Several members of the 343 Industries development team were "skeptical" about Halo 4's Master Chief-Cortana storyline. During a Game Developers Conference panel today, creative director Josh Holmes said Halo 4's "human elements" were controversial within the team and the studio was unsure if it could pull off a compelling drama.
Holmes explained that one of the main goals for Halo 4 from the onset was to focus on storytelling and to allow players to see the "human heart" of the game's campaign. This was a major focus for 343, Holmes said, because he felt this kind of storytelling was largely absent in past Halo games.
One of the ways 343 attempted to create a human story in Halo 4 was to dig into the relationship between Master Chief and aging artificial intelligence Cortana. Holmes explained that after seven years, AI tends to break down and lose its mind, similar to dementia in the elderly.
The game would not only focus on Master Chief saving the universe, but also his best friend. This kind of narrative was a new direction for the series, Holmes said.
"Telling a story in a game like Halo is incredibly challenging because it's a very action-oriented game. And as we started embarking down this path, there was a lot of skepticism from members of the team," Holmes said.
There was a turning point in Halo 4's development, Holmes said, when one of the game's writers approached him and said he was having a "crisis of confidence" and struggling to get the story right. It was at this point when 343 considered scrapping the Master Chief-Cortana "B story" and focusing only on pure action.
Holmes, however, was not going to let this story fade away. He explained that at the beginning of Halo 4, his mother was diagnosed with dementia. And so the Master Chief-Cortana relationship was no longer alien to him, but a reality of his life. This reality helped inform the writing in Halo 4 and the Chief-Cortana storyline was kept intact.
"Over the course of production of the game, I watched her deteriorate as a human being and become someone I couldn't recognize," Holmes said. "And that was really hard, but it was also an inspiration for me to want to tell a perfect story."
"For me, it was really important that we tell this story because this was the human heart of Halo 4's campaign," he added. "I was very adamant about wanting to deliver on that part of the story."