In response to Paul (kappus III), who has been asking great questions for months now, I thought I’d return to the blog and answer his latest to share some thoughts on what it’s like building something completely new rather than working on an established, “safe” intellectual property.

I don’t think anyone would argue that it’s liberating having the chance to begin building up a new IP from scratch. Being able to lay down foundation blocks that will continue shaping a game for years to come is exhilarating. It’s also incredibly hard and often frustrating since the answers to how we should construct certain parts of the game are not always very clear. Even with our small group working on it, we have many differing opinions that must be debated and reconciled. This is totally normal and with the right group, like we have, it’s incredibly rewarding to work through tough problems and end up with results that everyone can look at and get excited about the direction being set.

Of course, we use as much data as possible to help us make key decisions on where we should take the game. We solicit feedback from as many members of the larger studio as we can. But sometimes, there is nothing out there which we can point to as a helpful guide or we get amazingly diverse feedback from the team. The key to making some of these decisions then rests on what our gut tells us. These are going to be our best guesses at what people may like about certain game design elements, how difficult we should drive the core combat mechanics, or how we should handle critical aspects of the player experience. For many of these questions, there are no obvious answers so we must rely on our gut to guide decisions.

To this, most of you will probably say, “Duh, that’s obvious. Tell us something we didn’t already know!” Sure, I understand that it’s obvious, but what may not be so obvious is that using your gut only works if you are familiar with all the working parts of how a game is built. You must be able to visualize how a part of the game, on which you are making a decision, fits into the whole of the project. This is so important, since without this understanding an objective opinion is nearly impossible to achieve.

For instance, we were just debating some beginning moments of the player experience the other day. Every decision we make for this first few moments of the game has profound implications to what the player might expect from the game overall. One small element in the world with which the player interacts will absolutely set the stage for gameplay expectations from that point forward.

Being able to pull yourself away from the project and look over it from a thousand foot level to see the kinds of interactions parts of the game have with others, then use your gut to imagine how those parts will feel when connected properly is an incredible challenge. It’s also super fun and works best, of course, when you have a strong team, like I do, who have similar abilities. We’re constantly looking at the game not just from design or player experience perspectives, but also for best content production methods, engine capabilities, tools construction, staff sizes and dynamics, and even to what we will do if this game continues on if it is a success.

It’s refreshing to be doing something completely different than what we did with Halo for so many years. There are so many little things that happen every day during early development. These are the sparks that start the fire of something special. We’ve already hit on a few fundamental parts of the game that make it feel like nothing else out there – so we’re super excited about the foundation we’re laying right now.

-Marcus