Don’t call Halo 4 the beginning of a new trilogy, at least if executive producer Kiki Wolfkill is nearby. Microsoft and 343 Industries have spent the past three years mapping out a true transmedia universe for the future of the Halo. And it’s not a minor undertaking, but rather a 10-year plan that goes well beyond three new games and DLC.
With Halo 4 almost complete, Wolfkill took a break to give a small group of journalists a tour of where the magic happens. In addition to being home to 343 Industries, the former home to Bungie also houses the brain trust for Halo books, comics, live action series and other transmedia ventures. With everything under one roof, the game makers are able to help craft a more robust universe. Wolfkill talks about everything Halo 4 in this exclusive interview.
What were your goals heading into this project?
We definitely wanted to be ambitious with what we were doing with Halo, but we also wanted to make sure that we were being really true to the Halo legacy. It was a really complex balance of how much do we change, how much we add, and how much do we really just polish?
What do you think it is about the Halo franchise that has made it so popular worldwide over the years?
There are a couple of things. I think it’s the universe. We’re really fortunate that we have this really rich universe with characters like the Master Chief and Cortana that they can really connect to. There are some really human themes in the sci-fi stories that we tell, and then there’s a really unique and addictive gameplay loop — the sandbox allows you to experience the game differently through every time you have a different encounter. And I think that’s really unique to Halo.
Halo has been a huge mainstream hit. What are the challenges of designing a game that appeals to the mainstream, but also the core gamers out there?
Halo has a really strong core gamer following, which is amazing. Our story helps pull people in. With multiplayer we’ve always done a good job of having some modes that are really focused on a more hardcore experience. With the way our difficulty levels scales, it helps people come in that maybe aren’t as familiar with first-person shooters. Spartan Ops definitely takes that to another level. Playing with your friends cooperatively is always less intimidating than playing competitively. If you’re a fan of campaign and story and playing at your own pace, Spartan Ops really helps people come into multiplayer from campaign.
Halo has been at the forefront of transmedia, or bringing the story across other mediums. What role has that played when you were designing this new Halo saga?
When we started 343 and really looked at designing Halo 4, we also looked at the state of the whole IP and the franchise. One of the things we decided with this universe was that we wanted to make sure that every piece of it connected and is meaningful or relative to each other. Not that you have to experience the whole thing or read all the books or do all of that, but every piece should have a meaningful part of this larger universe. Transmedia has always been really core to what we’ve done. When we started designing the game, we also started seeding other fiction in novels, graphic novels, in anime, so that people who do like to explore all of it get an extra layer of story and information.
Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn is a live action series that we are actually going to launch October 5. It will be a weekly series leading up to November 6, when Halo 4 launches. It tells the story of the first Covenant encounter with humans and takes place in the UNSC Corbulo Academy of Military Science. We’re going to be talking a little bit more about it, but the idea was to get to more of a mainstream audience. Live action is more accessible. How do we get more people introduced to some of the Halo storylines and Master Chief, who will have a role in it as well? It starts to involve some of the characters that you’ll actually meet, much, much later, chronologically, in the Infinity War Games multiplayer.
How has the evolution of technology helped you in creating this world?
Game industry technology is changing so quickly. Obviously, we’ve done a ton of work on the engine. Hopefully, it shows in the visuals of the game. As a platform, and being part of Microsoft first-party, all the work we’re doing to really connect all of our different devices. It’s amazing when you have an IP in a universe like Halo, because we have all of these stories to tell. If people can access them online on their phone, on their iPad, or on their PC, that is an amazing win for us. We want people to be able to engage with the universe and engage in some way with the game.
What are your thoughts about the multiscreen phenomenon that we are seeing going on right now, which also opens up SmartGlass?
I definitely think we’ve seen a trend in the last three to five years where people like some kind of bite-sized entertainment, whether they’re sitting on the bus or at school, being able to ingest content when you want and the convenience of being able to do it on any device. It’s just really a natural transition of media. We’re lucky. We have this IP that makes it easy to create experiences that are unique to all of those different devices.
With our multiplayer we have some really great peer competitive modes and we will definitely continue in that tradition. It’s a huge part of our community and our fan base, so we’ll always make sure that we have a competitive experience.
What are you most excited about fans being able to finally play on November 6?
I’m definitely personally excited about Spartan Ops. I feel like it’s a really different way of experiencing multiplayer. As an industry we’ve played with episodic content, and I think there have been a lot of different formulas. Spartan Ops feels really good. This combination of fiction and gameplay, and this whole shared experience, feels exciting. It feels like we could be onto something.