343 was 'skeptical' about Chief-Cortana story in Halo 4

Creative director Josh Holmes says doubts were raised during development about being able to pull off "human" relationship between the two.

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."

Written By

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and would like to see the Whalers return to Hartford.

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146 comments
fredric_104
fredric_104

To the people who are saying that halo 4 was a really compelling and well write plot.

First of all Cortana's and John's relationship is greatly over exaggerated, they were partnered for at the most 2 years (most of the time John was in cryo), don't get me wrong they were close but not that close. In all honesty John was much closer to his fellow Spartan II wether it be Samuel 034 (especially samuel), Joushua 029, Vinh 030, Issac 039, Anton 044 and Grace 093 just to mention some of the deaths he witnessed. John was so much closer to his Spartan II comrades, he was with these guys and fighting the covenant and insurrectionists for decades. No way in hell should he be that close to Cortana.

A better plot that 343 could of gone with was reunite Blue Team with John, it would have a greater more emotional storyline than the Halo 4 story. It could of included flashbacks of their legendary past missions but also yet intertwine with current problem of the rogue Sangehlli army (storm covenant) and the Diadavts forces.

To those who say that Cortanna and Johns friendship was closer is utterly bs, in no way should their relationship be stronger than His friendship with Kelly, Fred and Linda. The ending of a halo 4 was a very forced relationship in every way shape and form. To those who believe other wise are not true Halo Fans, in part due to their pure laziness of not bothering to read the novels. But hey this is just my opinion

demtrinkel
demtrinkel

Cortana was my favourite character in every Halo. Halo 4 basically ruined a lot about Halo for me.

codeman101360
codeman101360

I don't get why everyone seems to think Halo 4 was so great. It was OK, I guess, but it wasn't amazing. I didn't feel an ounce of emotion throughout the entire game, and this is coming from a guy who cried like a baby at the end of the Walking Dead game (the Telltale one, not the shitty Activision one.) Not to mention like 95% of the Prometheans you fight are either the annoying dog things or the even more annoying flying things. And the final "boss fight" being a QTE really pissed me off, even though I saw it coming.

MissMorphine
MissMorphine

everytime i see the scene where cortana dissapear. brings a tear to my eye Dx

CaptainGamespot
CaptainGamespot

it didnt' work and i really lost a lot of respect for poeple thinking that holo-human love is kewl and thinking 343 made a good move, when it wasnt. it was lame and cheezy for the brand.

also, sexy cortana was dumb. talk about cheap fanboy hormone fodder.

plm3d_basic
plm3d_basic

Excellent article.  The Halo story is one of the best things I like about the franchise.

Halloll
Halloll

I thought everyone liked Cortana because of boobs. 

cephas90
cephas90

What a powerful motivation for the story.  I really respect that in an artistic and human sense.

Malckeor
Malckeor

Halo 4's campaign, honestly, was my favorite in the series, and alone was enough to justify the $60 price tag for me (I don't care much for Halo's multiplayer. I have Hawken and Planetside 2 for my multiplayer experiences, which are both free). I love how they're finally starting to bring elements from the books into the games, such as the focus on Halsey and actual references to the Spartan programs as a whole. I also like all of the Forerunner lore that's getting fleshed out in both the books and games, and the Didact is a pretty awesome villain. The bittersweet ending was fantastic, as well.


However, the best part of the game's story is that those who haven't read the books can still follow it fine. Do you not know who the Didact or Librarian are? Go play Halo 3 and read the terminals (or, alternatively, watch Halo 4's terminal cutscenes. It fleshes out a lot more elements from the Forerunner book trilogy, as well). Do you not know why the Didact is doing what he's doing? Pay more attention to the cutscene where the Librarian appears, and again, watch Halo 4's terminal cutscenes. Everything you need to know about Halo 4 can be found in the games. Extended universe knowledge with the books makes it 1000x more epic, but if you've been paying any sort of attention while playing through the Halo series, you shouldn't have trouble following Halo 4's story.

rouguesquadron
rouguesquadron

 I've been reading a lot of comments saying how Halo 4 was epic, a masterpiece at blending action and story telling, so as a die-hard Halo fan I need to admit that I have absolutely no idea where they're coming from. Compared to the other games in the series (except for ODST) Halo 4 is by far the worst of the Halo games from both a story and game play aspect. I've played all the games, and read all of the books, and the story here was severely lacking in the grandness that I've come to expect from the series. As for the game itself, it seems like 343 decided to turn the best FPS in the industry into another CoD clone, the combat was simply lack-luster and the new enemies they introduced were boring as hell to fight, and if you really want to see just how bad this game is compared to the other entries just listen to the soundtrack. Where are all of the memorable tunes from the original trilogy? I realize the game had a new composer but you can't tell me that he at least couldn't have mixed in the traditional Halo theme into the game.

