Xbox 360 Interview

Bungie talk Halo: Reach

Brian Jarrard and Niles Sankey under the spotlight

With just a few short weeks to go before Halo: Reach hits shelves, Bungie are gearing up to wave goodbye to the series they toiled over for the best part of a decade. They plan on going out in style. We sat down with Bungie's Community Director Brian Jarrard, and Campaign Designer Niles Sankey in a roundtable interview to find out how they are feeling, what to expect from Reach, and future downloadable content.

You guys have been working on this franchise for a long long time, and this is obviously your swan song - what's the overriding emotion? Sadness, relief? Its a big thing to carry on your shoulders...

Niles Sankey: I'd say bittersweet, it's an easy answer but it's actually true. Obviously it's really sweet to see the response of fans, and we're really excited right now to release the game to the public, and just see how they react to everything.

The customization for example - what will they come up with? What are they going to build in Forge? What game modes will they invent? But on the other hand we're sad to part ways with Halo and hand off the series, but we're also excited to be moving on to other things.

Campaign wise, how much were you affected by Halo: ODST? A lot of people liked the in-depth emotional single-player experience. Will we be seeing more of that?

Niles Sankey: Yeah, I mean to a extent. Obviously ODST was a different story, and a different way of telling a story as you had a squad of ODSTs that tell the story, and inReach it's fairly similar - you have a squad of Spartans. The way you play the game is more like Halo's 1 to 3, to say it's more of a linear progression of missions but certainly with Noble team we could tell more grounded story, get the story of Noble team during the fall of Reach and the loss and tragedy that they feel.

Talking a little bit about Forge & Forgeworld- obviously it's hugely improved in this game. Do you think it's fair to say that this is the closest the home console can get to the kind of modability that PC gamers currently enjoy? Do you think there's a market for that kind of flexibility on the home console?

Brian Jarrard: I wouldn't want to generally say that no one else could do a better job - bearing in mind all the other features we've pushed into this game, if someone wanted to focus on just an editor they could probably push it even further on the console space. But for us to be able to pull off what we've pulled off, still make it useable, still make it fun, still make it a multiplayer experience in and of itself where you don't have to be an architect or have a degree in mathematics to know to build out meshes and geometry, I think we've struck a really great balance of something that's fun, functional, and something that has a near infinite amount of opportunities.

What was the main feedback from previous Halo titles? What did the fans mainly want from your last Halo game and how did you track that?

Brian Jarrard: We've always had a good relationship with our community. It's a core pillar of our studio to have good community interaction. It's hard to generalise, but if I had to pick one general sentiment then I think everybody would be happy to have a game that felt more like Halo: Combat Evolved as opposed to the other titles. You could certainly say that about Reach - whilst it's still an original experience, we've tried to go through every game and take the best parts from them and improve on them, and really have this culmination of the whole series. We did intentionally spend time thinking about how we would go back and make the game feel and play... and really capture the magic of the first game.

Speaking a bit about the characters now, do you think the fans will forgive Noble 6 for not being the Master Chief?

Brian Jarrard: Personally I do, yeah. We already saw a lot of people accepted and were happy playing as the rookie in ODST, and I think that as great as Master Chief is - I mean we love him at Bungie too, he's like the ultimate action hero - as great as he is, Halo itself has actually become bigger then Master Chief. It's about the universe and the conflict and the experiences and I think Reach pushes all those things further than they've ever been. I mean who knows, come September everyone may be like "Master Chief who?", I mean Noble Team are great characters, and they're actually deeper than the Chief ever could have been - he never took his helmet off and he didn't say much either. I think people are going to be surprised that they may not really miss him at all.

Niles Sankey: We're giving people more attachment to their characters as well, obviously with customisation. You get to kind of make your own Master Chief and I think it's really exciting, and really fun to play the game and earn credits, and then spend those credits and see all the things you can buy. You can deck out your 'dude' to create the character that you want him/her to be.

