How 343 Is Reinventing Halo

Microsoft's 343 Industries is taking Halo to the next level, while maintaining that almost undefinable feel of what it's like to be the Master Chief.

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"Wake up Chief. I need you." With Cortana's first words you feel like you are back to all of those hours of action-packed storytelling that filled the original Halo trilogy. The banter between Master Chief and Cortana as they seek out those attacking their ship just cements it. And then come the Elites and Grunts: your first firefight as Master Chief in years, and you know you are playing Halo.

But Halo 4 is shaping up to provide not just everything people have loved from the series, but even more than what you've experienced in the past. "It feels like Halo. But there are some subtle changes. We changed the HUD and we also added a sense of immersion--you can hear your breath as it sounds inside the helmet," said Frank O'Connor. O'Connor is the franchise director for Halo and has shepherded the series from original developer Bungie to Microsoft's 343 Industries.

Anyone who has been following the videos 343 has been putting out knows they have redone the series' sound, the music, and the graphics, but what you can't see is that it still plays like a Halo game. Running, jumping, shooting the battle rifle or pistol--it all feels very familiar. "It's definitely at a higher fidelity at this point. Our facial animation and motion capture technology are all going to make it look better."

How much did 343 change below the surface? They started with the Reach engine, but took it further. "Some of the core systems are still recognizable to what Bungie engineered, but every system has either been radically overhauled or completely written from the ground up," said O'Connor. "It has a different look--but it looks like a Halo game. If you were a wine connoisseur you would probably describe it as a completely different varietal."

Of course, that balance between improving the features of the game while still keeping that Halo feel has extended beyond the single-player game. The competitive multiplayer game has new modes; levels have new features; and the Spartan trainee players can create, level up, and purchase new armor and abilities. But the biggest change to online play is the Spartan Ops mode.

With this mode, players will engage in a co-op story with other Spartan trainees, not unlike the co-op of Portal 2. The difference with Halo 4 is that this story is episodic, with new missions being released each week. O'Connor said, "It's about the same amount of story as [a traditional] campaign stretched over weeks."

"Most people actually play campaign and don't play competitive."
Besides giving players more bang for their buck, the Spartan Ops mode was created for another practical reason. Despite what a glance at the leaderboards seems to tell you, Halo players really don't play online. "Most people actually play campaign and don't play competitive. It's because the competitive landscape is really intimidating for people. So they prefer to play at their own pace," said O'Connor.

343 is hoping that Spartan Ops will get more gamers connecting online. O'Connor said, "It's competitive; [players are] competing for objectives and scores, but they are also cooperating to get the job done and experience the story."

The Spartan Ops story will stretch out for several weeks, but not months, according to O'Connor. And beyond that? "Season one comes free with the game. If we did another season we would be building that from scratch. Maybe that will be DLC; maybe it goes in the next game. We are still tinkering with that."

Speaking to Frank O'Connor, you get the sense they are still tinkering with other aspects of Halo 4, such as getting the feature set and the engine just right. "The Halo process is layering and layering and testing and layering off and on…it's really close to the ship date that you see what the final product looks like. We've gone pass the 'Can we do it?' to 'Can we do it better,' and that's what anyone working on a sequel should always be thinking."

So are there some surprises to come, like those in Halo Anniversary? "We are not supporting 3D TVs or Kinect for Halo 4," said O'Connor. "3D in Halo Anniversary was a benefit we got from the method we used to switch between classic and modern graphics, and we were able to use that area of the frame buffer to put out two sets of data at the same time."

And maybe O'Connor is right. The game may not need the flashy extras. 343 is already giving Halo 4 the largest levels the series has ever seen, the most feature-intense multiplayer yet, and a new online co-op campaign in Spartan Ops--not to mention richer sound and visuals. "We are still pushing more and more of the graphics. We had one guy at the showcase who thought this was the next-gen preview. I wouldn't go that far, but it does look good. There is still more and more to be squeezed out of the box," said O'Connor.

