Interview: 343i Senior Writer Chris Schlerf


A few days ago, Mr. Insane54 got into contact with Halo 4's Senior Writer, Chris Schlerf, and the two had a nice little chat about what it means to write for a company that I want to write for in the future and would very much appreciate a job offer from. The interview is a pretty awesome read, which is no doubt due to the fact that my future boss is an awesome writer (and recognizes a talented member of his craft who would otherwise go unappreciated on a community forum). So, without further subtlety, I present the unedited interview (the edited one can be found in my dreams, wherein I take all the letters and reassemble them so that it reads something like a love letter to yours truly). Bonus points to anyone who figures out the single question I asked.

Halo Customs: Tell us a little about what you do at 343 Industries, and what you contributed to Halo 4.

Chris Schlerf: As the first writer hired on at 343, it was my responsibility to work with the Creative Director, Franchise Director, and the rest of the team to put together a story which would both make Halo 4 a compelling game as well as serving the larger canon as a whole. When the scope of the game’s narrative design started to grow and we began putting together a dedicated team to handle the various implementations, the bulk of my attention turned specifically towards Campaign; writing the cinematics, mission dialog, etc.​

How did it feel taking over Master Chief's story from Bungie? Did they already have specific plans for him that you were aware of, or did you create your own journey from where they left off?

We were extremely lucky that Bungie had left us with such an amazingly rich universe to play in, but in terms of a direction for John’s story, there weren’t any specific ideas or plans that came over from them. It was really a ‘tabula rasa’, but at the same time, it was important to us that we made the continuation of the story feel as seamless as possible, and authentic in spirit to what Bungie had created before us.​

Do you have access to the original Halo Bible or did you have to make your own?

I had actually contributed to the Halo Bible before I officially came on board at 343, as part of a transmedia consulting project done with Starlight Runner Entertainment. Also, the Bible is something we’re constantly adding to as we flesh out different corners of the universe, so a bit of both, I guess.​

What kind of music do you think Master Chief would listen to whilst slaying enemies?

Dirty little secret: it’s all just elevator music there in the helmet. “Girl From Ipanema”, the Carpenters… Soft Hits of the ‘70’s…​

As more and more games focus on multiplayer, how did 343i come up with the idea of fusing together story and multiplayer into what we know as Spartan Ops? How has Spartan Ops been received so far? Can you tell us if you guys are working on any more?

From pretty much the day I got to 343, there was a desire to incorporate storytelling into different kinds of MP experiences. To us, there’s a real benefit in erasing the separations between the various game modes, and to make it feel like one, harmonious universe. Spartan Ops has been amazingly successful in that regard, in that we’ve been able to create a narrative which connects directly to the events of the campaign while engaging players who might normally gravitate to more communal types of gameplay. We’re a couple weeks into the second half of our season now, and the response to the new episodes has been fantastic, so we’re all pretty happy with how well it’s being received.​

Many say that Halo 4 is the best campaign in the Halo series to date. Do you feel like the 343 team did a good job bringing your story to life? What are you most happy about with the final product?

The success of Halo 4’s campaign really comes down to the fact that, despite being a young studio who was just figuring out how to work together, we quickly developed a camaraderie and sense of collaboration that was essential to telling the story we told. There were constant interactions and negotiations – whether it was moving an encounter slightly so we could roll out a plot point better or postponing a story beat to allow for a better art reveal. That collective sense of responsibility for delivering a world-class story is what made it possible to achieve as much as we did.​
As for the final product, the John and Cortana relationship is the piece which always spoke to me on a very personal level. Having the opportunity to show a bit more of the depth around their connection was incredibly rewarding.​
Do you feel like the public reacted to the story of the campaign the way you thought they would?

I don’t know that I had any preconceived notions about how people would react to the story, though it has been very gratifying to see people having a real, emotional response to things like Cortana’s rampancy and the Chief’s slow journey towards reclaiming his humanity.​

We came to know Master Chief much more than before in Halo 4; was it difficult for you to accurately capture the Chief's persona as it was in previous games?

I always felt that John was a fascinating character who never quite got his due. Much has been made in the past about the ‘silent protagonist’ aspect of Halo, but if you go back and play through the original trilogy, his character is very well defined despite not having much in the way of actual dialog (and admittedly, a lot of that comes from Steve Downes’ iconic voice). Chief’s first exchange with Cortana in Halo:CE is this sarcastic, dry remark about her driving, which indicates there is a man inside that suit, not simply some automaton. So the question for me then became: what created that stoic, silent persona, and how do you get underneath that person’s skin? What do you do to bring him out of that literal shell he’s put himself in?​
Halo 4 felt like a much more personal story than previous games. Do you plan on continuing that path towards more personal story elements?

