One of the most proactive developers on the planet in terms of community, Bungie has religiously supported it's Halo series from the moment it went Live with Halo 2, and carried on the tradition of taking on its fans with special match days and creating specialist playlists with a continually jovial and informal attitude that helped forge one of the most memorable, and relaxed, online communities around.
Bungie has been slowly breaking off contact with the series that made it's name for some time, going all the way back to when it broke ties with Microsoft to become an independent developer, to more recently when it notably had a third party, developer Certain Affinity (albeit formed of ex-Bungie staff) have a crack at crafting new multiplayer levels in the wake of Halo: Reach's release.
But while the official hand-over day to new guardians of the franchise, 343 Industries, happens on August 2nd, the studio took one last chance to take on all-comers in a 24-hour multiplayer match spectacular. Joining the fight was Mike Holmes, who takes a look at what the day brought for long-term fans, as well as what Bungie will do next.
"Every year on the 7th of the 7th, Bungie throws a little party. They do this to celebrate their past glories (of which there are many) and talk up their plans for the future (more drip-fed hints than anything). This year was also a double celebration as 2011 is Bungie's 20th anniversary year. The day promised much.
Fans are, on this annual day of celebration, given lavish gifts to enjoy and exciting playlists to compete in on Bungie's most recent title: Halo Reach. In past years we've been treated to all-sorts, perhaps most impressively in 2009 when Bungie gave its fans free access to the excellent Halo 3 map Cold Storage. This year we all got flaming blue helmets and new nameplates, both of which were previously exclusive to Bungie staff. If you've got an iPad you can also download Marathon, Bungie's first mainstream FPS and there was also an iPhone App released.
Yet the centre piece of this year's Bungie Day was their Steaktacular competition: the chance to win a steak meal delivered to your door. Delivery of which would happen if only you and your team could beat a team of Bungie employees (all using a variety of beef-themed gamertags) by more than 20 kills.
To be honest, this was a bit of a let down. We played well into the early hours yet, due to the packed playlists, didn't get close to securing a game with our beefy benefactors. Instead all we saw was a lot of armour lock and frustrating amount of American teenagers thrusting their virtual groins in our virtual faces. That is never fun.
Also, most of the people celebrating Bungie Day had already got hold of their blue flaming helmets and nameplates (they were available weeks ago to anyone who downloaded the Bungie App), and with only a handful of people getting themselves a shot at the free steak, this years celebration didn't feel that celebratory.
In fact, there was much to be sad about with this years Bungie Day. The studio will on August 2nd, hand over control of the franchise to 343 Industries once and for all. Those who play the game often enough will already have noticed Bungie shuffling quietly towards the fire escape with a view to doing a runner. Many fans of the Halo games are already nervous that 343 wont be able to live up to the high standards that Bungie have set with their genre defining series. A 'ground zero' approach with the upcoming Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition, will likely suggest whether Halo 4 is in good hands or not.
Recently Bungie have stepped out of Microsoft's shadow. This had always been a mutually beneficial relationship for both developer and publisher. Bungie supplied the ammunition in Halo: Combat Evolved and Microsoft provided the gun in the form of its massive marketing machine. The partnership has been the making of both studio and Xbox - though one can't help wonder at the subtext, if any, of initially releasing one of the last birthday presents for Halo to Apple customers only. Bungie now looks forward to working across different platforms and embellishing on that toying sign-off "see you star side"; a tagline used in the company's text missive at Reach's end, and has made numerous appearances since.
Also included in the Bungie Day line-up is the studios newest project (although they couldn't keep a lid on this announcement, got excited and announced prematurely). Aerospace is the launch of a new Bungie initiative to help games developers with new and exciting projects for a range mobile devices. It looks like Bungie is trying to give smaller development teams the helping hand they need to move into the mainstream by using their power and influence in the gaming world to help the smaller developers establish themselves.
This year's Bungie Day marks the end of an era. Next year it will be about the new games and the new platforms they'll be appearing on. Instead of Halo we'll be talking about Bungie's new IP, and we'll probably be suitably excited about it.
It's a shame that Bungie has left Halo, but perhaps what the franchise needs is a shakeup and some fresh ideas. If you delve into the Halo community you'll find plenty of disenchanted players who lapped up the original trilogy but who positively despise Reach. These hardcore players will be hoping for something special when Halo 4 comes out next year and there are calls for a return of the old ranking system from 2 and 3 and the removal of the armour powers. It remains to be seen just how much 343 is listening to these requests. The long term success of the series will rely heavily on the decisions that 343 take with Master Chief's return.
From the perspective of a true Halo fan; it's going to be sad saying farewell to the boys and girls from Bungie. Die-hard supporters of the studio will have enjoyed the festivities and the promise of new Bungie-tastic experiences on the horizon, but perhaps fans of the Halo games themselves had a more underwhelming experience. For me, Bungie Day typified the developers recent attitude towards its flagship series. This was very much a goodbye and so long. Bungie are done with Halo now and have passed on the baton to 343. The King is dead, long live the King."
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