Bungie's recently released anniversary documentary makes the extent of the studio's frustration over Halo 2's troubled development plain. "Disastrous flaming turd of failure" plain, to cite one of the more despairing assessments.
Credited with providing both a template and a massive popularity boost for Microsoft's nascent Xbox Live service, Halo 2 is less celebrated for its single player campaign, which was cut short to hit the November 2004 release date. Senior engineering lead Chris Butcher described the project as a "three act tragedy".
"The first act was when we were all optimistic and fun, we were saying "this game is going to be 70 times more fun than Halo 1, because we've got all these great vehicles and environments and we're just going to jam in as much stuff as we can," Butcher detailed.
However, Bungie's ambition "lead us into some very, very scary places, with a graphics engine that was "totally unsuited" to Xbox and levels that "didn't make sense in a shooter".
Pete Parsons, chief operating officer, added: "we had to throw out a lot of stuff that we'd wanted to do". One problem was that in the absence of studio founders Alex Seropian and Jason Jones, design work was carried out "by committee".
"Before Halo 2, we could fail in silence and in misery but no-one really knew we were failing," writer Joseph Staten reflected. "But with something like Halo 2, everyone knew we'd cut missions at the end, that we'd lopped off our third act - we failed spectacularly in public as far as the story was concerned."
Do you agree with these rather punishing retrospectives? We thought the Halo 2 campaign was a blast - shame it ended too soon.