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Bungie Studios LiveText

Jonty Barnes and Frank O'Connor transcript.

Hello and welcome to the latest Eurogamer LiveText interview. Sadly you're a bit late for Bungie Studios production director Jonty Barnes and his colleague, and writing lead, Frank O'Connor, who have already buggered off. Fortunately, you can read a transcript of the interview below.

How many blankets would they use if they were sleeping in an unheated tent during a mild summer? And what colour is a bear? Possibly some of this and more.

Our live coverage of this event has finished.

Coverage

A% Tom Super Moderating Hero Bramwell: Despite what it says above, we're still waiting for Frank O'Connor, but we thought we'd get going with Jonty Barnes in the meantime. So, as is tradition, Jonty, tell us a bit about yourself first. A% Jonty Barnes: I joined Bungie in August 2006 as Head of Production. Previously I worked at Bullfrog and then Lionhead for 17 years on various titles. As Head of Production at Bungie, it's my job to try and allow/facilitate the team to 'produce' and realise their ambitions. Personally, I think I have the most fun - but there's plenty of people who think I get to get in the mix of the shittiest jobs!

Tom Bramwell

A% Moderating Hero: Hurrah, Frankie's joined us. Just in time. Q%Gilrod%22220% Obvious question first, you guys going to be working on any other platforms other than 360? A% Frank O'Connor: We have no plans to work on any other platforms beyond 360 at this time. A% Moderating Hero: He wrote that before he actually saw the first question. A% Jonty Barnes: Microsoft have been good friends to us. You can see the strength of our relationship in Halo. We're really focused on continuing our collaboration in making the best games we can, and that right now is on 360. It's our hope this relationship continues to be our strongest one, as we have a lot of respect for the people we have worked with at Microsoft.

Tom Bramwell

A% Moderating Hero: For those of you wondering what Frank's background is like, this is what Frank's background is like. A% Frank O'Connor: I'm a writing lead at Bungie which means I work on everything from character and combat dialog to board game scripts to this kind of thing. I am a Euro of sorts, born and raised in Edinburgh and a veteran of olde UK video game magazines like Amstrad Action, Total! and Computer and Video Games, the paper one.

Tom Bramwell

Q%L42yB%13390% Have you guys got any info on the Halo movie and what's happening with it (if anything)? A% Frank O'Connor: The Halo movie, as everyone knows, came to a somewhat ungainly halt as various men in suits tried to get all their ducks in a row, Hollywood style. The end result was that the movie was put on hold. We'd love to see a movie made, but only if it was being put together with the same kind of passion that we'd pour into a game. Nothing new to report, I'm afraid, it still has it's pause button firmly pressed.

Tom Bramwell

Q%KingOfSpain%9854% Do you ever see a time when digital distribution sales of games overtakes retail and would you welcome the change? A% Jonty Barnes: I think there's almost an inevitable trend to digital distribution, I'm most interested in what's the best experience for the player, and if that means digital distribution allows us to reach more players - then I'd welcome it. Though, there's something quite nice about going to a software shop and seeing the games in action...

Tom Bramwell

Q%Bumbuliuz%7077% Will we ever see a Marathon game for the Xbox 360? A% Frank O'Connor: Marathon is a great love of ours - it introduced a lot of concepts and ideas that we'd flesh out later in the Halo series. Bungie owns the Marathon IP outright, so it's not outwith the bounds of reason that we could revisit it one day. I can however tell you we're not working on anything Marathon-related right now.

Tom Bramwell

Q%LetsGo%18692% One for Jonty. You was at Lionhead for a good number of years. What have you taken from your time at Lionhead and used at Bungie to improve the game development process? A% Jonty Barnes: The main thing I learnt from Lionhead is working with different creative and technical people. Ultimately in Production, unless you understand where people are passionate from, you cannot really represent their motivations and weigh them against other important parts of the projects. The rest is about organisation and processes which we all learn as teams get bigger. I learn a lot from Lionhead that I didn't expect to apply at Bungie. Peter Molyneux gives you design insight I didn't know I had and PR experience definitely helped. However, my programming background has always given me technical confidence.

Tom Bramwell

Q%Killerbee%296% As a studio, where do you stand on episodic gaming? We've seen Valve (sort of) do it with Half-Life - do you see this happening on current consoles with games like Halo or is that the next 'next-gen'? A% Frank O'Connor: Episodic gaming has great promise, but given the realities of big game production, it needs to also benefit from a renaissance in the actual production environment, as well as asset and team management, and all of that is before you get to the nuts and bolts of how an episodic story would play out. It can't just be a sequence of unrelated games, six months apart. It needs to have a flow and rhythm that can draw the player into the world, and make them care about the characters therein.

