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The future of Halo at 343 Industries may go beyond shooters, beyond Master Chief

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Halo 4 is the "first step" in developer 343 Industries gaining credibility with the passionate Halo audience, says executive producer Kiki Wolfkill. The Xbox 360 game helped lay the foundation for future innovation and all-new gameplay experiences in the Halo universe.

Those experiences, Wolfkill says, may extend the series to new genres, new forms of linear entertainment, and may explore the stories of characters beyond iconic protagonist Master Chief.

But first, 343 Industries had to take that initial step, earning the audience's trust with Halo 4.

"If we didn't take that right initial step, there would be nothing after," Wolfkill said in an interview with Polygon. "If the worst thing that can be said for us is [Halo 4 is] a great Halo game, that it feels too safe, I wouldn't say we'd be hyper-disappointed in that. I'd say that's the right first step for us."

Wolfkill said the transition of the Halo franchise from creators Bungie to 343 Industries, a team established to shepherd the then decade-old property, came at a critical time for the series.

"When you reach that 10 year point, it's always a challenge to keep it vibrant and make sure it still feels meaningful," Wolfkill said. She says 343 expended a great deal of its energy "figuring out how to strike the right balance of delivering on something that people understood and felt familiar with," and planting stakes in the ground for future Halo games.

"We had to weigh what the risk level was as a studio without credibility trying to do all these new things," Wolfkill said. "Innovation has always been part of the Halo game pillars. That needs to continue. That will continue because there will be new platforms on the horizon and we'll be able to do things differently."

"There's always people who think 'Are we doing enough? Are we doing too much?' And the fanbase is the same way."

Wolfkill says that, following the release of Halo 4, the credibility the developer has established with fans may make the audience more willing to accept bolder, more dramatic changes to the universe. 343 Industries, she says, is focused on creating meaningful Halo experiences, built with changing tastes and evolving platforms in mind.

I asked Wolfkill if 343 Industries might take another stab at broadening Halo's appeal beyond the first-person shooter fan, as Microsoft and Ensemble Studios attempted with real-time strategy game Halo Wars. She said it's a possibility, if 343 Industries finds the right story and the right fit.

"How we look at it is 'Where do we want to be in ten years? What are the stories we want to tell?'" Wolfkill says of Halo's future. "We have started to flesh out broad strokes of a few different arcs that are interesting. There could be opportunities where exploring a different game genre makes sense or exploring a different linear format makes sense.

"If the medium fits what we want to do, then we'll definitely consider it ... if there's a great idea we get energized around."

Wolfkill says there's another opportunity for the franchise: to explore stories that are larger in scope than Master Chief's personal story. Series creator Bungie put other soldiers at the forefront of games like Halo 3 ODST and Halo: Reach, but it's something 343 Industries might explore post-Halo 4.

"I think it was an important thing for [Master Chief] to come back in Halo 4," Wolfkill said. "He's always going to be a pretty critical component of Halo and the game experiences. I would hope that we could also build strength and investment in other characters, for no other reason than that's part of what makes the universe interesting.

"Master Chief's not going away, but we need to be able to give people more connection points."

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