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Halo 4 Interview: 343 Industries On Halo, Call Of Duty & Multiplayer

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At Microsoft's X12, Halo 4 was finally demoed. We speak to 343 Industries about the franchise, and how Xbox 360 wouldn't exist without it.

Published on Mar 5, 2012

NowGamer speaks to 343 Industries Frank O'Connor - creative director on Halo 4 - about how the next Halo is shaping up, how the series has shaped FPS games and multiplayer gaming.

So we saw a bit more of Halo today.

You saw something – it’s 100 percent more!

After the initial tease of E3, fans were picking apart Chief’s new armour. Are you guys worried about every change and how the community will react?

I’d be a liar if I said we didn’t care, we were above it all – of course we care. These are the people that pay your bills, support your game and carry the torches between iterations of that game so you have to care. You have to respect them and ultimately you have to love them and give them what you think they want.

So there’s definitely an element of cipher in that to figure out what they want and make as many people happy as you possibly can. The stress comes from knowing it’s going to be an imperfect process so you try your hardest to do the right thing by everybody.

On that note, you spoke earlier about changing the multiplayer and creating a new experience, that must be one of the trickiest things to get right in terms of the community?

It’s something that Halo enables and something that Bungee knew was important to the soul of Halo. You’ll still do it but it’s like Halo the way you play it now. That will be an option, you just go and find how you do that within a very nice UI, you can just go and find the exact same thing that you are addicted to doing.

What we want to do is get people on board with the new experience and we’ll do it in a way that’s very smooth and natural and organic. It sounds more mysterious than it will feel and it is a big change for Halo: I don’t want to diminish that and make it seem smaller than it is. We’ll present it in a way that will feel very fluid and natural, and hopefully people will love it.

The original Halo game was a massive evolution of the console shooter when it was released. Was there a feeling that in the wake of your Battlefields and Call of Dutys that the formula was outdated?

The lazy part is that there are a huge number of fans that just want a direct sequel to Halo 3 – they’re getting that in spades. But you’re right, the places you feel proud of, the time you’re most excited is when you’re inventing and innovating.

So we’ve had 200 people back in the office who have been doing that for three years now and we can’t wait to share the fruits of that. But some of the stuff is going to be pretty radical and there are always going to be things that will make all the difference in the world.

Tiny changes in games that make huge difference, especially in the competitive gaming community. They’re going to see that when we reveal the [better] rifle today and freak out when they think there isn’t going to be a single-shot weapon, which isn’t the case.

It’s kinda fun to watch the different gamut of the community go through this guessing period all the way up to two or three weeks after the game launches and they’ve figured everything out. It’s not just the case of the stuff they’re holding back, it’s the case of experience and being able to judge for themselves. 

You spoke about implementing some narrative into the multiplayer as well?

All of multiplayer is going to be wrapped in a consistent fictional wrapper. I can’t say too much about that and the driving reason for that is something we haven’t talked about yet.

If you really like playing team sports you don’t have to worry about the fact that it has a fictional reason for existing. But it does, though it’s not necessarily something that you have to invest all of your time in.

You guys are massively passionate about the franchise but is there anything you’ve found you can’t do in fear of contradicting the established lore?

When Halo 4 was formed if we were thinking of doing a retrospective game, like a prequel, we would have be more faithful. But we’re writing the history of the universe as we go, when we’re going forward. The interesting thing is the payoffs we’re getting for seeds that we planted years ago.

Things that we’re doing that were planted deliberately in the last two or three years and things that were already embroidered into the fiction. It’s gonna be, for deep fiction fans – and our caveat is if you’ve never played a Halo game or read a Halo novel before, don’t worry about it – but for people that have followed our game through every avenue and corner, there are going to be some amazing payoffs for things that seem really trivial for regular people.

And some of those seeds were planted in the terminals throughout Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition?

The anniversary terminals definitely takes some serious setup for Halo 4. But the last four or five Halo novels we’ve published have been painting Halo 4 pretty deeply from the ground. 

You spoke about expanding Master Chief and the Halo universe into a more emotional and visceral experience but how do you do that about a man behind a mask?

You do and you do it in context. Master Chief isn’t suddenly going to become the most talkative character in history. It’s about the people around him and the things that are happening to them. We’re taking him to places that aren’t ordinary, that aren’t necessarily predictable and things are going to happen to him and the people around him, both good guys and bad guys.

They’re literally going to change the universe and metaphorically change his universe, put him in situations he’s never been in before. He’s still going to be the Chief, he’s still going to be tenacious and stoic. Most of his problems have been decided down the end of gun barrel, that’s not necessarily true anymore.

How do you make a Spartan vulnerable, though?

Knock his shades off! It’s a tricky balance and the scale of the combat, the scale of the universe is going to do a lot of that this time around. 

