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LOS ANGELES — At this week’s giant Electronic Entertainment Expo tradeshow, Microsoft announced its Halo: The Master Chief Collection disk for the Xbox One. Arriving this fall, the collection will include high-definition and remastered versions of the four Halo games starring Master Chief as well as the Halo: Nightfall digital video series, the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta (playable in December), and more than 100 multiplayer maps.
All of that costs $60, or the price of one new game. And it adds up to a lot more than just a retread of some old games. We talked about this with Bonnie Ross, general manager of 343 Industries, the Microsoft game studio that took over the Halo franchise after Bungie moved on. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: An observation I had about the Halo collection was that it doesn’t necessarily bring a lot of new stuff on the game side, but it’s an interesting innovation in merchandising. I don’t know if you thought about it that way, but if you think about $60 and what that means to a gamer—you have four games in one, 100 missions, and the Halo 5 beta. Any one of these things would be worth a lot to the right person.
Above: Bonnie Ross, the general manager of 343 Industries.
Bonnie Ross: We went through a lot of iterations on what exactly we could do. We were thinking about how to start showing up on Xbox One. What’s our first move on Xbox One? For the first time ever, we can look at something over more than one year. We can be very deliberate about the story we want to tell. That’s how it came about from an origin perspective.
Also, we didn’t want to do something that was just four discs in a box. We wanted to think about, what would be something that could make those of us who’ve already played these games want to play them again? Frankly, I think that whenever you’re doing a remake—I feel like this is a tribute to the fans. Some of our fans started with Halo 4. Some of them started when the first Halo shipped. This is a way to get old and new fans back. I want to start off Xbox One the right way, and this is the right way to experience Halo.
GamesBeat: You think about parents playing with their kids. This is becoming old enough as a franchise that people might want to do that.
Ross: We see that a lot with our toy line. We see parents buying stuff for their kids and bringing them on board. We’ve never done this before. People have asked to have all the games together. We made a deliberate decision to stick with Master Chief, because we are telling a broader story. But I look at this as the right way to start Halo on Xbox One.
GamesBeat: What about from the development team’s perspective? You have a finite amount of resources in the form of these very valuable people. If you tie up a team doing the Halo collection, is there some risk that it’s taking away from some future Halo game?
Ross: We do have to balance out the right return on investment. For this, though, just like Halo Anniversary, we have partners helping us out. We have a team at 343, and we’re working with Saber Interactive and Certain Affinity again. We have multiple teams and a lot of people working on this. They wouldn’t be working on any other Halo game for us.
GamesBeat: Do you figure 10 years is a good time to revisit a game? Technology keeps moving on so quickly. With movies, you would think more about the 20-year anniversary.
Ross: That is interesting. When we thought about the first one, fans were asking us what we were going to do. It seemed like the right time to do it. We got a lot of great feedback on Anniversary, with the exception that people really wanted multiplayer. We learned our lesson there. But it seemed like the right time. I do think technology and graphics make a difference over 10 years.
GamesBeat: How long ago did you have to start thinking about this in order to make it happen?
Ross: We started thinking about exactly how we were going to debut on Xbox One before we shipped Halo 4. We’ve been thinking about what we were going to do in 2014 or 2015 since the fall of 2012, maybe?
GamesBeat: So not as long as you might think, as far as collecting all this stuff.
Ross: The nice thing is that the games are essentially done. We have to redo some things, but the gameplay itself is finished.
GamesBeat: Can you do some things more efficiently, like improving the HD?
Ross: Yeah. It’s not as hard as it might look. Obviously, Halo 2 is going to get a bit more special treatment. We’re spending more time on that one. But even when we just moved Halo 4 onto Xbox One, if you put it side by side with the 360 version, it looks amazing. Just bringing it to One, you gain a ton of efficiencies.
GamesBeat: It seems like a lot of hours for your money here. You could spend a lot of time with this.
Ross: You could. The thing we’re really excited about, imagine doing curated playlists. One of the things we are going to have is the run-through, from Combat Evolved to the end of Halo 4. We’re excited to see what people are going to do — what the speed runs are going to be like, how many people are going to try to do it. It’s going to bring in a bunch of new ways to play.
GamesBeat: How are you keeping track of the Master Chief story going forward?
Ross: You will see Nightfall set up the transition from Halo 4 to Halo 5. The challenge is that the story will move from the game to the video series to the game. The writing has to bee coordinated.