For the past several years, dozens of diehard Halo fans from around the world have been collaborating on the development of Installation 01, a Unity-based remake of Halo 3’s multiplayer. Using purpose-made high-definition assets, the game promises an “artistic tribute to Halo.” Though no launch date has been announced yet, the team of secretive developers behind the project has released a number of teaser trailers featuring pre-alpha gameplay footage on classic maps such as Hang ’Em High, The Pit, and Valhalla.
The latest update, a Bungie-inspired “ViDoc” showcasing the game’s current build, was shown last month during the final CE3 community livestream for Halo: Custom Edition modders. It looks absolutely glorious. The short documentary offers insight from the project’s many artists and animators, and details some of the team’s technical aspirations for the project, from mocap animation to large-scale online multiplayer modes.
“Something I like to stress with people,” says Austin B., an artist and 3D animator on the project, “is that this is a fan game. This is for the fans by the fans. We know what the community wants because we are part of that community.” That might sound a bit too good to be true, were it not for the sheer amount of dedication the group has shown for the game and the indisputable talent on display in the ViDoc.
The Meta spoke with the project’s team lead, a college student named Alex R. who goes by the cyberpunkish alias “TheChunkierBean,” about clans, ranked matchmaking, open playtests, and honoring Halo’s legacy on PC in the wake of Halo Online’s recent cancellation.
How big is the I01 team?
It’s about a twenty- to thirty-man team of active members.
All done remotely, I’m guessing?
Yeah, it’s very international. We have people from Britain, we have people from Sweden, people from California—y’know, East Coast. All around, really. We use Discord as our main form of communication. It definitely helps with our productivity and getting the job done.
It sounds like you guys have been working on this for a while.
Yes. So, how the story goes is, I started it back in 2013 by myself—like, not having a clue about game development [laughs]. I got some people to join after I posted a simple Unity sandbox demo on HaloMaps.org, which I later had removed. Bad models and everything. But we slowly kept working on it, and we went to [this year’s Halo CE3 broadcast]. In 2014, we went to that stream and showed off the game for the first time—and there’s footage of it in the beginning of our recent ViDoc. It’s obviously not as great, but we’ve been slowly working throughout the past couple years, and we finally got here. Our biggest push was in late 2015. That’s how we got most of our team members.
Well, it looks fantastic. I saw today that Halo co-creator Marcus Lehto retweeted it, and kind of gave you his support.
Yeah, he actually reached out to us and everything. He just said we’re doing a great job and he can’t wait to play it. And he told us a number of other former Bungie employees who work at his new company [V1 Interactive] have said, “This looks really cool, we should totally check it out.” It’s always great to see the original guys, the guys who started everything, are liking your work. It brought our motivation up tenfold.
It brought our motivation up tenfold.
Now that Microsoft’s canceled their Russian Halo Online experiment, it seems as though I01 could potentially fill that void. Halo 1 and 2 got PC ports back in the day, but Halo 3 never did. Would you say that this is mostly a tribute to Halo 3’s multiplayer?
At its core, yes. Installation 01’s default playlist and mechanics are definitely based off Halo 3—with some minor tweaks to gameplay for better balance. With Halo Online getting canceled, we’re working to fill in that void by having matchmaking and a ranking system. And just a whole load of customization for players to really have a full Halo experience on the Mac, PC, and Linux.
That’s amazing. Should we expect dual wielding and things like, for instance, the bubble shield?
Think of the game as the ultimate tribute to Halo, where your favorite stuff from Reach, or from 5, or from 3, are all available in custom games. If you wanna set your game your way, you can do that with our custom games.
And what’s your specific role within the team?
I’m a video editor, the team lead, and project founder. My co-lead is “Church.” He’s also the art lead.
Visually, Installation 01 evokes the feeling of Halo 3 and classic maps like Valhalla, and at the same time has that Certain Affinity–esque sheen to it. Sort of similar to what that studio did with Halo 2: Anniversary. What was your opinion on how they handled the multiplayer in that game?
I have big respect for Certain Affinity tackling such a well-known multiplayer experience, and trying to bring it into the modern era. They definitely brought a lot of cool new things, too. I enjoyed it. I just wish it didn’t have so many bugs.
Obviously, you have a lot of passion for Bungie’s golden-age Halos. Where did you get started with the series?
