Halo Wars

IncGamers’ Tamer Asfahani caught up with lead producer on Halo Wars, Jason Pace, about the upcoming title. 

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Discussing the title, we were able to push on what the game feels and looks like, how it fits into the Halo universe and whether this was the first of many expansions into other genres for the franchise. 
 Halo is Microsoft’s biggest franchise.  It’s known as an FPS, but what challenges did you face bringing an RTS title to the console?

Anytime you take something that has legions of fans, millions of fans, who are passionately committed to it in a certain context, trying to move outside of that context is always going to be a challenge.  It’s an exciting challenge, but it brings an added responsibility to make sure you’re doing it right.

So you have the lore, you have the universe, you have all the things that make Halo Halo, but how is that translated into a different genre?

So I think what you said is key.  “What makes Halo Halo?”  There’s a lore and universe perspective of the characters, the history and the worlds you visit. Then there’s a gameplay perspective which translates genres.  When you boil down the fundamentals of what a great Halo game is, you start pulling out words like “heroism” and “action” and “visceral” and “combat”.  When you start focusing on what really makes, at its core, a great Halo experience, I think that’s what you start building out from.  And that’s what we did with Halo Wars.  We asked ourselves, regardless of the genre, what we wanted our players to feel when playing this game.

And will they feel?

Well, they should feel that sense of heroism.  Fundamental to Halo is that you’re fighting epic battles across a vast universe with a rich history and you’re carrying the torch for humanity.  It’s very important that we make players connect with that sense of carrying the torch.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a first person shooter or if it’s a strategy game, we really need to accomplish that.

The biggest challenge bringing the genre to the console is that with a PC and mouse you have an intense amount of precision that allows you to do a lot of different operations very quickly.  With a console controller your precision is significantly more limited.  These are very much the same challenges the first Halo first person shooter faced when it was trying to come to the console.  What we saw was Bungie spent a lot of time really focusing on nailing that experience on the controls and changing it in the right ways so that it mapped to the input device that you had.  We did the exact same thing with Halo Wars.  Ensemble spent an incredible amount of time and effort really just re-thinking the fundamental nature of how they wanted people to interact in a strategy context on the console.  This isn’t a port, it’s not something that was originally conceived for the PC and then brought over to the console.  This is really an entirely new take on the genre that was developed from the ground up for the console.

Ensemble, obviously need no introduction.  How do you think that will help push Halo Wars?

I couldn’t think of a better group of people to actually bring Halo Wars to the console as a strategy game.  Ensemble wrote the book in a lot of ways on what makes a great strategy game so having all of that experience and all of those folks working on this title was just awesome.

There was talk about a year ago that there was going to be a Halo first person shooter MMO.  What’s the scope for this and the overall Halo brand?

This is something that is very near and dear to my heart.  I joined the franchise because I feel really passionate about the Halo universe.  The Halo that you see through the first person [shooter] games is one window on a huge and vast universe with a rich history.  The forerunners date back thousands of years.  There are plenty of stories to be told in that entire part of the universe and that entire part of the timeline.  There are many more stories in the present that involve different types of conflicts with different types of heroes that can be told.  So, I think, when you look at the franchise moving forward there are many different ways to tell those stories.  Obviously with Halo Wars we’re trying to tell the story from a strategic perspective.  There are many other avenues which we’d love to explore, many of them I can’t talk about right now, but we’re certainly exploring all different kinds of ways  to tell the Halo story.

We think of Halo not just as game, but as a cultural phenomenon.  We want people to feel very passionate about these stories.  We have legions of fans who are passionately committed to the Halo books who haven’t even played the game, so we want to make sure we address all of those fans’ needs as well as well as those who might not be familiar with the game.

The game looks great, and feels like Halo.  What worried me was actually getting the universe right and the vehicles right, those iconic vehicles that made Halo different.  How difficult was it to recreate those aspects of Halo for a different game entirely?

It was very difficult and took a lot of research and partnering with Bungie to make sure we absolutely nailed those units.  The units in Halo are iconic for fans.  There are fans who spend their entire game experience doing nothing but looking for new ways to drive, crash and blow up the Warthog.  Translating that experience from a first person perspective into a 40 ft view where the units are very small, while preserving the fundamental character of a Warthog as you’re fishtailing, jumping, getting those “wahooo” moments, are very critical and certainly not something you can just flick the switch and just make happen.  This was true for all of the units from the first person game and it was very important to nail the essence of what they were and to make sure we got them right.
That’s something I’d come back to again and again, it’s really all about the essence.  So when you’re taking something that was designed and conceived for one particular genre and you move it to another, it’s really important that you focus in on the essence and the fundamentals of what preserves the most important aspects of that.

We know that the story is an important factor in the game and we know that there is a lot of scope for the story to vary.  Are we looking at a game that has multiple endings with multiple story lines, or will this be a linear game that follows a specific story?

The single player campaign is very much a linear story that reveals what happened 20 years before the events in Halo: Combat Evolved.  It details humanities first conflict with the Covenant, it’s the first time we’ve been exposed to the Flood, so there is definitely a story we have to tell in the single player campaign that has a beginning, progression and end.  There are an infinite number of ways you can experience and create stories in the multiplayer universe, and one of the things we’re really excited about is for the first time you’re going to have a whole other level of insight into the Covenant by actually playing with those units and as that race.  We’re really looking forward to see what people do inventing their own fan fiction.   There are many maps, game types and different ways to experience that universe.  Our fans have always been great in carrying the fiction forward and adding details on their own, and we hope they do the same thing for Halo Wars.

So no map editor?

We don’t currently have a map editor available, but there are no end of great ideas we have on how we’d like to carry the franchise forward.  You can imagine that map editors is something we’d love to do given the chance.

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Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.