Right now, you'll have more luck parking a Warthog atop a Scarab than getting anything Halo-4-related out of 343 Industries. The studio is eager to talk up its vision for the new Reclaimer trilogy, dropping a few nuggets on Cortana's impending Rampancy (the AI equivalent of senility) and treating us to a dazzling montage of Forerunner-flavoured concept art. When it comes to cold hard gameplay or plot specifics, however, 343's collective lips are sealed.
Fortunately, there exist several Mystic Journalistic Abilities designed to break a developer's silence, psychological war techniques handed down from editor to editor over the centuries. One of them's the Art of the Ostensibly Unrelated Question. All innocence, we recently asked 343 directors and producers what they've enjoyed playing lately. The responses - which you'll find in OXM's now-available limited edition Halo special - are... suggestive.
Creative director Josh Holmes was "blown away" by Red Dead Redemption. "To me, that was such an amazing narrative experience. Being able to express myself in an open world environment in whatever way I saw fit, but also managed within that experience to give me the spine of a story that went through all of it. It wasn't just window dressing - it managed to make me care about the characters and the places, and that makes it really stand out."
Intriguing. Halo's never had an open stake in the chin-stroky "player freedom" vs "developer intention" debate, leaving the bulk of its storytelling to cutscenes rather than those edgy, flashy emergent environments proffered by Bioshock and co. But factor in the series' wedding of tiered, intensely dynamic AI to linear campaign design, and you start to see where an open world game like Red Dead could be influential.
Missions like Silent Cartographer in Combat Evolved or the assault on Sword Base in Halo: Reach aren't just bouts of COD-style whack-a-mole, they're helter-skelter stages on which you thrash out living, breathing drama with the AI. No one battle is the same, as Grunts lose their rag, Elites decloak at different intervals and jet-packed Brutes accidentally bump heads.
While the overall plot arch is a hands-off affair, and the environments in themselves aren't exactly bursting with backstory, Halo's scenario design involves much the same sinuous plating of the nailed-down and the free-floating as Red Dead and its fellow sandboxers.
In terms of how NPCs behave, how they react to each other and the player, and how that feeds into mission plot, Rockstar's opus could have much to offer. It's worth noting, on a possibly important tangent, that Redemption's "free roam" multiplayer lobby and Reach's Forge World have a lot in common - they're menus reimagined as playable environments.
Advances in storytelling dominate the 343 take on competing developers. Executive producer Kiki Wolfkill looks to another Rockstar game, LA Noire, for inspiration. "I wouldn't say the whole truth or lie mechanic worked - or at least I don't read people well, apparently - but they're really pushing things forward in terms of characters and story.