During my time at 343 Industries, I toyed around with a pitch for a game for Xbox One. It would use the power of the new console to render an entire Halo installation. I wanted it to be a vehicle-centered sandbox with occasional on-foot bits, possibly in third person. Imagine taking a stock Warthog and upgrading it throughout the game, turning it into a Covenant Killer or Forerunner Flattener. I’m not saying I had it all figured out (hence why the pitch bombed in concept), so if this doesn’t seem fully baked to you… it wasn’t.
I wasn’t sure which installation to use, so I put down 07 as a starting point. They’ve all had such a grand history, even the ones Master Chief didn’t blow up. Please feel free to use this for your next game, Bonnie Ross.
- Who does the player control? A Spartan? A marine? A scientist?
- Probably a Spartan with scientific leanings considering the combat we're bringing over from older Halo games. You would create your own Spartan.
- Why is the player on the Installation?
- I would assume a UNSC frigate crashed here. That would provide it with the resources necessary for the game: Pelican, Warthog, Scorpion.
- Who is the primary opposition?
- The Covenant. Suppose they're already all over the Installation searching for a Forerunner artifact. There would be Prometheans too, because why not. Actually I don't know why there would be Prometheans on an Installation. I guess there would be Flood that are either already unlocked or about to be during the course of the game.
- What is your goal?
- To escape, most likely. To repair your ship or find another ship to take your entire crew off the Installation. That mission likely gets postponed to stop the Covenant from (a) firing the Installation or (b) getting their hands on some Composer-esque Forerunner artifact.
- Explore new area
- Kill enemies
- Find resources
- Return to base
- Upgrade vehicle
- Turn the Warthog into a transport and safely carry N containers or personnel to their destination
- Stop Covenant exploration of a dig site
- Rescue stranded UNSC scientists
- Defend a base
- Explore an Installation’s power generator
- Sneak into enemy base (below the radar mission)
- Top speed
- Vulcan machine gun
- Rocket turret
- Gauss cannon
- Weapon upgrades
- Firing speed
- Cool-down time
- Hazardous cargo (e.g. nuclear waste)
- Biome adaptations
Driving in sand requires special tires and shielding to the Warthog’s transmission. Without them:
- Travel mode is unavailable
- Fast travel is unavailable
- The engine may overheat, requiring the player to stop and wait while it cools and flushes sand
The Warthog is not equipped to drive through snow and over ice. Without snow treads and a reinforced cockpit:
- Travel mode is unavailable
- Fast travel is unavailable
- The Warthog may get temporarily stuck in the snow
- Slippage on iced lakes
- The winch is unavailable in combat
Deep water and thick mud make swamps impossible to navigate without special tires and an elevated chassis. Without these upgrades:
- Travel mode is unavailable
- Combat mode is unavailable
- Fast travel is unavailable
- The Warthog may get temporarily stuck in the mud
- The winch is completely unavailable
- Personnel transport missions are unavailable
Gameplay sample, 3 hours in
The player is exploring a grassy plain on her Warthog, approaching a waypoint that’s supposed to be a Forerunner structure. She has the combat winch upgrade and the Vulcan machine gun unlocked and controlled by her suit’s AI. Completing this mission is step 2 of 3 to unlock the excavation upgrade for the winch, which would allow her to explore Forerunner structures she’s seen before but have been unable to access due to cave-ins.
The iconic towers of a Forerunner base appear in the distance as well as a sizeable force of 30 Covenant Elites and Grunts. Eager for a fight, she presses down on the d-pad to downshift the Warthog from travel mode to combat mode, reducing top speed but increasing its maneuverability. She encounters several lone Grunts scouting the perimeter which the AI dispatches using brief bursts of the Vulcan.
The main horde clusters together and starts firing as the player’s Warthog approaches. She begins a serpentine pattern, catching a few hits to her vehicle but not slowing down. The Vulcan cannon is firing constantly as she plows into the front lines, holding the A button to execute a handbrake spin and hit more enemies. Four groups of Elites and their Grunts remain and begin to spread out.
The player holds X to dismount the Warthog and says “AI, attack mode” into her Kinect (sorry, I imagined Kinect support). The Warthog continues firing but speeds off to the edges of the group, circling them and pulling U-turns to distract the Covenant. With the large group’s attention divided, the player uses her Assault Rifle and grenades in familiar Halo combat to wipe out the remaining enemies.
With the structure secured, the player leaves her Warthog and continues inside on foot. Inside the structure the player finds Forerunner computer terminals along walls and on pedestals. She presses X at these glowing screens to “download data” to her AI. The data, measured in gigabytes, acts as a currency for the game’s non-plot critical upgrades such as weapons modifications, vehicle camouflage and maneuverability upgrades. While fending off Flood and the Covenant, the player thoroughly explores the area looking for these holographic terminals.
In the center of the structure the player finds a massive holographic map of the spinwise area she wants to explore next. This awards her a huge amount of data currency, making her eager to get back to base and spend it.
At that moment her AI notifies her that the Warthog’s scanners have detected a Covenant Ghost approaching to check out why the team guarding this structure has failed to report in. A timer appears on the screen (GHOST ARRIVES IN 0:45) and the player is encouraged to sprint back through the structure. She arrives at the entrance with 5 seconds left on the clock, the Ghost clearly visible but out of firing range.
The player jumps in her Warthog and presses up on the d-pad to activate travel mode. The Ghost sees her, fires several shots, then turns around and speeds away in the opposite direction. If the Elite escapes she’ll face a larger number of enemies at the next structure they’re guarding. At travel speed she catches the Ghost quickly and the AI begins firing the Vulcan cannon on the fleeing vehicle. The hilly terrain makes the chase challenging, but the player is unafraid of a single Covenant Ghost. She does know, however, that the AI will destroy the Ghost along with the Elite piloting it. If she can spare the Ghost it will allow her to remain undetected longer the next time she approaches a group of Covenant, making it easier to catch them by surprise.
