Halo Spartan Assault

Halo: Spartan Assault is coming to both Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. It marks the first time in the franchise’s history that it won’t be on console or PC. It’s also the second time there will be a departure in gameplay from the series trademark first-person shooter experience. This past week at //BUILD/ we learned a bit more about the upcoming game. We also have a better picture of when it should be on your Windows Phone 8 device – the middle of July.

Dan Ayoub and Greg Hermann discussed the challenges in bringing the Halo franchise from a console experience to mobile world in the Build session titled Bringing Halo: Spartan Assault to Windows Tablets and Mobile Devices. It was a fascinating discussion on decisions the team made in bringing Halo to mobile and why you won’t be getting a first-person Halo game anytime soon for your Surface tablet or Windows Phone.

Dan Ayoub

Why Halo won’t be a first-person shooter on your tablet anytime soon

How many of you have wanted to play Slayer on the rode with your mobile device – either a smartphone or tablet? A lot of you I bet. There’s something romantic about getting in a few multiplayer sessions of Halo when waiting for the bus or a dentists appointment. But why 343 Industries didn’t do that with Halo: Spartan Assault? Because they believe in making the right game for the right screen. They didn’t just want to port their console experience onto these mobile devices.

Halo on Console
Halo on console vs... 

Halo on mobile
... Halo on mobile

The console experience typically involves a television and controller. While you could argue for something like support for the MOGA Pro controller, not everyone is going to have that on their Windows Phone or tablet. But those people will all have touchscreens, so they wanted to make a Halo game that played to the strengths of the input system that everyone will have access to – touchscreens. Of course on Windows 8 tablets you’ll also have keyboard support from the start and support for the Xbox controller coming in a future update. Speaking of future updates…

Halo: Spartan Assault will get support for a long time to come

When you download Halo: Spartan Assault to your Surface in mid-July it won’t technically be the final version. We know already know you’re getting 5 operations with 5 levels each. That’s 25 total missions that according to the session at Build, will get you around 2.5 hours of gameplay. That means, on average, each level will take you about 6 minutes to complete. Which is something else 343 Industries did on purpose. In mobile settings users usually play games in sporadic bursts and typically save marathon gaming sessions for the couch.

But you’re not going to just getting two and a half hours of gameplay for your $6.99 purchase of Halo: Spartan Assault. Dan Ayoub, hinted at future updates that will provide longevity for the game. Whether it’s going to be like Angry Birds where you’ll get more “worlds” in those updates remain to be seen. But don’t give up hope on multiplayer, when asked why they chose to exclude multiplayer he replied with a smirk that they designed the game to have a long life by delivering updates. They also wanted to nail the base experience – campaign.

In fact, you can expect support for the Xbox 360 controller for the Windows 8 version of Spartan Assault about one month after launch. I spoke with Dan after the event and asked why they didn’t have Xbox controller support day one. Basically the team wanted to focus on touch and keyboard and get those right. They had about 15 iterations of how touch would work on the tablet before settling on the current implementation. Right now you don’t need to keep your thumbs in the same spot to control the game. During gameplay if your thumbs drift the controls basically drift with you, working wherever you go. I also learned that the reason Xbox controller support is coming a month after release was because the team already planned on having an update come out then and decided to add controller support in that update. What will that update include? If I was a betting man I’d say you can expect new levels.

Fun facts learned at Build about Spartan Assault

  • A lot of fun, somewhat miscellaneous info was also learned about Spartan Assault during Build. For example, we already knew the Surface RT would get about 30 frames-per-second in gameplay and the Surface Pro would get 60 frames-per-second. What about Windows Phone 8 and Atom based machines? Windows Phone is getting a solid 30 fps, while Atom is about the same.
  • The game will include over 60 minutes of original audio.
  • Development began about 18 months ago. That’s 6 months before the world learned about the Surface RT and Surface Pro. The team at 343 Industries and Vanguard Games (the primary developer of Spartan Assault) had no clue about the existence of the Surface program, but had already began development on for Windows 8 tablets and mobile devices.
  • Began porting the traditional Halo FPS gameplay experience to tablet to see if it work. They had a small team that made a prototype and learned that Halo on tablets wasn’t a good idea. Fast gameplay that has a lot of twitch movements would need to rely too heavily on aim-assist to even begin to feel like Halo.
  • Releasing mid-July

I can’t speak for the rest of the crew at Windows Phone Central, but I’m personally stoked to play Spartan Assault in a few weeks. We can expect the game in “mid-July”, so I’m tentatively marking July 17th as the day most probable. Feel free to place your guesses below. If you want to watch the Build session, go to this link right here on Channel 9. The first half is easy to understand, but the second half with Greg Hermann does get a little technical.

Stay tuned as we tour 343 Industries in the coming weeks.