I'm extremely disappointed at what 343 has done to my 2nd favorite game series of all time. I'm probably the odd man out here but I won't be picking up Halo 5 on it's release day, I'll wait and see if it's going to be worth it or not.

XboxGuy1537
XboxGuy1537

Halo 4 was an absolute masterpiece. Hats off to 343 and can't wait to see what's next.

GOGOGOGURT
GOGOGOGURT

I loved the relationship between the two in halo 4, but MC talked too much.  He gets more interesting the less he says, and that ruined it for me in Halo 4.  Also, the didact was a ludicrous villian, they could've tried harder with him.  The campaign was good though.  The ending was better.

vault-boy
vault-boy

Halo 4 was probably the best love story I've ever seen in a shooter... then again Halo 4 is the ONLY love story I've ever seen in a shooter (and yes, Halo is a love story. If you don't like it or can't accept it tough titty). 

TrueGB
TrueGB

I appreciate the effort, but I definitely don't count Halo 4 as one of my favourites (that honour still belongs to CE). I'm also suspicious of the focus on Spartans Ops. Looks a lot like a new studio trying to ease in their own storyline with their own characters while finishing up the previous storyline.

LoganWesker
LoganWesker

whatever with the exception of halo 1 & Reach every other halo campaign (2, 3, ODST, 4) were average at best. 

gww101
gww101

They have no need to worry about there being a human relationship between the two. Cortana is an AI created with human DNA and brain cells, from a clone of Dr. Halsey to be precise. She is, at her core, human in nature.

regix416_basic
regix416_basic

Cortana has been his comrade throughout the entire series, so why suddenly stop that tradition now?  If they don't like where it's going, give Cortana a cyborg-like body and that way they can continue without worrying about her memory 'decay' problem. That way, she can also fight beside him and have a way too interface with machines at the same time  There, problem solved.  As for the people complaining about the story, I loved the idea of Halo actually HAVING a story thank you and I'll be damned if people are going to turn this series into another brainless shooter.  Sorry, but if they intend on doing that, they've just lost me as a fan.  I don't need another dumb shooter like Bullerstorm thank you, where all it was was shooting and swearing.  If I want that, I'll play Duke Nukem 3D.  

BlackBaldwin
BlackBaldwin

hmm why is this showing up on my ps3 news feed?

franky111
franky111

I guess I'm the only one who was thrilled when I found out that 343 had actually put information and lore from the novels into Halo 4.

Sadly, it seems like most people are plagued by the "HURR TOO MUCH READUN" mindset.

Durrr...take out more story because I don't know all that cause reading is too hard on me...great thinking, guys.

BlueRaptor7
BlueRaptor7

If you read and understand the canon they drove their story from, you'd probably appreciate it alot more than going in blindly, just having only played the games.

swyg
swyg

So..bots or no bots to play in offline multiplayer?

Franzkill
Franzkill

As an extension to what the guy said below it would be awesome if you guys could be drunk WHILST playing Action 52 then post it on here

CTBradums
CTBradums

Honestly, the story of Halo was always told better in everything BUT the games. The games did fine at telling the story, but it was everything else that made it epic. Halo 4 was the first game that felt like an epic, well-told story. People can whine all they want, but the biggest thing that separates FPS'es from being the stereotypical "mindless shooters" is story - and Halo 4 did a great job at separating itself from the rest.

JOYRIDEME
JOYRIDEME

They had every right to be skeptical like every halo story it was mediocre and overblown by fanboys 

JRLennis
JRLennis

I salute 343 for sticking with a compelling story instead of taking the easy way out.  A lot of other developers wouldn't have done that.