Well, this is gonna sound bad, but I actually got into Halo after Halo 4 came out. I was at the library one day with some friends, and we had this little group, and they came up to me one day and they said, “We have this game you’ve gotta play, and it’s called Halo.” At the time, I thought Halo was a board game! I wasn’t really into the gaming scene. I mean, I played Mario Kart on my N64 all the time, but that was basically it. And I played it—it was Halo: Custom Edition.
I just had so much fun with it, and I wanted to figure out, “What is this game? Is there a story behind it?” I read about them, and played them all in order of release, beginning with Custom Edition on the PC and Halo 2 Vista. Then I saved up my money and finally got a 360 for Halo 3, and to sum it up: summer of 2013 was the start of my Halo 3 addiction. So I didn’t start with the new games, but I definitely got into the series pretty late.
They don’t really age the way that most games age.
No, no, no. I played this one game again recently—Donkey Kong 64. For some reason I loved playing it as a kid, but now it just doesn’t really appeal much to me. But Halo 1, Halo 2, and 3 still look great, and you can easily still pick up and play them. They’ve aged perfectly. The mechanics are still being used today. I think Call of Duty still uses, basically, Halo 1–inspired button settings. Reloading and stuff. So Halo definitely set the way for consoles and everything, just like how Doom set the way for games on the PC.
The Xbox is transitioning, it seems, into this sort of PC hybrid, and soon PS VR is going to be happening, and we’re seeing the potential for modular hardware upgrades on consoles. Do you see first-person shooters migrating back home to the PC?
I look at it this way: if it’s going to make it easier to develop on PC and then port to Xbox One without making changes, then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t release a PC version. Or, in a sense, start out with it being cross-platform for Xbox One, PC, and PS4.
Halo 1, Halo 2, and 3 have aged perfectly.
It sounds like your project is kind of a no-brainer—something Microsoft themselves should have done years ago.
I can understand it. Obviously, Microsoft wants to push their Xbox right now, and Halo’s a system-seller. And there was talk with the Xbox Play Anywhere program that they’d bring all their exclusives to PC, but they retracted that statement. So we don’t really know the future for Halo on PC. Forge is coming, which is definitely gonna open up the Forge community with features like a server browser and in-game prefab downloading. Halo PC never really had a competitive scene. People still play Halo 1 on PC, but Halo 2 Vista never got the chance for that, because the port itself was just pretty horrible.
Halo 3 had a perfect balance of competitive, casual, and social aspects to the game. Y’know, Forge was amazing. You could make these crazy maps and you could have fun with your friends, but it’s also led to some pretty good competitive maps, like on Foundry. I can’t remember names, but there were definitely a couple that were made for MLG, and they’re known today as some of the best Halo 3 maps. They weren’t even official. And there’s stuff like Narrows, which has perfectly symmetrical gameplay. It was meant for everything—Halo 3 was meant for the casual player and the competitive player. And I think that’s why it was so successful: anybody could pick up and play it. So hopefully, with Installation 01, we can bring back that same experience.
With Halo 5, they’re trying really hard to build a competitive scene, and it’s leaving out a lot of features for the casual player. Big Team Battle really hasn’t been updated for a while. And I know they’re trying to focus on getting all these Arena things finalized, but I definitely could see where a better mix of both would be nice.
Counter-Strike began life as a mod for Half-Life with this homegrown, grassroots community around it. Would you say you have a similar vision for Installation 01? Or is your best-case scenario that it gets picked up by Microsoft and they hire you guys?
I have dreamed about that for a long time. I mean, I can definitely dream about a lot of great things happening with the game. As possible as that could be, I don’t think they would, just because of legal stuff. It’d be nice to have a knock at the door, and them say, “Hey, we’d like to purchase your game and your team and bring you onto the Halo franchise.” That would be my dream come true. We’re available! We can talk about it.
That’s the end-all, be-all. If they could let us properly develop our game, make it our own . . . but they would make money from it. They would benefit from it.
Why not make you guys the Pokémon Go of Halo? They don’t have to do any work, outside of not trying to hinder development or shut it down.
They wouldn’t even have to advertise it. I can’t even believe how well word’s gotten around about Installation 01. They wouldn’t have to invest much beyond servers.
The PC market is so vast, and if we can make the game be playable on anybody’s computer—like, if you’ve got a potato or just like this massive rig, and anybody can enjoy and play and not be affected by it, it would just open up so much for them. Their fan base would grow. Mac wouldn’t be limited, and Linux can finally have an FPS that they can play. And it’s well known.
