'm sure everyone knows how awful the loading times were in that game. Bungie was saying they were working on an entirely open-world map for the game, as well as native flora and fauna and day/night and weather cycles. Unfortunately, none of that ended up in the final game, but the impressive environments and vehicle physics remained. I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere but the soldier's gestures in the presentation make me wonder if the game still had some strategy elements in it at this point; something more like the squad-based tactics of the Ghost Recon games. In any case, they continued to improve and refine the game and almost a year later they presented at E3 2000:
E3 2000 Presentation
This build looks a lot more like the Halo we ended up with, so many of the characters and assets look almost final. Despite that it's probably worth noting that they really didn't have much of an actual game at this point. The E3 presentation (and the Macworld one for that matter) weren't actually finished and ready to go until the day of the presentation, and they had to rely on some tricks and band-aids in order to get the demo working correctly. And even though they clearly had a lot of concepts and assets realized, they had no idea what story they were even going to tell. Bungie was also dealing with some money troubles. They had made an agreement with Take-Two to license their older games for console release, and even at the time of the E3 presentation where they advertised Halo for PC and Mac, they were pretty deep in negotiations to be acquired by Microsoft. Obviously the acquisition went forward and Halo was eventually turned into a first-person shooter, completed, and released as a launch title for the Xbox and the rest, as they say, is history.
I want to leave you with one last video, from when Bungie still planned on releasing a PC game. Enjoy!