Halo 4: The Legacy: OXCGN’s Josh Holmes Interview
“We want to continue that legacy of innovation”
by Arthur Kotsopoulos and Daniel Geikowski
©2012 Arthur Kotsopoulos and Daniel Geikowski
With a new technology, a new planet to explore and a new class of enemies called the Prometheans to battle, Microsoft’s premiere FPS is looking to stay atop the competition and give players the sci-fi action they’ve been missing.
We had the chance to catch up with 343 Industries’ Creative Director, Josh Holmes, and spoke all things Halo, from the old trilogy to the inspiration behind Halo 4.
Daniel: Players have grown up with Halo since the original launched in 2001. Over 10 years later, will Halo 4 and the 2nd trilogy cater to the original fans, or remain similar to recent titles to attract new fans?
Josh: We think about both of them and so whenever we are designing the story we’re thinking about how we’re going to tell it; we look at it through different lenses.
We look and go “OK, how’s a returning player who’s spent a decade with the series, how are they going to find little nuggets that they are going to appreciate, yet how are new players who haven’t played the games or read a novel come in and understand the universe from the word go and get right into the story?”.
It’s a very self-contained story so it makes sense to someone even if they’ve never had any previous Halo experience, but we have all these deeper layers there for you to explore. We do that from secondary story telling components as well as the surroundings that we’re developing.
It should hopefully be enjoyable to both audiences.
Daniel: In conjunction with that and with the previous trilogy, what elements, including the novels, has 343 primarily drawn inspiration from in the creation of Halo 4 and beyond? Or is it more standalone in terms of narrative?
Josh: I mean I think our inspiration for the story we wanted to tell was going back to Halo 3 and the Legendary ending and ask ourselves what happened to Chief. That’s where we started.
Then as we went down this journey we got really fascinated with Forerunner history and culture and that’s what led to the development of the new class of enemies, the Prometheans.
It was a creative journey we went on and there were lots of inspirations and if you look across the entire experience and it’s almost like 3 experiences in one; campaign, multiplayer and Spartan Ops.
Different people on the team were probably inspired by different things and it’s interesting to bring so many people with diverse backgrounds from across the industry together. Many of us are fans of one another’s games.
You have guys that worked on the Metroid Prime series and just bringing a collective experience to the table has helped shape what Halo 4 is.
Arthur: Halo: Reach‘s content was already outlined in a previously released novel. Is it more liberating as a developer to be working on a Halo game that isn’t covered already in Halo literature?
Josh: Definitely it’s interesting to have no boundaries, but it’s also a little frightening at times because you can go anywhere.
Part of the process is to create pillars; okay these are the things that have meaning and you want to shape the experience around that, and that’s what we did early on in the project.
So what are the stories you want to tell and create and what are more important to Halo and how do we preserve those? That has shaped what the game has become.
Josh: It’s been interesting and very helpful at times to have all these diverse perspectives coming into the universe.
You have people like Frank (O’Connor) who have been a apart of Halo for years and others who are drawn to Halo 4 based on their passion of the Halo universe, but haven’t worked on it before and now have their own background they’re going to draw from.
It’s an interesting journey for us as a team because you have people from all over the industry who have built games in a different way and they come to the team thinking how are we going to build Halo 4 in the 343i way?
That was apart of the process. We tend to focus on the game itself as that’s the most important thing, but for us as developers it was an interesting process leaning how to work as a team.
Arthur: So technically you have a team that can bring something fresh into the Halo franchise yet still keep it in line with what fans have come to love.
Josh: Story is such an important part of Halo and what makes the universe as strong and interesting as it is.
We wanted to bring that story focus to the multiplayer space. We did that by kind of wrapping all the multiplayer experience in narrative and also creating Spartan Ops, which is an episodic- like multiplayer experience over the course of the season.
The fact is, you had two distinct audiences: those that loved to play the single-player campaign and some people who like to play the competitive multiplayer side.
The crossover points between those two is Spartan Ops. We’re hoping players that love story will join and learn the skills they need to apply in competitive.
Those competitive players will join and play with their friends to help progress their careers and Spartans, and in doing that will get exposed to the story.
Josh: If you look at Halo there’s been pretty much innovation in every game.
You have got the first console shooter that kind of defined what that is, defining what matchmaking is, and online matchmaking. Halo 2 and Halo 3 really defined user-generated content with Forge and saved films.
We want to continue that legacy of innovation and that’s what Spartan Ops is.
No one has really done something like this before in a shooter and we’re creating an ongoing series: 50 missions over the course of a 10 week season.
Having a story that evolves over the course of that time was really ambitious of us and a driving force for us as well.
Josh: Flood is our kind of our interpretation of ‘Infection’ for the community and is really popular and something we love to play as well.
It always felt a little cobbled together and we wanted to give it the first-class treatment that we’re giving to all the other modes and that’s where the idea came from: a Flood-form Spartan that you could take into the world. It’s an Infected that will give a dramatic differentiation to the players when they see it visually in the game and give you a more immersive experience.
Daniel: And was that an internal decision to bring them in or was it something the fans have been asking for over the years?
Josh: Oh it’s definitely something we did internally from a design perspective but we did it basically on the feedback from the community and watching the engagement level of the playlist to see how much people enjoyed Infection and seeing internally what we could do to elevate this and make it more compelling and take advantage of the systems that we’re building into the Halo 4 experience .
Is it healthy competition when others compare various FPS to Halo and call them the Halo-Killer? Resulting in, say, 343i working that little bit harder to make a better game?
Josh: I think First Person Shooters are a really hotly contested space and there’s a lot of great improvements and developments that are happening there and for us we want to be on top of our game on what we can do to elevate the Halo experience, improving it graphically, introducing new gameplay mechanics and with new ways of playing it competitively.
We’re always going to be looking at that landscape and asking how do we press ourselves to be at the forefront of that and that’s great.
As developers you want to be pushing the envelope and doing the best that you can and competition only makes you rise to the challenge.
Arthur: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Josh, and I personally cannot wait until Halo 4 ships. It’s good to have the Chief back in action again!