With HALO’s latest twin-stick shooter available today, Control500 takes a look at how this major IP ended up in a small studio in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
How HALO found its way to the Dutch capital is a story that starts in Scotland. In 1983, ten year-old Frankie O’Connor walks into an Edinburgh arcade. He watches as employees install a new arcade cabinet emblazoned with Moon Patrol in classic 80’s font.
Frankie is smitten when he plays the game for the first time. Never before has he seen a game with separate foreground and background movement, resulting in a spectacular sense of depth. It’s called parallax scrolling –of course. In the game, players drive a buggy across a lunar landscape, dodging UFO attacks and avoiding mines and enormous craters. The young Scot is so mesmerized that he never forgets Moon Patrol.
Fast forward to 2011, O’Connor works for 343 Industries and manages a franchise called HALO. His team knows that he dreams about an isometric HALO reboot of Moon Patrol in which the original buggy is replaced by a Warthog and the entire backdrop is relocated to the universe of the Spartans.
For some time, 343 Industries has considered developing an arcade-based HALO game for use on Microsoft’s new mobile platforms. When Publishing Director Dan Ayoub recalls a presentation by a couple of developers from Amsterdam, the puzzle pieces fall into place.
One of those Amsterdam developers is Martin De Ronde, one of a few Dutch gaming veterans with truly global influence. As co-founder of Guerrilla Games, De Ronde had negotiated a deal a decade earlier with rival gaming giant, Sony. Upon departing the Killzone-developer, he founded charity games publisher, One Big Game, and later became joint owner of Vanguard Games.
That studio had released Greed Corp and the 2011 isometric twin-stick shooter Gatling Gears to positive reviews, but lackluster commercial success. “After Gatling Gears was released, we started work on a spiritual successor – a game set in our own Mistbound universe, but geared much more towards online gaming”, explained De Ronde during our interview back in 2013.
With a demo of the game in hand, Vanguard set out to find partners. This search ultimately led them to 343 Industries, which -as stated- was contemplating a similar game, albeit set in the HALO universe. “343 said: ‘Okay, show us what you can do.’ We developed a concept proposal and a non-interactive demo that demonstrated how we would capture the spirit of HALO, as 343 put it. And basically, that’s when production started.”
“Obviously, everyone in the studio was excited to get the opportunity to work with such a major IP. But the team was very professional and didn’t feel intimidated. Within a week it was business as usual. There is nothing daunting about 343. We are a really good match and there is great chemistry. They give us plenty of freedom and only reject one of every ten proposals. That builds confidence and trust.”