Halo 4 Interview: We speak to 343 Industries about their magnum opus

Have a look at the massive interview inside!

Posted By | On 01st, Nov. 2012

Full Q&A on Pages 2 and 3.

We recently got a chance to sit down and talk to some of the guys that have been working tirelessly on the upcoming, hugely anticipated Halo 4, and we got plenty of interesting insight and information.

Our editors Kartik Mudgal and Shubhankar Parijat interviewed Lead Designer, Chris Haluke and Studio Producer, Che Chou, and had a nice long chat about the upcoming first person shooter that will be kicking off an entirely new Halo trilogy.

Chris Haluke started off the interview by giving us a detailed summary of Halo 4 and some of its biggest innovations. “So as you may know, Halo 4 is back,” he began. “Halo 4 is soon to be released, and after three and a half years, we at 343 are extremely excited to finally take the lid off this thing and let players get their hands on it.”

But what story does Halo 4 exactly follow? When’s it set in the Halo fiction? How long after Halo 3 does it take place? “Halo 4 is a story that is going to take place and kick off right after the events of Halo 3,” Chris detailed. “Master Chief and Cortana are adrift on the Forward Unto Dawn. It’s a derelict UNSC frigate that has been orbiting a mysterious planet in the background. That is how we left off with Halo 3, and we’re kicking it off right at that point in Halo 4.

“And what we’ve been really excited about is that Halo 4 marks the return of humanity’s greatest hero in the Master Chief. Chief is going to face all new challenges In this mysterious new world, as well as new enemies. “

And what about Cortana? Halo 4’s hype has hugely been centered around Cortana, her relationship with the Chief and her lifespan. What role will she play in Halo 4? “Cortana is not only Chief’s best friend, but also his A.I. companion,” Haluke explained. “She’s approximately 8 years old, and in the Halo fiction, AIs tend to break down after the seven year mark. So the two of them will have to overcome these issues together, and that will be uncovered and told in the narrative of Halo 4.”

But that is not the only new experience Halo 4 will be offering to longtime Halo fans- we all know about the Forerunners, the mysterious new enemies. “This is something at the studio that we’re really excited to bring,” said Haluke. “We’re bringing a new element into the Halo sandbox. This is gonna give players new opportunities and new challenges, and they’re gonna have to learn how to deal with these threats in new ways. So ultimately we’re expanding the sandbox, and we’re extremely happy to do so. There’ll be new enemies, there’ll be new weapons that these enemies will have that the players can now use against them.”

And what about the multiplayer? Well, it turns out the multiplayer will be focusing on the narrative as well. “This is where we’re beginning to tie narrative into multiplayer,” Haluke continued. “It’s something that we as a studio are extremely passionate about- really telling stories not only through our main campaign, but also in multiplayer. We want to bring people in, we want this to be an immersive experience, and we want it to be as accessible as possible to all fans.”

Spartan Ops, the new co-op mode of Halo 4, will deliver episodic missions and 6-7 minutes long CG cutscenes. What story will those episodes tell? “This is going to tell the story about life on Infinity and beyond, six months after the events of Halo 4’s main campaign,” Haluke told us. “This gives us an incredible opportunity to build off of the fiction in Halo and drive it forward in new ways.”

And Spartan Ops will be far more loaded with content than you could have imagined. The co-op mode will give us 10 episodes of the CG series and it will have 50 missions. “That’s an incredible amount of content that makes up season 1 of Spartan Ops,” Haluke boasted.

He then went on to talk about the multiplayer modes and how they all tie together. How everything that you do in Halo 4 makes a difference. “We want to continually drive fiction and narrative forward,” he said. “We are going to tie in narrative layers and components from Halo 4’s main campaign in to Spartan Ops. We are going to have characters that recur that you are gonna have met in the main campaign that will play roles in Spartan Ops. So of all these narrative threads connect and players will learn more of these players and settings as Spartan Ops drives forward.”

“Players will be following the story of a group of Spartans entitled Majestic squad,” he continued. “So lot of the CG series that you will be watching at home deals with their exploits and what they are up against. You as the player with your friends will be playing as Crimson Squad, and they also help drive the narrative forward. So as you play and as you watch the narrative weaves between both between gameplay and the CG series.”

“This is something that we are extremely excited about as well as the fact that to make our immersion even more is that fact that your character for the very first time when you play multiplayer you get to create your own custom Spartan,” he went on. “This Spartan is persistent across both War Games and Spartan Ops. So as you play and earn points and modifications and upgrade your Spartan in Spartan Ops, you can then use that same character in War Games to play online competitively, so everything you do does matter.

“And we truly believe that this is a new way that we can open up doors and make it more accessible to fans, by given them an option to use their Spartan in either Spartan Ops or War Games. So at a very high level, that is a look at the campaign some of the high level threads  and describing the infinity multiplayer experience and giving you a little more information on Spartan Ops.”

