Halo Infinite had a turbulent development cycle. At least, that's how it looked to all of us, standing on the outside looking in. Halo Infinite was announced at E3 2018 and was supposed to launch alongside the Xbox Series X on November 10, 2020, as a showcase for the new generation system. But it slipped, first to an undefined date in 2021 before 343 Industries finally locked a December 8 release date down – that's just weeks away now.
"This has been the weirdest development," reflects Paul Crocker, associate creative director. "Because there's been a global pandemic and we're working remotely, when we would normally be doing this in person. And even coordinating these changes, and actually being able to play the game together, it's been a huge challenge. So the team has really rallied around the idea of making the best Halo we can."
What does one year buy you?
It was always going to be a challenge to get this thing out the door. Halo Infinite is the most widely-available Halo title in history, launching simultaneously across Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and PC. And then there's the pressure of not only delivering the first Master Chief adventure since 2015's divisive Halo 5: Guardians, but taking Halo out of self-contained sandboxes and into a wide-open world.
Understandably, 343 was grateful for the additional development time it was granted when Halo Infinite slipped from November 2020 to December 2021, although the team is quick to note that it isn't as much time as you might think. "So, obviously, it sounds like a year," Crocker chuckles, "but it's not a year in any kind of reality for us. But we had a bunch of time and that's amazing. I mean, it's just great that the studio and Microsoft supports us trying to make the best game we can."
"Instead of flinching and instantly just throwing stuff into the game, we sat back and played the game a lot. We highlighted all the areas that we wanted to improve, and, when we say improve, we don't necessarily mean because they were bad. Sometimes we're looking at things and saying 'they're really good, we want to put more of that in.' And sometimes it's just editorial and taking things out – we took things out of the game, as well as putting things in."
343 didn't detail what came out, but Crocker did note the priorities. The extra time was used to highlight player awareness, how equipment felt, and to make boss fights as "epic and challenging" as they could be. We've only encountered a handful of bosses in our time playing Halo Infinite and they're certainly fun, pulling Halo's sandbox combat into new directions. They're also grandiose, with each delivering an introductory monologue – 343 actually used this time to add "intros that didn't used to exist."
"We [also] prioritised making sure that the elements we wanted the story to tell were actually landing correctly. We actually added, I think, three new moments into the game, which was great because we would never have had time to have done that in the original," says Crocker.
Following fan reaction
During development, the Halo Infinite Grapple Shot was one of "the most controversial" new features of the campaign, according to 343.
The most obvious improvement to Halo Infinite is its visual fidelity – trust me when I tell you that Zeta Halo looks freaking gorgeous in 4K, running on Series X. But when 343 debuted campaign footage at E3 2020, it was not warmly received. The community pushed back against detailing in the world and character models – the Brutes quickly turned into a meme that will likely haunt Halo forever.
From Justin Dinges' perspective, campaign art lead, his team was deeply appreciative of being given the time to set things right. "We actually had a list of stuff that we already knew we would want to do if we... You know, in any game it's 'if you were given more time, what would you keep improving?' So we already had our list of things. So we prioritised those very heavily," he says, adding, "we were extremely strategic with the time we were given."
That, Dinges tells me, was key. "We were really very strategic about what we fixed. Because the minute you get more time in a game development, it can go wrong very quickly if everybody starts trying to do everything, and the game starts falling apart in front of you without realising it."
Ultimately, 343 used the concerns raised in the aftermath of the E3 2020 reveal to help guide the prioritization of improvements. "The fan reaction that we got from that E3 was a good motivator to make sure we got those things done. And we went after them; the team was super excited and thankful for that extra time, I can say that 100%. We were really motivated to go get that list of things that we had left on the floor for the 2020 date back onto the table, and get those implemented in the game. Hopefully people can appreciate the improvements we were able to make."
This interview is part of our massive deep-dive into 343 Industries' upcoming Halo Infinite. For more, read our exploration of how Halo Infinite's open world works.