Being a self confessed Halo fanboy I simply had to have this developer session – the opening to the Eurogamer Expo 2012 Developer lineup – on my ‘must see’ list.
Frank O’Connor, Franchise Development Director for 343 Industries, showed us some gameplay footage from the third level of Halo 4 as well as offering unique insight into the development process and answering some audience questions.
“We’re really, really close to finishing the game. There’s a few last minute things to do over the next few days.” Franks words met my ears with delight as I realized that the possibility of a delay in the release of my top games of 2012 wasn’t far away at all!
Frank goes on to talk about the level of dedication that everyone at 343 industries has put into making Halo 4 – “there’s actually parking spaces available in the parking lot for the first time in the past six months.” Frank also talks about the possibility of having to make certain changes to the credits roll at the end of Halo 4 “They’ve [343 Industries] sacrificed a lot. We were doing the credits and realized that we have about 17 or 18 babies born to the studio since the game started. It’s both awe inspiring and sad to know that these people are sacrificing moments of their lives to work on this game.”
Frank the goes on to thank not only his teammates at 343 Industries but also the previous Halo team of Bungie, stating “they created a universe that I love and that I stayed with and they created a bunch of technology that’s a platform and the basis of what we’ve done.”
After his opening statement, O’Connor loads up the demo of Halo 4, stating that “barring any crashes, this should be roughly 10 minutes long” and sure enough as soon as the telltale Halo loading screen appears, the screen freezes for a couple of seconds, causing an explosion of laughter with the media and fans in the audience. “It’s okay, It’s supposed to do that. That one I know about.” Frank begins the demo.
The first thing to notice about Halo 4 is just how much of an overhaul the graphics have gotten since Reach. Every surface has a newly glossed finish but not so much that the landscape looks laminated.
Launching into the demo, Frank quickly takes out a Grunt with an assassination attack which are still as brutally satisfying as they ever were. The master chief moved through a series of cliff faces and caves fighting both the familiar Covenant enemies (including Elites but that’s mentioned in a little while) and also the newly announced enemy (which I won’t spoil here folks, I’m sorry but I just wont)
What I will spoil for you though is the weapons because some of the newly implemented weaponry looks amazing! Guns including the Boltshot, Storm Rifle, the good-ol-Covenent Carbine and the trusty Plasma Pistol were used throughout the demo. Vehicles such as the Ghost and Banshee made an appearance including one worrying moment when Frank took a Banshee Fuel Canon shot to the nose and very nearly ended the demo early but through some sharp maneuvering he was able to secure another Banshee.
The demo also featured Cortana (still voiced by Jen Taylor) but her role was fairly subdued with no real indication of her position in the story as of yet. The demo ended with the Master Chief traveling through some strange portal devices to reach different objectives and ending “just before a critical plot spoiler” though not knowing any of the plot from the previous two levels it was hard to make that assumption but we’ll let that go.
After the demo we were told more information about Forward Unto Dawn- the live action Halo web series which takes place 20 years before the events of Halo 4 (so subsequently some years before the original Halo also) The series looks impressive and also features the Master Chief himself during one of the scenes. Frank even joked about having “the first two episodes in my pocket – but you can’t watch those”
Answering audience questions now, Frank was asked about the overall quality of the facial animations in Halo 4 – “I think that our facial animation and full motion capture is really good this time. This time everyone who was acting in scenes was full motion capture scenes was acting together. It catches real performances and that’s really important this time around. A lot of meaningful things will happen that needs that level of performance.”
Another audience member asked how 343 Industries felt about taking on the Halo universe and adding new content to it, Frank explained “Oh we didn’t feel nervous, that was pure terror! But that is both the toughest challenge and the most exciting. Bungie created an amazing suite of vehicles weapons, powers and abilities. The biggest decision we had to make was adding a new antagonist and a villain. While the *SPOILER* weapons have some very unique attributes, they definitely fit in with the Halo sandbox.”
The next question was directly ‘Will Halo 4 feature jetpacks?’ and Frank explained that “I can confirm that jetpacks will be in single player but have been nerfed a bit since Reach. You can no longer hover and they work slightly differently.”
Answering audience question about multiplayer, Frank confirmed that networking in Halo 4 is peer-to-peer and that “there’s some really good reasons for it. Peer-to-peer gives us a broader reach into the existing ecosystem but we’ve made some tweaks.”
Other questions featured asked about the Multiplayer ranking system – “we’ll have more to talk about skill based ranking later” but informed the audience that there is an experience system.
Also discussed was the possibility of four player co-op – “The campaign will indeed feature 4-player co-op and rather than throwing players additional characters, everyone is Master Chief” “When we did Halo 3 you had Chief and three Elites but it didn’t have much impact on the game.”
O’Connor closes the talk by answering a question about carrying on Bungie’s legacy, summarizing that “What we have to worry about is respecting what makes Halo great and that we’re doing it service.”
Halo 4 is scheduled to be released November 6th for Xbox 360 and I for one cannot wait!