Halo: The Master Chief Collection takes a conservative approach to updating the classic franchise shooter, and that’s just as it should be.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection bundles Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition, Halo 2 Anniversary Edition, touched up versions of Halo 3 and Halo 4, a multiplayer suite encompassing maps from all games, a beta invite to Halo 5: Guardians, access to Halo: Nightfall, and more.
In all this content - an incredible amount to pack on one disc - it’s easy to overlook the sterling work 343 Industries has done remastering Halo 2, arguably one of the peaks of the series, and until the Collection launches in November, the most inaccessible of the lot.
"The temptation is always there, but we certainly learned from doing Halo Anniversary that authenticity and 1:1 accuracy was super important to people."
Although 343 Industries told me its happy to be putting the whole series together at last, one of the downsides is it’s hard to message that Halo 2 is getting just as significant an overhaul as the first Halo did in its own anniversary edition.
That’s not to say 343 Industries is changing up Bungie’s classic willy-nilly; far from it. At the Tokyo Game Show 2014, franchise development director Frank O’Connor told me there are things 343 just won’t touch - for example, the ageing animations - because of how that changes the gameplay experience for hardcore fans.
"The animation is improved, as some of its is drawn at 60 frames per second, and that really changes how that animation functions," he said.
"But we have to be super careful with that because that can have gameplay effects. And if we animate something differently, on the switch [between new and old views] that could mean the difference between a guy falling over the edge of a building on the switch and not falling off after the switch, because there are geometry and animation dependencies.
"The temptation is always there, but we certainly learned from doing Halo Anniversary that authenticity and 1:1 accuracy was super important to people. Especially in multiplayer, but we had a lot of people trying to exploit maps and get out of the maps and stuff like that, where we'd made necessary changes sometimes, and we got a lot of complaints because people weren't able to glitch in some way they remember.
"We do have to strike a careful balance between maintaining that perfect experience but also modernising it - not just aesthetically. In some ways, this is a much more 1:1 experience than the original Halo Anniversary, with that learning in mind.
"Animation is a good example. It's easy to change. But it can have unintended consequences."
The overhaul is so faithful that players can switch between old and new graphics with a single button press, much more quickly and smoothly than in the first Halo Anniversary release. This allows you to see just how close the two experiences are, and compare the animations and their gameplay effects directly to see that there’s been no unnecessary changes made.
In fact, O’Connor went on, the Anniversary remakes, and the package in general, is “about authenticity” to the original games.
"This one's about authenticity and really filling in a lot of the gaps that we left in Halo Anniversary, where people wanted the whole multiplayer experience.
"We built our [Halo Anniversary] multiplayer suite to fit with Reach. We thought that was the right thing for the audience, to keep supporting the current game. But we got a lot of complaints like 'I don't wanna play Reach multiplayer, I want to play my Halo 1 multiplayer'. They wanted to relive that 1:1.
"We have over 100 multiplayer maps. We have every multiplayer map shipped, including stuff that never shipped on console. Stuff from the PC."
"So we were able to do that this time. We have over 100 multiplayer maps. We have every multiplayer map shipped, including stuff that never shipped on console. Stuff from the PC, and from Halo 3: ODST. It's a huge amount of content.
"We built [the multiplayer suite] with Max Hoberman, who was the original multiplayer designer on Halo 2," O'Connor reminded me.
Despite its reluctance to fiddle with gameplay-affecting aspects, 343 Industries has gladly gone ahead and remastered all the cinematics, keeping the original scripts but crafting all new movies to match them. As O’Connor explained, it’s not just a matter of using more detailed character models and textures; the art of cutscenes has really progressed in the intervening years.
"It really shows off how far we've come, not just in etrms of fidelity but the way we frame that fidelity," O'Connor said.
"It's funny. Going into this process, reframing some of those shots, it makes you realise how much things have improved just in terms of the games industry's ability to tell stories. Not just in the fidelity of the graphics, but sort of modern cinematic techniques rather than old school stuff.
"Joe Staten, who obviously wrote and created all that stuff, was kind of excited to see how they've done it, because it's verbatim original content, it's just - shinier. It was interesting to see his reaction."
On the subject of making things shinier, increasing the resolution (while maintaining a very crisp frame rate of 60FPS in campaign mode) and updating the graphics grants players a very different view of the Halo universe to when they originally explored it.
"Halo 3 and Halo 4, 1080p, 60 frames per second - both of those games turned out way better than I expected them too," O'Connor said.
"I expected them to be good and fun and smooth, but especially in the case of Halo 4, there was just a lot of content that wasn't being properly fulfilled on the screen.
"But you up that resolution - there are a few specific lighting things that we've adjusted just to make it work - and you're just starting to see all this content that wasn't visible before. So in some ways it's like a really good Blu-ray remaster where you're not just getting a better version of it, you're getting more of it than you've ever seen before."
This is the second part of our TGS 2014 chat with 343 Industries. Catch up on part one - Halo: The Master Chief Collection isn’t getting enough credit.