During the development of Halo and Halo 2, said Ryan, Bungie was testing new, non-Halo game concepts, but ultimately ended up axing the ideas before the respective Halo games shipped--not so during the development of Halo 3.
"With Halo 3, that was the first time we know that we couldn't let that happen," he explained. "It's not an acceptable way out to add 20 people to the project by killing that prototype. We kept that prototype running throughout the development of Halo 3 and now we have a creative team which feels like they own that."
Also in the works at the studio is downloadable content for Halo 3, as well as "other Halo games"--the latter may be referring to Bungie's involvement with Ensemble Studios' Halo Wars (X360) and Peter Jackson's mysterious project, or may be further entries in the lucrative franchise.
In a recent Shacknews interview, Bungie's Frank O'Conner was noncommittal about the studio's immediate plans. "Will we go back and do Myth, will we go back to Marathon?" he remarked, referring to older Bungie properties. "The honest answer is we don't know yet, but we're prototyping. We have some choices, and we have some cool ideas."
One reason that Bungie felt confident in keeping its foundling project alive may have been that studios employees were actually aware of the upcoming divestiture. "Everyone knew about the deal during Halo 3's development, and I think it really made an impact on how invested people were in working for themselves," said Ryan. "First and foremost, the first thing Bungie gets out of the deal is that level of investment from the employees."
The interview suggests a sentiment within the notoriously independent-spirited Bungie that, though its ownership by Microsoft was advantageous in many ways, it was not the ideal situation for the studio. "Having the right relationship with Bungie means there are more opportunities for us to both evolve the Halo universe and create new ones," Ryan went on. "Not that we couldn't do that with Microsoft--they're certainly happy to fund us to do anything--it's just a matter of how creatively motivated the artists and designers are. Their level of happiness has a direct impact on the quality and engagement of work they do."