343 Studios are in control, and we like that.
Halo 4, no matter how you look at it, is likely to be a slam-dunk for Microsoft. The latest title in an incredibly popular series, the franchise attracts interest for good reason - the games are, as a rule, extremely good.
Halo 4, which marks the return of Master Chief, is also the first new game in the series to come out of 343 Studios; a team Microsoft expressly setup to continue development on the Halo franchise now that Bungie have moved on.
A developer switch is no small change; games are always the product of the minds and motivations of the people behind them. Change those minds, and you change the resulting games; there's just no way around it. So it was with some trepidation that we recently went hands-on with the game; fortunately, any fears about what 343 would do with the beloved franchise were quickly put to rest, and Halo 4 confirmed its place at the top of our "most anticipated" list.
Not satisfied just playing the game, however, we also wanted to talk about it; who better to chat to, then, than Josh Holmes - Halo 4's Creative Director?
Thanks for taking the time out to talk to us, Josh! Let's start with a question about the story; specifically, how heavily is Master Chief involved?
Master Chief is very much at the centre of the events that unfold in Halo 4, and sets up what continues in multiplayer. Without giving anything away for where the story is going in the future, you can expect him to play a large role.
Have Bungie been involved in the game's development at all, even in an advisory capacity?
No, it’s all 343.
Was there any kind of handover process when you guys started up and Bungie moved on to their next project?
Bungie didn’t hand us anything as they departed, but we have Frank O’Connor who is the Development Director, and he’s formally of Bungie. He played a big role in the development of the Halo Universe prior the formation of 343. He brought his expertise of the canon and the universe across to the studio.
As we develop ideas, Frank is able to say “here’s something that maybe you can use for that thing you’re trying to do”. In that sense there’s continuity.
Are you laying the groundwork for future Halo titles within Halo 4?
Yeah, we think about the story we’re telling in Halo 4 and characters that we’re introducing and establishing them as an important part of where we see the story unfolding in the future. We have a roadmap of where things are going, and different characters arcs and events that will unfold. That’s a loose roadmap and everything is subject to change as we go through development.
A big part of the build up to the launch of the game is the live-action Forward Unto Dawn web series; what was the original purpose of that?
Initially one of the goals was to reach a broader audience of people who could be exposed to the Halo Universe, as well as some of the concepts at play in Halo. There’s more of that as you go through the series.
Was there a large budget associated with Forward Unto Dawn?
The team working on that has done a great job of taking the budget and over-delivering on it.
In the game itself, are there discoverable lore elements to find, like your team added to last year's Halo remake?
Yes there are. There’s a lot of secondary storytelling, more so than any past Halo game. A lot of that is credited to our narrative director who joined us from BioWare. He approached the storytelling of finding different ways of telling story within the experience without putting it in that primary channel where it gets in the way of the action. It’s there for the players that want to explore.
In the first mission there are a couple of terminals that you can interact with, and depending on those interactions, there’s subtle branching dialogue later. There’s a lot of little subtle things like that which will very subtly change the experience.
Considering all the different components of the game, including external elements like books, Forward Unto Dawn, and more, is it difficult to stitch the various storytelling elements together?
It’s really challenging. It’s one of the most complicated storytelling endeavours that I’ve been a part of. It’s more complex than any game I can think of. Keeping the story consistent and working is a huge effort. We certainly didn’t make it easy on ourselves.
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