With Chris Haluke having given us great details on the several modes and plotlines of Halo 4, we then went on to ask the devs a few questions of our own.

Go over to Page 2 to read our full Q&A with Lead Designer, Chris Haluke and Studio Producer, Che Chou. 

Shubhankar Parijat: So, was it a daunting task, having to live up to Bungie’s legacy?

Chris Haluke: I wouldn’t call it a daunting task. It’s just that we as a studio bring a lot of creative and talented individuals together who all share the same passion to make the best game possible. So it’s more about us wanting to make something that we’re passionate about, that we feel truly deserves the name ‘Halo’. So we put a lot of attention to detail. We worked extremely hard to put out a game that we were comfortable with, that we feel proud of. And I think that’s the main contributing factor.

Shubhankar Parijat: So what was the main priority for you guys? Was it to make Halo 4 play like a Halo game first and foremost?

Chris Haluke: Absolutely. We needed to play like a Halo game. We owe that to the fans. But we also do want to innovate. We want to drive the franchise forward. And we can do so by adding a new enemy class, by giving the players a deeper narrative thread, by giving them the episodic series in Spartan Ops, by making this game as accessible as possible.

Shubhankar Parijat: So were there any core Halo gameplay aspects that didn’t make the cut in Halo 4?

Chris Haluke: You know what, I think there’s always things, just due to time and development, that really need to be nurtured and we can put more time into. Everything we create as a studio, though, Is always there. It’s there for us to use in the future. And with a franchise like Halo, we will have those opportunities to use everything we’ve put all our time and effort into.

Shubhankar Parijat: One of the main modes that didn’t make the cut in Halo 4 was Firefight, and there was a lot of confusion when you guys announced that it would not be included in the game. So what was the reasoning behind that?

Chris Haluke: What we wanted to do with our multiplayer component was add a real strong layer of narrative. And I think that’s the driving force behind the Infinity multiplayer experience. We want narrative to drive War Games, the competitive side, and we also want it to drive Spartan Ops on a narrative side. We really want to tell stories. We want Halo and the fiction to stand out. And we feel by immersing the player in Spartan Ops, this is a true opportunity to tell a story beyond that of the Master Chief.

Shubhankar Parijat: The Spartan Ops mode- couldn’t you keep that and Firefight, both in the game?

Chris Haluke: I think we as a studio have made choices, and like I said, we want to drive narrative forward. And that’s how we do it in Spartan Ops. The main focus of creating the Infinity multiplayer experience, was to drive forward the narrative in both, War Games and Spartan Ops. And this is the choices that we’ve made and we’re extremely proud of what we’ve created.

Kartik Mudgal: Okay, guys, can you tell me about the netcode? Has it been changed from Halo: Reach?

Che Chou: Yeah, we’ve taken Bungie’s Halo engine platform and done quite a lot of modifications to it to hit the goals that we wanted for Halo 4. As for multiplayer specifically, there were a number of changes. I mean, one small sample is that to make multiplayer more accessible, for instance, we have now added join-in-progress, so players can actually join in the middle to fill out the empty seats. So, yes, to answer your question, netcode was modified, optimized, etcetera.

Kartik Mudgal: Can you tell us about the Custom Games? We don’t really have an awful lot of information on this. Can you elaborate a little?

Che Chou: It’s the same as previous Halos. You can pretty much tune any number of variables. Even down to something like weapon damage, in fact. You can save those games, share them with others on the File Share system.

Shubhankar Parijat: There’s just something I wanted to ask about the Spartan Ops mode. I mean, it’s being compared a lot with Modern Warfare’s Spec Ops mode. Was that any influence to you guys when you were designing the Spartan Ops mode?

Che Chou: Not really.

Chris Haluke: I’d say no to that. I mean, we’re doing something that is completely different and when people get their hands on it, they’ll see how unique and innovative it truly is.

Che Chou: Yeah, I mean, Spartan Ops is a weekly season of episodic content, that is story and character driven. And it’s a four player co-op experience. So if you just look at the face value of the two modes, I don’t think there’s a whole lot in common. Specially given that Spartan Ops is weekly, you get CG series as well as five missions a week to play. And it’s really more like a second campaign. So it’s entirely different from COD’s Spec Ops. I think, as a COD fan, Spec Ops is pretty awesome. But Spartan Ops is a completely different proposition.

Kartik Mudgal: Tell us about the map design. Is it different from Halo: Reach? Do we have more open, intertwining designs? Or does it feature a different design philosophy?

