FGTV interviews Frank O’Connor to discover what Halo 4 has to offer to families and how the franchise is starting to capitalize on these assets.
Halo 4 is a uniquely interactive rendering of a story that has been around as long as the hills. It follows an individual, Master Chief, whose presence not only brings the hope of victory but also acts as a symbol of salvation from the grisly realities of war. His abilities, destiny, and even his doom are the crucible on which countless thousands of Spartan soldiers happily throw their lives.
That may sound a bit grandiose, I know. Many will prefer to trace Halo’s success to its ingenious combat — those moments of encounter with an enemy that work on the basis of logic, strategy and reflexes without needing to lean on blood, shock and gore like most other first-person shooters. The screw is then turned on this game play sandwich as Halo creates a thousand different reasons, locations and stories in which to experience those moments over and over again.
The elephant in the room here is that the majority of people don’t really know what Halo is. Most parents I know take a cursory glance at the game and see it in the same light as other first-person shooter games: something they know has a draw for their children, and even tolerate being played in their shared family spaces, but not something they would want to engage with themselves.
It’s this issue that Halo 4 ($59.99) aims to address with its episodic Spartan-Ops campaign. Here, players get a series of challenges delivered in ongoing seasons complete with rich cinematic sequences to bring them back for more. In his introduction to our game play session, O’Connor underlined the aging of the Halo faithful: both the players and the developers. Tasked with assembling a new team under the 343 Industries banner to create Halo 4, he talks about the new studio as “a bunch of Halo fans standing on the shoulders of Bungie’s good work.” As well, this is an older and more diverse cohort that unsurprisingly encompasses every facet of life, parenthood included, as Connor remarks jovially “we realized we’ve had numerous babies since working on Halo 4.”
While staying true to its core gaming roots, the levels of Spartan-Ops I played felt fresh and exciting. It wasn’t the new narrative, enemies, or locations that really struck me though — it was the tighter pacing of it all. I’ve become stuck at particular choke points in previous Halo games and sometimes even struggled to find the time necessary to finish them. Halo 4 feels like it pays better attention to those of us with less free time. Checkpoints, difficulty levels and chapter length all feed my expectation that I’ll have fewer troubles with this iteration of my favorite shooter franchise.
More needs to be done for those outside the fold, though, if Halo 4 is going to be the tipping point where a broader demographic decide to partake in its tactical shooting delights. There are the works of fiction that need to be capitalized upon, books like The Fall of Reach, The Flood and Contact Harvest track the Halo stories from one game to the next and beyond. There are the cartoons ranging from Legends‘ Japanese style animation to Uprising‘s graphic novel.
Where I’ve always seen potential for wider engagement are the TV ads released just before the game hits the shelves. “Believe” and “The Life” campaigns not only interest players of the game but also humanize the characters, story and experience for those who haven’t played it yet.
It’s a downside of such a rapidly developing industry that these gems, like the books and cartoons, are soon consigned to history and largely forgotten about. Getting friends and family to watch my favorite Halo shorts (Museum Documentary, Museum Survivor, Reminisce or Neill Blomkamp‘s Landfall series) without necessarily telling them beforehand what they are watching, raises all sorts of interesting questions and intrigue that often result in them wanting to know more and maybe even pick up a controller.
I was more than a little excited to hear O’Connor talk about Halo 4‘s approach to its launch window TV shorts. Rather than one-off films there will be a series of episodes that intentionally aim to “act as an on ramp and connect people to the Halo franchise.” Forward Unto Dawn starts airing on October 5th in the weeks leading up to launch. The only wrinkle in my glee was discovering that its home is on Machinima Prime on YouTube — certainly not the best place to engage my pre-gaming friends and family. Here’s hoping for a DVD boxed set at some point to tempt in those Battlestar moms and Babylon dads.
Beyond this niggle the logic behind Halo 4‘s satellite properties is flawless. O’Connor hit the nail on the head in my interview: “The best way to connect people to ideas is through other people.” Getting parents and core gamers in the same room playing the game and engaging with the wider fiction is exactly what we need to do if we want gaming to become mainstream beyond its financial success.
This may all sound like a lot of effort to get families experiencing Halo together, and aren’t family gamers too young for this sort of thing anyway? Well, yes and no: Families come in all shapes and sizes and have plenty of age appropriate members keen to share experiences like this.
For me the effort and conversations are hugely valuable. It creates the potential for me to share it with my kids when they are old enough, or potentially even my mother. This in turn gives me a fresh look at the game through their eyes, something that invariably means I enjoy it more.
This is good news for the family dynamic too. It means that together we choose what to play — rather than leaving it to those who are most fanatic. We can have an intelligible conversation of the pros and cons of games like Halo because we have experienced them together.