There's a good chance that unless you've spent the last ten or so years with your head buried deep into the earth's crust, you will have heard of a little game (or rather massive franchise, whichever you prefer) called Halo. Love it or hate it the game's impact on the industry cannot be ignored. Goldeneye may be widely considered as being the first title to successfully bring FPS gameplay to consoles, but it was Halo which exposed it to a far more public domain, defining mechanics and features which are nowadays commonplace.
While the recent release of the franchise's fifth videogame incarnation has been met with the acclaim we've all come to expect, it's clear that even some of the most diehard fans are beginning to tire of a series, lacking the influential power it once had.
Flaming Ice, a relatively young development team aim to address this lack of innovation. If you were one of the people who at the announcement of Halo's move to Xbox promptly scoffed at the thought of an FPS on a console, prepare to vomit vigorously, as the team aims to extend the story and universe not only onto the PC, but also the handheld Sony PSP.
Could this be the most unique iteration of a series which defined a genre on videogame consoles? or will it just turn out to be an ambitious but ultimately flawed tribute to an overrated franchise? Let's ask the developers...
Please introduce yourself/yourselves, give us an overview of your responsibilities on the team, and how you got involved with Halo in the first place?
SamUK: Hello! My name is Sami Omari, and I live in England. Main role is project leader but I also model, map, make textures along with a bunch of other stuff. I got involved with Halo when I visited my uncle, and he wanted to play some Halo 1 co-op. We finished it in a single day, it was a blast. It wasn't till the split screen multiplayer that I really started to get into it. It was so much fun! However, it was halo 2 that really pulled me into the halo universe, the story, the atmosphere. Everything about the game was fantastic. The online multiplayer was the best at it's time.
Scifiknux: Hey! I'm CJ Pollock, from Houghton, New York. I'm the lead mapper in Solitude, along as a story writer, assistant music composer, voice actor, and lead storyboard artist. I never really got into Halo until I downloaded the demo online, since I knew it was popular. I loved the demo, then quickly became obsessed. I showed all my friends, and now the thing to do when we're hanging out is to have Halo competitions with each other as the games came out. I loved Halo 2 the most, since it had amazing cutscenes, maps and characters. It's multiplayer was awesome, and the quality was just more.
I really got into the music and story of Halo 3 though. After reading through all the terminals, I started reading Halopedia and also the assumptions of Ascendant Justice, and was thoroughly impressed.
Arkage: Hello, I am Peter Duffy from Ireland and my main role on the team is as a mapper but I also model and as of late I do some game coding as well.
I was a bit of a late-comer to the Halo series, hype was starting for Halo 3 when I first played through the Halo 1 campaign, but after that i was hooked and since then I have played them all and read the books. For me its the story line and great music (plus great fun in co-op too) that I feel made Halo and has helped spark a great interest games development for me.
Why have you decided to make a Halo game? With the franchise existing across so many mediums, produced by both fans and professional studios alike, surely it's a crowded market and difficult to offer anything new?
SamUK: Well, being related to the mastermind behind one of the best total conversion Quake-mods and one of the best PSP homebrew games, Kurok, helped. I started by simply editing some Kurok content. I've always loved art, and with MDave showing me a few things in 3ds max helped, it wasnt long until I could model, map and even texture to a pretty decent level. That was a year and a half ago, and since then I've continuosly improved all aspects of developing. I decided it was time to put my skills to the test, so I started Solitude. It wasn't until I was being approached by artists and coders who wanted to help me acheive my goal that the project really got started.
We had a rather nice team, after a few discussions. Flaming Ice was born.
You may say it's a rather crowded market, but from my experience, all halo mods/total conversions are usually RTS. We will bring a new halo experiance to you, a new story, new multiplayer modes, never before seen in the halo franchise. Solitude is alot more then 'a halo rip-off'. Solitude does offer something new, I can garauntee that now!
Scifiknux: I bought a PSP for a whopping $50, and I had heard of a PSP Halo called Jalo once before. Needless to say, I downloaded and played it. At that point, the newest version was the version with Lockout and rockets. I liked it, but it needed a lot of work. I asked Jomart if I could help him, but was refused. I was then asked to join Solitude's team, which later was named Flaming Ice.
We decided to go and make a Halo on the PSP because other people have tried, and most have failed. The only decent one was Halo DS, which ended up being a modded Goldeneye. We want to provide an enjoyable experience of a Halo Portable, and have it be so good that it will surpass even Kurok.
