Bungie has recalled a hellish Halo 2 development that remains a grim reminder of what the studio never wants to revert to ever again.
"It was the most brutal development effort we've gone through," multiplayer designer Chris Carney told Eurogamer when we sat the developer down recently for a look back in time.
"We're so much more organised and focused now - mainly because some of us think back to that experience, the lack of daylight, the poor hygiene... These are things we just don't want to happen again!"
Chris Butcher, lead engineer, added: "I had a log that I kept of the times I went into work and the times I left work. Day after day after day, seven days a week, getting in reasonably early and then not leaving before 11 at night. Seven days a week, for months and months..."
"The crunch on Halo 2 was, 'Oh my god, we're f***ed. We're all going to die.' Months and months of that emotional, negative tone was really hard to deal with - but at the same time, we did a lot of awesome work."
Bungie was wildly over ambitious about what could be achieved. And a "smoke and mirrors" Halo 2 E3 presentation heaped on more unnecessary pressure. The result was feature genocide, as the team frantically scaled the game back in order to ship on time.
"Reconciling [our ambition] with reality was a brutal process, because it happened so late. We were still cutting features only four to five months before the game went gold," said Butcher.
Lead Halo 2 designer Jamie Griesemer said Bungie could have "absolutely" used a couple of extra months, but missing the last Xbox Christmas of 2004 "wasn't an option". And really, Bungie relished a deadline, as Griesemer believes the team could quite easily "create and scrap 20 versions of the game and never ship any of them" if given the freedom.
"If the creative process is easy," concluded Griesemer, "it probably means you're not doing anything interesting. Any really cutting-edge, triple-A, forefront-of-the-industry type creative process is going to be a little bit painful. It's just whether you're really working on something great, or whether it doesn't come out that well... You never really know until the end."
If you haven't already, catch-up with our seven page delve into Halo 2's development for an insight into life at Bungie.