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Hyper Magazine (Australia) interview with Frank O'Connor

In July 2012, Hyper Magazine in Australia ran a Halo 4 article, and Hedgemony's girlfriend was kind enough to transcribe the Frank O'Connor Q&A included within.

343's Frank O'Connor on picking up the Halo baton from bungie.

Q: 343 is located in Bungie's old offices- do people realise this? 343 feels like Bungie. However, the staff has been hand-picked from global studios. Was it a process of head-hunting talent?

A: Well, we needed an office about the same size to do about the same thing with a lot of the same technology, so it makes sense. And we're actually in two buildings now - there's this one, which used to be a batting cage and a big supermarket, and we have another more conventional office building just across the street. It's almost as big as this - just slightly fewer people.

Q: How different is the culture now?

A: It does feel a little different to me culturally now. I mean, Bungie was an organic thing that had grown from a seed and turned into this mighty oak tree. With 343, we started with an oak tree. But the funny thing is, because of that, it feels a lot smoother. There are fewer subcultures; everyone is assembled around a shared goal. Ultimately that's one of the reasons Bungie moved on - they wanted to work on something else and they were either tired or bored. And I think we're going to see that bear fruit in their next project.

Q: One thing that 343 has gone on at length about is getting back to Halo's 'sense of wonder'. That's an interesting choice of words - did Halo lose its wonder?

A: It depends on how you approach it; I think there are Halo players like me who find that wonder in every one of the Halo games; from the mildly frightening noir atmosphere of ODST to Halo 3's expanses. But I think we never quite recaptured that moment when you first tumble out of the Bumblebee onto the Halo ring.

Q: There has been talk of a certain amount of free exploration through use of the tools in Halo 4. Halo has rarely been about puzzle-solving, so can you elaborate?

A: I think you have to strike a balance. Modern games are much more elaborately curated so that each encounter is properly met and drives you from one place to the next. I think with the original Halo, it was a little more open and a little looser. I think Halo is a little more emergent and sand-box focused than that - in that you might get killed by the same guy, but you might try it in a Mongoose this time instead of a 'Hog and so on. Now, we're definitely taking care of that aspect of the game and not regiment players' experiences to the Nth degree. Unlike the Metroid games where you have to have a particular rocket launcher to get past a certain area, in Halo, you can just use a pistol if you like - or no weapons at all. We want to give people the opportunity to use those hand/eye skills that people have picked up over a decade of play in really interesting ways. It's crucial.

Q: Being 10 years in, you have those kinds of legacy fans. How do you please those guys while addressing the needs of new players?

A: No matter what you do, somebody will accuse you of pandering, while someone else will say you're not doing enough. It's stupid to try and chase that; you have to do what's true to the universe and the game itself. For example, some of the intro is obviously designed to be tutorial, but we've designed it so at least there's some dramatic impact during that tutorial. So that moment when the Chief releases himself from cryo-sleep, it's a metaphor for how you will have agency in the game. You'll be in control. It's a very subtle thing - but in prior Halo games, you didn't have a 'hand'. When it said 'press X' to do something, you just had to imagine the hand, you know? And it's a small thing but it definitely makes you feel more immersed.

Q: There was an interesting scripted moment where objects are falling towards you and you have to dynamically dodge them. It's a bit of a change for the series; are there more moments like this coming?

A: The funny thing is, of course it's scripted - but you have complete control in there. It's just teaching you the basic mechanics in that case; in the elevator case, it's just teaching you how to look around. You'll definitely see more moments like these, but they won't be invasive - they'll be with purpose. The trick is just finding the balance. It's those moments where you wouldn't ordinarily be able to do that in a Halo game that becomes those scripted moment.

Q: The timing of this game is very interesting. It's the start of a new trilogy at the end of the Xbox 360's lifespan. On one hand, there are a lot of units out there, but on the other, there's going to be a technological discrepancy between this and the next game. So are you already experimenting with new hardware for Halo 5?

A: Well, I should clarify - we're experimenting with new software because hardware in some ways can be almost irrelevant to that process. The other thing is, we're not naïve - we know the next Xbox is coming, but the 360 has at least a 10-year lifespan and I think in some ways it will have a longer lifespan than even the previous consoles that had long lifespans, just because it does so much. If you think about it, a couple of years from now, you're not going to put your Xbox away necessarily - you're going to put it under another TV. There will still be game experiences you'll want to play on it, and it's so multipurpose that it might well be your cable box or your video on demand library. As a consumer I think one of those things the Wii did wrong was not having a second purpose, so I did put my Wii away because it couldn't play DVDs - and it didn't have an HDMI out, so it wasn't a good choice for Netflix either.

Q: Is Microsoft pushing to make this a yearly franchise or anything like that? Or do you have the freedom to take a more casual pace to ensure quality?

A: We are not going to put out any more games than we are capable of doing at a very high quality. There are other ways to continue the franchise - map packs and DLC. With Microsoft, we're in a unique position because we're working with them to push the platform forward; every boat rises on that tide. There are specific features that every console game has that are the direct result of the collaboration between Microsoft and Halo. And a lot of people play games in a certain way, for better or worse, because of institutions that Halo started or refined.

Q: Do you think Halo 4 is sort of a technological testbed for you, then? A way of putting ideas in there that will kickstart the next ten years?

A: Yeah, and certainly in the way the multiplayer will play out. And you'll see it evolve, of course - it's a great start point, and you guys already got a glimpse of that, but I think it'll become apparent how that will evolve over the years. Secondly, we're just really excited by the technology that we're using. It's native 720p and you've seen the lighting engine, the texture streaming - it's just radically overhauled. And we have this conversation about engines in the Halo universe over the years, and I think previously we've kind of inferred that the Halo engine was evolving slowly. but this time everything is so rewritten that it's hard to say it's the same engine - or even like the same engine as even Halo: Reach.

Q: Someone told me this sliver of original code that remains is called the 'three million dollar line of code'. And it's sort of the thin backbone that has always existed.

A: [laughs] That's true. You know it's funny - our physics have changed from game to game. There was no Havok in Halo 1, and they've changes again in Halo 4. So there are things that can change - but there are core elements that are still recognisably Halo. There's something about the 'soul' of the game that's still there - still intact.