What It's Like To Be Responsible For Halo 5: Guardians

Halo 5 Day Zero Impressions: Mediocre Campaign, Promising Multiplayer

It’s a unique opportunity.

It's October 26. Brad Welch, the Design Director of Halo 5: Guardians, sits in front of me. Tomorrow the video game he has spent the last three years of his life building will be released, in its final form, to an expectant public.

That's a scary thought.

Millions of people will play Halo 5: Guardians. Hardened fans, cynical fans, pro players, game critics, developers, people who have never played a Halo game before, people who don’t even know what Halo is. People from all walks of life, across every possible spectra. They will play Halo 5: Guardians. Most likely they’ll have an opinion about it.

Brad is okay with this. He’s prepared.

“I have this countdown set up,” he says, referring to an alarm set on his phone. An alarm set to go off when his video game is released. A Halo 5: Guardians alarm. When he set this alarm he had no idea he’d be flying halfway across the globe. To another country, another time zone. Brad is in Australia. His alarm is all fucked up.

“I thought I had another day,” he laughs. “But I don’t.”

But Brad is no stranger to Australian Eastern Time. He was born here and started his game development career here, working in Melbourne and then at Pandemic in Brisbane, where he spent the majority of his time before moving to the US. Now Brad works at 343 Industries. Now he works on one of the largest and most important video game series currently in existence.

And Brad didn’t just work on Halo 5: Guardians. He played a large part in its creation. He played a large part in determining its current direction. At one point Brad mentions it offhand: if Halo 5 is a disaster — if it reviews terribly and bombs commercially — a large part of the ensuing blame will land on his shoulders.

“I was in those meetings,” says Brad. “I was part of that decision making process.”

How does that feel — the day before release? In the countdown to judgment day?

“I'm nervous. Excited. Nervously excited is usually how you feel at this point.”

Game development is a long process and everyone involved has a unique loop. Things are quiet during one stage of development and hectic in the next. The ramp down for someone like Brad, a Design Director, begins relatively early. At a certain point in the process the game is ‘finished’. It exists in a completed state. At that point the development process becomes less about design and more about polish — about identifying and eliminating bugs. The role of a Design Director is slightly diminished during that period.

But then, in the lead up to release, a realisation. Shit. This is really happening. The game you spent all that time working on is about to hit stores.

“That's when you get to see if what you helped create is going to resonate with people.”


Brad touches on the point of diffused responsibility. You get the sense that working at a huge studio like 343 Industries is a double edged sword. On the one hand there’s a pressure release: you're not the only person working on this game. In a sense you might be more personally invested in a video game if you’re making it by yourself, or alongside a team of three. That might result in a little more pressure.

Or it could result in less.

The flip side of that coin: the expectations for a game like Halo 5: Guardians scale into the stratosphere. The stakes are exponentially higher and on the eve of its release, there’s a different sort of pressure. Particularly for Brad.

I ask him if there’s any sort of diffused responsibility.

“Not for me as a design director,” he laughs. “But that does happen sometimes. People get hyper focused in one area.”

It’s a byproduct, he explains, of a diverse team. 343 Industries is a studio packed with talent, often that talent is hyper specialised. In every corner of the studio there’s a developer obsessing over the smallest details of character design, someone who can’t wait to find out what you think of the light bridge they’ve been working on for the last 12 months.

A different kind of pressure. A different kind of stress.

What if people don’t like my light bridge?

Brad’s perspective is a little broader:

“I worked across the whole campaign and the sandbox. I have a good picture of why things turned out like they did, why we made certain decisions. I feel more responsible for the end result. If things go bad: I was responsible for that decision making.”

That’s a little scary, but Brad has an ace up his sleeve: data.

Halo 5’s direction was steered – in part – by an 18,000 deep community survey across every possible group you could imagine. The goal: take the multiple different communities that make up the Halo fan-base and find the common ground. Appeal to everyone at once somehow without sacrificing depth in any area.

Easy, right?

The word ‘tightrope’ doesn’t really cover it.

But in the lead up to the release of Halo 5: Guardians, the data has buoyed Brad somewhat. It gives him confidence in the final product. It allows him to look at that countdown on his mobile phone and refrain from hyperventilating. He and his team have navigated the juggling act that is Halo 5: Guardians on a combination of instinct, good design sense and cold hard data.

He’s not too worried about the reviews, which are now streaming in and are — broadly speaking – positive.

And he, alongside his team, set himself one more goal: surprise players. Provide that large, diverse group with the Halo experience they’ve come to expect, but give them something they didn’t know they wanted.

“I hope fans say that Halo 5: Guardians was true to the traditions of Halo but put a new spin on it. There’s a legacy we’re building on but we want to provide players with an exciting experience. We want them to be surprised.”

As he leaves the office, an observation: Brad Welch looks a lot less nervous than you might expect.

You might even say he looks quietly confident.