The player presses Y to hop from the driver’s seat to the gunner’s position as the AI takes control of the Warthog and continues the chase. She fires high, aiming for the Elite’s head, and kills him after a few attempts. The Ghost slows to a stop and the player holds X to dismount, the AI bringing the Warthog to rest. She holds X to enter the Ghost, waits a few seconds as the encryption keys download, then exits the Ghost. Smiling, she tosses a few plasma grenades at the Ghost and watches it explode.
Satisfied, the player presses Menu to bring up the map, selects the nearby UNSC base, and presses A to fast travel there. She’s excited to spend her data currency on a hotrod red skin for her Warthog and buy an upgrade to its top speed.
If the player has let Covenant escape at previous structures she may face a larger horde with Hunters. These Covenant are very dangerous against Warthogs, their shields able to block and smash the vehicle. Before the combat winch is unlocked (happens early in the game) she will have to dismount, set the Warthog to attack mode, and use its distraction to defeat the Hunters in traditional Halo FPS combat.
With the combat winch unlocked the player can press the right bumper to explosively fire the winch at the Hunter her vehicle is facing. The combat winch is magnetized and attaches to the Hunter’s shield. At this point the player has two options: she can go in reverse to tear the shield from the Hunter’s arm and make it more vulnerable to standard weapons fire; or she can accelerate past the Hunter, pulling it off balance and dragging it behind the Warthog. With sharp maneuvers the player can slam the Hunter into a wall and kill it, or press the right bumper again to detach the Hunter and roll it into a group of Covenant like a bowling ball.
If the Warthog is destroyed
Vehicles in Halo are made to be destroyed and the player’s Warthog is not indestructible. If the player’s serpentine pattern didn’t dodge enough weapons fire, her vehicle may be severely damaged or destroyed.
If the Warthog is destroyed the player may go to the rear of the vehicle and hold X to detach its Vulcan cannon. This will give her temporarily increased firepower to defeat her enemies. She may then say “AI, I need a ride” into the Kinect to have the nearest base dispatch a Pelican with a fresh Warthog.
If the Warthog has not been destroyed, the player may jump out and command it to “AI: repair mode” using Kinect. The AI will drive the Warthog into the distance and begin an auto-repair process. The Warthog will return much quicker than requesting a fresh Warthog to be delivered.
With the final upgrade to the winch the player unlocks the ability to attach the Warthog to a Covenant Ghost, Wraith, Spectre, or Scarab. In the chase example described above the player would use the winch to slow the escaping Ghost, making the Elite easier to kill and the vehicle less squirrely. The player could also put a boulder or tower in the path of the winch cable, instantly bringing both vehicles to a stop and allowing the player to fight the driver on foot.
Gameplay sample, 8 hours in
The player has unlocked the anti-vehicle upgrade for the winch, the desert biome pack, and can switch between a Vulcan cannon and a rocket launcher. She can also switch to a cargo hauling or troop transport chassis, whose fetch quest missions reduce the amount of time it takes for a Pelican to deliver a fresh Warthog. This far into the game the player is well known to the Covenant. When she assaults a Forerunner structure or defends a UNSC base she faces a large number of enemies, often with multiple Hunters and reinforcements delivered by dropship.
Her Warthog is using the standard combat chassis with the desert biome pack as she speeds through the desert to a large UNSC base that’s facing a Covenant siege. A sandstorm obscures her view and through the howling sand she can hear faint explosions and the whine of Covenant energy weapons.
The sandstorm clears as she pulls into the rear of the base, its low tents and wide hangars scorched with plasma blasts. Marines are fighting Covenant squads throughout. At the front of the base are half a dozen UNSC Scorpions firing against an army of Wraiths and two slowly advancing Scarabs.
The player decides to free the Marines to get their help against the Covenant Wraiths. She presses down on the d-pad twice, shifting to precision driving mode, greatly reducing her speed but allowing her to easily navigate the cramped base. The AI fires the Vulcan cannon continuously, scattering Grunts and Elites. At a large clearing she presses the Y button to switch to the gunner’s position and says “AI: hold still” into her Kinect. The Warthog is motionless as she and the Marines mow down the remaining Covenant.
The player's upgrades to the Warthog after 8 hours have changed how she approaches combat. With improved handling she can avoid running over Marines in the base. Her vehicle's armor is improved, allowing longer times of stationary turret use. The turret itself has been upgraded to spin up faster, fire more accurately, and deal more damage. This allows the player to take on larger hordes and navigate denser combat arenas.
With the Marines rallying, she drives to the battlefield outside the base. A line of Wraiths is facing off against multiple Scorpion tanks. Using the anti-vehicle upgrade to the winch the player can drag Covenant vehicles. She presses up on the d-pad to switch to combat mode and drives directly toward a Wraith. She presses the right bumper to fire the winch, which attaches to the front of the Wraith and slightly to the side. Driving past the Wraith, her Warthog spins the Covenant tank and pulls it askew, digging into the ground.
This game will expand on the differences between human and Covenant vehicles. The Covenant's hovering technology allows it to ignore the effects of difficult terrain like sand and ice. Human vehicles have to deal with those effects but their torque allows them to pull Covenant vehicles around like an air hockey puck. Covenant Wraiths in particular - assuming they'll always have maneuvering superiority - have weakened armor on the rear.
By weaving in and out of the line, grabbing Wraiths and spinning them around, the player causes them to fire on their own troops. This allows the Scorpion tanks to make short work of the Wraiths.
My coworker Lionel said the game should be called Halo: War Machines. It’s got a nice ring to it!