343 and Bungie
A messy divorce

In the Halo series, you play the role of spaceman (not Spiff), who shoot jumps their way to the flag at the end of level 1-1. In level 1-2 the earth is destroyed and you meet the Gravemind. You find a warp pipe and in level 4-2, you begin playing Crash Bandicoot.

Bungie is a studio renowned for a deep (possibly read: ambiguous) background to their shooters, RTSes and text adventures. They like vague allusions to medieval legends, walks on the beach with regularly spaced powerups and Tight Ass Controls, Y’all! But who was Mr. Bungie Bhd. ? Some kind of serpent? Two serpents who were part of the original Orobouros perpetually releasing titles that hinted at their mythical identity as the Taoist symbol, which holds the power of light and dark, masculine and feminine, baking soda and yeast? No one knows. Or will know, now that the estate is liquidated and burned down.

The Halo series was never perfect, but was tons of weird fun. It had a super-intelligent godlike AI girlfriend. A black sergeant. An enemy which, despite looking like a toyline from a saturday morning cartoon designed to sell the toyline, were still somehow an interesting villain which evolved. Halo cinematics in the Bungie era were rough Ay Eff. If you played PC games, they look refined and complicated. If you’re a human being who ever heard a story before, they were incomprehensible (occasionally interspersed with tightly executed brilliance (I think there may have been an outsourced cinematics team in some cases)). You played a game of ‘stuck you, bro!’ or ‘haha headshot!’ in between machinations about the subsumption of articulate life under a carpet of totalitarianism (masquerading as nature (wrapped in biblical disaster)).

Then, after Halo: Reach, an amazing game in which the core premise of the series was articulated within a micron of its rhododendrons, some component of the OG Bungie crew initiated the sequence which would cleanse 1/8th of the galaxy of Halo fans. Whoever those dudes were, went on to make Destiny.

In comparisummary, let’s walk through the 5000ft view, fall instantly to our deaths, and then FLY through the 5000 ft view as reborn beings in glorious eagle bodies. Halo is about Nobody--the BEST nobody. He’s frozen in ice, a relic of the Ur-past and substantiator of the Re-past. Delicious. Anyone who loves green M&Ms (or Skittles (or the fabled misprint Reese’s Pieces)) knows this guy. He’s the Chef. I mean Sheef. I mean Cheif. You’ve never been a better nobody that this nobody that you aren’t. Don’t be him, and be the best. Young man (or WOman), did you know that He Was The Savior? Probably not. He’s an army man stuffed in a tube somewhere as munitions. But hey, you know what? The Right munition can puncture the bunker (if you know what I’m saying (sex during the menstrual cycle)).

At any rate, captain Spartan of the SS Spartanclause (Pillar of Autumn (Carpho’s dick)) performs a tutorial to decide if he should invert Y (EXTREMELY PRESCIENT!)  and goes on to get a divorce from the UNSC (in the sense that he accomplishes a series a missions designed to retrieve a man he respects from the effects of rampant nature and fails but still destroys the ring his vessel crashes into). The wedding band of the forerunner ring which contains rampant fecundity (the philosophical dissolution of the Cortana program which is better in all respects but the physical than himself and guides his actions, and the Flood (hey is that from something?) which is better in all respects than himself but the moral dimension). Meanwhile, somewhere in space, the aliens are attempting to preserve their diverse union. As the vessel explodes, the Master Cheif is shot out of a ramp (having dodged numerous restrictions within the urethra of the final level) into the womb of the future.

In Halo 2, time splits, venues split, everything is a fucking mess (I guess their cinematic department was understaffed?). The first part of it is in the past, the second part is in the future, and the part that wasn’t meticulously and repeatedly planned as The Most Awesome Action Movie you Ever Saw is gorilla monsters bothering you while you try to find a churchkey.

At the end, you Pop that Cork.

There’s organisms at some point. Your facebook relationship with your omniscient feminine presence changes from ‘in a relationship’ to ‘it’s complicated’. Let’s have a cortana sidebar, for a moment.

Cortana comes from a Bungie narrative backlog of omnipresent AIs. In Marathon, the AI conceit was played by Durandal, who was fatherly (by default), and like a good father, capricious and terrifying. But Cortana (who, mythologically, is Durandal) is the consummate guide. She is grandma, mom, girlfriend, and daughter all in one. Get knocked down a 2000 foot shaft and wake up in a daze? She’s there. Fight your way through legions of alien soldiers toward an objective you don’t understand? She’s there. Push a piece of alien technology into another piece of alien technology because you were told to and are also desperate? She’s there.

So she’s still pretty terrifying.

In Halo 3, Little Shop of Horrors tries to convince you that it’s totally fine to feed it (See more), but while it’s happening you have to stop Planet of the Apes from invading your existence. Somewhere in the scifi continuum of weird narratives, a person is bleeding. Do you care (y/n)?

There were 2 more Hay-Lowes. They were “Navy SEALS (except cool) “, and “What about StarFox, only it’s our stuff? Ok whatever, yeah, fine, it’s Doom again, but what if the hero dies at the end?”. I played WASOIOSOWYFIDABWITHDATE with a buddy of mine online, and it was pretty awesome.

