A New "Halo"

A New "Halo"

Is it really only for Xbox One?

Microsoft this morning provided the first tidbits of information about the next "Halo" titled, to be called "Halo 5: Guardians." Due in late 2015, Halo 5 will be accompanied by a Halo TV series. But we won't have to wait 18 months for more Halo: Microsoft also subtly revealed that more Halo titles are coming in the interim, and I have a few guesses around what that might mean.

It's hard to overemphasize how important Halo is to Xbox. This week, Microsoft noted that it's not just a perennial game franchise but is rather core to the fabric of Xbox, a "part of the Xbox platform itself." This is an interesting way to put it, and I'll touch on that briefly again in a bit. But its far to say that new Halo titles have routinely been used to showcase the Xbox platform. And Halo 5 will do that for the Xbox One.

I wrote about the history of the Halo franchise in Halo: Anniversary and a Look Back at the Halo Series in late 2011. Back then, Microsoft was pushing a reimagined version of the original Halo game, and of course since then the firm delivered a Halo 4 for Xbox 360 and, more recently, the smaller Halo: Spartan Assault for Windows, Windows Phone, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

So what's up with Halo 5?

Made by 343 Industries. Halo creator Bungie has flown the coop, so Halo 5 will be helmed by Microsoft's 343 Industries. This is the firm that made Halo 4 and Halo: Spartan Assault, and I think it's fair to say they've been faithful to the Halo franchise, if not overly inventive.

Will showcase the Xbox One. As is so often the case with Halo, this new title will "showcase" the platform, in this case the Xbox One. Microsoft says it will be "built from the ground up for Xbox One." That means it will run at 60 frame per second (fps), which is meaningful because Xbox One often comes under fire for not meeting the performance prowess of the PS4. (That said, no promises were made about the resolution of Halo 5, so it's possible that the title will downscale to meet this performance metric.)

(Probably) not ship on Xbox 360. They did not say this explicitly, but my gut feeling is that Halo 5 will be used to steer Xbox 360 holdouts to the Xbox One. That is, there will not be an Xbox 360 version of Halo 5.

Will include input from fans. As is so often the case with Microsoft these days, the direction Halo 5 takes will be directed in part by "the vocal and informative input" from its fans.

Will debut in "fall 2015." "Halo 5: Guardians, the next installment in the legendary saga of the Master Chief, will launch on Xbox One in fall of 2015," Microsoft says.

Master Chief is part of the story. As noted in that previous quote. Master Chief has appeared as the main character in most Halo titles, though he was not part (or at least the focus) of "Halo 3: ODST" or "Halo: Spartan Assault." 

Bigger than Halo 4. Microsoft says that Halo 5 is a "bigger effort" than Halo 4. "That applies to the content and scope of the game, as well as the technology."

Better than Halo 4. It's fair to say that Halo 4 wasn't a smash hit. But Microsoft says that 343 Industries has will "incorporate the things learned from Halo 4 about technology, aesthetics, performance and scale – and perhaps more importantly, understanding and embracing a community of gamers who love what lies at the heart of this game, and the limitless potential of the Halo universe." It sounds like they intend to both respect Halo and expand the game in a way that will excite Halo fans.

New game engine. Halo 5 will feature a "brand new and more powerful engine," Microsoft says. It will "create worlds and experiences worthy of next-gen."

TV series. Halo 5 will launch alongside a new Halo TV series that is being developed with legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg. That TV series will "stand alone, as well as complement and enrich the game experience," Microsoft says, promising more information as we near its projected fall 2015 release.

So this is all good news, if vague. But the following bit—vaguer still—has me wondering.

"We'll give you much more information about our plans for this year at the Xbox E3 2014 Media Briefing on June 9, and we're confident that 'Halo' fans will be pretty excited about the special plans we have in store," 343 Industries general manager Bonnie Ross writes, after promising a "giant leap" (rather than a "one small step") forward.

Interesting. When I look at the Halo: Franchise overall, I see that only one modern Halo title—Halo: Spartan Assault—is available on modern Microsoft platforms, while two old titles, Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2," were ported to Windows (in the latter case, Windows Vista, 7 long years ago).

So. If Halo is "part of the Xbox platform itself," and the Xbox platform is now available on Windows 8.x (including Windows Phone 8.x) as well as on dedicated Xbox hardware, why couldn't there be more Halo titles on these platforms too? This could take the form of earlier full-blown Halo titles—like Halo 3, ODST and Halo 4—as well as new touch-centric games along the lines of Halo: Spartan Assault, obviously. But the Xbox One is basically a gaming PC. Couldn't that more easily be ported to the PC as well?

If you look at how the decision making process at Microsoft has changed under Satya Nadella, this makes sense. If you make Halo 5 available for Windows, you somewhat undercut Xbox One. But not doing so undercuts Windows (and possibly Windows Phone). Given those choices, you undercut Xbox One, don't you?

I think so. Open up, Halo. Tear down those walls.

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