Hello, Destructoid readers! I know i've been away a while, but I brought you a treat. With all the new releases getting a lot of press this holiday season, it's easy to forget the remakes and other releases falling between the cracks.
Today, I had the pleasure of interviewing an old friend of mine who is currently working on Halo: Anniversary at 343 industries.
Me: For the people that don't know you, can you introduce yourself?
My name is Chad Armstrong, but I'm usually better known as "Shishka" by the Halo community, and I'm a designer for 343's publishing team
Me: Sounds like a tough and rewarding job. The Halo community is known for being very devoted to the lore and multiplayer aspects of the game. Halo: Anniversary will be released in stores this Nov. 15th. For those that do not know, it's a remake of the original Halo campaign and multiplayer, adding online play through LIVE. What can you tell us about the additions that we may not already know?
Shishka: I tend to like to think of it as a "remaster" than a remake proper, and that has to do with the way we've implemented the new visuals. Specifically, our partner Saber Interactive has set up their own rendering engine on top of the Halo engine to render what we call "Remastered Mode," in which they've updated the art of the game to current generation standards
This allows us to have impressive visuals while not touching the original gameplay, including things like AI or the weapons and vehicle sandbox. There's also the added benefit of being able to switch between the remastered visuals and the "legacy" visuals of the original game, which you can do at any time in gameplay just by pressing the back button.
That said, there are a couple additions to the game that add flavor as well. "Terminals" have been hidden about every level of the game that, when interacted with, give some important background about the Halo installation as well as its curator, 343 Guilty Spark. It also seeds some of our plans for Halo 4.
The other more gameplay-affecting feature are skulls. Skulls are a feature that have been part of the franchise since Halo 2, so we went back and added them to the remastered visuals of Halo 1. Skulls are gameplay modifiers that have to be discovered first. Once you've found one, you can "activate" it and gameplay will change. For example, the "Grunt Birthday" skull causes Grunts to explode with confetti and the cheers of children when you take them down with head shots, and the "Malfunction" skull causes random elements of your HUD to be disabled when you respawn.
Me: How about some of the more notorious single-player glitches, like going through a level with no enemies or allies, did you keep some of those or will a few make a reappearance as skulls?
Shishka: Some of the skulls and the Achievements reflect on that explorer spirit that fans developed when they ran out of campaign to play. =)
Me: Speaking of exploding grunts, Are they keeping the multi-coloured blood-splashes that were in the original? I've noticed in later games, that alien blood-spatter all but disappeared, will this make a reappearance in the remastered visuals? For the overall look and feel of the game, how do you think the 'Remastered Mode' compares to the cleaned-up visuals in the original PC release?
Shishka: Because the particle effects are driven by the original Halo 1 engine, the remastered visuals emulate how the original behaved. Saber did their best to match the effect and feel at a modern standard, including the glowing blood of Grunts and Hunters.
As far as comparing to Halo PC, the legacy mode looks similar given that less compression was necessary for the 360 hardware, so in some ways the "Legacy" visuals look similar to PC. Remastered, on the other hand, has an entirely new take on the render geometry, so there's a considerable different in volumetric fidelity. One of the things you realize when switching between legacy and remastered is just how flat the original game was. =)
Me: I like the new visuals, but some purists are worried that the 'Remastered' game isn't quite guided by Bungie's original vision. Was there a consultant on hand, or did you consider the whole of the original artistic work that went into Halo: Combat Evolved and work from there?
For example, environments look more lush and sometimes a bit saturated with color, do you know how some of these visual changes were informed by the original?
Shishka: There wasn't a consultant in the form of a Bungie artist that worked on Halo 1, or anything like that, but our art director Ben worked closely with Saber to improve on visual fidelity. The "Visual Switch" feature that's now a shipping feature of the game started as an internal tool used to compare changes. Progress is still ongoing, but the Halo lineage was closely observed by our art director as the project progressed.
The art continues to progress as we speak. Master Chief's armor is one example. There was notable concern about the form factor of his helmet when we announced at E3, but truth be told the helmet was already going under revision at that point, but we didn't have time to integrate the changes before the trailer was made.
Me: There are always small differences as the series progresses, which brings us to the weapons themselves. I know the team has already done a lot in service to the multiplayer community, especially for controversial multiplayer elements like reticle bloom (which were addressed recently in a title update for Halo:Reach). In terms of gameplay, has anything else changed, like weapon damage?
With such a devoted community, what changes are you implementing before release? Are there any changes you can tell me about that are in the not-so-distant future?
Shishka: Nope! At the heart of this project, we felt that the remake is a gift to the fans that made the franchise possible. As such, it was very important to us to preserve the gameplay. Halo 1 had a unique following not just because the core gameplay is special to people, but the oddities of gameplay as well. Things like Warthog jumping, or finding your way to the outer edge of 343 Guilty Spark, those kinds of things are almost absurdly important to people. So it was critical to us to preserve all aspects of that gameplay, and that's what we've done.
Nothing changed about the weapons, move speed, jump height, or AI. There's no melee lunge, no sprint, and if a moving warthog so much as blinks at you, you get splattered. Just like how it was 10 years ago.We knew better than to think we could perfectly remake the core and the quirks of the game.
Close? Possibly. But close makes people think "This isn't quite what it was like" and the Halo fanbase is an excitable bunch. We want people to be able to launch a warthog exactly as they did back in the day, and the best way to do that is to use Halo 1's own (proprietary!) physics engine. 'Close' just wouldn't be close enough.
The biggest "changes" you'll find for campaign gameplay are the skulls, which are optional modifiers. Elsewise (and whenever you're in Legacy), the game plays as it did 10 years ago. The change for multiplayer is obviously more dramatic, given the decision to use Halo: Reach's multiplayer and create a map pack for Reach rather than attempt to remake Halo 1's MP.
Me: I couldn't interview you without asking a time-honored question: What does Master Chief look like under his helmet?
Shishka: Bungie has concept art of the Chief's face. I doubt it will ever see the light of day
But I have seen it. =)
Me: Oh, you tease. Thank you very much for allowing me to interview you. Talking to you is always very enlightening. Shiska(bob), i'll leave you with this final question: What is your favorite biscuit or cake?
Shishka: More of a cheesecake guy, myself, which is technically a pie, isn't it?
Me: Oh, be still my beating heart.