Halo Infinite Q&A – ‘We’re Continuing from Halo 5 in Ways People Aren’t Expecting, It’s Not Cookie Cutter’
Given the surprising absence of Forza Motorsport from the Xbox Series X launch line-up (Turn 10 said that the new installment of the racing IP is still early in development), the burden to impress would-be customers falls squarely on Halo Infinite, the highly anticipated game by 343 Industries.
While not a next-gen only game, Halo Infinite will still be the game that defines the Xbox Series X at launch. It's been a long time since 2015's Halo 5: Guardians, after all, and the expectation among fans is strong.
The first gameplay demo that premiered during the recent Xbox Games Showcase event didn't impress much, but we were able to follow up with the developers in a press roundtable Q&A where Studio Head Chris Lee, Associate Creative Director Paul Crocker and Head of Design Jerry Hook didn't shy away from addressing any the big topics.
As a reminder, Halo Infinite will release later this year on Xbox One, Xbox Series X and PC (Steam and Microsoft Store). It'll be available on day one through Xbox Game Pass for active subscribers, too.
Paul Crocker: The Pilot is a very important character for us in Halo Infinite. We wanted to create a character that is kind of a juxtaposition to Chief. Master Chief is the universe's greatest soldier, he protects humanity at every point. And Pilot is the most human character we have ever created in the franchise. He's basically the most normal guy we could put in these crazy situations. Imagine how you would feel if you were going on the adventure with Chief.
Will the pilot also serve as the anchor to Chief's humanity?
Paul Crocker: Absolutely. One of our goals when we created the Pilot was to have a character that allowed that. It's kind of a two-way street. For the Pilot, he is looking at Chief and seeing this crazy heroic can-achieve-anything character that he isn't. And then he's put in these positions where his humanity is tested because obviously he can be killed a lot more easily than Chief and he's genuinely scared about the situation. And at the same time, it gives Chief a perspective on humanity he doesn't usually have by hanging out with Spartans all the time. So the two things kind of work together.
One of the expressions we've used a lot is that of 'spiritual reboot'. Everyone remembers when they first played Combat Evolved, when they first crashed onto the mysterious Halo ring from the Bumblebee escape pod and how they felt as they looked around that world. And that to us is the feeling the emotion that we wanted players to experience again, we want it to feel different and new and fresh. We really want to bring back that sense of wonder and mystery and hope.
Chris Lee: It's really important that as we look at that spiritual reboot concept, we want to create something that's familiar but different with Halo Infinite. It's something we talk a lot about on the team.
This is meant to be a spiritual homage to Halo CE but also continue on from Halo 5. What's the balance between honoring the past and pushing the series forward?
Paul Crocker: Well, the balance is we want all players regardless of whether they played a Halo game, played all the Halo games, are immersed in the lore or have no idea about the lore, to be able to come on this journey and come out of it knowing a lot about Halo. It absolutely continues the story of Halo 5. It does it in ways people are probably not expecting and that is one of our goals as we create Halo Infinite we don't want. It's not the cookie-cutter approach to some of the stuff that people think we're doing. There's a lot of mystery and a lot of events that are happening around it that we want players to find, experience and learn about the Halo franchise through playing the game.
How does the story of Halo 5 tie into Halo Infinite?
Paul Crocker: Without giving stuff away, at E3 2019 we showed our 'Discover Hope' trailer. And as you saw the pilot fantasy floating in space, those events happen after the end of Halo 5, there's a lot of things that happen between Halo 5 and Halo Infinite that led to Chief being in that predicament and all of that stuff is revealed as you play the game. So as I said before, the simple fact is that this is a continuation of the Halo 5 story, but it is all being designed to surprise players and do things in a different way. It's a stepping stone to us building more Halo more stories on the ring and elsewhere into the future.
What did you mean exactly when you said that Halo Infinite will be a platform for future installments?
Chris Lee: That's a great question. We really wanted to build this Halo Infinite experience to continue the saga of Master Chief's story from previous games, but also as the start for the next generation of Halo games and experiences. And one thing we really wanted to keep in mind when we were building this is how can we build that as kind of more platform so that we can bring on experiences over time inside of Halo Infinite. We think of this very much like Halo Infinite and the campaign that we ship for players to experience this holiday will be a complete story, like the next major installment, but we'll still have more stories of Master Chief to tell and we want those to become part of Halo Infinite over time for years to come. We really think about how this can grow over time and expand as we kind of grow our experience.
Is it fair to call Halo Infinite an open world game with unlimited freedom to explore in the main campaign?
Chris Lee: The campaign in Halo Infinite is the most ambitious campaign we have ever created in a Halo game. It's this open, expansive experience for players, and it's several times larger than our last two campaigns put together. I think the way to think about it is this is Halo's take on open gameplay and what kind of providing the player with unprecedented levels of freedom can feel like. We really wanted to capture that moment of players being able to kind of feel what it would be like to be on a foreigner ring and unlock secrets and kind of new equipment or upgrades along the way as they're playing through the campaign. And I have one way to kind of give them more concrete examples when you're looking at the demo. We showed and you're on the elevator looking out over that vista. There's a ton of the ring that you can see there and that is just part of the space that players will be able to explore and where Master Chief's story will take you throughout our campaign experience.
I really enjoyed adding exciting new elements to the sandbox like the new equipment system. We've shown you two examples in the gameplay demo, which are the drop shield that gives you temporary cover on the battlefield, you can use it to counter grenades, or use it to recover shield when you're in the heat of taking a lot of fire. The other is the grapple shot, which gives you a ton of additional maneuverability and gives you access to new locations in the game but then also allows you to use it real time in combat.
