At last weekend’s EB Expo, I had the chance to sit down and speak with Vancouver native Josh Holmes (Canada, represent!), the Franchise Creative Director of Halo 4 at 343 Industries. Josh was kind enough to answer a ton of questions about the upcoming scifi blockbuster.
Stevivor: You’re the Franchise Creative Director on Halo 4. Have you come across from the Bungie days?
Josh Holmes: No. I actually didn’t work for Bungie. I worked with Bungie at 343 on Reach, but not before that.
Stevivor: So this might mean that much more to you. Halo 4 is exclusively a 343 game this time around, without any input from Bungie. 343 has done things like speed up multiplayer and added content like Spartan Ops, but what would you say differentiates Halo 4 as a 343 title rather than a Bungie one?
Holmes: I think one of the big things is the way that we approach storytelling in the game. We’ve taken a different approach in the campaign, and made it more personal. We’re really trying to immerse the player in the game and have them connect with Master Chief. We’re tying together single and multiplayer as well, and that’s all because of a commitment to storytelling. It’s a big thing for us and brings a new perspective to the Halo experience.
Stevivor: The Halo experience is going way beyond the game nowadays. There are novels about the Forerunners by Greg Bear most recently, not to mention a multitude of other different types of media. How you manage all of that Halo?
Holmes: Frank O’Connor is really responsible for the over-arching canon of the Halo universe. That’s things like setting up the story and working with partners like Greg Bear to determine what stories we want to tell and the best ways to do that. Then we make sure we can connect all those stories. It’s a big job, and a lot of times Frank and I talk about how easier it would be if we could just disconnect things and have them in their own little corners. Ultimately, it would be less rewarding for the gamer, so the hard work is definitely worth it.
Stevivor: And Frank aside, how else do you fit into things?
Holmes: As Franchise Creative Director, I’m looking at the interactive experiences across the franchise. I also have input to the auxiliary story elements that we’re preparing, even if they’re being handled by Frank. I’m very focused on the game itself and the story we’re telling across campaign and multiplayer.
Stevivor: I know it’s a bit hard with a title like Halo 4, but what in your mind in the game is getting the least exposure and what should be talked about more?
Holmes: That is tough, because the game is everywhere. I keep going back to what we’re doing with Spartan Ops, and I think it’s a new concept that’s hard to explain. It’s ambitious in scope and it’s what I’m most excited about. We’re creating a CG series that follows a group of characters on board a ship, and it tells a story as it unfolds across the entire season. It’s contained and as digestible as the rest of Halo.
I’m hoping that players are wanting to invest in that experience and the chance to connect with the characters. The stories also interact with direct missions that you can play, and the actions that you take with fellow players actually impact back upon the story, that’s obviously one in the Halo universe. For us, it’s delivering a great and compelling series, plus an additional 50 missions of extra content.
Stevivor: Is Spartan Ops a good example of something 343 is doing to recruit new players to the franchise?
Holmes: We definitely think about the different perspectives of new and returning fans and giving doorways for new fans to come into the universe. One way is the live action “Forward Unto Dawn” series, which focuses on a new character in the series that also takes part in the Spartan Ops series. The character is introduced thirty some years ago as a cadet, and has an encounter with Master Chief that sets up some of the story elements of Halo 4. It’s something that should appeal to lovers of Halo but also lovers of great story-telling and great sci-fi.
Stevivor: Let’s switch gears to the hardcore gamers and Halo fans for a second. Things as simple as the classic ‘Red vs Blue’ multiplayer modes have been turned into ‘War Games.’ Are you getting a good or bad reception from those types with that change?
Holmes: I think the reception has largely been very positive; there hasn’t been a lot of push-back to that narrative structure. If people don’t care, that extra story won’t get in the way. At worst, they can just say that they don’t care. For those that do care about story, it’s there and it provides context to a universe that is very deep, as most sci-fi universes are. The new narrative is in place to make things a bit more approachable and provides all the knowledge you need to understand the Halo universe.
Stevivor: That’s all the time we have, Josh. Thank you so much for speaking with us today.
Holmes: Thank you.