Halo lore master Joseph Staten has returned to the franchise to lead Halo: Infinite's campaign, 343 Industries today announced.
Staten of play
There's good news for Halo fans: Joe Staten is back and is now guiding what appears to be a deceptively-rocky boat. This move seems to speak volumes about the current state of Halo: Infinite's development, and reflects a larger part of Microsoft's game dev business practices. While coronavirus was a major factor for disruption, it's unclear it was the only thing that affected development.
"I'm thrilled to join Halo to help them ship Halo Infinite. As the project lead for the Infinite Campaign, I will be supporting the team's existing, great leaders and empowering them to do their best work," Staten said on Twitter.
This is the equivalent of bringing in your star player late in the game to help ensure a win. If such a significant changing of the guard were needed, then 343i could be overwhelmed. And rightly so given the circumstances.
Up until Halo: Infinite's delay to 2021, 343i has repeatedly insisted development was going smoothly. The early signs had been there from the beginning. Not only is 343i trying to develop a new Halo game, but they're doing while simultaneously making a new engine, which is extremely difficult. Not to mention this engine must be compatible across two generations of Xbox hardware and variable PC components.
COVID-19 was a big significant disruptor. Everyone now has to work at home and communicate remotely, which interrupts the close-knit office teams that coordinate on the project's pipeline. Not only is 343i trying to make a new Halo game (tough) alongside a new engine (almost impossible), they're doing it during a pandemic while working at home. This is unprecedented for the Halo team.
Halo: Infinite isn't a game. It's a platform. It's the Halo Waypoint of Halo games.
The reality is this isn't just another Halo game. It's the Halo game. Infinite isn't just a game but an actual platform that will serve up the next 10 years of Halo. 343i says that numbered Halo sequels are over, and Infinite will be the gateway to all future experiences.
The game is tremendously ambitious and features a huge, sprawling campaign with exploration, RPG-level elements, and features befit of an online engagement-driven live game.
All of this has added tremendous layers of complexity to an already-complex development cycle.
Seeing is believing
Fans got to see some of the issues manifest up close with the new Halo: Infinite campaign trailer, which was widely panned for its graphics and shadows. 343i delayed the game shortly afterwards.
It was either delay the game, Xbox boss Phil Spencer said, or release it in separate parts. 343i execs discussed plans to release a multiplayer-only portion ahead of the campaign. Spencer ultimately made the decision to delay the game so it could release as a complete package.
There were more signs of troubled development, though, mainly with key people leaving the studio.
Now fast-forwarding nearly a year later and Joe Staten, who commands a near-encompassing knowledge of the Halo universe from having written most of it, now leads this team. 343i was careful to say that Staten would "help get Halo: Infinite to the finish line" and strongly indicates nothing will be rebooted.
From the looks of it, 343i isn't about to pull a Destiny. In fact, that's why Staten left Bungie--over the forced story re-writes from Activision and Bungie exec Harold Ryan.
Also announced this month was the inclusion of a third third-party studio helping Infinite's development.
Right now there are three studios helping 343 Industries make Halo: Infinite, including:
- Skybox Labs - Teamed up with 343i in 2018, presumably will work on Forge.
- Sperasoft -Teamed up with 343i in August 2020, will help with porting Infinite across multiple Xbox platforms.
- Certain Affinity - Starting working with 343i in December 2019, will help multiplayer.
Devs and contractors
One other thing to note is Microsoft's business practices concerning contractors.
According to Bloomberg's Jason Schreier, Microsoft cycles through contractors in 18 month intervals. That means game development contractors go in and out of projects every 1.5 years, which is a sharp contrast to Halo: Infinite's 5-year development cycle. Since big-budget games like Halo: Infinite use a lot of contractors--like other major game studios including Naughty Dog--this cycle can interrupt development in specific ways.
"At Microsoft, contractors can only work for 18 months max. (They can then come back after a six-month break.) Microsoft uses so many contractors that this limit leads to a lot of attrition - and for games that take 4+ years to make, like Halo Infinite, it has been disruptive," Schreier said on Twitter.
"Microsoft's rampant use of contractors has had a significant impact on Halo Infinite's production."
Despite these issues that were uncovered and not explicitly outlined by 343 Industries, the studio tells fans and gamers to not trust second-hand reports. That's to be expected considering a big rumor hinted Halo: Infinite would be delayed to 2022, which was later debunked by the studio.
"Over the past two weeks we've seen the internet fabricate numerous stories and fake "leaks" that have made people, including me, scratch their heads. From rumors of dropping support for the Xbox One to releasing the game in 2022, there seem to be new headlines popping up every day.
"As we get closer to sharing more and more news, please only trust statements that are made by official Halo channels, members of our studio leadership, or members of the Community Team," community manager John Junyszek said.
But at the same time, it's hard to believe everything that PR tells you. The last thing they want to admit is that the boat is in unsteady waters.