It's funny to look back and remember that Bungie's original concept for Halo was as a PC RTS, which is probably why the universe fits so snugly with Ensemble's vision for Halo Wars.
Of all the genres jumping ship to console land, RTS was always one that would never be the same without the comfort of a mouse and keyboard. That's exactly why the Age of Empire boys are ignoring the genre conventions of the past, and building Halo Wars from the ground up for Xbox 360.
What crazy ideas do they have to get this running on a joypad? We caught up with producer Chris Rippy and lead designer Graham Devine at E3 to find out more.
What kind of user interface tweaks have you made to make Halo Wars work well on the Xbox 360 joypad?
Devine: The most important user interface in the game is the circle menu, which is how we do everything in the game. You make your units here, you build you buildings here, you call in your leader powers from here; it's all done from the circle menu.
You can also use the d-pad to very easily jump around the map; back to your base, back to your battle and back to your armies. It's very important that you're able to move around the map fast.
That sounds promising. So do you think you've cracked the console RTS interface problem then?
Devine: I think we have. I think that's the breakthrough. If you look at all the RTS implementations on a console from Pikmin to C&C3 and Overlord, the games that were made directly for the console have the best implementation of controls. The games that were ported from PC games or had a PC version too had to find some halfway ground that's not best for the console.
So we decided to design our game from the ground up just for the console, that's all we thought about. So I really think that once you get to feel the controls you'll see that that's the revolutionary aspect. We're really happy with that.
So there's no PC version in the works?
Rippy: No. One of things about this game is we always wanted a console RTS. One of things that makes it work is that we've thrown out all of our previous notions about a PC RTS, focused on that and made that work.
What's the ultimate goal of the game?
Devine: To keep the universe around until the events of Halo 1 (laughs).
We actually fill in little pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. There's a large story to tell here and we add to that story and fill-in pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that you get to learn about in the Halo games and the books. It's part of that tapestry.
How is the story told in Halo Wars? Is there an overall story arch?
Devine: The story's told through pre-rendered cinematics and in-game moments like the one you saw with the Scarab. The story takes place in 2531 and ends in 2531.
We got different planets, so it's safe to say that the environments change quite dramatically as well.
Any cameo appearances from the teenage Master Chief?
Devine: No teenage Master Chief, but there are Spartans in the game.
How involved has Bungie been with the RTS project?
Devine: Well the assets are all from the ground up for the RTS. We worked closely with them on the story and they give us continuous feedback, but they let Ensemble make an Ensemble game. It's our game.
Rippy: Yeah, it's been a really cool relationship.
In the multiplayer department, how important is that to the game and how many players are you going for?