Following the delay of Halo Infinite to 2021, you may have heard some allegedly ‘leaked’ reports about the state of the game and 343 Industries from Brad Sams, which has been making the rounds, uncritically reported on by various news outlets.
I know, it’s 2020 and facts don’t matter any more, but it’s completely false information and easily debunked.As something a disclaimer, you primarily know me as an outlet for analysis on storytelling, worldbuilding, lore, and behind the scenes discussion for Halo. I felt moved to write this because this ‘news’ will (indeed, it already has) spread like a virulent cosmic parasite, with people of influence jumping to various conclusions and establishing a narrative.
Because I am in a similar position of influence, I feel it is necessary to refute false information and show how we’re heading down a very similar road to what has historically happened before back in 2011.
My own credentials for vehemently holding 343 Industries to account in the past on communication hardly needs citing here, but what I have seen with Halo Infinite is a much more open commitment to transparency with the community.
That, I feel, must be acknowledged, and I will endeavour to illustrate that below.
OPERATION: RED FLAG
CLAIM: The idea of shipping Halo Infinite in two separate pieces has been floated for about a year or so.
Phil Spencer has confirmed that splitting up the campaign and multiplayer was a serious consideration but this was not a recent discussion as many had assumed as this option started being considered in early 2020 or possibly late 2019. The final decision to ship the game as either a complete title or separate parts may have been more recent but the idea of shipping two separate pieces has persisted for about a year or so.
This rumour was previously squashed by Brian Jarrard on Twitter (July 24th 2020). Original tweet by Nibellion has since been deleted.
At the time, the statement made was that multiplayer would not ship with single-player this fall, when Halo Infinite was due to release.
Phil Spencer discussed delaying Halo Infinite to 2021 on ‘Animal Talking’ (S2 E08) and mentioned that separating campaign and multiplayer was briefly considered before the decision was made to delay the game.
Jarrard goes on to say that the notion of this being floated for “about a year or so” is unsubstantiated and false, and that “Campaign was never going to ship without MP, period.”
CLAIM: Last year’s ‘Discover Hope’ cinematic was outsourced
It’s my understanding that the 2019 trailer was again outsourced and at that time, the game was not in a state that was playable at that level of fidelity. Even though the trailer says “Game Engine Footage” – this is a nebulous term as we don’t know if this is an attempt to show what gameplay would look like (not plausible at this time based on what we have seen) or what cut-scenes would look like which is the more plausible explanation but this vastly over-sold expectation for Infinite’s later demos.
I wrote up a Twitter thread discussing the nature of outsourcing in the gaming industry (citation for credibility: I literally work in this field), which Brian Jarrard responded to with definitive confirmation on this point that the Discover Hope cinematic was not outsourced.
CLAIM: Two Creative Directors (Tim Longo and Mary Olson) left 343 in 2019.
“Multiple people familiar with the development efforts behind 343 have described the collaborative effort behind the development as challenging and significant disagreements internally have become public with Tim Longo, creative director for Halo Infinite, leaving the company in August of 2019.
Appointed to Tim’s role after he left was Mary Olsen, who left the company in October of that same year.”
Tim Longo was a Creative Director (also previously Creative Director for Halo 5), but Mary Olson was a Producer – not a replacement for Tim.
Olson did not work on the creative direction of the game.
CLAIM: Marketing and engineering have been at-odds with each other.
One of the other disconnects I have been hearing about more recently is that engineering and marketing have been on two different planets. Engineering has been asking for delays and to hold material back but marketing has been plowing forward.
An example of this happened a couple of weeks ago with the Halo team announcing that multiplayer would be free and run at 120FPS. Why would the marketing team push this out and generate another wave of pre-release excitement for the game if management knew that the game was likely to be delayed? Marketing won the argument and those on the engineering side sat on the sidelines as marketing kept pushing more Halo news out the door with the reality being that the game was unlikely to ship anytime soon.
Free To Play and 120FPS was leaked on product pages, specifically from Smyths Toys Superstores, which took down the page as soon as the leak was noticed (Google Cache).
Microsoft just confirmed it.
CLAIM: The Halo TV show has been a distraction for 343’s management.
“One insider states that the production of the Halo TV series for ShowTime has been a significant distraction for 343 management. Often times taking their priority instead of focusing on making sure development progress is on the right path to reaching its targeted deadline.”
This one has to be made up.
343 Industries has a dedicated franchise team which deals with transmedia endeavours, they’ve been around for almost an entire decade, having worked on other live action productions for the series – Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn (2012) and Halo: Nightfall (2014).
