AAG Special Look: 343 Industries and the future of Halo

9th January 2012 - As a gamer in this modern age, it’s almost impossible to not be aware of the heavy hitters. The big titles, the record breakers, the over-hyped flops – the list goes on. The Uncharted series, Call of Duty games, Elder Scrolls, Gears of War, Super Mario, Zelda. There are hundreds of titles released to the gamers of the world every year, and amongst them all there are always a select few bigger releases which have the fanbases, the sales and critical reception to really get noticed by every corner of the industry. One such series is Halo, a franchise which has gone beyond almost any other in the gaming industry with animations, comics, innumerable novelizations, clothing, toys, numerous limited edition consoles, even a film in production and more. Halo is one of the biggest and most important names in the whole of the gaming industry and arguably single-handedly made the original Xbox console, and thus its successor the Xbox 360, a success. It changed the way games are made, played and looked at. But for some, its future is uncertain.


I talk of course, about the doubters. Not necessarily the haters – those I’m sure we all know a few of, who go out of their way to try to find fault in the Halo name and games – but just the doubters. Those who are fans of the Halo franchise, and may have been since its golden days as an original Xbox launch title. Anyone familiar with Halo is certain to know by now that the series is no longer in the hands of the studio who created it, Bungie. After departing from Microsoft in 2007, the Halo IP has remained the property of Microsoft. Since then, during the time Bungie were working on its 2 final Halo games – Halo 3: ODST and Halo Reach – Microsoft formed an entirely new studio to take over the Halo name…


And thus was born 343 Industries.


Taking its name from the character of 343 Guilty Spark who has played a vital role throughout the Halo story, 343 Industries, also known as 343i, were formed for the sole purpose of taking care of Microsoft’s biggest game franchise. That’s a massive responsibility, one of the utmost importance for both the studio and its staff, and for Microsoft’s gaming future as a whole. At E3 2011, Halo 4 was revealed with a short teaser trailer. Since then, we have been fed a few itty bitty details from the guys and girls over at 343i. Namely that there will be an entire new Halo trilogy, titled the Reclaimer trilogy and it will continue the story of the Master Chief as he ventures to untold new worlds and places. The story is currently tightly under wraps, but with the Master Chief spiralling towards an unknown planet or structure at the end of Halo 3, we’re sure 343i have something big in the pipeline to make a whole new trilogy out of.


In the last 6 months since small details have been either leaking slowly or big assumptions have been being made left and right, one thing that has really stood out to us here at AAG is the constant backlash 343i seems to be having in more than a handful of online communities and circles. From discussions we’ve had, to post’s we’ve read, it appears that it’s a common belief that Microsoft’s 343 Industries are some sort of industry newcomers.


And that my friends, is a mistake no Halo fan should be making.


343 Industries are not some grad students fresh out of college, a vast majority of the known employees are industry veterans who have worked on some great titles over the years. But what’s most important, is knowing that a number of key designers working at 343i are ex-Bungie employees who already know the Halo name and game inside out. The branding hasn’t simply been handed to a new studio full of different designers, but it’s been handed over to a studio which includes some of the very people who brought you the original Halo games you know and love (and in some cases, are claiming will have injustice done by these very same people).

After this kind of thing for months, since before the game’s official announcement in fact – albeit on a smaller scale – I had finally gotten to a point where I stopped trying to explain to people why they might be jumping the gun on their judgments. Allow me to demonstrate the kind of mentality a large chunk of gamers has seemed to be sticking to with a few select quotes from gamers from around the web…


An anonymous member of our very own AAG community put his views very bluntly with saying: “Halo 4 is going to be ruined because 343 studios don't know what they're doing”, and later even adding the reason for views as “They have changed what Master Chief looks like! and there is talk that they will bring ur Halo Reach rank in which would be stupid if u were an inheritor.”


Talking of Halo 2, user slugboss had this to say: “They'll probably remake it after this new notBungie studio makes Halo 4 a borefest.”


While slugboss might have taken a direct stab at 343i, THC CELL made a more broad generalization with a pinch of judgment and a lack of faith by saying, “God halo is not as great as it used to be just stop it all ready. There is a reason bungie gave up on it u no.”


