(Another) Essential Interview
In 2011, FUD interviewed Jeremy Patenaude, formerly of Ascendant Justice and now a writer at 343 Industries, about his work on Halo: The Essential Visual Guide. Microsoft has just released a new edition, Halo 4: The Essential Visual Guide, and this time we talked to another person involved. Though not a 343i employee, Halo fan Stephen Loftus has played an important role in both volumes of the guide. We are thankful for the opportunity to speak with him about his part in the production.
FUD: How did you become involved with the Essential Visual Guide?
SL: I’ve been involved in the Halo community for most of Halo’s existence. I’ve analyzed many aspects of the Halo fiction and catalogued quite a lot of it for myself as well. 343 Industries was aware of my contributions to the Halo community as my in-depth knowledge of Halo and felt their Visual Guide could benefit from a going over by me. I was quite excited to work on it and be a contributor to cataloguing Halo information for the Halo team at 343i and ultimately other fans like myself. In February of this year, they contacted me to tell me they were doing another Visual Guide, this time focused on Halo 4 content, and asked if I wanted to be involved again, so I readily agreed and jumped on board. I think it helped a bit that my main contact at 343i, Jeremy Patenaude, was as much a fan of my work as I was of his when he was still at the AscendantJustice.com site.
What was the process like? Did it change for the Halo 4 Guide?
One of the differences between my work on the original guide versus the new Halo 4 guide is that in the original, the first review was early on in its production so there was still some content missing. There was more opportunity for the ‘fill-in-the-blanks’ portion. Everything was templated, so if you had a character page it would have their height, weight, service number, that sort of thing, and in some cases we had that info–we have Master Chief’s weight–but we didn’t have Miranda Keyes’ weight, so I was able to help fill those in. My main contact was again Patenaude, who was largely responsible for the book project and how it came along, although there were dozens involved in all aspects of production.
For the second book they were a little further along. Halo 4 was still very new to me, and the book was mostly content-complete; they knew all the pages that were planned, and there were less blanks to fill in, but what they still wanted out of me was to do any Halo fact-checking that I could. I had ten years of knowledge to bring to the original book’s content, so at first I was wondering why they wanted me since Halo 4 was all new info, but there was still a lot of tie-backs to the earlier Halo fiction, and Halo 4 is just the tip of the iceberg–it still heavily relies on the existing universe, so my notes and insight were still valued. The last time I was just given batches at a time to do little bits. This time I got all the content at once, did a full review pass, and sent my notes back. They integrated the feedback, went to the publisher, put everything together, and sent it back for review…we were supposed to do two reviews of it but there were enough changes that we actually did five full reviews of the book from late February to early May. We wanted it really polished.
How do you think your role as a fan outside the studio was an extra help?
I’d say it’s a pretty large benefit because, although I have a day job, when I come home, most of my free time is usually doing something Halo-related. I have a few other hobbies and interests, but even those ones often have a Halo tie-in, whether it’s illustration, artwork, working with 3D models, or doing basic research. At 343 they all have their day jobs, but they’re a bunch of people in a bunch of specific areas; people in marketing, people in merchandise, people in fiction. But I’ve done a lot of work and cross-referencing on my own to build my own reference. Even if I didn’t know the right answer when reviewing the guide content, I would know where to go to find the answer. I’ve made a really easy reference for myself.
How big is your personal Halo fiction guide?
Right now it’s up to 790 pages in 10-point type, no images. I’m still missing Initiation, Spartan Assault, the Forward Unto Dawn web series, Silentium and Primordium aren’t in there, but that’s going to explode the page count further when I get to integrating that content.
So do you have the chance to ‘make canon’ along with 343, or are you just helping to give a range?
In some cases the calculations are there and I can throw my argument into the pool. There have been some cases where I’ve been asked, ‘We have to decide on something here, what do you want?’ and I’d be able to do something very specific. For instance, one thing they didn’t have in the book originally was the size of Requiem–it was just a blank. I asked for a couple of screenshots, used the cutscenes, and figured out the size of Requiem, and that becomes the official number. There’s a page on ONI Prowlers and I was able to name one myself.
