The Final Halo Interview – Creative Director Marcus Lehto Says Goodbye

We recently got the chance to sit down with Halo: Reach Creative Director Marcus Lehto and talk to him a little bit about the upcoming game. We also got to ask him about the feelings he has about Reach being Bungie’s last Halo game. Read on to get a little glimpse at how he feels about the series, Reach and more.

How did the genesis of Halo take place?

I was there on day 1. We had just finished up Myth: The Fallen Lords. Jason [Jones] and I began work on this sci-fi skinned RTS game. It was the genesis of what would become Halo.

It was just a few of us working on it at the time. That was the fall of ’97. We spent about 2 years poking in the dark in different areas with the franchise to come up with something that interested us. It ultimately became a game that we wnted to play that we couldn’t find on the storeshelves.

We started creating this universe that we really fell in love with. We were like “Wow, this is really fun.” That started to garner some interest from local media, and some grassroots. In early memories of it, we were building our version of Star Wars for video games. That kind of thing. We just couldn’t find that kind of universe in a video game. As we continued to build it, it started to take on a life of its own.

Star Wars? How so?

A universe that not only has a believability to it, that has things that people can connect to–the vehicles, the weapons, and even the characters. In some games, those things are just so wildly out there. They’re crazy in a way that they’re hard to really connect with and have some sort of relationship with.

It was really important for us right off the bat, to have that element of familiarity within not only the things you play with, but the environments you explore, combined with a sense of wonder. And then, the charaters themselves were a big part.

We put a ton of effort into making sure we had characters that players could relate to, that they could fall in love with these cast of characters. We wanted people to believe that in some way they exist in their own mind, in their fictional universe. that’s the kind of that you’d seen in some great stories like the Star Wars series.

What did you think of the “Noble 12″ Halo 2 players, those guys who did the video game equivalent of chaining themselves to a tree?

That was a great story. I love those guys. I mean, we look at that kind of thing and we’re like “We can’t believe our fans love to play what we created so much.”

We couldn’t believe Halo 2 was still being played that long, after it has been released. That final testament of the fans’ commitment to want to stick it out of the very end–hats off to them. We love those guys. That’s the reason we’re still around, because of fans like that. Without them, we wouldn’t be in existence anymore.

What is it about Halo that makes it “Halo”?

There are a couple of components to it. At the core, it has a rock solid game. That “game of chess.” That thing that people loves to be experts at. It’s for the MLG fans, those guys. That’s that hardcore component to this game that keeps it really moving like a locomotive.

The other part to it is the heart and soul. It’s got character. It’s got something deeper than just that surface game, something that’s just more than just pixels moving on the screen. We didn’t create all that. We built the foundation for all of that. Then, our fans began to pick up on that, and they began to build more of this universe, and fictionalize it, and keep expanding it and expanding it.

Until, it became this thing all by itself. And it started to permeate the pop culture in a way that we never anticipated. It’s amazing to see how that grows. It’s amazing to see what people are doing with it. Novels are being written, comics are being created. Machinima is being created. All kinds of really interesting things are being developed based on this intellectual property that we created 13 years ago.

Speaking of fan-creations, what are some of your favorite fan-created Halo things?

One of the most hilarious ones–and it still sticks in my mind because it was one of the first–I can’t remember the guys name, he lives right in Seattle–he created the warthog jump movie from Halo 1.

We build a sandbox game. We build a game that is not scripted, it’s not something where we intend to run the player on a rail. So, as a sandbox environment, we’re not fully sure what’s going to happen in the game. It can be different every time.

What we didn’t anticipate is what people were going to do with the game in ways that we had just never designed it. With people piling grenades under a vehicle and launching it all the way across a map. Those are hilarious things that shocked us. From that point forward that kind of set this bar, for people to see like “Ok, what can I do to top that?” What can I do that takes advantage of this engine and does fun things with it?

Randall Glass. That’s the guys name.

One of my favorites on YouTube, was this guy had arranged rubble and shrapnel in the shape of a face on the sand.

That’s a great thing, like where we developed Forge for Halo 3. We intended that to be a map editor for people to create their own custom map games.

But we never intended or thought that people would create “Forge art.” Just sculptures, for the sake of building sculptures. It had no gameplay repurcussions whatsoever. That became a massive hobbie for folks to spend hours and hours creating creating crazy art.

By Brock Davis

Is it kind of crazy looking back on everything you guys have accomplished?

We’re completely blown away by how big it has become. With Halo: Reach, there’s a massive responsibility to do the right thing. This is our last Halo game. Being our last game, we want to make sure we do it right. We don’t want to leave any loose ends, and we don’t want to put half-assed features into the game.

