March 04, 2003

Brannon Boren - The Keeper of Halo Secrets

There exists a book that contains all of Halo's secrets called the Halo Story Bible. It is guarded by seven Microsoft security personnel and one rabid hippo. Access to the book is tightly controlled. I dream of this tome and the secrets it therein. Torrid dangerous dreams.

There is a man who sits in an office at Microsoft. He dreams of Halo, too. When he comes up with a good dream he writes it down and it is placed in the Halo Story Bible. Microsoft pays him to dream. Life is patently unfair.

One day this man came by the Halo.Bungie.Org forum and replied to a question about cold sleep. This reporter's curiosity was piqued. Who was this Brannon Boren?

With the usual bribes of Apple Computer stock placed in eager hands at Microsoft, I found out that Mr. Boren not only had access to the Halo Story Bible, but actually originated materials for it! Faster than you could say, "the Jjaro were at Tau Ceti," I had my secretary, Miguelita, arrange for an interview. A Greyhound bus private plane picked me up at the Last Chance Gas Station in the Nevada desert and threw me out flew me to Redmond.

At Microsoft's main security checkpoint I was scanned, searched, and scrutinized. When they pulled on the rubber gloves I barely flinched - for I knew I Was On To Something Here. Luckily, when I mentioned my appointment was in the lavish offices of the Franchise Development Group (FDG), they ceased to treat me like yellow journalism vermin. They even drove me to the FDG building in Clippy, the annoying talking golf cart.

The office of the FDG was a madhouse. Interns, secretaries, assistants, and executives chattered away non-stop while fax machines spat out contracts. Phones rang shrilly. Computers beeped incessantly. Most disturbing of all; everyone here was so damned happy. Everyone trotted about with thier eyes burning with the dangerous inner knowledge that they could change the world - or at least keep it entertained for eight hours or so. Right off I made a promise to myself not to drink or eat anything here.

Brannon Boren or a Reasonable Facsimile ThereofThrough the maddening crowd, Brannon Boren marched up to me with the same scary smile. After cordial introductions and minor pleasantries, Brannon and I took seats in the FDG's combination solarium and IMAX theatre. He indicated that I should first see an orientation video. Strong memories of Videodrome caused me to protest and Brannon relented. The interview began.


What department do you work in at Microsoft and what do you do?

I work in the Franchise Development Group in Microsoft Games, but not as an employee of Microsoft (or of Bungie Studios). I have an office here and I work on site full time, but I'm a contractor. I've been here for a little over two years, except for a brief leave last Spring.

My position involves contributing to the documentation and expansion of a game's universe beyond the scope of the game. I work on Halo, but also other titles. Along with Eric Trautmann, I write material for the Halo Story Bible, including describing how the technology works, creating background stories for characters, and detailing places and events. I also assist with development on the Halo novel line, and other Halo licensed products. I was asked to contribute and rewrite dialogue scripts for Halo, which is why my name appears in the credits.

Quantum Redshift and Crimson SkiesWhat other titles do you work on?

Quantum Redshift, The Unseen, Crimson Skies, a few games I can't talk about, a few games I don't want to talk about, and a few games you'll never see.

Publishers Get Game
As video games grow in popularity, tie-in novels become a viable new niche

For those who find video games a headache, it's time to take an Advil, because they've evolved into a significant force in entertainment—including publishing. Video game sales surpassed movie sales last year, with a staggering $9.4 billion take...

...Del Rey has sold more than 150,000 copies of Halo: The Fall of Reach, with a return rate of only 10%.

- Publisher's Weekly

Are the circumstances that allowed you to arrive at this position a one-of-a-kind thing or is involving writers and "thinkers" the way to design games today?

I can't discuss the composition of specific game teams within Microsoft, but I can speak about trends I see in the electronic game industry. There really should be a person hired to work exclusively on story, setting, characters. and dialogue, but that's not yet considered a necessary position on a game development team.

Players now consider plot to be an essential part of their gaming experience. Should gaming companies start adding professional writers to their teams?

