What's Coming In Halo 4?
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Posted 15 September 2011 - 10:44 AM
If you care about the Halo franchise, it’s likely that you’re already clued in to some big changes on the way to the series. Creator and longtime steward of the series, Bungie, has finally moved on to its own new venture, leaving one of video games’ most beloved series in the hands of an untested studio – 343 Industries. But while 343’s development muscle is yet to be confirmed, the company has been working behind the scenes for years now as the overseer of the Halo brand.
With a new studio in place, and an open universe of stories to explore, what can we expect out of Halo 4? We’ve examined info that has emerged from E3 back in June all the way up through this weekend’s Halo Fest at PAX, and pulled together some educated guesses about just what can be expected when Halo 4 releases. While there are few confirmed details about the game, the puzzle pieces are beginning to form an intriguing picture.
The Forerunner and their technology will be at the center of the Halo 4 experience. 343 Industries has as much as confirmed it through the brief snippets of information gleaned about the game so far. In the recent Halo Fest panel, art director Kenneth Scott mentioned something about Master Chief’s ship being on its way towards a Forerunner planet – possibly implying that the huge maw depicted in the trailer opens into a world, rather than a ship. Art within the new trailer depicts scenes that may be from that very planet, where it seems Master Chief’s ship may eventually crash. Perhaps the setting of Halo 4 is partially the interior of a micro Dyson Sphere, also called a shield world in Halo-speak. A similar shield world was a centerpiece in the novel Halo: Ghosts of Onyx – a huge sphere with the habitable area along the inside edge of the sphere.
Perhaps the biggest piece of recent info about Halo 4 is its position as the first in a trilogy of games called the Reclaimer Trilogy. The term Reclaimer should be a familiar one to anyone who has played the Halo games, but it’s more recently revealed source may be lesser known. As near as has been pieced together by the fan community, Reclaimer is a Forerunner term for humanity, or at least a certain subset of humanity. Before departing the galaxy, the Forerunner designated these human Reclaimers as the inheritors of their power – that’s one of the reasons Master Chief is uniquely enabled to activate various Forerunner devices in the earlier games. The fact that Halo 4 and its two sequels are called the Reclaimer Trilogy suggests that we’ll learn a lot more about that inheritance, and the wider connection of humanity to the ancient Forerunner race.
The 343 team has also implied that recent elements of the Halo universe outside of the games have an important connection to Halo 4. Specifically, the art for Greg Bear’s Halo: Cryptum novel is taken directly from art made for Halo 4. Additionally, Frank O’Connor stated at the Halo Universe panel at this year’s Comic-Con that Greg Bear’s sequel, Halo: Primordium would include “resonant connections” to Halo 4. Meanwhile, author Greg Bear has hinted that there may be some sort of connection between a human in that trilogy (set some 100,000 years before the Halo games) and Master Chief, further supporting the concept of Master Chief as a Reclaimer.
The books in question, collectively referred to as the Forerunner Saga, chronicle details about the Forerunner race, including their interaction with a space-faring society of humans that existed all those years ago. As the novels have often been scheduled to have relevance to the current game releases, it’s likely that this current run of books about the Forerunner race will be central to fully understanding the world presented in Halo 4.
John and Cortana At Center Stage
No matter what other characters are introduced through the course of Halo 4 and its sequels, you can put good money on the fact that Master Chief and Cortana will be at the center of the equation. Back in July, Microsoft Game Studios’ head Phil Spencer said that he felt that the Halo series had “lost its way” with Reach and ODST by not including Master Chief at the center of the experience, describing him as the “John Wayne character of that universe.”
The folks at 343 seem to agree. “A lot of what this trilogy is going to focus on is exploring the character of Master Chief, and what it means to bring him back,” creative director Josh Holmes said at the recent Halo Fest panel. “There’s a lot of depth to John that exists primarily in the other fiction that we felt we wanted to explore more deeply, and lay out a journey for him that would transform him as a character and as a man.”
As the team leads on stage at the panel spoke about Halo 4, there was a notable shift even in the way the main character was spoken about. Throughout almost any public display of a Halo game in the past, Microsoft and Bungie have been specific about calling the character Master Chief. During this weekend’s panel, we heard as many mentions of “John” as we did of his rank name of “Master Chief.” While the books and comics within the expanded universe of Halo have always openly used Master Chief’s first name, it’s clear that 343 hopes to bring that more personal understanding of the character into the games. Players should reasonably expect a much deeper and more nuanced take on the series’ hero.
