Halo: Reach

Interview - Stephen McGill, UK Xbox Boss Talks The Future, Halo, Rare & More

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Microsoft has achieved a hell of a lot in just over eight years since first launching the Xbox brand and likewise, Xbox Live has grown and flourished as an online service, adding new entertainment applications and games on a regular basis.

It's by no means perfect, but Microsoft seems to know what they’re doing and know it has a good thing going in Xbox 360. With the tail-end of 2010 seeing some of the biggest titles yet to hit the console (granted a lot of them are sequels, but they're high profile sequels nonetheless) and Halo: Reach now out, we caught up with Microsoft's Xbox & Entertainment Director, Stephen McGill during the huge Halo: Reach launch party to talk all things Xbox.

We asked what the future hold for the Xbox brand, the usual burning questions regarding Kinect and how its major first-party developers are going to be delivering big things in the future, with particular focus on Rare and 343 Industries with the Halo franchise.

Did our hard-hitting interrogation techniques and prodding with a big stick get us the answers we were looking for? Read on to find out...

With such a strong line-up for 2010 with the likes of Halo: Reach, Fable III, Crackdown 2,  Alan Wake and so on, what have you got in store for 2011? Obviously, we already know about Gears of War 3...

I'm not going to unveil any new releases tonight unfortunately, so we're very focused on Halo: Reach, then Fable at the end of October and then Kinect into November. But yes, April 2011, we're launching Gears of War 3 then, and that's going to be pretty amazing.

Obviously, we've got plenty of things up our sleeves. We've got things like Flight Simulator and Age of Empires coming out from a PC point of view and we've got lots of projects in the works from an Xbox 360 point of view. Watch this space. We've got things like the Tokyo Game Show coming up in the next few weeks and we've got plenty of events through the early part of 2011, so then we'll start talking about 2011, as soon as we've got this stuff out of the way.

Now that Microsoft own Rare and obviously, you work very closely with them, is there a chance that we'll ever see the developer returning to its roots in core gaming as they're associated with more casual games these days?
Rare has a huge and amazing heritage, and I grew up playing a lot of Rare titles. So, I had a lot of personal interest, a lot of personal history before I even started working at Microsoft and so I love their work. Rare has been incredibly busy getting ready for Kinect, so a lot of their focus has been – as I'm sure you're aware - to get things like Kinect Sports ready, so it's all hands on deck for that one. But they've got quite a few things that I'm sure we'll be talking about in due course.

With the Halo franchise now firmly in the hands of 343 Industries, are you able to discuss what they might have planned for the next game and whether we'll see it this generation or the next?

Well this generation is here for a long, long time. I think there's still a lot of legs left with the Xbox 360, so we're years away from contemplating what comes next. As you know, with Xbox 360 we constantly innovate with the current console you have, through extra services on Xbox Live that we can pump down the service, then obviously with Kinect; that's a massive game-changer for the industry, transforming what entertainment in games can be for friends and family.

343 is working really hard with Bungie to get Halo: Reach out the door, then they'll probably take a few days break to celebrate what's set to be an incredible launch and game of the year for 2010. What happens next? Well, they're not going on holiday away too far, so with Halo: Waypoint already on Xbox 360 and coming to Windows 7 mobile phones, we'll be keeping you up to date with lots of Halo information and news etc. So, watch this space!

Will Microsoft continue to work closely with Bungie despite them working with Activision now? Will the relationship between MS and Bungie be preserved?

You'd have to talk to Bungie about that. They've got some interesting and exciting projects planned for the next few years, but then we've got some incredible games planned and plans for the Halo universe beyond Halo: Reach, which we'll talk about in due course.

Do you feel that the DVD format is holding the Xbox 360 back in terms of its lifespan? A lot of people are saying that embracing Blu-ray would extend the 360's shelf life.