Comments

    Tomorrow the video game he has spent the last three years of his life building will be released, in its final form

    Huh? I thought it came out today? So weird, I must be getting my dates wrong.

    Also I thought Forge wouldn't be releasing until December. Man I must be getting my facts wrongs. I'm so confused >:

      Your memory is going the way of your faith in the Halo brand...

      When he set this alarm he had no idea he’d be flying halfway across the globe. To another country, another time zone. Brad is in Australia. His alarm is all fucked up.

      “I thought I had another day,” he laughs. “But I don’t.”

      Tomorrow in US perhaps?

      The start of that paragraph, mate.

      It’s October 26. Brad Welch, the Design Director of Halo 5: Guardians, sits in front of me. Tomorrow the video game he has spent the last three years of his life building will be released, in its final form, to an expectant public.

        Whaaat!? I thought today was the 27th!! Am I so out of touch that I'm missing a day!?

          xD Not unless you can't get over Labour Weekend, like the rest of us!
          I'm just going to assume that Mark had written it up yesterday and it's been given the "Go-ahead" for today. :)

    It's not looking good for Brad based on earlier reviews....

      Based on earlier reviews where the scores are 8+? Yeah I'd say that's going terrible as well.

      Edit: Fxck my comments must be controversial. Only the above sentence, and the comment is awaiting moderation.

      Last edited 27/10/15 1:28 pm

        It's hardly getting glowing reviews, I've seen places saying it's the worst single player campaign. I'm still getting it tomorrow but i doubt it's had the initial impressions they were hoping for as a new team taking over.

        Last edited 27/10/15 2:00 pm

          Polygon's given it a 9 and as of the time that I posted my initial reply, Metacritic's overall had a 95/100 while an overwhelming majority of the reviews were 80+.

          I feel as though the people critiquing the story don't know much about the Halo Universe. A minor nitpick I guess - I really enjoy the lore and it stands out to me. Campaign is 9-11 levels. And everything I've seen indicates great dialogue.

          Edit: Apologies, bad information in regards to levels. 9 - 11 hour campaign.

          Last edited 27/10/15 2:50 pm

      Nice try mate but not biting...

    And it can't even run at constant 1080p, they have to adjust the resolution to keep it at 60fps.

    Console fail.

      Thanks for the elitism BS.

        Thanks for your typical salty xbot reply...
        Yeah I'm totally elitist, whatever you need to tell yourself to justify your purchase, and rabid fanboyism...

        The developer said the game will sacrifice resolution for fps... It's pathetic, how old are the "new" consoles again? And they're already struggling...

        Xbox and ps4 are weak, it's not my opinion. Defending underpowered hardware makes you kids look dumber and dumber.

          It's business decisions and a different market clientele. No need for the over-insulting rant. They take the best bang for your buck hardware and compile it together for the Gaming/Media Consoles. This way it works for those of us that do not or can not shell out hundreds or upto thousands for a gaming rig.

          People like you give us PC gamers a shit rep. I've been on the PC for roughly 14-16 years. Get over yourself.

          Don't own an Xbox, and have no intention of getting the game, so fanboy would be incorrect. Everyone knows proper gaming PCs will always outperform gaming consoles, especially considering the fact that the current gen consoles' hardware was locked in 3 or so years ago. Your comment was completely irrelevant to the article and served no purpose.

      He has a point. I think 1080p should be a minimum.
      I have refrained from purchasing a new console so far. But prior to that, I have always preferred xbox. Don't care enough to be a fan boy, but I'd have easily chosen a 360 over a ps3. I game on PC as well, but I much prefer console gaming.

      But this time round, I think the xbox has dropped the ball. It's the weaker of the weak.
      I understand wanting to keep costs low, and have consoles accessible - but this time round the consoles were MUCH cheaper than previous generations. Launch prices were a lot cheaper, and even current prices weren't something seen on older gen consoles till a lot later on in their life.

      So with that said, I think they had a little bit more wiggle room in terms of performance and price.
      I'm not sure how squeezing close to 10 years on 720p is gonna work. 4k is also rapidly approaching, it's a while away from being the standard but it will get there eventually.

    I actually had fairly reasonable expectations, a solid campaign, with good banter between the main characters, split-screen co-op, and decent graphics that felt like the Halo universe.
    Pretty basic stuff for such an established franchise, not really stratospheric expectations, but I feel like it only hit the last one, and even then, only kind of.

    Will pick it up, and likely enjoy it, after many other things have been played.

    Having played it now I think it was a respectable entry into the franchise. Wasnt the best halo game, probably wasnt as good as 4, but i still left satisfied. It felt largely like a first half of a story instead of an individual story arc though. The legendary ending is prety great.

      Yep, it ain't over yet.

      As someone invested in the Halo series and its lore, I'm not entirely happy with how the campaign played out. I won't say more because others haven't finished it or even started it.

    Is it meant to be out today? I just got it from jb

      Yeah it is. Mark wrote the article yesterday and I'm assuming the article only got the 'green light' today.

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