With the exception of the E3 teaser trailer, little is known about what 343 Industries has planned for Halo 4, the developer’s first original offering since Bungie passed the torch upon departing to work on its next big project at Activision. As you’d expect, the 343 developers in attendance at the Halo 4 PAX Prime 2011 panel this past weekend weren’t able to reveal too many juicy details about Master Chief’s next epic space adventure, but they did speak quite a bit about what the studio’s mindset and approach has been, and will continue to be, as development on the next Halo trilogy progresses over the coming months and years.
While Halo 4 was obviously the primary topic of conversation, creative director Frank O’Connor made it a point to acknowledge that the PAX panel was also “really, in some ways, the debut of the studio.” As O’Connor explained, the studio was formed about three years ago, with his fellow panelists—art director Kenneth Scott, executive producer Kiki Wolfkill, creative director Josh Holmes, and audio director Sotaro Tojima—being the core around which the team was formed.
In addition to prepping for the Halo baton pass, the 343 founders were tasked with two major goals at the outset: establishing the studio’s culture and building a top notch team to carry Bungie’s acclaimed series into the next generation and beyond.
“On a foundational level,” said Kiki Wolfkill, “there was finding the level of technical and creative expertise really to execute on the legacy of the Halo game. But then there was sort of the maturity and, frankly, guts to take on this kind of challenge, which was to take on this amazing legacy and define the next 10 years…And, of course, passion. Pure passion. Not just for what Halo has been but also for what it can be and how we define that.”
While the team was in the process of defining just what kind of studio they wanted to be, there was also that slightly intimidating little job that also needed to be started: mapping out not one but three new Halo games. But as O’Connor explained, 343 actually found themselves in a somewhat enviable position, especially given the weight of the project now on their shoulders.
“Halo to me has always been about enigma and exploration and wonderment and scale…and the story has that scope and that grandeur too. And the luxury of having, firstly, having three years to think about the story and to plan it, and secondly, to commit to a trilogy right from the start is a luxury that even Bungie didn’t have with Halo 1. They didn’t know if that was going to be a success, they didn’t know if the Xbox was going to be around. And I think you go about planning your story arcs differently if you think you’ve got one shot.”
The motivation and assemblage of the 343 team itself was rather unique as well, considering, as O’Connor points out, that out of the 200 team members, “199 of them came to the studio because they wanted to work on Halo…Every single person there, their destination was Halo rather than a job.”
Of course, passing on a franchise as successful and beloved as Halo could have easily run aground had the teams at Bungie and 343 not been so laser focused on ensuring the transition between the two was as smooth and carefully plotted as possible. Thankfully, there was a major point of concern that both studios made sure to pay particular attention to throughout the entire transitional process.
“Part of the reason the transition between Bungie and 343,” explained Josh Holmes, “the thing that’s made it easier or smoother, is that both studios and both companies have look to the best way to take care of the community. That’s something that Bungie has always done a fantastic job of. It’s part of why Halo has been so successful is that they have they have cared so deeply about the community. So I think that really forms a common ground for both 343 and Bungie.”
Holmes went on to explain that 343’s devotion to supporting the rabid Halo fan base has had significant impact on not just how the studio is defining itself but on how it is developing and telling the story that will play out over the next three games.
“It was important for us to signal to the fans and the community what our intentions were and our commitment to this story we want to tell,” said Holmes. “When we first started working on laying the plans for the Reclaimer trilogy a little over two years ago, we kind of knew exactly the kind of story we wanted to tell, and it’s really important us, because 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 and really getting a little bit closer to that character that we’ve experienced before in any of the past games."
To find out more about what 343 Industries has in store for Halo 4, from its campaign, sound design, gameplay, and, of course, multiplayer, be sure to check back tomorrow for part two of our Halo 4 PAX panel recap.