GRIM: So Jeremy, what was the overall thought process on the art direction for Halo Wars 2?
JEREMY COOK: I’d say that overall, we set out to try and strike a healthy balance between familiar and totally new. With the challenges the RTS genre can produce in regards to camera angles and perspective, readability and clarity of the units and combat space is typically the highest priority. And of course, we also wanted to maintain the visually rich and immersive qualities expected in a Halo title, regardless of genre. We put a lot of effort into preserving recognizable traits and personalities of (beloved) units and structures while working to maintain their readability.
GRIM: In part because of those camera angles you mentioned earlier, the environments themselves can actually play a pretty crucial role in the overall feel of an RTS game, right?
JC: Definitely, in Halo Wars 2, our environments needed to provide another hallmark of Halo: a grand sense of scale. Using our camera’s perspective, we leveraged the negative spaces, glimpsing into endless chasms of Forerunner technology and creating a greater sense of depth within the frame.
GRIM: While I’d say that many halo fans have already noticed some care and attention paid to the “familiar,” but can you also speak to the nature of forging some new ground with the Banished palette and architecture?
JC: The Banished were a great opportunity to showcase a more Brute-centric aesthetic, though at the same time, we also wanted to make visual nods to their Covenant past with key, familiar equipment used as a foundation. Layered armor plating, ramming spikes and overclocked plasma weapons punctuate a nomadic, Brute faction with scarred past and uncertain future. From a gameplay perspective, the Banished also provide a nice visual contrast to our more familiar UNSC which sport a roll caged, modular look as they bring everything in by Pelican.
GRIM: Awesome. Now, while I could sit and talk alien aesthetics with you all day, I see that Kevin is trying to get away before I corner him for shreds of sharable story details. Before I have to tackle him, any final thoughts you want to share?
JC: Overall, we wanted to create a vibrant and visually beautiful game with both epic, large scale reads, as well as a great sense of detail in the quiet areas. Plus, we get to showcase a new battlefield and expand on the Halo visual pallet from a different combat and camera perspective. I’m proud of all the hard work that’s been put in so far, and hope the fans enjoy what we’ve ‘done with the place’.
GRIM: Oh I imagine that the more they continue to see, the more they will definitely find more to love. Now, Kevin, can you please talk a little bit about the setting for Halo Wars 2? Where does it pick up from the original game, and what returning heroes might we see?
KEVIN GRACE: It’s so great to finally get back to Captain Cutter and the Spirit of Fire! Those who remember the ending of the first Halo Wars will recall that the Spirit of Fire and everyone on board was floating through space with basically no engine and no real chance to get home. We’re picking back up with them 28 years later as Captain Cutter, Professor Anders, and the rest of the crew find themselves above a HUGE alien installation we all know as The Ark (mainly because the Master Chief went there and gently engaged in some… redecorating in Halo 3).
GRIM: So, what about this new threat will they be facing?
KG: I’m not going to say much right now, but as Cutter and Anders (and some new friends we’ll talk about later) get caught up about the Ark and about everything that’s happened while they were lost in space, they also meet their new opponent: The Banished. These guys are mean, grizzled veterans who are used to fighting both humanity and the Covenant, and they’re led by a Jiralhanae named Atriox – a tactical genius and physical powerhouse. Atriox really is in many ways the personification of the chaos currently gripping the Halo universe, and his ruthless pursuit of power puts Captain Cutter and his crew once more in a position where they have to fight for their lives – and likely those of many others.
GRIM: Alright, I know we’re going to be talking more about these types of things later on, so I’ll let you off the hook… for now. Thanks much for lending us a few words!