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343’s Kiki Wolfkill: We’ve Had Growing Pains over the Years as a Studio, Now We’re Excited for What’s Coming to the Halo IP

Apr 18, 2019
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Reboot Develop Blue 2019 recently came and went in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and many of the best and brightest minds of the games industry were in attendance to share new technology, announcements, and hopes for the future of the industry. Wccftech was there through yours truly, and we picked the brains of some of the most important people in the industry.

One of those brains belonged to Kiki Wolfkill from 343 Industries, Studio Head now leading Halo's transmedia efforts (previously, she's been credited as Executive Producer for Halo 4 and Halo Master Chief Collection). Halo is more than just a video game franchise and with the upcoming TV series set to air on Showtime, we couldn't resist asking Kiki about what it's like taking Halo to new universes, capturing new audiences, and of course, crafting the highly anticipated show (which now has the actor that'll play Master Chief).

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Below is our full interview with Kiki, where she takes us through Halo's future beyond video games - though, that's not to say we didn't ask about Halo Infinite while we were there...

Hi there, Kiki, and thank you for being here with us. How do you organize all of your transmedia efforts across the Halo universe? How do you keep it all in mind and make sure you roll it out at a sensible pace?

I think it starts with a deliberate plan that at some point falls apart, inevitably. But yeah, I mean, I think it comes from a couple of different places. I may have mentioned this. One is, you know, the games are temporal releases, right? And so we've built around those game experiences and the timing of those game experiences. And sometimes it's hard because we actually don't know the timing.

I think there was a point at which we got a little paralyzed with, well, what if this comes out at the same time as that and it finally got to the point where it's like, we should be building the right things. And you know, what a great problem to have if these two big things are done at the same time. And if that happens, we'll figure it out.

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But so far, it really has been about what are the right experiences, to lead up to a game or to follow up from a game. Because sometimes, we find our audience has great energy around a character or a moment or setting, it's like, well, maybe we should build on that. Right? It has given us the feedback that that's a place in our universe that's particularly interesting. Sometimes it is just stories we want to tell, right? And stories that we're excited about. And then it becomes what's the right medium for those stories? Is it the game or is it something else? And who is the right audience to get to? You know, because when we think about these experiences, is it about engaging the fans that we already have? Is it about expanding that fan base a little bit and trying to get to new and different audiences, and that affects timing, as well.

And sometimes it's, do we engage fans of the universe who maybe aren't playing the game anymore but who are still fans and still a big part of our ecosystem. And so, in an ideal world, we're building this very deliberate roadmap, going into and coming out of a game, the reality is, a lot of it is driven by what story we want to tell when and what audience we're focused on.

Yeah, absolutely. When it comes to all these different methods of delivery, is it tempting to like do big crossovers or do you prefer to make each effort distinct?

Yeah, we kind of do both. Often it's a unique story. For instance, we've released a couple of novels now focused on sort of the young adult audience really. The Halo universe is filled with adventure and interesting characters. And, you know, the idea that sci-fi is a genre where you want to explore.

And so in those instances, it was really, how do we create these stories that are engaging for that sort of audience different from our very hardcore sci-fi, like, if you think about the Greg Bear trilogy of stories. And so, you know, those cases, they're standalone stories that have adjacency see to the game. So the Forerunner trilogy, with Greg Bear (the author of the novels), very deep sci-fi, but spoke about the Forerunners and had a lot of themes and back story that was interesting, relative to the story we told in Halo 4, right, so not necessarily a direct connection, but something where we were kind of going back to the forerunner with Halo 4. And so how do we give some deeper background there for the fans who want it.

Whereas again, if I go back to those young adult novels, they are these - while there's some crossover, they are unique stories for that audience and really focused on the adventure of the universe.

And so I feel lucky that we have the scale of the universe where we can tell different kinds of stories in different places, and they can be connected or not. And I think it really just comes down to, again, audience. And is it important for us to connect with the stories in an ideal world or telling this great standalone story that has connections that deep, you know, hardcore fans, recognize and love? And we always want to provide a nod toward those hardcore fans. And some are very deliberate.

Is there anything you can share with us about the Halo TV series? Because I know for a fact that a lot of our readers want to know.

Yeah, nothing I could share except to say that, you know, we are actively working on it, actively working on the creative process, actively working on the production. It's incredibly exciting for us because it just feels like we have great collaboration and momentum. And, you know, there have been times during the show when it's all been focused on the business side of it and contracts, negotiations, all of that. It feels like we're beyond that stage now and frankly, in the far more gratifying part of the process, which is the creative one.