Arkage: I was browsing through Mod db when I seen one of Sams updates and I was impressed by what the team had achieved so I decided to try my luck by applying as a mapper on the team, at that time I didnt have a psp but after seeing Solitude I made sure I got one. I have seen other halo inspired mod's out there but it was Solitude that captured my interest the most. This was mainly due to the quality of the content that they had produced and bringing Halo to a new portable platform with a new story. The goals were and still are ambitious but after meeting the team they arnt unreachable goals. So I feel Solitude has alot to offer to with its new story.
Clearly you want to please the fans, but also offer something new to those who previously had no interest in Halo. Has the fact that Halo and it's audience (both supporters and haters alike) is as huge as it is, made it difficult to approach designing the game objectively?
Scifiknux: Yes, actually. You'll ask a person what their favorite Halo is, and it's different for each person, especially now that ODST has come out. In order to appeal to the entire fanbase, we have to try to figure out what people liked about that certain Halo, and implement it into our own game. Most people, we've found out, like Halo 2's storyline and Halo 3's gameplay, however we have to make the game look like Halo 1, since that's the look we're shooting for, and the time period that our game is set.
SamUK: I agree with Scifiknux. Everybody has there own opinion on Halo, people love all the halos, people hate all the halos and some only like certain halo's. Designing a game for the entire halo fan base is impossible, but designing a game to most of the fan base is. On our forums, we've got a suggestion board (It's locked until after release) that will allow players to tell us what they want and don't want. If there's a flaw that is widely reported, it'll be fixed with updates. We listen very closely to our community, our forums currently have over 900 halo fans registered, that might not be alot compared to others, but it's a good start. That's also 900 Halo fans we can ask for advice on what they want to see ingame.
Arkage: I agree with Scifiknux and SamUK, everone has their faviorate aspect of each Halo game and we will do our best to incorpate these in to Solitude as best as we can, the forums are a great place for the fans to discuss what make Halo, Halo for them and we are intrested to hear their views.
Extending from this, as you're taking the game to a completely different console with it's own control scheme, the technology itself must effect your goals in terms of design. Has much of the core ‘halo experience' been effected by this?
SamUK: It has and has not effected us. The controls have changed, but the core halo elements are mostly there. Right now, the only feature that might not see release is croutch, yes that's because of the limit of buttons. A few months ago I would've said that the textures couldn't look as good because of the engine, but that's changed. I would've said maps can't be as detailed as we'd like, but that's changed too. Instead of building the game for the PC. We're building it around the PSP, engine modifications will allow us to nail the Halo look.
The controls can't ever be as good as the Xbox's, simply because we've only got one analog stick to work with, so we've made sure all the buttons are 100% customizable to make the game as pleasent to the player as possible. Working with the PSP's limitations is a challenge I'm willing to accept.
Scifiknux: Well, obviously since we're going from Xbox to PSP, there's going to be a little quality reduction. Maps can only be so big, the online support system can only hold 12 or so players at once. It's also going to be a little hard to implement physics to the game while maintaining at least 30 FPS, which is our lowest framerate that we will accept. Also, we can't have as many polys on the screen at once, seeing as the processor is not as powerful. We also are working with 24 MB of RAM, which is incredibly difficult to work with. Controls will be a little different, but not much.
Arkage: While the psp is quite limited in comparasion to the pc or the xbox we are aware of these limitations and we will do our upmost to work around these and squeeze all the power that we can from the platform with out altering the Halo gameplay.
After all the team and I like a good challange.
Speaking of which, why the Sony PSP? It's certainly a unique prospect for the series, but what features or creative potential do you feel the system has to offer?
SamUK: The PSP is a very under-rated system. The amount of power you can squeeze out of it is incredible, little games use the full potential of it. Solitude will show the audience how powerful the PSP it really is. Solitude uses a highly modified version of the Quake engine from Id software, I for one love the Quake community, but over the years it's been dieing. Solitude will hopefully motivate some modders to consider it as an engine to use, just as Kurok did for us.
Since Solitude's been on Moddb, I'm proud to say that the psp section of Moddb has gotten a lot more attention. When Solitude originally signed up, there was one ONE other PSP project there. Now there are tons, I can only imagine the presence of Solitude encouraged them to sign up and make a moddb profile.
Scifiknux: Well, the PSP is actually pretty powerful, and it has a very different design to it. You can apply different button and control schemes to it, and it is more powerful than most handheld systems out there.
