Can 343 Industries Continue Success of Halo Franchise with “Halo 4”?

Written by: Brendan Nienhaus

After years in development, “Halo 4” is set to be released in November. But can 343 Industries continue previous developer Bungie’s success with the popular Halo Franchise?

The Halo Franchise has been a gaming fixture for over ten years since the release of “Halo: Combat Evolved” in November 2001, recording sales in the billions in the many gaming iterations and spin-offs that include books, an animated feature and even action figures. But the driving force behind all of this success has been the development team at Bungie, the creators of the Halo Franchise. Now, over ten years later, a new developer takes over the reigns of publisher Microsoft‘s billion dollar gaming franchise: 343 Industries.

343 Industries was created by Microsoft to take over the Halo franchise shortly after Bungie and parent-company Microsoft split after the release of “Halo 3” in 2007, Bungie going on to form Bungie LLC. Microsoft, however, did manage to maintain the intellectual rights to the highly profitable Halo franchise as well as a minority stake in Bungie, so the studio continued to collaborate with Microsoft on two more titles in the Halo Universe, “Halo 3: ODST“(2009) and “Halo: Reach“(2010), before finally handing over the Halo Franchise to 343 Industries for “Halo 4”.

343 Industries wasn’t left without a few of the original members of the Halo development team as some members of Bungie elected to join the new gaming studio to remain with the Halo Franchise, including 343 Industries’ Frank O’Connor, the franchise development director for “Halo.” O’Connor had this to say in a recent interview about 343 Industries work on the new Halo title:

” There’s a few ex-Bungie people at 343, but the vast majority of people are new, but they’re all old to Halo. Every single person came to the interview because they had some passion for Halo. Normally you can’t chose your family, but in this case, we could. And they also bring in different cultural experiences, different technological experiences, different design ethics and visions. So we have this incredible melting pot of passionate Halo fans with incredible new ideas and brilliant new approaches.”

So it appears that 343 Industries is confident that they’ve brought together a team capable of handling the pressure of creating the next installment of the Halo franchise, but what about the game itself?

Microsoft and 343 Industries have promised some exciting new elements to the gameplay of Halo in its newest title as well as brand new enemies to keep players interested in the franchise. One of these new gameplay elements is the Spartan Ops mode. Spartan Ops is a co-op narrative series that serves as a secondary campaign to Halo 4’s single player campaign, offered in weekly episodes, much like a television show.

“It is like a TV show you can play,” O’Connor said. “I’m really hoping for water cooler moments where people gather to talk about — not what they watched on TV — but what they did in the game, like plummeting to their doom. This seems like it could be an exciting addition to the Halo franchise, but the real news is about the new enemies in the franchise, called the Prometheans.”

The Prometheans are AIs of ‘Forerunner’ construction, the same beings who built the Halos present in the first games. Some of the  types that have been announced are the Promethean Crawlers, Promethean Watchers and the Promethean Knights. The Crawlers appear to be the most basic of enemies, mechanical quadrupeds capable of attacking from a distance or up close, and in numbers. The Watchers are flying machines that detach from Knights and heal and augment allies, as well as deflect ordinance(i.e. grenades) using a gravity beam. Finally the Knights are heavily armed bipeds that seem to fill a similar role as the Covenant Elites, attacking from range and with melee weapons. These enemies promise to offer interesting combat situations for the gamer to engage in and hopefully offer new, exciting gameplay components.

So has 343 Industries created a Halo game that lives up to the expectations set by their predecessors at Bungie? We will just have to wait until the release of “Halo 4,” November 6, to find out.

Pandora Portable Gaming System Slated for Release in 2010

Some hope that the release of the Pandora may bring about a revitalization of the declining portable console gaming market.

While the decline in the release of new portable gaming consoles such as the Game Boy, Nintendo DS or Sony PSP has had some industry observers questioning whether this particular style of portable gaming is becoming a thing of the past, a new portable console from OpenPandora—named Pandora—could potentially provide a mix of answers.

The Pandora—slated for release in the third quarter of 2010—holds similarities to portable gaming platforms of the past in that it is designed with its particular purpose as a game console made explicit by the inclusion of a traditional console control pad design with four main buttons, a left side directional control pad and dual analog controls.  At the same time, the Pandora will differ from the traditional portable gaming console in that it additionally functions as a portable computer—running on a Linux operating system with a CPU engine format of a standard PC—albeit not at the same speed as many of today’s latest PCs.

It is claimed by designers of the Pandora project that the portable gaming system’s hardware will surpass that of all current portable gaming consoles on the market, including the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP.  The Pandora is expected to retail at an MSRP of $330.00 USD at the time of its initial launch.

Are Portable Gaming Consoles On the Way Out?

The decline in the number of portable gaming consoles released on the market in recent years has some wondering if Sony's PlayStation Portable may be among the last of its kind.

It has been more than five years since Sony released the PlayStation Portable—the last major release of a portable gaming console following in the tradition of innovation of portable gaming epitomized by Nintendo’s famous line of Game Boy systems.  Although Sony has continued support of its PlayStation Portable system as Nintendo has done with its competing handheld console—the DS.

One decade ago, the evolution of major portable gaming consoles appeared to be rapidly on the upswing.  From 1998 through 2004, Nintendo alone released three systems with new graphical engines three years apart from one another—the Game Boy Color in 1998; the Game Boy Advance in 2001, and finally the DS in 2004.  Although handheld consoles other than the Sony PSP have seen recent release, most have remained largely obscure on the market by comparison.

Both the DS and PSP portable gaming consoles have enjoyed sufficient commercial success to receive continued support; however, the lack of any new major competition or rapidity of innovation reflective of years past may signal that—for the foreseeable future—handheld gaming in the innovative style of the Game Boy may soon fade.  Aside from economic explanations for the apparent slowdown of this type of console may very well be the coincident evolution of portable electronics with application capabilities, such as the iPhone or the newly released iPad from Apple.

With popular video game franchises such as the Madden NFL series now releasing versions for the iPhone, it appears that portable gaming as it has been known for years may not be entirely on the way out, but simply making its transition from the single purpose Game Boy style console to new multipurpose technological platforms.