Because Halo 4 is the start of a new trilogy, why didn't they go next-gen with the game? "There are tens of millions of 360s this time around, and if you wait until the next generation you are going to start with a lower install base," said O'Connor. "Secondly, it's a sequel to a bunch of games that existed on one platform, and you want to take advantage of that momentum and reward the people who have already invested in the ecosystem of that console."

As I watch Master Chief take down groups of Covenant, or as I run through the halls of a multiplayer map, it is hard to argue that the experience has been diminished by the use of current hardware. It is Halo, with a new shine of polish and new facets, but still the Master Chief's story. 343 just may satisfy Halo fans old and new. O'Connor said, "You have to strike a fine balance between adding and evolving, and messing with and breaking the recipe that's already been successful. It's a fine line to walk."

Kevin Ohannessian is a freelance editor and writer covering the game industry. With a focus on the creativity and business of gaming, he's always up for a good interview or an intriguing feature. You can find him on Twitter @khohannessian

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203 comments
NEStosterOWN
NEStosterOWN

@valleyofdoom Here we go...nice name by the way, kid. Is that what your parents call you or is that due to your room? That is if you know what parents are... Hey thanks. I'll be sure to keep that in mind come christmas. Email me next time with that keyboard courage of yours, ok? Responding to everyone on here like you the "man." LOL

ValleyofDoom
ValleyofDoom

@NEStosterOWN GameSpot obviously is not for trolling. Get flagged, banned, whatever, no one cares. Just keep that useless stuff to yourself.

ValleyofDoom
ValleyofDoom

@bigcrusha That sounds like very good news indeed.

GIgewg066
GIgewg066

who cares, from what we've all seen so far it looks like its gonna kick the ass of every other game out there. personally i think the changes sound great, its a new trilogy so it needs a new, updated feel :D

xSpcManSpiffx
xSpcManSpiffx

This game is going to rock. While you guys argue about why multiplayer isn't going to be awesome, I'm going to be playing the amazing campaign. This trilogy overall will likely be better. Halo was not originally planned as a trilogy, but this one is. You have to believe that they have everything fleshed out, for the most part. Have faith in these guys. Every single person at 343 joined the team to create Halo games. Plus, they have been making this game since 2007ish.

bigcrusha
bigcrusha

@Anthrizacks Fair say. I haven't played Reach in 2012 so you were right about the armor ability removal. Although I don't really believe the death of competitive halo had too much to do with armor abilities as people think it did. The truth is that people are gonna find every reason to cry when you can't even deny that this game is aging rapidly since the rise of online competitive play in 2004, people just can't seem to adjust to change. People cried about bloom, THE BLOOM GRAPHICS for goodness sakes. The removal of the BR pissed people off, starcraft 2 came on the rise as well. COD community has stolen a large chunk of the player fanbase. To think there's still a sector of players who refused to cross over to halo 3 saying 2 was the best. Above all this, the true reason why Reach MLG flatlined is 2 things: 1.The BR removal. 2. Game Speed slowdown due to adjustments in the graphics engine. Both of which 343 tweaked. So my verdict stays solid until I've played the game.

Anthrizacks
Anthrizacks

@bigcrusha Check your facts, buddy. MLG does not allow either sprint OR evade. Having those abilities in the game almost completely killed competitive Halo, and taking them out sparked somewhat of a revival within the competitive community. It's still not enough, though, as Halo: Reach is pretty much completely nixed from the MLG circuit because no one cares (due to it not being a great competitive title).

DigitalExile
DigitalExile

@Fernin-Ker: First thing's first: your response was 100% moronic. 1) Tell me where I said reading is "CLEARLY bad". You can't, because I didn't. 2) You can't claim that the Chief both has a personality/character and that "the player is the Chief". If you think you are the Chief then it only goes to show how underwhelming his personality is. That's contradiction. So there is nothing wrong with my statement that he has no character (in the games). Moreover, there have been isolated moments where the Chief displays minor characterisation, but they are too far and few to gleam what type of person he may be, what he is thinking, his motives, etc from the video games. As far as the games go Chief has a very poor character beyond the "space marine fighting aliens to save humanity" archetype. Fun fact: I own and have played al the Halo games except Reach and AE (including Halo and Halo 2 on PC), I also own all the books (even there he has little personality beyond "I have a duty and Spartans are my brothers and sisters"). However, in Evolutions, in two of the short stories, the Chief has conversations with Cortana - something which is only barely touched upon vocally in the video games, and only at a shallow level as a theme or sub-plot. Also, just to conclude how mornic your comment to me was: I said I wanted the kind of character he had FROM THE BOOKS so why would you then suggest that I thought or said reading was bad?