Maybe it’s selfish, but one thing I enjoyed was the ability to revisit things that were never pegged down. In the first version of the book, it had the Master Chief’s birth date as CLASSIFIED. So I kind of figured out what we knew– there was only a brief span of a few months when he could have been born and still fit exiting known data. It can’t be unknown to the UNSC, so I suggested that they peg down a birth date for the Master Chief since we knew what range to pick from. So they came back with a date that fit so now we have a birthday for the Chief.
The first Phantoms we see in Halo 4 have these round boarding chutes. My first thought was that the Covenant already have a boarding craft, so they didn’t need these ships. Looking at the geometry, though, the Covenant boarding craft from Halo 2 are really large and probably couldn’t have fit in the space. So I suggested that we change the caption on the Phantom page of the guide to say that the Covenant used these Phantoms when larger craft couldn’t fit. So I got to name the boarding craft as the T-28–something that hadn’t been known since Halo 2.
I always found it really cool that Bungie chose to hide little references or Easter eggs in plain sight. 343i has done much the same–the number 7 references, hiding the Reclaimer logo all over the place. I’ve taken that spirit to heart too, so if there’s something I can add–a little homage here and there–I will, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the fiction. A book like this is something I want to buy and see on the shelves. I want it to be something I would be proud to have. So anything I do Easter-egg wise, it has to make sense in the context of the Halo universe. But there are a couple things in there that are a personal reference. I guess the most in-your-face example is that the armor I wear in multiplayer ended up in the section on Recon armor, because I love that variant, and I’ve been wearing it since the Halo 3 days. The pictures were pretty much in there, and I asked if they could swap out one image for my Spartan. I gave them the colors, the emblem, and the pieces that make up my multiplayer armor, and they had time enough to put it in. It’s sort of a portrait of me without actually being me. There’s a few other minor things hidden about. I know there’s some folks that live in my neck of the woods, and there’s something they’ll pick up on since there’s a local reference.
If there was any crossover from the previous guide to this one, many made the new guide. One of them was Doctor Halsey, since she was very prominent in Spartan Ops. One of the things that made the cut was a picture of Halsey at the end of Spartan Ops, missing her arm. Her personal data was in there intact from the first guide. When I was doing the review, it occurred to me that since she’s missing an arm now, her weight probably would have changed. So when I mentioned this, they adjusted her weight down to 117 pounds to accommodate the missing arm, which is another 1-1-7 reference.
Is there anything you wished made it into the book, but didn’t?
There were a couple other topics that originally were in the book but ended up getting cut, often because the screenshots or renders that were available for those topics weren’t a high enough quality. When you throw in all the armor and weapons and vehicles in the game, your set page count fills up really quickly, but that’s the limitation of print. I had also wanted to give the T-28 a “ghostly” synonym like all the other Covenant vehicles–the Banshee, the Shadow, the Wraith, etc.–but they didn’t want to give it a formal name. I guess because they keep developing the story, there might come another vehicle where they want to use one of the cool names, and there’s only so many synonyms for ‘ghost’, right?
What value do you think books like these bring to the fans?
I think you’d have to be more than just a casual fan–there has to be a reason you play Halo and not something else. Halo has a really rich fictional story to it–one of the reasons it sucked me in was that it’s managed to do in ten years what Star Trek and Star Wars took many decades to accomplish. Halo had managed to build such an intricate, involved and compelling story in such a short period of time. So a book like this, if you’re an art or design enthusiast, there’s great screenshots and great renders. If you’re into the story at all, even if it’s just the multiplayer side, there’s sections on weapons and armor that make up the bigger sections in this book. There is something for every fan in it, but it really does cater to the folks in it for the long haul, and want to find out more details. It’s intended for the people who play through the game and wonder ‘what was that ship in the background’ and ‘who made this weapon I’m using’, and this book is an excellent reference to look that up.
Thanks for your time.