GDC Online: Halo’s Transmedia to Focus on Enhancement, not Exclusion
In a panel at GDC Online, 343 Studios Franchise Manager Kevin Grace and Narrative Director Armando Troisi laid out their philosophy behind the transmedia approach for Halo. To sum up the thrust of the talk, they want transmedia works to support each other, rather than be required reading for players to get a fulfilling experience.
And before you read any further, no they didn’t reveal any story tidbits about Halo 4 that might light your fires. Well, maybe one. Lasky from Forward Unto Dawn appears in Halo 4, but I’ll get to that later.
The first example they showed involved a short clip of Master Chief punching a Covenant Elite in the face. The Chief wanders aloud why the Covenant have gone hostile again, to which Cortana responds “A lot can change in four years.” According to the developers, this is a self-contained moment that doesn’t require transmedia knowledge to work. There is an enemy, Master Chief punched him real hard, and he posed the question the players probably have.
Then they showed a Halo 4 terminal video dubbed “Prologue” which should be available on Halo: Waypoint. In it, we see a new Covenant character that is making his way to a particular planet when he hears word that forward scouts have discovered a Human ship. He gives the word to board and prevent the ship from reaching the planet. Now there’s context for the Covenant attack.
The more profound example includes the aforementioned Lasky. In the game, an adult Lasky meets Chief and greets him by saying “I never thought I’d see you again.” The average player just assumes they have a past and moves on, but a viewer of Forward Unto Dawn will have a much richer understanding of that relationship.
As someone who has done nothing but run aground into Halo’s jumbled storytelling, I can’t approve enough. Two glaring examples that contradict this approach in previous Halos jump to mind — the underwater tentacle plant in Halo 2 and the intro of Halo 3. In both instances, as just a player of the games I have no idea what’s going on. What’s worse, if I want to find out what’s going on I have no idea where to start.
Aside from specific examples, Grace and Troisi also shared more information about their philosophy towards Halo’s transmedia, first reinforcing that the existence of books, comics, and live action shows would in no way dilute the importance of Halo 4.
“Halo 4 is the center of our transmedia strategy and everything needs to feed into and support that,” Troisi said.
The reason for transmedia, according to the developers, is to provide a home for stories that may not fit with a full $60 game.
“We’ve got a universe with lots of different types of stories in it,” Grace said. “If Halo was a universe our fans could only visit every 2-3 years when a game comes out, then you kind of lose track of it… It’s like a friend you only see every 2 or 3 years.”
Grace also explained that the transmedia push is not a result of Microsoft’s takeover of the property.
“There were questions of whether Microsoft would milk the franchise. That’s a concern we take very seriously,” Grace said. “There are too many opportunities for people to spend their time and spend their money. If we don’t make genuine Halo stories… they’re going to go somewhere else and I wouldn’t blame them.”