343 reflects on Halo 4: 'I knew this team was capable of something amazing'
6th Nov 2012 | 08:35
According to Microsoft more than 10,000 shops in over 40 countries opened at 00:01 this morning to sell its most expensive game of all-time, 343 Industries'
One of those launch events took place alongside the River Thames, where the platform holder arranged for a giant glyph to be suspended from a helicopter, providing dramatic scenes (and puzzled looks if you didn't know what the symbol represented) alongside Tower Bridge.
Ahead of the stunt CVG sat down with exec producer Kiki Wolfkill, who kindly reflected on the pressures of assembling a team and living up to the standards of one of gaming's most celebrated series.
After years assembling a team and dealing with the pressure that comes with creating a Halo game, how does it feel to finally see
You know it's funny because there's been so much going on between from when we got the game done and now with press, events and reviews coming out... I think it really hit me on the drive over here to the launch event. This isn't just another event that I'm coming to - this is the launch. It's crazy because this is the moment when the fans get it. As much as it's fantastic to hear from reviewers, to hear from the fans is a pretty emotional moment.
So yeah, it's a sense of relief and a little bit of nervousness.
But the critical reception has generally been very good. Does that justify the hard work and late nights for you personally?
It does because I knew this team was going to be capable of doing something amazing. It all came down to how much time we had and how much we could pull everything together. I feel such pride in what we've created together. For me the other part of that validation is the community sort of feeling the same thing.
Often you don't get enough credit for the amount of pressure you've been under to live up to Bungie's Halo games - and going by the review scores you've more than matched them. In hindsight do you think the pressure might have helped in some way?
Yeah. Everyone stepped in to this knowing how big a challenge it was going to be. We knew the pressure was going to be there and ultimately we put the most pressure on ourselves to deliver something that we believed in and the fans could believe in. It absolutely empowered us.
I think there was a sense for us as kind of being the underdog as well, which I think was part of the emotional motivation behind the team, because everyone who came to 343 had a certain level of success - and in some cases a lot of success. So this was an achievement that was really meaningful.
What can the 343 team take out of the Halo 4 development process in terms of what you think you did well and what you can improve going forward?
Gosh, you learn so much along the way. It was definitely a rocky ride and part of that was the challenge of putting a new team together, learning to work together and sort of navigating that. I feel good about keeping pressure off of the team in terms of all the other things that happen when you're a really important IP.
It takes time for a team to build trust with eachother and we were absolutely able to do it through the cycle. If I look back, I had an amazing leadership team. I think there were times when I perhaps kept things close to me because... you want so much for everything to go right. As a leader one of the critical things I learnt during this process was learning to let go enough for my leadership team to really excel. Thankfully I figured that out! (laughs)
You've soaked up the pressure, assembled the team and shipped a game critically worthy of the Halo legacy. As far as your new trilogy is concerned, is the hardest part over?
Definitely one of the hardest parts, and it's not like we didn't go through gaining and losing people along the way - and we'll go through more of that. It's an incredibly talented team. I think we came in to it as a set of very talented individuals and came out of it as a very strong team and that is worth its weight in gold - that is the most valuable asset you can have.
Do you think the critical and potential sales success of Halo 4 will give the team confidence creatively going forward?
Yeah. I think it has definitely earned us a little more credibility in pushing things some different ways if we decide to. I think the fans and the community needed to understand that we cared about Halo as much as they did, and that we cared about giving them something great. I feel like we have that confidence and I think that always gives you a little bit more flexibility in the future.
Of course launch day isn't the end of 343's work on Halo 4. I get the impression with Spartan Ops and title updates you'll be treating post-launch support as more of a service?
Spartan Ops we refer to as a 'season' and we're really intrigued by the idea of being able to deliver content and story together, the idea of tuning in with your friends to have an experience. Moving beyond Halo 4 we look at all sorts of different experiences but the heart of Halo is still the game - we'll never go away from that.
But we do look at different ways of telling story and maybe a different way of experiencing the game. The service end of Halo has always been there. As our platform extends beyond 360 it's allowed us to really explore some different formats.
The studio obviously helped with
We've always had a big vision for Halo and the universe and we look at ourselves as not just a games studio but an IP studio. There are all sorts of stories we want to tell and the universe is so rich, right? The first-person shooter is the best place to tell one kind of story but as you can see from Forward Unto Dawn and stuff like that, there are other parts of the story that are interesting to tell in different ways.
Forward Unto Dawn allowed us to explore characters a little bit differently and tell a different kind of story - and that is interesting to us. We want Halo as a universe to grow and evolve and be a Star Wars... all the good parts about Star Wars! (Laughs)
Would you consider exploring different genres?
Yeah. I think we'd look at what the most interesting genre, medium, delivery mechanism is to tell a certain story, and if it moves the IP forward in an interesting way we'll do it.