Insider Q&A: Halo Spartan Assault’s Dan Ayoub

Image via Microsoft
Image via Microsoft

How can Microsoft combat the overwhelming dominance of iOS and Android devices already on the market?

Launching its biggest video game franchise as an exclusive to Windows 8 machines is a sweet first shot as Halo: Spartan Assault stormed the digital marketplace last month, and this week, already adds five new missions, not to mention Xbox 360 controller support, for gamers looking to take their fight against the Covenant mobile.

Inside Mobile Apps caught up with Dan Ayoub, Halo’s executive producer, to get the story behind Spartan Assault, the advantages of Windows exclusivity, and how he hopes the game’s striking style will bring even more developers to the platform.

Inside Mobile Apps: What was the internal thought process behind bringing Halo to mobile? Was there any internal debate about whether or not it should even be done?

Dan Ayoub: It was actually a pretty interesting process. We had thought about it for a while, as I’m sure many franchises have, and it was an idea we’d been kicking around for quite a long time, but the goal at a high level was, how do we take the experience so you don’t have to be sitting in your living room in front of your big TV, and what’s the right experience to offer. We didn’t just want to port that first person experience over to mobile and tablet. That’s just traditionally not a great experience. We wanted to capture that soul — something that still looks like Halo, still sounds like Halo, and still feels like Halo — but it had to be the right game for the screens we were talking about. So once we decided to pull the trigger, we started looking at what the right experience would be — what these screens were good at, how people engage with them — and then we just went from there.

[contextly_sidebar id=”e23fc1d0b34a32f5b008344cca2dcb87″]IMA: Were there member from the Halo design team that didn’t want to see the franchise on mobile, or was everybody down for the challenge?

DA: The entirety of the team on the 343 side who worked on this, we were all console developers for a long period of time, so there was definitely that curiosity because you’re seeing more and more mobile and tablet games. We’ve all seen them, we’ve all played them, but none of us had ever made one before, so there was definitely that curiosity of, ‘Hey, this is something we’ve never done before. This is going to be a really, really fun challenge.’ That’s what got people excited. When it was finally locked that this is what we were doing, the team was really excited because game developers love hard problems they haven’t solved before and this definitely fit this bill.

IMA Were there any challenges about bringing Halo to mobile that you didn’t anticipate before starting work on the design?

DA: I think back to when I started making games, and this was back in the PC days a million years ago where you didn’t have too much memory or graphical power at your disposal, so you had to really lock on what you wanted that game experience to be really quickly, and you had to make trade-offs essentially, just to get to that core fun as quickly as possible. That’s the challenge we were anticipating and that was rather fun as well. But I think the one that surprised us the most was the controls. The touch controls that we did for the tablet and the phone version, we’ve gotten some great responses and people really like it, but man, was that difficult to pull off. We easily went through 12 to 15 different control configurations that we just threw out because they just didn’t work. Some of that was us, some of that was focus testing where we’d think we finally had something and nailed it, but then the focus test would completely hate it. It was really a touchy experience for us, no pun intended. [laughs]