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Translated by Harry Al-Shakarchi (
Oni or Halo?

Bungie is a pioneer in the Mac game developer world, with games like Marathon and Myth. Ever since the introduction of Oni, the anime influenced game with a female fighting machine, and Halo we are waiting impatiently for the release of both games. One could already play Oni at this year's Macworld Expo in San Francisco. Ralf Bindel spoke with Doug Zartman, PR man for Bungie, about Oni, the future of Halo and Bungie, the working conditions of one of the best game developers in the world and violence in games.

Interview with Doug Zartman

Macworld Expo in San Francisco, January 7, 2000 Doug, Tomb Raider is a very successful game, and Oni still needs to be one. Are Tomb Raider and Oni comparable?

Doug: Tomb Raider is an action-adventure game while Oni is a action game. Both use third-person perspective. Why are you using third-person perspective for a action game? Why not use first-person like in Quake or Unreal, rather than third-person like Tomb Raider?

Doug: Really intensive action games are in first person, and most of the games I enjoy are first-person. We are trying to create our first third-person games with Oni and Halo, which promise to include the excitement of first-person games. In Oni, for example, we are using interpolation for the animations, this allows one animation to smoothly transition into another. That way, we can avoid problems seen in Tomb Raider, like when Lara jumps or starts to run. We want to eliminate the animation problems which hindered third-person games to be real action games. We have done that with Oni and Halo. How?

Doug: With most third person games there is this problem with the camera position, i.e. during an action scene a player may lose his orientation and then ends up not knowing what's going on. With Oni we make every wall and every object between camera and player transparent, and it's working. We are only experimenting at this point, but we're sure that we created a real first-person feeling in third-person game. The controls are also those of a first-person shooter, so that learning them is short. We have two modes in the game, with which you can interchange easily. The first mode is where you use the mouse to fire a weapon, the second mode is where you kick and punch with the mouse. It is a very quick game with crazy action. The scenes change real quick and the player kicks, punches and shoots all in one go.

Doug: That is exactly why we kept the controls simple. Many gamers are scared of games because the controls are too unfamiliar to them. Why are female characters so popular in action games at this time?

Doug: I don't think female characters aren't that popular at this moment. With Tomb Raider came the success of a woman being a title figure and a female one could identify with. Nearly every developer used that concept in the past, being male created heroines with an attractive body without looking at creating a good story behind this character. What makes Oni so different?

Doug: Oni was inspired by the Japanese cartoon movie "Ghost in the Shell". This movie talks about this half-android, half-female human with amazing strength and skills. She fights with high-tech weapons in a grotesque future world against virtual terrorists. Like in "Blade Runner" the androids are not simply machinery, rather, they develop feelings and own ideas about life. The hero of Oni is Konoko, not a woman with huge breasts, and one that the player doesn't have to look at physically all the time. Konoko doesn't have the sexual attitude of Lara Croft, she's sporty, athletic, more female and relies on herself more. But sadly sex plays a role in advertising. Do you think Oni will have the same success as Tomb Raider did?

Doug: No idea. Tomb Raider is a nice game, but it isn't an action game. Of course we look at similarities, but it isn't an action game in the Bungie world. Oni has great potential in the game market, but it's mainly aimed at hardcore action gamers, those who play Unreal and Quake. They will love Konoko more than Lara. If Oni has the same success in the mainstream like Tomb Raider had I don't know. What is the best thing in Oni and Halo?

Doug:  In Oni you can make realistic fighting experiences, like when you fight six enemies and one drops his weapon, you can pick it up and use it to shoot at the enemies. There are no borders for your style of fighting. With Halo it's the atmosphere, which is created through realistic surroundings. Everything seems so real in that game, your vehicle, the world in which you move about and your own movements. Will Halo and Oni support these great gaming chairs we see here at the expo?

Doug: We didn't plan to, but we could easily change that. We have yet a lot of programming to do before we can think about that. How many people are working on Oni?

Doug: We have a team of 12 people for Oni, they are working about 2 years on the game. Everything in Oni in original Bungie stuff, from the first sketches to the graphics engine, they all did it themselves. Which game do you like more, Halo or Oni?

Doug: (laughs) that's hard to answer. Oni is being released soon, we will earn money quicker with Oni, so I'd choose Oni. In Halo you can't do much yet, other than run around and look around. In Oni you can play and have fun. We would also all like to know when Oni will be in Germany.

