As you've undoubtedly gathered, Bungie got to show off Halo 3: Recon for the first time yesterday. It was a big deal for the studio, not least because the expansion was originally down to be unveiled at E3 - until Microsoft pulled the plug at the last minute.
But all that's in the past now, according to community and PR director Brian Jarrard. We sat down with him and writer Luke Smith to find out more about exactly what went on there, and more importantly what we can expect from Recon. Read on.
Eurogamer: How long has the Recon project been in the works?
Brian Jarrard: It's only been in full production for a couple of months now. This isn't the typical, huge, three-year cycle for our studio; it's one of three products we have going on, so it's a little smaller in scale.
Following some of the events earlier this summer, we were very eager to announce what we were working on and share it with our fans. We're happy to finally be able to do that today, to get it out in the open and put that whole E3 thing behind us.
Eurogamer: What exactly happened there?
Brian Jarrard: Originally, we had intentions of making this project public at E3. But those plans were changed.
Eurogamer: Yes, so I recall. Has all that been resolved now?
Brian Jarrard: Yeah.
Luke Smith: The resolution really just comes with us finally being able to share our work with our fans. This project is one that we just had to do. It's a project that is for our fans. Just like pretty much everything we do at Bungie, it's always about how we can serve our fans best.
Eurogamer: So the idea to do this expansion definitely came from you? It wasn't something Microsoft forced you into?
Brian Jarrard: Yeah. We had a lot of ideas on the table the team were eager to explore. This is not going to be more of the same; there's going to be a little bit of a new twist. Playing as the Orbital Drop Shock Trooper will bring about some new experiences for fans, and hopefully it will be a pleasant surprise.
Eurogamer: What can you tell us about the new hero character?
Brian Jarrard: The ODSTs are the guys who are in between the Master Chief level and the regular marine level. They don't have the augmentation of a Spartan or the super-reflexes and armour.
The game is a precursor to the events in Halo 3, so Master Chief hasn't come back to Earth yet. You're an ODST, the first person back in the city after the Covenant have left, and from there you piece together what happened.
Eurogamer: Does this character have any advantages Master Chief didn't have?
Luke Smith: We probably don't want to talk too much about the differences between the Master Chief and the ODSTs.
Brian Jarrard: We have a year to go, so I think we have to hold some things back. But there will be some differences.
Eurogamer: Is the character male?
Luke Smith: We definitely don't want to talk too much about the ODSTs.
Eurogamer: Righto. How long is the campaign, compared to the campaign in Halo 3?
Brian Jarrard: It's hard to put a number on it. It's going to represent hours of new campaign gameplay, but it's not a full, entire game like Halo 3. I think we have a lot of value on the disc.
There will be a lot of replayability as well; we have tons of new Achievements, four-player co-op, all the social features we had in Halo 3. It's a standalone disc as well, so you won't have to have Halo 3 to experience Recon. There might be a surprise later that we'll talk about, that might benefit people who have Halo 3, but it's not a requirement.
Eurogamer: Would that surprise come in the form of downloadable content?
Brian Jarrard: Umm...
Luke Smith: We don't really want to talk about that yet.
Brian Jarrard: Let's just stay right there, but there might be a connection there to be made a little bit later.
Eurogamer: You've confirmed there will be new multiplayer maps. Will there be any new multiplayer modes?
Brian Jarrard: Umm...
Luke Smith: For the purposes of this [interview], we're really just focusing on the campaign stuff.
Brian Jarrard: I can tell you that even before this product's released in the Fall, we do have a Mythic map pack that's coming out early next year. There hasn't been an exact release date set for that. The Halo 3 Recon retail pack will continue to expand, and I think enhance, people's multiplayer experiences.
Eurogamer: Have you settled on a price for Recon?
Brian Jarrard: We haven't. Ultimately it won't be down to us to settle on that, it will be something Microsoft determines. Hopefully it should represent a really compelling value for our fans, but it's not a full-game release as far as we're concerned.
Eurogamer: Speaking as Bungie, though, what kind of price point would you prefer?
Brian Jarrard: It's probably too premature to say. Hopefully a fair value for the amount of content and gameplay we'll be offering.
Luke Smith: We want to get it into as many people's hands as we can.
Eurogamer: What about, say, 20 dollars? What would you say to that?
Brian Jarrard: Right now three maps are selling on Xbox Live for 10 dollars, and this is certainly a lot more value than six maps, but it's really hard to say. I don't feel comfortable trying to quantify that.
Eurogamer: 11 dollars?
Brian Jarrard: What?
