Jeremie Sloan’s garage in Oregon City teems with life-size “Halo” helmets, chest plates and codpieces. All are built with the goal of perfect fidelity to the “Halo” series of video games.

Elsewhere in his labyrinth of basement workspaces, Sloan uses pepakura, a Japanese papercraft technique, to match and glue thousands of tiny serial-numbered paper tabs into the models for his costumes. It takes weeks to construct a single Master Chief helmet out of pepakura — and that’s before the sanding and other tedious steps can even begin.

I love the game. And I want to keep giving back to the ‘Halo’ universe that has been such an important part of my life.

Jeremie Sloan crafting his pepakura Halo helmet

Jeremie Sloan crafting his pepakura “Halo” helmet.

“Some people assume that ‘Halo’ cosplayers are a bunch of teenagers with nothing better to do,” said Sloan, a 6’ 4” crane mechanic, Marine and soon-to-be grandfather. “But ‘Halo’ got me through months in a wheelchair after I broke my pelvis in a construction accident. I love the game. And I want to keep giving back to the ‘Halo’ universe that has been such an important part of my life.”

Sloan is not alone in his dedication to all things “Halo.” He is a member of the 405th Infantry Division, a global network of “Halo” cosplayers, prop builders and superfans. The wider fan base, called The Halo Nation, numbers in the millions. Since the launch of the first “Halo” game almost 15 years ago, they have elevated it into one of the world’s largest entertainment franchises, with more than 65 million copies sold and 6 billion hours of gameplay logged.

Members of the 405th Infantry Division at San Diego Comic Con 2015

The much-anticipated “Halo 5: Guardians” is the newest installment of the blockbuster game. However, the gaming industry evolves at the speed of light and “Halo 5: Guardians” finds itself up against ever-growing legions of games and platforms clamoring for attention.

Fremont, California-based 405th Pacific Regiment Commanding Officer Danielle Yuan argued, “No parts of the game can just be good, everything has to be great. It’s ‘Halo,’ after all.” In order for “Halo 5: Guardians” to separate itself from the crowd, all of the game’s components, from multiplayer modes to narrative to visuals to music, must come together to exceed the enormous expectations.

Kiki Wolfkill signing posters for Halo fans at San Diego Comic Con 2015

Kiki Wolfkill signing posters for “Halo” fans at San Diego Comic Con 2015

343 Industries, the Microsoft game studio that created “Halo 5: Guardians,” is more than aware of the pressure. Josh Holmes, studio head of Internal Development, stated, “Fortunately, as ‘Halo 5: Guardians’ is on Xbox One, we have the opportunity to make the game come to life in ways that haven’t been possible until now.”

Kiki Wolfkill, studio head of “Halo” Interactive Entertainment and Channel, agreed: “Since the day we started working on ‘Halo 5: Guardians,’ we’ve seen it as our chance to put a stake in the ground and show everyone where we’re going with the franchise.”

Halo 5 cityscape with alien craft looming in distance
Halo 5 spacecraft large
Halo 5 spacecraft distant
Halo 5 spacecraft medium

The Road to Now

343 Industries’ dedication to deliver on the game’s epic potential is born out of the past success of “Halo.” The first game, “Halo: Combat Evolved,” launched with the original Xbox console in 2001. Along with “Halo 2,” it sold some 15 million copies and was the killer app for the original Xbox. “Halo 3,” “Halo Wars,” “Halo 3: ODST,” “Halo: Reach,” “Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary” and “Halo 4” together sold over 40 million copies on Xbox 360. And “Halo” sold even more on mobile, other PC games and The Master Chief Collection retrospective.

Package designs for 10 Halo Xbox video games

“Halo” games over time

“‘Halo’ is synonymous with Xbox. ‘Halo’ launched the original Xbox console. ‘Halo’ launched Xbox Live. And ‘Halo’ was a cornerstone on Xbox 360,” said head of Xbox, Phil Spencer. “We are set to do it again with ‘Halo 5: Guardians’ on Xbox One and I believe that the characters, stories and saga of the ‘Halo’ universe will be around for decades to come.”

The fact that the studio created “Halo 5: Guardians” for a new console offered both a challenge and an opportunity. Franchise Development Director Frank O’Connor said, “Think of Hollywood’s historic big deal game changers: talkies, color, 3D. Every time we design for a new platform, we are undergoing that kind of seismic change. It’s a process of massive innovation and evolution.”