Chris Haluke: I think just being a new studio, we obviously want to pay close attention to previous Halos- what they have done, and really expand and grow what has already been there. We have new designers, we have new philosophies. We also feel that what we’re putting forth, all the Halo fans that have played the previous games will certainly enjoy. We’ve got different maps, they’re varied, there’s a lot of variety. It’s a completely immersive experience that we know people are going to enjoy.

The developers talk about the environments of Halo 4, the weapons, the recent leak and a lot more. Go over to Page 3. 

Shubhankar Parijat: Right, I had a question about the environments of Halo 4. Will we be seeing more open world environments like we did in Combat Evolved? Because Halo 2 and 3 were relatively more linear, compared to the original.

Chris Haluke: I think game-wide, there is quite a lot of variety. And again, this is something that we stress- just the sheer amount of variety that we have in the game. There are points in time where we need to tell some narrative, where we need to drive forward the story. And there are also many opportunities to have these large expansive sandboxes, from the main campaign to Spartan Ops. The players are really gonna get a lot of variety.

Shubhankar Parijat: Will the variety be as radical as it was in Reach? I mean, in Reach, we went from a space station to a military base to a destroyed city. It was very varied.

Chris Haluke: I think you’re gonna have to play the game, you’re gonna really have to dive into the campaign, you’re gonna have to play Spartan Ops. And I know players are going to see it first hand, just the kinds of environments we have created for them.

Shubhankar Parijat: That reminds me, will space battles be making a return in Halo 4?

Che Chou: We’re not discussing details of the campaign at this point.

Shubhankar Parijat: Alright, fair enough.

Kartik Mugdal: So what are your plans for the future? We know you conceived this as a trilogy to begin with- will we be seeing more Halo on the Xbox 360, or do you have everything in store for the next generation now?

Chris Haluke: I think at this point, we are focusing on delivering Halo 4 on November 6th. This is obviously a huge accomplishment for us and we really want to put all of our attention on to this at the moment.

Shubhankar Parijat: The art design of Halo 4 has been compared to the Metroid Prime trilogy. Was that in your mind when you were working on the art style of Halo 4?

Chris Haluke: I think people can draw inspiration from many different ways. We have people that have worked on different franchises and games and they bring all their expertise and talents to the studio. And this is something that obviously we embrace. But the art style we have in our game is truly unique and once you see it first hand, once you play it, this will all be very evident.

Shubhankar Parijat: I had just one final question about the recent leak. How’d that happen? I mean, with a game this huge, the security should probably have been top-notch.

Kartik Mudgal: Must have been a bit difficult for you.

Che Chou: We always take precautions. We’re disappointed, but we’re not surprised for a game as big as Halo- I mean, obviously, people want it. We’re actively dealing with illegitimate players right now

Shubhankar Parijat: I had a question about the weapon design, you talked about it. The Forerunner weapons, especially, look very different. How important was it to you guys to make the weapons look distinguished when you were developing Halo 4?

Chris Haluke: I think weapon design is huge. We want them to look and feel like they should. We want to give them the bravado, the strength and the characteristics that they should have. Each weapon is crafted extremely uniquely. There’s a lot of time and attention to detail that goes into them. And once players actually get to see how they react in our sandbox, I think they’ll be extremely thrilled to have an opportunity to use them in both, campaign and Spartan Ops and War Games.

Che Chou: Yeah, and I’ll just say that, talking about weapon design- one of the main challenged was, how do you make something that is futuristic, even beyond Covenant technology, powerful- because they’re an advanced civilization. How do you make that with the balance for gameplay? So it cannot be overpowered, it has to be balanced in the sandbox. Also that it feels familiar to gamers, who’re used to more conventional weapons like assault rifles, DMR etcetera. So the Forerunner weapons, while we build futuristic and powerful, still have that sort of grounding that you might find in a weapon from the UNSC. So there are various similarities. Things like, you could look at a weapon and go “Okay, I recognize this as a shotgun type of weapon” or “this is a stilt weapon like a DMR or a battle rifle.” So there were a lot of things we had to consider. We couldn’t just create weapons that were so outlandish and so out there that people couldn’t relate to them and couldn’t really understand how they worked.

Shubhankar Parijat: And are there any exclusive weapons that will feature in the multiplayer and not in the single player, or vice versa?

Che Chou: No, one of the founding philosophies of Halo 4- of any video game, actually- is that the single player sandbox and the multiplayer sandbox are one and the same. And so, how you move, how you feel when you play single player translates directly into how the game feels when you play multiplayer. And obviously, that’s also true for weapons and vehicles. So we have retained that philosophy for Halo 4.

We want to thank Microsoft India, Microsoft and 343 Industries for coordinating this and taking out precious time from their schedules for this awesome chat. Thanks a lot, guys!

Halo 4 releases on November 6 for the Xbox 360. We will be covering it throughout, and our review will be up soon. Keep your eyes peeled!

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