First Dual-Wielded Halo Community Interview -
, 09:28 PM
The Halo online community fascinates me, and it's probably the one thing that keeps me chugging along after 4 years. I'm not sure we could nail down why (perhaps we'll give it a shot), but the community of people surrounding this game, and this game developer, continues to be a spectacle to many of us.
Focusing mainly on the Halo fanbase and the fansites that keeping it humming, the following questions will be directed toward to men that have been around the Bungieverse, running fansites, longer than most anyone.
Louis Wu - owner of Halo.Bungie.Org
Narcogen - owner of Rampancy.Net
Before we start, allow me to ask a question of myself...
Me: Why another interview? We've had loads of these.
Me2: Because this time I'm going to leave the games alone, and focus on the people who PLAY the games, and run fansites dedicated to the games year after year. Not enough of these questions have been asked, and that's a shame.
Me: Whatever. Just get to it.
Alright, to get this off the ground, I'll start this way. Most people that care enough to read this already know who you guys are. Instead of giving the common 'tell us a little about yourself' starter, l want to get right to the good stuff.
HIH: How did you find yourself running a Halo/Bungie fansite, and had you ever been involved in a fan project before?
Louis Wu: HBO was a logical offshoot of the bungie.org family of websites, started as soon as anyone knew there WAS a Halo. (Well... a Blam. It was a few months before we had more than a codename.) My first Bungie-related website kicked off in March 1995 - I was heavily into Marathon at that point, and Steve Wood had started the Marathon HyperArchive, a file repository for the newly-burgeoning community. I loved the idea - but I didn't think he was updating enough, so I asked him if he'd mind if I joined in. He said that would be fine, so I opened the Marathon HyperArchive NorthWest (I was in Portland, Oregon at the time), and that grew into the largest Marathon file repository on the web.
NARCOGEN: Let's see. I came to Bungie fandom by a somewhat circuitous route. Am I going too far back if I start with the Atari 2600?
Too bad, because that is where it starts. My brother and I lusted after that console for years and finally got one after it was passe. Determined not to continue buying closed game machines that could not be expanded or used for other purposes, we moved our gaming to the Commodore 64 computer and then to the oh-so-sexy Amiga 500.
When Commodore went belly-up and I finally decided I neeed a "real computer" I bought a Macintosh laptop. I'd been using PCs since Dad brought home a Compaq luggable that we used to make Christmas lists in Lotus 1-2-3 and played the text adventre Colossal Cave on.
The laptop was no good for gaming but I stayed on the Mac platform and eventually hungered for something to play on it. The PC had Doom, which I had a lot of fun on playing co-op with buddies in graduate school. Shortly thereafter, the Mac got Bungie's Marathon, and that made me a Bungie fan. I played all the Marathon games, played both the Myth games, read the newsgroup comp.mac.sys.games religiously. Late in the Myth era, I discovered a variety of community websites, like MBO (myth.bungie.org) as well as sites like Nontoxic Myth and the Townhall and The Mill and various others.
Rumor had it there was some new Bungie game coming out, and everybody thought it was codenamed "blam". A new forum opened up for this game at Bungie.org and I spent a lot of time there. Then one day in the summer of 1999 I was watching a live QuickTime stream of the MacWorld keynote when Steve Jobs brought up Jason Jones to demonstrate "Halo". And I knew I had to have it. I made plans to get a really, really expensive Mac with a very good video card in order to play it. Funny how that never panned out, and today I still use laptops that aren't really made for gaming.
On the blam, now "Halo" forum I met a bunch of other Bungie fans, a lot of them deeply involved in the Myth scene. Noctavis had been involved at one Myth site. Tyson "Ferrex" Green and Jaime "Case" Griesemer had been on another. Noctavis and I first tried to start a site called HaloNews, but the only thing we ever got done for it was a basic design and an interview with Nathan Bitner, then of Bungie. Then I left the country (which is a whole other story), Noctavis teamed up with Ferrex and some other guys to do another site, called "The Core" and Bitner eventually left Bungie and did a whole bunch of other stuff I'm not even going to get into. Just don't even ask, really.