I think so, but I'm biased. Maybe the more sophisticated and intelligent gamers (the kind who play Halo, for example) consider plot to be essential, but the game industry won't recognize the need for professional writers until gamers start voting with their wallets.

What kind of background do you have?

I grew up on the Space Coast of Florida, near Cape Canaveral. My Dad worked on the Gemini and Apollo programs, so I have always been exposed to astronomy, science fiction, and science in general. My formal education is in the biological sciences. I've found that very useful in my writing.

I started out as a freelance writer in the tabletop RPG field. Creating characters and settings is part of RPG design, so I had the requisite skills to get started when I came to Xbox, but console games are very different. I've learned a great deal over the last couple of years, and it's gotten more interesting and more fun all the time. There are down sides, and bad days, but I probably can't get a lot of sympathy from you guys. ;-)

What do you play RPG wise?

I've always been partial to genres set in modern and future times: superheroes, spies, science fiction, etc.. In days gone by I played a lot of Champions. I've played almost every sci-fi RPG - even Traveller, way back in the "little black book" era. Oh, and I used to play a good deal of Battletech, which was a great bonus, considering that one of my first assignments at Microsoft was to write web content for Mechwarrior 4.

Do you think there is enough interest to make the Halo universe into an RPG?

I think Halo fans are eager for products that give them more access to the Halo Universe, (like novels for example) but that doesn't mean every good idea will actually become a product. We do pay attention to what fans are saying on sites like HBO, though.

What books are you currently reading?

Jennifer Government by Max Barry; No Logo by Naomi Klein; Lost Languages by Andrew Robinson; Bite Me! An Unofficial Guide to Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Nikki Stafford; Beyond the Gate: the Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Stargate SG-1 by Keith Topping; and I just finished reading GURPS: Alpha Centauri by Jon F. Zeigler, a role playing book based on the award-winning computer game Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri.

How much do you play Halo, and are you any good?

We play two games a day, on average, and I'm definitely the worst player in my group. Eric routinely beats me 15 to... a very small number. I have no idea if I'm any good compared to "normal" people, but I'd like to think that several hundred games of Halo have imparted some degree of skill...

What other games do you play?

The Collective's Buffy the Vampire Slayer game is incredibly cool, though I'm still not able to defeat the Dark Slayer! It has enormous amounts of dialogue, cleverly integrated into the game. They got Chris Golden to write the plot, which was a smart move that paid off. SSX and SSX Tricky are two all-time favorites - I like the way the characters interact during races, and the fact that EA included biographical data and interviews. They also used great voice talent, and had good direction, which is something I'd like to see many game studios get better at.

Brannon Boren's Buckaroo Banzai Inspired WebsiteAre you a big Buckaroo Banzai fan?

Yes, I'm a Buckaroo fan from way back, and I own the banzai-institute.net domain (where you'll find my website). My girlfriend is an even bigger fan, though, and has all the original press kit material, Banzai promotional items from the premiere, the BB viewmaster set, and all the World Watch One newsletters! We both own original copies of the very rare novel, which was recently reprinted, and which you should go buy.

I've been meaning to do something really cool with the root home page of the domain, but time has been scarce.

Halo: The Fall of Reach

...Cortana was a "smart" AI, an advanced artificial construct. Actually, the terms smart and dumb as applied to AIs, were misleading; all AIs were extraordinarily intelligent. But Cortana was special.

...

Smart AIs like Cortana, however, had no limits on their dynamic memory-processor matrix. Knowledge and creativity could grow unchecked.

She would pay a price for her genius, however. Such growth eventually led to self-interference. Cortana would one day literally start thinking too much at the expense of her normal functions...

- Page 235, Halo: The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund

Halo: The Flood

Halo: The Flood

The Human-Covenant War, a desperate struggle for humankind’s very survival, has reached its boiling point on the mysterious, ring world called Halo. But the fierce Covenant warriors, the mightiest alien military force known, are not the only peril lying in wait.

Since you've touched a number of games I'd like to hear your opinion of Bungie community compared to other games' fan base.

Halo fans are incredible; so much energy and attention to detail. I know that I've got to do a great job on everything, because you guys will see the flaws right away. I'm a Halo fan too!

