CREATING THE PERFECT COMBO
In the mid to late-‘90’s, your humble scribe sacrificed many a quarter/token at the local (Tampa) bay-area arcade, with almost every one of them being dropped into arguably the loudest and prettiest cabinets available – the ones that housed Killer Instinct 1 & 2. I ate it up. I loved the art style, the fight mechanics, and perhaps most of all, the universe itself. I literally wore the covers off of my KI2 strategy guide, and might still remember off the top of my head how to do the unlock code for Gargos on the N64 version of KI Gold. It was nestled comfortably atop my “favorite franchises” list, and in 2001 Halo: Combat Evolved launched and quickly joined the list as well. It was only natural that I began to daydream about how cool it would be if one franchise were to ever cross over into the other. However, as the years continued to pass with no new Killer Instinct title on the horizon, I often lamented the fact that I’d never get to see such a thing come to pass.
I was sitting in the audience in LA in 2013 for two very important and memorable moments in my gaming life. Within the span of an hour, I witnessed a Forerunner Guardian rise from the sand to herald Halo’s arrival on the Xbox One – and watched in shock as a familiar guitar riff announced the return of the Killer Instinct franchise to the gaming world as a whole. Had you told me then that in just two years’ time I’d be part of bringing those two franchises together nearly two decades after spending that first quarter in the arcades… Let’s just say that this particular project has been an unforgettable journey on both a professional and personal level.
It’s been pretty incredible to watch the teams at 343 Industries, Iron Galaxy, and Microsoft Studios forge such a powerful and productive partnership as each of us poured our own particular portions of passion into the project. Of course, one of the first questions people always ask is how both sides landed on the character choice. For all parties involved, the idea of using the energy sword-wielding warrior was in no way a difficult one.
“I was asked before we’d launched Killer Instinct if I had thought of any guests that would fit well into the game.” Says Adam Isgreen, the Creative Director at Microsoft Studios assigned to the Killer Instinct franchise. “Without hesitation, I said ‘Well Arbiter, of course… but we’ll never get him.’ Over two years later, you can’t imagine how happy I am that he’s finally here!”
The next thing that typically flows furiously forth from fan lips and forum fingers is “Yeah, but is it the Arbiter? What about Keith David?! Is this canon? And where is my Ricochet playli - ” We get it, we get it. The answer is that from pretty early on it was decided that to both make things easier from a fictional explainability perspective, as well as take full advantage of all the cool opportunities available in the Killer Instinct ecosystem, that it would be best to create a versatile “could be anyone” Sangheili warrior for the role, while leveraging the obvious advantages that the familiarity of the Arbiter title and characterization might afford us. Just as countless Arbiters have faced impossible odds to represent the honor and glory of their people, this Arbiter was created to represent the glory and honor of the Halo universe against an impossible new challenge.
How can we say all that with a straight face? Shut up is how. How does this explain why he's fighting a cyborg dinosaur in a Mediterranean oasis? Silence fool! How does this explain some very cool easter eggs on a Sanghelios-inspired level? Shut your noisehole is how. Actually, in keeping with this theme, let’s see what Mr. Frank O’Connor had to say about it all.
“[Keith] David of course, IS ‘The Arbiter’ from the Halo game universe for all intents and purposes, and will continue to be as long as he’ll have us.” Frank explains. “But in Killer Instinct, we wanted to create multiple visual variations of the combatant archetype in the classic fighting game style, and so we leaned heavily on the 'Hall of the Arbiters' concept from the games, where we see armors and costumes from historical Arbiters in a kind of mausoleum. So our KI Arbiter is in some ways an amalgam of Arbiters past, as well as more modern Sangheili warriors. And further, like Spartan Nicole-458 from Dead or Alive 4, it helped to insert a subtle canonical buffer between their game and ours, so that players aren’t scratching their heads when the Covenant’s historical champion is fighting a Battletoad in Chicago...”
I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with that…