bigcrusha
bigcrusha

@ValleyofDoom Armor lock was confirmed to be removed from the game. 343 also confirmed that all armor abilities will counter balance each other out as if it were a wide-scale rock paper scissors game so I wouldn't worry all too much about that.

JamieHubble
JamieHubble

Don't get me wrong here, I'm happy with graphical improvements and a few tinkers here and there... But! Don't fix what doesn't need fixing... If people find it 'intimidating', practice and practice some more, Halo is a shooter for someone who wants a challenge, i'de much prefer a challenge over a walk in the park.

JamieHubble
JamieHubble

I'm very scared for the future of my favorite shooter/game on 360 :(

Spartan_418
Spartan_418

Hey, haters (and ScrewAttack editors who are also haters), listen! You may not like Halo, but there's no need to tell them to cancel the series just because you think it's being milked (or whatever other contrived reason). If you don't like a series, there's a simple solution, which you may or may not have heard of: it's called "NOT BUYING THE GAMES." You know, as an alternative to invading comment threads with "noooo no more gaylo plz!" and other such cancerous inane babble.

maximo
maximo

All i want to see is online matchmaking facilities for coop gametypes. I am sick of having to add 'friends' to be able to play coop/firefight.

kinstar2002
kinstar2002

I haven't played Halo:Reach since last year only because it didn't have that same Halo 2/3 feeling. I hope Halo 4 revives my love for the Halo multiplayer series. As well as bringing back the BXB/BXR/Double Shot ;)

NEStosterOWN
NEStosterOWN

Halo Fanoboys are kids who have terrible parents...of course they are never satisfied. Video games will never fill that void but I'll tell ya this, I love talking some sense to them when they run their mouth online. :D I won't say anything but just make the game SOLID. None of this IF YOU PREORDER HERE and all that BS.

fallin75
fallin75

@jasonzilla11 I know what you mean, halo fanboys are never satisfied, they say they want a New Halo but they don't wan't new things on it (Reach ), and when the game has almost nothing new(Halo 2 to Halo 3) they complain about the game being almost the same (Halo 2.5)... I really don't get them... if you don't want any changes , then go play the game you love but stop blaming developers for actually moving on. I played every halo by the way with the exception of Aniversary, and I loved them all with no complaints .

badmutt22
badmutt22

I cant wait for this game. I want it now

ValleyofDoom
ValleyofDoom

@Shika_Stoner, Afaik the Sangheili and Ungoy in all the past Halo's were part of a pact called the Covenant. Their leaders were the Prophets at High Charity. These Sangheili and Ungoy may not be part of that same Covenant. That's what I read at least. They're part of a different movement, maybe a different Prophet. One that hasn't seen Humans before and declares war to it as well because of, like you said, "offensive to their religion". @bigcrusha, I have also been a pretty hard core Halo fan ever since I got my hands on the game but I did experience all the abilities in Halo Reach to be a nuisance except for Sprint. Armor Lock in my opinion was incredibly OP. Also, I would call Halo 3 the best online multiplayer. Halo 2 was good, but Halo 3 was my sweet little baby. I hyped Halo 4 like mad before all this news came out. The images looked amazing but now, with all the changes, I'm not so hyped anymore. I'm stoked still, but it can also turn out to be a Halo I may not enjoy. We will just have to wait and see what happens. Either way, I'm buying the game and I will play it regardless of what critics will say.

parrot_of_adun
parrot_of_adun

@RadView Right, so basically when this guy says more people play the campaign, we can't really argue with him, whether or not it's true. That's all I'm saying.

