Let’s get this one out of the way first: yes, Kiki Wolfkill is her real name, not her gamertag. It’s of German origin, she tells me, via Pennsylvania Dutch.
And yes, Microsoft put her in charge of developing the next phase of their $3 billion (Dh11 billion) Halo franchise, offering her the role of executive producer on Halo 4, which was released this morning (Tuesday November 6).
“I’ve been in the industry for a while,” Wolfkill, formerly director of art for Microsoft Game Studios, told me over the phone last week. “I’ve been asked to move into an EP role before, but I had things to tie up.
“But this was an opportunity of a lifetime. It wasn’t just Halo 4, it was the opportunity to build a team.” Later, she adds: “I started building a team specifically for this.”
Some background: the first Halo games were developed by Bungie ; when they split from Microsoft, the software giant created 343 Industries specifically to look after the franchise. The subsequent releases – Halo: Reach and Combat Evolved Anniversary were overseen by 343, but not created by them.
Halo 4 is all their own work. “It’s a different creative team working on it, so you are going to get a different creative approach on it – in the visuals, in the soundtrack and in the storyline,” Wolfkill says, “but our goal is for it to be unmistakably Halo.
“But also to add more experiences to it. That’s not for the sake of doing things differently – every time a game comes out, you have to move it forward.
“It’s the beginning of Master Chief’s next story. We’re trying to look at what it means to be a hero… it’s sacrifice and challenge.”
Despite this, she’s adamant that Halo 4 remains a first-person shooter (FPS). There’ll be downloadable storylines (with associated co-op mode adventures), and the ability to customise your Spartan in the multiplayer modes to suit your style of play – even including some RPG-like elements like enhanced abilities – but within the FPS framework.
Wolfkill’s worked on some impressive A-list titles in her roles as an artist and art director – Forza, Gears of War, Fable, Crackdown, Mass Effect – but Halo is in a league of its own, and heading the development team has thrust her from the back room into the limelight.
Google her name, and you’ll find three things on gamers’ minds: an acknowledgement that she may just have the coolest gamer name ever, speculation as to whether it is her real name (we dealt with that up top), and people wanting to know if she’s single.
“You kind of have to go into [forums] with a certain frame of mind. Some are incredibly valuable to be part of, because you get great feedback. But you’re exposed to a lot of different types of people who have the freedom to talk in anonymity.
“I find it pretty easy to gloss over. It’s like being back in junior high. You just have to ignore it. It’s one of the side effects of freedom of speech – people can pretty much say anything out there [on the internet]
“Part of it’s the role, and it’s such a high-profile project. Certain camps complain about that. There are attitudes about gender – it’s immaturity.”
The game is, of course, one of the most hotly anticipated this year. And that’s just for us, them gamers. How does it feel to be in a brand new team taking over such a huge franchise?
“We’re really excited about it. It’s been a labour of love for a huge amount of people. We’re just excited about the launch.”
Halo 4 was released at midnight last night, and is now on the shelves. Look for our review next week.