Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Before There Was Halo

Shamus Young | 3 Sep 2010 17:00
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Four years ago I finally got around to playing the original Halo when I picked up the PC version in the bargain bin. I did not like it. But even though the game doesn't work for me, the influence of this title is undeniable. This franchise basically established the console shooter genre and created a style and a set of conventions that are still shaping the way games are made today. Yes, it was GoldenEye that explored the frontier, but it was Halo that built the first city. So I thought I'd look back at this game and point out how amazing it is that things turned out the way they did.

But first, a history lesson. Some people have forgotten (or are too young to remember) that Halo began as a PC / Mac exclusive. Bungie was a longtime Mac developer (a rare breed) and its Marathon series was one of the few shooters available to Mac users in the early 90s. It was known for being a lot smarter and more story-driven than its cousins Doom and Quake. After Marathon, Bungie dabbled in RTS development for a few years before returning to form with Halo.

Halo was announced during the golden age of PC shooters. Quake and Unreal dominated the genre (If not in quality, then in attention and coverage.). We also had System Shock, Thief, and Half-Life. And we were pretty sure Duke Nukem Forever was just around the corner. In the midst of this bounty of quality titles we were getting the news that a new game was coming that might somehow blow them all away. The news surrounding Halo was tantalizing. It was going to have drive-able vehicles. Inverse kinematics that would let riders bounce around in the vehicle instead of acting like statues affixed to the vehicle's frame. Squad-based AI that would take cover and flank instead of just charging into the player's reticule. A mixture of indoor areas and outdoor landscapes instead of endless tunnels. Co-op play. And it would have a rich sci-fi setting that would rise above the "shoot all the aliens" narrative we'd been living on for the last decade or so. I realize these features are more or less expected these days, but at the time Bungie was offering us something that sounded almost too good to be true.

In June of 2000 it was announced that Microsoft had bought up Bungie, and the game went from being a PC exclusive to being Xbox exclusive. Then there was wailing and gnashing of teeth.

For Microsoft, this was a good move. They needed something big to launch their new platform, and Halo fit the bill perfectly. It was a shooter, it was a new IP, it had a talented development house behind it, and it had a large following of eager gamers awaiting its debut.

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