Developing Halo 4 Seemed Like an ‘Insurmountable Challenge’

The game’s creative director talks about overcoming

Shipping Halo 4 seemed like an "insurmountable challenge," Josh Holmes, the title's creative director, told a GDC panel last week as reported by Edge.

Holmes explained how 343 Industries grew from a small core group in 2007 to a team of over 300 by the time the game shipped.

"We wanted the skills, we wanted the talent, but more importantly we wanted the right chemistry," said Holmes. "We pulled together developers from all across the industry, and as we added each new member of the team we knew we'd have to adapt and evolved."

The developers explored the difficulty they faced in keeping what made the Halo franchise great combined with the need to add something new to the series. 343 began with the game's narrative.

"We wanted this to be a much more personal tale, to delve into the things that make Master Chief tick and force him to change as a character," Holmes revealed. "Historically, Chief has been a vessel that you pour yourself into."

The team started to dig into the series' history and folklore with the end goal being the forging of a "marriage between player and protagonist."

Holmes said his colleagues were "tearing their hair out" over Cortana's plotline which was perhaps 343's biggest and most controversial decision, at least internally. "Tackling this kind of story in a game like Halo is difficult, because it's a very action-oriented game. There were doubts within the team around whether we shoudl pursue this," he said.

However, Holmes also said the story 343 were trying to creat and become too broad and needed to be reigned in.

"We allowed ourselves to get away from clear goals. When you’re entering into an iteration loop, you’ve got to envision, assert, verify and reinterpret. Every time we found ourselves skipping one of these steps we ended up just spinning our wheels.

“There was a real reticence to put boundaries in place,” he added. “What we really discovered is that we needed these boundaries and constraints. Great creative comes from rubbing up against those constraints and understanding what they are. Trying to find that balance between familiarity and reinvention and driving Halo forward into the future was a balance we really struggled with.”

As Halo 4's release date approached the team found that the pressure was building as development continued. “There were times on this project where it seemed like we had an insurmountable challenge, and we didn’t know the way out,” said Holmes. “It was the belief in what we were doing that got us through some of the darkest times.”

But 343 have learned from making Halo 4 and Holmes promises "this is just the first step, we have a lot of work ahead."