Paul Crocker: One of the great things about the grapple shot in Halo Infinite is it just provides the player with lots of alternate routes in which they can approach problems from different directions and change their play style on the fly depending on what is happening. In the gameplay demo, Chief just goes up around the main path with the grapple shot and surprises the Banished from behind.
Chris Lee: Of course, we have a full sandbox with other items for players to discover, explore and use on the battlefield.
Can you talk a little more about how progression and the upgrades work in Halo Infinite? Will this game be a bit more of an RPG?
Chris Lee: We're definitely not an RPG, this is going to be a Halo game and it's really centered on what makes Halo feel great to the player. One way to think about it that we talked about sometimes is to think about taking Halo CE, knocking the walls down and then giving players the freedom to explore. And while we have that kind of open experience, we do want there to be equipment and upgrades that you can find in the world along the way, so there are things that you can engage with along the way to do that as you traverse the world and continue Master Chief's story.
One of the main points of criticism from yesterday's demo is that it wasn't different enough aside from the grappling hook. Can you reassure fans there are plenty more surprises waiting in the gameplay and design of Halo Infinite?
Jerry Hook: Just generally how the sandbox works, that's going to be a pretty big difference for players. If you break down what happened within the demo, you see we still have the same scavenging that is pretty critical to the legacy of Halo. You also see that we've added a bunch more tools for the player to go after outside of equipment and upgrades as Chris mentioned, but also within the sandbox itself. In particular, as I mentioned before, the AI being able to say grab a grunt and throw it or potential grab fusion coils and throw them, you're also going to start seeing that the AI is actually doing different things with their weapons, choosing different weapons to go after you based off of the situation, as well as what the player is able to do with all of those mechanics as a whole for the entire gameplay. This provides some very, very unique encounter environments as well as unique spaces that you haven't seen before in a Halo game.
How does the Slipspace engine enable you to change gameplay, what new things did you introduce thanks to Slipspace into the gameplay of Halo Infinite?
Jerry Hook: Slipspace is really about helping us achieve the basically recognize the full power of the Xbox Series X, as well as help us achieve the goals that we wanted in a more expansive world that Chris mentioned earlier. And the great thing that that primarily allows from a gameplay perspective is now we're able to create the encounter spaces that actually feel as if you've landed on a ring. As you saw in the demo, Chief could have gone to the right up the hill to attack vanished where they were more fortified. But instead, he chose to use the grapple shot to go around that space. Slipspace allowed us to both realize that entire environment but also enabled our characters to perform better than what we've seen in the past.
How do you feel about the response to the graphics, that they don't look next-gen enough?
Chris Lee: I think for the response on the graphics, the thing I hope is that folks get a chance to check out our 4K streaming assets, I think that really lets our game show itself in full fidelity. We are definitely still very much in development, we have some polishing and tuning that the team is working on to really bring the full potential of our experience to our fans later this year in Halo Infinite. We definitely are excited about the ambition of the title, of this open expansive campaign and we'll make sure that it's polished and ready to go when fans get their hands on it this holiday.
The gameplay demo is a great example of how we're running on Xbox Series X, you'll be able to run at a solid 60 frames per second at up to 4K resolution. We're bringing the highest fidelity experience that we've ever created. We're able to do more than 10 times the processing power per pixel that we were able to do in Halo 5, which just allows us to create this experience that's unlike anything that we've had in Halo before. We've really harnessed a lot of advanced rendering techniques, but also the immense power of the Xbox Series X.
Music is also incredibly important to Halo and to our fans, and I'm really excited with Curtis Schweitzer's, a composer that we talked about last year at E3, and this year, we're going to announce our second composer that's joining Curtis, Gareth Coker. Both Gareth and Curtis have been doing an incredible job and throughout the demo today you've been able to experience some of the music that Gareth has worked on. We also upgraded our audio engine to create a new acoustic system and leverage a lot of extra processing power and streaming power with the Xbox Series X to be able to really surround the player in a much more realistic audio experience.
The legend of Spartan 117 seems to have reached a point where it's a sense of honor to face and defeat him. How do the Banished view Chief and how does War Chief Escharum view Chief in this game?
Paul Crocker: That's an interesting question. To a certain degree, whether it was the Covenant or now the Banished, everyone's heard of Master Chief, his legend has been spreading through the universe for years. Obviously the Banished have a slightly different perspective on this situation and all this is personified in their leader who is War Chief Escharum. He is a very different character from some of the characters we credited before. He is very much Chief's equal. He's very much an old soldier who has kind of already won. He's, you saw the state the ring was in, in our, in our demo. He actually didn't have much to live for anymore because he's too good at his job. And now they find Chief, Chief's back and that invigorates him, gives him a new purpose. Like he said, this is his final fight. He just wants to be able to say, I defeated Chief.
Chris Lee: This is a fan favorite kind of enemy class that's been on hiatus for a bit, and especially using the faction of the Banished that we introduced in Halo Wars 2, now we have this really menacing threat led by Brutes that's much more threatening than what we've seen before from the Covenant.
Jerry Hook: You'll see that the Brutes are a much more visceral element for the player compared to their more traditional Covenant allies. They're not only heavy but as you saw in the demo, the interaction that the player is having with them. As Chris said, we don't want to be an RPG. That is not our goal. Everything we're trying to do from health, armors flying off, or how you shoot the Brutes, how they move when they're being shot and staggering, reflects that. You see the berserkers coming in under drop pods. You see the lieutenants potentially charging you with a jetpack and doing different behaviors that keep their gameplay so different than the Elites being the sleek, flanking elements that we are used to. Overall, I hope that you're surprised and enjoy the Brute gameplay when the game comes out this Holiday.
Thank you for your time.