In our latest issue, which hits subscribers and UK news stands today, we reveal Halo: Reach. And from today on the site, we’ll be presenting excerpts from our interviews with the principal members of the team making Reach, covering the mission design, how Halo‘s fabled ‘sandbox’ combat design will be changing, the improvements to Halo 3‘s engine, and its art style, a departure from the series’ traditional bright colour scheme.
But we start with a discussion of Reach‘s story, a dark tale of the destruction of a planet by the Covenant, with creative director Marcus Lehto, executive producer Joseph Tung and community director Brian Jarrard.
For the full account of Bungie’s last Halo, pick up the magazine, out today.
Halo has always dealt with stories of doom – from Earth being invaded to Reach falling to the Covenant. How do you keep a sense of positivity for players?
Marus Lehto It’s true that every one of the games has a very dark overtone, with humanity being in jeopardy. But at the heart of it, that’s what’s fun, because you, the player, get to be the hero who saves humanity. That’s the bright light at the end of the tunnel. Reach is similar – the actions of you and Noble Team, the sacrifices and pain that you go through, ultimately enable the events that transpire through Halo: Combat Evolved, and Halo 2 and 3. Without your efforts that would never happen.
So do players actually like being faced with such adversity?
ML Reach is like Titanic – we know the end from the beginning. Reach is going to fall and 700 million people are going to perish as a result. It’s a very dark story to tell, and our goal is to allow the player to experience Noble Team’s efforts and get satisfaction from them continuing to fight forward and achieve the final acts of what we can’t talk about today. That success is what’s so gratifying at the end.
Does it add extra challenge to you as game creators to design a story and missions which communicate a general situation that’s getting worse and worse, and yet able to reward players and tell them they’re doing the right thing?
ML That’s the merger between dark story and the core game itself, in which you need to have fun. We focus all our effort to ensuring the game is itself the king of what we’re producing. We’re not trying to produce a story and tack a game into it. We’re making a game, first and foremost, which is amazing to play, and the story is this great wrapper around it that helps involve and immerse the player in the game. It is a challenge overall to ensure the player feels they’re doing the right thing all the way to the end.
Joseph Tung The approach we took to the campaign is a major turnaround from how we did it before. Earlier on we came up with a modular story, a wrapper, and instead of trying to write a linear narrative for the story that missions have to adhere to, we lived with the wrapper for a while and came up with a bunch of crazy ideas for missions and then fit them into the wrapper. Ultimately, the story can’t stay modular for ever, it’s got to solidify. We’ve ended up with a very different feeling to story and game as a result.
With the events of Reach taking place before those of any other Halo, how are you explaining why we’ve never seen some of its enemies and weapons before?
ML One of the justifications is – and this is one of the things we had to play with – during Reach we have both military forces, the Covenant and UNSC – at the height of their powers. They are coming to Reach with everything they have and the assumption is that some of these things never made it off the planet. They were rendered extinct by the end of it. That’s one of the fictional wrappers we’re using.
Brian Jarrard I don’t think anyone’s losing any sleep over how the justify these things. We used to joke that all through the first game, Master Chief never tried to pick up a second gun but suddenly he managed to in Halo 2. It’s something that’s awesome from a gameplay perspective but it doesn’t necessarily fit neatly into canonical explanation.
JT You’ll see some objects which are like the prototype version of those in the earlier games, and they’ll feel like an earlier version – the DMR [Reach‘s new Marine rifle] is certainly in that vein.
Some players who didn’t really like Halo liked ODST because its story was stronger and to the fore, and wasn’t about alien mumbo jumbo.
ML Reach will continue that, because it doesn’t have the burden of continuing a story like Halo 2 and 3 had to carry. It was a true burden for us when we were making those games, because we sometimes wanted to do something but couldn’t because the story wouldn’t let us, or we had to support this giant steamroller of a story. Reach allowed us to start afresh. We came up with a number of campaign experiences which engaged the player – brand new and exciting, and different from the usual ‘I walk into a space and fight a number of AI’. That’s the foundation of what we’ve been spending so much time building, but we’re adding brand new experiences throughout the campaign, and we continue to give players something new around the corner.
So how does Reach the game work with The Fall Of Reach book?
ML We are very sensitive to the Halo canon, and we are careful not to be stomping on the Halo timeline. We’re playing to the events of the book, and while it’s not the gameplay version of the book, that story is taking place in the background. We’re following one isolated part of what’s happening on Reach.
JT There might be certain things the hardcore fans will take issue with, but there will be other things that will make them absolutely delighted.