Who: Phil Spencer, General Manager of Microsoft Game Studios Publishing; and Dave Luehmann, General Manager of Microsoft Game Studios Internal DevelopmentWhere: X06, Hesperia Tower Convention Centre, Barcelona
When: Thursday 27 September
Could you give us an introduction to Halo Wars?
Dave Luehmann: Ensemble Studios is developing Halo Wars. Theyve made their name as one of the best RTS development teams in the world and their work with Age of Empires bears witness to that. For a while now theyve wanted to turn their hand to bringing the RTS experience to the console. They had been working for almost a year on making the RTS and strategy genre work on a console, making it fun for the console gamer given the control method and the lack of a keyboard. Once theyd figured that out we started thinking about the kind of intellectual property we were going to add to the mix, and Halo seemed the obvious choice.
So the game engine came before Halo was involved?
Dave Luehmann: The intention was never to slam the Halo universe into this game. Rather, we realised that we had something very special and so we said lets add to that by using something like Halo to really enhance that experience.
How does Ensemble and Bungie work together?
Dave Luehmann: Theres a lot of travel involved! The teams love to meet face-to-face to talk about the way the game looks, the way it feels, and the way it sounds. Theres also a lot of cooperation from a story standpoint, so both teams are working very closely together.
Bungie is known for being very protective of Halo. Has that caused problems in development for Ensemble?
Dave Luehmann: I think Bungie is very careful with Halo and thats great. Ensemble is also very respectful of that and anything that happens in Halo Wars will happen under the full blessing of Bungie. Theres a real spirit of cooperation. Bungie hasnt been in any way difficult in fact theyve been very forthcoming. Ensemble is also very protective of its role in the RTS development space and wouldnt put its name on anything that didnt live up to its past. Its a great marriage, because both teams are very proud of their work.
Will you be able to play as the Covenant in Halo Wars?
Dave Luehmann: I dont think weve made any promises on that
Is Halo Wars a straight RTS or is it doing something different?
Phil Spencer: I think the term RTS will stick but when you play it I think youll see that it is very difficult. Ensemble started by working out how the strategy game could fit into the console environment, not from the point of view of working out how they could make a Halo RTS game. Halo actually started as an RTS on Mac, but this is a completely new endeavour.
What are the issues behind sorting out the joypad controls for a console RTS like Halo Wars?
Phil Spencer: You say issues, but we say opportunities. Using a mouse and keyboard might seem like a great way to play an RTS, but for many players the sheer number of keys and the poor mapability of options puts them off. The ablility to access the commands you use all the time isnt that different to the commands you never use. With a joypad you can prioritise the main commands so that the player can reach them quickly and easily, while demoting the second tier of commands. I also think theres an opportunity in the future to play an RTS on Windows with a joypad. Theres a lot of potential in mapping RTS controls to a joypad.
Dave Luehmann: Lets not forget that only a few years ago people said that an FPS wouldnt work on console because of the controls, and look where we are now! Were always trying to change how the business works, and thats what were trying to do with Halo Wars.
There are so many Halo stories being told Halo 3, Halo Wars, the Halo movie, novels, graphic novels and so on. Will there be lots of crossover in the narrative of Halo Wars with these other sources?
Phil Spencer: The fiction will remain true to itself. Maintaining the consistency and the quality of the Halo story is all-important. Youll see references to other things in the Halo universe because its all one world. If something has happened in the past, it will have happened across all the whole Halo universe. We actually have a team dedicated to guarding that continuity so we dont need to wipe the slate clean every time we add a new chapter to the Halo story. Also, for the people who read all the novels we need to make sure that they dont have to forget about something they experienced in the Halo universe because we havent checked it out properly.
Will Halo 3 or Halo Wars launch first?
Dave Luehmann: We havent announced a date for either. Unfortunately!
Many thanks for your time Phil and Dave!