In the spirit of the aforementioned methane-mech, I caught up with Nick Ardizzone from our Narrative department to pick his brain about his favorite party guests. Let’s see what he had to say!
GRIM: So who are you anyway? Why do we keep letting you in the building?! Tell us about your writing background and how you ended up here at 343 Industries.
NICK ARDIZZONE: I came over from Microsoft Studios’ Central Services, where I did writing and editing work on titles like Ryse: Son of Rome, Killer Instinct, and Forza: Horizon. The last pre-Halo title I wrote for was Sunset Overdrive, although there isn’t much overlap between Sunset’s manic energy and Halo’s deeply realized mythology. Following my stint on Sunset, the planets aligned and an opportunity arose to write some combat chatter for 343 Industries. They must have liked what I delivered because they brought me on for the last leg of Halo 5: Guardians’ production. The timing was perfect; the decision had just been made at the time to have the Covenant speak English (they spoke their native languages in Halo 4), which meant that there were now all these great enemy characters who needed full suites of dialogue. So I got to work and haven’t stopped since.
GRIM: Speaking of some of those characters, you seem to have a certain affinity for the Unggoy. What makes the methane-breathers so appealing to you?
NICK: It’s hard not to root for the little guys, the downtrodden cannon fodder [Hey wait a sec… - Grim]. Sure, they’ve participated in their share of war crimes, but you’ve got to think about where they came from - they’re staring down the UNSC’s toughest super soldiers while standing shoulder to shoulder with the Elites who enslaved them and the Jackals who tried to sterilize them, and what do they do?
GRIM: Say funny things and run?
NICK: Well som-
GRIM: They get shot?
NICK: They try their best, dammit! They’re some of the scrappiest little bastards in the universe – equal parts ambitious and terrified, desperate to prove themselves as worthy fighters and nearly as desperate to wander off and take a nap. What’s not to love?
GRIM: I mean, when you put it that way, I actually feel more of a kinship with them myself. Now, whether fans realize it or not, you are one of the key reasons why the Grunts have reclaimed their comedic crown. Do you have any particular methods or inspirations for creating lines for the various perspectives within their ranks?
NICK: That was an order from 343i’s top brass.
GRIM: Ah yes, the horn section.
NICK: Indeed. They wanted the Grunts in Guardians to recapture that essential Gruntiness from earlier Halo games, so I went full immersion and listened to the combat chatter from Halo 3 endlessly. Grunts have this really great mix of cowardice, braggadocio, and curiosity. They don’t have much of a filter, so they’re likely to voice whatever thoughts are running through their minds in the middle of combat (“They’re shooting our heads?! I keep all my brains in there!”). Of course, a lot of the credit has to go to the great voice performances given by Anthony Hansen and Donovan Patton, as well as the legendary Joe Staten as the relentlessly talkative Dimkee Hotay.
GRIM: OMG Hotay is my spirit animal, I’m pretty sure.
NICK: Right? And speaking of ol’ Dimkee, all his inane babbling was originally a single stream-of-consciousness monologue. I wrote that first draft in one go, like a bargain-basement Jack Kerouac obsessed with tiny aliens who love to yell and can’t remember if humans lay eggs.
GRIM: Oh yes, I remember those brain-storming sessions. It’s no accident that Mr. Hotay muses about alien aesthetics amidst his delightful diatribe. But speaking of beloved story-corners, you also had a hand in crafting many of the collectible intel pieces found scattered throughout Halo 5: Guardians. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of crafting these bite-sized narrative nuggets? Sorry, I’m hungry.
NICK: I took on about half of the intel in Guardians and 343’s Morgan Lockhart tackled the rest. Although I wrote entries for the human settlers in Meridian Station, I really like doing the intel for Grunts and Elites. That’s where you get to dig a little deeper into the characters and see how they behave when they’re not getting shot at. In battle, the Elites can come across as simple warriors obsessed with honor, but there’s much more to them than that; they‘re a species who finds themselves at the tail end of a civil war, with the Arbiter’s Swords of Sangheilios fighting the remnants of the ruined Covenant. And, yes, their society places great value on honor, but I wanted to explore situations where Elites found their loyalties tested, or where they were standing uneasily at the intersection of tradition and progress. They have to make their own choices and move forward as individuals, in the same way the Sangheili must move beyond tribalism and find new identities as familiar factions crumble. Some choose one path (the medic Cham ‘Lokeema), some another (how Dham ‘Mashatt dealt with Bibjam) …and some of them yearn desperately to write love poetry to Commander Palmer.
GRIM: I’m sure he’s not alone…
NICK: That’s what being an individual is all about!
GRIM: Do you have a particular favorite character or moment within the Halo universe from before your time here?
NICK: This shouldn’t be surprising: I have to go with the Unggoy Rebellion terminal from Halo 2 Anniversary. When that tear runs down that Grunt’s ugly little face…
GRIM: Indeed, I think we all sacrificed a little memorial methane that day.
NICK: Wait, what?
GRIM: Anyway, thanks so much for joining us today! Do you have any final words for Halo story fans?
NICK: We have a lot of really exciting stuff in the works (and I’m thinking of one chunk of especially really exciting stuff that I’m particularly especially excited about), but I shouldn’t really talk about any of it. Just keep reading Grim’s stuff here and bothering Bravo on Reddit and see if you can squeeze some juicy details out of them. And if we get to the end of the series and Master Chief finally takes his helmet off and he’s just a Grunt standing on another one’s shoulders, well, now you know who to blame.
GRIM: Hey, stranger things have happened. Thanks again, Nick.