Who was there: For its Halo-centric Comic-Con 2011 panel, Microsoft trotted out some of its top players at 343 Industries, including franchise development director Frank O'Connor and franchise manager Kevin Grace. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary director Dan Ayouh, Red vs. Blue lead Ray Burns, and New York Times best-selling authors Greg Bear and Karen Traviss were also in attendance.
What they talked about: O'Connor kicked off the panel with a recap of what's been going on with the Halo universe over the past year, giving shout-outs to the teams at Bungie and 343 Industries. He also said it was a relief to have finally announced Halo 4, given that the team at 343 has been working on it in "relative secrecy for a couple of years."
Before getting to the games, the panel briefly discussed the in-development upcoming books, which are being written by Bear and Traviss. O'Connor said that though the fiction is expanding both into the future and into the past, it is all moving the franchise forward. He noted that the team has decided to make all fiction canonical. However, he emphasized that while it isn't necessary to read a book to understand the story between games, there will be resonant connections that enhance the experience.
Traviss' new books (the first of which, Halo: Grasslands, is due this October) seek to fill in the time frame between Halo 3 and Halo 4, when Master Chief is adrift in space for an indeterminate amount of time. She said that it is a significant challenge to bridge the gap between the two games, as she has a set beginning and set ending and must work within those parameters. Traviss noted that her books seek to give screen time to some of the lesser known characters or those who haven't gotten enough play, like the Office of Naval Intelligence.
With Traviss trudging forward, Bear is reaching into the past with his line of novels, Halo: Cryptum. Specifically, his books will be delving deeper into the story of the Precursors and Forerunners. Bear noted that these novels will delve deeply into these storylines, illuminating exactly what the Precursors did and what their Halo program was all about. Hubris is a central issue in these books, as well as what happens when godlike beings screw up.
According to O'Connor, Traviss' book is about 99 percent complete. Likewise, Bear's book is about 85 percent to 90 percent complete.
The conversation then shifted to Halo: CE Anniversary, which is an HD update of the original game that is slated to arrive for the Xbox 360 on November 15. The panel then announced one new edition to the game, saying that just as Halo 3: ODST had terminals and data pads that provided backstory, so too will they be adding a similar mechanic into Halo: CE Anniversary. The subject of this extra story will be Guilty Spark, the slightly mad AI that resides on the Halo.
Ayouh emphasized that these new terminals will not in any way impact gameplay. However, he said that some of the new story elements will be related by Guilty Spark itself, and other tidbits will be conveyed by other people or objects that are encountered in the game.
From there, the panel offered up a live gameplay demo for Halo: CE Anniversary, which was set on The Silent Cartographer level. GameSpot's previous coverage of this demo has more information. However, one element worth calling out is a player's ability to switch between the updated graphics and the classic look on-the-fly with a quick touch of a button.
Takeaway: Halo may have begun at Bungie, but the franchise has clearly taken on a life of its own. That's great for Halo fans, as 343 Industries has no shortage of ideas and ways to expand the universe. However, at the core of this expansion is the games, so those who can't be bothered to read a book or watch a movie shouldn't worry about missing out.