Bungie’s Split.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the recently-announced split between Bungie and Microsoft. Mostly due to playing a lot of Halo 3.

After my brief dalliance with consoles as a youth, I became a big-time PC gamer. My laptop, however, was a Mac, so I became an early and avid supporter of Bungie. I played Marathon and Myth to death and back. I even bought, played, and beat Oni when it came out shortly before their purchase by Microsoft.

If ever there was an odd sight in a junior-high-school cafeteria, it would be a goofy-looking kid with blonde hair going on about how Bungie has sold their souls to the devil, and that I could only hope that Billy Gates didn’t get his hands on the Soul Extraction Machine.

Now, it would seem, that Bungie has completed Step Six of their long-standing credo, the Seven Steps to World Domination. Step Six, “Stage bloody coup of new parent company.” was what they were on.

Well, I for one, am glad. Microsoft no doubt holds right of first refusal, and Halo is theirs eternally, but a world in which Bungie makes nothing but Halo is a lesser one than one with an autonomous Bungie. Microsoft did something great for Bungie, though, they put them on the map in a big way. Halo wouldn’t have been the phenomenon it was on the Mac or even the PC. Like Star Wars, it was a product of circumstance. The stars aligned in such a way that Halo transcended its relative quality to become something indescribable.

Star Wars wasn’t a particularly well-written movie, nor was it a particularly inventive movie in the narrative fashion. Yet because of the tensions of the era, the cold war, the vietnam war, it offered something powerful: Escape. In the wake of 9/11, Halo offered a similar escape to a new generation of bruised and disillusioned souls. Star Wars gave a hero to a generation.

The launch of the Xbox added another dimension to its perfect-storm appeal. This was exclusive, and it was new, and it was cutting edge. That’s a sexy combination. Halo, in the right place and at the right time, did what neither Bungie or Microsoft could have done purely of their own wills. It became the Star Wars of Video Games in a sense.

Granted, video games are a far more niche medium than film, but the paralells are valid. Perhaps a more apt financial comparison would be Jaws. No single game before Halo truly became a “blockbuster”.

Now that Bungie is its own entity, I’m relieved in a way. Halo stands on its own. I’d be perfectly happy if there were never another Halo game. I have my closure, even with a cryptic post-credit scene. Bungie can now do something that while it will almost certainly not be the cat-helmet success of Halo, will be new.

One bit of speculation before I wrap this one up, though: Bungie’s next project? Sci-fi MMO.

It could be Cyberpunk or pulp space opera, or steampunk, any number of subgenres, but I’m thinking that they’re going to aim at World of Warcraft, try and grab some of that pie for themselves.

There aren’t many studios that are equally equipped to do so.

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