By Matthew Vice
On Wednesday the 25th of February, staff from LazyGamer were invited to attend a Q&A session with Jason Pace of Ensemble Studios, the studio responsible for the recently released Halo Wars for the Xbox 360.
Due to the timing of the interview, there wasn’t a lot that wasn’t known about the game already, but we were able to ask Jason Pace some in depth questions about the choices Ensemble Studios made regarding the game mechanics.
Lazygamer: What were the key things you wanted to preserve from the Halo FPS series?
Jason Pace: For us, it was most important to preserve the visceral feel of the combat that the FPS games had and incorporate it into this strategy game.
Lazygamer: How did you link the experience of this Halo game to the previous three?
Jason Pace: Well, the previous Halo games had always been very personal experiences, seen through the eyes of Master Chief. Since this is a strategy game, we didn’t really have a single character’s perspective to view the story from, so we included every other icon of the Halo series. We tried especially hard to make the physics of the characters and vehicles the same as in the FPS games. So when the Warthogs drive along the terrain, ramping and sliding, they look, feel and sound just like the Warthogs in the FPS series.
Lazygamer: Does the game use a pre-made engine, or was it made specifically for Halo Wars?
Jason Pace: Halo Wars uses a new engine developed specifically for Halo Wars. This engine was tailored specifically for the 360’s strengths.
Lazygamer: What advantages does the engine give you?
Jason Pace: Because it was tailored specifically for the 360, this engine allows us support many more units in the game at once than if we’d, say, bought an engine or been working on a cross platform title. Also, if there were any effects we particularly liked, we could ask our developers to push them further and make them look better.
Lazygamer: Apparently Halo was originally meant to be a strategy title, but was changed into an FPS. What made you decide to make a Halo-based strategy game now?
Jason Pace: We thought that now would be the appropriate time because there is a lot more crossing over between PC and console gamers. It used to be that PC gamers stuck mostly with their PCs and console gamers rarely tried PC gaming, but in recent years, more PC gamers have been trying out console gamers and vice-versa. Given this traffic of different tastes, we thought it would be the ideal time for the Halo series to branch out.
Lazygamer: Did you make this an RTS-Lite to better facilitate console style controllers and console gamers.
Jason Pace: I wouldn’t call it RTS-Lite so much as an Action/RTS hybrid. Of course, because it’s a console game, we removed some of the slower and more micro-management level elements, which just aren’t well suited to the 360 controller. Basically we wanted to create a strategy game where you can immediately start building your army and begin achieving your objectives within the first minute or two.
Lazygamer: Some of the PC’s more hardcore RTS players border on fanatically obsessive about the details of their favourite RTS games. Do you think they’d find a satisfying amount of depth here?
Jason Pace: Hardcore RTS players will definitely pick up the play mechanics a lot quicker than casual RTS players. But like any game of wits, it takes only a short while to learn, but a long time to master. As players become more advanced, they’ll start to find other ways to achieve their objectives that they might not have thought of previously, including ways to break the game’s basic Rock-Paper-Scissors system. Turtling is hard because of the unit limit, but it’s still possible if you do it right. Also, the difficulty settings will cater for any level of player, and the adaptive difficulty setting can scale much higher than even the Legendary difficulty setting. Really hardcore players will be able to see the difficulty ramp up to challenge them if they play on the adaptive difficulty setting.
Lazygamer: Do you plan to possibly provide support of things like saved videos, which are an integral part of the whole Halo experience?
Jason Pace: We’ve certainly considered it, because it is a big part of the Halo experience. We definitely might do it in the future.
Lazygamer: Will there be any expansions coming for Halo Wars, offering new units and missions, or possibly even different factions?
Jason Pace: I don’t have anything to announce on that front, but I can say that it’s a definite possibility.
Lazygamer: How do you think someone who has never played a Halo game before would find Halo Wars, as their introduction to the universe?
Jason Pace: I think Halo Wars would be an excellent introduction to the story since it sets up the entire conflict and explains the story of the conflict between the humans and the Covenant and lead right into the first Halo story.
Lazygamer: How much more Halo do you think we can expect to see in the future?
Jason Pace: The Halo universe and story are so epic in scale that there are a nearly endless number of stories we can tell within this universe. We definitely think that Halo has a lot more potential, and we can create many more stories than those of Master Chief, with new protagonists and new struggles. So we’re really got a lot invested in the Halo series, and I think you’ll see plenty more Halo games of different types in the future.
Lazygamer: Well, thank you so much for your time, and we hope that Halo Wars turns out to be a success for you.
Jason Pace: Thank you. It was a pleasure.
If you have missed it head on over and check out our Halo Wars review
Last Updated: February 27, 2009