Halo 4 Spartan Ops: "A TV Show You Play"
|NEWS - VIDEOGAME NEWS|
343 Industries' Frank O'Connor addresses pushing episodic content to new limits.
Many games in the past have tried to differentiate their models of development and distribution by shirking lengthy development times in favour of shorter, more frequently-released games. It's a tricky model to get right, because as a general rule of thumb modern games development is something which, by its very nature, becomes a bit of a time sink as devs have to make sure all the pieces of the puzzle work exactly as they're supposed to. Episodic content, as it's become known, has been bandied about by a few developers with varying degrees of success - some, like Telltale Games, have managed to pull it off fairly effectively with their latest few franchises, especially with their latest series of episodic games that tie in with The Walking Dead TV series; others, without pointing any fingers, have fallen short by being simply too ambitious, leading to a very notable absence of a concluding chapter to the adventures of a certain crowbar-wielding theoretical physicist.
But 343 Industries, the studio set up by Microsoft specifically to develop future titles in the now-iconic Halo franchise, want to push episodic content a step further. While even studios like Telltale have to struggle to churn out a new episode every few months, 343 are planning on pushing out weekly episodic content with Halo 4's new Spartan Ops campaign, designed to bring players back regularly to further explore and experience the ever-developing Halo universe. 343's resident franchise development director Frank O'Connor, a Halo veteran who worked alongside original developers Bungie since the series' inception, likens to Spartan Ops experience to "a TV show you play".
"There are lots of ways to define it, but we knew instinctively once all these elements clicked into place, getting to that point was really difficult to do and it wasn’t about invention or some crazy patent scheme, it was just about effort... We’re not setting out to make the best TV episodes ever, and we’re not setting out to make best videogame experience. We’re setting out to see if the two can be combined in a real and meaningful way and give the best parts of both. We want them to play off and enhance each other.
"The technology and methodology of making TV these days is almost on-par with movies in terms of spectacle and richness, I think that’s been a huge revolution and we’ve been following in their footsteps somewhat. We’re still a game, there are CG episodes, but they give us the opportunity to explore stories that are deeper and more character focused than you normally can in a videogame."
The Halo series has been no stranger to ongoing support in the past - previous games have received continual additions and rotations to its multiplayer roster throughout their development, and most recent title Halo Reach still receives cyclical daily and weekly challenges to this day. But never before has the series undergone such an ambitious attempt to deliver such brand-new, original content and settings to the playerbase on such a frequent basis, through both cinematic and gameplay-focused content. It's unknown how long 343 plans to support Spartan Ops into the future, but currently plans for the first "episode" to drop alongside or shortly after the base game's release, with the first "series" being delivered weekly thereafter. Presumably, similar to the TV shows it plans to emulate, Spartan Ops will have to experience a few months' long haitus between each "series" to allow the devs to put together the next dozen-or-so episodes. Halo's multiplayer has always been long-lived, but 343 are hoping that this close and ongoing support for the Halo franchise through Spartan Ops will help to draw in a returning "audience" further down the line (presumably to compete with rival big-hitter franchises like Call of Duty) and let players and fans experience the universe in a new and unique style.
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