Later I played Reach, Halo 1, Halo 2 (halfway), ODST, Halo 2 (the other half), Halo 3, and Halo 4 in order with another buddy, and had what the young folk in the 80s called ‘a blast’.

So there’s an open ended creativity issue in the core Bungie ethos and staff. They see the possibilities and they don’t spell them out. This is why they get away with obscure mythological, historical, and cultural references without people thinking “this is a pastiche of nonsense at this point”. This concept is ingrained so deeply that they won’t necessarily connect the dots on a core plot. For example, why are you at the ring in the first Halo? They ran away from a thing, there’s a military government and what’s this, guy in a tube? Sounds good. Let him do his thing!

It’s very comic book.

Then there’s Destiny.

Destiny is what happens when you’re in a creative writing class and everyone is too nervous and embarrassed to offer you feedback. And yeah, sure, that feedback may not come from the best place. Perhaps it’s jealousy, or mindless competitiveness. Or maybe they’re not your audience and would never be your audience in a thousand years. But hey, it’s feedback, and honestly, you probably suck if you can’t take it to heart. Because the odds that you know what you’re doing are infinitesimal. Unless you’re Stephen King. Or Tom Clancy. Or Anne Mccaffrey. Or Piers Anthony. Or Chaucer. Or L Ron Hubbard.

In the first destiny Greek robots, fat rich people, gestalt consciousness pharaonic interlopers, and satanic deformed ancestors all tried to destroy the Shining City On The Hill. The city failed to BE destroyed (despite at least ONE chapter devoted to their paling grandeur in the modern era, and ANOTHER chapter devoted to their misguided desperation (and two chapters devoted toward their gravitation toward pharaonic inertia)). It’s a sea of rich innuendo, and none of it illustrated anything. I can say with confidence that playing destiny is like playing a video game in which one shoots from the first person.

Even unto the task of shooting other people playing the video game.

… they attempted to bandage this with some kind of ‘it’s all training’ or ‘you have to impress [person]’ (note: the person is Osiris, but apparently Osiris is just a guy who lives on Mercury and gives away free guns to people good at their game).

Meanwhile in an alternate dimension where established canon and franchises flourish, 343 was formed. They became the Wild Bunch of games. Think your Halo was a confusing mess? How about CRAZY ASS CUTSCENES FULL OF AWESOME?! No? How about Brother Fights Brother, but then they’re struggling against Inevitable Decay and they have to Find The Cure? But what if Betrayed By A Friend and then Working Outside The Law? Well ok, but did you consider Oppression? What about Growing Up Is Hard? Then what if someone sees that someone else is struggling and they realize that the right answer is to Remain Humble In The Face of Success?

Holy shit. Are you braced against the ocean of an impossible future lapping at the shores of your feeble self-organization? No? Me neither.

So Destiny became more Destiny, but the tweaking of the formula is opulence run rampant (hey! #BungieReference). So much opulence you need to get in the Opulance and be taken to the Opital. Because you’re ODing on good shooting mechanics put in a framework that makes you frequently try to renew them, when you’ve been put in situations that are ‘harder’ because it takes 10 shots to kill one guy instead of 2 shots if you’re bad at it, and 1 if you’re good. Or you have to pick up a thing that you can’t find because everybody wants it and it’s being farmed. Also it’s a magic super bazooka that you get to shoot 2-3 times, and it’s completely required to complete the area.

Bungie sure seems bad at making a fun game even though they manage to tune their mechanics really well.

Destiny’s jump and shoot is like Halo’s drive and shoot. It was so well done. So carefully orchestrated to feel good to do, and so strange in some of the details of the execution. For instance, one of the things that made Halo’s approach to recoil unique was that, for some guns, it was a camera-shake, and for some guns, the gamera stayed rock solid, but the bloom changed or never shrank to a point. The battle rifle was a fascinating approach to the serial shotgun: one pellet at a time, landing somewhere within the circle.

I can’t discuss all of the nuances to Destiny’s shooting mechanics, because I don’t know them. I do know that their superpower stuff is promising, but limited (anything with hand to hand still feels like driving a car in first person in Forza or Gran Turismo), and I know that I don’t want to play their game anymore, because the structure of the ‘difficulty’ is that I am constantly forced into situations that are NO FUN until I get the right amount of space juice to power up my weapons and experience the environments as they were meant to be experienced. They try to enrich my experience with questy kind of shooting, where I have to use a specific gun to shoot specific dudes, but there’s a weird inflexibility to it all. If they pick a random objective for you, it has to take hours of concentration, instead of a couple minutes of doing something specific and then moving on. Their missions are fine--they don’t waste your time in this way when you want to participate in a mission, unless you count the ones with strange level modifiers that beat you into the dirt so you basically can’t enjoy them…

Somehow the brilliance of Bungie in the specific area of setting up cool ideas and not ruining them, hasn’t taught them anything about their strengths, and they continue to ruin their good ideas when they try to ‘refine’ them. Meanwhile, 343 seems to have no good ideas, but they’re great at fixing what Bungie made.

I guess that’s what you’re looking for in a First Party Studio.