Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Frankie: "Some of the big ticket items are gonna happen in Spartan Ops, before the next mainline sequel comes out"

UK Newspaper Metro have secured a brilliantly insightful interview with Frank O'Connor whilst they were at E3. You can read the full article here, it's a pretty big read so I've pulled out the key quotes below.

Metro: In terms of storyline the campaign trailer seems to imply that Cortana is going rampant and I think you've already stated Halo 4 is the first part in a new trilogy, but will Cortana and the other characters have a genuine closure to their story arc by the end of that? 
Frankie: We've sort of shifted our rhetoric a little bit and part of that is because of the way that Spartan Ops works, and so we're calling it a saga. Because all of the story pieces that we do from now on are going to be connected and actually matter. So a trilogy kind of limits it in a really weird way, because some of the bigger ticket story beat items that are gonna happen are actually gonna happen in Spartan Ops, before the next mainline sequel comes out.  

Metro: But are you going to be brave enough to have an ending to that character, and other characters in the game? In terms of storytelling the most satisfying outcome is for something to happen to her that means she cannot appear in another game - or at least not in the same manner as she has been doing. 
Frankie: Well, that’s one path…  
Metro: But video game characters they never do that. I mean, is Master Chief now doomed to appear in every mainline Halo game from now till the end of time? 
Frankie: All I'll say is that I completely agree with you, that when you make the fates and the meaning of characters irrelevant through safety you're doing a disservice to both the story and to the evolution of the universe. We have the Halo story planned out for… not literally down to granular details but in very broad terms and in some big beats for the next 10 years.  
And every big beat that we have is absolutely meaningful and the characters, they are not disposable - but I mean disposable in the sense that it doesn't matter what happens to them. They're not disposable, anything that happens to them, and even things that don't happen to them, has to actually have meaning and resonance, and sometimes gravitas. But that's about all I'm gonna say about the story because otherwise our fans will kill us! 
Metro: One of our general observations at E3 this year is that companies really need to stop listening to fans in some instances. There really should be a lot more of giving them what they need, not what they think they want. But I imagine doing that is even more difficult for you given how vocal Halo fans can be and how this is your first gig after the departure of Bungie. What was it they were complaining about in the first teaser? That the codpiece didn't look quite right on Master Chief?
Frankie: [laughs] Yeah, and things were the wrong colour…
Metro: But how do you deal with that sort of response? 
Frankie: You just go back to the drawing board and redo the codpiece.  
Your fans are your best friends, they're absolutely a part of our extended family. But you're absolutely right, you can't design a game by committee because… it's hilarious to watch reactions on the Internet. They're completely contradictory and yet people think that they're mathematically correct. So there is good information in there and we take information from test data, we take information from boring drawing numbers cycles that happen on servers. And we do look at anecdotal information, because often people can capture the essence of what they mean in a way that raw numbers can't on their own - and vice versa you can't do everything anecdotally.  
So we do take that all seriously, but there's some things where even where it looks like you have a kind of core element in the fanbase that is convinced something is wrong or that something is awesome we know that their reaction to that is not based on gameplay, is not based on experience. It is not based on, say, three months of building a Spartan career. So there's a lot of things that we do that fans will object to or embrace.  
It's not a monolithic community so you get all ranges of opinion across the spectrum and you have to look at that but you can't use it necessarily as a guidepost - but you can absolutely use it as useful context for the decisions you've already made and the ones that you're tuning and working on.

Metro: Can you give a specific example of where you think the fans have misinterpreted something you're trying to do in Halo 4?
Frankie: The controversial ones are the ones where they think we're taking ideas from other games. So right now we've added this loadout system so you can customise your Spartan. Which is as much based on our fiction for the Spartan forces as anything else, but the irony is people say, 'that's lifted from Call Of Duty'. But it's really… like even the UI [user interface] looks like the loadout system from Gradius III from the 1989 coin-op.  
And so it's strange that people already have a kind of imprint in their mind about where ideas come from or where they're going, and that's a good example of one where we know it's fun and we tested it and we know that it's balanced but we just have to stick to our guns and make sure that when we execute on it, it's as perfect as it can be. And they might be resistant to the idea but so far we've discovered even on the E3 show floor they're embracing the feel and they're embracing the experience and that our call was correct. 
- Cowboy Out.

We're not always going to be right, but often we know better than they do how these things settle out.

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