343 Industries opens up on Halo 4, The Reclaimer Trilogy

PAX Prime 2011: Microsoft Studios label discusses Master Chief's role in the next sci-fi shooter trilogy and how the franchise is evolving.

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Who was there: With PAX Prime playing home to Halo's 10th anniversary party, 343 Industries trotted out some of its franchise leads to part the curtain on Halo 4, calling it the first game in The Reclaimer Trilogy. Moderated by content producer David Ellis, the panel featured franchise director Frank O'Connor, marketing director Kenneh Scott, executive producer Kiki Wolfkill, creative director Josh Holmes, and audio director Sotaro Tojima.

Master Chief will play front and center in The Reclaimer Trilogy.

What they talked about: Ellis started the panel off by asking O'Connor about the history of 343 Industries, with the franchise head responding that the studio technically launched three years ago. 343 was tasked with publishing Halo 3: ODST initially, but they knew they needed a team to continue the Halo franchise.

Holmes was then asked why Halo 4 was announced as the first in a trilogy. He said that it was important for 343 to signal to fans that the studio is committed to the franchise. When they first started a little over two years ago, they knew the story they wanted to tell. A lot of what this trilogy will focus on is exploring the character of Master Chief, he said. "It's a little bit about getting closer to that character than we have in past games," he said.

Wolfkill was then asked about building the team from the ground up. She said there were two goals: build a team to create Halo 4, and build a studio with the right culture for moving beyond that game. It was difficult, because they had to find talent with the level of technical and creative expertise to execute. And then there was also the challenge of finding people with the maturity to take on this long-term challenge.

"From a studio and culture perspective, how do we find that deep talent that has a collaborative spirit and a craftsman approach, so that we could build a studio for the long term?" she said. She also emphasized the amount of passion that's necessary to be in this game for the long haul.

O'Connor was then asked about the Halo universe that expands beyond the game. "Everything we make in that franchise, whether it be comic books or action figures, they all feed into the games," he said. "We just want to make a richer and more meaningful experience for them."

Asked about the visual style of the game, Scott said that when he approached the look of the game, there were a lot of creative inputs. "We wanted to take all of these inputs and bubble it up through the art," he said. There is also the desire to convey the emotional notes that players experience through the art, he continued. "The art needs to mature along with the audience."

He went on to note that the Master Chief people saw in the teaser shown at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo is not the final iteration. In fact, Scott said they are on the fourth iteration of his look at the moment. The focus, he said, is to sell the fantasy that Master Chief is an 800-pound hero that is part tank, part jet fighter.

Scott was then asked what types of places Master Chief will be heading to in Halo 4. He said that with the Chief headed toward a mysterious new planet, the team is investing heavily in the look and feel of the Forerunner civilization. O'Connor chimed in, saying that players have seen inert, abandoned Forerunner structures in the past, but now they'll see what that technology looks like when it isn't completely dead.

Tojima was asked about how he plans to provide audio cues to players. He said that it's hard, but his main goal is to achieve music and audio design that's well synched with the story. He started audio production by writing down the emotional connection that the player should be feeling. Wolfkill noted that with every piece of audio that the game has, it's telling a story.

As for how Tojima and his team create an otherworldly sound that is grounded in reality, he said that the audio team is focused on creating something unique, but also believable. "Exciting, realistic" audio is his emphasis, he said, and in the galaxy of the future, Master Chief's experience should sound something a little bit different.

So to provide the types of sounds they were looking for, he said they frequently traveled abroad to places like Tasmania, as well as operated "in extremely dangerous conditions to capture just the right audio." They then rolled a trailer of a handful of audio engineers in an open field in Washington, firing off potato launchers and other explosive items that were surrounded by microphones. Some of these misfired in unexpected ways.

Holmes was then asked how Halo 4 would play. "Well, it plays like Halo," he quipped. However, he said it's important to take risks and evolve the feel of gameplay. He said it's all about the question of balance and maintaining the core feel of Halo while also adding in new weapons and abilities. The team also wants to provide new experiences that players haven't had before. He said that it's important to give players options to solve problems in a variety of ways.

The question of Cortana's role in Halo 4 was then brought up, and Holmes said that Master Chief's personal artificial intelligence definitely has an important role in the game. Though the game is largely about Master Chief and his story, Cortana plays an important role in the character's development. Wolfkill followed that by saying the two have a unique relationship that hasn't been addressed in other games, so continuing that and fleshing it out further is important to the team.

