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An Oral History of the Halo 2 E3 2003 Demo

Frologic

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Mar 29, 2013
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Great thread OP. I can't get enough of the making of the Halo games.

It's been said before but to get Bungies best work you need to give them a small timeframe and limited budget. When you say "Have 3 years and unlimited money" to them they churn out disappointments like Halo 2 and Destiny (halo 2 only disappointing in campaign, multiplayer was incredible).

What did you find disappointing about the campaign? Personally one of my favorite single player campaigns in a first person shooter, although I might be clouded by nostalgia. I should note that I played it years after release and wasn't part of the hype train.
 
The story of Halo 2 is everything* that is wrong with game development.

Throwing out too much working code, reinventing wheels, over-promising, under-delivering. They had a perfectly good** engine with Halo 1. Stick with that. Developers in all walks of life, games to business apps*** to who knows what else, are always seduced by the grand rewrite in the sky, the promise of doing it better next time, "yeah the old code works but it's ugly," etc., when they lose sight of the simple fact that your old product worked and people liked it. Instead, they throw it out, rebuild it, and find in doing so that it takes too long, goes over budget, and everybody comes away wondering why didn't some promise get fulfilled or what happened to some previous feature. Using the previous engine and staying within its confines would have been perfectly acceptable and the game could have been delivered sooner.

That said, Halo 2 was obviously wildly successful, so you know, cry more tears or whatever.

Regarding the actual demo, I never had a problem that the specific level or sequence was not featured in the game. (My problems were more with the quick divergence from First Strike, and fear that "the great journey" would be woefully unfulfilling, which it ultimately was.) The absence of the demo, the cliffhanger ending? Non-stories, as far as I was concerned.



*not literally everything
**not literally perfect, but it worked. If it ain't broke....
***been there, done that, dumb idea

Agreed about throwing away Halo CE's amazing engine, still the best gunplay in the series. Halo 2 has more responsive jumping and movement, but Halo CE still combines strafing and shooting better than any other Halo. On top of all the other stuff that Halo CE does, but the core mechanics of moving and shooting is still the best as far as console shooters go.

It's why I love Shadowrun so much, they based it off the Halo CE engine, if it ain't broke, don't fix
rewrite
it.

That being said, amazing OP, one of my favorite E3 stories overall, just so much money and effort poured into a practically useless demo.
 

Northeastmonk

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Mar 18, 2013
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I got this book sometime in 2005.



Halo 2 was a huge announcement for me because everyone I knew at the time played Halo and wanted a sequel. I remember watching the demo and the live feed where they were on Zanzibar with the rocket launcher. Those times were very memorable. It peaked for a very long time too. Lots of people thought you played Halo if you played video games. I showed the footage to everyone I knew. Thought it would excite the not so hardcore gamers. You could just say, "hey, heard of Halo? There's a sequel that looks awesome!''.

It was great then it felt like you were somewhat being drowned out by the excitement. Those first few impressions were great. Now I hear from gamers who never played it or they don't even like Halo. It feels sort of weird to me. I'd have the menu going full blast at home with people over playing MP.
 

SaganIsGOAT

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Oct 7, 2014
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did we as gamers get ANY inkling that shit went wrong before the french leak? to my admittedly poor memory it was literally a surprise that the game was quite a bit different and the e3 demo wasnt in the game in any sense. is this right?

I thought that the E3 2004 MP demo made it pretty clear the graphics had changed. I was still hyped watching those vehicles explode, the rockets track, the boarding and the ability to play as an Elite.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1AOHoyDFuA
 

op_ivy

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Jun 7, 2004
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I thought that the E3 2004 MP demo made it pretty clear the graphics had changed. I was still hyped watching those vehicles explode, the rockets track, the boarding and the ability to play as an Elite.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1AOHoyDFuA

i remember just thinking that MP had reduced effects for other reasons. many MP games look quite a bit different from SP, even today.
 

Tookay

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Oct 26, 2011
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Of all the "downgrades," this one hurt the most I think. It's probably not fair, but I view any E3 presentation that looks too good to be true with a certain amount of suspicion because of it.
 

Compsiox

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Jul 6, 2014
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Of all the "downgrades," this one hurt the most I think. It's probably not fair, but I view any E3 presentation that looks too good to be true with a certain amount of suspicion because of it.
What makes it worse is that they acted like they didn't know it couldn't run on Xbox when they implemented features that would render a consumer version useless.
 

Spineker

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Apr 8, 2014
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I remember watching a bootleg handicam video of this on the demo disc of the OXM. I was stunned and the audience reactions were getting me so hyped.
 

