Halo 4: Questions Answered, More Raised

It’s no secret to anyone that we love Halo. Whether it be the franchise’s first foray into something a little darker and cinematic with ODST, or its latest storyline masterpiece in Reach, we’re long-time fans and will be for the foreseeable future (i.e. forever). So it stands to reason that when we heard that Frank O’Connor, 343 Industries’s Franchise Director answered some questions on the studio’s blog, our awareness of the game was heightened once again.

We got an incredible making-of video last week, nearly a year before the game is even going to be launched, and we’re quickly getting more information about what is usually a fairly secretive development process.

Frank tells us that the armour customization in the game can actually affect gameplay. Some of the trickiest stuff in game design is balancing weapons, abilities, and characters, so we’re assured that it doesn’t mean people will have massive advantages (like starting with rocket launchers while everyone else has a pistol), but it stands to reason that if you can trick out your Spartan, you’ll have an advantage, albeit a slight one.

Unfortunately, we’re not getting a beta as we did with ODST or Reach and that could be good or bad. On the positive side, it frees the development team up to focus on designing the actual game, going for the gut in story development, and getting the game out sooner. With that said, not having time to test the game with real players in real scenarios on a real network could mean that multiplayer takes a slight quality hit. We’re not sure, but we’ll hope for the best.

Somehow, multiplayer will have its own story. We’re thinking that co-op gameplay is a given, so if that’s all the 343 is talking about, we’ll be sorely disappointed. Luckily, Frankie tells us that the stories between campaign mode and multiplayer will be connected somehow, meaning there are most likely two separate stories. However, he mentions that they’ll also be intertwined in a very unique and interesting way, so it’s likely on the same levels of terminals in Reach where the storyline functions as a backstory, not to be taken on its own merits.

About halfway through the question period, we get a solid confirmation that the release date is still within 2012, so we’ll likely be seeing the Master Chief again in November, to coincide with the anniversary of the franchise on November 15th.

On the multiplayer front, Frank mentions a good set of new experiences in addition to classic Halo ones. This usually sounds like marketing speak for “yeah, we’ll throw in a new mode we copied from another game and you’ll buy it”, but somehow, given that 343 Industries has a lot to prove, we think they’ll make it work, and they’ll make it work well.

It is mentioned that features like forge mode and theatre will return, but it doesn’t seem to be a huge focus for the title this time around. Given that this is a new trilogy and storyline is number one (and it should be number one), it is okay that a few steps back are made here. However, the series is known for constantly improving and never really taking away, so let’s hope that this isn’t the beginning of a “cut this feature” regime at Microsoft. We’d all much rather have the exact same forge mode as in previous Halo games than we would have no forge at all. With that said, Frank assures us all that he suspects “most folks will be pretty happy.”

Probably the point that we’re most excited about here at Eggplante is the progress of development so far. When asked what development stage the game is currently in, O’Connor answers “Crunch.” What does this mean? Well, it means they’re studying hard, cramming even, because it’s midnight and the exam is at 9 AM tomorrow. Finishing levels and improving performance, finishing gameplay and user interface, and completing cinematics. The campaign is complete from start to finish and can be played as such, but while some levels are almost completely polished, others require some more tweaks. All the music is composed, with final recording sessions booked and ready to be completed and they’re going through final system testing.

This kind of info screams “playable demo at E3”. But that’s never happened for a Halo game – not the campaign, at least – so don’t get your hopes up!

In terms of gameplay design, health will take yet another turn in a new direction, with the removal of health packs. This is certainly not anything that could break the game, but is one of those classic mechanics that Halo: Combat Evolved just nailed on the original Xbox and made console shooters relevant. Will changing it be a sin? We’ll have to wait and see…..

The Covenant is sure to return, and we’ll hopefully find out just who the Forerunners are, although it doesn’t make sense that the Flood would be there. Or does it? Either way, our bet is on the fact that the Forerunners are actually early age human, but given that only 550 years have passed from present day to the time of Halos and Cortanas, it seems a bit implausible. Also, given that this is the start of a new trilogy, we can probably expect a cliffhanger just before we actually find out who the Forerunners are. Just please don’t let us see the Flood. Again.

Our last big point here is that we don’t know who will be voicing the main characters like the Chief or Cortana. Again, Frank says that fans will be satisfied which lends credence to the notion that it will in fact be Steve Downes and Jen Taylor, but really, why not just give us an answer? He also uses words like “fans will be calm and happy about our casting.” Don’t suck up to us, just tell us now! Will the actors be on stage at E3 to tell us live? Probably not, but it would be great to know this earlier rather than keep us wondering!

Last but not least, the storyline of Halo 4 is all being created and considered around a much larger story. This is great for a few reasons: it means that questions from the first game can be answered at the end of the last in the new trilogy, leading to properly-structured cliffhangers (read: NOT Halo 2 cliffhangers) and incredibly interconnected stories. It also means that the entire thing has been thought out, designed, and cared for from the start in a way that is unique to a game like this. Few, if any, games have been designed three at a time. Sure, some have given sequels a thought, but we don’t remember seeing any three games even scratch the surface of this level of depth across an entire trilogy.

Expect to see TONS more information at E3 2012 this year as we bring you all the latest from Los Angeles as quickly as we can get it to you!