Halo 3 Scandals Explained; HD Resolution vs. 640p, Bungie Staff Leaving Microsoft?

By Chris Faylor, Oct 01, 2007 8:34am PDT As with any high-profile game release these days, a few scandals have cropped up in the wake of Halo 3's launch last Tuesday. Apart from some quickly resolved Xbox Live issues, two other subjects keep coming up: whether or not Halo 3 actually runs in high definition and Halo developer Bungie's future with Microsoft.

640p vs. HD
The high definition argument initially came about as a result of some dedicated "jaggie counters" who claimed that Halo 3 rendered vertically at 640 pixels instead of 720. Since the game doesn't actually run in 720p--technically the picture is scaled from 640p to the user-configured preferred resolution--these folks and countless others claimed that Bungie had deceived the gaming populace into buying a game that wasn't really HD. Therefore, they wanted Bungie to, among other things, remove any mentions of HD, 720p and higher resolutions from the game and other relevant materials.

The Explanation
Bungie later confirmed the brewing scandal in its latest weekly update. "The reason we chose this slightly unorthodox resolution and this very complex use of two buffers is simple enough to see--lighting," wrote Bungie's Luke Smith. "We wanted to preserve as much dynamic range as possible--so we use one for the high dynamic range and one for the low dynamic range values. Both are combined to create the finished on screen image...In fact, if you do a comparison shot between the native 1152x640 image and the scaled 1280x720, it's practically impossible to discern the difference.

"We would ignore it entirely were it not for the internet's propensity for drama where none exists," he continued. "In fact the reason we haven't mentioned this before in weekly updates, is the simple fact that it would have distracted conversation away from more important aspects of the game, and given tinfoil hats some new gristle to chew on as they catalogued their toenail clippings."

Other Xbox 360 games said to render at a resolution lower than 720p include Bizarre Creations' Project Gotham Racing 3, Rare's Perfect Dark Zero, and Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider: Legend.

Bungie Staff Leaving Microsoft?
As for the supposed split between Microsoft and Bungie, things are a lot less definitive. Both sides refuse to offer any substantial or meaningful explanations on the rumor 8bit Joystick seems to have started, which says the studio is absconding from its corporate owner due to Microsoft's want of more Halo, "stingie[sic] [shared] profits" and other differences.

With Microsoft literally owning Bungie, it is impossible that the company would be able to split from Microsoft without Microsoft's desire to sell it. Instead, an exodus of talent, perhaps to an established or new formed studio, is more feasible. In that instance, some members of the Bungie staff would undoubtedly stay at the studio and help train the next generation of employees, as Microsoft would not want one of its most successful internal studios to wither and die.

Possible Escape Plans
Former Bungie employees have formed at least two independent studios in the past few years, which may provide some possible avenues for Bungie staff if they choose to leave the company and wish to continue their game development efforts.

Bungie founder and creator of Halo, Myth, and Marathon Alexander Seropian went on to form Wideload Games, which developed Stubbs the Zombie (PC, Xbox) and is working on Hail to the Chimp and an Xbox Live Arcade Project.

Much more interesting is the Austin-based Certain Affinity, which developed the Halo 2 Blastacular Map Pack released earlier this year. Presided by Bungie alum and Halo 2 online lead Max Hoberman, the company is currently working on two unknown projects and is known to have Xbox 360 development units at the office.

Given Certain Affinity's close relationship with both Microsoft and Bungie, it would seem to be an ideal getaway for Bungie employees if the split from Microsoft's management proves true but the two hope to continue working together.

Bungie's Known Future
Regardless, it's clear that Bungie will continue to work on the Halo franchise in some form. "Very specifically, we're working on downloadable content for Halo 3. It'll be multiplayer stuff--the kind of things people expect, the kind of schedule you can guess," Bungie's Frank O'Connor told Shacknews in mid-September.

"Our next massive undertaking is the [Halo project] with Peter Jackson, but beyond that people are asking what we're going to do," O'Connor elaborated. "Will we go back and do Myth, will we go back to Marathon? The honest answer is we don't know yet, but we're prototyping. We have some choices, and we have some cool ideas."

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