May 4, 2006 5:31 PM | Simon Carless
You may know that GSW has been singularly obsessed with the now basically defunct Gizmondo handheld gaming system, having followed the 'car crash in the making', all the way from the lavish Gizmondo UK launch party to the, uhm, actual car crash.
So now, we have a, how you say, coup de grace? According to a source close to the former development arm of the company, the Gizmondo Manchester (formerly Warthog) development studio in the UK was working on pre-production for a 3D, FPS Halo title for the Gizmondo in 2005 called 'Halo: Spartan', before the company declared bankruptcy. And the game, had it gone into production, would have used the Gizmondo's back-mounted camera to detect motion and provide a 'mouselook'-like effect as you swiveled the handheld around, enabling the player to change the camera view just by physically rotating the machine. Whoa.
Now, you may be aware that the 'Halo for Gizmondo' rumor has come up before - in fact, Bungie specifically stated back in January 2005: "I am told Microsoft does have a relationship with the handheld maker, but I can tell you right now the arrangement does not include Halo." And, just to be clear, we believe Bungie - it's pretty likely that Gizmondo never officially signed a contract to do Halo for the Gizmondo.
However, Gizmondo did sign an official deal with Microsoft Game Studios in November 2004 for Gizmondo versions of Age of Empires, MechAssault and It's Mr Pants, with "at least two more titles to come from the deal in the coming months." Those extra games may well have been undecided, and were still subject to negotiation - they've certainly never been revealed.
But then, the rumor started (or more specifically, was actively encouraged by Gizmondo executives) that the Gizmondo was Microsoft's unofficial 'Xbox Portable', and thus the release of Halo on the Gizmondo (as one of those unannounced games) was only a matter of time. The execs used deals like this one with Microsoft to extract tens of million of dollars from investors (at least one of whom, who lost tens of thousands of dollars, has written to GSW mentioning that 'Xbox Portable' and portable Halo was used prominently in Gizmondo sales pitches!) Of course, the resulting funds seem to have gone in part to yachts, multi-million dollar homes, and sheared-in-twain Ferraris.
Yet the fact remains - there's video on the web of the 'Gizmondo Augmented Reality' prototype, which was to use the camera as an integral part of gameplay, as you looked at the Gizmondo screen and the handheld placed 'virtual items' on top of the photo output - a really neat idea. It wasn't too much of a stretch to simply use that tech concept to sense directional changes by monitoring the camera output, and map it to mouselook - something that the Gizmondo technical team apparently had working using the open-sourced version of a popular Id Software FPS running on the Gizmondo, as a test.
As for the plot of 'Halo: Spartan', it was to revolve around the first ever mission for Master Chief, as depicted in the Halo: The Fall Of Reach novel written by Eric Nylund in 2001 as a prequel to the first Halo game. Or at least, that's how the folks at Gizmondo saw it. It's possible that Gizmondo never even mentioned to Microsoft that they were working on this tech and pitch, and it was simply to tell investors about - we wouldn't put it past the insanity of the company to just start pre-production anyhow.
Or it's possible that it was a pitch to fill one of the remaining slots in the Microsoft contract, and was never approved - none of those other licensed Microsoft titles ever came out for Gizmondo, incidentally. But in any case, it existed, and as an intriguing footnote in the history of both Halo and Gizmondo, it shouldn't go unrevealed.
[UPDATE - 05/05/06: Former Gizmondo Manchester employee 'exhog' has popped up in our comments to confirm that "a storyline and basic game structure at the very earliest stage of concept" existed for the game, but to take issue with any claim that coding had started, stating that it was all done "with a wink and a nudge to extract more cash out of the investors". He says (along the way confirming that the Manchester studio was working on a Gizmondo version of MechAssault): "It never went anywhere close to becoming real, maybe just maybe if Giz bosses weren't such crooks and knew anything we would have released the mech assault game and then who knows, big M might have started to consider the possibility." Oh, and he also adds: "While i am here i hope that ape Erikson and fatty Freer rot in prison."]