There was a time when you'd have been forgiven for thinking Halo had passed its peak.
The Xbox super-brand, which made Microsoft a global player in games, never got that oft-mooted Hollywood movie. Neither Halo: ODST (2009) or Halo: Reach (2010) managed to top the sales of Halo 3 (2007). And Call of Duty has since displaced it as the world's most popular shooter.
But, in the wake of the hugely successful Halo 4, the franchise is looking up. Over the course of just a few weeks, Microsoft announced a Steven Spielberg-produced Halo TV series, at E3 it teased an Xbox One Halo game, while in between those two announcements it unveiled a new smartphone, PC and tablet game named Halo: Spartan Assault. A game that became available to download last week.
I hope the fans feel spoilt,” says Spartan Assault producer Dan Ayoub. It is a great time to be a Halo fan. Spartan Assault gives them a new way to experience Halo. The announcement we made in May with Spielberg and the little tease we gave at E3. There's a lot of cool stuff going on. The Halo universe allows us to do this. It is so vast we can tell so many stories.”
Halo revolutionised the FPS and defined the Xbox. And developer 343 (with the help of Amsterdam-based studio Vanguard) wants to make a similar impact on tablets.
Halo has always led the way on console, and we want to do the same thing, we want to lead the way on mobile and set a bar for other people to come after,”?says Ayoub.
Spartan Assault is not an FPS, it is a top-down twin-stick shooter. Ayoub says that it's important to make a game that's best suited to mobile devices, and not simply mimic the console experience.
A mistake a lot of people make is that they port the console experience directly to the tablet.
We didn't want to do that. We created a game specifically for playing on the move. We wanted to change the conversation about tablets. When people think about mobile – tablet or smartphone – they think of limitations. We wanted to say ‘hey, you can create an awesome top-of-the-line game on mobile.'
I hope the fans feel spoilt.It is a great time to be a
Halo fan. Spartan Assault gives them a new way to
experience Halo. The announcement we made in
May with Spielberg and the little tease we gave atE3.
There's a lot of cool stuff going on. The Halo
universe allows us to do this. It is so vast we can
tell so many stories.”
Dan Ayoub - producer, Spartan Assault
We looked at tablets, we looked at phones, we took the form factor into account and decided that instead of trying to cram the Halo experience into the screen, we are going to alter the experience so it is the best-in-class on that screen.
It is still very much Halo, it is still the sandbox and weapons you know. But we let the screen define what the gameplay experience was going to be, and most of the other games just don't do that. I think that is where they run into a wall.”
Ayoub says that he hopes other developers will be inspired to beat Spartan Assault.
We have set a high bar that we just want other people to go after. We think these mobile platforms can be first-tier platforms if you really set your mind to it. And hopefully it is something people will continue to do.”
The TV series, Halo on Xbox One and Spartan Assault were the big Halo-based announcements during May and June, but Microsoft has also announced a three-issue series of comics called Halo: Initiation.
These stories are being created by Dark Horse Comics and tie in to Spartan Assault, and like everything associated with the Halo series, developer 343 works alongside it to ensure it's true to the story.
Everything we do in Halo we try to make sure it is connected, so we don't end up with a lot of random things,” continues Ayoub.
Spartan Assault ties into the fiction of Halo 4, it will unlock things in Halo 4, it will unlock things in future things we do. We have comics as well. This is a new line for us and a new way to tell a great Halo story.”
343 is more than just a studio. The 200-strong company also has consumer products within its midst to ensure these side-stories fit into the overall Halo arc.
Comics, a TV show, a mobile game, a console game – these are all channeled via the developer. And when we ask Ayoub if they're finished with Halo side-projects for the time being, he smiled.
We are not done surprising people by any stretch of the imagination. 343 is really invested in this franchise. We are always looking at new ways to tell a story to new fans.”