Original Halo devs reveal how much had to be sacrificed to create the iconic shooter: "We shipped at least one level we shouldn't have"

(Image credit: Microsoft)

The original Halo: Combat Evolved is the quintessential Xbox game, but for the game's core developers at Bungie, it took a lot of sacrifices and immense reworks to see the game make its release.

In the latest issue of Edge Magazine, original Halo developers, including Alex Seropian and Chris Butcher, spoke about the challenges of making the first game - which was initially planned as a Mac-exclusive shooter. The key developers of the game explained that Halo: Combat Evolved - as we know it now - only came together in the final year before its ambitious launch date alongside the 2001 release of the Xbox, and many sacrifices had to be made to make it happen.

"We made a lot of difficult decisions to make that [release] happen," said Alex Seropian, co-founder of Bungie during the interview. "We canceled [other] projects, we combined three teams together, we compromised on scope, [and] we shipped at least one level that we probably shouldn't have," he explained, likely referring to the infamous Library level that fans had been vocal of.

In the Edge feature, Seropian stated that eight months before the release, Bungie only had the "idea of a game" for Halo and that it only had the broader features and mechanics nailed down - all without a broader vision that pinned them together. The final stretch of development saw cuts made to the game, such as some weapons and set-piece moments. However, one of the original game's most iconic vehicles, featured in one of the game's most action-packed missions, almost entered the developer's trash bin as well. 

"Four weeks before ship, [designer] John Howard decides we're cutting the tank, because it's not ready," stated Chris Butcher, lead programmer on Halo: Combat Evolved. "The designer Paul Bertone was basically like 'fuck that, I'm not gonna listen to you, John - without the tank, this game sucks'. And so he went to the artists and the animators, like 'I know John told you guys that we cut the tank, but we're actually going to do it.' And they all just worked really hard, and a week and a half later, we're playing with the tank. And it works, and it's really fun. And John was upset about that, but ultimately he was, 'I guess if you guys crunched to make it work - I was trying to make your lives easier, but you clearly don't want to listen to me.'"

Halo: Combat Evolved is a game that defined developer Bungie, and the Xbox brand itself. However, the development story of Halo is a common one that many other developers have experienced, where scope and vision all come into focus during the 11th hour. It also highlights how crunch was and is still commonly used to pull a game together.

For more on Halo, check out our ranking of the best Halo games of all-time.

Alessandro Fillari

Alessandro is a freelance writer and editor based in the San Francisco Bay Area who has covered the games, tech, and entertainment industries for more than 13 years. Having previously worked at GameSpot, CNET, and various other outlets writing features and coordinating event coverage, Alessandro enjoys playing games on PC, but also gives plenty of time to his Nintendo Switch. You can find him on various socials at @afillari.