First Dual-Wielded Halo Community Interview - 03-27-2008 , 08:28 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 06:25 PM. .
Page 2 - 04-01-2008 , 03:10 PM
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?
Louis Wu: 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.
NARCOGEN: 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.
Louis Wu: 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.
NARCOGEN: 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.
Louis Wu: 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.
NARCOGEN: 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.
Last edited by Ducain; 04-03-2008 at 01:32 PM. .
Page 3 - 04-01-2008 , 03:16 PM
HIH: It's been my thought since the beginning that fansites exist as long as there is a need for them. Sure, a person could keep a dead site open, but the needs of the fanbase (and how well we meet those needs) affects the vitality of our sites. A perfect example of this kind of need is video hosting. 4 years ago, one of the most urgent community needs was finding a host for your content. Our ability to share cool stuff depended on finding people to help us host our videos. Today, video hosting has gone mainstream, and is easily attainable. Because of this, our sites have changed, and some sites have disappeared.
Louis Wu: I may be a neanderthal in this sense - but while I'm thankful for sites like YouTube, and GeeVee, and the like... I mourn for the loss of places where high-quality footage can be easily stored. We're re-releasing the Halo cutscenes in downloadable Hi-Def resolution... and while the total numbers of downloads are not that high, the feedback (via email) is tremendously positive; those that ARE downloading LOVE seeing this stuff in high quality.
I'm sad that sites are vanishing due to easy video upload options...because those options are limited in some fundamental ways.
HIH (continues): What would you say is the primary 'need' your site meets for the community? What are you good at (as a fansite), and/or what things are you most pleased with, regarding what you offer the fans?
Louis Wu: I'd like to say that the need we serve is 'fan content repository' - but these days, that's less and less true. We're still happy to HOST this stuff, and publicize it... but the tools for finding what we've posted are woefully outdated, and stuff gets lost awfully fast. So I guess what we're good at is what we've always been good at - keeping up on Halo news.
NARCOGEN: It's probably fair to say that it's a niche need. I consciously appeal to those who have a need to try and verbalize the reaction they have to playing Halo, with a particular emphasis on the single player campaign, but wandering a bit further afield than just discussion of the story itself. I tend to think of it as something a bit like taking a comparative literature approach to video gaming.
So I look at the game, and the cutscenes, and the level designs, and the character designs, and the dialogue, and I think about how this fits within larger contexts, about how it compares to other games new and old, about what I think the designers and writers were aiming at when they made it, and places where they succeeded and places where they might have not achieved everything they wanted.
HIH: How has your site changed over the years to meet new fan needs? Where have your priorites shifted?
Louis Wu: I used to put much more time into making sure that stuff was organized; I wasn't very good at building tools in those days, but I took care that the tools were useable. I'm much better now - but I no longer have time to actually CREATE the tools needed - which means that the site is like a huge attic in someone's mansion. It's full of fascinating and incredible stuff... but it's all piled on top of itself, and nobody goes up there because the dust makes you sneeze like crazy.
I don't think my priorities have shifted (with respect to the site, or to fan content) - I think my LIFE has shifted, and I no longer have as much time to devote to the site. (Or, more accurately, the rate of content accumulation has increased to such a point that I can no longer keep up with it in the amount of time I devote to the site.) To answer your question specifically - I don't think we ARE meeting fan needs. And that makes me sad.
NARCOGEN: I think it's fair to say that it shifted to fit the nature of the community at the time. When it started, there was a lot of boundless speculation and a dearth of news, and only a few places to get that news. So the sites were, first and foremost, designed to try and get any information at all about the game, from anywhere, and pass it on as quickly as possible, and then dissect it to glean even more information.
So a lot of the content was pretty short form - new screenshots here, new release date speculation there - and a lot of the real content was in forum posts.
Of course, over time, Halo became a big deal, and all the major gaming sites started covering it, and more fansites started up, so the ratio of news items to news sites started to drop. At some point I figured it was better to leave the breaking news to other sites, let things sit and simmer for awhile, and then try and write something more in-depth at a later date.
HIH: Going back to the Halo 1 days, it seems to me that campaign was king back then. It could very well be that this was simply my perception, but since online MP didn't really exist outside of a 3rd party solution, much of the community focus was on the campaign portion of the game. Discussion of the Halo story was plentiful and happened often. It seems to me that far less of that sort of discussion happens these days.