Tom Bramwell

Q%Yossarian%12086% Given that this particular Halo trilogy/story arc has now concluded, have you considered releasing a multiplayer-only Halo 'Tournament' style game every year or two? A% Jonty Barnes: There's a lot of ideas in the Halo Universe that we have talked about in the studio. Many people are passionate about where to take Halo further. Really we don't look at copying what other people have tried, we look at the Halo and gaming community is changing, and combine that with new concepts we feel strongly about - sure the idea of doing a MP only game has come up - but so have a lot of other things. We still love Halo though. Too much sometimes!

Tom Bramwell

Q%Walshicus%20411% Can Frank or Jonty tell us anything more about the vehicle alterations or customisations they've hinted at for the new DLC maps? Also, why does Frank a no speaka wi de accent no mora? A% Frank O'Connor: I have been in the US for more than ten years, so that's where the accent went. As for "vehicle customizations", this is the second time I have been asked this in 24 hours, so he must be talking about something specific I said - to reiterate, I don't think I have ever (consciously) hinted that new or customized vehicles were coming. But Forge is an interesting beast and can certainly contain toys unavailable before. One of those will be revealed on Spike TV this Sunday.

Tom Bramwell

Q%Batfink%1762% Apart from Stubbs, the Halo technology has always been strictly in-house. Is Bungie considering licensing or re-using the Halo engine? A% Jonty Barnes: We're about making the most impactful gaming experiences we can, not in the building gaming engine business. While financial comfort is important now we're independent, we're not interested in focusing on how we can generate the most revenue. Bungie isn't built on developing engines for other people, we're built on trying to realize our creative ideas. And this consumes us.

Tom Bramwell

A% Moderating Hero: Tell us something that nobody else knows about the new Halo 3 map pack. A% Frank O'Connor: There are at least two Easter Eggs on Stand Off - each more horrifying than the last. Go find them.

Tom Bramwell

Q%Mr_360%16533% Hey guys, this one is for Frankie. Frankie, you are one of Bungie's emplyees who is always in touch with the community. How has this feedback from the community affected development for the Halo franchise? Have you ever read something that one of the fans suggested and presented it to the development team? A% Frank O'Connor: Actually yes, all the time. Obviously we used the beta to gather metrics and "hard" data, but we monitor and interact with the community constantly to find out what they like and what they hate. We make changes and adjustments all the time based on that feedback, and it's inevitable that we'll make more significant changes in the future based on community ideas and complaints.

Tom Bramwell

Q%Nick%6% At what point in a game's development does it become playable? And at what point after that does it become fun? How do you know when it's finished? A% Jonty Barnes: We build in lots of time in our production plans for Halo to iterate on the game experience. It's loosely termed polish, but that covers design iteration after you get a representative experience as well as revisiting art content to bring it up to a higher level and more. For Halo 3 I recall being able to play through the whole game last December, some missions were much more progressed than others but you could walk through the whole game. It was nothing compared to the final product but it was vital that we were able to play in the correct spaces, analyse our missions and all the other pieces of the game as early as possible to allow us to create the Campaign and MP maps we believed in.

Tom Bramwell

Q%SeanLB%28693% In the past Bungie staff have publicly stated that as a whole Bungie always focused on the game at hand and not defining the Xbox platform. Did this cause some aggravation with Microsoft, whom particularly with the original Halo were looking to define a new entrant to the market? A% Jonty Barnes: I'm sure Microsoft would have loved Halo 3 as a launch title, but they understood how important Halo was to Bungie, so Microsoft were fully behind us making it the game it needed to be.

Tom Bramwell

Q%mcwildcard%19790% Mark Rein has praised Sony for it's attitude on Mods, do you feel that Microsoft's hard line on this particular subject might be reversed in future? A% Frank O'Connor: I can't speak for Microsoft, but I wasn't aware they had a hard line against mods, so much as they're concerned with a high quality bar. Unreal is actually a good example to watch and pay attention to. In my experience about 95% of user-created maps and mods are terrible, with 5% being amazing. That still amounts to a LOT of cool, amazing maps, but a lot of crap to sift through. Bungie has a habit of hiring brilliant mod creators. Some of our top folks in the studio started their video game careers tinkering with Myth or Marathon mods. Forge is designed to give ordinary players some "mod-like" abilities, but is obviously very limited in terms of its toolset.