In the presentation you spoke about the new armour being practical but also that it was designed with the next ten years in mind. So you’ve got the whole future of Chief planned out?

So we have, and I’d love to tell you that we have the next ten years planned out in gorgeous detail. But the truth is that we’ve got an art, we kinda know where it’s going and it will change. There are things that I’m really excited about and something will change it.

Some new technology will come along that gives us an opportunity to do something better or different then things will get cut. But the beauty of it, the luxury that we have right now is that we do know where this universe is going and we feel pretty comfortable about that direction. 

It sounds hugely ambitious?

It is and it isn’t. If you’re flexible enough and you have a good philosophical bent to deal with change, then you can adapt and adapt and adapt, however compromising and we’ve done that very well. You go into it with your eyes open and you let people's talent shine, then it’s a win-win situation.

We’ve seen some mo-cap footage, is that a way you’re richening the narrative?

There’s some technology that we’re doing that’s going to make the experience operate at a higher fidelity… not to get into a subjective discussion about it, but like, there’s some stuff that’s technically improved over what we’ve done before. Vastly so, in some cases so we’re looking forward to the results of that.

The changes to multiplayer that you suggested sound close to Call of Duty’s structure?

Yeah, I bet the COD guys got that about Halo for two or three years and were sick of hearing it. I haven’t ever looked at a competing game and thought, “They stole that from us!” Some of these things are just natural evolutions of player habits and desires.

We’re not chasing hard detail. That’s a dangerous avenue to go down because if you end up doing their thing badly then that’s twice as bad as if you hadn’t done it at all. So what we are doing is naturally evolving directions Halo is going in, improving on things we should have done better on last time and building on experiences appropriate to what audiences want.

You’ll definitely see places where the streams cross but we’re absolutely, strategically not trying to copy anybody. I think that’s a foolish path to go down.

A lot of people are looking to next-gen, was that something you were thinking about when going into Halo 4?

We’ll continue to think about emerging technology and take advantage of it where necessary. But our plan has always been pretty rigid on this. We never had to think of Halo 4 as a next-gen title, it’s always been a 360 title and the 360’s got plenty of life left. 

Is Kinect a fit for Halo 4?

It’s definitely a fit for the Halo franchise and it’s definitely a fit for my household because now I keep telling my keyboard to pause and it just ignores me. For Halo 4 it’s definitely a twin-stick, core shooter and Kinect doesn’t have any real bearing on Halo 4 but there are other areas of the Halo universe where Halo is really interesting to us. 

And you inherited all the assets from Bungie, was there any discussions between the two teams as you took over Halo?

They’re a third party competitor now so there was almost a gentlemanly agreement made and the sharing of stuff up to a point and then, they’re a separate company. It’s pretty collegial in the games industry, everybody knows everybody else and I hang out with a bunch of other people all the time. But we try not to talk shop and we certainly don’t talk about each other’s products although I probably know more about theirs than some of them know about ours. It’s going to be interesting to see what they come up with – I’m looking forward to it. But there will come a point where we’re not sharing data any more and then – Bam! That’s when you move the last your stuff out their underwear drawer.

I’d imagine they would have had some ideas of where they thought the franchise was going forward. Did you get any notes on their intentions for the future? 

There were definitely conversations that were had during Reach which was obviously as far as we got with that. But I don’t think that’s going to matter with the vision that we have going forward. Ultimately we’ve got to make it our own and we’ve got to respect what the core of it is and you’ve got to respect what made the soul of it so bright. We have to own it and be comfortable in our ability to evolve it. 

In this industry more than any other the community rejects someone new entering an established franchise and taking over. But do you guys feel like you’re bringing a fresh energy to the series? 

it depends on the director, right? If Steven Spielberg leaves a product then Alan Smithy comes on and wrecks it, then you’ve got a bad result. If you do the reverse, then you’ve got a good result. It’s got to be about the people and it’s got to be about the talent they bring to the table.

The reality is that if we have eight million Halo Reach players, how many people do you think care that Bungee made it and 343 is making the next, or any of that? It’s like baseball, I think we over-index on it and what matters is how good that team was that you’re not aware of.

And that’s where you can’t really make it too different in case they do notice.

It’s going to be radically different in a lot of ways but it should still feel familiar and like a pair of gloves, slip it on and know what’s going on. 

I know you’re not going to elaborate too much but you mentioned a new enemy that will change everything. Can you talk a little more about that?

It’s one of the biggest pieces of the whole picture. I will say that the familiar things will be back: there’s still going to be a Covenant presence in the universe and you’re still going to be fighting Covenant somewhere, but they’re not necessarily the greatest threat that you have to deal with in Halo 4.

 

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