Louis Wu: I don't think that's true - I think there's still a lot of story discussion that goes on. I just think that so much MORE multiplayer discussion goes on that the story discussion gets buried. (It doesn't help that our Story site, which was one of the premier places on the web for collecting that sort of speculation, has gone into hibernation - though that might change soon.)
I'd agree with you that Campaign was king in the days of Halo 1. Not only was multiplayer confined to LAN play, but there were no ways to keep track of how you did over time; you played, you won or lost, you moved on. With the advent of stats collection on Bungie.net, you can suddenly see patterns in your play - you can find things to talk about with your friends, things to lord over them, things to regret.
HIH (continues): With Halo 2, and it's absolutely jaw-dropping XBL multiplayer experience, it seems to me that community discussion changed in a tangible way. On forums across the net, the focus clearly became the MP component. Nothing evil happened here - I'm just making observations. I guess I'm saying that to me, probably because of WHEN I first became active, the Bungie online community seemed a to be a place of rich discussions of storylines and characters, analyzing game script quotes, and picking apart tiny fragments of the campaign game, both in plot and in exploration. At HBO, the story page and the tricks page were both fascinating to me. On a purely surface reaction level, it feels different today.
Louis Wu: I think that the volume of Campaign discussion has increased absolutely since the early days of Halo 1, if only because the overall community is so much bigger. As a percentage of total conversation, though, it's dropped from a majority to a tiny minority - so yeah, I'd agree with you that it's different, and finding folks who want to hash out the details of the story is harder than it used to be. (We're still working on a full-blown Terminal site - hopefully it'll be done soon - and that might change things a little.)
I think the community definitely split after the release of Halo 2; when Halo was out, there weren't separate communities, really. (Well, there were the hardcore Xbox Connect folks... but they were a tiny minority.) Most people played campaign, and LAN-based multiplayer, and talked about both. Multiplayer was cool, but you had to lug your Xbox to your buddy's house to play it, so it happened less. So when you read about some new glitch someone found in Campaign, you were more likely to try it out yourself.
After Halo 2, this became far less true. There WERE two separate communities -the folks who played campaign exhaustively, and the folks who moved on after finishing to play multiplayer. (Going back every few weeks to run through this level or that doesn't really count.) It didn't help that Halo 2's campaign suffered from some pretty major flaws, when compared to Halo's campaign (linearity, anambitious but not universally-liked attempt to show the story from multiple viewpoints, etc).
NARCOGEN: My own personal situation informs my view on the matter, which is essentially this: I do think multiplayer on the Internet is great. It's a must-have feature in today's market, and it's certainly a big reason why Halo is as popular as it is.
Having said that, it's not my particular reason for being a fan. Rampancy.net would probably still exist in much its current form if all the Halo games had no multiplayer features whatsoever, whereas I can honestly say that if it had been a multiplayer-only game, something like Shadowrun, it's quite likely I might never have bought it, let alone spent as much time as I have on maintaining a fansite for it. That's partly just a matter of personal preference, and partly an issue of practicality, as I've lived overseas since 1999 and the performance of Internet connections between here and the US, the UK, or other places where Halo is possible is somewhat questionable. It means that at best, I'm a player with an awful lot of lag, and at worst, I can't connect at all.
That doesn't mean I can't and don't enjoy it: I was lucky enough to be invited into the beta last year and had an absolute blast playing it, even if the best ping I could get was around 250, which isn't exactly very competetive. However, when the full game came out, campaign largely took over for me.
So for me it's still about campaign, about the story, about the music, and about tricks. I'm glad, for instance, that Rockslider didn't boycott Halo 3 the way he did Halo 2, so that I get to read about his megabattle scenarios for the game as well as other tips and observations, because they're all focused on the campaign.
Last edited by Ducain; 04-03-2008 at 02:01 PM. .
Page 4 - 04-01-2008 , 03:17 PM
HIH: In a big-picture sort of way, what effect has XBL and the focus on MP had on the fanbase - good, bad, and/or ugly?