Yeah, absolutely. I imagine sticking to a strict canon is difficult when you do have a transmedia franchise to maintain. Are there any examples like, tweaking or retconning existing canon that you can tell me about?

Yeah, I mean, I think retconning is a pretty normal part of any sort of universe building. When I think about the TV show, you know, an example that Frank O' Connor (my creative partner on the show), and I... We talked a lot about Game of Thrones, right? I read all of the books before the show came out. They were extremely faithful to the book very early on but, you know, even within season one they had some pretty strong deviations. And I remember watching that, I would be momentarily jarred by the fact that they were changing how something had read in the book, but then very quickly understood why, right, and all of that they're very smart. And all of those cases, I feel like they made a decision to change the story for a really good reason. I'm like, wow, that was an amazing scene, I completely get why they made that change.

And so I feel like that's the framework that we think about. As we think about the show, how do we make sure that any sort of change that they feel we have to make is made for the right reasons? And that's tough. I don't know if you always know that until it's done.

And I think for us, that's why I think we may end up considering it sort of a branch of the canon, because we want to acknowledge that we've deviated and also wanted to be clear why.

And then making those changes not disrespect the core canon. I think we're still sort of figuring out what that means and what that was like. Does that make sense?

Definitely. One thing I was wondering is that Master Chief has never been a silent protagonist, but he's been quite the man of few words.

Yes, absolutely.

Has it ever been really difficult to characterize characters like Master Chief (and some of his other co-stars) in mediums which don't really allow for the strong silent type so much?

Yeah, I mean, I think that was one of the interesting challenges going into the TV series, especially, you know, as we do these boot camps for anyone coming on to the show. So all of the department heads and the network and marketing, we've done a lot of these to really express sort of what the DNA of Halo and his end of each of the characters in the relationships to each other. And it was sort of the first challenges. You know, if we want to have a dramatic story around the Master Chief around John, we have to be able to have him communicate more.

But how do we do that and still keep that stoicism, right? And it's been sort of that sense of control from him. And so that's how we think about it. Right? If you hear him more, how does it not feel out of character or untrue of who he is? And that's just really a dialogue challenge.

Yeah, that makes sense. Another question I can imagine it's pretty difficult. is John going to have significant screen time in the upcoming TV show?

Oh, he's definitely a big part of this series, yes. I'm thinking because I'm trying to remember if we haven't mentioned that before, but I believe Showtime mentioned it.

Are there going to be tie-ins to other Halo media, like Halo Infinite?

I don't know that there's a lot to say on that right now. You know, right now, what we're focused on is making sure Halo Infinite is as great as it can be. And making sure the Halo TV show is as great as can be, kind of back to my point of when we try to tie them personally, we ended up having to make compromises on either side, something would change in the game, right? And then we try and change it in, you know, Halo Nightfall as an example, like at some point, they have to be able to have their own independence to be the best they can be. And so we think a lot about what are the right loose connections that allow for both to move in the direction they need to but also feel like they have no need for each other. Absolutely.

That makes more sense. Is there a lot of collaboration between teams working on different Halo media?

Oh, yeah, absolutely. It's hard work, it's hard for us to manage, especially when different teams are really heads-down on what they're doing. But now there's a lot of cross-pollination and a lot of creative conversation. And at the very least, we will make sure to have discussions just so we can be aware on each side of changes that are happening. And then we have a franchise team who are sort of the shepherds and protectors of canon who work across all the projects. So there's always a common thread of knowledge of what's going on with all the projects. And so we all are aware of the rest of the franchise as well.

It's good stuff. On TV show. Is it going to be like, more based in space? I always liked seeing Earth, but we don't see much of it in the franchise, outside of ODST. Can we expect to see Earth in the series?

We aren't talking about setting too much yet.

Is there anything else that you feel like Halo fans should know?

I think as a studio, you know, we've kind of gone through our own growing pains over the years. And I think we're all really energized with the things we're doing with the Master Chief Collection. And bringing that on the PC and sort of really moving into a more of a service model with how we deliver content and updates with MCC and really, for the first time, moving on to PC very deliberately. And then at the same time, with Infinite and the TV show, this idea of really shepherding in this new generation of Halo is really exciting for us. Like it just feels like we have all these really great pieces that we're incredibly excited about moving forward at the same time. So that's crazy. As developers and also just Halo fans, we are really excited about the next few years.

Excellent. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today, it's been very enlightening.

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