BY ALEX WAKEFORD
Last week, 434 Kirkland Way – former home of the storied Halo franchise, where it lived for much of its first decade – was demolished.
Universally Speaking pays tribute to this historic hub of creative talent in Kirkland.There’s a certain ‘magic’ to buildings that, as a fan, one naturally attaches to the home of the creative talent that makes your favourite games.
I think of my own workspace, here at Universally Speaking, as we have recently moved into a new office that’s just waiting to be decorated with posters and action figures – all sorts of merchandise from the titles we’ve worked on with our partners – and there’s a comforting sense of identity that emerges from that.
“This is who we are,” it says. “This is what we’re about.”
These are spaces that are glimpsed in community updates, in video documentaries and interviews, and (if you’re lucky) studio visits – or even employment.
Stories lie within those walls, memories from the people who have worked with them.
Sadly, no longer.
Last week, 434 Kirkland Way, the old building that once belonged to Bungie and 343 Industries – stewards of the Halo franchise – was demolished.
While the building has been unoccupied for some time now, both companies having moved elsewhere in Bellevue and Kirkland, it has remained as a monument to their talent – now, all that remains is dust and echoes.
Memories have been shared on Twitter from various Bungie, 343, and Xbox folks, ruminating on the times shared in this place.
I was, in fact, lucky enough to visit the old studio myself last November…A particularly big throwback came from the resurfacing of an old video tour of the studio from Frank O’Connor – a man almost as iconic as the series itself – who has stayed with the Halo series over the years and is currently Franchise Development Director at 343 Industries.
It is a glimpse back to a time before there were achievements to be earned; maps to be Forged; screenshots to be snapped to impress that person who – like yourself – religiously skims over each player’s file share in the pre-game lobby, only to realise with abject horror that you forgot to veto your third match on Isolation…
That was all still to come, and this is where it was cooked up.
Former Bungie and 343 artist Vic DeLeon started a thread on Twitter, sharing photos he has taken over the years he worked in the building of the children who visited, the people who are no longer with us, and various other times and events.
It wasn’t long before others jumped in to do the same.
It was here that some of the most definitive titles in gaming were crafted.
Halo 3 was the ‘killer app’ for the Xbox 360, the game that you and your friends stayed up playing “one more game…” before realising the sun was rising outside.
Halo 3: ODST gave Bungie a bit of a breather, a smaller-scale project that allowed them to experiment with some very different ideas. From its jazzy soundtrack, to its film noir-inspired aesthetic, its Firefight mode (which you assembled a team of three other friends to play with in order to get that VidMaster: Endure achievement on your Road to Recon).
Halo: Reach was Bungie’s ‘swan song’ for the series before moving on to work on Destiny. It boasted some of the best community features ever seen, with extensive customisation across its suite of modes – campaign, multiplayer, Firefight, the map-making Forge mode, and so on.
This was also where 343 Industries, who inherited the Mantle of Responsibility for the Halo franchise, faced one of the greatest trials in the industry.
They inherited a beloved IP, following up on a legacy of six genre-defining games, and had to take that series forward – building their team on-the-fly, working with an engine and tools that there was no ‘how to’ manual for.
Halo 4 was a standout achievement, pushing the Xbox 360’s hardware to its absolute limit (which still looks spectacular on modern consoles almost seven years later) while telling a bold and profoundly emotional story about mental illness and loss.While both studios have moved their creative talent elsewhere, it’s a great tragedy to see the place that was the home to this franchise (in perhaps its most critical years – when even Peter Jackson was looking to hop aboard the Warthog) go.
I read an interview recently where it was said “What we do is not important,” with regards to entertainment as an industry. As somebody who changed careers from teaching (a job that was specified as “important” in this article as a contrast) to work in the gaming industry, I had a mild existential crisis over this.
434’s demolition occurred the day after I read that article. Seeing the memories shared, the sense of community between both fans and creators, how everybody who has played these games has their own stories about how it brought them closer with friends or family, or (with the likes of Halo 4) addressed real issues that affect us in life… that was a valuable reminder of how important it can be.
Entertainment is not a frivolous enterprise, its impact can be less obviously observable in people because it’s often something that touches us in a deeply personal way.
Games like Halo comes from people who go above and beyond to turn a creative vision from a mere concept into something tangible and meaningful, and this is where that magic happens.
So, let us raise a glass to 434 Kirkland Way, and to the fine folks who lent their time and passion within its hallowed halls to making these incredible games.
What are some of your favourite memories with gaming, be it from working in the industry or sitting down with a group of friends to play until you literally can’t keep your eyes open?
Let us know, we’d love to hear your stories!
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