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What went wrong with Halo 4's Prometheans

Jordan Mallory

"We had a number of concerns about the Forerunners that we thought went not completely according to plan and could be improved upon," 343 Industries design director Scott Warner told the audience at his GDC 2013 panel, "The Design of New Enemies for Halo 4," which discussed the design philosophies behind the game's new breed of bad guys.

First and foremost, communication issues between the design and artwork departments exacerbated problems early in the studio's existence growing pains associated with starting a new company. "We were a brand new team at 343," Warner said. "You have to consider the challenge that we had was starting from zero people and going to about 340 before we shipped."

In a similar vein, the "absence of high level vision" on the various creatures' gameplay mechanics caused 343 to spend time developing ideas that would eventually prove fruitless: "I
t would have been easier for us to understand if we'd had more definition around these characters early on, as far as who they were." An early prototype build was shown as an example, in which two Promethean Knights balled themselves up like Samus and attacked Master Chief.

On a more practical, game design-oriented level, Warner admitted that Halo 4's enemies shipped with damage tuning and gameplay mechanics that were less than ideal. "The Watcher often encourages a one dimensional approach to those encounters," Warner said, "which we saw develop over time through using research and our own play testing. We knew it'd be a problem, [but] we didn't have a great solution for it before we shipped."

"The damage tooling for the characters," he continued, "we felt like we went a little bit too aggressive with this. When you fight the Watcher, there isn't really a good way to circumvent that interaction with him fast, you have to put a bunch of bullets in him – same way with the Knight. So that, over time, can tip the scale to where it's less fun to interact with him."

Interacting with the Prometheans also ended up being less interesting, at least from a storytelling and world building standpoint, than encounters with the Covenant have traditionally been, according to Warner. "The Covenant do a good job of telling you that you've surprised them, or they've got the drop on you, or they feel proud that they've taken you out; that they're scared," he said. "Our Prometheans don't do that very well, they're very – I hesitate to use the term 'robotic', but they tend to not show a lot of emotion or communicate their state very well in terms of what we'd like to do, what we think would be ideal for those characters. So that's one big area of improvement we're looking for as we move along with our character development in future games."

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