Despite distance and connectivity issues I tried to stay as involved as I can and eventually when The Core thought of expanding I was asked on staff. Just prior to that there was a roundtable discussion among the staff about a name change. Ferrex owned the domain name "rampancy.net" and thought it was a nice tie-in for a Bungie-focused site. I liked the name a lot and so Ferrex and I outvoted Noctavis. Ferrex then orchestrated a wonderful graphic transition from The Core to Rampancy that mimicked the stages of rampancy itself.
Eventually the buyout happened, and quite a few fans who, like I had been, were Mac users first and Bungie fans second, drifted away a little bit. Some didn't want to make the console jump. Myself, I wouldn't have done it for any other game but Halo. Others got caught up in "real life" and of course Ferrex ended up actually working at Bungie-- all this time of course he hadn't just been doing fan website work, he'd also designed a bunch of killer Myth maps including the classic Raisin Barn.
So eventually it came to pass that of the people originally involved at rampancy.net I'm the last one left. In terms of total contributed posts Ferrex still holds the #2 spot but the gap has widened a bit over the years.
HIH: As a followup to question 1, and just to give people an idea of the length of time we're talking about here, how long have you been running a Bungie/Halo fansite (in years, or dog years)?
Louis Wu: Lessee... I think dog years is a mistake; the dog's gonna be dead. Now that I think about it, I'm 7 days away from my 13th anniversary of hosting Bungie-related websites... Wow. (I'm writing these answers on March 18.)
NARCOGEN: It'll be eight years this May 26th that the site has been open (including its early period as The Core).
Louis Wu (responds): this May 26, R.net will be 9, not 8. ;)
HIH: Focusing on Bungie for a moment, what is it about this company that keeps you inspired to run a fansite? Or, does the company itself play a significant role in your desire to do what you do (as a site owner)?
Louis Wu: Yes, the company plays a role - in fact, the company is critical. Something about their games has always grabbed me; Marathon wasreally the first game, EVER, that made me come back and play it after I was finished with it. Before Marathon, I'd buy a new game, play it until I'd beaten it, then put it on a shelf - never to revisit it. Puzzle games, action games, RPGs - didn't matter, once it was done, it was done. Marathon might have been my first multiplayer game, which would explain some of that replayability...but there were programmers who, very early in Marathon's life cycle, built tools to allow fans to create new maps for the game... and this was amazing to me. It was fresh every time I fired up a new creation. (Even the crappy ones.) After a while, some people in the company took notice of sites like mine - I remember going to MacWorld in Boston in 1996, and meeting Matt Soell. There wasn't really any way for the fan community to interact with the company at that stage; they had a static website, and no community team at all. But they still had a pretty loyal following... because they told great stories, and they built great games.
I was off the internet for the Myth years (I was traveling, mostly in places that didn't even HAVE internet connections, for 1997 and 1998), but apparently the cycle repeated... and was enhanced by Bungie reaching out to the fanbase. There was more interaction (Bungie.net gave Myth players a place to play, and access to the dev team, in some ways), and this drove the loyalty even higher.
By the time Halo rolled around, they had an honest to goodness 'Community Team'. (I think it was Matt, alone, at the start - but it grew pretty fast.) Bungie listened to its fans - they didn't always do what the most vocal fans demanded, but they heard - and they took it under advisement. Fans felt like the company cared about them as more than just sales figures - and fans loved the rich world Bungie created. The combination made the quantity of fan-created material explode.
So on the one hand, Bungie talks to its fanbase (and to its fansites), and makes us feel listened-to. And on the other hand, Bungie creates worlds that inspire talented people to create amazing things. The combination keeps me going.