We decided to make the most robust campaign and multiplayer experience ever created.

Xbox One utilizes Xbox Live Cloud Compute (built on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform), which enables speed and computing muscle once unimaginable in gaming. “This was our chance to rewrite the game engine from the ground up and make some big creative bets,” said Holmes. “We decided to make the most robust campaign and multiplayer experience ever created.”

The new game allows up to four players to battle cloud-computed AI opponents, while seamlessly entering and leaving the game — what gamers call “four-player drop-in/drop-out co-op.” And “Halo 5: Guardians’” iconic visuals display at a blistering 60 frames per second across the entire game with near instantaneous responsiveness in the gameplay.

Evolution of ‘Halo’ Enemies

There’s also a new 24-player Warzone mode that combines the best elements of “Halo” into one, gigantic multiplayer experience. Players fight against each other and AI enemies in maps that are up to four times larger than in any past “Halo” game. “Halo 5: Guardians’” REQ System rewards players with prizes in the form of weapons, armors, vehicles, power-ups, skins and more.

Meanwhile, Arena mode harkens back to pure, skill-based four-on-four combat in the style of classic “Halo” gameplay. Arena is designed for competitive gamers and eSports events, and is supported by new features such as the Competitive Skill Rating system to rank players and Live Spectate where you can watch others play while flipping between their first-person and your third-person POV.

‘Halo 5: Guardians’ Game Modes

Arena mode — Coliseum

With the technical and multiplayer advances in place, the 343 team doubled down on elevating the game’s story. Most co-op games treat story as a side feature because it’s so difficult to craft a narrative around so much player choice and unpredictability. 343 relished the challenge.

In setting out to integrate the gameplay and storytelling, the narrative team had to cover all of the various potential outcomes of a scenario, taking into consideration which characters arrive first in a room, who survives, who doesn’t and more.

“Sometimes that meant we had to roll up our sleeves and write 30 pages of script for just a few feet of gameplay,” said narrative lead and head writer of “Halo 5 Guardians” Brian Reed.

The Master Chief in Halo 5: Guardians

The Master Chief in “Halo 5: Guardians”

All of the hard work to make the story cohesive with co-op gameplay didn’t stop the narrative team from taking bold steps with the core plotlines and characters. “Traditionally, there is a lot of idealism in ‘Halo’ that gives people something to aspire to,” said Narrative Designer Morgan Lockhart. “The Master Chief is a classic black-and-white hero.” But in “Halo 5: Guardians,” the team turned the story on its head.

We spent a lot of time brainstorming about what might make the Chief go rogue.

As numerous colonies come under simultaneous attack in “Halo 5: Guardians,” the Master Chief disappears and no one knows if he’s in trouble or if he’s gone rogue. Perhaps he’s even betrayed his fellow Spartans. It is up to Fireteam Osiris, led by Spartan Locke (introduced in the live-action series “Halo: Nightfall”) to hunt down the Chief and solve the mystery.

As with anything that deviates from established “Halo” canon, the Master Chief’s changes were made only after some serious thought. “We spent a lot of time brainstorming about what might make the Chief go rogue, what would he do and how would that change still fit with his character,” said Reed. “And I hope the fans are going to be really into it.”

Franchise Manager Corrinne Robinson argued that this development is a natural progression considering the depth of the narrative. “We’ve reached a point when our story is increasingly multi-faceted,” she explained. “All of the characters have significant back fiction and complex motivations, which means the story is becoming more and more realistic. Looking at the Chief’s character from a different perspective shows a level of maturation for our franchise.”

‘Halo 5: Guardians’ Playable Characters

Blue Team

The narrative evolution goes beyond the protagonist as the game brings back past favorites like Blue Team and Edward Buck and is building excitement around new characters like Locke, Tanaka and Vale. These additions are not just about adding bodies for multi-player. A lack of character diversity has long dogged the gaming industry while “Halo 5: Guardians” delivers complex, fully realized characters of different genders, races and age groups. This gives fans the chance to identify with their protagonist of choice.

