How Halo 3: ODST Went From Expansion To Full Game

How Halo 3: ODST Went From Expansion To Full Game

When I met with Bungie producer Curtis Creamer last week, I asked him what happened between the announcement of a Halo 3 expansion to the eventual (imminent) release of Halo 3: ODST as a fully-fledged standalone game.

Creamer told me that from the outset his team wanted to create an expansion to the Halo universe. They’d set themselves a deadline of one year, but they didn’t know exactly what they could get done within that timeframe. At the very least they wanted to deliver an expansion pack worth of solo/co-op campaign content.

“But as we went along we got a better understanding of how much content we could create this way,” Creamer says. “Normally a Halo development cycle is three years compared to just a year here. But we weren’t going to make any changes to the engine so we had a more stable platform to work from and we were able to create quite a bit more content than we originally thought we would. That’s how the scope ended up changing from being an expansion to being a full game.”

With that change in scope came a rethink over the game’s actual name. ODST was originally unveiled last October as Halo 3: Recon before being retitled as Halo 3: ODST the following month.

“The name change happened when we were looking at Recon and thinking it wasn’t giving people a good idea or understanding of what the game was about,” says Creamer. “We thought ODST would allow us to better get the main character out into everyone’s mind, like ‘Who’s an ODST? Oh yeah they’re those bad-ass special ops guys dropping out of the sky.'”

I can sort of see why [people might think Recon is a better name]in the sense that ODST can be a mouthful when you say it. It was a Bungie choice to get people to understand who the main character was. Microsoft was totally on board with it, they were absolutely involved in that discussion.”

I told Creamer that I’ve found the whole name change thing quite confusing. I asked him why they kept the “3” in the title once they’d decided to make ODST a full-priced game. I suggested it made it sound more like the expansion pack it was originally intended to be.

Creamer explains it’s about setting people’s expectations. It makes it clear this isn’t Halo 4, but rather a new game built on the Halo 3 engine. However, this doesn’t mean ODST is simply reusing old tech; Bungie has made a bunch of modifications to the engine.

“We changed up some of the gameplay mechanics because you’re now playing as an ODST, such as the visor mode,” says Creamer. “We had to make AI changes so that the Covenant could operate in an intelligent way in the more open-ended environment of the main city. So we made changes to it, but we were never going to go back and rewrite the graphics engine or anything like that. We learned through this process that if we give our artists more time with a stable engine they can actually get quite a lot more out of it.”

He’s right. ODST looks better than Halo 3. Of course, it still looks like Halo 3, but you can see obvious improvements in the lighting and environmental detail, particularly during the night sequences (pictured above).

As for how much of a full game it is… ODST comes with a solo/co-op campaign that isn’t quite as long as Halo 3’s, all 21 existing Halo 3 multiplayer maps plus 3 new and exclusive ones, all the same Forge and Saved Film features of Halo 3, and a brand new co-operative multiplayer mode called Firefight that plays like a cross between Left 4 Dead and Gears of War 2’s Horde mode.

How does that sound for just one year’s work?


  • It gets a purchase from me due to having all the multiplayer DLC… Something I’ve not bought yet – so that’s added value right there for us late adopters.

  • I will be buying it. But I don’t believe any of the justifications for the price hike.

    The simple reality is that they are charging for a full game because they can. The accountants took one look at it and said “look, people will pay full price for this, because it’s Halo”.

    The giveaway is that they are bundling Halo 3 maps with this. Maps that can’t be played with ODST as such. And most of those Maps have already been sold to Halo 3 players.

    Let’s call a spade a spade. ODST may well be worth the money. Or it may not be. But the reason it’s now has a “full game price” is not because it’s a full game — it’s clearly not — but because MS can.

  • Not interested in the map packs, and certainly not interested in paying 60 bucks for a shorter single player campaign than the original. Bungie is really financially milking this franchise for all it’s worth now. I sincerely doubt they’ve added almost 40 dollars worth of material without chaning the release date of the game.

    • That’s how I feel too. But as David points out, the Publisher has control of the pricing.

      I think this may help explain why Bungie wanted to seperate from M$. They just want to move on with good and original quality games, not be known as the developers that milk the same franchise with 500 games.

  • I definately will be buying this, if not only for the awesome new story/charector concept. The multiplayer and online may actually persuade me to renew my live. This, coupled with the release of Assasins Creed 2, is making to look like a gaming winter……

  • So I guess this expansion will contain more of the content the original Halo3 should have had included.

    It irks me when they break one game into several pieces then charge full retail for each part.

    I’ll wait to see from the second hand pile.


  • the game seems to look pretty good and to be honest im not bothered alot about the shorter campaign as i’ve always thought of halo as being a multiplayer game.

    im sure this question has already been asked but will i be able to play on ODST on multiplayer against people who are playing on Halo 3?

  • Is it the amount of content or the amount of work that determines the price? They gave themselves a year to make an expansion pack. That year happened to produce what they claim is enough new content to justify a fullprice release, even though it still only took the year they originally budgeted for?

    Still, it’s hard to criticize them too much in the light of EA’s annual full price roster updates.

    Oh, and… “Creamer”. Hehehehe.

  • Wheeff.. was gonna say, before reading comments, IS THAT ALL YOU ASKED HIM!
    Hopefully wake up tomorrow to some Bungie goss!!!!

    I’m glad they kept the 3 in. I think he answered those questions the way they are meant to be answered, which is, to explain it like it should be. This is no Halo 4 and still Halo 3. I mean a lot of games use the same game engine but all Halo games have been built on their on engine. And even if this was the same length as Halo 3, it isn’t Halo 4 in terms of storyline. It’s a prequel/expansion still in my eyes but i am aware that its still pretty much a standalone game.

    As for the comments about it looking better than Halo 3. Thats a tough choice.

    ODST obviously is more dark. Night time etc…
    Halo 3, i usually think straight away of the first level. Rainforest with beems of light peeking in between trees. That level alone for Halo 3 has pretty stunning visuals especially on a Full HD LCD.

    But ODST still looks amazing, re-used engine or not. Playing Halo 3 now and it looks visually better than games being release in 09 or 08. It’s engine can compare to engines released today or tomorrow.

  • Its still unclear to me whether you can actually play traditional online multiplayer with this new game. Will this be effectively replacing Halo 3 or simply adding the Firefight and ODST Campaign options?

    • Alex, ODST comes with a second disc containing all existing Halo 3 multiplayer maps, plus an extra three more. If you stick with regular Halo 3, you’ll only miss out on those three extra maps.

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