But is there ever a question about holding back with new ideas? Holmes said that it's a struggle, because as fans, they want the game to remain true to its roots. However, they also want to push things forward. "It's something that we will continue to wrestle with until the game launches," he said.

O'Connor continued that sentiment, saying that they've prototyped a number of things that were good and fun, but they were ultimately shelved because they weren't appropriate for this game. "They were awesome, but they weren't Halo awesome," he said.

Asked about Halo 4's multiplayer, Holmes said that it's important to the team to represent all of the different play styles, from casual to competitive. Wolfkill then noted that the diversity in Halo fans is reflected in the team itself, saying that there is a lot of debate from within to strike a good balance.

Halo 4's story is still being closely guarded, but O'Connor did emphasize that the game will be a direct sequel to Halo 3 and that it deals with the fate of Master Chief and Cortana. There's a lot concerning the relationship between those two characters, he said, and then there's also exploring this new, mysterious world. The world, he promised, will have "incredible grandeur and scope."

Plus, he continued, it's a luxury to commit to a trilogy from the start, which is something they didn't have with the original Halo trilogy. It lets them build a big epic story from the get-go, he said.

Moving to the Q&A portion of the panel, the team was asked whether 343 Industries is planning any other spin-off games similar to Halo 3: ODST. "We're heads down on Halo 4," O'Connor said. O'Connor also addressed speculation that there will be Halo 4 multiplayer beta access codes packed in with Halo: Anniversary, saying, "There definitely will not be."

Later in the Q&A session, O'Connor addressed Master Chief's wealth of backstory that can be found in Halo novels, saying that it's his past that sets him apart from other military heroes. He said that they'd like to further explore this backstory, but he wouldn't commit to whether that happens in Halo 4.

Quote: "There's 200 or so people working on Halo 4, and they've been doing so for a couple of years now."--Frank O'Connor, on 343 Industries' commitment to the future of Halo.

Takeaway: With the original Halo trilogy, Bungie was limited by the uncertainty of whether the franchise would find an audience. Now that the audience is known, 343 Industries is able to commit to a more far-reaching and ambitious scope with The Reclaimer Trilogy. And to the delight of fans, Master Chief and Cortana will play a prominent role in this new expansion of the Halo universe.

For more on Halo 4 and Halo: Anniversary, check out GameSpot presents The HotSpot with guests Frank O'Connor and Dan Ayoub.

Discussion

300 comments
Ultra_Taco
Ultra_Taco

@ AgentRebecca, I really hope you know that Halo games ( as far as the trilogy goes) come out every 3 YEARS, so stop complaining of how 343 is milking it because they're not

Ultra_Taco
Ultra_Taco

@ KBABZ, It sure seems like you hate games, seeing that (on your profile) you've rated all the games you played at a 1.0 / 10.0 AND you haven't played Halo

Ultra_Taco
Ultra_Taco

I find extremely ironic that the people who say they hate Halo either have rated 8.5 and up, OR haven't even played it ever.

Ultra_Taco
Ultra_Taco

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

tbodine
tbodine

I'm excited to see how this game turns out, but like others on here, I worry about the Halo franchise becoming the next COD. Once milking money from its fan base becomes more important than producing quality games, the franchise misses its chance to die with dignity. That being said, I'm stiill excited to see how this turns out.

shootingdeamon3
shootingdeamon3

just watch, when they talk about bringing cortana and chief closer as characters they're going to find some way to make cortana a real person. :) kick butt female side character!

JusADude11
JusADude11

Sgt. Johnson better find a way to that planet to kick a#$, thats all I know!

bigwhitecracker
bigwhitecracker

we all knew another halo was coming but another trilogy? I'm excited to see what 343 can do with halo but seriously the halo franchise just needs to have an end somewhere in sight.

deffbyjeff
deffbyjeff

Agreed that FPS's have dominated the market for too long, and honestly there's not much left to do that hasn't been done already. However, I am still a big fan of the original Halo trilogy, specifically the first game. I don't believe xbox should have a new mascot by any means, not after what Master Chief did for the company. Preferences aside, no one can deny that Halo: Combat Evolved was one of the most influential games in history, laying out the foundation for almost every multiplayer game that preceded it, and online game play was all but unheard of, let alone popular before Halo 2. Master Chief has certainly earned his rightful spot on the Microsoft pedestal. Now, what concerns me is that 343 Industries are going to milk his success by building a background that will ultimately destroy his image by drastically changing his personality, and definitely through over-exposure in the media. As big of a fan as I may be, I can't help but feel very skeptical about the release of this game, let alone another trilogy.

