You may have already read our recent article with Bungie writing lead Frank O'Connor, but we just had to find out more about what's sure to be one of the biggest games of the year, Halo 3. We cornered O'Connor in Sydney, Australia, today and interrogated him further on how the game's four player co-op will work, what difficulty levels will be the most appropriate for experienced players, and much more.
GameSpot AU: Tell us about the game's difficulty. How will the gameplay experience change depending on what difficulty level you're playing it at?
Frank O'Connor: You'll actually encounter completely different scenarios sometimes. There are obviously different classes of bad guys, and their classes aren't just an armour permutation or a colour palette swap--they behave very differently, they carry different materials, they use different weapons. When playing on Heroic, you're going to encounter things that weren't there before, like turrets, whole leagues of snipers, and different types of vehicles will come in. And again that changes in co-op too. So Heroic and Legendary on co-op will once again be different to what they are on solo. There are also other ways to make the game behave differently that the user will have a lot of control over.
GS AU: But in terms of enemy AI, will they behave differently if you're playing on Heroic or Legendary?
FO: Absolutely--they'll throw grenades more often, they'll deploy shields more often, they'll take cover more often, and they’ll flank you more often. Their behaviour is massively different depending on difficulty level.
GS AU: What difficulty levels are best suited for single player and co-op?
FO: I think Heroic is the correct difficulty for single player. For multiplayer, it should be Heroic plus some of the stuff we haven't talked about yet, or Legendary.
GS AU: So an experienced Halo player should definitely skip normal?
FO: Absolutely. If you played Halo 2 and you can do some of the combos, there's no way you should be playing it on normal--it's a waste of your time. Heroic's not just harder, it's also a lot more interesting. You'll see a lot more of Halo 3 if you play at that difficulty level.
GS AU: You've previously unveiled four-player co-op--one Master Chief, one Arbiter, and two Elites. Can you play a four-person game throughout the entire campaign mode?
FO: Yes, all the way through.
GS AU: How does that fit into the game's storyline then?
FO: If you're solo, the Arbiter is with you for some of the missions. There are some plot dependencies that can take him out, but as you'll see when you play through it, he doesn't have to be gone from your side, which is why it still makes sense when he's there during co-op. And the two other Elites--they're not exactly throwaway characters. They have real back stories and bios, and so on. But they serve no functional purpose in the cinematics--they serve a purpose in the fiction, and they're important allies of the Arbiter, but you don't see them in cinematics. We wanted to make sure that when you were playing in co-op, the fiction seems correct, smooth, and seamless.
GS AU: Was it tricky to fit in these extra players into the storyline?
FO: Not really. We had plenty of time to plan it so it wasn't a big deal. We made that decision early on, and it was a difficult decision because people all want to be the Chief. But four Chiefs running around doesn't make a lick of sense. And people had started to dig the Arbiter, so we thought about how we could work that in. We couldn't give people marines to play because marines can't run as fast as the Chief, they don't take as much damage, they don't have the shield mechanics, so it just would have been kind of a mess for the other three players unless we went in this direction.
GS AU: So the four different characters in co-op are essentially equal in strength?
FO: They have the exact same strengths, skills, and abilities, but they all start with different weapon load-outs. The Elite will start off with the Covenant equivalent of whatever the Chief is carrying for that level typically. There are a couple of exceptions to that where it's really useful where they start with plasma weapons, for example. Usually they [Elite characters] will start with a plasma pistol and a carbine if the Chief starts, for example, with a pistol and an assault rifle.
GS AU: Can you jump into co-op at any stage of the game?
FO: Yes and no. Any of the campaign rally checkpoints that you've opened up, you can start from. There are specific checkpoints so it’s nice and seamless when you go in. There are usually two or sometimes three in each level.
GS AU: You've also previously shown us the new gameplay recording abilities in both multiplayer and single-player. What do you think the Halo community will use this new feature for?
FO: There are two aspects to that. One is the machinima art side of things, and the other is competitive gaming. Obviously you can use this feature to get better at the game--you can follow around any professional gamer and see how they play.
GS AU: Halo 2 was the king of Xbox Live, but it's been overrun by Gears of War. Will Halo 3 beat Gears as the number one on Live?
FO: I hope we will, because we're a new game and people have renewed and fresh interest [in Halo]. But Gears of War has done a lot of great things for Xbox Live. In fact, every time we see Cliffy B at some event, we're always backslapping each other because we're both trying to build the install base with each other's games, so more luck to them. If we overtake Cliffy in the Xbox Live rankings then so be it, it'll be nice.
GS AU: What can you tell us about a possible PC version of the game?
FO: I can tell you for a fact that there's not one line of code written for a PC version at this point. We're not working on it, Microsoft hasn't even chatted to us about it yet. They realise the important thing is to get the 360 version at this point.
GS AU: What is it about Halo that has garnered this following?
FO: From my perspective, just as a player, I think it's a combination of the story and the scale of the universe. And that scale is reflected in what you can do in the game. You can drive, you can walk, you can interact with people. And people like the objects in the game. When people talk of Halo, they tend to think of Warthogs and plasma swords and all these really specific objects. I've said this before--Star Wars has some of that same sort of appeal, with X-Wings and lightsabers and so on. We share some of that, but the difference is we let you interact with it.
GS AU: There's also this whole universe of fiction outside of the game. Do you keep a close eye on that?
FO: Yes--100 percent. That's certainly part of my job--to work with our partners and vendors, people like Marvel Comics, and come up with story scenarios for those things. And obviously we edit them and fact-check them.
GS AU: Are you working with Ensemble on Halo Wars?
FO: Yes, on the story and script stuff. They're awesome at making RTS games, so we're leaving the game design stuff to them. We just talk to them about units, vehicles, and story.
GS AU: So what's happening next for Bungie?
FO: Well there's the Peter Jackson project--we'll continue to work daily with those guys on that. The next thing for Bungie specifically will be the Peter Jackson stuff, and then some sort of downloadable content for Halo 3.
GS AU: Frank O'Connor, thanks for your time.