How well did Bungie have the Halo story developed before you arrived on the scene?

Halo had been in development for a long time before I came along. I had nothing to do with the storyline of the Halo game, though some things I wrote were included in the backstory/descriptions in the manual. My work on the scripts was a case of being in the right place at the right time. It was a chance to be involved in such a cool project, of course I jumped at it.

OK, this may be bordering on Things You Cannot Talk About: Did Bungie have a fully fleshed out idea of where the Master Chief came from and how the SPARTAN program worked when you arrived on the scene?

Bungie had mapped out everything they thought was relevant to the events of the game. That didn't include the Master Chief's childhood and the entire history of the SPARTAN program. There's a huge gap between what's needed for a good game and what's needed for a good novel. When we decided to go ahead with Halo fiction, we needed to fill in that gap.

What part of the Halo Universe that you contributed to are you most proud of?

Tough question... Two things: Technical data on the creation of AI beings (it's discussed briefly on page 235 of Halo: The Fall of Reach), and Dr. Catherine Halsey.

Do you have any physical facts about the Halo bible you can tell us?

You wouldn't want to drop it on your foot.

What other cool Halo stuff can we expect to see in the future?

Well, of course you've gotten the first look at the Halo action figures from Toy Fair by now. They rock! We've had the prototypes in the office, and I can't wait to get mine. I need Cortana on my desk guarding my PC from hackers while the Master Chief watches from atop the CPU for more tangible threats. HooYa!

Joyride has done a great job for us, and you can all thank Doug Zartman at our end for shepherding the process along. Halo: The Fall of Reach has done very well too, thanks to the efforts of Eric Trautmann championing the idea of a novel line in the first place, and of course the very talented author, Eric Nylund. We'll see the publication of the next Halo novel in Spring, Halo: The Flood, and more great Halo products are in the works. Can't say more. Sorry!

Do we have lots of plot goodies to look forward to with Halo 2 and beyond?

I'm looking forward to Halo 2 with as much anticipation as any of you. I think we can all rest assured that Bungie will deliver the goodies. Yum!

[At this point an excessively happy intern rushed into the room and feverishly blurted out, "Mr. Boren, Mr. Boren, Fox wants to make Joe Millionaire into an Xbox game. You need to get to Eric's office, NOW!" Brannon rose and I took my cue to conclude the interview.]

Thanks so much for your time!

My pleasure.


I was left to my own devices to find my way out of the building. I would have lingered, but I knew the Halo Story Bible wasn't kept there. Besides, the muffled screams of Doug Zartman coming from a room nearby was creeping me out. I resigned myself to dreaming of Louis Wu's Extrodinary Goat Milk Cocktails in the future.

Now where was that bus stop?

Brannon Boren

Brannon BorenStatus: Bungiefilliated
Last Sighted: 03/05/2003
Doing: Halo tie-ins galore!

Microsoft consultant and contributor to numerous Xbox games. Additional writing, Halo: Combat Evolved. Homepage. Mr. Boren recently saw his entry on this page and had and said, "I feel positively stalked! ;-)"

Thanks, Brannon! It's good to know that you are aware of us stalking you - it makes things more sporting.

Articles:
Brannon Boren - The Keeper of Secrets (BS)


Posted by poenadare at March 4, 2003 07:07 PM
Comments

Awesome. :)

Posted by: Djof on March 5, 2003 10:55 AM

Nice interview, BB. It's refreshing that you're modest as well as cute. :-)

Posted by: TrinianGirl on March 5, 2003 10:14 PM

Excellent interview... now what am i gonna do untill E3...

Posted by: James on March 11, 2003 10:46 PM

HALO 2 ...cant wait must have halo 2..! keep up the goodwork! *is shaking in anticipation for halo 2*

its weird not playing halo for a while and then going back to it, you tend to notice things you didnt before ! it rocks! halo is god! muahaha!

