Out of the thousands of video game franchises, few have amassed the level of fame and fortune as Halo, Microsoft Game Studios' 11 year-old franchise.
In fact, seasoned fans of the sci-fi shooter series likely know all there is to know about the Halo universe — or do they?
To commemorate the impressive showing of Halo 4 at the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo — due out Nov. 6 for Xbox 360 — we caught up with Frank O'Connor, franchise development director at 343 Industries, who shared a half-dozen little-known facts about the franchise, its characters and new enemies.
Weight a minute
The Master Chief, hero of the Halo series, weighs about one ton in armor. Despite being lean and muscular under all that metal, the Chief himself, thanks to the fact that he's almost seven feet tall and has structurally reinforced bones, weighs almost five hundred pounds in his socks. Making that physicality something that the player could "feel" and experience in Halo 4 was one of the main elements of how 343 Industries approached his new animation and interaction with the world. From simple things like the audible creak of leather when you turn "your" head, to physical confrontations with opponents in interactive vignettes, huge effort has gone into telegraphing that weight, speed and power in a way players can understand.
Ride this hog
The Warthog — Halo's legendary off road troop transport, is slower than a Prius. Game physics and level design limit the Hog to a fairly pedestrian 60 miles per hour. It is, however, more fuel efficient, since it cracks hydrogen from regular water for its fuel cell hybrid engine. In Halo 4, the Hog has undergone some improvements, but it will still feel weighty, predictable and maneuverable in the classic sense that players have come to love.
Cortana, the Chief's holographic artificial intelligence (A.I.) companion, has a human "soul." Illegally reverse engineered from a clone of her scientist creator, Dr. Catherine Halsey, Cortana is unique for reasons beyond her diminutive stature and lack of apparent clothing. That aspect of her persona may be one of the reasons that Cortana has managed to evade, or at least delay the onset of "Rampancy" — a kind of corrosive mental breakdown suffered by A.I.'s as they begin to buckle under the weight of information overload. That aspect of her behavior and mentality will come to the forefront in Halo 4.
Halo fiction is more than just a game — eight out of ten Halo novels have been New York Times bestsellers, appealing to a voracious audience that extends far beyond console owners and game players. The last three books have all fed fiction, characters and seeds for future events directly into Halo 4, in a herculean effort of planning. So much so that the last book in Greg Bear's "Forerunner Saga" will release two months after Halo 4 to avoid revealing game spoilers.
Spartans are not volunteers — the Spartan IIs, of which Master Chief is the most famous and last-surviving member, were illegally kidnapped and cloned as children at the age of 6, in an immoral but ultimately successful attempt to create peerless super soldiers. In Halo 4's Infinity multiplayer experience, players will be able to customize and play as Spartan-IV's, the UNSC's newest breed of Spartan warriors (akin to Special Forces) first introduced in Karen Traviss' novel, Halo: Glasslands.
For the first time since the original Halo game, Halo 4 will introduce a brand-new enemy class called the "Prometheans" — a deadly new class of technologically advanced foes that will challenge players to employ innovative new combat tactics, and expand the Halo sandbox with new technology, weapons and abilities. Halo lore fans will recognize the Prometheans as a powerful and revered group of Forerunner Warrior-Servants, whose forebears fell from power following the Human-Forerunner War.