Tom Bramwell

Q%WiseNail%49805% I'd love to see some multiplayer bots as a download in Halo 3, even if only for the slayer game types. Any chance of this happening? A% Jonty Barnes: I cannot comment on the plans for Halo 3 at this time outside of the snippets of DLC announcements we've already made. Bungie is focusing on what we think is the best use of our talents in the studio for complementing Halo 3 right now.

Tom Bramwell

Q%agparrot%2054% Given that you are not interested in "how you can generate the most revenue", whose idea was it to charge for the DLC, and do you think it is fair to ask for so much more money, so soon after the release of the game itself? Won't this also effectively split the online players into two distinct groups, and how will matchmaking handle this? A% Frank O'Connor: The decision to price our DLC at 800 Microsoft points was not made by Bungie. Boiling it down to it's most basic components - We assemble a DLC team, spend months making the maps, and send MS a bill. It IS an expensive business with most of the Bungie team being involved at one stage or another, so I'm not surprised MS is trying to recoup its costs. The maps WILL be free in just a few months, so the patient can simply wait it out. The Matchmaking playlists will not be affected at all. A check occurs to see who in a lobby has new maps, and if one or more players don't an "old" map is automatically selected. An entire playlist devoted to the new maps will ensure that they can be played nonstop, if that's what the player desires. It should be seamless.

Tom Bramwell

Q%SeanLB%28693% With the bigger marketing budget put towards promoting the Halo franchise, do you feel sympathy for Rare and their view that titles such as Viva Pinata were given enough a backing, leading to ignorance from Joe Public in relation to their new franchise? A% Jonty Barnes: To be honest, we don't get involved in the marketing spend at Microsoft. We are not marketing people, so cannot always understand their thinking. They are looking at the whole portfolio and the platform in their tactics. Rare is a great studio with a lot of talent and history, and we respect them.

Tom Bramwell

Q%ming%27706% Not including Halo 3 what is your game of the year and why? A% Frank O'Connor: My game of the year would be a three-way tie between Orange Box, Bioshock and Crackdown. The first for value, the second for atmosphere and the third for sheer mindless pleasure.

Tom Bramwell

Q%Avaloner%22635% Peter Molyneux told us last time that he does not feel the need for Lionhead to go independent again since 'being part of a family that truly wants to make great and innovational games is more important than being independent.' What are your thoughts on this issue? A% Jonty Barnes: Peter is very happy at Lionhead working with Microsoft. We are also very happy working with Microsoft and long may it continue. However, for Bungie I think it's a healthier environment for us to be independant. We wanted a heightened level of ownership which also helps increase the teams level of excitement and investment in what they're doing. For Bungie is was a great time to evolve our company and give us greater flexibility.

Tom Bramwell

A% Moderating Hero: I thought we might like to hear about Jonty's favourite games of the year too. A% Jonty Barnes: My game of the year will be Mario Galaxy. I've always had a soft spot for this type of game and I've really enjoyed playing it through. I know Frank will give me hell for that, but I canot help the pure fun it offered me.

Tom Bramwell

Q%pjmaybe%212% The FPS genre is so stuffed to the gills with games that you'd swear it'd reached saturation point. So where is left to go in your opinion(s)? A% Frank O'Connor: I think an FPS in many ways is a means to an end - a narrative vehicle to tell a story, or a world to fill with sand box toys. In that regard, there's no limit. An FPS can run the gamut from Portal to Bioshock. And First Person is the most "realistic" perspective in games - which is why every simulation uses it. There's a long way to go - and saturation point is a bigger problem for stories and ideas than it is for the genre, per se.

Tom Bramwell

Q%L42yB%13390% How much input have the Bungie team had in the making of Halo Wars? A% Jonty Barnes: We have talked to Ensemble during the making of Halo Wars, but mainly it's been advise on the fiction and the universe of Halo, not the actual gameplay. They've kindly visted and showed us the game and we want them to create Halo Wars to be amazing, but it's very much their project.

Tom Bramwell

A% Moderating Hero: Since we're in this kind of area, Frankie, what do you think of Valve's golden rule of never letting Gordon Freeman speak? A% Frank O'Connor: Given the deliberate policy of making sure the Master Chief doesn't yank you out of the mood by yapping all the time, I can appreciate why they're doing it. Although in a way I already made up my mind about who Gordon Freeman is because of the fact that I know his face and I learned a little about him in Half Life (1).

