For almost as long as we can remember, the Halo series has been regarded as one of Xbox’s most notable ‘reasons to be’ with the sci-fi blaster landing on the scene all the way back in 2001 with Halo: Combat Evolved. But it wasn’t just the non-stop firefights or the depth and intrigue of the first game’s future inhabiting world that made it a hit, it was the sound work and the music that also helped cement it in our minds as a phenomenal title in gaming history.
It was Bungie composer Marty O’Donnell who was responsible for the audio masterpieces in that game and in every Halo game leading up to 2010 (after which Bungie left the series to 343 Industries) and he was scheduled again to score the music and direct the all important voice recording in their highly anticipated first-person shooter Destiny, which is scheduled for release later this year. However, during a time in which it seemed like O’Donnell’s work was complete, Bungie unceremoniously gave the composer the sack leading to irate words from longstanding fans along with a multitude questions over how Bungie could let go such a talent.
It also led to a lawsuit from O’Donnell against Bungie’s Chief Executive Harold Ryan after the composer suggested on Twitter that his employment had been terminated “without cause.” That prompted Ryan to countersue him and it looked as though things were going to get incredibly messy in court. Now, however, just a few months later and O’Donnell has come out on top.
In O’Donnell’s original suit, one of his major gripes against Ryan is that his former boss gave zero reason for firing him, something backed up by the fact that not only did things seem well and peachy to fans on the outside, but that the statement from Bungie themselves addressing the termination (but critically, not the reason for it) seemed not only amicable but it even wished O’Donnell luck “in all his future endeavors.” It even noted that his work had “filled our worlds with unforgettable sounds and soundtracks, and left an indelible mark on our fans.” It hardly sounded as though their relationship was going through a rough patch, then.
But more seriously, O’Donnell also alleged that Ryan’s firing practices violated a company agreement in which terminated employees are entitled to pay for unused vacation time and a whole host of other benefits. Meanwhile, the countersuit that Ryan fired back with said that O’Donnell was owed no such pay-off.
The courts however disagreed with Ryan and King County Superior Court judge Jeffrey Ramsdell in Seattle ruled in O’Donnell’s favor, seeing Bungie award the industry respected and well-liked composer with just under $100,000 in compensation that covered paid time-off, sabbatical time and attorney fees too.
Considering that Halo grossed over $3 billion when Bungie was at the helm, and Destiny looks set to continue that money amassing trend, it’s unlikely that anything Bungie is working on will be massively hit by the need to payout. It’s chump change to them, as it were.
O’Donnell too will likely be thrilled to get the money that he felt that he was owed, but gamers continue to have a genuine mystery on their hands as to why Bungie felt that it was necessary to get rid of one of their most high profile talents? Was it pay? Was it that his work was no longer needed? It certainly wasn't because the quality of his work had deteriorated so it seems that we haven’t quite gotten the full picture with this one.