Arkage: The PSP is a great platform to develop for and if we embrace these limits we can achieve our goals. Many great mods and indies have emerged for conditions that have imposed great limits so I feel we can do the same.
I'm sure there are a great many people who are interested in the process of getting a game working on the PSP. Can you take us through the steps involved, and any issues you ran into along the way?
Scifiknux: I'll leave this one to Sami
SamUK: Ahh, thanks CJ!
Well, first you'll need a custom PSP firmware. I'd recommend buying a pandora battery, or downgrading your PSP if you can. Once you've got a custom firmware here's the hard part. You drag the Solitude download... and drop it in the GAME folder. Done.
Arkage: I would just like to add that we are keen on helping support the Quake community and as such we plan to write a series of tutorials related to quake development and working with the psp. Two of the tutorials I have wrote are already up on the Solitude page and i plan to have a third following soon.
The game run's on the original Quake Engine (correct me if im wrong), how has the PSP been handling this? Has the combination of comparatively weaker hardware (say next to the Xbox 360 or PC) and an older game engine restricted you from reaching your creative vision?
SamUK: It was horrible to develop for the stock PSP Quake engine. Thankfully MDave's Kurok had a far better engine. At first we where using this. But we decided we'd work on our own engine, and with work from DrBreadsticks, Baker and TeamXlink. The Solitude custom engine is probably the most powerful engine available to PSP modders. With Half-life map support, that allows us to have 256 colours per texture, instead of Quakes usual 256 colours for the whole game. With, 24bit external texture support that can also be applied onto MDL's, and a bunch of other stuff.
It's more powerful then we've ever hoped it to be, very soon you guys should be seeing another awesome feature from our engine.
Scifiknux: Well, we started modding Kurok's, and edited it to add more support for some kickass features, and now it's actually getting to be quite powerful.
Arkage: What our engine coders have acheived is noting short of fantastic, they have pushed both Quakes engine and the psp to its limits and beyond.
Okay so enough about the technology aspect of development, the Halo fans out there must be bursting to know what they can expect from a story and character perspective. What exactly is the storyline behind Solitude, and how does it (if at all) tie in with other games in the franchise?
SamUK: Our singleplayer story will be awesome. We've recently started making storyboards, and conscepting maps. We've got a character list, even a short story. That's all I'm allowed to say, after all. I don't want to spoil the surprise.
Scifiknux: Yeah, we just started the concept art and storyboards last night.
As far as characters go, can we expect to see any of the old favorites returning? Additionally, are they mainly in the game to support the action, or do they play a more integral role to the story?
SamUK: Almost all our characters are pre-existing, our story follows the halo canon very closely. The name suggest it all. Solitude. The player will be in Solitude often, we've managed to make a story that still gets the player excited and emotional. Let's just hope it works well in-game.
Scifiknux: We plan to have most of our characters be pre-existing characters in the Halo franchise, but you never know, we might just make a new one
Which weapons can players expect to see? Have you many any enhancements to the existing arsenal, likewise are there any new additions?
SamUK: We've got none planned. We could always add something in the future to aid our storyline. But for now, what we have shown, is what you get.
Scifiknux: Not really at this point, we've got all Halo 1 weapons and an energy sword and an SMG.
It's been stated that you're also adding multiplayer to the game, bringing back all the old favorite gametypes. How has development on this gone so far?
SamUK: As stated below, we are working on all the old favorites. But there is one I'm really looking forward to.
- Slayer - Every man for himself.
- Team Slayer - Red vs Blue, 4 vs 4.
- Capture the Flag - Capture the enemies flag and take it to your base.
- Odd ball - Survive the longest with the skull.
- Survival" - Players will be trapped and forced to face of against waves of Covenant and flood trying to survive for the longest time.
Yes, Survival is Solitudes version of Firefight or Gears of Wars 2 Horde. With random enemy spawning and a wide viarity of enemy to fight. It sure to be super fun!
Scifiknux: So far, we've been working on just the most popular gametypes such as Slayer, Team Slayer, Oddball and CTF. We're also planning to add games such as Juggernaught and a new one that plays much like Nazi Zombies or Firefight.
Finally, any chance of coop through the singleplayer campaign?
Scifiknux: We plan to have it, yes.
Arkage: Yes, it is a must have in my opinion.
Well there you have it! Whether you're a diehard Halo fan or hater, there's plenty to be admired in the work produced so far by the Flaming Ice team. Be sure to check out their moddb profile for the latest info!