The game is looking really great as it is, but with everything you've done - the graphics, the audio, the expanded content, it must be pretty crammed. Do you think you could go any further on the 360? I mean it is pretty late in its development cycle.

Brian Jarrard: Our perspective, when we talk to our engineers at our studios, we definitely think that we've pushed it about as far as we possibly can - certainly in terms of how we've chosen to prioritise and where we've made our big investments.

That's not to say you couldn't further than another, perhaps, but in terms of a complete package, I don't feel like there was anything else we could of squeezed out of the console.

Not to the point where it became a limitation for us, but we found a really great way to work with what was available, and create basically the biggest and most ambitious game that we've been able to pull of to date.

Niles Sankey: One of the last challenges of the game was actually trying to fit it all onto the disc, it was very difficult. It goes to show how big the game is.

Take for example how Modern Warfare 2 has its hands all over Multiplayer - how are you guys going to make sure this game is the must-play multiplayer experience this Christmas?

Brian Jarrard: We've really kind of gone back and looked at our whole history, you know?Halo 2 I think in a lot of ways really put the Xbox Live Competitive Multiplayer environment on the scene to begin with, and it's great to see who the Halo games have influenced theCall of Duty games, for example, and they've done great things themselves, but I think we've got a great mix of taking what works well for us and pushing it further on a technical level - our networking and other similar systems are going to be more refined than they were before.

It's easier and faster to find your friends, to play with your friends, to find competitors, have really great skillful matches. Even today there are very different experiences online, ours is about putting people together and having very close competitive matches, but things like the Arena, which is our highly competitive seasonals offering for people online, which is a bit like a league I guess, that's going to really appeal a lot to hardcore players.

Things like armour abilities add a new layer of depth and strategy to our game, and I think what's going to happen is skilled players are going to get a lot of satisfaction out of their game, and also on the other hand people who just want to have fun are going to have a whole bunch of stuff to do, things like Invasion Slayer, Team Battle offerings, new vehicles. I think it's just going to be a lot of fun for people who enjoy shooting things with their friends.

Bungie have already made announcements of where they're going and what they're doing after Reach, and naturally the Halo franchise being handed over to 343 Industries. I suppose this technically means you'll now be in competition with your own creation - how do you feel about that?

Brian Jarrard: Yeah a little bit... but yknow, no one at Bungie really spends too much time thinking about the competitive landscape, period. Even back through Halo 2, Halo 3, that competitive nature came from within, it was about trying to improve ourselves from our prior title, and trying to not let down the people that you're sitting around. Everyone's always pushing to do the best possible work so, we welcome to see what's next for the Halo Series, but we're not going to be losing any sleep over it, and it's not going to influence how we approach our future projects. We already have some great ideas and we're going to make the games we want to play.

The flight sim level - we've already seen a glimpses of it, but Bungie have already stated that it's just going to be on one level. Seems to be a lot of resources and emphasis put on something that's only one small bit of the game?

Niles Sankey: I mean obviously we spent a lot of time developing that, it was one of the big things we wanted to reveal but, at the same time, we didn't want it to be something that we would rely on in a 'one-trick-pony' sense that we'd always go back to it.

One of the nice things about Reach and it's reflected in the space level is that every mission has its own identity, it's own unique gameplay experience and that's just one example. And of course when we developed space we said, hey, we're four play co-op game, we gotta make that work too, so in four player co-op everyone controls their own Saber and if you choose too you can turn it into an unofficial slayer match and shoot your friends. It's fun.

So there is scope for added space missions in the future?

Brian Jarrard: Who knows. I mean we're not actually ready to talk about specific DLC plan, but people have been super receptive to space, which is great, and we're eager to see what they think when they get their hands on the whole mission.

So will it be Bungie who handles the DLC for Reach?

Brian Jarrard: Well we're not talking about DLC at the moment, period. But we definitely will have some people on our team who will be supporting the community and the game after launch.

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