Eurogamer: 12 dollars? Just say higher or lower if you like.
Luke Smith: What is this, the Price is Right?
Brian Jarrard: Don't sell us too short there.
Luke Smith: Yeah, easy, 11 dollars? What?
Eurogamer: Well, you know. What with the economic crisis even the price of horse armour's down these days. So will it be available for download as well as in boxed copy form?
Brian Jarrard: It's definitely going to be a retail product. I'm not aware right now of any plans to make it available as downloadable content, not to say that couldn't happen down the road.
Eurogamer: I read in the press release there's going to be an increased focus on "stealth and cunning".
Luke Smith: Hahahahaha.
Brian Jarrard: Hmm. I saw that line. It's not to be confused with the stealth genre. This is certainly not a Splinter Cell; this is definitely Halo.
Luke Smith: Hahahahaha.
Brian Jarrard: I believe what that particular release is getting at, is playing as an ODST rather than an indestructible Master Chief super-soldier, there will be some different tactics to employ. It will feel familiar, but it is going to be a different gameplay experience.
Luke Smith: Hahahahaha.
Eurogamer: Why is that so funny?
Luke Smith: We've had this discussion before, so it's just funny that you picked up on it. We said the same thing you said, probably, when we read it, which was, 'Whoah, it sounds a bit Splinter Cell.'
Brian Jarrard: The word 'stealth' terrifies us.
Eurogamer: Stealth just seems a bit nineties, doesn't it?
Brian Jarrard: I think the trailer alludes to a little bit of what players can expect. You saw the ODST getting out of a pod in a Covenant-occupied city, so the odds are very much against you, and you're not a Spartan super-soldier - you're just a regular guy with some cool armour and the will to live and fight. So it is going to make players think a little differently about how they approach the combat encounters, but I certainly wouldn't call it a stealth game.
Eurogamer: Isn't there a risk with the switch to a less powerful character? I've been playing The Force Unleashed, where in the first level you play as Darth Vader and you cane all these Wookiees and it's wicked. Then in the second level you're this rubbish apprentice. So you've had all these brilliant powers, then they're taken away...
Brian Jarrard: In this case it will be two years before you've had those powers taken away from you, so that might sting a little less...
Eurogamer: People might have forgotten then?
Brian Jarrard: Maybe. I'd say in some ways it is a risk we've strayed from the Master Chief formula, but that's what excited us about diving into this project. Doing more of the same wasn't what we wanted to do. Typical expansion packs just pick up where the game left off, but we decided to take a bit of a leap.
I do know that mainstream, from a marketing sense, some people are a little nervous about how they're going to pitch this new, unknown character. But I'm pretty confident the Halo fans are going to dig it.
Eurogamer: By "some people", do you mean "Microsoft"?
Brian Jarrard: Perhaps. The people whose job is to sell as many copies as possible. But I do think there's going to be a lot to like about it.
Eurogamer: One criticism levelled at Halo 3 was that it didn't move the series on significantly, that it was an evolution rather than a revolution. Would you say the same is true of this expansion, or have you tried to do something different?
Luke Smith: You have to consider your base, I think, when you want to talk about revolution. Some of the mechanics that were in Halo: Combat Evolved are still every bit as enjoyable now, where these things that would require a revolution, you might need to start from a little lower point.
Brian Jarrard: It's definitely an expansion of Halo 3. But it's also the first time you play as a non-Spartan, and that will bring some new gameplay experience. It has a different mood and tone. But we're not looking to reboot the entire franchise; it's going to feel like a Halo game.
I feel like it's done a lot to move that franchise forward, certainly in the realm of empowering the community with all these ways to create custom content and customise the experience.
Eurogamer: There's sort of a catchphrase on Eurogamer - "Better than Halo." It's kind of because we sort of gave the first game 8 out of 10. Don't punch me, because we gave the last one 10. But we even have t-shirts with "8 out of 10" and "Better than Halo" on them...
Brian Jarrard: Nice.
Luke Smith: Can we get some of those?
Brian Jarrard: I don't know, it's really hard to say. I love what I've been playing so far. I think almost everybody at Bungie would view Halo 3 as the best game of the trilogy. But beyond that, it's highly subjective. Some people like the nuances of Combat Evolved more than Halo 3; we have heated debates internally about the pros and cons.
I think it's going to catch people by surprise. It's going to be a very new and cool Halo experience, and one that people probably aren't expecting right now.
Brian Jarrard is PR and community director and Luke Smith is a writer at Bungie. Halo 3: Recon is out next autumn. Their t-shirts are in the post.