Going a step further, one of the taglines emerging from early teases of the game is “Wake up John.” Undoubtedly, the tagline refers at least in part to the experience of reviving Master Chief from the cryogenic sleep we left him in at the end of Halo 3. However, knowing the enigmatic and mysterious nature of the Halo franchise, it’s highly possible that the phrase carries a second meaning. Given that the new games are called the Reclaimer Trilogy, and Master Chief was first given that name by Guilty Spark 343 in the previous trilogy, it’s not a stretch to think that John will have to “wake up” and learn something new about himself in the new games, perhaps regarding his unique ability to act as the Reclaimer and live out the inheritance left to humanity by the Forerunner race.
As for Cortana? It’s no stretch to claim that Cortana’s relationship with the Chief will continue to deepen in the new game. In the Halo Fest panel, O’Connor seemed hesitant to answer questions about Cortana, her voice actor, or how she will interact with John in the game. We predict some big changes to the AI character over the course of the new series, not the least of which is that smart AIs in the Halo universe have a limited life span. After about seven years, smart AIs enter a demented state called rampancy, and must be destroyed. Could we be seeing Cortana deal with her impending death in Halo 4?
What is this strange creature that shows up at the end of the recent concept art trailer? Only time will tell
Though 343 as a studio may be new to the development game, the individual members of that team certainly are not. Executive producer Kiki Wolfkill has pulled together an impressive team of professional developers, and their previous work can offer some ideas of what to expect out of Halo 4.
Sitting near the center of any conversation about the future of Halo is Frank O’Connor. As franchise development director, he plays a central role in overseeing the entire Halo universe. It’s a task he’s well suited for after coming to 343 in 2008 from his longtime role as content manager at Bungie. O’Connor brings a sense of consistency and interconnection across different entertainment mediums, all with an eye towards better serving the flagship game experience.
Creative director Josh Holmes came to 343 Industries after founding and running his own studio in Vancouver called Propaganda Games. Propaganda is best known for having crafted the 2008 reboot of Turok, so Holmes is intimately familiar with the unique challenges of crafting a major FPS for console. Prior to that, Holmes worked for EA Canada and was deeply involved in games like Def Jam: Vendetta and NBA Street.
Art director Kenneth Scott brings many years of game industry experience with him, including extensive time as art director on other first-person shooter projects like Doom 3 and the Quake series, so we can look forward to an art style that is well keyed into the nature of sci-fi games that have come before.
A fourth figure promises to deliver a fascinating new direction for music and audio. Audio director Sotaro Tojima comes to the 343 team after composition and audio work on some of the most beloved Japanese soundtracks of recent years, including work on the Metal Gear series, Castlevania series, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl. While it will be challenging to follow up the excellent scores written by Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori, Tojima’s rousing musical sensibilities should be an interesting new direction.
Beyond the lead team, it’s clear that 343 is putting some overwhelming manpower behind Halo 4. Frank O’Connor proclaimed in the recent Halo Fest panel on the game that there are currently 200+ developers working at 343 on the game, all of who came to the studio particularly because they wanted to make a Halo game.
New Everything, But With A Classic Feel
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing 343 Industries is to craft a game that feels like Halo, but also moves the series forward in an interesting way. Halo 3 closed the book on the storyline begun in Halo: Combat Evolved. The war between the humans and the Covenant has been resolved, at least for the time being. The threat of the Flood has once again been contained.
The Reclaimer Trilogy offers 343 the opportunity it needs to go somewhere new. Players can expect new enemies, new vehicles, and new weapons, many of which we predict will be tied to ancient Forerunner technology. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine Halo without a Warthog, or various other iconic features. Watch for those familiar Halo devices to return alongside the host of new options.
Halo 4 will also likely present a new alien threat into the mix. Fans love the Covenant and the Flood, but the story of the conflict against those two groups dominated the earlier games. The recent Halo Fest concept art trailer offers a tantalizing glimpse in its final moments of a strange creature too indistinct to perceive clearly (see above). When we learn what that thrashing creature is, we’ll have a pretty darned good idea what we’ll be aiming our weapon at in Halo 4.
Beyond the story, look to 343 Industries to be delivering a moment-to-moment gameplay experience that is remarkably close to the earlier Halo games. With major changes in store for so much of the rest of the game, it’s important that the controls, action, combat, and movement feel familiar. You can also bet that familiar and popular features from previous games will return, including the Forge, cooperative campaign play, Firefight, multiplayer ranking up, etc.
Posted 15 September 2011 - 09:20 PM
Don't know if I can hold my Halo dedication till this game. Some new games coming out look very good.