Tom Bramwell

Q%DocRobotnik%103619% Gaming has garnered a great deal of negative media attention lately for its portrayal of violence and lack of ratings (Manhunt 2, et al). As a developer of action/shoot-'em-ups, do you feel responsible for ensuring that the content you create is suitable for your audience, knowing also that there's a good chance younger kids may get their hands on it? A% Jonty Barnes: Harold [Ryan] made a good quote that having his young son play Halo and being prepared for an Alien invasion doesn't discourage him. A% Frank O'Connor: Harold has some very interesting theories about home defence. But he's right of course. Halo, while competitive in nature, is very approachable in terms of language - violence is very subjective and although to me it's almost cartoonish and wrapped in Space Opera, parents should always pay attention to what their kids are playing.

Tom Bramwell

Q%cabbadgecase%49230% Does Bungie plan to release any games on XBLA? A% Jonty Barnes: Bungie currently has no planned XBLA titles being focused on, but we'll never say never... I believe Halo Combat Evolved is now available over Live though. A% Moderating Hero: Yep, 1200 Microsoft Points as part of Xbox Originals. Did that take much work on your part or did Microsoft handle it all? A% Frank O'Connor: The Halo on Xbox Originals is a perfect snapshot of Halo - it has no new features beyond the 1080p scaling and it runs exactly as the old game did. Bungie created it in that sense, but had nothing to do with the "port" which isn't really a port. It IS convenient though.

Tom Bramwell

Q%GaidenZero%50655% Who has the highest score on the Halo 3 track for Guitar Hero III? I'm guessing you'll all play it on Expert ;p A% Frank O'Connor: I suck at ALL music games. A% Jonty Barnes: There's a lot of people who like GHIII in the studio. We have a games pentatholon once a year where we all get together and compete in games. Marty finds the guitar too limiting though!

Tom Bramwell

Q%shinyshirthero%65631% Are we likely to see any of the old maps from Halo and Halo 2 make a comeback as downloadable content? A% Frank O'Connor: It is very possible some old classics could see a comeback as DLC. We pay attention. We know what the ladies like. And also, the gents.

Tom Bramwell

Q%Nick%6% Which is your all-time favourite FPS? A% Jonty Barnes: As I'm newer to Bungie I feel I'm allowed to say Halo: Combat Evolved. It's one of the reasons I was motivated to join Bungie. A% Frank O'Connor: Halo excluded (it's Halo 3) mine would be Quake 2 or 3. 3 was better, but I played a LOT of Quake 2. A% Jonty Barnes: I liked Golden Eye and Deus Ex as well.

Tom Bramwell

A% Moderating Hero: Last week someone asked Peter Molyneux whether he would rather be invisible or have lasers for eyes. Would you rather be invisible or have lasers for eyes? A% Jonty Barnes: Invisible. Definately. There's so much more you could do if you could turn on and off your invisibility. I'd sneak everywhere I could. A% Frank O'Connor: Invisible, easily and yes, I would use it to rob banks and spy on the Sorority Pillow Fights I know for sure happen in colleges all over America (that's how they resolve their differences).

Tom Bramwell

Q%dog2_99%22637% Was it a conscious decision not to push for Gears of War level of graphical detail with Halo 3? A% Jonty Barnes: [Laughs] A% Frank O'Connor: Gears is lovely, but it's a very different game. You can't have Gears level of detail in a world that you can traverse on foot, or by air in a Hornet. The scale is too different. We chose to follow and evolve the art direction taken in prior Halo games - which is huge open vistas, fully explorable - and using an all-new lighting engine to take advantage of some lovely HDR.

Tom Bramwell

A% Moderating Hero: It's time to wind down, so we're saying goodbye to Jonty and Frank one by one. Jonty's off first - for a well-deserved break in sunny Surrey. Thanks Jonty! A% Jonty Barnes: My pleasure. Thanks to everyone for their questions. Let's do this again! A% Moderating Hero: I should say thanks to you too, Frankie. If there's room for one more though, I know our readers would kick me if I didn't ask (despite none of them actually bothering to!) Back in the olden days, our former editor gave the first Halo 8/10. Did that make you happy, or sad? And how do you feel about it in hindsight? A% Frank O'Connor: I've reviewed plenty of games myself, and it's a subjective business. If he didn't like it, he didn't like it. I think celery tastes like Satan's own brussel sprout, but people love it. A% Moderating Hero: Oh, I think he did like it. I only ask because every time we've ever reviewed anything to 9/10 since, the first dozen or so comments have been "better than Halo then?" A% Frank O'Connor: Haha. Actually, I think if Halo had been reviewed six months later, with all that System Link under folks' belts, all the review scores would have benefited.

Tom Bramwell

A% Moderating Hero: Well folks, that's it. Both gentlemen have left us, but with the promise of coming back one day. Thanks for all your questions and see you next time!

Tom Bramwell

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