As longtime Halo fans we're eager to learn more about Master Chief's next adventure, and we recently caught up with creative director Tim Longo to learn more about the game 343 Industries has been cooking up ahead of its arrival on Xbox One in October.
How did you decide that Warzone was what Halo 5: Guardians needed?
We've been playing around with this "what if" scenario. How would it be if we took all the best pieces of Halo and threw it into one multiplayer mode? What would that be like? Team passion often drives questions like that, but there is another reason as well. When we decided to focus on Arena, our super competitive and balanced 4v4 mode that supports eSport, we knew we needed a contrast. Arena is a smaller focussed mode and so we created these large scale epic battles to go with it. The idea actually started when we were developing Halo 4, but using the AI from the campaign and throw them into major battles is a pretty challenging thing to do. But we figured it out and overcame it, and now we have all the best pieces of Halo in one sandbox mode.
How does the ranking and matchmaking work in Warzone?
It basically works the same was as in Arena, but with more variables since people will come in with different equipment. In Arena it's always the same weapons and loadouts, but in Warzone it's more liberal. It's twenty-four players so we have a lot more room to manoeuvre there, but it still uses the same backend to process and find the same skilled players to put them together. But it is intentionally a much more chaotic, big and bombastic mode, so there's gonna be more variability with the matchmaking there. Warzone is still balanced since everyone starts on the same level and them grows during the match. You can't start with the rocket launcher, but later in, you can. No one has the upper hand in the beginning.
So basically the newbies will play with other newbies and hardcore with hardcore?
Yeah, pretty much. The matchmaking will always try to put like-skilled players together.
With 60 FPS and mostly 1080p graphics, plus a new console, how much of the old Halo engine is left within Halo 5: Guardian?
That's a good question, hard to answer. We've built the new game from the ground up and I can't put a percentage on how much of the old engine is left, but fundamental parts are new and 60 FPS alone required that we reverse engineered a lot. And going to dedicated servers was also a big shift for us and the engine had to accommodate and change. So, a lot of the engine had to be rebuilt from the ground.
Going to 60 FPS, has there been any unforeseen consequences of this?
Yeah! It's four times more work compared to doing 30 frames. It's not just doubling, and the team had to go through a lot of different approaches to keep the same quality as they had in the past. And the fact that we got the game running in 60 frames in all modes is a feat and we're all really proud of it. Some of the challenges we came upon, just to give an example, is the tuning of the game that had to accommodate 60 frames. We couldn't just use what we had from 30 frames, and this affects how the sticks feel, how many shots it takes to kill someone, the physics and so on, and it had to be re-tuned and touched up. Some we knew about before we started, and other problems we stumbled upon during the development.
Was there any consideration about making an even more gorgeous campaign in 30 FPS and keeping the multiplayer at 60?
No, it really wasn't. We believe in 60 frames even in the campaign. We knew the team were capable of making a beautiful game even in 60 FPS, so that wasn't something we worried about. We knew the game was going to feel smoother and that the gameplay would benefit, and our motto is 'gameplay is king'. So 60 frames wins because that's going to make the game feel and play better. We also wanted a consistent feel for both multi- and single-player.
With the original composer, Martin O'Donnell, now working as a freelancer, was there ever any consideration of hiring him to do the soundtrack or even a few tunes?
It came up, but it was to late at that time, he was in transition but we still keep in contact with him.
But you do realise the fans would love for O'Donnell to return?
Our composer Kazuma Jinnouchi has a lot of his inspiration coming from Marty's stuff, and his new stamp on the game I'm really exited about. I don't know if you noted during your session that the front end music has homages to the classic Halo music. He knows that the fans want that. Kazuma is a humble guy so he has his own stuff but also brings back Marty's themes, so you'll hear some familiar stuff in there that I think fans will really like. Especially playing the Blue Team missions because the Chief needs the classic feel, so it needs the classic music.
So the classic Halo score is in there as well?
Yeah, it's re-scored and updated, but you'll hear familiar things. Everyone reacts as soon they hear it and goes like: Ahhhh, there it is.
Halo 4 dried up fairly quickly online, how will you make sure people come back after two-three years and keep on playing?
Having the two different modes, Arena and Warzone, plays a big part of it. Halo always tried to have something for everyone in one mode. What we have done is that we know that the people who love Arena have a place to go for competitive battles with free DLC maps so we're not fractioning that community, and Warzone is for the people that want to go into those big bombastic battles. Rather than trying to please everyone with one experience, we're offering multiple for whatever they want to play. There is something for everyone.
With free DLC, are there any microtransactions in the game?
Everything is earnable for free, but there is Requisition Credits to use in Warzone and the Campaign. With them you can buy Req Packs, a pack of random cards that let you use weapons and vehicles that you get in the battles, and also cosmetic stuff that even can be used in Arena. These Req Packs can be bought with real money to get stuff faster, but you can earn it all by just playing.
Sounds a little bit like how it works in Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, is that a fair comparison?
Yeah, there are some similarities.
How much have you been listening to opinions and complaints with Halo 4?
We try to listen to the community quite a bit and we also had a beta for Halo 5: Guardians. It was the earliest beta we've ever had, and this was intentional because we wanted to listen to feedback and have time to adjust. Using the beta as an example, we've modified maps based on the community, we've even changed things like running speed by lessening sprint speed and increased regular running speed, so the escape possibility isn't quite what it was in the beta. We'll keep continuing to listen to fans after the release as well. We've also hired pro-players who played Halo for a living to get their feedback.
Halo 4 ended with a huge cliffhanger, can we expect more of the same in Guardians?
Yes you can. There is more to come with more mystery. Halo 4 left Chief in an emotional state and this is a continuation of this. I will say from a universe impact perspective, Halo 5: Guardians probably has the biggest impact in the series so far. Obviously, I'm not going to give you any details though.
What are you most proud of regarding Halo 5: Guardians?
It's a hard one to answer because it's such a big game, doing so many things, so it's hard to only pick one. But for me personally, I'm a really big co-op player, and we went after co-op as a pillar of our game and our campaign. In fundamental ways, we designed our story around this with co-op characters on every level. That's what I'm most excited and proud about.