Waypoint: Spotlight on Louis Wu
We chat with the "godfather" of the Halo community, Louis Wu.
Originally appearing on Waypoint, this article was edited for for the television format. You can read the full interview with Halo.Bungie.Org's Louis Wu right here.
Q: Being considered the "godfather" of the Halo community is a pretty big deal. How long have you been part of the Halo community and what was it that first got you interested?
A: My involvement in the Halo community started before Halo was Halo.bungie.org opened its doors in January 1999, partly in response to an older site, marathon.org, going offline for an extended period - and by the time E3 1999 rolled around, we'd opened up subsites for almost every Bungie game there was. (We never created a gnop.bungie.org, or an operationdesertstorm.bungie.org.) So when word leaked of a new game being shown behind closed doors, codenamed 'Blam', we wasted no time slapping up a page for blam.bungie.org, and creating a forum where people could speculate about it. We knew nothing except that Bungie was making it (and that it involved some kind of Ringworld) - we didn't start the site because we loved the game, we started the site because we had sites for ALL of Bungie's games.
Information about the game remained very scarce for a couple of months, but a real announcement (along with an official name) occurred at MacWorld in July... and the trailer we all saw made us giddy with excitement. blam.bungie.org became halo.bungie.org, and we spent inordinate amounts of time scouring the web for news tidbits, organizing and displaying fan art and tributes, and basically just speculating about what might be coming. The more we enabled folks to get their creations shown to the world, the more people wanted to CREATE - and the site grew. And grew. And still grows, to this day.
There was a team, at the start - people have come, and gone, but eventually real life intrudes for most of us, and people drift away. I think the only legitimate rationale for calling me a 'godfather' of the community is that I've resisted real life longer than most.
Q: Anyone who's been living under a rock for the last decade might not know, but you manage a site -HBO - which has acted as a de facto nexus for the Halo community practically since its birth. Could you share a bit about what HBO is and why it exists?
A: Well, as I said, HBO started as a basic news site for what was, at the time, Bungie's latest game. However, there's more to fandom than simply reading about your favorite game, or even discussing it on a forum - for a lot of people, being a fan means expressing your love through creation. For artists, it means fan art. For musicians, it means fan music. For writers, it means fan fiction. And so on. And though there were a bunch of fansites that sprang up right after Halo was announced, most of them were focused more on news of the game than on the fan community itself. We wanted, really from the start, to give people a place to express their love for Bungie and its games - and in general, content begets content. Folks submitted Halo artwork to us because we had a Halo artwork gallery. When people started creating Halo movies, there was no YouTube - and not a lot of fansites had the resources to host video. (Bandwidth was EXPENSIVE in those days!) So when we became known as a home for Halo movies, the content simply rolled in - all we had to do was organize it. We exist for the fans, and the fans keep us going.
We exist for the fans, and the fans keep us going.
Q: Most of the internet knows you as Louis Wu. For those in the uninformed crowd, where'd that handle originate from and why did you choose it?
A: I started my first Bungie fansite in 1995 - it was a file archive for Marathon content. I used my real name - I was in graduate school, I thought I was an adult (heh), I didn't see any need to hide behind a screen name. When bungie.org started up, I continued to use my real name - but when blam.bungie.org kicked off, my main partner in crime had his reasons for wanting to remain anonymous. So we needed to create aliases to run the site. We knew nothing at all about the game - except that it involved a Ringworld of some sort. So we picked names from Larry Niven's Ringworld universe. Louis Wu is the 200-year-old asian protagonist of the novels... and 'Wirehead' (the site's other main contributor at the beginning) was what Louis Wu became in the second novel. (He was a 'current addict' - had a wire plugged directly into the pleasure center of his brain.)
Later, we discovered that the ring in the game was nothing like Niven's Ringworld - it was 10,000 km in diameter (Niven's was 200 million miles across), and it was self-powered (Niven's encircled a star). The game's ring had far more in common with Iain M. Banks' Orbitals, described in his Culture novels - but by this time, it was too late; we were known as Louis Wu and Wirehead, and we'd stay that way. (Wirehead drifted away after Bungie was acquired by Microsoft.)
In a way, I'm sad - the Culture novels have a much richer choice of character names to choose from. That's life, I guess - and Louis Wu will forever be associated with halo.bungie.org.
Q: Over the years you've seen tons of fan-made Halo content - whether that be fan fiction, clever in-game glitches or even cardboard weapons. Out of all that you've seen, what stands out as the most impressive? What about the most bizarre?
A: Wow... tough questions. I'm not sure there's a single answer for either one. I love seeing the variety of ways that people have expressed their love for the game and its universe - but I'm not sure I could pick a single creation that was 'most impressive'. Folks that hold 'Halo weddings' surely commit to long-lasting memories - they'll be showing those wedding photos to their kids and grandkids some day, and they'll have to explain what this 'Halo' stuff is. People who build their own armor have my respect - that takes some real effort, and time. But folks who paint, or draw, or sketch, have also turned out amazing stuff - it might not take as long, but it's no less impressive. And composed music? That stuff blows me away (I guess because I have absolutely no ability in that realm).
As far as the 'most bizarre' content... hmm. There was a movie submitted to us pretty early on (some time in 2002) in which a bunch of crazy people wired up a pair of Xboxes, strung ethernet cables between two cars racing down the highway at 70 miles an hour, and played system-linked Halo on the road. They called it High Speed Highway Halo, and it's still available in our movie collection. I can't endorse the action - but 7 years later, the stunt still sticks in my memory. There was a guy who painted his (nude) human model with UV black light paint to look like Cortana, and took a series of photos... there was the MIT crew that stuck a Master Chief helmet and an Assault Rifle on the John P. Harvard statue in Harvard Yard... there's been so much oddness out there related to this game that I've forgotten most of it. There was a soldier in Iraq who had his wife FedEx him a copy of the Legendary Edition of Halo 3, right after release - the game was about $150, shipping was another $350. That's pretty bizarre!
Q: Out of all of the Halo games, which one is your absolute favorite and why?
A: I originally saw this question before ODST was released, and my answer was going to be Halo 3 - I felt that it had fantastic multiplayer, and that its Campaign had really benefitted from the lessons learned in Halo 2. I felt like it had kept everything the original had right... and fixed the stuff Halo 2 had wrong. But (for me, at least) ODST's campaign is even better; it nails Bungie's famous '30 seconds of fun' harder than anything that came before it. It's short... but it's seriously replayable. I've already gone through on Heroic and Legendary, more than once... and played several flashbacks a half-dozen times each. (And this is a week or so after release!)
On top of that, it contains Firefight - a mode with serious potential. (The initial implementation has some problems, but even with these, it's astoundingly fun.)
And, of course, it comes with the complete Halo 3 multiplayer experience. All in all... a fantastic package.