Louis Wu: I don't think I could put value judgements on the changes - the fanbase is different, but not in a good or bad way. It's just different. In a lot of ways, it's more casual; there are lots and lots and LOTS of people you'll meet playing Halo 3 on Xbox LIVE that hardly even know Bungie's name; they just play the game, and they like it. You could probably say it's more superficial - there's less focus on the backstory, more on the gameplay. But that doesn't mean the dedicated fanbase is gone - it's just not growing as fast as the casual one. The quantity of people creating cool stuff has certainly not decreased, which suggests that the pool they're coming from (the 'dedicated' pool) isn't getting any smaller.
NARCOGEN: XBL in specific, and the Xbox as a console in general, broadened the appeal of Bungie's games - or perhaps demanded that Halo, as a game, have a wider appeal. Marathon sort of had a reputation as a thinking man's Doom, and I think to some extent the broad audience of Halo has eroded that bit of elitism in Bungie fandom - or, rather, made it a less prominent feature of the landscape.
XBL gets blamed for, or at least associated with, a lot of bad things: foul-mouthed players, cheaters, modders, boosters, griefers, and general unpleasantness. Of course, all these things existed in the much smaller Myth community before. Not to the same extent and not in exactly the same way, but I think most of the ills of the online Halo community are the ills of any large group where competetive activities play a large part. So I don't see it as a bad thing. If Halo's multiplayer appeals to the point-and-shoot player who doesn't care about story or nuance, that's fine - who knows, maybe someday his Internet connection will go out, he'll be stuck playing campaign and he'll suddenly see something there he didn't before, something he'd never noticed and wouldn't have if Halo had been a game without multiplayer.
HIH: The last questions are going to be more related to you personally - what you do, how, and why.
Anecdotal evidence points me to the fact that fansites which endure over many years are ran by people that have...uh...a little age on them. :) How do you see this? Does your age/maturity play a part in keeping the doors open at your site?
Louis Wu: This is true, I think, for a few reasons. Maturity certainly plays a role - younger folks tend to jump into things with enthusiasm, but are just as likely to jump back out when something NEW comes along, while older people might not even START a fansite unless they see a niche they want to fill. But also, when you're young, your life changes more rapidly. You go from high school to college to a job all in a 4 or 5-year stretch - and each shift is a huge drain on resources you might be able to spend on outside activities. As priorities change, you might find that that site you loved is something you simply don't have time for any more.
Older people are often more settled; their life has a routine to it, and they often know where they'll be in a year, or 5 years. It's easier to stick with a long-term project because the outside influences pulling you away from it aren't as strong. I have kids - and a job I like. We have no plans to move for several years; I can budget my time to allow for HBO-updating, in a way that's easier for me than it would be for someone who's college-aged (or even younger).
NARCOGEN: To some extent it's just math. After all, next summer will mark the 10th anniversary of the announcement of Halo at MacWorld. So anybody who started working on a Halo site back then will be ten years older. Unless they became a Halo fan in high school or earlier, you'll be looking at someone with a few years on them. Then again, Claude makes us all feel young.
As for whether there's a relationship between age and site longevity, I suppose it could be true. After all, how many people are really interested in the same things at age 30 or 40 that they are at age 16? So I think there's been a constant influx of Halo fans over the years, but a lot of them eventually become interested in other things and aren't so active. There's a core that soldiers on, though, and they grow old together. And then there's people who come to the community at a later age, and I think for them if they become active at that age it's perhaps more likely that they'll stay active long-term, because there's possibly a bit less of a chance that there will be wholesale upheaval in their lives that alters their priorities. Doesn't mean it can't happen, though.
HIH: If you had to list a couple of reasons why your fansite is still chugging along today, X years after it was started, what would be on that list?
Louis Wu: The easy one is 'fans'. I'm continually amazed by what people come up with, content-wise - the ways they choose to express their love for the game or the game's universe. Sticking around gives me a chance to see this stuff as it comes out - and so far, that hasn't gotten boring.
I guess inertia plays a role, as well; walking away from the site would create a pretty major void in my life at this point. I've been doing this for so long, and it's taken up such a significant chunk of my time, that freeing that time would leave me... empty.
NARCOGEN: Firstly because I enjoy doing it. It provides me a soapbox to climb up onto once in awhile and rant at length about things I like or don't like about Halo in particular or video games in general, and I find that fun, and for the time being enough other people find it fun to read those things that it seems worth doing.
