MAN BEHIND THE MISTERY
GrimBrother One: Let’s start out with your own most recent addition to the Halo lore, Halo: Saint’s Testimony. Its unique perspective and subject matter was a pleasant surprise to many fans that devoured the tale as soon as they could. Were you happy with how the story turned out when all was said and done?
Frank O’Connor: I was happy-ish. I am never 100% happy though and honestly, nothing makes me cringe harder than reading my own stuff, or watching myself on TV, or hearing my voice on tape. I just don’t have tolerance for my own self. What I did enjoy though, was seeing my work tightened and honed by the editors here at 343, and of course the bulk of that work was done by our partners at Simon and Schuster.
GRIM: Now Halo: Saint’s Testimony deals with a subject – the nature of AI and the nature of life itself – that, in your own words, has fascinated you for some time now. Can you speak a little more to that curiosity and how it served as the inspiration for this particular story?
FRANK: You know, we’re literally just decades away from a technological singularity. Folks will read this and scoff, but it’s not like Faster Than Light travel – it’s an inevitability. Eventually, we will end up with a machine intelligence faster and cleverer than us, and what happens then? It’s not Skynet – I’m an optimist, and I think we end up in more of Iain M. Banks Culture than in some dystopian Matrix version of the future. AI will work together to make logical, politics-free decisions about the economy, environment, basically anything you can think of. Having an objective outsider perspective can really help us get over the subjective, anthropomorphic problems we have with our own thinking processes. An AI could ape the way a person thinks, but there’s also value I think, to a rational mind looking at the data and the issues and suggesting solutions.
We’re so short term in the way we deal with everything from the economy to the Space Shuttle. We tend to think in artificial “clumps” of time – four year terms for a president, for example, that stymie our ability to think in the truly long-term. So an “eternal” machine could help us vault that hurdle to our thinking. It doesn’t have to be a “master” over us, it could simply be a consultant.
And Iona is an emotional being, which is fascinating in itself, but she doesn’t need to be. Even BB cares more than he lets on. Having AI be relatable is vital to our fictional story, but it’s also useful in real-world interactions – and even our prototypical Cortana on Windows devices, reflects that anthropomorphic bent. She’s easier to relate to conversationally as a result. Hell, sometimes I tell Siri or Cortana “thank you” when they give me directions or information.
GRIM: I mean, I think it’s safe to say we’ve all had a few… unconventional exchanges with those aforementioned entities. So, while artificial intelligences have found a home in many different science fiction universes over the years, they actually occupy a particularly significant role in the Halo narrative specifically. What are your thoughts on the importance they have played over the years?
FRANK: To date, our AIs have served as expositors and guides – and we see that pattern in real life too. Ultimately it’s a persona attached to near-infinite information. So in a video game where exploration and information are paramount, an AI makes a lot of sense. Halo 5 will be the first entry in the Master Chief’s mainline story where he has to survive without that AI companion, and reflect upon what he lost when Cortana sacrificed herself.
GRIM: Regarding the story’s format in general, many fans seem to really be enjoying the ability to experience these bite-sized stories that have been published this year, with new digital shorts providing shorter – but perhaps more plentiful – peeks into different stories around the Halo universe. Do you think it’s something that fans can expect to see more of as we move into 2016 and beyond?
FRANK: Absolutely. These are fun ways to explore dark corners of the universe, and ironically help ourselves understand better, the stories we’re trying to tell.
GRIM: Speaking of alternative storytelling methods, perhaps one of the biggest surprises this year for fans was the unexpected impact of the Hunt the Truth series, which followed 26th century war journalist Benjamin Giraud and his quest to uncover the story behind the Master Chief. Looking back on the first batch of episodes that came out leading up to E3 2015, what are your thoughts on its development and reception?
FRANK: I loved the process, from inception to broadcast. We had a great relationship with Noah and the guys at Ayzenberg who helped us build it. They really “got” the universe and we were able to collaborate in a seamless and fluid way. And now that we’re beginning season two, that process is smoother still – and so the emergent opportunities that come from trust will make this even better than season one.
GRIM: I remember listening intently myself every week, the delivery on the performances were just so compelling and immersive, it’s was nearly impossible to not be emotionally impacted by Ben’s journey. Did you have any particular personal favorite moments from last season?
FRANK: I think Ben’s sense of betrayal, not just at the veracity of events, but at putting his trust in people he truly believed in, only to have that trust crushed underfoot, is moving. And I don’t want to say too much about season two, but there will be moments that compound that sense of betrayal, but also perspectives that might convince a listener of the other side of the argument.
GRIM: Going even further, a lot of community members expressed their excitement over particular story threads in Hunt the Truth that connected back to the deeper lore, from Ellie Bloom (from the “Starry Night” trailer) to Michael Sullivan (from Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn). Can you talk about the balance of how to best connect those threads in ways that new fans will find enjoyable, but old fans will take some extra special pride in recognizing?
FRANK: Mostly these things have to exist in a vacuum – you don’t need to know Sully was from Forward Unto Dawn to enjoy the podcast, but hopefully if you do know that and you are paying attention, this will feel more fleshed out and rewarding as a result.
GRIM: So, the 800lb gúta in the room… Hunt the Truth Season 2. Now that fans have gotten their first sufficient taste, what can fans expect as the season continues? Anything particularly different about the way the story is told this time around?
FRANK: The story will be much more direct. Some of the curtain has already been lifted on ONI’s machinations, for example, but there will also be surprises, starting even before the “real” first episode.
GRIM: If you could give one infuriatingly tantalizing tease to whet the fans’ appetite for what’s still to come in Season 2, what would it be?
FRANK: People who live in glassed houses shouldn’t throw stones.
GRIM: Yup, that should do it. Thanks as always, Frank.