Level: Composer

Level: Composer

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Experience the Level

The left column features videos and descriptions of the major events for each section.

Development and Analysis

The right column focuses on the planning, decisions, and iterations for the section.

This side also includes analysis of the section's successes and failures.

The Composer's Fate

The Master Chief returns to the elevator and starts it moving upward to rendezvous with Dr. Tillson.  As it ascends through the Atrium, Cortana is able to give a few seconds' notice before things go south.

In an incredible show of Forerunner engineering might, the Didact's ship is able to tear open the wall of the Atrium and tractor-beam the Composer from the portion of rock and glass it had been resting in.  The damage to the station and elevator is catastrophic, but it's nothing compared to what awaits the Master Chief on his return...

In-helmet Cinematic Sequence


"Game logic" and real-world logic are often at odds with each other.  In the best cases, they can sometimes be reconciled in a form that makes sense for both.  In other cases, it's best to leave things unsaid and hope that players won't draw too many connections for themselves or be bothered if the answers don't make sense.

Case in point:  the Didact could clearly have taken the Composer at any time.  We deal with that somewhat by stating that he obviously can't find the obelisk through his scans.  (There's a bit of "space magic" at work there.)  That perhaps at least justifies having the Covenant invade up until the point where the Composer is located, but the point is that without some willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the players, we wouldn't have a level.  It wouldn't be credible.

The truth is, it's way more fun having a level where the Covenant are swarming all over the place like "clay pigeons" for the player to pop than for things to try to make too much sense.

The final moment risks making the Didact too powerful.  If he can do that, what's going to stop him?

The hope is that the "shock and awe" of these events make his capabilities too mighty to even contemplate.  Now move on to the next level so you can defeat him, player!

The Composer Fires

The Chief rejoins Dr. Tillson, who is helping organize the evacuation, when the Didact's ship positions itself outside the window.  The Composer docks with the ship and begins to "fire up," revealing itself to be a sort of weapon.

Cortana attempts to raise the station's shields but is unable to in time for the weapon to fire.

Rather than cause damage, the Composer instead consumes the human occupants of the station on a molecular level, digitizing their essences in gruesome fashion, leaving only smoking piles of char behind.

The Master Chief is seriously injured by the beam, but—thanks to a sort of genetic blessing bestowed upon him in a previous mission—he survives the process relatively unharmed.

The stress and loss are too much for Cortana to bear after fighting her Rampancy for so long, and she breaks down.  The Chief, even less in touch with his feelings, points out that they need to get moving if they're going to stop the Didact.

Ending Cinematic


We had to achieve a delicate balance with this level.  Ultimately, the Master Chief's actions are unsuccessful in stopping the Didact from taking the Composer (his "primary mission" aboard the station), and he isn't even able to achieve his implicit personal goal:  saving every (possible) human from harm.

The chapter ends on a seriously down note.  Cortana's Rampancy has progressed to the point where she's a danger to herself and others.  The Master Chief is the sole survivor aboard a station previously teeming with human life.  The Didact is taking the war to Earth and has a weapon capable of achieving a quick victory.

We had a lot of conversations internally about how to ensure that this "failure" didn't hurt players' enjoyment or retroactively make the Chief's successes throughout the mission feel worthless.

During development, we made a key decision and moved the theft of the Composer from the late-middle of the level to the actual end.  In doing so, there's no immediate "play time" after the failure for the player to dwell on it.  Furthermore, the sequence where the Composer is taken and fired is capped-off with an unequivocal mission statement:  stop the Didact from doing further harm.

This has a rallying effect on the player's perception of the mission:  it may not have ended well, but get back in there and make things right.

Final Analysis

This is my favorite level of Halo 4, and not just because I got to work on it. It captures some of the classic Halo feel while having a lot of elements that are fresh and new as well (the Horseshoe, both trips through the Atrium, the airlock-ejection gag...).

There are plenty of memorable character scenes as well.  A few that stand out for me are:  the "pouncing Jackal" at the very beginning of the Horseshoe, assassinating the perfectly-placed officer Elite just before saving a grateful band of scientists, and the cloaked Elites in the defense grid control room.  Cortana's off-putting delivery of "put me into the console" in that same room.  The unexpectedly dark twist of seeing Dr. Tillson and all the others melt, leaving the Chief and Cortana alone with their regrets.

Many of the other levels both benefit and suffer from the presence of new types of enemies and weapons (which are hard to plan around because they constantly change as they're developed).  I think it was a smart decision to keep this level "pure" Covenant.

There are things I would fix.  Things that changed that I would have rather done differently.  It still annoys me that there's a bug where the defense turrets can come online (in the sense of tracking enemy dropships as they fly in) but don't fire—completely undercutting the sense of accomplishment and wonder that the moment was supposed to achieve.

At the end of the day, there are levels you re-play and those you don't.  I look forward to my next visit to Mission 7: Composer.

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