Expanding the Halo universe

Halo: Reach isn’t the only reason that 2010 is going to be a huge year for Halo fans. This is a franchise that has become bigger than the games themselves, with toys, books, comics and more helping Halo become one of the strongest, most recognizable brands in the world.

The recently formed 343 Industries has been anointed the overseer of this brand, including any new games and every conceivable spinoff. To get a sense of what the future has in store for Halo, we chatted with Franchise Development Director Frank O’Connor and Franchise Executive Producer Josh Holmes about 343, as well as about Halo: Reach, Halo: Waypoint, the anime collection Halo Legends and what these new keepers of the multi-million-dollar universe are planning next.

GamesRadar: How long has 343 been in the works?

Frank O’Connor, Halo Franchise Development Director: A long time. We effectively, without being called 343, published Halo Wars. Obviously we’re continuing to work on the ancillary stuff. The core of the current group has been around for about a year and a half.

GR: There’s still a little bit of confusion about what it is that 343 actually does.

FO: It’s pretty simple right now. We handle all of the aspects of the franchise, period. So that means that as far as ODST and Reach are concerned, we were kind of the platform liaison and publisher for that. We handle all the ancillary stuff as well. Halo is a very big franchise with a lot of stuff going on right now.

Josh Holmes, Halo Franchise Executive Producer: We are the keepers of the franchise. We work with Bungie on all the content that they’re creating for the franchise, we worked with Ensemble on Halo Wars and we’ll continue to work with partners on fiction and games and other projects as appropriate.

GR: What can you tell us about Halo: Reach?

FO: We’ve talked a lot about ODST and where it fits in the Halo universe, but Reach is what we’d call a full-bore Bungie Halo experience. In some ways it’s bigger than anything they’ve done before.

JH: Reach is gonna have some amazing stuff. I think fans are obviously going to be really excited to play Reach because it takes place at a time and retells events that are some of the most significant events in the Human/Covenant War, with the Fall of Reach. When you look at the success of the novels outside of the games, Fall of Reach has been one of those fan-favorites that everyone sort of recalls fondly and I think that Bungie’s going to do a great job of telling that story.

GR: Halo Waypoint… Is that something that began its life at 343 Industries?

FO: That was definitely ours. We looked at what Bungie was doing with stats and community and said, “What are we missing here?” We realized that we had an audience that was split. There was a hardcore segment of the audience, who maybe just played battle rifles only on certain levels. And the other extreme were the people who played through, found all the terminals on Legendary and collected every single note and every single mote of information from the universe.

What we realized is that there’s a gulf for people who weren’t that hardcore, but were really curious about the universe and for casual fans who would be interested in the universe if it were just presented to them where they were sitting. Where they were sitting was the couch and we asked ourselves if there was something we could put in a game or something we could put on the console to bring them this information. That was obviously the direction that we took in the end. We wanted to give them a window into the Halo universe that they otherwise might not have found on their own.

JH: One of the big appeals of the Halo story is that it gives the individual the opportunity to make a difference on a universal scale and I think that story is a classic story that really resonates and appeals, so the extent that we could build that into future iterations of the meta-career or the Halo experience, that would be great.

GR: So can we expect to see stuff like the comics and the books coming to Waypoint in some form?

FO: In terms of the information, yes. In terms of some direct cases, we’re already planning to do some stuff with Tor Novels in terms of taking some of the short story material from the Halo Evolution anthology we just launched and putting elements of that on Waypoint. We’re working with Marvel to do some interesting things in the future. We’ll continue to expand the fiction through Waypoint. It’s a really great access point.

I think what you’re seeing now on Waypoint is really just a taste. Eventually, it’s going to become something much more meaningful to your Halo experience. We’ll obviously develop more and more and build more and more content so that it eventually becomes very deep and rich. It’s safe to say that in terms of features and in terms of interaction and terms of content, you’re looking at the tip of the iceberg.

JH: Everything that we’ve done with Waypoint is a real first for Xbox Live and hopefully it paves the way for other similar experiences. I could see how it could be a great thing for fans of other games.

GR: Is there potential for any Halo-themed “game” content in Waypoint?

FO: Halo is really about story and its characters, from a very high view. So if we ever do anything more, more gameplay-like in the future, beyond things like meta-games such as piling up your stats or cross-referencing cross-game achievements, it would be very story-focused. It’s a natural question, and it’s obviously been a natural question here as well. It’s an idea that we’re exploring in some depth.