Doug: We'd love to say, but we don't know yet. The publisher for Europe will be Take 2 Interactive, but we will first make the different localised version before the final international versions are released. I can't promise how it will all go, but it's out goal to release the game simultaneously worldwide. In about a month (February 2000) we are able to tell when the people can expect Oni. The game is done only when it's stable enough to be produced. Why do you need to do a localisation?

Doug: We have to make a "no blood" version, so that it can be released in some places in Europe, like Germany, and also in the US. Also, we want to localised the texts. What we see here at the booth is a "bloody" version?

Doug: You see a bit of blood, but not that much. How long do we have to wait for Halo?

Doug: Much longer than Oni. We might finish it by the end of the year, maybe not. It will take until then until we can give a exact time for release. Do you already have plans for the future or are you concentrating on finishing Halo?

Doug: No, we have more than one game planned for the time after Halo. But we must divide our working force. Our development studios are working on a few games at once, not only Oni and Halo. At this time there are 50 people at Bungie, 12 work in the Oni team, 9 work in the Halo team. Along with that we have 2 more development studios at Bungie. Along with that is customer support, sales, accounting and marketing, which I do. Who is responsible for the new ideas at Bungie? Do you have a think tank in which you inspire yourselves?

Doug: No, it's rather like we have a visionary in each team, who came up with the game's idea first. For Halo it's Jason Jones, he also has the most experience, because he he invented nearly all games at Bungie, such as Marathon. For Oni it's Michael Evans, the lead engineer, and Hamilton Chu, the project manager. These people are ones who suddenly come up with new ideas. What's the average age at Bungie?

Doug: We are all pretty young, the average age is 25, I myself am 32, but many of our programmers just finished college or didn't even finish it. If we find a talented programmer who wants to make games, we don't ask what degree he has. You're a growing business that employs more and more people. What does a programmer have to bring with him, to be able to work at Bungie?

Doug: That depends on the project. 3D modelling experience is a must, knowledge of anatomy, dynamic, mechanics and human phyisicology is very important. Our programmers should have fun, create a fun game, and have enough humour. The fun to it all is very important. Are you lookin for new people now?

Doug: Yes. We go to the Game Developers Conference, talk to developers and advertise on our website. What games, other than your own, do you like to play?

Doug: Lately I have enjoyed playing Carmaggeddeon II, I can't stop playing it for some reason. It's a great game and very bloody. It's not the blood, that fascinates me, but the physics of the game. The physics are very realistic and better than other games like this one. I also like the Close Combat games, and also Half-Life. , I played the portugese version of Driver, from Macsoft, who are the booth next to us, and I enjoyed that. I was too used to Carmageddon, so that when my car was destroyed so early I was a bit frustrated. But I like it a lot. I like to play Unreal Tournament too. Do you play on the PC, the Mac or on a console?

Doug: I don't play on consoles at all. A few people at Bungie are Mac gamers, but I play mostly on a PC. I have to know what is going on in the rest of the industry, so that I can talk about it. Also, the PC game magazines dominate the media and I have to be able to talk to them. But until 1997 I was a pure Mac gamer. What do you do when you're not thinking about Bungie?

Doug:  I like to make music, playing drums. What type of music?

Doug: Rock n' Roll. I also like Latin and Afro-Jazz. Do you go to concerts?

Doug: Nah, I just got a baby and I can't get out. I don't think me and my wife went out in a long time. Actually, all I do is play games, play Rock n' Roll and play with the baby. How much time do you spend at Bungie?

Doug: Normally people come in at 9 am, and go at 9 pm, so 2 hours a day. But, there are no rules, people come and go, when they want to. With my baby I use that opportunity, thus coming in at 12 pm and going at 6 pm. A normal day is 10 hours long. In Germany we get into very heavy discussion about the connection between bloody scenes in games and the brutality on the street by very young people. What is your opinion?

Doug: We see a much stronger form of this brutality in America, because there are so many weapons. Weapons belong to our culture, children and teens have a much better conception of what reality and phantasy is, than adults think. I think, the effects of violence in movies and games are very overrated by statistics. If you look at the gamers here, you will only find "fun people". 98 of 100 gamers are friendly people. They are interested in certain experiences, but not violent. The most violence in our society comes from people who don't play games, but lack attention and love. A computer can't give them that. Do you think th agressiveness of a gamer is heightened through games? That what he learned in a simulation will be practiced in reality?

Doug: No, most of the games are far too abstract for that. They don't produce the same effects like real violence to real people. Nobody is made to carry out violence through a simulation, if it's abstract. The problem in the US are the weapons, with $200 a 15 year old can buy himself a weapon anytime. Games are guaranteed not at fault. Many thanks for the interview.

The original interview can be found here.

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