Spacecraft fly through an icy cave environment battlefield in Halo 5: Guardians concept art
Halo 5 spacecraft distant
Halo 5 spacecraft large
Halo 5 spacecraft medium

The Halo-verse

Enveloping all of the narrative is the “Halo” universe with its unrivaled level of detail, including consistent canon and style across multiple types of media. O’Connor explained, “There’s been steady universe building throughout the games and we’ve layered in technology and politics and rules and how the factions fight etc., We are always building on that, in the game and across the franchise.” While O’Connor, Wolfkill and others at 343 propose much of the universe detail, they also allow ideas to emerge from other “Halo” media throughout the franchise. But they still set boundaries, and all canonical questions and controversies must come across their desks for final approval.

“I mean, how many franchises have encyclopedias and fact guides about the universe?” said Robinson. “We have so much stuff. So much technology. Characters. Weapons. Ships. So much stuff that aren’t just toss-offs but full categories that we tend to very carefully.”

That includes a detailed understanding of everything from the mechanics of artificial gravity to the belief systems of the ancient Forerunner species. Reed leaned across the table, “I can say this because I’m a fan: Fans dig it when you have enough granularity that you can get in the universe and really explore it. Nobody else does it on the level of ‘Halo’ — in any medium.”

Hunt the Truth Campaign

Being able to show that massive amount of detail in the game arrived on the back of an even more massive amount of work. Art Manager Neill Harrison explained, “Almost every visual asset from ‘Halo 4’ had to be redesigned or rebuilt to be viewed at a higher fidelity in ‘Halo 5: Guardians’ on Xbox One.”

The 150 artists who work on the game during peak production tend to specialize in either 2D or 3D techniques. The art process starts with concept art in the form of digital 2D drawings. Once that concept is approved, it moves on to a 3D artist for a rough digital sculpting of shapes and forms called a “3D mass out.” After undergoing numerous iterations, it is made into a digital “high poly sculpt” which includes every possible detail that the artists can imagine — right down to how a spent bullet cartridge ejects from a weapon. The final “game resolution asset” looks like and contains the detail of the high poly sculpt but is streamlined so it can be rendered in real-time by the game engine. “Some of the biggest challenges were the new assets,” said Harrison. “The Guardian and Kraken assets, for example, are huge, complex and required man-years of work across many teams to bring to fruition.”

Our artistic work is embedded in the legacy of ‘Halo’ so we have to service the past style but also make some bold choices of new characters, vehicles, armor and weapons.

Locke and Fireteam Osiris

Art Director Nicolas “Sparth” Bouvier described the approach to “Halo” art, “We can’t just make whatever comes to mind. We have to walk a middle path. Our artistic work is embedded in the legacy of ‘Halo’ so we have to service the past style but also make some bold choices of new characters, vehicles, armor and weapons.”

Bouvier counts everything from NASA to sci-fi movies to what is happening in real-life engineering labs as influences. When they create a vehicle, for example, he said, “We always try to balance a really intriguing look with elements that ground the asset and make it seem like part of a realistic future.” Although “Halo” is set in the future there are credible touches like many of the vehicles still use tires. And when embarking on creating a new character, Bouvier noted that the artists and the narrative team work hand-in-hand and come up with numerous ideas before they settle on the right visuals.

The same approach goes for “Halo’s” music. Music Composer and Supervisor Kazuma Jinnouchi said, “To start my process, I read and re-read the script. All of the music is very story-driven. I think, ‘What kind of story do we want to tell?’ and ‘What’s the role of the music to support that storytelling?’” Jinnouchi continued, “My music composition is really visually driven as well. ‘Halo’ has such a unique visual touch to it. The right music can really support the art and make it come to life.”

For “Halo 5: Guardians,” Jinnouchi started by creating a theme for the new character, Locke. “My approach was to look at Locke’s prototyping video for the narrative team and — as they were trying to establish who he was — I did the same thing from the music perspective. As it was still in the early stages, we built out that sound and it became the foundation for all of “Halo 5: Guardians.”

Halo 5 Guardians concept art: Master Chief walking among coral-like structures in alien landscape
Halo 5 Guardians Master Chief

The Final Stretch

The fact that 343 is comprised of full-time, in-house experts who work together over time enhances the team’s ability to collaborate. This is especially important for managers like Lead Audio Producer Mary Olson who coordinates between the audio director, composer and senior sound designer.

“Having someone like a composer of Kazuma [Jinnouchi]’s caliber working full-time right here in the office — sitting at his desk a few feet from me and composing music on a keyboard — is super rare at a game studio,” she said.