Shika_Stoner
Shika_Stoner

Pretty sure we spent the end of 2 and all of 3 fighting alongside the Sangheili against the Covenant. What, did they suddenly up and decide that Humans are "offensive to their religion" again? I guess it was a bad idea to put any trust in the split-jawed bastards in the first place...

bigcrusha
bigcrusha

@Anthrizacks I disagree entirely on the point you made stating sprint is horrible for competitive play. Last I saw sprint and roll were the only abilities MLG allowed. If it were a nuisance, they would remove it from MLG. If anything, sprint sped up the game pace dramatically. I don't think I've heard anyone complain about Reaches armor abilities hampering the gameplay except you. Some even went as far as saying Reach was the best Halo multiplayer yet. Oh and 343 already elaborated on spawns. Insta spawn only applies to certain modes, weapon spawns ARE on a timer that can be studied and memorized, but the weapon spawning will be random but same grade "ex: shotty/sword or Br/Dmr/Carbine". Forerunner vision is on slow strobe beacon same way UAV works in COD and using it makes everything else semi opaque. My main point is that you should drop the childish whining until you've actually put your hands on the controller, I've been a hardcore Halo fan since it's inception yet even still I look forward to seeing how this game will turn out. So until the product is finished and shipped, you shouldn't have a verdict

bigcrusha
bigcrusha

@Trickymaster Rumor has it that we're facing rogue Elites this time around, not really covenant. Another hint from 343 quotes "The Covenant will be back, but they may be the least of your worries". @jchristenberry there is a mute button you know......

dybbuk
dybbuk

We don't need to worry about 343, Halo 4 is going to be great because 343 has something to prove. If we need to worry about anyone, its Bungie. While I liked Halo 3, I felt the campaign was too short and that Bungie had gotten lazy. I like the idea of Spartan ops. I think O'Conner has it right. I like co-op multiplayer but don't enjoy competitive, so on Halo I don't play the multiplayer only the campaign.

zzanzabar
zzanzabar

It is strange but for all the hundreds of times I've played all of the Halo editions, I have yet to play multi-player. While I have played other multiplayer games (Gears of War for instance) I have never wanted to 'ruin' my experience with the Halo story. There is a sense of satisfaction playing through the various campaigns alone on the various difficulty settings. Sometimes I just kick back and play on 'easy' just to see how fast I can churn through while other times I put it at its highest difficulty and very slowly proceed (if I day once I start all over back at the very beginning). If Halo got rid of the multi-player I doubt if I would even notice.

CrossChecked
CrossChecked

@dbkomi I played every Halo since 2001, when the first Halo came out. I have been a hardcore Halo fan ever since, and I'm looking (cautiously) forward to Halo 4 (Reach left a bad taste in my mouth). All of the changes seem to make sense, and since we haven't played it, or even see FOOTAGE of it, we can't judge the game yet, can we?

CrossChecked
CrossChecked

@darksammie123 Halo has always been an Xbox exclusive, and pretty much always will be. Also, nobody knows why he's fighting the Covenant. All we do know is that there will be a new 3rd faction apart from the Covenant and humans now. Maybe the Covenant Chief is fighting don't agree with the peace treaty and are acting alone?

StraferBiz
StraferBiz

@darksammie123 They do have peace but nothing is certain now. I'm gonna go for the longshot and say the covenant you see is one that is different or they may be the *Forerunners* soldiers. It's only on the 360 for the same reason killzone is for the PS3. They're exclusive to their own consoles. Really can't wait for halo 4 and hopefully it's as awesome as reach is.

darksammie123
darksammie123

I tought the UNCS and the Covenant have peace? and why is it only for Xbox 360?

psuedospike
psuedospike

Maybe they can make Halo not be a piece of $*#@ designed for n00bs and tweens drunk on Red Bull.

shenron43
shenron43

I thought we made peace with the Covenant....

