Written by Blake Kenny

Originally Published on November 26, 2004

For those of us who broke down and spent the extra $5-$10 (depending on where you live), for the Limited Edition version of Halo 2, we not only received a worthwhile sequel to a huge Xbox success, but we also took a rare and fascinating, behind the scenes journey into the production of a monster hit.

While special features are somewhat of a rarity amongst videogames, especially when taken to this magnitude, it’s all the rage when deciding which edition of a DVD you should choose to purchase; and while many of us are familiar with the “ins” and “outs” of making a feature film, very few of us have been fortunate enough to witness the level of drive, dedication and determination that goes into making a successful videogame.

After all, few of us are even aware that the videogame industry now brings in more revenue throughout the year than the box office. Granted, this is a recent statistic and wasn’t the case a few years ago, but it does serve to show that videogames have become big business. Spider-man may have been a gigantic film, but in the end, Halo 2 will likely bring in bigger dollars – at least in the short term. In fact, over the next few years the sale videogames is also expected to topple the music industry. Pretty cool stuff.

On the flip side, feature films have something videogames don’t – longevity. After all, films like the original Star Wars Trilogy still generates massive profits (at least for one man) to this very day – and in the end, most videogames are just fondly remembered. At least until 10 years go by and Bungie releases – ”Bungie’s Console Treasures Vol 1”.

Still, I digress; we all know Halo 2 is huge, especially since we’ve all drooled over its impending arrival for years now. While I’ve personally heard a lot of mixed opinions on the game, as to whether it’s better or worse than the original, just more of the same or what have you, that stuff’s all irrelevant now. Its success has been proven and it’s continued success is assured.

Still, I’m not sitting here to cast my vote on Halo 2, Mark’s already been kind enough to do that. My opinion is secondary, I’m here to tell you what to expect from the 2nd disc in its nicely packaged metal casing.

So the burning question, “Were the extra couple bucks worth the investment?” Well in my opinion it was a no-brainer. After viewing the disc I can undoubtedly say that “Yes” it was worth it, even if I never watch it again. Hey, I’ll admit, games aren’t cheap, but once you’ve gone so far, why not go a little farther and get more for your money. “Sure, I’ll supersize it!” Anyway, here’s what you can expect to see on disc 2 of the special – Halo 2 Limited Edition.

FOOT NOTE: The bracketed number beside the feature title indicates the running time of the program.

First up on our beefy supplemental DVD is our primary feature entitled. Behind the Scenes: Making of Halo 2 (52:44). This is by far one of the most comprehensive and engaging programs you will ever see regarding the production of a game. While nearly hour is hardly enough time to cover the extensive number of years it takes to create a game from start to finish, it still manages to sum everything up rather nicely in one cohesive little package.

This segment contains interviews and comments from key players in the production of the game, including the Project Lead: Jason Jones, Director of Cinematic: Joseph Staten, Art Director: Marcus Lento, Game Design Lead: Jamie Griesemer, Mission Designer: Tyson Green, Senior Animator: Nathan Walpole, Music Composer: Martin O’Donnel and a whole slew of others participants.

As insiders during the production of Halo 2 we are privy to see much of the work that went into the creation of the game, including the feverish efforts that went into producing the playable level that Bungie would show off at last years E3 or Electronic Entertainment Expo.

Not only did the demo shown “wowed” that crowds, including many of us who saw it on the Internet, but we learn that everything prepared for E3 wasn’t exactly as it appeared to be. While audiences were thrilled, we learn soon after that Bungie technically didn’t have a game at that point. While it raised our hopes for what the game would come to be, the truth of the matter is, these guys were panicking. The E3 demonstration was nothing more than a hallow offering for a game that was nowhere near where the creative team needed to be. Fortunately for us, the game was completed, and while not living up to exactly everything Bungie wanted for it, players still seem to be pretty happy with the final result.

With the close of E3 2004 the team punches it into high gear to get the game completed on time. 7 days weeks and long hours are the order of the days as Bungie works the code. However, they still manage to find some downtime for a little volleyball and dodgeball. In addition some of them attend a Halo LAN party at the home of Claude Errera, the webmaster for halo.bungie.org Here we see how the original game, after so many years still remains fun for this house full of digital sportsmen. Guests fly in from all over to play, as witnessed when you see the on multiple TV’s and projectors set up all over his home to facilitate the event. Sure looks like a good time, pizza and beer, what more do you need? It’s enough to make you want to dust off your old copy of Halo and get together with some buddies; not that I would expect anyone to have dust on theirs.

As work continues on the game we watch as some of the creative team partakes in actual weapons training from real-life soldiers. This is just some of the nitty gritty work required to bring real world authenticity to what is obviously a fictional world.

In addition we get to see some of the hard work that went into the creation of the popular animated web shorts of Red Vs Blue. Using the original Halo game and exploiting something they reluctantly call a “glitch” in the game, we see how this talented group of guys created something unique and entertaining, it’s certainly work checking out.

While the production of the game is moving along rather smoothly, despite their desires for more time, we see how sacrifices are made to the game in order to appease time constraints. Unfortunate as it is, vehicles and even the use of a combat knife are cut from the final game.