The people from 343 who are working on the TV show are not the same people running the pipelines for the game…
The reality for a production like this is that 343’s franchise team are creative consultants on this project. Showtime are the ones steering the ship.
Frank O’Connor, Kevin Grace, and Kiki Wolfkill have previously discussed this at panels in-relation to Forward Unto Dawn and Nightfall, where they describe having a handful of people present on-set to act as consultants on the story and universe, and do a ‘Halo universe boot camp’ for the cast and crew.
“We’re not be prescriptive, like costume design for example. [Forward Unto Dawn] is set in a corner of the Halo universe that’s never been envisioned, and so what we’re looking for is great costume designs – so they hired a great costume designer. And we’re not gonna sit there and say ‘Well, I don’t think that fabric is suitable for vacuum or slipspace travel.’
We’re there to say ‘Yeah, that looks cool, it’s never been done before, but if we ever explore this universe in the game and we go back thirty years to Corbulo Academy, that’s what our costumes will look like because that’s the work that we got out of really, really smart people.’
And so creating a situation where there is some flexibility and there is a blank canvas for other artists to build into your universe – it’s the best way to do it because then they’re not just getting this prescriptive aping of your existing stuff. They get to do what they do best, and they get to create and they get to bring new things to your universe.” [Frank O’Connor, GDC 2013 – ‘Bringing the Game to Life – Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn postmortem’ (22:50)]
You can rest assured that, whatever your thoughts may be on the upcoming television show, it is definitely not pulling resources and personnel from the game with a bunch of micromanagement from 343.
That’s literally just not how it works.
Source: Some damn common sense.
CLAIM: Launch titles are sometimes lacking graphical quality because devs aren’t sure where the final specs will land
“Building a new game for a console that has not been announced is quite the challenge and is often why launch titles are sometimes lacking in the graphics department because they aren’t quite sure where the final specs will land. Sure, they have a rough idea but it’s typically easier to scale up graphics than to cut down on quality if the new console doesn’t live up to the paper promise.”
Launch titles for new consoles are made by teams who are working with brand new technology, and as such are never exactly representative of a console’s full capabilities.
It takes years for first- and third-party studios to harness and improve upon these things, figuring out the tools they have with which to build games and how to truly optimise what they can do with both the possibilities and limitations of a console.
We need look no further than Halo to see this evolution.
The Xbox 360 had Halo 3 in 2007, Halo 3: ODST in 2009, Halo: Reach in 2010, and Halo 4 in 2012. For the latter two titles, the engine was gutted and retooled to take advantage of the hardware capabilities of the Xbox 360. At a glance, Halo 4 looks like something you could quite believably say is going to release tomorrow, whereas Halo 3 is more obviously ‘of its time.’
We’re years past that console cycle, but it is not a matter of the developers knowing “where the final specs will land.” There is no magic slider which makes the graphics better or worse “to cut down on quality.”
This comes as the result of many years of hard work developers put into building, learning, improving, and refining the tools they have at their disposal as part of their engine and the larger console hardware infrastructure.
Source: Imagine giving a shred of credibility to this, come on…
To close this piece, I wanted to go back over some behind-the-scenes ‘real life canon’ for a very similar situation that played out during the build-up to Halo 4’s release.
Many people think of Halo 4 as something of a ‘non-standard’ Halo game (not even necessarily in a negative way), as it does break from tradition in a number of areas.
What you may not know is that 343 is actually documented as having pushed back against a lot of the more ‘out there’ ideas that came from the likes of Ryan Payton (creative director on Halo 4, prior to Josh Holmes).
There was much ado back in 2011 when Ryan Payton was announced to be departing 343 Industries and “creative differences” had been cited.
I remember the storm in the community as people absolutely ran away with the implications of one particular quote:
“The Halo I wanted to build was fundamentally different and I don’t think I had built enough credibility to see such a crazy endeavor through.” [Ryan Payton, Kotaku – ‘Halo Creative Director Leaving Halo 4’ (6/9/11)]
Many people painted Payton as this champion for what is now simply and nebulously referred to as Classic Halo™, and that 343 weren’t playing ball with his direction because they wanted to do things differently.
In reality, it was the opposite way around.
There’s an observation that the Librarian makes in Halo: Silentium, the third book of Greg Bear’s Forerunner Saga, in which she says:
“This is not irony; it is echo. The way of the Mantle. If we who are honoured with life do not perceive the obvious, then we are forced to live it again, around another corner, from another angle.” [Halo: Silentium, p. 179]
It feels like a particularly pertinent quote here because we’re being led down this same road, as people are not perceiving the obvious, and so this cycle of discourse around information from alleged ‘insiders’ meant to stir up drama continues.
Be smart, not reactionary.
Just for once.