Halo 4 Dev 343 Talk Spartan Ops, Campaign, TV, Master Chief
Halo 4 is making some big changes to the formula that was established all those years ago by Bungie. Spartan Ops’ TV show set-up stands as the series new poster child, but what exactly is it and how does it work?
Halo 4’s franchise development director, Frank O’Connor, and executive producer, Kiki Wolfkill, take us through Halo’s new TV/game hybrid…
What’s different about Spartan Ops and how is it related to the TV format?
Frank O’Connor: We’re not setting out to make the best TV episodes ever and we’re not setting out to make best videogame experience, we’re setting out to see if the two can be combined in a real and meaningful way and give the best parts of both.
We want them to play off and enhance each other. Spartan Ops will be all CG and have radically different mood, but it will still feel connected to the cinematics from the game.
There will be a kind of a spectrum of aesthetic experiences in the game but they will all feel connected.
We’re still sticking to a number of Halo’s conventions, which are really important, such as the cinematics happening in-engine so that you’re not switching between two aesthetics experiences that are yanking you out of the game, but we’ve done some things.
Why was it important to structure a game in this unique way?
O’Connor: The technology and methodology of making TV these days is almost on-par with movies in terms of spectacle and richness, I think that’s been a huge revolution and we’ve been following in their footsteps somewhat.
We’re still a game, there are CG episodes, but they give us the opportunity to explore stories that are deeper and more character focused than you normally can in a videogame.
Doesn’t the TV format change the way you tell stories?
O’Connor: It gives us a narrative tool and a narrative flexibility that you don’t have in campaign gameplay. But really, I’m more interested in social experience.
Do people go into work the next day and say ‘man, Spartan Ops was cool. I liked it when that thing happened that was pretty exciting’.
And then you can continue that conversation, ‘oh, I loved it when you flipped that Warthog over and we all fell to our deaths because you’re a shitty driver’.
343 Industries has spent a lot of time re-working old enemies from the Halo universe
Having players combine the narrative and the interactive experience just like they’d normally talk about a narrative experience like when they’re talking about Lost or Breaking Bad.
Having people add these emergent stories that happened during their games to that discussion is going to be really interesting.
Will Spartan Ops connect to the main campaign in any meaningful way?
Kiki Wolfkill: Well, the Chief will show up here and there… but the Infinity storyline takes places chronologically six months after the main campaign.
You’ll see them cross paths with the main characters, but when you go into Infinity [Six months] has passed. The Infinity has its own story arc and it’s definitely not something that tacked-on to the multiplayer and it’s a story we really wanted to tell.
It’s about life on the ship, some of the interesting origins of technology on the ship itself, you’ll see and also to express what it’s like to be a Spartan IV on the Infinity because that’s who you’re going to be playing as.
It still sits very soundly in the universe, but it’s a way for us to go a little bit deeper, on a microcosm of the Halo universe, and looking at the day-to-day life, as well some extravagant sci-fi adventures.
They tie very closely together and the Chief may cross paths here and there.
Why hasn’t episodic content taken off?
O’Connor: Well, we know why it hasn’t taken off and why there isn’t a lot of it, this isn’t our invention and it’s because it’s hard.
Going through this we first had to get to a situation where we comfortable we could achieve what we wanted with gameplay and story.
We were serving those masters really, even when we were prototyping we realised it was going to be incredibly hard. It can’t just be a hard problem that you then solve, it has to be solved in a way that’s exciting to play.
The dumb version is ‘it’s a TV show you play’ or the flipside ‘it’s a game you watch and experience with your friends’.
There are lots of ways to define it, but we knew instinctively once all these elements clicked into place, getting to that point was really difficult to do and it wasn’t about invention or some crazy patent scheme, it was just about effort.