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Halo 4: 343 devs talk AI, Spartan Ops, Forerunner decor and SmartGlass

It takes all sorts to make a world

You know a videogame's a big team effort when the people crafting different bits appear to have nothing whatsoever in common. Lord knows how an environment guy makes small talk with the man responsible for the iPad integration, for instance. "So you're in tablets? Awesome. I just drew one of those. It's ten million years old, made of basalt and the key to Master Chief's victory over the Reapers. Or the Zerg. Or whoever. Sorry, plot isn't my thing. You'd better ask Frank."

Seeking to disperse such clouds of miscommunication, OXM brought four 343i employees together to ask them totally unrelated questions about Halo 4. Somewhere in there, Xbox 360's next big shooter is being made.

Executive producer Jerry Hook on combining Waypoint and SmartGlass
"When Xbox started creating this great idea for SmartGlass, we came up with a couple of concepts that we could produce. That's not necessarily what we'll ship, but [Waypoint] is a good example of one of the things we thought would work well.

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Our goal with Waypoint in general is to be a hub that ties the whole franchise together, we realise that people will want to play different things, whether it's Anniversary, or Reach, or Halo 4, and we want a place in which they can track their stats and look at new experiences that we will provide on Waypoint as we continue to move forward."

Environment lead artist Mike Cronin on Forerunner architecture
"The Forerunners have been the most difficult things to do, but I think we've got a good handle on it. Bungie set the direction there, with what the expectation was. Then our team of concept artists and art director, Kenneth Scott, spent a long time agonising over what 'Forerunner' was supposed to look like.

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There were all sorts of discussions about whether it should have a purpose, or whether it should be like Greek or Roman architecture, where it's definitely of a society. There were a lot of struggles there which made it, artistically, the most difficult thing about doing environments by far. Once they'd come to a place where they were happy with the art direction and what they were able to do in the concept, our environment artists had to learn how to do that. There was no aesthetic for Forerunner, it was just a bunch of metal and angles, so they had to figure out a way to make it make sense.

Forerunner works for gameplay, but for narrative it's more difficult, because if you walk into a Forerunner space in any Halo game, it's very difficult to wrap your head around and figure out what this place is supposed to be - it's all huge and empty and cathedral-like. So that was the most difficult part of making the game on our side."

Executive producer Kiki Wolfkill on the origins of Spartan Ops
"There were a few eureka moments, but not all of them worked exactly how we thought they would. The right combination sort of came together. For us it started with loving the co-op experience. But how do we take that experience and make it something people are going to want to engage with over time? We also got really engaged with this idea of a watercooler moment being more than just sharing things you watched on TV. Rather, how does that watercooler moment be about the story you saw, and the thing we played, and then did together? That was a big impetus."

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Lead level designer Ray Almaden on blending level design with AI
"Whatever game I'm working on, I have to come in, I have to learn what level design does for the gameplay system, and how to create level design that supports gameplay the best. It's so much more complex for Halo because you have the sandbox which is very different. Bungie had its amazing level design and that's the style we're building up from.

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The designers all have to come in and learn that here's the AI, and here's what we do to it, and from that the other systems kind of support it. So you set up stuff to work with, and you try one thing, and then instead of Battle Rifle you try Assault Rifle, and you have to think how this feels, what if I just come in there with a rocket launcher, what is the experience? And once you know the sandbox, how it works and what you can get out of it, then it becomes easier. It takes a while to get there though."

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