343 Industries boss looks back at Halo Infinite’s development hell

Laurent Giret

Halo Infinite Master Chief

Halo Infinite, one of the biggest blockbuster games of 2021 will be released tomorrow on Xbox, PC, and Xbox Game Pass. The new Halo adventure was initially announced as a launch title for Microsoft’s new Xbox Series X|S consoles last year, but a poorly-received first gameplay trailer in July 2020 lead Microsoft to delay the game for a full year.

We published our review of Halo Infinite’s campaign yesterday, and the general consensus seems to be that this is 343 Industries’ best Halo campaign to date, but the signs of a complicated development process are quite apparent. The game’s open-world environment isn’t fully fleshed out, and core features Halo fans took for granted such as co-op support or the ability to replay story missions won’t be available at launch.

In an interview with CNET, Bonnie Ross, CVP at Xbox Game Studios and head of 343 Industries explained what went wrong during Halo Infinite’s development. One of the major pain points for the studio was the creation of its new Slipspace engine, which was being developed alongside Halo Infinite. “It’s kind of like we’re trying to fly the plane while we’re building the plane,” Ross said.

As you may remember, Halo Infinite was announced back at E3 2018 with a gorgeous game engine demonstration. This was before the Xbox Series X|S consoles were announced, yet this Slipspace engine demo showed an incredibly detailed world with lush vegetation, generous wildlife, and splendid water and lightning effects. The game that will be released tomorrow is far from looking that good even on the Xbox Series X, but the downgrade was already obvious in the controversial “Ascension” gameplay demo from July 2020.

According to Ross, 343 Industries knew back in 2020 that it had been too ambitious, and the COVID-19 pandemic certainly didn’t make things easier for the team. Ross confirmed that significant cuts had been made before the Ascension demo from 2020, but the team probably went a step too far back then.

What I would say happened before is we made a tremendous amount of cuts. And you see some of those cuts reflected in, I think, the Ascension demo. So we had people on the team already raising flags that we’ve cut too deep.

And I think that was just more of a very public look in the mirror that, “Yes, we did indeed cut corners that we shouldn’t have cut,” and we needed to really take a step back and make sure that we were spending the time we needed. (…)

So I think that that was definitely a more visceral wakeup call than before, going, “Yeah, it’s really important to be there for day one launch [of the new Xbox]. And “We can do it” to “We actually can’t do it.”

Ross added that she’s still “really proud” of what 343 Industries has been able to do with this additional year of development. However, as we pointed out in our review, maybe Halo Infinite’s campaign could have used a bit more time in the oven. The multiplayer component of Halo Infinite launched in beta last month and is free to play, but Halo Infinite’s campaign is a $59.99 purchase or available for free with Xbox Game Pass.

We already know that co-op support is coming after May 2022, and 343 Industries also told The Verge that the ability to replay story missions is also being worked on. Halo Infinite doesn’t look completely finished right now, but 343 Industries plans to support it for years to come. “It’s basically just, you know, a fresh start for how we look at Halo for the next 10 years. Like a platform upon which to build storytelling for the next 10 years,” Ross told CNET.