Interviews// Halo: Reach - Campaign Designer, Niles Sankey

Posted 30 Jul 2010 17:47 by
SPOnG: In the last couple of years, character design and facial animation have been some of the key things developers have used to create believable and engaging stories in games. It's particularly true in cutscenes. Is that a lot of pressure for you guys, given that your most famous character is a blank slate?

Niles Sankey: Absolutely. It's something we've chosen to tackle in ODST and Reach, and it did force us to re-address out technologies. The games industry is a very competitive place - there are a lot of really talented developers and we really had to step up our game with Reach and turn on the good stuff, to really 'sell' Noble Team.

Not only that, but we had additional pressure to improve the graphics and structure of the missions themselves. We needed to tell a story that works both on a personal level - with Noble Team soldiers' history - and on an epic level, as you saw with our E3 reveal trailer. If you've seen it, you'll know that you get to go up into space. So it's very challenging to make a game that works well on both a micro level and on a planetary global scale.

SPOnG: What are the most exciting new features of the game, for you?

Niles Sankey: Well for me personally, the E3 reveal with the space action is really cool. We have been looking into developing space combat for quite some time, and it's exciting when we see it through to full glory.

Earlier today, I also showed one thing that's critical for us, which was to sell Reach as a planet. As you know, Reach is destroyed and becomes a blasted wasteland, but to make that have meaning to the player we had to make Reach a living breathing planet. So everything from showing large open-scale environments, to populating those environments with wildlife was absolutely crucial for us to nail down.

We revealed some elements of wildlife in the demo today - a creature called the Moah, which are these ostrich type things that farmers breed on the planet. Of course, we also have civilians on Reach that Noble Team frequently interact with.

In terms of vehicles, I love the new Revenant, which is a cross between a Ghost and a Wraith. It's exciting to use, because it's mobile like a Ghost but has the firepower and defences of a Wraith.

From a weapons standpoint, I really like the new target locator. It's a laser target, that you can use to tag an individual AI. What that does then is track him, and in a few seconds a bombardment comes down and lays waste to the area he's in. It's exciting to imagine you target a Ghost, only for it to turn on you and run the risk of the bombardment getting you too.

In general, Halo: Reach is really similar to the first 3 Halo games, only in the way in how we do campaign - a linear set of missions. Another nice thing is that in a co-op, we've changed the AI so that it naturally scales difficulty with more players. It's a lot more robust - during the testing of the game modes we had two people playing the first mission. They tried it on the hardest difficulty, and it took them 5 or 6 hours to get through it. That's the most hardcore example though, that's if you really turn it up. So certainly, we're proud of the fact that Reach is more challenging than past Halo games.

SPOnG: Being so close to a franchise that you have nurtured for over ten years now, it must be a weird feeling to round the series off and let go of the whole series to someone else forever. What is the feeling in the studio?

Niles Sankey: As you probably can guess, it's a bittersweet feeling. We're really excited about Reaach, and we still don't feel like we're really done with it, because half the fun for us is actually releasing the game, with the forge tools, and seeing what community comes up with. We feel like we've not even experienced Reach ourselves yet. On the other hand of course, we know that we are concluding our time with the Halo series, and we're excited to see where it goes. But at the moment we still haven't gotten over the idea of Reach actually coming out yet.

SPOnG: Thanks for your time.

Niles Sankey: Thank you very much.

Halo: Reach will be releasing exclusively for the Xbox 360 on 14th September.
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