Afterwords: Halo 3: ODST

by Bryan Vore on Jan 14, 2010 at 04:00 AM

As part of our extensive Halo: Reach coverage, we decided to take a look back at Bungie’s most recent release, Halo 3: ODST. Find out Bungie’s thoughts on final pricing, audio logs, Firefight matchmaking, and the possibility of DLC, straight from ODST creative director Joseph Staten.

When ODST was first announced, Bungie said it wouldn’t be a full $60 title. At what point did you eventually decide ODST would be full price? Did you expect it to be a tough battle since consumers already thought of the game in a certain way?
Well, to be clear, we didn’t decide anything related to the price; those decisions are made outside of Bungie. But the truth is that ODST started out as an expansion pack, and over time evolved into a full-featured beast that we could all stand behind at a $60 price point. It was a frustrating situation to be in, absolutely. It would be great to always know where you’re going to end up – to be able to tell your fans exactly what to expect from the get-go. But that’s really hard to do in general, and it was even harder to do with ODST. The team was much smaller but the tech was much more stable than we were used to – there were just a lot of factors that made ODST’s development more difficult to predict than previous Halo games. It’s tough as a company who takes such pains to be upfront and honest with its fans to see that honesty backfire. But we’d rather have that problem than the opposite.

ODSTs are not as powerful as Spartans in Halo lore, which results in the use of health packs and lack of duel wielding. What do you say to players who thought having a “weaker” character detracted from the fun? How does Bungie weigh the importance of canon versus gameplay?

I’d tell them they’re not using the new pistol enough! All kidding aside, we tried to strike a balance between vulnerability and special forces ***-ness. Aside from the health model, we found that weapon load-out was a great thing to tweak; the new sound-suppressed pistol and SMG were perfect for ODSTs but maybe a little too stealthy for Spartans. Sure, we also allowed our ODSTs to flip overturned Warthogs and rip off mounted turrets. But, in the end, the game has to be fun above all else. And sometimes that means bending the fiction a little.

Some players really enjoyed the story told in the audio logs – possibly more than the main plot – but were frustrated at tracking down all the files. Was there any consideration during development that this story would be more directly integrated into the main plot?

We figured it would take about a week for a movie of all the audio logs to appear on YouTube (and we were right) for folks who didn’t want to scour the city. But for folks who did, we wanted to make it a decent challenge. Some audio logs were definitely harder to find than others, and early on we considered adding all their locations to the map as we unlocked them. But we found through playtesting that people thought this wasn’t fun because it was too easy. So, again, we did our best to land somewhere in the middle, and we’re really happy players enjoyed Sadie’s story.

Some traditional fans didn’t take to the nighttime sequences – complaining about wandering around and getting lost on the way to the next objective or not being able to see details with the night visor. Was there any way to keep the noir vibe and still please these people?

I don’t think the VISR was as much an issue as the geometry of the city itself. And if we’d had more time or a bigger team, of course, we would have loved to create more unique geometry – more landmarks to help people orient themselves and find their way. But the small group of guys tasked with constructing the nighttime city (the biggest Halo environment we’ve ever made) did an amazing job with the time they had. It was a staggering amount of work, and they spilled a lot of blood tweaking the VISR and the city lighting to try and strike a balance between mood and playability.

Everybody loves Firefight mode! Was this added later in development or was its announcement held back as part of the overall plan?

We’re glad folks love it because we do, too! Firefight was actually a feature we planned for Halo 3, but just didn’t have time to ship. It was a high priority for ODST from the get-go, but our marketing wizards advised us to keep it under wraps until E3 where people would get a chance to play it themselves and see what makes it really unique.

Why isn’t there any matchmaking in Firefight mode? Will this possibly be added in at a later date?

Firefight uses the same networking that we used for campaign co-op in Halo 3 and that code didn’t support matchmaking. We could have added matchmaking support to Firefight for ODST, but that would have required a pretty huge amount of work by the same guys who were busy writing hot new networking code for Reach. Ultimately, we decided making the new hotness even hotter was the smarter (and sexier) thing to do.
Will there be any downloadable content for ODST in the future?

As much as we’d love to do it, we don’t have any plans for ODST DLC. But that’s only because Reach is right around the corner, and the Bungie production juggernaut is totally focused on making the next Halo chapter the best one yet. That said, your key to the Reach multiplayer beta is the ODST disc, which, in a way, is kind of the most awesome piece of free DLC ever.