Despite having the unenviable task of picking up where Bungie has left off, 343 Industries - now official custodians of Microsoft's console defining Halo franchise - seems to be holding up well under the mountainous pressure.
While other developers would likely be crippled by the idea of having to shape the future of one gaming's most lucrative, high-profile franchises, 343 - a studio put together specifically for this task - is taking the proverbial bull by the horns, promising sweeping changes and claiming it's already got a 'story in mind' for Halo 5 and 6.
At Microsoft's Xbox Spring Showcase we sat down with 343's creative director, Josh Holmes, and had a chat about how it feels to take over Halo, the future of the franchise, and what's in store for Master Chief in Halo 4.
How does it feel to have the responsibility of releasing the next instalment in such a huge franchise?
Personally it's incredibly exciting, in a lot of ways it's an honor and it's daunting. I won't lie to you; it's something that is a tremendous amount of pressure on a new studio and a new team, and yet at the same time we built this team with this task in mind. We all came to the studio knowing that this was the goal, that we wanted to create the definitive Halo game and that we were following in the footsteps of giants in Bungie Studios. I think it's one of the things that energises us as a team and it gets me up every morning and motivates me to want to do everything I can when I go in to work each day.
How challenging has it been to keep Halo 4 impressive, considering it's the fifth instalment on current hardware?
I think you always want to set your goals high and exceed everything that's come before you - that's just part of what motivates you as a creative individual. The challenge is great for us and that's a motivation.
A lot of the talk during the reveal was about taking steps forward in gameplay innovations, but the footage you showed looked quite conventional for a Halo game. Can you explain how you're going to shake things up on the gameplay front?
We're definitely not creating Mirror's Edge set in the Halo universe - so I wouldn't go as far as to say we're radically changing the gameplay style in a way that it's unrecognisable. One of the things that we've said is that we want this to very much feel true to that Halo feel that we believe fans everywhere love. But we also want to evolve it and add new experiences, new ways to play and give players a greater sense of empowerment through choice.
I think one of the things that's fantastic about Halo and one of the things I love most about it is this idea that players have a set of tools that they can employ in any way that they want. They can go in to every encounter, every situation and chose from this sandbox of great weapons, abilities and vehicles and employ whatever means they chose to be effective and successful.
That's something that's one of the absolute design pillars for the game - giving players as much choice as possible throughout all of the experience.
So you're keeping the sandbox approach to combat?
Absolutely. As you can imagine, when any team takes on a new creative endeavour you go through a lot of exploration and thought. Very early on there were discussions around 'do we stay with the sandbox approach that has taken Halo to this place, or do we radically reinvent it as something that's maybe more scripted and constrained?'