Article taken from Halo 3 - The Ultimate Companion book, free with issue 58 of Xbox World 360 - on sale Thursday October 10.
With a team of hundreds working on it, a marketing budget of millions and a fanbase as fanatical, informed and excitable as anything the best TV shows like Lost can throw up, Halo is perhaps - in fact, definitely - the most important videogame franchise currently in existence.
But it hasn't always been this way. Although commencing later than the usual bedroom development story, Bungie's rags-to-riches tale does follow similar lines, kicking off in a year we're calling 1990; a year in which fans flocked to cinemas to take in blockbusters like Days of Thunder and Look Who's Talking Too, Vanilla Ice released his seminal work To The Extreme, and millions of Britons marvelled at the Aztec Zone as Channel 4 launched the tellie 'phenomenon' that was The Crystal Maze. Across the Atlantic, in Chicago, the home of reasonably priced frozen deep pan pizza, a university computer science student, Alex Seropian, toiled away on a Macintosh program that would lead to a multi-million dollar gaming series - a shade under twenty years after Atari had unleashed the original, he created a Pong clone called !Gnop. It was a Macintosh exclusive, distributed for free, and only a handful of people paid a $15 fee to 'Bungie Software' for the original source code.
MINOTAUR OF DUTY
But the reaction, though small, was encouraging. Seropian had caught the game-programming bug. Just a year later he had written his first commercial game - a war sim called Operation Desert Storm, again for Mac. He went on to sell over 2,500 copies, mailed out from his bedroom. Bungie doubled their operations to two people when a classmate, Jason Jones, showed Seropian a near-complete build of a game called Minotaur: The Labyrinths of Crete. A fantasy dungeon title, it only sold 2,500 copies because it required a modem for network play - a rarity amongst Mac owners in the early nineties - but still enjoyed an impressive, hardcore following.
Their next project, Pathways to Darkness, saw the addition of another team member, roped in to help out on the graphics side. PoD was the first 3D texture-mapped game on the Mac and the first true FPS on the platform, so Bungie hit the road, taking in trade shows, playing the game with fans, and even earned one magazine's Adventure Game of the Year title. By 1994 they'd swollen to a staff of six people working out of rundown offices in Chicago. They were starting to earn a small following, though, with games that included both 3D texture mapping and network gaming, but it wasn't quite the breakthrough. Yet.
Enter Marathon. It started out as a sequel to Pathways, but soon mutated into something much bigger and bolder. Revolving around an epic-sci-fi storyline, it cast the player as a sole security guard on the interstellar colony ship The Marathon fighting off a boarding party of mysterious aliens. Released in late 1994, the game earned a number of awards the following year thanks to its state-of-the-art 3D graphics and unparalleled network play, including voice support for the Mac microphone.
Bungie were now the biggest fish in an admittedly small Mac game development pond, and a year later were putting out a highly anticipated sequel that signalled their first multi-platform game, ported as it was to Windows. In 1996 they also published their first non-in-house game - Crack Dot Com developed Abuse - and the final title in the Marathon series - Marathon: Infinity - which also included user editing tools.