The way I like to look at it is: Minecraft. Now, why is it so popular? It’s because anybody can play it. It’s not that crazy on your computer, and all you need is an account to buy, download it, and play it with your buddy on this server that So-and-so’s hosting. You can build and create whatever you want, and there you go. That was always kind of my vision with I01. Right from the get-go, cross-platform play—that was always a feature. I would definitely like to help Halo reach more people who can play it.
Where are you guys at in the process right now? How soon can players try it out?
It’s going to be a little different than Early Access. We don’t want a beta that’s going to give the wrong impression of what the full game’s gonna be. We want to be able to have some small tests, and then release it in parts. So we would do post-updates, where we’d add more content to the game. In a way, it’s kind of like Halo 5, but just much more content. We wouldn’t really be restricted, in a sense. I would like to say, by the end of this year, players can have a chance to test it out for a limited time.
Have you discussed features like Theater mode and Forge as possibilities?
Well, there’s definitely a lot on the drawing board for what we want to add. I can’t say what it is because it’s so cool. If it could actually happen, it’d definitely blow the door open for Halo and for us. The ideas that we have—we want to take our time and make sure we do everything right. The hardest part about making this game is remaking Halo. I mean, that’s it. Once you get past that, once you get people happy and saying, “This plays like Halo, this is awesome,” then you can dive into everything you want to do to make it even better.
The hardest part about making this game is remaking Halo.
Is that a big part of your job right now—getting the sandbox to where you’re happy with it? Are you guys spending a lot of time going to school, so to speak, on The Master Chief Collection?
I find myself trying to play Halo every day. Obviously, life gets in the way, but playing I01 definitely fills the niche when I can’t play Halo. And right now, across the team, it does feel like Halo. We’ve done a lot of research into how Halo works, and just how basic movement and stuff—y’know, if you jump in the air and you hit W, you should be able to move slightly, just like you did in Halo 3. And things like movement speed, and seeing if we can get away with bumping that up a little, or should we keep it the same. Stuff like melee and how to code that, and make it translate properly from when you click the button to the animation, and now the other player’s dead. All that has to work in tandem, and it needs to feel like Halo. The tempo needs to match how Halo 3 does it.
So the focus right now is on building a foundation.
For Halo multiplayer, yep. Everything in Halo, in terms of Campaign, Firefight, Warzone, all relies on some form of netcode. Without it, anything else is just a waste of time, so it’s like, “Why not build the multiplayer first so that people can play it and play it and play it and that replay value is there?” Meanwhile, we keep working on other things to keep that replay value.
Can I ask what you do for a living? What do you do outside of this project?
I’m just a waiter. Your basic college student trying to get through school and everything. That’s all it really is. I mean, Halo has definitely changed where I want to go in my life and what I want to do. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for my future until I started working on I01, and now I want to be a computer-science major. So it’s definitely changed what I want to be and how I want to go about my life. I’m nineteen right now.
This is a big, ambitious project for you, then.
If I told my 2013 self where I would be today, right now, he wouldn’t believe me. He’d call me crazy. He’d say, “That would never happen in a million years.”
It’s easy to be dismissive of something like this, but we’ve seen the proof of what you’ve done in video form, and it looks incredible. There’s a lot of nitpicking that’s sure to happen, but there’s such an undeniable level of quality in what we’ve been shown so far. It’s great to see the ex-Bungie old guard, who don’t really have a say in things anymore, give you their endorsement, but have you heard from 343 Industries directly?
Oh, yeah. Yeah, definitely. A couple days after the ViDoc came up, we definitely got a couple messages from people who work at 343 and they’re like, “Yeah, this is awesome. This is really cool. You guys have such a passion.” And they were saying how even a couple of them in the studio wanted to help playtest the game. It was so surreal. Like I said, the people who used to make Halo love it, and the people who play Halo love it, and they want to see it continue. At this point, it just depends on Microsoft.
We’ve been following everything [in Microsoft’s Game Content Usage Rules] to the book. We’ve been following the rules as best as we can, though we do have a couple questions we’d like them to answer, such as whether we can put the game on Steam or accept donations to cover server costs. There’s a lot of questions and gray areas that we would like to have clarified.
Have you heard from [former Halo multiplayer and online design lead] Max Hoberman?
No, not yet. Haven’t heard anything from him. Would be nice, though! I’m not sure if he’s seen it. I know Certain Affinity follows my Twitter. I don’t know if they follow Installation 01. They may have seen it—don’t know.
Are all the assets you’re using made from scratch?