REDSLATE

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Sep 18, 2014
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Like most fans at the time, I was disappointed with the end product. It was unquestionably a great game, but we expected more. Looking back now, I'm impressed by how much Bungie was able to accomplish under pressure, delays, and difficulties.

The story really is epic (correct usage of the word), and the multiplayer is some of the most balanced, competitive, and fun experiences available in gaming.

Most of the content from the E3 demo is actually in game, albeit in a less grand/cinematic way. Sadly, some things were omitted. Everyone knows the line "Bet you can't stick it," and it's not even in game. Missed opportunity. Personally, I really wanted to see the jackal phalanx in game as well (tactics, man).

If you're interested in Halo 2: what could have been, there were at least three levels cut from the game. One of which was aboard a Cov Cap Ship (after entering via EVA) at the end of which you fought a Drinoll (think that's the correct name) boss battle. If only they had more time...
 

HTupolev

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Aug 13, 2012
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What makes it worse is that they acted like they didn't know it couldn't run on Xbox when they implemented features that would render a consumer version useless.
It did run on Xbox according to everything they've said, and they did originally intend to ship the game with that system. At some level it wasn't that crazy of an idea; unified lighting+shadowing stencil systems were a cool new thing that was also being pursued by Id, and when they used expensive cutting-edge shading that could occasionally spike and cause drops in Halo 1, it had ultimately worked out okay.

The issue is that stencil systems can experience aggressive fillrate spikes when used in complex environments (depending on the extent to which silhouette extrusions are currently filling the screen), and it can be hard to mitigate it without causing major graphical problems. Which is an area that had been well explored... by absolutely nobody until Bungie put a serious effort into integrating it into representative Halo environments, in the same period of time they were putting the E3 demo together. Sure enough, shortly thereafter is when they ditched the system.

They probably should have planned better on an engineering level. They maybe could have been more honest about the rebuild. But at the time, they weren't lying about intending to use the original approach.
 

Ozzy Onya A2Z

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Apr 16, 2012
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It did run on Xbox according to everything they've said, and they did originally intend to ship the game with that system. At some level it wasn't that crazy of an idea; unified lighting+shadowing stencil systems were a cool new thing that was also being pursued by Id, and when they used expensive cutting-edge shading that could occasionally spike and cause drops in Halo 1, it had ultimately worked out okay.

The issue is that stencil systems can experience aggressive fillrate spikes when used in complex environments (depending on the extent to which silhouette extrusions are currently filling the screen), and it can be hard to mitigate it without causing major graphical problems. Which is an area that had been well explored... by absolutely nobody until Bungie put a serious effort into integrating it into representative Halo environments, in the same period of time they were putting the E3 demo together. Sure enough, shortly thereafter is when they ditched the system.

They probably should have planned better on an engineering level. They maybe could have been more honest about the rebuild. But at the time, they weren't lying about intending to use the original approach.

If I recall correctly Bungie had 3 dev kits sync'd running the demo so it could crunch it. Someone correct or confirm my old man memory...
 

Toa TAK

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Jan 5, 2013
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A great read on my break.

But man, the demo's ending had me. Right from when the brutes crash onwards. Now that's epic.
 
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See, most sites have a rule that they only give awards to games that they can play or are played by someone else -- as opposed to trailers.

I didn't know this was a rule.

Makes sense though. Otherwise everyone would bring along unrepresentative video demos.
 

Glass

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Nov 5, 2014
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Great read, always interesting to hear details on the infamous demo. Much kudos for all the effort spent on this.
 

Oozer3993

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May 2, 2007
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Thanks everyone!

Very nice work. How long did it take for you to put all this together?

I've been working on it here and there for the past two weeks or so. I actually ran up against the character limit for the first post. I also came across a bunch of non-interview stuff and I wanted to include that, so I threw together the second post.
 

The Lamonster

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Aug 12, 2007
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Watching this demo over and over was certainly a magical time, as was finally getting to play Halo 2 itself.

I thought the Halo 2 campaign did indeed live up to this demo and I was only unsatisfied by the game's ending (or lack thereof). Can't wait to play through it again when I have confidence that MCC won't erase my progress, break my Xbox One and spit on my mother's grave.
 

AlStrong

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Aug 9, 2007
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That brings back a lot of memories, thanks OP.

------

Would be nifty if 343i recreated the demo scripting in the new engine.

hm... actually, I'd be curious to see it entirely redone as a Blur cinematic.
 

jelly

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Oct 14, 2013
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If I recall correctly Bungie had 3 dev kits sync'd running the demo so it could crunch it. Someone correct or confirm my old man memory...

I think they had it running on three different machines so if one failed the demo would still continue on stage without fault.
 

Truant

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Apr 23, 2007
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I remember reading somewhere that Bungie forgot that consumer Xboxes only had half the amount of RAM that their dev kits had. Is that even true?
 