darktruth007
darktruth007

Just what the world needs. Another first person shooter >.> Xbox needs another mascot :p

darktruth007
darktruth007

Just what the world needs. Another first person shooter >.> Xbox needs another mascot :p

digi-demon
digi-demon

Yippekiyaiee Halo Rocks - in your face Sony :D

Nuffmuffin
Nuffmuffin

i hope they don't show master chief without his helmet

B3RS3RKR8G3
B3RS3RKR8G3

To me it sounds like it could be the Planet Onyx. That would be cool if Master Chief ran into Dr. Kathrine Halsey and the other spartans.

cbb1018
cbb1018

Halo 4 is going to be epic!!!!!!!!

DKant
DKant

"Wolfkill"? Man if there ever was an awesome name.

Godyssey
Godyssey

Why are people comparing video games to real life? lol

cdog21
cdog21

I wonder if he'll get any armor upgrades due to Forerunner technology.

Spartan-1657
Spartan-1657

@V-Mack He's approaching something created by the forerunners. A planet, a ship, docking station, whatever it may be, that's what we know is happening. The reason why we don't actually know what happened at the end of Halo 3 is because..... You guessed it, they wanted to make Halo 4! And I don't think it needs to say that it was not time travel. By looking at the end of Halo 3, how can you possibly think it had anything to do with time travel? Regardless, as hopefully you figured out by now, reading the article before asking questions or adding speculation in the comments makes things a lot easier. Good luck.

MagicLink95
MagicLink95

@salebe: It's not out yet, how do you know?

bjcarver
bjcarver

no matter how much talent 343 has, i doubt this will play exactly like bungie's halo, hopefully though it will be close.

V-Mack
V-Mack

@Spartan-1657 I'm sorry i did not read the article b4 lol now i did and it does not say anything about him not going through a portal or being summoned by a alien race to save their planet or him going back in time lol it just ses that it goes right after H3 and its a new mysterious world with a new race. well first of all we don't even know what really happened with master chief in the end of H3. the ship was tore in half and 1 end was with the covenant ally and the other with the chief (which just dissipated into that black hole or portal thing. So where eve he is we dont know ces he appeared right in front of a big robotic planet ship or what ever they are going to call it. so with that said, anything can go down ces that's all we know for now lol

dukre115
dukre115

I am a Huge fan of Halo. HUGE. I think it should be pretty good. It's just the fact that it's being made by 343 industries that has everyone worried. I mean can we know a little bit about these guys. Do they know anything about the Halo engine. Or are they trying to just throw something out to suck money out of the world. Because the minute I think it doesn't play to Halo standards I am going to get all of my Money back. I'm not paying 60 dollars for trash.

BattleSword1
BattleSword1

Here's hoping Halo doesn't end up like CoD.

marioSNAKEeyes
marioSNAKEeyes

-_-' I see that some ppl here have completely lost it! I mean, if you don't like HALO, you don't need to post that you dislike the game, hate it, I don't care!! This article is for those who are interested in this game, but seriously, it seems that I'll have to use the "Report Abuse To Moderator" option!!!!!! THERE ARE A LOT OF OTHER ARTICLES ABOUT OTHER GAMES, YOU DON'T NEED TO STICK HERE

Renoo27
Renoo27

@Rickystickyman: You know, after watching it again, I see what you mean. Heh, that's actually got me a little bit exited now. I guess there is still plenty of story left to tell after all. I'm just skeptical of 343's motives.

x-wing20
x-wing20

@Morphic I'm guessing forerunner

invisiblezero
invisiblezero

@ ThAdEa82 No. No, no, no. Comparing controllers or keyboard + mouse to shooting real guns is just silly. Neither are much at all like the real deal and saying one is better than the other at portraying a gun is stupid. You don't take into account the weight, the fact you have to steady both of your arms to shoot accurately, and of course the sheer power of firing a gun. At least with a mouse you use your arm to aim accurately whereas the controller you just use your thumb. Thumb vs arm. Have you ever fired a real gun?

