Halo 5: Guardians Interview
We speak to 343 Industries studio head Josh Holmes about the Halo 5 beta and how it will affect the upcoming title
Halo 5: Guardians is Microsoft’s most important asset in the ongoing console wars. That also makes it Microsoft’s most closely guarded secret. Remember what happened when X-ONE revealed that Agent Locke was not only playable, but considered a “primary character”, there was uproar in the virtual streets. 343 Industries might have let gamers get a taste of Halo 5 for three weeks with the beta, but the reality is that all it’s done is make us insatiably hungry for more, whilst simultaneously revealing next to nothing about the campaign or wider multiplayer experience. So, as you might imagine, we leaped at the opportunity to get on the phone with 343’s studio head Josh Holmes and get the answers to some all-important questions. Here’s the thing you’re about to learn when it comes to Halo – the marketing machine surrounding it is truly impressive, but where there’s a will there’s a way. X-ONE broke on through to the other side and managed to extrapolate some rather interesting new information that you ever-inquisitive Halo fans will have no problem revelling in.
It’s something of a surprise to see a beta this early in production – especially considering how much work it takes to launch them – how integral was it to ongoing development efforts and the evolution of Halo?
The beta was really important to us. For Halo 5, we are looking at making really substantial changes to the way that the game plays. We look at it as the most important evolution of Halo gameplay, definitely in any of the recent games. Putting the game in the hands of fans early enough, where we could take feedback and react to that – and see how people were using the new Spartan Abilities, how those are playing with one another within the context of the different maps and game modes – was really important to us as developers.
It was nerve-wracking because – as you said – you don’t typically see a game putting out a beta this early, almost a year from release. It was a huge amount of work, it caused people to give up their holidays to get the game ready and put it out, I know a number of people were pretty grumpy towards the end of that [laughs] but when they saw fans getting online and playing the game and got the feedback, I think everybody felt like this was a really, really important and beneficial experience for all of us.
The base movement speed felt noticeably slower compared to Bungie’s Halo games, while Sprint felt faster than it was in Halo 4. How will 343 respond and react to this kind of feedback?
We saw the same anecdotal feedback, and for us the challenge was to make sure that we have the right pace to the game experience. We wanted to give players a lot of freedom and flexibility in the way that they can move around the map, and give them many more tools to do that. At the same time, we wanted the top speed – the Sprint speed – to feel like it was a meaningful choice. When you’re going into Sprint, you’re choosing to put down your weapon temporarily, you’re choosing to give up the ability to replenish your shields. If you’ve take damage at that point, it’s a really meaningful decision that should carry a lot of weight.
But at the same time, we don’t want it to feel like that speed advantage is so great that people are moving too quickly around the map, that they are to hard to track, and so finding the right sweet spot in the delta between those two speeds – your base movement and your top sprint speed – is really important to us.
Coming out of the beta, we made the choice based on how we saw players playing within the beta – and then also based on the feedback we received – to boost the base movement and strafe speed a little bit, so players have a greater sense of agility when they are moving at base speed. And then also they also have the ability to pursue someone that might be trying to sprint away from an engagement and can track them a little more readily. We also brought the top sprint speed down slightly, just to narrow that delta.
The new Smart Link aiming system split opinion. How committed is 343 to the spirit of the beta? If feedback were universally negative, would the studio have cut the system?
I think for us, the Smart Link aiming system was really about how do we connect the Spartan with their weapons in a way that feels believable and realises the fiction that has been in there from the beginning in the canon, in a way that just feels more believable. Think about it like you’re connected cybernetically to your heads-up display and your weapon – your tactical awareness – is being augmented by the smart systems. What would that look like and feel like? That was sort of the inspiration behind how we approached it.
We wanted to hear feedback from the community about how that played. We got some great feedback on the treatment of particular weapons – such as the DMR being a little bit too obtrusive in terms of the position of the scope of the screen, we’ve moved that as result of that feedback. But I think overall that the feedback that we got from players was really positive about the system, and about how it better connected them to their weapon systems as a Spartan.
To read the rest of this interview, pick up issue 122 of X-ONE magazine, available now from all good stores. You can also download a digital copy of the magazine to your tablet, smartphone or computer, or order a physical copy from our eShop.
Halo 5: Guardians will be available exclusively on Xbox One starting 27 October 2015.