343's executive producer Dan Ayoub is not going to tell me a goddamn thing about Halo 5, and that's rather a shame because I am going to ask him about literally nothing eIse.
Oh, I'm not going to use precisely those words. I'm going to ask about "franchise evolution", "audience fatigue", "player feedback" and "lessons learned" - lovely, safe non-questions marred by ums and ers and confused references to competitors that Ayoub will make a show of answering in lovely, safe, effortless generalities. Over the next 20 minutes we will swap nothings with the air of men imparting secret truth, and slump lower and lower in our chairs on either side of the Atlantic, and grow stupider.
This interview isn't about Halo 5, technically. It's supposed to be about Halo 4's Castle Map Pack, and there are a couple of chaps on the line from Microsoft's external map dev of choice, Certain Affinity (they sound very faint and far away, as though they've been squeezed to the point of evaporation by Ayoub's audible presence - Ayoub the Mothership, the Primum Mobile). But I'm jiggered if I'm going to spend 20 whole minutes with one of Xbox's first-party supremos solely asking questions about a map pack, as pleasant and polished as its additions are likely to be. It's not that I'm uninterested (we'll publish the fruits of the chat with Certain Affinity next week) - it's that I've got bills to pay. Ayoub knows this.
He also knows that I know that he knows what the next Xbox is called, what it does and when it's likely to see release - or at least, he damn well should do, given that Halo 5 is all but guaranteed to run on the machine - and he's not going to tell me anything about that, either. The next Xbox? Why ever would we want to release another Xbox? Our currently available console is still far and away the market leader in North America, the world's biggest videogame market, and we've got a new Gears of War title to sell.
Interviewing can be very much like playing a fighting game against an opponent who's resolved to wait the round out. As a rule, you're not going to bust through his defences with a single, heavily telegraphed haymaker - the trick is to string ineffectual jabs together, massaging your target with wisecracks, platitudes, seeming/actual feebleness and non-sequiturs till - oops! - you tempt him into a counter-move and - bam! - here comes the uppercut. This is seldom as effortless as I've just made it sound. I never was very good at fighting games. Funny story: once upon a time CVG's Andy Robinson managed to conduct an entire interview with NetherRealm while kicking my arse at Mortal Kombat, much to NetherRealm's amusement. My vengeance, when it arrives, will be protracted and intricate.
I begin by asking Ayoub whether there's nothing left to "prove" after Halo 4 - after all, 343's first real Halo project, Bungie's long shadow, overcoming fan expectations, etc etc. He swallows a laugh. "Not at all. I like to think that we always have something to prove. I think you definitely touch on our challenge with the first game, but by no means are we done. We have a lot of very cool ideas for things that we're going to do in the future, obviously that I can't talk about right now. I don't think we're ever going to consider it done, and I certainly don't think we'll ever run out of things to prove. Every game we come out with, every product that we come out with, every map that we come out with - I don't think we're going to lose that edge."