Absolutely. Plot will only take you so far, especially when you’ve threatened to blow up the galaxy on numerous occasions – really, it becomes harder and harder to come up with a satisfying encore to that. In order for there to be real stakes beyond just ‘save the world’, you need to have characters who have something they want to protect, and the more fleshed out your characters, the more personal you can make your stories and the more impactful those stories can be.​
What's it like taking on such a cohesive franchise, with the expectations of a willing and pedantically enthusiastic community watching your every move?

Being someone who silently trolls the boards reading detailed accounts of all things good, bad and ugly we’ve been doing at 343, I’m obviously incredibly aware of the enormous responsibility to do right by the people who love Halo with such incredible passion. And you’d be surprised just how much 343 is a microcosm of the community; most of us work there because we LOVE Halo too, and so every decision you make is passed through that filter at some level. That said, there’s no way to give every single person the Halo they have in their heads – so the best you can do is to approach the mantle of responsibility for the franchise with what you believe is true to the spirit of Halo, and hope you never wander too far off the path.​
What are some of your favorite literary works? Have any of these directly inspired you in regards to the work you've done and plan to do on the Halo franchise?

My favorite works tend to be split between really internal, personal stories about the human condition (things like ‘Great Gatsby’ or ‘Wuthering Heights’) or these grand, world-building tales that create totally new realities (‘Snow Crash’, the ‘Dark Tower’ series). When it comes to looking for inspiration for Halo specifically, though, I try to eschew things which are a little too close to home like other sci-fi works. It’s a little too easy for people to start drinking from the same well, so it’s important to try and find new sources of inspiration to bring a fresh perspective to whatever you’re working on.​

What other influences have affected or inspired the Halo 4 storyline? Was the infamous Ringworld series a personal influence?

There were a lot of random influences which we pulled from throughout the course of Halo 4, though I think you’d be hard pressed to see a lot of them now (King Arthur, Peter Pan, Apocalypse Now, etc). In most cases, we’d find things which gave us just enough of a jumping off point to create something new. But in general, we tend to try and steer clear of works that could draw obvious points of comparison like Ringworld, etc.​
Given the reveal of the prometheans and the idea that the forerunners were trying to ensure ultimate biological immortality through transhumanism: Is Cortana's fate settled or is her ultimate arc one of becoming human in the literal sense as John learns to embrace his own humanity without her. (I have no idea what this means... *rolls eyes* writers...)

The idea of what it means to be ‘human’ was hugely important in Halo 4, and given where we leave John, I think it’s safe to say it’s an ongoing theme for the franchise. But in terms of specifics? Hold on, getting the Microsoft lawyers on the phone…. ;)

Any Super Bowl predictions? (GO LIONS WOOOOO *sigh*)

A hero will rise. Oh, and there will probably be lots of complaining that the Star Trek commercial didn’t show enough.​
Some people see a writer and they think, pshhh no skill. Do you kick butt when playing Halo?

Before I came to 343, I thought I was a pretty decent Halo player. I have since been dissuaded of that opinion.​
We know Jesse Snyder is famous for his contributions to gaming, but how does his beer taste?
Pretty damn awesome, actually. That boy’s got himself a future if this whole video game thing doesn’t work out!​
Great interview! Nice work, Insane. That was a good read.
So, without further subtlety, I present the unedited interview (the edited one can be found in my dreams, wherein I take all the letters and reassemble them so that it reads something like a love letter to yours truly). Bonus points to anyone who figures out the single question I asked.
Is anyone else imagining Essias cutting magazine letters out and reassembling them like some sort of sociopathic lover?
Sweet interview!

Looking forward to some more!

As the description went on I saw Essias kissing the air as he typed. That is true love right there!

I want beer... And a Lions superbowl...
A man can dream... now to go get some beer for the office!
Great interview! Nice work, Insane. That was a good read.

Is anyone else imagining Essias cutting magazine letters out and reassembling them like some sort of sociopathic lover?

I don't know about anyone else, but that's certainly what I dream.
It seems the most important question was left out of this interview. it was: "Would you like to do Psychoduck's accounting homework for him?"

I still want an answer!
I'm surprised my question got in, considering it was part of a joke :laugh: Still, happy to get an answer from the man, himself!
I see that my question about the size of Master Chief's penis was omitted. Disappointing.

I also wanted to know if Master Chief will ever ride a dinosaur in Halo 5, and this was also omitted.
Next time ask a but about Jun. I know he's not chief but he might be still alive and i would love to see him in another game
ahh, this interview turned out better than i imagined it would! glad we know what chief listens to now :D

Schlerf gives awesome answers, that's a guy who knows how to carry out an interview right there