GnomeGrown
GnomeGrown

@ Morphic The Human race. That's my vote! Ha!

Spartan-1657
Spartan-1657

@bonereaper69 You're kidding me, right? Stop the franchise because its a 10 year old IP? What about Mario? Ninja Gaiden? Starcraft? Diablo? Do I need to continue? There is no logic behind what you said at all. There is a reason that most IP's don't last 10 years+. The reason for that is because they are not as good or they actually concluded the story. Did you see the end of Halo 3? Did you really think that was their conclusion to the franchise? Smarten up. If you really enjoyed Halo as much as you say, you shouldn't be upset at the announcement of another game coming out from an amazing franchise.

ThAdEa82
ThAdEa82

@Frame_Dragger - Its too easy to just point and click on a screen. too accurate for its own good..holding a controller is more in tune to holding a gun. Clicking isnt the same as a trigger pull. im not saying its inferior as far as it being less effective (it isnt) im saying that its much too easy and what will surpass it is using some kind of eye movement tracker and having the guy dead by looking at him. It just cheapens it.

Morphic
Morphic

So any bets on who we will be fighting?

Spartan-1657
Spartan-1657

@V-Mack Did you even read the article? Come on. Its NOT by Bungie and it takes place after the end of Halo 3. He didn't go back in time or any kind of nonsense like that.

Enexs
Enexs

@Steel_Rain777 that under-powered weapons like you say its what make Halo gameplay different from any other shooter game

Steel_Rain777
Steel_Rain777

If they do away with those under-powered weapons(seriously 12 shots to the head doesn't kill something), add better sound effects for said weapons, like the machine gun and add 24-32 player online, then I may be sold on this. I mean I like the Halo universe but each subsequent games needs to stop feeling like a clone to Halo 2.

warhawk-geeby
warhawk-geeby

@javafriek I learnt from a lot of mistakes in the past... :P

GamerNerdTalk
GamerNerdTalk

I kind of hope this one comes to the PC. I doubt it though. I just don't want to spend money on a game console just for this

javafriek
javafriek

@warhawk that's the safest position to take, too early to judge until some gameplay footage arrives.

warhawk-geeby
warhawk-geeby

Can't judge until I see gameplay I'm afraid! Do not disappoint Monsieur Chief! :D

tomo90
tomo90

@salebe Because you've played Halo CE: Anniversary?

albatraum
albatraum

Hopefully 343 doesn't ruin it! High expectations. :P

mentalmetal
mentalmetal

100% totally buyin it. Been worth the money in the past. And all its gonna is improved with deeper story, better gameplay, new weapons items and vehicles, new online. and many years of experience behind it. BRING IT ON MASTER CHIEF!!

EchoEcho
EchoEcho

A lot of people come to Halo news articles and ask "Why are they still making this?" as if it's completely unfathomable. But the answer couldn't be simpler: because millions of people want it. Believe it or not, some of us enjoy the Halo franchise -- not just as games, but as a universe, and are more than happy to see the series continued. Until they start spitting out utter crap with no redeeming value every year, it's not "milking." Only one game in the Halo franchise had less than a three year development cycle, and that was Halo 3: ODST, which was developed alongside Reach by a small dev team -- and ODST was made primarily to fulfill Bungie's contract with Microsoft, which was to make five Halo games.

Frostyballoon
Frostyballoon

I was bored with the first three im going to be bored with the next three.....Mass effect is THE sci-fi game of the time now...sorry halo your old news...well you were old news when you first came out...but thats my opinion I know millions of copies were sold world wide but sorry...I never found this game fun...

haris9211
haris9211

Why are people so upset that they're making a new Halo? If it's good, wouldn't you want more of it?

salebe
salebe

Considering the huge disappointment that is Halo CE: Anniversary, I wouldn't be surprised if Halo 4 also turns out to be an epic fail. 343 should stick to cartoons

V-Mack
V-Mack

Bungie stopping the Halo series is like Apple saying they are not going to make electronics anymore..pff yea right lol how can you end the best game e-v-e-r in our time. Now lets see what this one is going to be about. did he go back in time? did he enter a portal? was he summoned by some ancient alien species to save their race? or did he go back in time? lol give us something

mistaicyfresh11
mistaicyfresh11

Everyone,watch out.They removed his nutsack protector,if he gets punched in the balls,its over for him