HIH: Looking around the community today, could you list a few areas where the fan community could still step up and offer services that your average web dude couldn't get from Bungie itself?
: Probably the biggest 'gap' I see right now is a useful way to sift through the amazing quantity of user-created content on Bungie's website. Tons and tons and TONS of fantastic map variants, game variants, screenshots are posted there every day - but finding stuff is nearly impossible. There are sites like I <3 Halo Screen shots that highlight what at least one fan considers to be great stuff...but what's missing is some sort of a filter system for the entire collection. Rampancy.net made a start, with their Forge Database...but unfortunately, it's not used as much as it could be - and any tool that relies on crowdsourced management is only as good as the crowd that does the management - if there's no audience, there's no real value.
I believe that if someone built an easy-to-use tool for filtering and rating content stored on Bungie's servers, and promoted it well... they could become huge.
Sure. If you look at the way Bungie.net right now handles a lot of the user-created content that Halo 3 enables, it's based very much around the Xbox Live interface itself, which means it is friends-list centric. The addition of friends-of-friends list expands the reach of the interface quite a bit, but it's still a bit of a kludge and is still based on the friends list concept.
The friends list is a great interface for voice chat, messaging, and gameplay, but for browsing content like films, screenshots, and map variations, it's really much less useful. The essential problem is that while the average player may only be interested in playing with people that he or she knows, there's a very good chance they may be interested in images, films, and map variations made by people they've never met or perhaps even heard of.
Bungie Favorites tries to address this, but that requires a gatekeeper to regularly update that feature. It's really only good for showing the latest films of Bungie humpdays and the latest hijinks that earned somebody Recon. If someone's just looking for a new map variation to play, or a film to watch to get some new ideas about how to play a level (multiplayer or campaign) there's really no way to search for anything, or to browse what Bungie.net makes available. You've got your friends and their shares, their friends and their shares, and Bungie favorites. That lets you reach about 10,000 people and their content if your friends list is full and all of their friends lists are full, which according to Major Nelson at Xbox.com is far from true. In any case it's a woefully small percentage of the total number of Halo players out there who may have made interesting content.
So I think there's a great opportunity for fansites to find a way to present a different interface to that content. A lot of that is being done now in ways that are very separate from Bungie.net. For instance, Rampancy's Forge Database lets users submit map variations they've created, and gives them a field to provide a link to the map on Bungie.net. They've then got to enter information describing that map to the system so people can use that information to browse: what map it is based on, what gametypes it supports, what weapons are on it, etc etc.
Of course, somewhere deep inside Bungie.net and Halo 3 all that information is already there. The Halo 3 engine needs to know about those weapons and gametypes and map variations, and Bungie.net already knows about what content you've put in your share. Potentially it could be as easy as submitting a gamertag to the site and having all that metadata about that content pulled from Bungie.net and presented in whatever way a fansite sees fit. Right now that can't really be done because Bungie.net doesn't provide most of that information, and the information it does provide is provided only in full HTML format. It requires fansite maintainers to use (or, more likely, write) programs called screen scrapers to pull out the relevant information so it can be collated and organized in a different way.
All the alternative interfaces for Bungie.net content either work that way, or use RSS feeds that Bungie.net provides. However, in many ways Bungie.net's current RSS feeds also make it very hard for fansite maintainers. Take game results and player statistics, for instance. Right now those feeds have all of their data in a single element; you again need a custom-written screen scraper to look at the unformatted text and figure out where all the numbers go. If the RSS as generated presented each data in a descriptive tag then fansites could much more easily parse it and present that data in any way it liked, allowing for all kinds of statistics that are far too esoteric for Bungie to track, but that some portions of the community might be very interested in looking at. The same might be done to most of the user content on Bungie.net: films, screenshots, maps, game results - campaign or multiplayer.
Don't get me wrong-- Bungie is pretty far out ahead of the curve in this area; I just think a few extra steps and fansites could be more fully involved.
HIH: Veering away from Bungie now, the next series of questions will be aimed at fansites in general, and the status of the community. At HIH, the release of Halo 2 was a watershed event. Literally, nothing has remained the same since that day. Even the types of fans visiting the site seems different. Give us an idea of how Halo 2 affected your corner of the Bungieverse, for good or for ill.
Well, obviously, it made things bigger. More fans, more fan content, more everything. In some ways, that was great; the bigger the group, the more talent you have in one place. Plus, it came at a time when the internet was going through a major change - bandwidth was cheaper, online storage space was cheaper. And people had the first game as a template - they knew what to look for. Finding the secrets of the first game (easter eggs, glitches, etc) took well over a year - finding a huge percentage of the Halo 2 equivalents took a month or two. Machinima exploded, partly because there were more people making it... but also because you could recruit your cast online, instead of having to do most of your filming via LAN. If you didn't need to have people in your town who played the game... the chances of creating your masterpiece skyrocketed.