EBreda

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Sensational OT.
It makes me wonder where the hell is Martin if not in bed with 343..
 

Mooreberg

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I remember reading somewhere that Bungie forgot that consumer Xboxes only had half the amount of RAM that their dev kits had. Is that even true?
Dev kit to consumer box memory ratio is correct. I doubt anyone actually forgot that. If my recollection is correct, at one point the game was running on four Xboxen in tandem during development. I still need to watch that one hour anniversary documentary so I am probably losing some facts to history. This game and Half-Life 2 sure seemed to change a lot in their last 18 months of development.
 

Ein Bear

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Mar 10, 2011
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Amazing thread, incredible work OP!

Halo 2's development has always absolutely fascinated me. I'd love to play that demo for myself one day and see some footage of the cut levels.

I think I remember hearing in an interview once that Bungie have all the dialogue recorded for the original ending of the game... Hearing that is like my gaming holy grail.
 

AlStrong

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Aug 9, 2007
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Damn you for planting these awesome ideas in my head.

I can only imagine...

H2A recreation. Fully playable... no bugs... H2A assets...

OR

Blur CGI asset-quality awesomeness. Kind of like the infamous Killzone 2 2005 E3 trailer with first person view "gameplay".

man. The latter would be so epic.
 

Oemenia

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Jan 31, 2010
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What hurt more was that the edited versions of those levels shipped with the game are by far the best ones.
 

ManCannon

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Nov 3, 2006
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Superb article and an awesome trip down memory lane! I'll certainly never forget the studio, the people, the work, the fans and the entire experience surrounding the demo and e3. I'm fairly certain I have a kit still with this build on it. Now I'm feeling nostalgic and might just dig it up (akin to finding the unmarked Ark of the Covenant box in the government warehouse). ;)
 

Jordan117

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Sep 19, 2007
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As a kid who didn't really know much about Halo until late 2004, this was the trailer that sold me on Bungie's vision.

Not even the gameplay, just that glorious establishing shot:



The looming hivelike arcology, the quiet music, the intriguing subtitle of "New Mombasa, East African Protectorate" that hinted at a deep and richly-imagined universe. And what do you know, Outskirts and Metropolis remain my favorite examples of video game worldbuilding environmental design ever.

Fantastic post.
 

freeofgreed

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Mar 7, 2013
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Holy crap OP you brought me back. I remember watching this trailer on G4 12 years ago...the feels. I do remember not caring back then and wondering what all the hype was about.
 

Pudge

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Jan 28, 2012
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I watched this thing so many times before Halo 2 came out. It still brings out the hype in me, because I feel like I've never played the game that it's showing me.
 

Mr. Nice_Guy

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Jun 25, 2014
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This is incredible, great work OP! This is also one of the reasons why, no matter how much I like a developer, or what their track record is, I don't generally believe anything until I have the product in front of me.
 

Oozer3993

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May 2, 2007
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A small bit of speculation on my part:

Joe Staten mentions cutting one thing from the original plan for the demo.

We really only cut one thing...and I'm not allowed to talk about it. Let's just say if you thought the Brute boarding the Warthog was cool, this would have been, without a doubt, too cool for school. Or at least too big to fit into the classroom.

Then during the Halo 2 Developer's Commentary included in the Legendary Edition of Halo 3, he says this:

Joe Staten said:
Some of the same elements, but, I mean, the one thing we didn't have in the E3 trailer, right, was the huge giant Covenant walking tank.

It's possible the Scarab is what Joe was referring to when mentioning something "too big to fit into the classroom." Side note: in the commentary, Joe also reveals that the Scarab was originally intended for Halo 1.

Amazing thread, incredible work OP!

Halo 2's development has always absolutely fascinated me. I'd love to play that demo for myself one day and see some footage of the cut levels.

I think I remember hearing in an interview once that Bungie have all the dialogue recorded for the original ending of the game... Hearing that is like my gaming holy grail.

Yup, Marty mentioned on the Bungie podcast in 2007 that the entire ending had been recorded. And that it wasn't just a mini Halo 3. And while doing an interview for Destiny in 2013, Jason Jones seemed open to discussing the ending of Halo 2 at some point. I haven't given up hope of the ending getting out some day.
 

Tunavi

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Aug 2, 2010
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I used to be pissed we never got that level but it's pretty similar to what we got in the game. I just wanted the v-formation jackals and the huge flak cannon explosions.
 

Oozer3993

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May 2, 2007
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With another E3 come and gone, I thought it an opportune time to bump this topic. If you're jonesing for another hit of that E3 good stuff, go ahead and check out the OP. Hopefully, it will do the trick and calm your nerves, at least for a little bit.