We really want to make sure that what we’re doing for this game is the culmination of over 10 years of building the Halo games. We want to take all of the best parts, and pack them into this one and make sure that it continues the cultural phenomenom.

In every way we intend Halo: Reach to be this thing that it explodes even bigger than it is now.

Are you sad?

Yeah, I am. It’s definitely bitter sweet. I was there from day 1. I’ve spent over a decade investing every minute of my life into the Halo universe. It’s something that I’m definitely going to be sad to see go away. There’s so much left to explore with it, from my perspective. I’m like, “Oh…we could have done this, this and this!”

That said, we packed more into this game than we’ve ever put into a game before. This is the largest title we’ve ever done. We’ve got more features in this game than we’ve ever put into a game. I’m super proud of what we’ve created. This is definitely a great sendoff to our fans.

If you could, where would you take the Halo series from here?

One of the things we invested a little of time into, was building watercraft. Like fun, sandbox watercraft. We put a little bit of time into it. But we were like, “we could spend another two years developing this, to really make this good.” That was one of those things we had to cut. But that’s the way game development goes.

Did critics ever get you down over the years, or do you just channel stuff like that out?

Absolutely. As the title became more and more popular, the base of “Halo haters” just continued to increase.

There’s people who want to hate it because it’s popular. There’s people who hate it because they’re tired of it. There’s a lot of those folks out there. I fully expect that to be the case. We can’t make everybody happy.

But what we can do, is make the best game we possibly can make. I think we’ve done that with Reach. I expect a lot of folks who have fallen off the Halo wagon to maybe hop back on with this one.

If you could go back in a time machine and change anything about any of the past games, would you?

I think we might have thought out a better ending to Halo 2. I think that might be one thing that we’d maybe rethink a little bit, since we were kind of rushed for time. I think we ended it as best as we could, given the circumstances. And we certainly wrapped it up with Halo 3.

Yeah, we might go back and rethink that story a little more before we handed in a cliffhanger like that one.

Do you have any crazy fan experiences over the years?

The craziest fan experiences we ever have, and some of the most heartwarming, are the Make a Wish Foundation kids who come by our office. We have so many of them come by. This is their wish, to come by Bungie and hang out for a day, and just be carted around and treated like royalty as much as we possibly can for them. It’s so cool to be able to give back to the community in that way.

It’s like, we make that kind of impact on kids that they want this to be their last wish? I’m almost speechless when they come in.

Who would be your pick for playing Master Chief in a movie?

Oh my god. Who should we pick? Should we resurrect Arnold Schwarzenegger out of the political ashes? I don’t know, that’s a good question. Master Chief was such a nondescript character, when it came down to it. We wanted you to embody that character’s shell, and become the Master Chief in that way. He’s a blank face.

It’s hard to think about who would actually play him. Whereas in Reach we invested so much into the Sparta characters that I think are more rich and deep in character themselves, and just as iconic as Master Chief.

Off topic question. Did you shoot the citizens in Modern Warfare 2?

You know what, I didn’t. I resisted it. I was taunted with the idea of doing it. I don’t say it in a way that I feel good about myself that I took that path. I just thought “I don’t want to do that.”

I thought that was controversial. Hats off to them for doing something totally crazy, and it got a lot of buzz for them.

You’re on a desert island, and you can only bring one game. And it must be a Halo game. Go.

I’d be stupid if I didn’t say it was Reach. But on the other hand, Halo 1. It started this little magical thing. I see it through rose-colored glasses, that’s absolutely true. It had all of the core elements.

If you see Reach, you see that we’ve touched back on them, to look at what was really good about Halo 1 and 2 and 3, and ODST. We looked at what was good about those games, and took all of the good parts and put them into Reach. With Reach we wanted to hearken back and make that the quintessential Halo game.

We want to thank Marcus for talking to us, and letting us pick his brain a bit about Bungie’s amazing thirteen year run with the Halo series. We also want to thank our readers for providing us with a mountain of great questions. Those questions will be included in the video interview, which will be released when the embargo lifts on September 11.

If you’re one of those folks anxiously awaiting the release of Halo: Reach, only 13 days remain. You can look for Reach in stores on September 14. When you get it, make sure to take advantage of our detailed Halo: Reach Game Guide, as well as our Halo: Reach Cheats Page

Until then, you can prepare yourself by checking out our Halo: Reach Achievements, and keeping up with all the Reach news on our Halo: Reach page. You can also check out our Halo: Reach Review!

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