Daniel
A.K.A the biggest fan of halo

Posted by: Daniel on April 18, 2003 09:11 AM

halo is the most awesome game i've ever played

please feel free to make halo 2 toys and get the halo toys on the market as soon as humanly possiple

Posted by: jake on June 8, 2003 12:14 AM

halo is above all, an awesome game. all the glitches, explosions, drama, excitement, awesome sceneries.........ahhh, forget it, PURE BLISS Halo is,without a doubt,on my top ten list!

Posted by: Andrew Williamson on June 15, 2003 07:41 AM

Hey, I was just wondering if there is a way to get a banshi in Blood Gultch, I've seen scenes, you know clips from various locations which display the usage of the Banshi in Blood Gultch. I personaly can't figure it out, so if there is anyone out there with an answer to my question, please write back.

Posted by: Confused on June 27, 2003 12:17 AM

This was an entertaining article. I want to reiterate that Halo is arguably the best FPS ever. Hands down it is the best of our time currently, and its only competition are online games like Counter-Strike and Soldier of Fortune. But as for console gaming, it is in a league of its own.

Posted by: MC's MC on June 29, 2003 03:48 PM

Muwahaha! I have a plan... inspired by Oceans Eleven, like all good ones! All interested indidviduals join me in the heist of the Halo bible! Muwahahaha... thats as far as my plan goes.... muwahahaha!

Posted by: Mr. Johnson on June 30, 2003 01:48 AM

awesome interview! next time, try to steal that bible

Posted by: zachass on July 1, 2003 10:49 AM

i think you guys are really taking this game too seruisly... i know its a great, fun, asome game, but thats all it ever will be, a game thats what it is..... A GAME.....

Posted by: A J on July 21, 2003 02:05 PM

No No.......Halo is not a game....its a way of life....feelin angry bout losin ur girl....go blow the crap out of some Flood...need some laughter throw a plasma on a grunt....There are so many eggs and glitches on this game and i am right now able to get on 5 multi player levels....i play whenever i can against friends....i have pre ordered 2 copies of Halo 2 and have posters of it from the official xbox magazine....me and my friend have a camp trailer and we are raiding best buy the night/day it comes out.......-=-=Jo~Lee=-=- Halo Fan
P.S.~~~> Halo is #1!

Posted by: Jo Lee on August 16, 2003 12:11 AM

halo is, hands down, the best game in the world. anyone who is interested in infiltrating microsoft or bungie, whichever one has the halo 2 programers, should contact me. no stealing, just looking and experiencing...all right, maybe a little stealing, but not a lot, i swear
P.S. anyone who has played halo and still thinks that it isn't the best is mental and should be taken to an asylum because they are denying the truth and they know it

Posted by: somebody on September 18, 2003 11:44 PM

i heard there was some unlockable multiplaya modes if you beat the game on legendary, is this true???

Posted by: Paul on December 4, 2003 03:42 PM

No No.......Halo is not a game....its a way of life....feelin angry bout losin ur girl....go blow the crap out of some Flood...need some laughter throw a plasma on a grunt....There are so many eggs and glitches on this game and i am right now able to get on 5 multi player levels....i play whenever i can against friends....i have pre ordered 2 copies of Halo 2 and have posters of it from the official xbox magazine....me and my friend have a camp trailer and we are raiding best buy the night/day it comes out.......-=-=Jo~Lee=-=- Halo Fan

IT IS RIGHT

Posted by: black on December 11, 2003 03:43 AM

I personaly can't figure it out, so if there is anyone out there with an answer to my question, please write back.

Posted by: long on December 11, 2003 03:46 AM

This was an entertaining article. I want to reiterate that Halo is arguably the best FPS ever. Hands down it is the best of our time currently, and its only competition are online games like Counter-Strike and Soldier of Fortune. But as for console gaming, it is in a league of its own.

Posted by: daelo on December 16, 2003 04:23 AM

This was an entertaining article. I want to reiterate that Halo is arguably the best FPS ever. Hands down it is the best of our time currently, and its only competition are online games like Counter-Strike and Soldier of Fortune. But as for console gaming, it is in a league of its own.

Posted by: jerry on December 16, 2003 09:34 PM
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