Halo: Combat Evolved | Bungie | Xbox | 2001
If you owned a Mac in the '90s, Bungie was likely your savior. While the platform has never been known as the place to go for non-console gaming—at least until all of that Steam compatibility kicked in—the Chicago (now Bellevue) developer made a name for itself with impressive experiences that couldn't be had anywhere else. After making their mark on the world with the RTS Myth and the cerebral FPS Marathon, Bungie decided to produce a sci-fi riff on the former that would eventually become Halo. Astoundingly, one of the most important and popular series of the 21st century (so far) would enter production under the code name "Monkey Nuts" before Bungie settled on "Blam!" as a less embarrassing option.
This version of Halo first saw the light of day at the MacWorld expo in 1999 thanks to none other than Steve Jobs—clad in his classic turtleneck—who had no idea two movies would be made about his life in 15 years' time. After introducing Jason Jones, the Bungie co-founder took the stage to show the world Halo, which still resembled the final product in some ways. The overall visual style has essentially been locked into place by 1999, but Halo had yet to find its genre. It goes without saying that, 17 years later, the polygonal graphics of Halo look pretty dated, but at the time, Mac owners couldn't help but be astounded by the relatively huge worlds on display. Just a few years prior, Bungie's Marathon operated with the same faked 3D perspective that games like Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, and others used to fool players into thinking they were actually travelling through a fully realized three-dimensional space.
Looking at this rare video interview with a young, beaming Jason Jones, the excitement in the air over Halo is more than palpable. It wouldn't take long for this enthusiasm to curdle into outrage, though, when Microsoft scooped up Bungie a little over a year later in an attempt to headhunt the best talent for their upcoming Xbox console. And really, it's easy to understand why Mac fans felt slighted: This amazing new game wasn't just taken away from them—it was taken away from them by Microsoft, of all corporate entities. And the antagonism between both camps struck a much less lighthearted tone than the popular series of Mac vs. PC commercials with Justin Long and John Hodgman that aired throughout the late '00s. Apparently, not even Steve Jobs could contain his rage about Bungie's "betrayal."
The newly redesigned FPS form of Halo first appeared at E3 2001, though journalists at the time weren't thoroughly impressed by what they saw. "While it was still fun to run around and blast away at the other E3 attendees," wrote the now-defunct website FiringSquad, "we're still left wanting more from Halo, convinced that Bungie and Microsoft are keeping an ace or two up their sleeves to help the game live up to the impossible hype." Stardock's Brad Wardell weighed in with, "The buzz around the game (from people playing it) was that it was pretty neat but difficult to control and not particularly fun." Many impressions from this event pointed to the subpar frame rate as Halo's biggest issue, though this problem would eventually be solved.
Ultimately, Halo made a much bigger splash as an FPS on the Xbox than it ever would have as an RTS on the Mac. Simply put, it arrived in the perfect form, on the perfect console, and at the perfect time. Shortly before the 2002 launch of Xbox Live would propel us all into the brave, new world of playing video games with strangers online, the high schoolers who shot up their friends in the N64's Goldeneye "graduated" to Halo when it was time to head off to college. It was a simpler time for the console crowd, before racist, foul-mouthed tweens could pwn us from thousands of miles away.