Another thing is that to some extent I feel that it's a neat thing that Rampancy has kept going this long and I want to see how long it can go on. Part of the reason for using a name like "rampancy" instead of something very Halo-specific was that so it could cover a wide range of topics: Marathon, Myth, Stubbs the Zombie, whatever Bungie does next. I'm very keen to see what Bungie does next that isn't related to Halo.
HIH: Something that I have a hard time quantifying is how Bungie/Halo has connected me with great people. Both online and in person, the people of our little online world never cease to make me proud. We definitely have our share of numbskulls, but the 'true fans' of the games that I've managed to meet seem to be a cut above. Truly, class-A people.
Give me some brief thoughts on how Bungie/Halo has connected you with people 'around the block and across the world', and how it's had an impact on your life.
Louis Wu: A huge chunk of the people I currently interact with on the internet are, in some way or another, Bungie-related. In real life, I do web design - many of my customers are people I met through Bungie-related sites, or people they've recommended me to. When I travel, if there's free time planned, I look up Bungie community friends in the destination city. (In 1997 and 1998, we traveled around the world, and I threw rocks at Chris Butcher's window in Dunedin, New Zealand.) It would be hard to overestimate the impact of Bungie's games, directly or indirectly, on my life - for the past 9 years, I've spent several hours a day, almost every day, working on material that's tied to them. I keep missing Step 3, though (profit). Gotta work on that.
NARCOGEN: There are some great people that Halo has connected me with-- it'd be far too unfair to try and list them here, there are too many. Some have been people at Bungie, either now or in the past, others are people in the community, involved in one site or another, and others are people I've met playing who are just nice people who were fun to play with.
A special shout-out has to go to the denizens of the realtime chat Halo community, a strange and amorphous group that has changed a lot over the years. These were people who were so into their Bungie fandom that playing online and reading and writing on forums was not enough, they had to be in constant contact with each other for hours at a time. It started with a series of Hotline servers and eventually moved to Internet Relay Chat, and now it lives at irc.bungie.org. They're truly a unique bunch.
And true to the observation that the eventual topic of discussion for any community becomes the community itself, rather than the thing that brought it together, some of the people in that community don't own Xboxes and don't play Halo anymore, but they're part of the community anyway, and that's the way it should be.
[DUKE: Right on.]
HIH: Allow me to wind it up with a warm fuzzy. :)
Quite simply, recount one of your favorite, or most memorable, Halo/Bungie moments.
Louis Wu: There are too many to count these days - but most of them center around fan events. (Fits right in there with the 'Community is the most important part' argument, doesn't it?) A recent one was the bus ride from Bungie's studio to Best Buy on the night of Halo 3's launch... simply for its surrealism.
The party broke up in time to get Bungie employees to a few different retail outlets around the Seattle suburbs - buses were waiting to take people to a couple of different malls. I was sitting next to Marty, and we were drinking tiny bottles of scotch as they were handed back by other riders (there were a couple of coolers worth in the front of the bus). And we were talking about stuff I hope someday to be able to share. It was a fantastic night, full of energy and enthusiasm and just plain excitement... and I was there.
NARCOGEN: Wow... there really are too many to choose from, but I guess I'll have to go with the FanFest at Neutral Ground in New York back in 2000. It was the first time I'd met other Bungie fans in person. Hamish Sinclair of the Marathon Story Page was there selling 77 MSP t-shirts and I got one; it remains one of my favorites today. There were games of Marathon and Myth, and guys from Bungie came and showed the E3 2000 video, which was a blast. I still miss the dinosaurs.
FROM DUKE: This interview really turned out to be more than I expected, and I'm very grateful for the time these guys took in responding. Much of this I've never read before, and it's great to hear from people who play a huge part in keeping our crazy community rolling along.
Good stuff. Much thanks to Louis and Narc.
Last edited by Ducain; 04-04-2008 at 08:00 PM. .
04-04-2008 , 08:25 AM
Great stuff, and Narc will always be the great pontificator. :D One thing I would like to add, while Matt was a big help in the old days, I would like to shine the light on Max Hoberman as well. He was the one who would follow up with me on my requests and pleas for more fan interaction. If anything, the beginnings of the 'community team' was Matt and Max, and Doug Zartman was a close third there. Doug is actually the one that replied to one of my earliest emails to Bungie.
EDIT BY DUKE - I'm leaving this reply here, because it's Mig Chavez from HBO, another *cough* old-timer. :)