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Interview: Oni (Hardy LeBel)
January 23, 2001 | Michael Eilers

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The development of Bungie’s action/adventure title Oni is a strange and sordid tale, from the initial concept to the final multiplatform release due next week. Almost four years since its initial inspiration by such ‘anime’ movies as Ghost in the Shell and Akira, this game has survived numerous staff changes, the cancellation of multiplayer support and the Bungie buyout to emerge as a hot Mac, PC and PS2 release.

IMG’s history with this title began early; we published a preview in the first half of 1999, based on a visit to Bungie West HQ. Since that time the game has changed considerably, but the initial concept and strengths of the design remain. We spoke with lead designer Hardy LeBel about Oni’s design, the decision to remove multiplayer support, and the departure of Brent Pease, who came up with the initial concept of Oni, and pitched it to Bungie with Michael Evans.

IMG: What is your position on the Bungie team, and when did you join the Oni project?

My name is Hardy LeBel, and I was the Lead Designer on Oni. I joined the team in August of 1999.

IMG: How much impact on the final product did Brent Pease's departure have, in your opinion?

In the interset of maybe laying some rumors and speculation to rest I would say that Brent's departure did not significantly affect the core vision or design of Oni. Of course losing a senior programmer set us back in terms of production, but ultimately we we able to re-staff and proceed with production at full speed.

IMG: What were the primary issues that motivated the decision to remove multiplayer support? Was there any discussion of leaving LAN-only play in, as an option?

The biggest factor in the decision to remove multiplayer support was the technological hurdle. We had been playing Oni over our office LAN and consistently experienced serious problems synching up the characters in multiplayer battles. The combat style in Oni focusses on precise timing and manuver so we decided that it made more sense to apply our technological and artistic resources to refining the single player experience, rather than continuing to develop a gameplay mode that would benefit a (relatively) limited number of end users. It broke my heart to do it, but I still believe it was the right choice given our circumstances.

IMG: Oni is missing three things that often accompany Bungie releases: film recording and playback, editing tools, and a plug-in interface. Was this different approach (for Bungie) to a game release made necessary by the structure and design of the game, or was there simply not enough time to include these features?

It was both: the structure (not the design) of the game necessitated that the environments be constructed with software tools that were quite a bit more precise than most 3D modelling packages (as you probably know, the architects were using Autocad). But the greater factor was time: the project had slipped considerably during development and so our primary focus had to be on completing the content and features of the game rather than building in support for the mod community.


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