In other ways, though... it was hard. Halo 2's popularity meant that it attracted a lot more casual fans - folks who knew nothing except that they liked playing Halo 2. They didn't know anything about Bungie, or Bungie's past creations - and in a lot of cases, they didn't care. They didn't particularly care that they were entering a community that had been there for a while - they didn't look around much before chiming in with their two cents. In a lot of cases, those two cents had been chimed in with a few times already - often enough, in fact, that Lincoln's face was no longer even visible. These newcomers were just trying to share their enthusiasm for a game they'd discovered... but they did it in a way that irritated the old-timers. And the old-timers reacted irritably, which pissed off the newcomers. And all of a sudden, what could have been a huge community of enthusiastic fans became a biting, bitter group of polarized internet denizens.
And on top of all of it, the advent of Halo 2 multiplayer (and the tools to organize the results) shifted the focus quite a bit; folks played through the campaign, but when they were done, only the hardcore tricksters stuck around and kept exploring - everyone else moved on to multiplayer.
If I can subvert your question before answering it in order that I might follow up on the last couple of answers...
...I'd say the acquisition was also a watershed event, especially since it meant the Halo series was becoming a console game first and foremost.
Halo 1 didn't even have Internet multiplayer, which Myth did have years before. In fact, the lobby system used in Halo is very much a descendant of Myth's system. The real innovation in Halo 2 was matchmaking to replace the server browser; Myth's system really was just a glorified server browser with a pretty interface, and at times using it was very problematic.
However, even once Halo 2 came and brought back Internet play, a lot of the fansite opportunities that Marathon and Myth had afforded were bricked up. Marathon and Myth had Films support, and Halo 1 and 2 didn't. So the only way to create films was through video capture, which meant hosting large data files and endless tradeoffs between file size and image quality. It meant that a far lower percentage of the fanbase could participate in making films, and fewer sites could afford to try and host significant media archives. This was largely compensated for by the larger size of Halo's audience, but it's still maddening for a fansite looking for niches to fill.
The closed nature of Xbox Live meant that even when Halo got film recording features, the interface for those films is within the game and on Bungie.net, whereas before these were provided entirely by the community. For Myth and Marathon, as PC-based games, that made sense. For a console game, being played by people who might not even have a computer, it had to be within the game. The Bungie.net features are really just gravy.
Marathon and Myth both had mapmaking software. Halo didn't get any until the PC port of Halo 1, at which time it became apparent that custom maps were going to be absolutely huge files that were of interest only to the small portion of the fanbase using the Halo Custom Edition version of the game-- not the Xbox version and not the straight PC version. It meant that being an archive for fan-made Halo maps was going to require a lot more in terms of resources and expense, and appeal to far fewer people.
By the time Halo 2 came out most of these questions, at least with regard to how Rampancy was involved, had been answered. Shut out by the architecture from many of the opportunities that would have been afforded to a fansite following a PC game, it left me with the part of the experience that appealed most to me anyway: playing the game (primarily the campaign), thinking about it, and then writing about it. Speculating about the story, comparisons to other games, that sort of thing.
Of course that is also an area where the release of Halo 2 had a big impact, because it was so very different from the first game: Bungie's custom physics was ripped out in favor of the Havok middleware. The story was split in half so we could see the Arbiter's side of things, which meant Elites speaking English. Since the real enemy was revealed as the Flood they needed a mouthpiece, which means we got Audrey... I mean, Gravemind.
How different Halo 2 was from Halo 1 struck me quite early and eventually led to my writing the Halo 2 Impressions series, which catalogs the differences level by level. Speed bump or no I do intend to do that for Halo 3 as well, but I'll agree that the "Halo 1 > Halo 2" crowd is much more numerous and more vocal than the "Halo 2 > Halo 3" crowd, although that does exist, too.
HIH: In our neighborhood, Halo 3 was an entirely different animal. The release of Halo 3 was a speedbump compared with Halo 2. Also, things appeared to have changed in a major way for us. The deluge of content now seems to flow more toward and through Bungie.net, for obvious technical reasons (screenshot and video uploads). Nothing bad about that - just different. Explain how Halo 3 has affected your area of our community, and how is it different from the days after the Halo 2 release.
Well... I got busier just before Halo 3 came out, which meant I got behind. A lot of the staff I relied on went through similar changes, which meant that even FEWER resources were being put towards cataloging more content - and when Halo 3 rolled out, I spent the first couple of months just trying to keep up on the news flood. This meant that processing new fan content took a back seat - and as a result, the entire site has suffered. (This continues today; most of the HBO staff has moved on, and I haven't had time to look for replacements.) It's different from the days after the Halo 2 release because I had more free time then - and more help on top of that.
Well by exposing at least some links to fileshares through Bungie.net it enabled the creation of things like the Forge database, so that's one good thing. In the interim between Halo 1 and Halo 3 another community feature emerged, which was fans transcribing the soundtrack music by Marty O'Donnell and Mike Salvatori so that they could play it at home. That's sort of unique because it isn't wholly fan-created content, it's still very tied to the game itself, but it doesn't require any interaction with Bungie.net, and it does fill a need, because until recently there wasn't any official sheet music available.
In that sense Halo 3 opened up opportunities because it has a new soundtrack, but that's largely separate from what Bungie does with Bungie.net and its community features.