Game developers in darkened office space at 343 Industries in Kirkland, Washington

343 Industries in Kirkland, Washington

“When you’re trying to create something like music that’s so deeply rooted in the core of the story and the gameplay and the art, it’s ideal to be working side-by-side day in and day out,” Olson continued. “Here, we’re able to discuss all of the scripts with the writers, look at the visuals with the artists and make sure everything’s understood in context.”

When you value the opinion of gamers who are as passionate about your platform as you are, and provide them a mechanism to engage, you find that those fans help you shape the future.

“The longer a team works together and creates games together, the better they get,” said Wolfkill. “How the artists and the designers and the engineers work together is really a process that requires being in the trenches together. It’s important to keep that dynamic from project to project.”

The other essential element in the creative process is the fans themselves: The Halo Nation. Top of mind for 343’s writers, designers, developers and animators is crafting an experience that fans will love. “If we ever find that we’re not doing that,” O’Connor said, “we need to figure out how to change things so we are.” Spencer, the head of Xbox added, “When you value the opinion of gamers who are as passionate about your platform as you are, and provide them a mechanism to engage, you find that those fans help you shape the future.”

“Halo” fans at San Diego Comic Con 2015

The fans participate by making their voices heard, identifying popular trends and lobbying for the return of favorite characters. 405th Commanding Officer Yuan said, “Xbox and 343 makes sure that we feel like part of the community, that we’re kept involved, invited to panels and even to some special events at the studio.”

Andy “Bravo” Dudynsky, 343’s community manager and a former competitive “Halo” player and coach himself, said, “We also do a ton of social listening and forum reading. If the fans don’t like a certain map or a certain weapon, we hear about it and get feedback to design, developers and management to put into action.”

The “Halo 5: Guardians” Multiplayer Beta last December was the biggest example of fans making an impact on the game. Franchise Manager Robinson said, “We put the beta out there and asked, ‘Hey, what do you think of this?’ and dozens of design and philosophy changes were made based on fan feedback.”

Building with mailbox displaying number 343

343 Industries in Kirkland, WA

343 took feedback to the next level with their “Halo” Pro Team of eight of the best “Halo” players in the world. The Pro Team spent 18-months on-site, full-time, assisting with the development of the game. As Dudynsky put it, “They went over every single detail, intricacy, nook and cranny of every sandbox element, movement, weapon and map.”

Fans not only provide feedback but also inspiration. 343 brought 405th Pacific Regiment Executive Officer Benedict Choy into the studio to show off his new Athlon armor to the artists and designers. “The fact that someone built from scratch the physical reimagining of this digital armor that we drew speaks volumes to the people who work here,” said Dudynsky. “It helps us to remember what this all means to people.”

Everyone at 343 knows the level of passion in the fan base and the quality bar for “Halo’s” first game on Xbox One is so high that it’s not just about meeting expectations but exceeding them. The fan reaction is especially important to 343, as they are all fans too who live, eat and breathe “Halo.” O’Connor admitted, “When I’m done with work, whether I am at home or still at my desk, I turn on my Xbox and play more ‘Halo.’ Not just me but almost everyone we work with.”

It’s got everything. It’s visually stunning, the gameplay pace is so fast that it’s unreal and I’m especially excited about the Warzone multiplayer.

405th cosplayer, Benedict Choy, gears up at San Diego Comic Con 2015

405th cosplayer, Benedict Choy, gears up at San Diego Comic Con 2015

“Halo” cosplayer Sloan played “Halo 5” pre-release at San Diego Comic-Con. He exclaimed, “It’s got everything. It’s visually stunning, the gameplay pace is so fast that it’s unreal and I’m especially excited about the Warzone multiplayer because you have to work in teams to achieve your goals.” He’s also excited about getting further into the story and seeing where things go with the Chief and (maybe) Cortana.

The game inspired Sloan to push his costume building to the next level and he’s dabbling with 3D printing hand plates and the molds for boots. As for the identity of his next costume, he said, “Mark my words, Spartan Buck is going to happen.” When I asked if he’ll make Buck for his grandchild, he deadpanned, “They’ll have to start as a grunt, but we can work up to it.”

Back at 343, they are taking a moment to enjoy the launch and take in the fan reaction. “But we already have planning documents that outline the state of the galaxy between games,” said Narrative Lead Reed. “The wheels are turning and we’re busy working on the next steps for ‘Halo.’”