Anarki attempted to put the pronunciation of his name to good use with an inciting comment in “Halo 2.75 inbound.”


As well as lacking a spell-checker, one C0MPUT3R, put the current state of the franchise in a simple perspective with, “BUNGIE is gone. How can anybody even care now?”


“No bungie = no excitement,” proclaimed TwistyTrev, sharing C0MPUT3R’s desire for the original studio.


And to top it off, violence was even brought into the matter with caijiiojo’s comment, “343 industries S U C K. Bungie should kick 343 industries ass.”


As you can see, the lack of faith and trust in the future of the Halo brand is quite prominent. And aside from some bad spelling and a +5 armor rating with their keyboards equipped, all the above mentioned examples of the common perspective on 343i have one thing in common; misinformation. Allow me to point out a select few people over at 343i who I think any doubters of the future of Halo should be aware of before making such potent, and in some cases harsh judgments of the guys and girls who will be bringing you Halo 4;


Frank O’Connor – Development Director
Diehard Halo fans will know O’Connor as the main writer of Bungie’s Weekly Update for a long time – until his departure on May 16th, 2008 – as he held a strong public presence with the Bungie community. He was also the content manager for Bungie, which he has previously described as “[meaning] I do everything from writing the manual, helping marketing with materials, running the website and going on trips to incredible places, to shovelling pimp turds out of Marty's recording booth.” This is a man who has worked closely with Bungie and Halo during the days of Halo’s 2 & 3.


Josh Holmes – Creative Director
Josh Holmes has been in the industry for a long time – over 16 years in fact. He was the co-founder of Propaganda games, as well as the co-creator of the NBA Street and Def Jam series’ for EA Games. He has an extensive expertise with both PC and Console games, and has been the VP of two Disney-owned game studios, as well as working on Halo: Reach.


Dan Ayoub – Executive Producer
Dan is a very experienced producer, having worked at Ubisoft, EA Games and Propaganda, as well as working on Halo: Reach alongside 343i Creative Director Josh Holmes.


Chad Armstrong (commonly known as Shishka) – Designer
Chad, or Shishka, was employed at Bungie Studios in 2004 and where he played a key role in creating a number of Halo 2 promotional materials and moderating the Bungie community. But it wasn’t until 2008 where we once again worked for Bungie as Multiplayer Designer that he showed his real talent; Shishka had a direct hand in crafting Halo Reach’s Forge Mode, as well as the Halo 3 Matchmaking system, making him a valuable asset for Halo 4 and it’s sure-fire Multiplayer portion.


Corrinne Yu – Director of Technology
Corrinne has experience as Director of Technology at both ION Storm (the creators of Deus Ex) and Gearbox Software, as well as numerous others. As well as being a lead programmer for a handful of games for those companies, she is perhaps most well known for her extensive programming of both Borderlands and Brothers in Arms for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.


Kevin Grace – Managing Editor
Kevin Grace is no stranger to the Halo universe. At 343i, he reportedly works closely with internal and external talent in creating a range of Halo products like the numerous Halo novels. Primarily though, he is the Managing Editor at 343 industries, and is credited as Editor on Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach, as well as being involved with a number of other Microsoft titles such as Crimson Skies and Lips.


Jesse Snyder – Lead Campaign Designer
Here’s one that might interest even non-Halo fans; Snyder is credited with being Lead Designer on 4 complete Call of Duty games, including Call of Duty 3 and World at War, and is even the brains behind the hit Nazi Zombie mode, which was taken to even further heights with Black Ops fleshed out Zombie maps and modes. Snyder is the kind of innovative thinker that Halo 4 needs to stand tall with the series’ legacy.


Kenneth Scott – Senior Art Director
A proven asset to Art and Design of video games, Kenneth is best known for his work with id Software on titles such as Quake III & 4 and Doom 3. His talents and responsibility as Art Director may really shine through in the Halo universe.


Sotaro Tojima – Audio Director
Sotaro is an Audio Director and Composer, best known for his work on Kojima Productions’ Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.


Ray Almaden – Lead Level Designer
As well as being a level designer on Splinter Cell: Double Agent and Far Cry: Instinct, Ray Almaden is an interesting addition to the team at 343i due to his experience working at Guerrilla Games (the makers of the PlayStations’ flagship FPS series, Killzone) and at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, the exclusivity of his past and now present are of course, obvious interests.

