Bungie will launch the most significant full-scale iteration of its Halo
franchise since 2007's Halo 3
launches this September after the biggest multiplayer beta the company's ever run.
But although the studio pioneered multiplayer with Halo
will be greeted by an audience much evolved -- since Halo 3
many other titles have made strong multiplayer design widely prevalent and competitive.
2.7 million Xbox Live players participated in the Halo: Reach
beta, helping Bungie iterate on and fine-tune what it sees as the "real pillar" of its games. Hence a challenge emerges for the studio: How to continue pushing the bar and innovate, and still satisfy a hardcore fan base with major expectations of the franchise born of familiarity?
"There's more pressure not to fuck it up, because people are really into it," multiplayer design lead Chris Charney tells Gamasutra as part of a brand-new feature on Reach's beta story
"But a lot of the design goals for Reach
multiplayer are based on things that just we wanted out of the game," he says. "They're not a response to [player demands]... that's absolutely something we think about, but mainly it's driven by what we want to do with our next game."
"That's why it's critical for us that Reach
not feel like just the next version of Halo
," he adds. "It needs to be its own unique, exciting multiplayer experience."
Community director Brian Jarrard agrees that the game's design must be driven by innovation, despite the quintessential importance of fan feedback. "There comes a point in that life cycle when we kind of go from leading the charge to letting the community dictate what happens to the game," he says.
"I think Halo 3
, over its lifespan, has seen a lot of different gameplay styles that have been formed strictly by things fans have done with tools we've provided," Jarrard says, discussing the Forge community-facing map editor.
"Nowadays, on Xbox Live, some of the more popular playlists and game offerings have actually been created by fans outside of Bungie, so that's pretty awesome," he says.
Offering such tools "always originated from a practical or fun desire in the studio, but we very quickly have discussions about what our fans would do if we enabled them to do x, y, and z," says Jarrard. "I think in Reach
you're going to see some similar themes carry forward."
The full interview with Carney and Jarrard offers a fascinating look
at the massive beta process for what's shaping up to be one of the most multiplayer-intensive and anticipated games to date.