FullMonty1394
FullMonty1394

I think they did a very good job with it. I thoroughly enjoyed the game and it is the best one made behind Reach.

zpluffy
zpluffy

I'm assuming that people that didn't find the story compelling, rather find it force, are people that haven't really got exposed to the backstory(Which is HUGE). I did a lot of research about the back story, from Precursors to Human vs Flood to Human vs Forerunners to Forerunners vs Flood to HALOs to Librarian and Diadect  to prometheans to composers to the extinction of Forerunners to covenant vs human to etc... After being expose to all that, I felt the villains aren't force at all. And the whole story and the elements seems right. I think they did a great fvcking job. Just my opinion

Swoopalz
Swoopalz

Okay, let's get this straight: the relationship between the Chief and Cortana was not a 'cheesy romance'. Anyone that believes so is wrong, flat-out. Their interaction is a great deal more a case of technophilia. They've worked together for YEARS. They've been through thick-and-thin, been lost and abandoned in the deep reaches of space, defeated the greatest terror the galaxy's ever known--TOGETHER. Cortana chose John out of all the other Spartans. They can't even imagine the possibility of one existing without the other. If you worked with someone in that way, for that long, through all the game's events (and more), could you? I mean, come on, she plugs directly into John's nervous system for goodness sake. They are Pretty. Damn. Close. 

The entire premise of Cortana's downward spiral wasn't a cheap play for player emotion, it was an inevitable occurrence--AI's shut down after a certain amount of years, and Cortana was past-due. There wasn't anything -anyone- could do about it, and John's always been known to take charge and fix things, but he couldn't. Not in this case. 

They taught each other humanity.

(.../blog)

sgreen79
sgreen79

@rouguesquadron The grandness was seeing the very human side of the Chief, and to everyone's surprise Cortana. The ending is nothing short of superb. Any memorable levels? Not especially. Music? Not the strongest of the series. Enemies? We'd like to see the Prometheans, not their computers. BUT, the emotional aspect of this game sets a new, high bar. Military romp n' stomp only keeps people interested for so long. I can shoot things and save the world in many other games, give me something to care about that's original. Halo 4 did that. 

H4num4n
H4num4n

@rouguesquadron  

You're not alone. I felt the same, especially the combat(due to bad leveldesign, enemyvariation and enemycount, fewer vehicles, etc.) was a disappointment. The music, while not as epic as in the previous games is not bad but extremely bad mixed.

AngelsandDemon
AngelsandDemon

@rouguesquadron Wow....I thought the soundtrack and enemies were the most interesting since Halo CE.  Those final fights were intense as the Protheans kept teleporting and nipping at your legs around you and firing from above while you looked for those damn panels to activate...that ish was intense.  To each his own...

GOGOGOGURT
GOGOGOGURT

@LoganWesker Wrong.  The trilogy was the best.  And the ending to halo 2 was great, an amazing epic cliffhanger.  Made me huge hype halo 3.

TrueGB
TrueGB

@regix416_basic Woah, now. You want to pick on brainless shooters, you have lots of choices, but leave the unique and fresh Bulletstorm out of it. We're trying to encourage the industry to experiment with FPS. Don't ruin that by knocking one such experiment.

DarkSaber2k
DarkSaber2k

@BlueRaptor7 And that in itself is usually an indication of how they've botched integrating story into the game. Having to refer to other sources (that aren't even games in the series) is not a good thing for accessibility. People don;t want to have a Halo wiki open while they play just to figure out WTF people are talking about.

Butlerion
Butlerion

@JOYRIDEME  

Care to share as to why it was overblown?  Comments like yours just seem well...Trollish?  I don't mind differing opinions, but a bit of a reason why would bring more to the table for open-minded people like myself to see another point of view.

Meteor7
Meteor7

@JOYRIDEME Most shooters are overloaded with fanboys these days. That doesn't make the game bad though if there are fans. If  that were the case CoD, Halo, and BF would be screwed.

regix416_basic
regix416_basic

@ALCHEMYSTO As I stated before, Cortana has been a friend/comrade to Master Chief ever since the series has began.  They have helped each other through every encounter they have faced albeit the Flood, the Covenant, to even their latest encounter... Master Chief owes her a lot.  Who cares if she's living or not?  She's a friend to him.  Wouldn't you do the same thing to try and save a friend in need? 

DarkSaber2k
DarkSaber2k

@zpluffy Yeah, because hours of tedious research is TOTALLY what people want to be doing before playing that new game they bought.

H4num4n
H4num4n

@Swoopalz

 "They can't even imagine the possibility of one existing without the other."

Even though everyone and the Chief knew that Cortana will go rampant sooner or later...talk about blocking out.

ps: who said that the so called "greatest terror" is defeated?

H4num4n
H4num4n

@sgreen79@rouguesquadron 

That was enough for you?

"Who cares if Halo has great gameplay, music and leveldesign as long as i'm touched by the story."

 Really?

Many Halo vets, me included, cared about the game as long as the gameplay was as diverse, challenging and overall fun as in the previous games. That changed with 4 and i have little hope that 343 gets it together in the next one.