Nearing completion we see a lengthy section on the music and voice work that went into the game. As many of us know, the music is an often overlooked but crucial factor in creating the mood and atmosphere. Halo 2 covers this angle nicely and with well-known actor like Keith David, Robert Davi, Michelle Rodriguez, Miguel Ferrer, Orlando Jones, Michael Wincott and Ron Pearlman lending their talents – the game’s sound is quite simply over the top.

While I haven’t covered everything that’s to be seen in this part of the DVD, it does serve to give you some insight. Overall I found it to be highly entertaining and informative. As mentioned, we don’t get to see this sort of stuff very often and for hardcore gamers it’s a big bonus to see the effort and passion that the creative people at Bungie have to put forward to feed the desire of fans.

Next up on the DVD is a section entitled: Developing the Game, this segment is split up into 3 parts, beginning with Visualizing the Story (5:27).

In essence this section deals a lot with the larger scope of the storyline in Halo 2. In particular the addition of a playable Covenant character known simply as the Arbiter; and how his inclusion in the game, along with that of the Master Chief allows the player to venture through 2 separate stories taking place simultaneously. We also see how other new characters like the Prophets and the Brutes play pivotal roles in this new story arch. One Brute in specific, named Tartanus becomes one of the main focal points of the sequel and is the game’s protagonist.

Next we have Designing Levels (4:32). This part discusses the wide variety of locals the player will venture through. Battles in outer space, on Earth and the Prophet homeworld are just a few of the locations we’ll view, along with an all-new Halo Ring. We see much here, from the crude hand drawn level designs all the way up to the finished product.

3rd on our list is Beyond Single Player: Multiplayer and Live (5:59). This segment talks a lot about how new and improved ideas were added to spice up the common features usually found in multiplayer games. For example, CTF or Capture the Flag as always been a staple of multiplayer gaming. Here we learn how the usual, symmetrical designs of a level were removed in favour of more emphasis on being either the attacker or the defender. Having one flag with each side of the map and taking turns in either role.

We also see how Bungie incorporated little additions like player logos and indicators, proximity voices, customizable appearances, clans, and statistics via Bungie.com to add a whole new levels of functionality to Xbox Live play. One key addition being the Party System, which allows groups of friends to travel from one game to the next without losing one another in the shuffle.

Next up is the Bonus Material. This section is cut into 4 primary categories, each of which has additional subcategories within.

First is Cutting Room Floor. This part deals with both Cinematics (7:37) and Weapons, Vehicles & Characters (4:38) – all of which were cut from the game for one reason or another, be those time constraints or simple impracticality.

Each segment is commentated by several members of the Bungie staff and while we view the material they discuss their opinions of the deleted items and edited scenes. While we don’t see much of interest within the cinematics we get to see a lot of cool stuff in the 2nd segment that unfortunately didn’t make it into the final cut of the game.

Some of these things include the Mongoose; the ATV that was much talked about in the beginning of development, but was eventually removed for logistical reasons. We also view the edited flamethrower. While this weapons was fully modeled and realized within the game, it was eventually removed from the final product. We also see several design sketches for creatures and other covenant troops that were tossed out. While many were pretty cool, like a bipedal creature that could actually be ridden, other’s like the Doberman Gator were utterly ridiculous and thankfully removed from the completed game. Hopefully they’ve thrown that design right about the window.

Like the previous section, Commentaries is divided into 2 parts as well. Namely Halo Origins (4:16) and First Look: Halo 2 (4:06).

Halo Origins is by far the most interesting because it shows a lot of the early computer work that went into the original game. Some of it is actually pretty hilarious as you view the rather crude work to be seen in the beginning. It’s was curious to see how the Warthog originally started out looking much like a typical, modern-day Humvee. It was also interesting to see how the game was at first to take place in a 3rd person perspective, allowing the player to see Master Chief fully at all times. During this segment the guys have a lot to say about this early work, they laugh constantly and obviously take great pleasure in looking back at something that for a time, didn’t look to have much potential.

Next up was the Halo 2 first look. Truthfully, this segment wasn’t very thrilling, especially if you played through the game before you bothered to watch this. Essentially it’s nothing more than a bunch of fly bys through the new locals. Completely devoid of any creatures or action. Not terribly interesting.

Next on our list of special features are the Gameographies. This section reveals a photo, job description, a home origin and a brief biography for 64 members of the Bungie staff. While a nice addition, especially if you’re one of these people, I doubt most owners of the limited edition set will bother to read 95% of them.

The Art Galley is next and contains 31 photos of creatures and locations within the game. It’s nice work, but somehow I figure 31 pictures far from covers the extensive amount of artwork that actually went into conceptualizing the game.

Last on the disc is Set Up & Credits. This is pretty much what you expect; the opportunity to adjust the sound and subtitles and view the credits for the DVD. Whoopde-do!

Overall I found the supplemental DVD included in this set to be well worth the additional price of admission. While there were a few things I had little or no interest in, the primary documentary and the few segments following it were quite good and offered a lot of interesting, entertaining and perhaps educational information.

As mentioned, it’s rare for us as gaming fans to be afforded the luxury of an insider view. Watching the process of game creation, however summarized was a real treat. So for those of us (and I doubt there are many) whole haven’t purchased the game yet, I highly recommend taking the plunge into the limited edition. That is – if you can still find one. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some people to frag online.