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Coming full circle with Halo

Why I Love: The TrailerFarm's Tony Porter shares how Bungie's shooter completed a journey he'd begun as a child playing hooky with his father

Why I Love is a series of guest editorials on GamesIndustry.biz intended to showcase the ways in which game developers appreciate each other's work. This entry was contributed by Tony Porter, creative director and co-founder of The TrailerFarm, a production agency that has put together memorable trailers for games like Two Point Hospital, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, and Prison Architect. Tony's brother and co-founder Dan wrote about Uncharted 4: A Thief's End in our last Why I Love column.

It's hard for me to think about my first time playing the original Halo on Xbox without thinking about my first experiences working in the games industry. In the same way that music can take you back to a specific time or place, games can too. And Halo was there just as I was taking my first baby steps into the world of making games.

After graduating from university, I had spent the entire summer locked in my bedroom at the family home, furiously creating a portfolio of CG work with the goal of getting a job - ANY job - in the industry. I applied to Rockstar North (then DMA design), and I was flown up to Edinburgh to interview for a graduate artist job at the studio. Talk about striking gold.

"I have never played a brand new IP that was so fully formed and worked so well straight off the bat"

It was a magical time, and I remember being shown around the team area by the legendary Les Benzies as if it was yesterday. It was the first time I'd stepped foot inside a game development studio and while I tried to play it cool (doubtful) I was buzzing inside. In the Manhunt team area, there were renders of nasty looking baseball bats with nails sticking out, bloody meat cleavers, and all manner of warped visions designed to inflict maximum virtual damage lining the walls. Then I was then taken into the boardroom and shown a HUGE map of Liberty City which was being created by the GTA team. It felt electric, you could just tell something special was happening. And I wanted in.

As I left the building after the interview, I clocked a line of Macs in the IT area with 'Xbox' stickers on the side of them... Damn, I wanted this job. And happy days, I got it. Good times.

That first gig was working on the Manhunt environment team, and shortly after I joined, the studio got hold of an Xbox with a shiny new copy of Halo which staff could book out. I made it my business to be first in line.

Halo's polish pushed Porter to raise his game

I have never played a brand new IP that was so fully formed and worked so well straight off the bat. The art style, the overall aesthetic, level design and narrative... it was astonishing. I took an impromptu week off work because I just had to play it through.

I love it when you boot up a game and you're just blown away by what you're seeing. While Manhunt was clearly operating in a, ahem, different space, to the Halo world, the polish in Halo's art gave me an even bigger drive to push things as far as possible with my own game art. I've had many "How the hell did they do that?" moments down the years, whether it's a new piece of tech or just a really smart idea, but the timing of Halo with my first steps in the industry was perfect.

I wanted to produce work and play my part in games that would get up to that level, that could have the same impact on players as Halo had on me. Actually, I wanted to try and beat it. After all, no one ever wanted to be the second best band in the world.

I played it all week and was due to go back to my parent's house that weekend. So, I jumped in the car and drove back to Norfolk with the most precious payload I had ever transported.

My dad was, and remains, a massive gamer. He let me stay off school when my Amiga arrived, and we played Dragon's Lair all day together. When other people said we'd never get anywhere with games, it was always him who backed me and my brother Dan, who I eventually founded The TrailerFarm with. Taking Halo back to him was a thrill - I worked IN GAMES and I could introduce him to a ground-breaking game experience in the way he had introduced so many to me down the years.

With co-op campaign and local multiplayer, Halo was well suited to sharing with others

Everything about Halo just felt like a step up. I can still remember every nook and cranny of the Pillar of Autumn. Every pickup and weapon location, and every Warthog drop point. The Silent Cartographer level also stands out. It was an amazing combination of agoraphobia and claustrophobia. There were these huge and expansive panoramic vistas coupled with tight and dimly lit corridors and chambers.

Whenever I played, I always felt involved in a wider force rather than fighting alone, which I loved. You were part of something bigger. To me, it felt like a landmark moment in terms of game design, art, narrative.

But I don't just love Halo because of that. It's timing. It was my first job in the industry. It was sharing that game with my Dad, without whom I would never have made it into the industry. It was the perfect game, at the perfect time. That's why I love Halo.

Upcoming Why I Love columns:

  • Tuesday, August 14 - 3rd Eye Studios' Gregory Louden on The Darkness
  • Tuesday, August 28 - YoYo Games' Russell Kay on Portal
  • Tuesday, September 11 - Snowcastle Games' Thomas French on Homeworld
  • Tuesday, September 25 - Sumo Digital's Emily Knox on Metal Gear Solid

Developers interested in contributing their own Why I Love column are encouraged to reach out to us at news@gamesindustry.biz.