Xbox Wire

PAX Prime 2014: Halo and the Journey of The Master Chief

By Will Tuttle
Given the fan-friendly nature of the title, it wasn’t surprising to see fans lining up for the Halo: The Master Chief Collection panel at this weekend’s PAX Prime show in Seattle. With all four (Halo CE: Anniversary, Halo 2 Anniversary, Halo 3, and Halo 4) games starring the series’ iconic protagonist the Master Chief, over a hundred multiplayer maps (including six classic Halo 2 maps reimagined to celebrate the game’s tenth anniversary), the all-new Halo Channel, and access to the Halo 5: Guardians Multiplayer beta, Halo: The Master Chief Collection has something to offer Halo fans of all stripes. And those fans turned out in force for the PAX Prime channel, packing the Seattle Symphony’s Benroya Hall for a closer look at the year’s biggest Xbox One experience.

The panel kicked off as 343 Industries’ Franchise Development Director Frank O’Connor strolled out to the host’s podium to a steady stream of approving applause from the assembled fans. After thanking everyone for coming, O’Connor introduced the rest of the panelists: 343 Industries Executive Producer and Champion Hugger Dan Ayoub,
Halo: Nightfall and Halo Channel Executive Producer Kiki Wolfkill, Senior Audio Director Paul Lipson, and Certain Affinity President Max Hoberman. Before getting into the meat of the panel, O’Connor invited some special guests up onto the stage. The 405th, a group of Spartan cosplayers that appears at many Halo-related events, were joined onstage by a special guest. Dressed in a costume modeled after O’Connor’s famed Mister Chef, one crafty fan surprised the love of his life by proposing onstage and walking off to a standing ovation.

Once those niceties were out of the way, it was time to get down to
Halo business. Dan Ayoub took the leading, breaking down just what in included in Halo: The Master Chief Collection. “What we wanted to do when we started development of this was making something for you,” he said, motion to the assembled audience. “How do we make something a little more awesome than we did the first time with Halo: Anniversary in 2011? It all came down to going bigger.” As Halo 2 was such a pivotal game to so many people, it was clear that the game deserved the same treatment. Ayoub then explained a key theme that helped drive the project. “For the first time, we had a chance to put all of the Master Chief Halo games on one console at the same.”

In addition to the games,
Halo: The Master Chief Collection also includes the linear live-action series Halo: Nightfall from 343 Industries and Scott Free Productions. Kiki Wolfkill discussed how the team decided to set the show on a fragment of Alpha Halo. “Our director, Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, felt really strongly that he wanted the setting to be a character in the story,” she said. “At the same time, Paul Scheuring, our writer, was thinking about how, if it’s a character, ‘What does that character do and how does it evolve and drive plot dynamics?’” After showing a ViDoc on the setting of Nightfall, Wolfkill and O’Connor reminisced about how hard the team strived to ensure some modicum of scientific accuracy in choosing Iceland as the location for the filming of Halo: Nightfall.

Wolfkill also included the fact that there is an internal team at 343 Industries working on the recently announced
Halo Channel, the interactive digital network that will air Halo: Nightfall along with a bevy of other created and cultivated content. “The Halo Universe is really broad and people have their favorite areas, whether it’s fiction or e-sports or news,” she said, “but for us the priority is making sure that there’s consistent and scheduled programming and a reason for you guys to keep coming back for new content.” With that came a trailer for the new and unique types of Halo content coming to Halo Channel.

Next up was a deeper look at the audio of
Halo 2: Anniversary, as Dan Ayoub revealed that, as an evolution of the ability to switch between new and old graphics in Halo CE Anniversary, players will be able to instantly switch between old and new music and audio effects. “We knew we wanted Halo 2: Anniversary to be a celebration, but also an innovation,” said Paul Lipson. “Audio is a central pillar of that.” Digging into the music, Lipson said the team adapted and re-orchestrated Halo 2’s iconic score using the Skywalker symphony, a 40 piece opera company, and 28 singers from the San Francisco Boys Chorus. All of this is mixed in surround-sound for maximum immersion. Following a sample of the beautiful score, Lipson revealed that the music recorded by Incubus and Breaking Benjamin for Halo 2 would be re-imagined by metal artist Misha Mansoor from the band Periphery. He also broke the news that legendary guitarist Steve Vai would return to re-record his sweeping shredfests for Halo 2: Anniversary, which included a sneak peek at one of the songs.


In addition to all of the new music, Lipson explained that all of the audio effects had all been completely redone to sound and behave much more realistic than ever before. Weapons will sound different depending on whether they were being fired around a corner or over a distance, and all of the ambient sounds will sound better than ever. The ability to switch instantly between a two entirely separate, complete audio system has never been done before, and it’s pretty amazing in practice. This was evidenced by the video that showed off a number of
Halo 2’s most iconic weapons (including the fan favorite Battle Rifle, which elicited the most cheers) being fired while switching back and forth between the old and new version. To say the differences are striking would be a major understatement.

Next up was the reveal of the next of the six re-imagined
Halo 2 maps that will be included in Halo: The Master Chief Collection. As Frank O’Connor noted, Lockout is one of the most beloved small maps in the franchise’s history, so it was a clear choice to be getting the deluxe treatment. Max Hoberman, Lead Multiplayer Designer on the original Halo 2 and president of Certain Affinity – who is collaborating with 343 Industries on Halo 2: Anniversary’s multiplayer –  shared some war stories from the game’s development, including the fact that Lockout was originally created to be a 1-on-1 map. After sharing some of the original design documents, he discussed some of the improvements made to Lockout.


First up is a new, wider cover area in what’s known as the “elbow” area of Lockout, which comes in handy during fevered games of Crazy King or other objective-based games. It also features a new breakable glass piece in the center section that will shatter after some serious damage. This changes the flow of the map quite a bit, allowing for new and evolving strategies as the action progresses. Perhaps the biggest change, however, is the addition of massive stalactites that hang over the left, center, and right sides of the map. By firing on them, players can drop them onto entrenched enemies in raised areas, killing them and offering a chance to gain some higher ground. Hoberman assured old school players that, as is the case with all of the new maps, these interactive features can be toggled on and off in Forge.

Speaking of Forge, Ayoub took a few moments to talk about the version of Forge that would ship with
Halo: The Master Chief Collection. In addition to implementing a number of features suggested by the community, Forge will now include several blank skyboxes, allowing users to create nearly anything they put their mind to rather than altering an existing map. “You can just jump in there like it’s an open palette,” said Ayoub, “and you can really create whatever it is you want.” There will also be some new terrain types, allow for much more varied and organic designs.

Finally, the fans got a first look at the version of
Halo 3 that will be shipping with Halo: The Master Chief Collection. In addition to the game running at gorgeous 1080p and a buttery-smooth 60 frames per second, the game has gotten a fresh coat of paint in some new lighting effects and shaders. During the game’s opening mission, it really shows in the light streaming through the jungle canopy and the way it reflects off the gold armor of a Brute stationed on a hill. 

With that, the official part of the
Halo panel at PAX Prime came to a close, but there was nearly 20 minutes of additional Q&A at the end. You can watch the entire archived Twitch stream of the panel here, with the Q&A session beginning around the 51 minute mark.

We’ll be bringing you more on
Halo: The Master Chief Collection as we get closer to its November 11, 2014 release date.  
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