One of the rules of E3 is that unknown quantities are more memorable than known quantities. Gamers are asking all sorts of questions about Kinect, 3DS and Twisted Metal because they're new and new is exciting. But let us not dismiss the known quantities so easily. Halo: Reach, for example, a game out in a few months, is perhaps a more signifcant release than The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Killzone 3 and Gears of War 3. It will be the first Halo game to feature vehicle combat in space. But, more importantly, Halo: Reach will be the last Bungie-developed Halo game. Give yourself 30 seconds to let that sink in. Halo: Reach will be the last Bungie-developed Halo game. So it is with a heavy heart that we sit down with executive producer Joe Tung and writer and community developer Eric Osborne for what may well be our last ever chat with Bungie about Halo. A minute's silence, please.
Q: Space is a new battlefield for Bungie. Did you look to other flight combat games on other consoles to see what they were doing right or wrong, or was it something you were happy to innovate off of your own backs?
JT: Sage Merrill, who's our sandbox designer for Reach, he actually worked on Crimson Skies. He absolutely looked at lots of other flight games that were out there. But you know we didn't want to make a flight simulator for Reach. We wanted to make a very accessible, easy to use and fun to play space mission. So there's a little bit of a difference in trying to make a fully-featured flight sim and the mission we made, I think. Sage did an amazing job of nailing the Saber.
Q: So is the flight mission all his work?
JT: The Saber is his work and then he works with the mission designer to put together what you see there.
Q: So space combat is only in one level in the game?
JT: It is.
Q: Can you use it in multiplayer?
JT: You can play four-player co-op and everyone will have their own Saber.
Q: Can we expect to see any new gameplay mechanics?
JT: There are quite a lot of other new things in the game. There's nothing else we can talk about today. But there's some really exciting stuff in campaign and multiplayer that we've yet to announce.
Q: Is the Saber limited to campaign?
EO: The Saber is limited to campaign, so you can play campaign co-op four players, and you'll all have your own Saber like Joe says. You can go in and take the mission on. The full mission isn't Saber start to finish. As you saw you start on the beach a little bit, you work your way up, there's also some combat afterwards that we're not revealing at this time. There's plenty of stuff in the campaign that's going to be sweet. This is just a taste of what's going to be in Reach. It's one small facet of the overall campaign that we're putting together. We're super excited and unfortunately we can't talk about all of the stuff we're really excited about.
JT: I can't say enough how much this is just a tiny slice of the entire game. The game is pretty epic in scope.
Q: What sort of length are we looking at for the campaign? ODST was a bit short.
JT: Reach is absolutely a full-fledged project at Bungie. The number of features that you're going to see in the game overall is greater than any other project that we've ever shipped.
EO: It's super ambitious. The game's super big.
Q: Would you say length wise it's comparable to Halo 3?
EO: We're actually not talking about length at all at this point. It's a full campaign. Definitely a full campaign. Tons of features packed in. It's a three year offering, like Joe said, we've been working on it, just a full development cycle.
Q: Is the Saber the only vehicle you will be able to fly in space?
EO: We've already revealed the Falcon, which is what we're calling the Warthog in the skies. That's actually what you saw drop Noble team off onto the beach. That is actually pilotable by the player in the campaign.
Q: What about the Covenant ships we saw you blow up in space?
JT: We're not talking about that today.
EO: There may or may not be Covenant ships in the game.
Q: Was there ever any temptation to integrate Kinect into the experience, or would you say it's not suited to action games like this?
JT: I wouldn't say it's not suited but for us Kinect came online about... we were already a year and a half into production. It was just sort of impossible for us to think about integrating it.
EO: That's definitely something you don't want to shoehorn in, right? You want to build that in from the ground up to make sure that experience is built with Kinect in mind, whereas we were already well into the development process by the time Kinect was ready.
Q: Do you see scope for future projects where that could be incorporated into a first-person shooter?
EO: We're really not talking about any... people are doing it, right? I mean other developers are working it in. We're not talking about any future projects today.
Q: We've heard Kinect chews up an entire core of the 360's processor. Is it technically feasible to make a game of Halo: Reach's visual quality and scale that also supports Kinect?
EO: That's probably actually a really good question for the Kinect guys. Technically I really don't have any information on it. We could talk to some engineers but... as far as what it's taking up on processor cycles or CPU cycles, I really don't have any information at all about it. At the Kinect booth I'm sure they have all of those numbers ready to give out, right?
Q: Does Master Chief pop up in any shape or form in Halo: Reach?
JT: Reach takes place just prior to the events of Halo 1. Beyond that I don't think we want to talk any more about what's going on in the campaign, unfortunately.
EO: It's a standalone prequel, so Master Chief's story begins after the events of Reach.
Q: So is that no, Master Chief is not in the game?
JT: That's... er... we're not talking about that right now.
Q: What's been the biggest challenge for you during the development of Reach? What have you had to drop if you've had to drop anything?
EO: There have been no cuts. Everything made it in!
JT: Everything we ever wanted to do is in the game! The challenge for us is always the same when we're making games. It's making games that we think are great, that meet the Bungie quality bar. And at the same time there's absolutely a challenge with a game like Reach where you want to push the envelope as much as possible but you don't want to ruin the core of what's there for fans. So it's a real balancing act. I think we absolutely pushed it pretty far in Reach. Lots of new changes to what's core about Halo, but at the same time a real respect for the core Halo fans.
EO: Speaking to what you were just talking about where the story takes place, it actually makes for a really good entry point for newcomers to the series. If you don't know anything about Halo, this is a standalone prequel. You can get in, fire it up and start the story from the beginning. And people who are invested in the fiction and can tell you what the names of the ships are, or Master Chief's birthday and all that, there's tons of stuff in here - they know what star system planet Reach is in. It's a pretty cool set.
Q: There's been a lot of talk online about the resolution of previous Halo games not quite being 720p. Will Reach be natively 720p?
JT: Reach is a greater resolution than Halo 3.
Q: What does that mean?
JT: Exactly what I said.
Q: So co-op campaign mode is in Halo: Reach?
JT: Absolutely. Full four-player co-op campaign support. Last night we actually did say yes, we are indeed including Forge as well. We can confirm that. Obviously Firefight 2.0. The full multiplayer experience and more than what you've seen in the beta. So as far as game features go it is the fullest offering we've ever done.
Q: You have said that you're not going to make any more Halo games. Is Reach a fitting finale?
JT: As someone who's been on the project since day one, absolutely. We truly feel it is a fitting goodbye from Bungie to Halo.
Q: A sad goodbye?
JT: It is a sad goodbye.
EO: Marcus [Lehto, creative director] actually tears up a little when he talks about it.
JT: The team is extremely proud of the game.
Q: Have you missed anything out?
JT: You know there's always stuff that falls by the wayside when you're making a game this big, but I think we got everything in that is critical for the game, and more. You'll definitely see that in the coming months.
Q: How long after launch do you expect to support Reach with new content?
JT: We expect to put the same type of support into Reach that we put into past Halo games.
EO: Support is something that's super important for us. Super important We're not talking about any post-launch content plans obviously at this point. But yeah, there will be tons of people playing the game and we'll be there to support them.
Halo: Reach is due out exclusively on the Xbox 360 on September 14.