As Microsoft’s (Nasdaq: MSFT) iconic (and Xbox-exclusive) video game franchise “Halo” faces ever-mounting completion from the likes of Activision Blizzard’s (Nasdaq: ATVI) “Call of Duty” and Electronic Arts’ (Nasdaq: EA), the U.S. tech giant has found a new way to remain competitive in the console marketplace: television.
Along with “Halo 4” developer 343 Industries, the Redmond, Wash.-based company has partnered with Glasgow animation studio Axis Animation to produce continued episodic content for “Halo 4: Spartan Ops.”
“Spartan Ops” is an add-on to the main single player campaign of “Halo 4,” which was released early last month to strong reviews and even stronger sales but was quickly supplanted by “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” the next week.
“Black Ops 2,” with its popular zombies mode and endless multiplayer matches that are now broadcast live on YouTube, has long been seen as the undisputed king of first-person shooters. But with the traditional console market declining at a steady clip, both Microsoft and Activision have been forced to adapt and give players more reason to revisit their games.
Microsoft, which has already expressed its ambition to turn its flagship Xbox 360 gaming console into a home entertainment hub with first-party television-style content, sees continued updates of the “Halo 4” story world as the best way to keep gamers coming back to the screen. “Spartan Ops,” therefore, offers players weekly updates even after they’ve finished the main storyline with Master Chief, the franchise’s core protagonist.
Axis has already created cut-scenes and other cinematic CGI flourishes for the current “Spartan Ops” episodes. The first season consists of 10 animated episodes with more than 1,200 CGI animated sequences directed by Axis Co-founder and Tech Director Stuart Aitken.
“Spartan Ops was an absolutely unique project, with a unique schedule and unique challenges,” 343 Industries Director of Franchise Development Frank O’Connor told MCV.
“Axis stepped up to those challenges with imagination and energy and, more importantly, a wonderfully collaborative vision of the story we wanted to tell,” O’Connor added. “Working with our writers, our cinematics team and a dizzying plethora of tools and assets, they became a seamless extension of our narrative group -- and we look forward to continuing our relationship and creative partnership in the future.”
How, exactly, the collaboration was managed between Glasgow and 343’s headquarters in Kirkland, Wash., is unclear, but Aitken has maintained that his studio “collaborated at every level with 343 Industries throughout the process to create a truly immersive cinematic experience.”
“What makes this such an incredible opportunity is that this is full CGI movie-style storytelling and character development within the rich and exciting world of 'Halo',” Aitken added in an interview with the game industry website Develop.
The success of the "Halo 4" experiment in episodic content could suggest future developments at Microsoft and its various video game subsidiaries to bridge the gap between interactive entertainment and television-like video content.
Microsoft shares dipped slightly during Monday trading after opening above their closing price last Friday, closing at $26.43 per share.