You may be asking yourself, or more precisely wanting to ask me; who cares? Every video game is made by a team of talented individuals, what’s so special about this team of designers and developers that will make Halo 4 more than your average or generic FPS? Well allow me to point out the reasoning behind my mention of the team at 343i. While I obviously couldn’t go into detail about every member on the team, I pointed out a few key people involved with the game that I think make a statement about 343i as a whole.


One such statement is the experience the team has. Looking at lists of all known employee’s at 343 Industries, every name that meets my eye has a history. The team features a range of ex-producers/directors/designer/programmers from all manners big name studios and publishers, such Microsoft Game Studios, Ubisoft, EA Games, Kojima Productions, Turn 10 Studios, Pandemic Studios among quite a few others – but arguably most importantly, Bungie.


As I mentioned earlier, a common complaint I had heard was the claim that 343i weren’t good hands to look after the Halo name. I wanted to demonstrate with a few key designers that they are not only a very capable team to make a great game, but the fact there are a few staff members once in the ranks of the original Halo developer means there is a lot of passion for the brand in the team. Some of these people made their careers on the Halo games and name, and would want nothing more than to continue the series faithfully.


However, that brings me to my next point. That 343i and Microsoft obviously want to create a faithful sequel to the consoles flagship brand, but at the same time, the large variations of proven talent employed at the studio would, as well as their varying backgrounds and high profile portfolios, require some new creative freedom less the title be a doomed to fall as a rehash of previous efforts. With so many known and respected designers now helming the Halo series, if a certain love of the past were to protest too strongly, a creative roadblock would be met and the game would suffer greatly as a result. 343 are setting out to make a name for themselves, and Halo 4 is their first real chance to do so. For it to be a generic sequel could spoil their chances in the eyes of much of the gaming community, so with such a genuinely impressive team put together by Microsoft, 343i need to hit the sweet spot of what we know and love about the Halo titles as well as something fresh and inventive. If successful in creating a truly great game with Halo 4, 343i will be breathing new life in the dying exclusive core experience of the Xbox 360 and once again show the industry just why Halo is the monster it is today.


So as you can see, not only is the Halo name in good hands, but could very well be in the best possible hands. Looking back in hindsight, it’s easy to see just why Halo has come so far, and from the current state of affairs and the people tasked with keeping it alive, we’re willing to say that Halo has just as strong a future ahead of it. We’ll have to wait to see some initial gameplay and some new details on just what is going to be kicking up a storm when it hits our Xbox 360’s later this year before we can really see if our faith and good nature has been well placed, but given the current state of ‘core’ exclusives on Microsoft’s console, there is really no room for failure on Halo 4 and if 343i’s proven dedication to the Halo brand is anything to go by – there won’t be any.


But of course, it must then be asked, what is next for Halo? We already know that 343i have a whole new trilogy of Halo titles planned, even though we currently have no solid information on just what the story arc of this will be detailing. But aside from the Reclaimer trilogy, will there be any more Halo? Over the last 10 years, there have been a total 6 Halo games (the core trilogy, Halo Wars, ODST and Reach). Can we expect to see any more spin-offs, or perhaps another venture into a different genre of game altogether like Halo Wars braved with its Real Time Strategy (RTS) efforts? And even then, could there be even further primary Halo titles after the 3 Reclaimer games? There’s a lot of question still being asked that only time and patience will answer.


Whatever your stance on the Halo branding and titles, its simple denial to proclaim the franchise isn’t one of the most important gaming names in the industry for more reasons than its part in the Xbox and Xbox 360’s success – it paved the way for console FPS games like nothing before or since, and has time and time again pushed the boundaries on the FPS genre as a whole. So strap yourselves in for a year of slowly oozing information and hype for late 2012’s release of Halo 4 and the first game in the new Reclaimer trilogy from Microsofts’ 343 Industries. We will bring you the information you want – and more! – as it breaks.


Thanks for reading folks, why don’t you share your thoughts and feelings on the Halo franchise and the future of the series with us, as well as whether or not you think 343i will do the name justice or fall where Bungie soared?


Article By John Elliott