Everything is made from scratch. We’ve made sure of it. If somebody were to be like, “Oh, let’s just use a rip,” an engine or something? We’d say no, doesn’t cut it. If Microsoft wants to look at the build for some reason, and they find a model in there, you never know what they’re gonna say. We have to keep everything by the book.
What’s the engine that it’s built on?
It started out on Unity 4. It’s now on Unity 5, which supports physically based rendering. It’s on Unity 5.3, and we intend to upgrade to 5.4. I think, personally, CryEngine and Unreal—it takes a lot of processing power and lighting to make everything look really pretty, and to develop it. Not everybody has supercomputers to make this stuff.
Unity is so optimized, so user-friendly, but it also gives you a blank slate, which you can create anything from. And that really helps us make I01 feel like Halo. CryEngine is very restrictive and doesn’t have any community whatsoever. Unreal 4, at the time when I01 was starting, cost something to use. Now it doesn’t, but it’s definitely a hassle to learn. And there’s the Blueprints system, which lets you code things easily, but when you get to complex systems like dedicated servers, ranking, and all this other logic-based stuff, it can definitely be confusing. But we’ve supported Unity all the way.
What else is on the drawing board for I01?
Halo 2 introduced Xbox Live friends, clans, the party system—all that stuff was built into Halo 2. Now, I can’t really confirm if we can get this stuff working, if we can’t have Steam, but we’d love to have a clan system. Or what Spartan Companies should have been. We’d like you to be able to see a friends roster with everybody’s ranks and everything. Just having that really social aspect of Halo in I01. That would be an amazing thing to have going, and it’s definitely high on our list of hopes for the game.
we have support from a couple Halo pro players.
Have you thought about how the game might fit into the world of organized esports—things like MLG GameBattles, ladders, tournaments, et cetera?
If MLG wants to pick it up, and it can come out with Microsoft’s blessing, I’m totally down with them accepting it. I know we have support from a couple Halo pro players. Naded commented on it. Venomz. Proximity. I’d like to get more pro players involved with it.
Will this game be 4K-friendly?
Oh, absolutely. Halo’s been limited by the Xbox for so long, and many of these mods you see on Halo: Custom Edition, like SPV3 … they just really bring out what Halo can be on such a large resolution. I definitely want to push Installation 01 as far as we can go, so long as that person’s computer can do that. But I want it to run and look almost the same on a less-powerful computer.
Counter-Strike has been the dominant FPS on PC for a long time, whereas consoles have a more diverse catalog of shooters. But now we’ve got things like Overwatch in the mix, and Gears 4 is headed to the PC. Do you think there’s a lot of potential for Halo on the PC versus something like CS: GO?
Well, Halo is all about using the skills you’ve acquired throughout your play to best the other player. Y’know, two men enter, the better guy leaves. That’s Halo. So it should take longer to kill people in Halo, and there’s multiple ways you can kill them. It’s a little bit more fluid. But Counter-Strike definitely has the advantage of no aim assist, small crosshairs. Or no crosshairs, at times.
So transitioning Halo to a kind of no-aim-assist environment for mouse-and-keyboard players, and even controllers if we go down that path, has the potential. As long as the community is there for it. If Microsoft approves, and they release some kind of public statement saying, “We’re okay with this, they’re not doing anything wrong, and they can continue,” people will look at it differently than some unauthorized mod like El Dorito. “Oh, I can download this without a problem.” People think of a lot of mods as illegal, and in ways many of them are, but if people feel 100 percent that what they’re doing is okay, and a lot more people can play the game, then there’s a bigger audience. And if it isn’t limited to one operating system, then so much the better.
It’s a different install base, right? It wouldn’t be in direct competition with Halo 5 or MCC.
And if you have Steam already, which all Counter-Strike players have, it just makes it easier for them to pick up the game. Also, because it’s gonna be free, nobody has to buy anything.
Then the ultimate goal is to get it on Steam with Microsoft’s blessing?
Yep. Mhmm. In my mind, it’s huge. Nintendo is really strict with what they do, and obviously you’ve seen the YouTube controversies and how they handle things. But Microsoft is on the opposite end of the spectrum. They’re kind of lax. They let someone making a machinima make money off it. And that’s how Rooster Teeth is where it is today, with Red vs. Blue. I feel like Microsoft is very open to many ideas, and if it can make their product grow and make more people see it, I would think that they would be open to this. Not necessarily to buy it from us, but just let us go on our merry way and spread the Halo name—without having Halo in the name.