November 6, 2012 was the release date for Halo 4. Holmes and the crew at 343 were glued to their computers, awaiting the trickle, then eventual flood of feedback from the press and from players. He escaped into the bubble of the world wide web, absorbed.
"My wife has learned that I'm just not in a state of communication with the rest of the universe at that point," laughs Holmes. "I'm just obsessively reading stuff to see what the reactions are from fans and critics alike."
What Holmes and the rest of 343 saw from the press was generally high praise, which earned the game a Metacritic score of 87. Scores ranged most from perfect ("Trust me, you want this." - Joystiq) to excellent ("It holds the series' standard high." - GameSpot), with a few middling ("I can't escape the feeling that Halo needs to try a bit harder." - EGM) and one quite bad ("A shiny old dog without any new tricks." - Tom Chick). That's on top of all of the varied fan chatter that was happening in comment sections and forums.
"It's all very personal, whether you're getting great feedback and seeing how people are loving the game, or seeing the criticisms about the game," Holmes says. "It's something in which you really pour your heart and your soul into. So you care very deeply about what that feedback is. ... As a general rule, we try not to overreact to the loud, vocal minority."
An obsessed 343 watched everything unravel. The game generated $220 million in global sales on day one (higher than Halo Reach's $200 million launch day), and by all accounts, that provided a pretty healthy amount of validation for the team.
Now months have passed. The game is still a work in process, with its heavy concentration on online components and new digitally-distributed content. 343 has started work on a new project with one important luxury: having an actual studio.
"We did some clever things, we made some mistakes, and we learned really rapidly from those mistakes, and tried not to repeat them," says Wolfkill. "And we sort of pulled it off. We pulled off both things. We created a studio with a natural, organic culture, which is a worthy source of pride to us, and the studio created a worthy source of pride with the game itself.
"We did it -- I wouldn't want to do it again, that's the honest truth, but now we have that team in place, so we don't have to."