joe_chebs
joe_chebs

Anyone know if Chief will be teaming up with the Arbiter again? Think I might blow the cobwebs off Halo 3 and get stuck into that for another play-through, fantastic fun!

dbkomi
dbkomi

I love how any valid argument against HALO 4 is immediately thumbs downed... Many people who are defending 343 changes never played Halo 2 or 3 online. Point being... BUNGIE made a much better game(s)

Johiden
Johiden

@BlueRaptor7, After Halo 4 there will be at least 2 to 3 years before Halo 5 most likely 2.

secher_nbiw
secher_nbiw

@BlueRaptor7 HaloCE-11/01. Halo2- 11/04. Halo3- 9/07. HaloWars- 3/09. HaloODST- 9/09. HaloReach- 9/10. HaloCE- 11/11. More than a 1 year between games, even if Wars/ODST were close together (and they were developed by two different studios). And Halo Reach has a Metacritic score of 91; hard to say that no one liked it. If you don't like it, don't get it. Don't watch videos about it. But stop making things up.

BlueRaptor7
BlueRaptor7

Halo has gone from a 3 year release cycle to less than 1 year release cycle. Kind of sad, really. Every Halo title tried to change things up, and was on a different engine. This is now the, what, 3rd game in a row that's using the Reach engine? I played the ever living crap out of Halo 1-3, and it has severely tapered off since Reach came out (which no one really liked). Perhaps GT wasn't too far off when they put Halo in the 'top 10 franchises that need to die' list. They should keep the memories of a good Halo intact instead of egregiously milking the franchise for money.

nonfanboygamer1
nonfanboygamer1

How about an HD remake of the original with online co-op and multiplayer?

unnamed475
unnamed475

You know, I want Buck to return! BRING BACK FILLION!

RedEyeNinjai
RedEyeNinjai

@SonicRaptor And what are you taking about 20 years. The first COD came out in 2003 thats is not 20 years. And if your taking about FPS for all games then you need to do some home work. The first FPS game came out in 1973 it was called Maze War so that would make it 39 years Ago but what im taking about is 10 years ago to present day. Ya 20, 30 years ago FPS was amazing!

RadView
RadView

@parrot_of_adun Right and there could be 10 times more people playing mp offline too. I for one do with 6 people system link. Anywho lets hope for awesome campaigns and multiplayer modes.

RedEyeNinjai
RedEyeNinjai

@SonicRaptor And the 3 consecutive years thing. That is also do to fan boys and what I mean about fan boys is they are buying it because of the name not the game play.

Anthrizacks
Anthrizacks

Oh and let's not forget "Spartan Ops," which clearly takes no influence from Call of Duty whatsoever.

Anthrizacks
Anthrizacks

@GOGOGOGURT The leveling-up system is the least of my concern and barely has an impact on core gameplay. My greater concerns: choosing a load-out at the beginning of a match, drop-in / drop-out matchmaking, players constantly have sprint (which was horrible for competitive play in Reach), the return of useless armor abilities that hamper competitive play (including one to see through walls, because apparently radar isn't enough for people), random weapon respawns and random weapon times (removing a HUMONGOUS percentage of strategic play from the game; power weapon control was part of what made Halo 1-3 so insurmountable for competitive play), instant respawns (no having to wait and no penalties for being an idiot). 343 Studios outright said that they are making this game as accessible as possible for new (and bad) players, and in doing so they are threatening the competitive integrity that the Halo franchise is so known for. Oh, and let's not forget "Spartan Ops." Please don't insult me by trying to tell me that 343 isn't adding tons of COD elements into Halo 4.

parrot_of_adun
parrot_of_adun

@RadView That's not my point. I'm saying the majority of campaign games could be going on with no way for you to figure that out; you can only tell if people are playing online cop-op and nothing more (as the campaign goes). For all we know, there could be 10 times that many people playing by themselves, and those people wouldn't be shown on statistics.

COLDFIRE25
COLDFIRE25

 @dbkomi

 You haven't even seen anything on the game yet. And this is 343's only game. The only other thing they did was make one of the better map pack in Reach.