I think they totally missed the opportunity to get that felling of exploration, discovery and wonder back that everyone had in HaloCE. There was an entire Forerunner Planet waiting to be discovered. What we got were small confined areas almost COD style with no time(or space) to explore. But hey, why bitch about that missed opportunity when "the emotional aspect of the game sets a new high bar" - my ass.

AngelsandDemon
AngelsandDemon

@GOGOGOGURT @LoganWesker Wow...you like the Halo 2 ending?...did you like it the moment he was burning through the atmoshpere and the credits started rolling....LOL?

regix416_basic
regix416_basic

@TrueGB Okay, I take it back on Bulletstorm, but I still think that people need to back off on Halo 4.  They're not giving enough reason as to why they want to dumb future installments of the series down.  

Bulletstorm never did get it's due and deserves a follow-up.  Coincidentally, wasn't it Halo 3 that came out around the same time that beat it out of contention?   Or was it it's bastard offshoot ODST?


Butlerion
Butlerion

@DarkSaber2k  

Accessibility?  You know this is the age of the internet right?  Just my opinion here, but being a major fan, I want to find out more and so I use the resources at my fingertips to do a little research and yes "read" some to get a more complete idea.  It was nice to finally see a more complex version of Halo having read as much as I have.  I know many of you find Halo CE to be the best and although I disagree, it is a very good game.  However, the game should "Evolve" and I feel Halo 4 has done that with the fresh blood from 343.  Remember, it was to be a trilogy and I appreciate them making their own game and not just using a Bungie blueprint.  Speaking of Bungie, looking forward to seeing what they bring with Destiny.   

vamroc
vamroc

If you've played Halo 1-3 then you have enough backstory and I don't know what you mean by botched Halo 4 has one of the most satisfying storylines since Mass Effect  

regix416_basic
regix416_basic

@manjooo @JOYRIDEME Yeah, but 3 started out well, but ended miserably.  It's no wonder there's such bad blood and mixed feelings for 4.  The overall feeling of it is odd.  Some parts are very well thought out but there are some that just... well, the flight missions are terribly planned out.  The second part of the Shutdown mission for example.  You have to land on a tiny platform for example when the camera is so messed up that you can't even see the area you're supposed to put MC down and if you miss, you have to try over and over until you get it right?  That's not good programming nor good planning.  At least allow the player to change the damn view so you can see what you're doing!  

Butlerion
Butlerion

@DarkSaber2k @zpluffy  

Well, its a 5 game series prior to Halo 4 being made plus quite a few books and yet even then it doesn't take hours to figure it out my dear Dark friend.  

Butlerion
Butlerion

@H4num4n @Swoopalz  

I think its more of an assumption that the Flood is defeated but probably more like contained within the remaining Halos which that rogue group of Covenant are probably going to go screw around with and unleash it all over again in 5, or whatever they end up calling it.  As far as the Covenant being a problem, they are a shadow of their former self.  And yes, the Chief is and has always been in denial over the fact that Cortana will eventually die from rampancy, you can hear it in his voice from the beginning of Halo 4 and he seems pretty lost without her at the end.  That's just my opinion of course ;).

H4num4n
H4num4n

@sgreen79 @H4num4n @rouguesquadron  

LOL, my expectations are unfortunately high when i expect that the game has at least the same quality as the previous Halos?

Of course the weaknesses are not game-ruining, but why should i be pleased when a new entry in a game franchise  is not as good as the older ones?

Your personal standard for games must be really low if you think that all that a game needs is a cheesey story and shiny graphics.

Halo defined itself from the very beginning trough many things and stood out because of things like epic music,  story, open leveldesign and many more. But the most important was and is gameplay. Halo 4 failed in that regard(failed also because of COD like MP, bad mixed music, wrong story focus, small unispired leveldesign).

sgreen79
sgreen79

@H4num4n @sgreen79 @rouguesquadron Well, poop on you for being so touchy. Perhaps you enjoy mindless shooting and an overall empty purpose. The game's weaknesses were not game-ruining. Heavens sake.. your expectations must be unfortunately high. It's a trilogy anyways, patience is a virtue! Perhaps you will get the perfection you so irrationally demand!

vault-boy
vault-boy

@DarkSaber2k @vamroc I was able to follow the story pretty easily... it wasn't that hard. I don't mean to insult your intelligence but either you were paying attention or your lacking something upstairs if you weren't able to follow the plot.