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Thoughts on the Gamasutra article.
Date: 5/11/13 11:50 am

Yeah, this article. I'm finally getting around to posting my thoughts on it, and I'm going to try and keep those thoughts non-negative. Can't promise positive.

There's been quite a few negative reactions to parts of this article, but not much discussion about those parts. Hopefully, this post will kickstart some of that. It may come as a surprise that I'm not as negative about the sound bites as a lot of other people around here. Mostly just neutral.

But overall, I like the tone 343i is striking with these more recent interviews. They're less self-aggrandizing and there's a lot less back-patting going on. For once, 343i is willing to talk about the mistakes they made. I don't know if that's a carefully calculated PR move, or if enough time has passed for them to see the flaws in what they published, or if the criticism they've received has encouraged them to think about the doubts and fears they had during production.

343 also struggled with balancing familiarity with reinvention, as the studio wanted to please a large fanbase, but at the same time bring something new to the series. While the game received high scores, some critics pointed out a feeling of sameness.

Yeah, shouldn't have gone there. There was a crap-ton of new content with which 343i could have made their mark without screwing around with established designs.
There's also reinvention as it applies to gameplay. Don't have an opinion on that.

"Having the Halo franchise was burdensome in a lot of ways -- meeting expectations, for example -- but it was great for hiring," O'Connor admits. Many of 343's problems were big, practical, logistical conundrums having to do with growth and recruitment. The studio needed to attract top triple-A talent -- talent that was in high-demand, and probably already employed at other triple-A studios. All of 343's staff came from triple-A; the studio's staff now represents over 25 triple-A studios.

Is there a definition for "Triple-A"?
If there is, is it a benchmark of quality, or is it a benchmark of quantity of content?

If there is no definition... well, either way, is 'Worked at a triple-A studio' a decent metric of a game designer's workmanship? Is an artist qualified to work on the Covenant because he designed Locusts for Epic?

Also, it's an exaggeration to say that ALL of 343i's staff came from triple-A studios. Brian Reed never set foot in a studio before he was brought on for Spartan Ops.

"We had people who we hired who hated Halo because of 'X,'" says O'Connor. "But what that really meant was, 'I feel like this game could be awesome because of 'Y input' that I'm going to bring into it. I want to prove it, and I'm passionate about proving it.' So we ended up with a bunch of people who were genuinely passionate about the product. That is a huge advantage, and that helped in hiring and forming our team."

Tastes like unintentional flamebait.

I don't talk about Halo to people outside of the Halo fandom, so I only have a blurry idea of what people dislike about Halo. Maybe they dislike FPSs, maybe they dislike Halo's style of FPS, maybe they find space marines boring.

But honestly, who hates a game because of a single factor? I mean, I have three glaring reasons to loathe the first Mass Effect, but I love that game. Perhaps the part we need to focus on is the second part of Frankie's statement.

"But what that really meant was, 'I feel like this game could be awesome because of 'Y input' that I'm going to bring into it. I want to prove it, and I'm passionate about proving it.'"

OK, first things first: Amateurs have passion, professionals have standards.

Second thing: While that's infinitely more acceptable than hiring people who flat-out hated Halo, it requires a good gatekeeper. Someone who can select the talents that could actually benefit Halo. A gardener, if you will.
Looking over Halo 4 and its development, I don't think that 343i had that gatekeeper.

I'm not saying that hiring people who are critical of past Halo games is a bad thing, because it's better than imitating Star Trek and letting the fanbase run the asylum.

Anyhow, what that single factor that could make people hate Halo? Are the Covenant not serious enough? Is the color scheme of enemy ranks too childish? Are the alien guns 'too out there'?

The growing pains threaded throughout the development of Halo 4, as the studio came to terms with firing up an motor while trying to build up the rest of the car around it.

As a sometimes-mechanic, I find that particular metaphor... gruesome.

"But I hope we remember that process as we grow as a studio, and remember that we are successful because of what new people bring to it, and not in spite of it."

Nope. It's definitely in spite of what the new people are bringing to it.

For Halo 4, he says there were a few epiphany moments that helped boost the morale of the team. One of the earlier ones that Holmes recalls was when the team completed a small piece of the Halo experience that he described as a "very traditional" Halo. User research showed that people thought it was a lot of fun, and it showed that the team was capable of making a Halo game that was true to what the series was about.
343 scrapped it, Holmes says, as it was too traditional. But that first build showed the new team that this amalgamation of different studio cultures could work together and achieve a common goal.

Oh boy, did this one get a lot of flak.
When I first read it, I had the urge to sentence Holmes to ten years of watching "Fiddler on the Roof", and wishing mercy upon his soul. But then I thought about it, and couldn't figure out what feature he was talking about. So far, I have it narrowed down to Dual Wielding and a title menu that's actually sensibly designed.
I'm honest. I'm trying to think of 'Traditional' gameplay features in past Halo games that weren't included in Halo 4, altered or otherwise.

OK, so is 'Too traditional' a good reason to ax a gameplay feature? Well, if it was something that people found...
Wait. Does 'User research' mean 'people on the forums were talking about it' or 'the labrats in Chamber 7 were seen to smile when they played'? It bears thinking about, but if 343i decided a feature that playtesters thought was fun was too traditional, it comes across as pointlessly iconoclastic.

Unless it was duel wielding. In that case, it deserved to be dragged out back and shot.

Holmes says. "It's something in which you really pour your heart and your soul into. So you care very deeply about what that feedback is. ... As a general rule, we try not to overreact to the loud, vocal minority."

There is a world of meaning in that ellipsis, but I'll never know what it is.

Alright, general thoughts?
Well, I'll resist the urge to quote Roger Waters and simply say that 343i bit off more than it could chew. They were building a studio from scratch and continuing the story of the Chief in a blockbuster AAA title.

Yeah. Ambitious. Now for a little business advice from my old Statics professor.

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars. Unless, of course, you just started out in your line of work, in which case your ride is one of the original Atlases. Step away from the launch pad!"

In short, 343i should not have started with Halo 4.
They should have done something else. Anything else. Something smaller in scope, more manageable for a new outfit. Think of it as a shakedown cruise. A chance to build a team, get it working together, and send the Xbox 360 off with one last Halo sidestory. Save Halo 4 for a team that can build it and a console that can run it.

And that is what I have to say about that.

Messages In This Thread

Thoughts on the Gamasutra article.Quirel5/11/13 11:50 am
     Re: Thoughts on the Gamasutra article.Ragashingo5/11/13 3:11 pm
           Re: Thoughts on the Gamasutra article.Quirel5/12/13 3:53 pm
                 Re: Thoughts on the Gamasutra article.yakaman5/13/13 9:58 am
     Re: Thoughts on the Gamasutra article.Guttsu5/13/13 7:31 pm
           Re: Thoughts on the Gamasutra article.uberfoop5/13/13 9:01 pm

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