Q: What can you tell those who haven’t kept up with non-gaming Halo content about Locke, Blue Team, and Fireteam Osiris?
Brian Reed: I’ll start with Blue Team. They are the easiest in that they are the original Spartan IIs – they’re old school. They’ve been together since they were six years old, running missions and fighting in the war with the covenant for the last 30 years. If you’re a fan of the novels, you know them from all that backstory, and you know they got separated just before the events of Halo. Chief’s been away from them for a few years, they’ve still been off running missions, and he’s gotten back together with them just before Halo 5 starts.
After the events of Halo 4, Chief went back and found Blue Team again and started running missions, and that is where we find them at the beginning of Halo 5. Fireteam Osiris is all of the new kids. They’re all Spartan IVs. Whereas the Spartan IIs were abducted as children and put through these super-soldier surgeries and have spent their lifetimes at war, Spartan IVs are adults who have chosen to join the military, who have had exemplary careers, and now have been offered the chance to move up. In the present day you would say, ‘Oh, you’re moving into special forces.’
With the Spartans, you’re signing up to be one of the best of the best, one of the super-soldiers, get all of your surgeries, your armour, your training. So that’s a big difference between the teams. With fireteam Osiris in particular, they’re all new characters for the most part – with the exception of Spartan Buck, who comes to us from ODST and is played by Nathan Fillion. Spartan Locke was introduced in the live action of Nightfall last fall. He comes from the office of naval intelligence. He’s James Bond turned Spartan.
He was an acquisitions specialist, which is kind of a fancy term for hitman that ONI would send out to find the targets that needed finding. He would bring them home, and he could find anybody. Along with him is Spartan Vale, who’s our linguistics specialist. She was the kid genius who taught herself to speak alien languages as a hobby. And then there’s Spartan Tanaka, who is our army engineer. She’s the person we go to to figure out ‘how does this work?’ and ‘how does this break?’ depending on the needs of the mission.
Q: What came first: each Spartan’s in-game abilities or the characters themselves?
Brian Reed: We actually kinda approached building Osiris the same way UNSC would have approached building them, which is: who do we need for this mission? As we knew what planets we were going to be going to, and what events we were going to have in the plot, it started answering some of the skillsets we needed out of our characters. So, they kind of fed into each other.
Q: How does the game differ when you aren’t playing as Master Chief?
Tim Longo: One of the top-level project goals we had was to expand on the Spartan ‘vanity fulfilment’ for lack of a better term – what it’s like to be that walking, talking tank. We actually wanted to Spartan abilities – ground pound, overcharge, and all of those things – to be consistent across all Spartans. But then, within the campaign when you’re playing as the two squads.
One of the cool things things about Osiris which Locke brings to the table coming from ONI is prototype R&D gear and form of tracking system – the Artemis tracing system is what we call it. They explore their surroundings, find targets of opportunity, tactical options, and collectibles – things like that. Between Blue Team and Osiris, each member of each team has their own loadout and armour mods. So, there’s slight differences with the armour mods for things like speed, grenades, health, and recharge rate, and then everyone has their own weapon that is signature to their character.
In Blue Team’s case, because there’s already some canonical declarations of what those characters use, Linda has her special sniper rifle that is essentially a legendary weapon, and so the player that plays as Linda in co-op comes in with that weapon automatically. Kelly comes in with her shotgun, etcetera. One of the exciting things we wanna share with people is, we made a crazy decision with this game to have eight main characters in a way. The team has done an amazing job: even each of the first-person HUDs for each of the characters are completely different.
It’s kind of ridiculous in retrospect that we did it, but I think it’s going to be cool for players. I wanted to mention that because I’m really excited for it, and the team worked really hard on it and did a great job on it. It helps support the narrative goals that gives a unique flavour to each of them. Obviously, their third-person models are also drastically different. So it’s not just co-op from the past where you have four Chiefs running around all fairly generic – they all have their own character. We hope that people come out with their favourite Spartans in mind because of that.
Q: It’s not the first time you've done so, but were you worried about pulling the focus away from Master Chief?
Brian Reed: No – if anything it was a goal. Halo has been around for 12 years now, and has been really healthy and really good with just Master Chief and Cortana as our identifiable heroes, but it was time to let the universe grow. Fans of the novels and the comics and the live action stuff all know that there’s a lot of other stories going on in Halo, but we’ve very rarely seen them in the game – Reach and ODST were as close as we got.
This was an opportunity to make the pool a little deeper, and give us a few more characters. I’ve said it multiple times that my goal all through Halo 5 was: you need to be able to come out with your favourite Spartan. If you can go into it going ‘I really like Master Chief’, and you come out going ‘Man I still like Master Chief, he’s still awesome, but I wanna know more about Spartan Vale… I wanna have another adventure with Spartan Buck’ – that was our goal here.
Tim Longo: Yeah a thing Brian often says which was related to that same goal is making sure that the story and the thrust of the story and the motivations for everybody still revolve around Chief’s story and his arc. It’s really about this manhunt. Osiris is going after Blue Team, and there’s mystery revolving around what’s going on there. Everyone’s motivations including Lasky is about finding Chief, getting to Chief.
When you have as important a character as Chief, you wanna play as that character and see how he’s feeling about the situation and what he’s going through, but one of the other good ways to perceive the situation is through the eyes of those around him, and what they see him as. Locke’s comment on what it means to go after Master Chief, go after a legend, is a cool moment for us because we know the player is asking those same questions.
Brian Reed: Yeah and this story is still very much a Master Chief story, it’s all about the point of view we’re seeing it. Osiris doesn’t go on this adventure if Master Chief doesn’t do the things he does.
Q: You’ve designed for co-op before, but not on this scale. What challenges did the size of Halo 5’s campaign bring?
Tim Longo: Yeah I think the other big challenge is the mission design and encounter design. Obviously, scale of missions had to change to accommodate four players. We have a lot more verticality to our levels, there’s a lot more layers, there are more hidden paths and options for players. So that’s good for solo play, because now you have more choices than you did before. But also in co-op everyone can go their separate ways in certain encounters and flank more and find weapons, or go turn on turrets or do tactical opportunities.
So it changes the way we had to think about level design in a pretty fundamental way, and a lot of the team coming off Halo 4 which was a little more traditional in its level design… the level and narrative designers had to think pretty differently about how to build a mission, and we had a lot of things that initially didn’t quite work out. We sort of discovered what it means to make a co-op game for Halo.
Q: That splitscreen wouldn’t be included caused some controversy a few months back. Are we now at a point where splitscreen will cease to be a thing in AAA productions? More than anything, visual fidelity sells games, after all.
Tim Longo: It’s hard to predict that. I don’t think our decision… our decisions were our own, I don’t think its necessarily a trend of any kind. It was a really difficult decision for us to make, and we’ve heard a lot from the fans about how people will miss that. We miss it ourselves too, it’s a super difficult thing. There’s a lot of hard decisions when you’re making a game, we’re trying to balance a lot of decisions, and that was one we ended up not wanting to prioritise this time. I don’t think it’s necessarily a trend for games in general, because you still see it out there – even games that are fairly new still have it. It was more a decision for us and what we wanted to focus on. We have a super high-fidelity experience, 60 frames is important, and while those weren’t necessarily related to the decision entirely, we have those priorities that are obviously important to us.