NARCOGEN: The nature of Marathon, more than anything else, convinced me that video games were not only worth playing, but worth thinking about and worth writing about. Where other developers used classical themes as mere window dressing, Bungie embedded them in the very core. When other games just had exploding barrels and bloody body parts on giant stakes, Bungie built an entirely cohesive and convincing science fiction world that I wanted to visit and cared about deeply.
In some ways the Halo story is painted with broader brush-strokes, but in other ways it is deeper; it's a testament to the company that they're able to create a game that appeals to so many different people on so many different levels. It's been obvious that while story is very important to Bungie, they know it's not everyone's cup of tea and try hard to let it be unintrusive for those who aren't as interested.
HIH: Let me set the stage for the next few questions. In my limited amount of time around this community, I've seen drastic changes in the amount of effort by Bungie to present and maintain a community portal on the web. Back when I first started peeking around, Bungie had the old 'Truth and Reconciliation' website (am I getting that right). It was ok, but nothing compared to the marvel that is now Bungie.net.
Louis Wu: Yep - Truth and Reconciliation was the first real Halo-branded site... but yeah, it was pretty static.
HIH (continues): In all honesty, I look at Bungie.net as an example of what a company can do with the web. It's beautiful, functional, and has features that (as someone who does programming) just make me tip my hat to their innovation and work ethic. Because of this, my head gets going about us - the few, the proud, the fansites. Here's a short volley of questions related this line of thinking.
I'm guessing that in days gone by, fansites provided a very valuable service to the community that they couldn't get from the developer. Am I right?
Louis Wu: Yes. That's true in general - NO developer was supplying a place where fans could gather, and share information.
NARCOGEN: Sure. If you look back at Marathon and Myth, there were a lot of "third party opporunities" you could call them. First, both games had pretty deep backstories, portrayed in Marathon's terminals and Myth's journal entries. So there were sites and forums where fans could speculate on the meaning of the story and try to infer some of the material that Bungie didn't state outright (which is a lot).
Both series eventually had map authoring tools, so there were fansites to help people create their own maps, as well as sites to archive fan-created maps and eventually rate and discuss fan-created maps.
Both series supported small recording files that could be played-back in engine, so there were sites that discussed strategy and tactics for Myth with recording films accompanying them. Likewise, for both games you could hold tournaments and then host the recordings on the site for fans to watch and see how top players played.
HIH: Are fansites as 'needed' now as they once were, with Bungie doing so much (and more) that the fan community used to do?
Louis Wu: Yes, because Bungie does what Bungie WANTS to do. For the most part, that's:
- provide information about their games and team (static info)
- provide forums and groups for individual discussion
- provide storage for game-derived content
- provide data on your online gameplay
What they DON'T do is provide storage for any content that WASN'T created in-game, or a way for folks who create that kind of content to interact. That leaves out not only artists, writers, sculptors, musicians... but also folks who take in-game assets and tweak them in ways that the in-game tools aren't capable of. Machinima, for example, or modified screenshots, or trick compilations, or really ANYTHING that takes game content and adds something extra to it.
This is the gap filled by fansites. Folks can build their monuments to Bungie, share them with the world, and discuss them with others.
NARCOGEN: Well, let me address that in a roundabout way. What I will say is that partly because of changes at Bungie over the years, and in large part due to differences between the natures of PC and console games, Bungie.net now has taken over a lot of the functions that in the past would have been done by fansites. For some of those things, it does as good a job or better than the best fansites could have done. For some of those things, because of the nature of Xbox Live and how it works, it is the only site that can do those things.
I think there are still some opportunities for fansites to contribute in many ways, but I'd say that the majority of them either involve derivative materials created by the community itself, rather than elements created by Bungie or the games themselves: machinima, fan art, fan fiction, things of that nature. For content that's more closely related to the game itself, fansites are largely dependent on Bungie.net to expose data and/or functionality in order to work. In the latter category especially I think more could be done.
Last edited by Ducain; 04-03-2008 at 07:25 PM.