Interviews

Frank O'Connor: Halo needs to innovate

343 Industries' development exec discusses the future of the franchise

Britain is secretly controlling the games industry from the inside like a rain-soaked Trojan horse, I'm sure of it.

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Halo franchise development director Frank O'Connor

FIFA is spearheaded by David Rutter, GTA is "the Scottish game", Sony was run by a Welshman and now PlayStation is under the command of another.

Similarly, the next trilogy of Halo games is being orchestrated by Frank O'Connor, the Edinburgh-born developer who helped establish 343 Industries for Microsoft in Seattle.

O'Connor speaks with a butchered American accent but performs a quite remarkable impression of Peter Molyneux. He also carries that 'executive glow', a calming air of success when other men would depict the astounding pressure of being responsible for the most important Xbox game of the year.

CVG met with O'Connor to discuss his views on the fourth main instalment in the Halo saga, as well as the future of the series. Here's what he had to say.


CVG: The last interview we had with Bungie, it was amazing to hear Brian Jarrard explain the extent in which his whole life and family has changed through all the years of making five Halo games. You are embarking on the next decade-long trilogy, do you feel ready for it?

O'CONNOR: I am prepared, yes. People ask me if I'm tired of it. To be perfectly honest, there's something about sci-fi that makes you never feel like you've reached the end of it; both technologically and in terms of narrative.

And we're starting to call Halo a saga, because - as you'll see in Spartan Ops - the narrative continues, so we literally don't know how many pieces comprise the overall arch. We know what the beginning, middle and end will look like, we just don't know how many distribution points we are going to have in there.

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One of the design challenges for Halo 4 appears to be making it look new yet familiar. How did you try to achieve this?

Yeah, because of the natural growth of the Xbox 360 [installed base], we know who the core Halo fans are but we knew there are going to people who are brand new to it. So we want to include nods and winks to regular players, and resonate this sense of déjà vu on the first level of the campaign. But we also wanted to come up with an experience that's suitable for new players. It was obviously a big challenge but there were some great solutions, and what I'm most excited about is I think we've captured the magic of the first trilogy.

How difficult do you think it will be to stand out from the Bungie line of Halo games?

Yeah, the funny thing is that's a pressure externally, with people obviously comparing the games, but that pales to insignificance to the pressure we feel internally. We had nearly three hundred developers from all studios who loved Halo, and wanted to put their stamp on it.

There's no diplomatic way to say it; we have hundreds of developers who love the Halo series but thought, you know what would be cool if we added?

The FPS genre has evolved quite significantly since the release of Halo 3 in 2007. Have games like Call of Duty had an influence on your project?

Certainly, and we've hired people from Treyarch and Infinity Ward, and so those people are bringing some of their habits to the game.

But we haven't tried to chase that tail. Those games are good for specific reasons, and Halo is good for a different set of specific reasons. I think the closest we've come to that conversation about Call of Duty, is that we wanted to have an amazing player progression experience that wasn't just aesthetics.

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