I think people may have spoken about that originally, but that's long gone. I think people now recognise what a smart decision it was to keep the pricing low, and actually Blu-ray is going to be passed by as a format. People have moved through from DVDs to digital downloads and digital streaming, so we offer full HD 1080p Blu-ray quality streaming instantly, no download, no delay. So, who needs Blu-ray?

In terms of Xbox Live, what have you got planned in terms of additional services to add extra value to a Gold subscription?
Xbox Live is a phenomenal heart within the Xbox 360 and it's been built from the ground up. I think people were surprised when we brought broadband gaming in the box from the word go, and we believe in that and have proven that the model works; it's a great success and everyone's enjoying it.

It's moved from being a purely online gaming service to supporting gaming and broader entertainment. It's moved to movies and it's moved to TV, so you'll continue to see us move down that path as well as continuing to enhance all the gaming dedicated focus, like for fans of Halo and core gamers. They need great gaming experiences and we're going to keep delivering that in spades and keep adding great entertainment for friends and family, so something for everyone!

On the topic of core gamers, a great deal of them are crying out for core games on Kinect. What are we likely to see in the way of core games for Kinect?
I think you're going to be really impressed and really amazed. Obviously, gamers of all types – casual or core gamers – they love sports games, they love driving games and having fun with their friends with music games and so on. When we launch Kinect on Xbox 360 in November, we're delivering all of those kind of things: driving, sports and other fun games, but we're only scratching the surface. Over the next few months and years to come, you're going to see an incredible line-up of great gaming experiences that you really honestly can't even dream of right now.

The technology has been in developer's hands for a while now, so you're going to see some incredible stuff. Something for everyone, as you'll see when we start showing a bit more detail about Kinect Sports, Joy Ride and stuff, you're going to recognise that there's actually a ton of fun for core gamers and casual gamers alike, where you'll be able to scratch the surface or go as deep as you like. Then obviously from a technology point of view, being able to control your 360 experience through hand gestures or playing a movie just with your voice, that's some really cool stuff that core gamers are going to love.

Where do you see the Xbox brand being in say, five years or so?

The heritage of where Xbox has come from is clearly a gaming background. I think the key to whatever we do with where Xbox goes we have to keep that and be true to that and keep delivering amazing gaming experiences for gamers. But we are more than just that. In the last few years, we have broadened as a product, as a brand, as an experience to more members of the family and different age groups, so we'll continue to do both. It's not a case of, we have to make a choice.

If you're smart and you have great developers with great ideas – and we have those – you can service the core gamers with incredibly great core gaming experiences and still go for a broader, casual, more family-friendly focus. The two are not mutually exclusive in their own right. People have possibly done it wrong in the past on other platforms, and I'm looking forward to showing what can be achieved this Christmas.

So you don't think it's a delicate balancing act to please both the core gamers and casual audiences?

I don't think it's particularly like a balancing act. Core gamers are very sure about what they want and I think we're servicing them with things like Halo, obviously FIFA's looking great, Call of Duty (Black Ops) is looking great, Force Unleashed II is looking great, Gears of War 3 is going to be great, Fable III is amazing, obviously Reach is incredible and so we have an incredible line up of games that people are familiar with and we have new IP for gamers, so there's plenty for them and I think they're going to enjoy Kinect as well. We're thinking about both audiences, all the time.

There's been an incredible influx of top quality games on the XBLA lately. Has this been a conscious business decision as they're quicker to make and cheaper to produce?

They're often quicker to produce than some full retail games, but some are incredibly deep, incredibly innovative and often smaller teams can work on them so they can come out a little bit faster for people. And some of the ideas we come across for the Arcade are amazing and then there's lots of heritage, lots of great IP that people want from the past that are able to come back on Xbox Live Arcade. I think it's a great development platform for publishers with new ideas and some great heritage content.

And so that's something that you'll continue to nurture and support then?

Absolutely, yes!


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Game Info
Bungie Software


US September 14, 2010
Europe September 14, 2010
Japan September 15, 2010

Backward compatible on Xbox One: Yes
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