Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a ridiculously generous package.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection is going to sell hugely; we all know that. Halo is one of the most important franchises of the past few generations, and its fanbase is both so enormous and so fanatical that Microsoft could probably sell Master Chief branded dog turds if it wanted to.
That it doesn’t is something it should be credited for. Take Halo: The Master Chief Collection. It’s easy to be cynical about this collector-friendly package if you’ve already bought all the Halo games once, but after speaking with Frank O’Connor of 343 Industries at the Tokyo Game Show today, I came away convinced that the project is far more than a guaranteed bank roll.
“A few years ago when we were working on Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition we had this conversation about how it sucks that you can’t get all the Halo games on one console,” O’Connor told me of the project’s genesis. “Which at that time was the 360.
“And then we kind of goofed around with the idea of well, what if we did put all of the Chief’s story on one disc? And that’s really the seed.
“We kind of knew we’d be doing something big for the tenth anniversary of Halo 2. But as you can see we kind of scaled that up dramatically” – Frank O’Connor, 343 Industries
“We kind of knew we’d be doing something big for the tenth anniversary of Halo 2. But as you can see we kind of scaled that up dramatically.”
“Dramatic” is an excellent adjective to apply to the Halo series in general; a teaser roll of Halo 2’s revamped cinematics show that 343’s decision to redo the narrative sequences with modern flair is a good one. Suddenly I want to renew my somewhat patchy acquaintance with the Chief; I want the whole story, start to finish. 343 agrees.
“Let’s put all the story on one disc, on one platform, finally,” O’Connor said.
“So that collectors’ can just go nuts about the minutiae of curated materials, and people who are new to Halo can have the whole shebang.
“And there’s another set of people we tend not to identify, which is weird: maybe you only got into Halo with Halo 3 on the 360, and you missed Halo 1 and 2 completely. I do that with a lot of franchises,” he added.
“I’m usually pretty happy about it, but wouldn’t it be nice if my new favourite franchise was available all in one place?”
Regardless of which camp you fall in, a live action series, access to the Halo 5 beta, four single-player games and a full multiplayer suite offering over 100 maps is good value. What makes the low ticket price particularly pleasing is that one of the included titles, Halo 2: Anniversary Edition, is more than worthy of a stand-alone release of its own.
“Halo 2 Anniversary is probably the most ambitious piece of this offering,” O’Connor said, “Because we remastered all the campaign; we redid all the audio, all the music; we’ve got switch mode; and a bunch of new stuff in there, including an entirely new multiplayer mode that was built from scratch.”
Master Chief’s story inspires fanatical interest but Halo made online multiplayer mainstream (you’re welcome, Call of Duty), and it’s this aspect of the package which is especially interesting. Halo 2’s multiplayer is especially overdue a relaunch, given how difficult it has become to experience it.
“It’s kind of a hybrid of various pieces of Halo over the years but focused towards the Halo 2 feel – so dual wielding and boarding and all that sort of thing,” O’Connor said of this mode.
It’s just one of several, though, and fans really are spoiled for choice, able to pick which Halo title they’d like to relive online. Of course, that means the fanbase is split over multiple matchmaking queues. O’Connor acknowledged the “challenge” this presents.
“Xbox One matchmaking is really healthy; if you got to ‘Call of Duty: Obscure Mode’ today you still get a match. But we overthink it, to ensure a smooth experience when it launches,” he said.
“We’ll start with very well curated playlists, including game specific. We won’t be giving them the sort of myriad playlists we would do for a single game, because we have to spread it over four games.”
These playlists have been put together with advice from fans and Halo development veterans, and are further enhanced by democracy – players vote on the next stop on the playlist. 343 intends to keep a close eye on behaviour and adjust its playlists to match demand, as well as offering full support for custom games.
The playlists offer a quick entry point to the series, too. There’s just so much content in the Collection, that it would be easy to be overwhelmed.
“I’ve never worked on a game with this big a footprint, in terms of content,” O’Connor said. There’s such a difference between hearing that, as you are now, and seeing it, as I did today. Watching 343 demo the slick meta-interface and explain that players can pick and choose from the entire library right from the start, it really struck me just how weighty a package you’re investing in with this game.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection is far more than a value bundle or a must-have for fans; it’s an incredible showpiece of what is inarguably a seminal piece of games history. It’s now on my to-do list.